Oz family trip - camping/POI advice needed

Submitted: Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 15:50
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Hi there,
I couldn't embark on a trip of a lifetime without first tapping into the wealth of knowledge possessed by many users of this site.

Next week, my wife, young son and I are heading north from Tassie for a four month trip taking us north to Darwin, then across the Savannah Way to north Queensland and then down the eastern seaboard back to Tassie. Most of this trip will take us to places we've not seen to date so we're pretty excited to say the least.

We will be travelling in a Mitsubishi Challenger and are carrying a range of recovery gear but do not have a winch nor radio communications. My 4WD skills are somewhat limited but I am a quick learner and hope to pick up some skills in this area as our trip progresses. Any advice on drving on sand, mud and rocky roads etc would be most welcome. Also, tips on tyre pressures on these different types of surfaces would be helpful. I've searched on the forum for this info but additional info wouldn't go astray. The Challenger has Bridgestone Duelers AT and will be fully loaded.

We're camping in a tent and are geared up to spend the majority of the time in National Parks, and the like. We do intend on staying in more formal camping spots like caravan parks etc. for a night or two each week to recharge the batteries, wash clothes etc. and enjoy the relative comforts of caravan park life, possibly even in a cabin/unit etc!!!!

We catch the ferry on the 25 May 2009. A very rough itinerary is as follows;

1 - Great Ocean Road
2 - Flinders ranges NP/Gammon Ranges NP
3 - Oodnadatta Track/Lake Eyre/Painted Desert
4 - Uluru
5 - Watarrka NP
6 - Finke NP
7 - West Macdonnel NP
8 - East Macdonnel NP
9 - Katherine
10 - Litchfield NP
11 - Kakadu NP
12 - Mataranka/Elsey NP/Roper Bar
13 - Savannah Way to Cairns
14 - Townsville/Mackay
15 - Fraser Island
16 - Sunshine Coast/Gold Coast
17 - Northern NSW coast
18 - Sydney region
19 - Southern NSW coast
20 - Southern Vic coast
21 - Ferry back to Tassie

I've already done a fair bit of research on camping options at these locations on the various states Departmental websites and I also have a copy of the Camps 4 for other camping options. What I am after now is some "real world experience' from anyone who can advise on great camping spots (must have at least a drop toilet) at any of the locations we're heading too.

My aim is to try and camp from a few days up to a week, where possible, in locations that then allow us to plan a range of day trips/day walks to see surrounding POI. Also, where possible, we would like to stay away from crowds, although, from what I hear and read, that is probably a pipe dream unless we go really remote which is probably not an option for this trip for various reasons.

As a family we're keen on swimming, fishing, bushwalking, art and photography and it would be good to expose my son to a range of cultural and historical heritage along the way also.

Out of all of the places listed above we're really keen to spend at least a week at places like the Flinders Ranges NP, West and East Macdonnel Ranges NP, Kakadu/Leitchfield NP, Fraser Island and other coastal NP's located down the eastern seaboard. I'm starting to doubt on whether it is worth visiting Lake Eyre as we will only be viewing from land rather than the air. From what I am currently reading/hearing, it sounds like it is becoming very busy around that area and that there is not really much to see if you do not fly over the area. We may be better off leaving the Flinders Ranges and heading back to Port Augusta and take the black top up to Coober Pedy and then onto Uluru. We would miss the Painted Desert this way, which I hear is worth seeing???

Advice on the best way to experience places like Uluru and Kakadu, where tourist numbers are likely to be very high at the times we're there, would be welcomed also. Also, how do we avoid the crowds on Fraser Islands that does not involve risky beach driving on soggy sand/rocky headlands etc (if possible).

We know that we are not going to see everything. In fact, our strategy is to try and pick places where we can stay for a period and try and immerse ourselves in the surroundings, be it nature or culture. To achieve this in the time we have we know that we will have to have a few days where we will be driving long distances to get to the next camping node. Maybe even a couple of long days in a row.

