Routes vary from excellent sealed roads like the Stuart Highway to the roughest of bush tracks. Seasonal conditions change the terrain of the roads from smooth sandy tracks to corrugations, stony and rocky crossings.
Rescue resources are often scarce in remote areas. This is especially important on four-wheel-drive treks into desert regions. Travellers should leave details of their route and estimated time of arrival with a friend or relative before departure, and carry a suitable radio and emergency equipment.
Temperatures in the Outback can exceed 50 degrees Celsius and winds can create huge dust storms. Optimal seasonal conditions are between May and October. If you are traveling outside these seasons prior planning is even more important.
Four wheel driving route maps are available from the Visitor Information Centre.
Please learn the road laws
Obtain information about important road laws. Importantly, remember to keep to the left side of the road, keep to speed limits, wear seatbelts and do not drink alcohol before or while driving.
While there is no speed restriction on the open road in the Northern Territory speed is a significant factor in road accidents. Driver's should drive at a speed that allows them to stop safely. Be particularly wary of your speed on unsealed roads.
Seat belts save lives. Northern Territory law states everyone in a vehicle fitted with a seat belt must be wearing a seat belt. It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure all passengers are wearing a seat belt.
Plan your trip, include rest breaks
Long distance travel is often necessary in the Outback.
Driving for long periods without rest breaks causes fatigue. Fatigue is a common cause of accidents so plan regular stops and change drivers every two hours. Avoid driving at times when you are normally asleep. If you have just arrived in Australia allow for ‘jet lag’. Do not leave your car heater or air-conditioner switched to ‘recycle’ as this can make you drowsy and watch for other signs of fatigue (blurred vision, yawning).
Many roads in remote regions of Australia do not have directional road signs. Obtain detailed road maps of the areas you plan to visit before you leave. Note where petrol stations are on your route and carry extra supplies of food and water. For remote areas you may need extra spare tyres and tools. Check with a motoring organisation or association before leaving. Obey road closure signs.
If you are hiring a vehicle ensure you are aware of where the safety equipment is, how to use the equipment and how to get out of possible emergency situations eg getting bogged in sand etc. Ask your hire car company, or a motor car accessories shop, about means of emergency communication equipment.
Inform family of your travel plans and intended route
Before you start your journey to travel in remote and outback areas, it is your responsibility to pre-arrange points from which to contact relatives or friends, advising them of your arrival. Allow a margin for delays and for weekends and holidays. If contact is not received within a reasonable time of that schedule, your friends or relatives should contact the Police.
Please remember that ultimately you are responsible for your own safety.
Check the driving conditions
Many roads located in the outback are unsealed, and covered by dirt, sand or gravel. The condition of these roads will vary depending on the weather conditions. Always drive with caution at reduced speed.
Unsealed Outback roads in Australia can be dusty when dry, or prone to flood damage after rain. Heavy rains can mean unsealed road may be closed to prevent damage and risk of bogging. Traffic on dry unsealed roads can raise a dust cloud that will obscure your vision. Slow down or stop until the dust settles.
If you encounter gates, they should always be left as they were found, i.e. open gates should be left open and closed gates should be closed after passing through them. Avoid tracks that are for private use only, or that are not marked on maps.
Road trains are very long large trucks (the length of ten cars). Many road trains use remote and outback roads. To overtake a road train safely you should be able to see at least one kilometre of clear road ahead, and be prepared for them to move a little from side to side as you overtake. If you are driving slowly and a road train is approaching to overtake you, move over as far as possible to the left and stop if necessary to allow it to overtake.
Despite our great climate weather conditions do vary at differnet times of the year. Do not attempt to cross flooded bridges or causeways unless you are sure of the depth, flow rate and any underliying road damage. Generally, waters across causeways and crossings rise and fall in a relatively short period.
On Outback roads, Australian wildlife such as kangaroos and emus often stray onto the road and can cause serious accidents. Also watch out for livestock like sheep, horses, and cattle which graze on the roadside. To reduce the risk of accidents avoid driving at sunrise and sunset when animals are most active. If a kangaroo crosses in front of you, reduce speed safely. Do not swerve wildly - you may hit the kangaroo anyway and roll your vehicle.
It is suggested that basic first aid knowledge is acquired before you travel into the outback.
Care needs to be taken when travelling in very remote areas during summer, when temperatures in Outback Australia can reach well over 40oC (104oF). Try to keep out of the sun during the hottest hours of the day. Wear sunglasses, a broad rimmed hat and carry insect repellent. When the weather is hot increase the intake of water and regularly apply sunblock.
In an emergency, stay with your vehicle
Outback tragedies occur when people leave their vehicle after becoming stranded. Stay with your vehicle at all times and wait until help arrives.
Leaving details of your travel plans with a family member or friend, will ensure someone will send help. If you have not told anyone of your travel plans then wait for another traveller to find you. A vehicle will be far easier for them to find than isolated human beings in the vastness of the Outback.
Above all else, do not panic and stay with your vehicle.
Much of the Barkly Region is either private cattle property or under traditional ownership. In the case of Aboriginal land, you are permitted to travel on gazetted roads, but not more than 50m either side of the road. Permits may be obtained from the Central Land Council to enter Aboriginal property. They can be contacted in Tennant Creek on (08) 8962 2343.
Four Wheel Drive Vehicles
These vehicles differ from normal passenger cars. They have a high centre of gravity and are more likely to roll over.
Take extra care when driving these vehicles particularly on unsealed roads. Ask the vehicle supplier for details of 4WD driving courses and ensure you know how to use the vehicle if you become bogged. Know how to engage and disengage the four wheel drive system including free wheeling hubs.
Importantly do not overload the roof racks with luggage.
The outback area of Australia is vast and a wonderful rewarding place to visit. However, for unplanned travel the outback is also potentially dangerous, so please get good advice and thoroughly prepare for your journey. Your safety is important to us!