Q: What do I need to know before taking a road trip in the NSW Outback?
A: The NSW Outback provides the most spectacular landscapes, wide open skies, dazzling stars and unique wildlife. And then there’s the people you meet and stories you are told. However, the Outback can also be a harsh place and you need to be well prepared before undertaking any travel. These are some of the things you need to know before you hit the road.
Do not use a digital navigation system. Satellite navigation systems (like Google Maps or a GPS) often read roads that either do not exist at all or that are private roads and not accessible. Ensure you use paper maps supplied by reputable map companies to navigate Outback roads – Visitor Information Centres will be able to supply them. You should also liaise with locals to check the road conditions and take suggestions.
Stick to main roads. Many roads in the Outback will be unsealed and may not look like a typical highway. However, it is essential that you drive only on main roads as marked on your map. Do not follow station tracks or creek beds, even if the ground is drivable. The vast majority of people who get into trouble do so because they have left the main road.
Take extra care on the road. Unsealed roads require you to drop your speed as obstacles, potholes and corrugations are not as visible. Do not travel in dust storms; visibility is difficult and obstacles can rarely be seen. Try not to drive at sunrise, sunset and at night as this is the time wildlife is most evident around roads. A collision with an animal has be known to write off vehicles and injure occupants. Some roads can become flooded during rains, so monitor the weather as you travel to avoid creek areas if rain is predicted. Make sure you always obey all road signs, especially speed limits.
Never drive on closed roads. Did you know if you travel on a dirt road that is closed by local authorities, you can be fined up to $1,000 per tyre due to the damage your car can cause? If you are on the road when it does rain, ensure you know how to engage the 4WD feature as this may be required in clay or sandy terrain.
Plan ahead. The Outback is a very big place and it’s not unusual to drive for hours before you see anything that resembles a town. Watch your fuel levels and fill up at pre-planned locations. Carry plenty of water (at least two litres per person per day, plus extra for vehicle use) and some food in case you incur engine troubles. Mobile phone coverage is limited and, when available at all, Telstra will be the only network – you may want to invest in a second SIM card. UHF radios are a great tool in the Outback and for travel further off the beaten track you can hire or purchase satellite phones for emergency use.
Be conscious of livestock and private property. Some roads, although public, do traverse private stations where gates keep stock inside a property. If a map indicates that you can drive on these roads, you must take care with gates. If a gate is closed, you can open it and drive through but must close it again behind you. If a gate is open when you arrive, you can leave it open. Remember, this is a business you are entering and leaving gates open could mean the farmer loses their stock.
Protect the environment. Rubbish can be a big problem for livestock, wildlife and the environment you traverse. Take all rubbish with you or place it in a designated bin. You should leave behind only your footprints. If you are planning to light a fire, bring your own firewood or buy it from a local dealer. Do not use trees or brush.
Think about the weather. You might imagine that the Outback is always hot, but the temperature can vary widely. It can get very cold at night and very warm during the day, so ensure you have clothing options for both conditions. A hat, sunscreen and sunglasses are essential, and light long sleeved clothes are recommended. The best time to travel is between mid March and mid October, so you can avoid the worst of the hot dry heat.