Anyway, that's enough of me waffling on. All comment would be greatly appreciated.

Contact from any other families travelling with young children along the same route as us would be most welcome. I'm positive our 6yo son will welcome the company of other kids at times in exchange for a couple of grumpy parents!!!!

cheers

Church
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Reply By: Bushwhacker - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:03

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:03
Church
" and are carrying a range of recovery gear but do not have a winch nor radio communications. My 4WD skills are somewhat limited but I am a quick learner and hope to pick up some skills in this area as our trip progresses."
Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. In my opinion, you should have tried to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible BEFORE you left. Just my thoughts. 'Whacker
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Follow Up By: Church - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:24

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:24
Whacker,
Thank you for your opinion.

If I have given you the impression that I am going to be "gung ho' in my approach to any off roading we will undertake, then I apologise for not articulating it better in my original post. I can assure you that I will not be putting my family at risk under any circumstances and will always adopt a commonsense approach in any decision making regarding venturing off the black top. If all I achieve is a little bit of driving in sand on say, Fraser Island, then I will return to Tassie a satisfied man.

cheers
Church
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Follow Up By: Bushwhacker - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:57

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:57
Mate, I truely hope you have a great time, but please get some radio gear.
I am fairly inexperienced, and have not ventured as far as you are going,,, yet, but even though I have driven 'off road' a fair bit, I am booking in to a 4wd training course that covers bush and beach, including vehicle recovery techniques.
After that, will look to having a go at the Darling River Run, a fairly well populated area/trip.
Yes, I love to get away from the madding crowds, but I also want to return home.
To date, my camping 'trips' have been 2,3 or 4 hrs from home, and stay at the one place for a week or so. I have a good recovery kit,(unused,lol) winch and UHF radio, and we normally go with another couple. Maybe I'm a bit cautious. Take care, have a great time, 'Whacker
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Reply By: vk1dx - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:34

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:34
What whacker said is close to the mark if you intend to go off the black top. Try to at least get a UHF radio if that is where you really want to go. Buy at least a winch strap and snatch strap. It the usual practice to use recovery kit that belongs to the stuck vehicle when helping.

I would suggest avoid points; 2, 3, 6, 12, 13 between the NT border and Bordertown, and Fraser unless you have a pump to help with tyre pressure and stay away from the water.

Not good news is it. We are about to head off on our first trip and are sticking to well "populated" dirt roads even though we have a full kit of recovery (sans winch) and some comms. I will say though it is a good time to go up north as there will be plenty to help out.

Sorry mate but it may be best to stick with the crowds and if you get the chance to team up with someone then that may be a good idea. Especially if they are in a club group themselves.

There is still heaps to see at the points left over and you could even take a few side trips and back to the tar.

It's easier on Tassie Hey!!!

I hope my input has been helpful and not a full downer.

Have a ball no matter what.
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Follow Up By: vk1dx - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:52

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:52
This is a summary of the advice we got. Luckily we asked the same question back around Christmas time and have had the time to set things up and choose our itinerary accordingly.

Happy holiday
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Follow Up By: Church - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 17:37

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 17:37
Thanks Whacker and vk1dx

Take on board everything you've raised.

Look, I think I've made our trip sound more hard core than it is going to be. We too, like you vk1dx, aim to stick to the "populated" dirt roads. We will be carrying several snatch straps/shackles/tow rope and have a decent compressor for adjusting tyre pressures. I'll investigate comms options also.

My comments re "crowds" I guess stem from living in Tassie and being accustomed to being able to get away from crowds with relative ease. Where possible we will aim to choose campsites that may afford a bit of privacy but this does not mean that we will ever attempt to go somewhere that is simply beyond my ability. I've got bucket loads of commonsense when it comes to risk assessment and like I've said previously, I will never put my family at risk by extending beyond my ability.

