Water crossings are among the most rewarding and fun obstacles to drive when out in the bush. No two are the same, and fording a body of water always comes with its own set of unique challenges.
Quite often you hear stories around the campfire of the blokes who have come a cropper when tackling particularly difficult waterways, so we thought we’d make a bit of a list of the hairiest crossings this country has to offer.
If you know of one that you reckon belongs on this list, make sure to let us know in the comments.
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1 STATION CREEK, NSW
Just north of Coffs Harbour on the NSW mid north coast is the beautiful campground known as Pebbly Beach. Access to this spot is limited by the tidal creek crossing you have to do to get there. At low tide a Rav-4 could drive it; however on a king high, you’d better bring your lifejacket!
The Ranger up this way tells us the problems start when people ignore the ‘cross only a couple of hours either side of low tide’ rule and give it a go when the water’s up. Not only can it get deep, but it can flow pretty quick too… and more than one 4X4 has been sent to the insurance gods thanks to the driver not walking it first and deciding that discretion is the better part of valour.
2 NOLANS BROOK, FNQ
Head up the Old Telegraph Track on your way to Cape York, and you’ll come across the infamous Nolans Brook up the northern end of the Tele. This is the deepest and most difficult water crossing on the entire track and it catches several vehicles out each year, with some folks even writing their pride and joy off completely. It has a soft sandy base, and most people assume it’ll be fairly firm and neglect to air down – which is why so may punters get stuck, often drowning their vehicles in the 1m+ water. According to the locals, you have to drop some air out of your tyres and get wet by walking it first if you’re going to have a hope of driving it. Having a snatch strap or winch rope ready to go probably ain’t a bad idea either.
3 CRYSTAL CREEK, FNQ
While this one isn’t a water crossing in the traditional sense, the log bridge over Crystal Creek – again up at Cape York – could most definitely be described as hairy. A few logs loosely laid side by side to form a bridge looks more like something out of an Indiana Jones movie than something a 3T fourby is meant to drive across.
Taking it slow and steady and having a good spotter is the key here. One wrongly placed wheel could spell disaster; so don’t rush. There are gaps between the logs that are just the right width to snag a poorly placed tyre. Once you’re over, you can smugly tell Harrison Ford to eat his heart out.
4 PENTECOST RIVER (AFTER WET), WA
We’ve all seen the Pentecost River crossing in just about every ad photo for the WA Tourism Board since time began. The river rises below the Durack Range in the Kimberley Region and flows north through El Questro Station and crosses the Gibb River Road.
Now, under ordinary circumstances this crossing wouldn’t belong in this article – with roughly 10 months of the year seeing the water levels drop to around 50cm or so. But directly after a decent wet in April-May it becomes one of the nastiest crossings in the country. We’re talking 60m+ wide of deep, fast-flowing water that has enough punch to leave a B-Double on its side… we know this because last time we were up that way there was a truck frame buried in the silt. On top of that, saltwater crocodiles are known to inhabit the area. Oof.
5 ELI CREEK – FRASER ISLAND, QLD
Fraser Island is about as iconic as off-road destinations get. There are two types of four-wheel driver: Those that want to go to Fraser and those that have been to Fraser and want to go back. However the beach crossing at Eli Creek always seems to catch a few people out each season. Perhaps it’s to do with the sharply eroded banks providing a steep drop-off, over-inflated tyres and inexperience behind the wheel; but our mates at Five Rat Towing sure have seen their fair share of full vehicle recoveries over the years.
If you’re up this way, maybe take a few minutes to assess the situation before charging in. You don’t want to become another Eli victim.
6 HENTY RIVER, TAS
The beaches at Strahan offer some of the best sand driving in Tassie, but the spot where the mouth of the mighty Henty River bisects the beach has brought many a 4WD to its knees. To start with, there’s deceptively tame-looking quicksand before you even get to the crossing. Once you’ve made the bank, the drop-in can be steep and the water fast-moving… never a good combo. It only gets worse after heavy rain too; so choose your battles and give it a miss if you’re not 100% confident. The locals reckon they’ve seen plenty of 4X4s wrecked after they became stuck and needed a tractor to pull them out. Apparently tractor buckets and sheet steel don’t mix…
Tell us about the hairiest crossing you’ve ever undertaken
Words by Dex Fulton