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Safety tips for your roadie in Northern Australia

Safety tips for your roadie in Northern Australia

Common throughout the remote northern regions of Australia, water crossings are at their most dangerous around the beginning and end of the wet season. If you encounter a large body of water, there are a few important points to remember. Most important is that they’re potentially deadly if not approached with caution. It’s certainly not a regular occurrence, but drivers have been washed to their demise due to ignorance of currents and depths.

Never drive into anything deeper than a puddle without first checking its depth on foot – as long as it’s not fast flowing. Wade carefully, using a long stick to check depths and surface. Pulling over for a stretch also allows the car to cool down – when submerged in water, a hot drive train can suck water into its housing and seals can blow.

If the crossing is exceptionally deep, wind down windows and unlock doors – you may need an escape route. Enter slowly in low range with four wheels engaged. Proceed slowly, but maintain momentum and don’t change gears. If you stall, don’t restart the engine – use a winch or another vehicle for recovery (which raises another point – you should always travel in a convoy in remote areas).

If your engine has taken in water, attempting to restart it may cause it to hydraulically lock. Instead, remove the spark plugs and turn the ignition – this will push any water the engine has taken in out of the plugholes.
If your vehicle isn’t set up for water crossings, any depth higher than the axles should be avoided. Depths beyond this require a snorkel for the engine’s air intake. If you’re stranded and have no choice, you can temporarily detach your fan belt to help keep water from being sucked into the engine bay and, ideally, cover the front of the vehicle with a tarp. If your vehicle has an older engine with a distributor cap, cover this as well.

In case of flood, your car is sometimes your enemy – only two feet of fast-moving water can sweep away most cars. Avoid driving during a flood. Listen to the radio in case emergency updates are given. Always seek higher ground and call 000 if you get into trouble. In the highly unlikely event that you are swept into fast-moving water outside of your car, point your feet downstream and always attempt go over obstacles, never under.

When driving on deep sand, it’s a good idea to get tyre pressure right to avoid bogging – generally in the 16–18 PSI range. If the surface is especially soft, switch to a lower gear and high range, and keep your RPM high so that you can quickly accelerate if you feel the vehicle sinking.

As with all remote treks, you should travel in convoys – at the very least, this track should be driven in groups of two, with shovels, snatch straps and ideally a winch on hand. You should also consider getting off-line digital maps from an organisation like Hema. Cellular coverage can be sketchy out in the Australian wilds, so it’s best to have a contingency plan in place.

Campsites in national parks and nature reserves on the Cape must be booked in advance. Camping permits can be booked online at, by phoning 13 74 68, or by contacting an authorised booking agent.

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