We will be constantly assessing our itinerary as we go - it is by no means set in concrete - we will talk with others along the way and assess our options for visiting different areas at that time based on the facts at hand.

cheers
Church
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Follow Up By: vk1dx - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 18:32

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 18:32
That sounds better. Your initial post did show you had some sense. Now - better still.

Put Fraser Island back on your list and even more of the Savanah Way.

Dinner calls

Phil
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Reply By: Member - John and Val W (ACT) - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 18:44

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 18:44
Hi Church,

What you are setting out on should be the adventure of a lifetime, especially for kids. I can think of nothing more worthwhile for an Ozi kid than to give them the sort of experience you propose.

Some of the comments above really don't apply to the proposed trip. You DO need comms (especially with a youngster in tow) IF you are going somewhere remote from support services and passing traffic - say across the Simpson or down the Canning. (Unfortunately, these seem to carry lots of traffic now!!) Likewise training/experience with difficult 4WDing. You do NOT need instant communications/training/lots of experience if you are on bitumen road with heavy traffic! If you are going somewhere where there is no passing traffic, no support in an emergency then you DO need comms/training/eperience - for your trip though, not essential. You will get mobile phone reception around populated inland/northern areas. A handheld 5w UHF would allow you to contact other travellers near you in the event of an emergency.

Twenty years ago when we did our first 4wd and inland trips we had no comms, no real recovery gear, no compressor and no 4wd training. But we did have a winch. Over the years, which have included some remote trips we have only used our winch once. But we have invested in all the other things and use them frequently. BUT we survived those early trips - really enjoyed them and had no dramas despite being ignorant of what tyre pressures to run etc.

Apart from Roper Bar we have been to all the places that you mention, and provided that you use common sense you should not have any problems. Your route includes mainly blacktop and formed gravel roads so its not as if you are heading off road to any extent. For Fraser you will need to let your tyres down on the sand - so you will need a compressor at some point, and it will allow you to adjust your tyre pressures on gravel roads.

Tyre pressure is probably the most important single factor in travelling in the less populated areas. It isn't possible to recommend any particular pressure, since your loading, type of tyre, and of course the track surface all vary enormously. As a guide, we run our fat A/T tyres on the Troopy at about 35-40 psi when fully loaded on bitumen, dropping to 20-25 to cushion bad corrugations on gravel, and 18-20 on sand. When things get desperate I'll drop to 15, maybe further as a last resort, but at these very low pressures steering must be very gentle or Troopy may walk out of his front tyres. I'm not recommending these pressures for your vehicle/load configuration - just be aware that it's ok to halve your pressures - provided you drive to the conditions. Remember to pump your tyres up again after you come off the sand (or gravel or corrugations) and before you start building up speed. A worthwhile compressor will cost at least $100 and it will be an asset on your trip.

The Painted Desert can be accessed from Oodnadatta so I would suggest that you do travel the Oodnadatta Track - its a good gravel road provided you keep your speed down. (And you might drop tyre pressure a bit for the comfort of the vehicle and occupants.) The country is more varied than the Stuart Highway and there is a lot of history to take in, as well as the fascinating mound springs (not for swimming in though). Just north of Coober Pedy is the Breakaways - fantastic scenery and not to be missed.

For much of the trip it may not be feasible to camp in one spot and do side trips as you propose. This is simply because of the distances involved. Might be more achievable as you come down the east coast, though the national parks along there tend to be a bit inland from the coast. State forests make excellent free campsites if you're happy to go off on your own too - worth getting the NSW State Forest maps.

HTH and have a great trip.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein

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Follow Up By: vk1dx - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 18:48

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 18:48
Hi John and Val

Hows the trip going?

Phil and Sue
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val W (ACT) - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 19:27

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 19:27
Shush Phil - What trip?? - got burgled while away on our last trip so we don't discuss travel arrangements publicly... neither do our friends!

Cheers
John
J and V
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Follow Up By: Church - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 20:28

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 20:28
Hi John and Val,
Thank you for taking the time to provide comment.

