There are a few unwritten rules about bush travelling regarding what you should and shouldn’t do. They are, without exception, for your safety and well-being. All are open to interpretation and change, with the proviso of your experience, capability and skillset, which all revolve around your ability to improvise or get yourself out of trouble.
While I’ve travelled remotely for many decades, I’m always learning, often making mistakes and changing the way I roll to best suit the circumstances I’m placed in.
This last trip, a nine-week, 10,000km outback jaunt, saw me break many of these general unwritten rules, albeit I didn’t die, didn’t destroy my vehicle, and made it home with many an exciting tale to tell. Read on, laugh at my expense, but most of all, learn as I did on what not to do, as this is my all-time highest score.
Don’t work on your own 4×4
Not that you shouldn’t work on your 4×4, but don’t do it the day, or even the week, before setting out into the great unknown. Reason being, anything that you may have worked on presents a potential problem that it may not have been done correctly. Yeah, I know that’s a pessimist’s way of looking at things, but it’s sure as hell a lot easier to find out that something is not right in the comforts of your driveway than deep in the outback with limited tools and help.
Me: I finished preparing and working on our 4×4 converted HiAce at 8 pm the night before we were meant to head off for a nine-week trip – Dumb with a capital “D”.
Well, I’ll have to pass some of the blame onto other companies that worked on our van and botched it big time, so I had no choice other than laying under the van, torch in mouth, trying to trace and rectify the electrical issues, as well as timberwork problems inside that, still to this day, cause us grief.
In a perfect world, it’s preferable to have things done right the first time, obvious eh, but give yourself time to sort things out well in advance.
Drive without a bull bar
Everyone preaches the virtues of vehicle protection by having a bullbar fitted to your 4×4. While it may not protect against a serious vehicle collision, it should ward off vehicle damage from most animal strikes. Radiator damage from hitting a Roo, rogue bull or the like will see you sitting by the side of the road. Even a smashed headlight will see your nighttime driving inhibited.
Me: As much as I wanted and tried my best to have a bullbar fitted to our HiAce, it simply wasn’t possible; well, not the bullbar I wanted. Ya’ see, up until recently, just weeks after we finished our big trip, the only type of bull bar available for a HiAce was the style that fitted over the top of the existing plastic bumper bar. While that helps, I wanted a full replacement bar incorporating a winch, rated recovery points, and mounting antennas and driving lights.
My delay was via waiting for the finalising of design, testing and ADR approvals of a newly developed bar, so I chose to risk heading bush with the OE standard plastic. I survived and lived to tell the tale.
Special note: a full report on the new bar will be published here soon; keep an eye out for it.
Drive at night
Following on with not driving without a bullbar is not driving at night time without decent driving lights. Yep, lights can be fitted without a bullbar; it’s much easier to have them added to the sturdy base of a bar.
Driving at dusk, night, and dawn opens your world up to a plethora of potential damage regarding collecting an animal strike. While it’s easy to say you won’t drive at night time, it’s simply not always possible to avoid.
Me: given that I hadn’t fitted the bullbar and had no decent light mounting position, I went without. Yes, I drove at night a few times, but I slowed to suit the circumstances and paid particular attention to my surroundings. I didn’t hit anything and put that down to my slower rate of knots and my outback driving experience.
Another special note: a full report on the Nighthawk Variable Light Intensity driving lights will be upcoming.
Check your tools
I always take a well-stocked tool kit on any 4×4 trip, whether a weekend or a big trip away. Having all the tools to fix or repair almost anything is a must. Not having tools on board, in my opinion, is downright dumb. Even if you can’t fix your vehicle problems, if you at least have tools, you may be able to coax others into helping you with your tools.
Me: while I did pack plenty of tools, I took tools from a few different locations – my Troopy, my 1 Tonner and my shed. Little did I realise that the three eight-size spare socket set I picked from the shed weren’t compatible with the half-inch drive ratchet from my Troopy toolbox. There I was, on the side of the road, tools all laid out, ready to work on the van, when I found the sockets were a different size to the ratchet – you probably heard me swearing from wherever you happen to live! Bugger, what a mistake that was. I dropped into the local tool shop in the next major town and purchased an adaptor.
Know your appliances
A brand new 96-litre dual zone MyCOOLMAN fridge was sitting proud as punch in the van, all ready to be loaded with food and drinks. As per above, whereby I didn’t finish working on the van until late the night before, I hadn’t gotten around to turning the fridge freezer on and learning the controls… I mean, what self-respecting person reads any manual anyway?
Me: I set the fridge compartment to 2 degrees and the freezer to minus 18 ’cause that’s as low as it’ll go and we had a full complement of good, healthy, homemade food to keep frozen that my partner Sharyn had spent an age cooking and pre-freezing, along with the fridge food and drinks. All good in theory, eh! Well, imagine my horror a couple of days later when I discovered our frozen food had thawed and the refrigerated food and drinks were being frozen! Obviously, I initially blamed the fridge, but soon had to fess up that I’d got the fridge and freezer sections arse about. Yep, I set the fridge to freeze and the freezer to fridge, which took a lot of apologising to get over.
If only I had taken the time to read at least that one page of the manual!
