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Don't be scared, just be sensible and careful please!
As a traveller, most people want to see more than the standard tourist trail. More and more travellers turning up on isolated backroads that are rarely used. Foreigners are also starting to travel in the off season when it is searingly hot, or in the middle of the wet when flash flooding is common and roads are closed for weeks on end. This is fine and you can have a wonderful and genuine experience. But you need to recognise the additional risk you are taking and be a lot more prepared and knowledgable.
And once again their ignorance is getting them into trouble: unprepared and completely ignorant of the risks they have taken.
You need to be self-reliant in the Australian outback. There is no one out here! Well there is but not many people. This means that services you are used to having at your finger tips are a bit further away than you might expect. Nor, if you get yourself into trouble or hurt, is someone going to be along in the next 5 minutes to help.
If you have an accident in a major coastal city you can be in a hospital seeing a surgeon in an hour or two. In the outback, it might be 12 hours before you can get the same standard of care, that is assuming you are found quickly in the first place. If you take a detour off the major highways, it could be hours or a day or two before someone even discovers you.
So, if you are going off the major highways then consider teaming up with another vehicle travelling the same way. That way if you do strike any sort of trouble you have a back up vehicle and it can be a whole lot more fun. If you are a first time visitor to remote areas and have no experience with unsealed roads but want to get off the beaten track (away from sealed roads), then I strongly recommend that you book some sort of tour.
So, do some research, prepare yourself and your vehicle, take the advice of locals seriously (especially the police) and enjoy your holiday in this amazing part of Australia.
Distances, Fatigue and Fuel
Most people find the distances and space in the outback quite amazing. It is fairly normal to have over 100km between towns (fuel stops), some may be up to around 160km or even further. So always check your fuel tank as you leave a town and make sure you have enough to get to the next one. Expect fuel stations in smaller towns/village to close at around 8pm. Larger towns such as Longreach and Mount Isa in Queensland will always be a little cheaper for fuel.
Fatigue is a huge issue on outback roads causing many accidents. The distances are long, the roads are fairly straight, there is little traffic and the scenery tho beautiful changes slowly. For many it is easy to get bored, distracted and drowsy. Pace yourself, use the road side stops and listen to your body.
Mobile phone coverage is getting much better on the major highways. You can expect a good signal up to about 20km out from town, it will then become patchy or non existent. If you are going to use minor roads and unsealed roads then forget your mobile phone and consider installing a UHF radio & learning how to use it. It will let you communicate with trucks when you wish to overtake and in the event of an accident you may be able to call up a nearby cattle/sheep station for help.
Food, Water, Medication and First Aid
ALWAYS, ALWAYS carry water with you. Australia is the driest continent in the world. If your car breaks down on an isolated road in the middle of a 40 degree C day, you are genuinely in trouble. Especially if you don't have a minimum of 5 litres of water for each person per day.
A First Aid kit is essential to have in the car, as is a basic knowlege of first aid and how to treat a snake bite. Snake bites are uncommon, but if you are the unlucky one then time is not on your side and you need to know what to do.
If you take regular medication, then make sure you have a week's more supply than you think you need for the trip. Most small towns have a pharmacy but not every medication is going to be on hand that day.
Wildlife, Road Kill and Cattle
Emus, Birds, Kangaroos, Wallabies, Snakes, Lizards, Goannas and feral pigs are all very common on Outback roads. On unsealed roads you may also come across herds of cattle and sheep, as these roads are often unfenced. Avoid driving from an hour before dark until and hour after dawn, visibility is poor at this time and it is also when animals are most active. Avoid driving when you are tired and if there are a number of animals about, ask your passengers to help you spot wildlife. If there is an animal in your way, slow down, sound your horn, if it is night time switch your lights to low beam. DO NOT Swerve sharply for birds or smaller animals as you risk losing control of the vehicle.
Trucks and Road Trains
Spare Tyres & a Snatch Strap