I picked up a fairly decent compressor recently and have had a fair play with it pumping up the tyres etc. so we will be able to adjust tyre pressures according to road surface type etc.

I will look into the UHF options. Any suggestions on brand/model of handheld units etc?


Thanks again

cheers
Church
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val W (ACT) - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 21:58

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 21:58
Hi again Church,

At the risk of opening up a debate that can get pretty passionate, I would suggest either of the Australian made units ie GME or Uniden. You would get better performance out of a vehicle mounted unit, but for your trip a 5w handheld should suffice.

Some of the language that you hear on UHF can be a bit off but if you run it on scan then you will often be able to hear road trains approaching - they often travel in groups of 2 or 3 and the drivers often chat to each other. If you have good notice of an approaching road train you have time to get right over to the side of the road or even stop. That way you avoid suddenly being blinded by the dust they throw up.

Cheers
J and V
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Reply By: Member - Old/new Girl (QLD) - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 20:19

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 20:19
Hey Church and family
Wow what a great trip, Have travelled to most of the places you have mentioned but not in one hit. Tyre plugs if you haven't got room for two spares. We have been caught out with two tyres going at once a couple of times and not due to wrong pressures but grids. As others have mentioned a UHF. We don't go away with out either. With Fraser just watch the tides its worth a look around. One little thing if your on a single lane road or dirt slow right down and get out of the way of road trains especially wide loads. Hubby had a overloaded cruiser come at him sideways today. He didn't know how it missed his bullbar let alone his over size load.

Have a great trip

Sharon
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Follow Up By: Church - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 20:40

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 20:40
Hi Sharon,
Thanks for your comments.

I must admit, having never experienced road trains before provides a little bit of anxiety for me. Although, I'm sure once I've dealt with one any apprehension I feel will quickly dissolve. I had intended to act similar to that which you describe, so your words confirm that I was on the right tack.

I have a fairly decent tyre puncture kit with tyre plugs etc. We have managed to cram quite a bit of gear into the Challenger and have around 100kg on the roof. Unfortunately, not enough room for two spares which would have been my preferred option.

cheers
Church
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Follow Up By: Member - Old Girl (QLD) - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 21:11

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 21:11
Don't be scared just be aware of them.
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Follow Up By: Member - John M (NSW) - Friday, May 22, 2009 at 07:30

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 07:30
Hi Church
Sounds like a great trip and plenty of constructive comments to you here.
I regard to the road trains, just treat them like the Tassie logging trucks and give them a wide berth.
Hope you have a great trip, wish it was us.
Regards John
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Reply By: troopyman - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 22:01

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 22:01
You need a few things .
Something to contact emergency services in out of range areas if you need to .
A pair of maxtrax (not sure if they would suit that tread though) or
Some of those floor mats made from recycled car tyres (the ones that are in strips with the coloured joiners in the middle) Throw them under the tyres if you get bogged .
long handled shovel .
Arb portable compressor .
Pair of uhf handheld radios (dick smith cheapies will do) . Handy to communicate to other drivers in a recovery situation .
Let the tyres down to 15psi on soft sand and stay under 40 k/hr and no sharp turning . Pump back up to normal pressure once on firmer ground
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Follow Up By: Church - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 22:18

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 22:18
Thanks Troopyman,

Will be carrying long handled shovel and have decent portable compressor. Also looking into UHF handhelds as we speak.

cheers
Church
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Reply By: ian - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 23:02

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 23:02
Church,
you have lots of advice here and I haven't read it all. Like lots of contributors on this site I have a lifetime of experience out there.
A few things I have learnt
-Most people spend most of their time worrying about things that will never happen
-Spend your money on good comfort gear for your wife and child or it will be your last trip or your previous wife.
- the best times are when it went a bit wrong
- go to a site called Treksafe and pay $23 for their medical book.
And the thing I sometimes learn is that
- you can never go too slow. It protects your vehicle and your family.
I don't expect you will have any problems
Ian
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val W (ACT) - Friday, May 22, 2009 at 07:54

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 07:54
Well said Ian, very true.