Fair enough, some fellas might have leather-like skin, tough as nails, and no blisters no matter what they do with them. As for the rest of us mere mortals, please wear gloves while out collecting firewood. Not only do they prevent splinters, but they also ward off spider, lizard and snake bites to the hands. Using gloves around the fire helps burn accidents, like when you pick up the hot end of a log, the BBQ plate that hasn’t cooled down yet or the tongs that were left sitting on the rocks around the fire.
Me: Day one on the road, so excited at the thought of having our first campfire and wanting to be the caveman-provider by collecting wood and starting the fire. All was good until I ended up with a palm full of tiny splinters.
Keep your fingers clear
Fingers hurt when they cop a bang to the nail – right? Fingers cause untold agony when they get slammed in the door – hell yeah! I have no idea how you could possibly catch your finger in the vehicle’s door jamb; just plain old silly, I guess!
Me: yep, I slammed the door with one hand, while the middle finger of the other hand sat in the door jamb, watching the door swing faster, closer, closer until – smash, I was doing that silly dance, jumping up and down on the spot, swearing a lot, holding my finger, sure it had been snapped off from the blunt force of the door. Funnily (later), none of those things helped ride the immense pain of a door strike to the nail, but nothing in the world would stop me from doing them for a good five to 10 minutes. The ensuing blood blister that took ages to grow out was a constant reminder of what not to do with fingers.
Close the roof
It seems obvious to close the pop-top roof of a camper van before you drive off. Would be plain old stupid not to, eh? Think of the wind resistance on the canvas as you build speed; think of the dust billowing up the back and sucking into the van’s innards.
Me: yep, I forgot to lower our HiAce campers’ roof within the first week of camping prior to driving off. In my defence, it was on a private property camping and we only drove from our camp spot to the amenities block a few kilometres away and at a relatively low speed. Plus, I’ve never used a campervan before, so the whole roof up, roof down thingy was new to me – just an excuse.
Luckily, we didn’t do any damage and didn’t suck in too much dust. It was pretty cool how many new friends we made on that short trip, all waving at us, pointing up to the sky – me thinking they thought our van was awesome and the weather was great, so I cheerily waved back.
Close your windows
Along the same vein as closing the pop-top roof of the camper, make sure the rearward windows are closed in the camper. Sure, having the drivers and passengers’ windows open is fine, and I love the fresh air rushing in.
Me: leaving the rear bed area side windows open on our van was an ideal way to suck in a little red dust. It was a perfect and efficient way of turning our bedding a tinge of outback red earth.
Watch where you’re going in reverse
Many struggle to reverse in a straight line or at least into a particular spot without “touch parking”. Damage to your or others’ vehicle or property or even knocking a bit of bark off a tree will cost you money and embarrassment
No, not me this time, but my partner Sharyn: during a moment of lapse of concentration, while I was instructing where my next video clip was to be taken from and how she should be driving, she may have, well, lets cut to the chase, did run off the edge of a cattle grid while reversing and listening to me at the same time. Yes, there was damage to the steering and suspension of our nice new HiAce; yes, I swore a little, as did Sharyn, but at least our home on wheels was still driveable. After a thorough roadside inspection, even though parts were bent and out of alignment, I deemed it safe to drive to the next town for mechanical repairs.
Don’t trust any mapping system
We’ve all heard the stories of people becoming geographically misplaced and blaming Google Maps. Just because the voice tells you to turn, we should all keep an eye out on our surroundings and have at least a rough idea of how far and in what direction you should be travelling. If a track becomes narrower, smaller, less used and overgrown, start to wonder why and backtrack to more well-used routes if needed.
Me: Nothing majorly went wrong with my navigation and no, we didn’t end up perishing at the end of a goat track, but we did have a few moments of frustration deciding which “voice” to listen to. Ya’ see, I was running Google Maps, OsmAnd offline mapping, a VMS 3DX GPS navigator and the Toyota Original Equipment in-dash GPS navigator simultaneously. Yes, four voices, which in one extremely remote area of the Northern Territory, were all seemingly yelling at me to turn left, make a U-turn, proceed 200km and generally confuse the hell out of me with different ways to get to the one place. After I’d stopped, looked at all four devices, thought about the consequences of following each one, took into account my surroundings, how much fuel I had on board, and figured on following just one unit.
Don’t get lost
In the same navigation vein as the point above, there have been plenty of times people leave their vehicles for a bush walk. They become lost and perish in the wilderness of our remote Aussie bush.
Me: yes, embarrassingly, I got lost on a nighttime walk. After our campsite dinner and letting the campfire die down, we decided to walk a couple of kilometres back to the main dirt road we’d been travelling on in pitch black and with little natural features to help navigate. While I’m pretty good at taking all my surroundings in to help retrace my steps, from the moment we encountered a snake in the torchlight and decided that there were probably thousands more just waiting to pounce on us, I stupidly took no notice of where we were walking, how many bends we took and whether we turned left or right at some intersections.
While returning to where I thought our campervan was parked, some three hours later, after having walked in circles, crisscrossing the deserted countryside and, at one stage, making plans to sleep on the ground for the night, we eventually found our way back. We stayed calm enough to realise we were walking in the wrong direction multiple times and thought about our predicament. We stayed together, we bounced ideas off each other as to which way we should try walking next. Ultimately, we lived to tell the tale, but most importantly, we learnt a valuable lesson on not what to do next time.