“Of all the paths you take in life make sure a few of them are dirt…”
Said someone far wiser – and more articulate than me. But I wholeheartedly agree. And better yet, why not travel some of those dirt roads with a camper trailer in tow.
We spent a year travelling Australia and living in a camper trailer. And many of the roads we travelled were dirt, or sand, sometimes rocks, and sometimes even rivers. Sometimes all of the above.
The beauty of towing a camper trailer that was light – and low (compared to a caravan) was that it was so much more manoeuvrable and could go almost everywhere our 4WD could go. We had the freedom to get off road, cook outdoors, and get up close and personal with nature. Sometimes a little too close. Because what we lacked in creature comforts – we made up for in, well…creatures.
Our camper and immediate surrounds have been host to dingoes, snakes, cane toads, wombats, locusts, emus, bulls, possums, horses – to name a few. Then again, we also patted dolphins, watched whales swim past our beach campsite, swum with turtles in hot springs, and spied a platypus while camping next to a river. Some creatures do have a plus side (especially those we found in the mud, chilli crabbed and had with a bottle of rose – yummo).
I won’t lie - as much as we love our camper trailer, there were quite a few times where I admit to having major caravan envy. When the wind was howling, the gas on our cooktop kept blowing out, our tent on wheels was flapping around like a sail, all the poles were rattling – a few times I did massively covet our neighbours’ tin can fortresses of security, and thought it must be nice to have…walls, a roof, a door you can close tight rather zip – and something more between heads and the cyclone conditions outside than some canvas.
Access all areas
Thankfully those envious thoughts were few and far between. Most of the time we were quite happy to leave the caravans in our dust and veer off the bitumen.
The Oodnadatta Track, Tanami, some of the best spots in Kakadu, the Bungle Bungles, Gibb River Road, Cape Leveque, Victorian high country, beach camping, riverbank camping, mountain camping, sand dune camping, clifftop camping - we got the camper trailer into (and out of – phew, though there a few close calls) all of it.
If you’re heading off-road, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Dirt roads are really…dirty. And dusty. And red. That red dust gets into everything. Big tip – forget about wearing white. Ever. It’s not worth the grief. Also – make sure everything is sealed tight. Because when you’re bouncing around on those dirt roads, a lot of that dirt and dust and mud is going to do its best to get ALL over your stuff. And there is nothing quite like pulling up after a long dusty drive only to find your bed, and fridge, and cutlery, and food covered in an inch of that dirt roady grit. We kept our mattress and bedding safe and dust free in a big bed shaped canvas bag that we unzipped and folded back when we set up. The draw was super duper sealed, and everything that could possibly go into plastic tubs, was jammed in there.
You’re in for a bumpy ride – many outback roads are not graded and will seriously rattle your bones. The corrugations will also rattle your mirrors, aerials, roof racks, and internal organs of your camper. Our camper trailer was as tough and sturdy as they come, and even it came a bit unstuck on the Gibb River Road – the underbody spare tyre cover fell off, a d-shackle snapped, and the Anderson plug disconnected and was pulverised to smithereens. Be sure to stop and check and screw and tighten regularly. But these were all minor inconveniences compared to the truly catastrophic injury to our limited booze supply. Yes (sniff, weep) I am grieved to say that we lost three bottles of wine in the Kimberley. Smashed. Eek. Devastation. Note to the intrepid, dusty traveller – cask wine is your friend when it gets bumpy.
Watch your back – Rear windows can suffer once you’re off the bitumen. On our first proper venture off-road down the Oodnadatta Track, we weren’t half an hour out of Coober Pedy when CRACK! Our back windscreen was smashed. We constructed a make shift windscreen out of a cardboard box (luckily this time, the bottles didn’t smash…and our case of wine actually proved to be quite multi-functional) and some duct tape until we could get it repaired. But prevention is better than cure – and the cure doesn’t need to be fancy. We found cardboard, or an old picnic blanket, taped to the back offered plenty of protection when the roads got rocky. The powder coated plating on the bottom section of the camper and the stone guard which deflected rocks and detritus helped too – and didn’t draw nearly as many funny looks as driving around with a wine case taped to the car did.
Plan your escape route – when travelling in remote parts of Australia, it can be a long time between fuel stops. If you detour off-road, it can be even longer. Be sure to check distances before setting out and make sure you have enough fuel to get you in, out again, and back to diesel supplies. It’s also a good idea to get a map that doesn’t need the internet and that shows 4WD and off-road tracks for the area. Check there is an exit route or, if it’s a dead end, that there’s somewhere to turn around. Run ahead and check the width of the trail if you need to. The last thing you want to do after a hefty bumpy ride in, is have to do it all again – but in reverse.
Finally – don’t let your off-road towing be this kind of towing off-road. Let me tell you, that it is embarrassing in the extreme, not to mention costly, to accidentally put petrol instead of diesel into a Landcruiser. Especially when the hubby and kids are back at a beach campsite with no phone reception - and four hours after leaving you turn back up to that campsite in the world’s smallest Nissan Micra rental. Don’t be a boofhead like me - and may your off-road towing adventures NOT involve a tow truck or a tiny hire car.