One other point, encourage your wife to drive, including some real 4wd sections. Being able to share the driving helps on the long sections, and provides a margin of safety if something happens to you (though hopefully it wont). And many women actually enjoy the driving if they are given a bit of encouragement.

Cheers
J and V
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Follow Up By: Church - Friday, May 22, 2009 at 08:30

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 08:30
Ian,
thank you for your words of wisdom. I actually can identify with most of what you are saying and will try to adopt that sort of philosophy on the road.

Having a day job that involves a large amount of risk assessment means that I'm constantly torn between being fairly anal and laid back-ish when it comes to the issue of "planning" in both my work and home life.

I've had a look at Treksafe book as you suggested. I already have a good knowledge/experience of remote area first aid having spent some 20 years of bushwalking throughout Tassie and elsewhere. I understand that Tassie highlands are somewhat different to the outback , although the principles for remote area first aid are similar irrespective of location. I have read up on things like nasty creepy crawlies etc, stingers and of course crocs. So we will be aware of these sorts of things.

As far as speed goes, we're in no hurry. Only carrying one spare means that I will as a matter of rule travel slowish and adjust tyre pressures to suit road conditions.

Thanks again Ian.

cheers
Church
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Reply By: Baz&Pud (Tassie) - Friday, May 22, 2009 at 09:43

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 09:43
Church
Haven't read all of the above, but sounds like a great trip, only comment i have is that in your time frame of four months and wanting to cover all that distance are you going to be able to do it when you will want to spend may be two or three nights in one place.
We have a winch and have used it only three times in ten years of travelling, and none of them were to get ourselves out of trouble.
Strongly back others in relation to having communications and some recovery gear.
Bottom line is, drive to the conditions, take your time, take it all in and enjoy the trip, and let the misses do some of the driving, depending on the road conditions we have been known to change drivers every 100 ks.
We leave on the 19th June, heading outback NSW, QLD then across to Cooktown and down the East Coast, may see yu on the road.
Cheers
Baz
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Follow Up By: Church - Friday, May 22, 2009 at 13:43

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 13:43
Thanks for your comments Baz.

Regarding timeframe I think your spot on with your comments. We recognise it's a looooong route for four months but we also recognise that we won't be able to stop and "smell the roses", for want of a better term, everywhere. We will certainly make note of things we'd like to see next time my long service comes around and do it then. What we hope to do is to pick a fewplaces (e.g. Flinders Ranges, Macdonnels, Kakadu, Fraser ) and stay for at least a week, or a little longer and really get in and have a good look at as much as we can. To be able to this we recognise that we will have quite a few days of just driving, but we think this will be a good trade off for being able to set up camp and relax for a bit at some really special places.

Am off to purchase a handheld UHF radio this afternoon.

Hope you enjoy your trip Baz.

cheers
Church
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Follow Up By: Baz&Pud (Tassie) - Friday, May 22, 2009 at 15:41

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 15:41
Was going to send you an MM but just realised your not a member,
Flinders Ranges-great camping Parachilna Gorge, and Weetootla Gorge in the Gammon Range, make sure you have a beer at the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna.
Kakadu- camping at Gunlom Falls and a great swimming hole, we were in there couple years back and road in was a bit rough but drive accordantly.

Haven't been to Fraser
Cheers
Baz
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Reply By: bgreeni - Friday, May 22, 2009 at 10:17

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 10:17
Not sure about a lot of the advise above. Seems to me that a trip like you are planning could almost be done in a conventional 2WD vehicle. I would not load myself down with all the gear some above are suggesting. Just some basic recovery gear and a compressor. Comms? I have driven all over the place and never had - needed to bother with it. Maybe I was lucky but it seems that most places you are going will have plenty of people around. If you feel you

I suspect this will bring a lot of comment but I say "Go for it"
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