NOOSA TO RAINBOW BEACH, QLD
Although Hervey Bay is the best-known access point to Fraser Island, Rainbow Beach is actually the closest, and if you can get your mitts on a 4WD in Noosa, getting there can be just as much fun as your trip to the island itself. The 50km stretch of beach from Tewantin, which is just north of Noosa, to Rainbow Beach is part of The Great Sandy National Park – the rest of the park is Fraser Island – and is one of the most popular 4WD journeys in southern Queensland.
Highlights: The Coloured Sands. These tall, multi-shaded cliffs skirt the beach and make for a some great photo-ops, or if you feel like stretching your legs and getting some exercise, the park is home to some great bushwalks. Also, there’s dolphin feeding at Tin Can Bay.
Hazards: Be very careful when you come to the Mudlo Rocks, just south of Rainbow Beach, as they claim around 100 vehicles a year. Either wait for complete low tide before trying to pass, or follow the lead of someone who has more knowledge of them.
For more information contact the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, on Ph: 13 13 04.
FRASER ISLAND, QLD
Fraser Island is made up entirely of sand, meaning that 4WDs are the only way to get around.
Once on the road, er, we mean sand, you can explore the island and its dense, tropical rainforest. There are also around 200 freshwater lakes, including the most famous one of all – Lake Mackenzie. The main ‘highway’ on Fraser is Seventy-Five Mile Beach, and it’s here that you’ll get to try your hand at fast four-wheel-driving by zooming down the beach at a rather zippy 50km per hour.
Highlights:: High atop of Indian head, you’ll be able to spot tiger sharks, rays, turtles and just about every other creature that calls Fraser home. From here you’ll also be able to take in all of Fraser’s beauty.
Along the highway, and just north of Maheno Beach is the famous Maheno shipwreck. And just further north is the colourful Pinnacles.
Hazards: Although driving on Seventy-Mile Beach may seem easy, you need to be aware that the surface underneath you can change at any point. Also be aware that you have to be careful and protect the fragile environment around you. Make sure you camp well away from the ‘highway’.
CAPE YORK, QLD
One of the last frontiers in Australia, the trip from Cairns to Cape York is certainly not one for the fainthearted, but if you do it, it will probably be one of your greatest Down Under experiences. The shortest route between the two points is 1000km, but there are so many detours that you’ll want to take, that it’s probably best to allow yourself at least a week just to skim the surface.
Highlights: Apart from the “hey, look at me” aspect of standing on the northernmost tip of mainland Australia, the scenery is worth the trip alone. The cape is home to some of the most spectacular rainforests in the country. For a bit of culture, don’t miss the ancient Aboriginal rock art galleries in the Laura region.
Hazards: Don’t even attempt this journey in the Wet (November-May), even if you get in, you won’t get out again. If you travel near the beginning or end of the Dry, make sure you are fully informed about current road conditions. Also be aware that the more scenic Old Telegraph Track requires a lot of fording of (croc-infested!) creeks, so make sure you understand the procedures involved if you take this route.
For more details, www.the-cape.com.au/ is an excellent source of information on all things cape-related. For up-to-date info on road conditions, contact the RACQ, Ph: 1300 130 595, www.racq.com.au/
Not so much a journey as a destination, Kakadu National Park has got to be one of the best things about the Northern Territory. Many people take organised tours from Darwin, but for the ultimate freedom, grab a 4WD and see the park at your own pace and away from the tourist hordes.
Highlights:: Where do you want us to start? For your gushing-water fix, you can’t beat Jim Jim and Twin Falls, although be warned that Jim Jim tends to dry up as the Dry season takes hold. Some of the best and most accessible rock art in the Territory can be found at Ubirr and Nourlangie, which are also the site of some great walks and lookouts. If you want to check out the birds, take a cruise on the Yellow Water Wetlands, which are home to many of Kakadu’s feathery natives.
Hazards: This is croc country, so under no circumstances jump into a waterhole with warning signs present.
For more info check out www.ea.gov.au/parks/kakadu which has all the local knowledge, including maps, or give the Bowali Information Centre a call, Ph: (08) 8938 1120.
PALM VALLEY, NT
Palm Valley is found in Finke Gorge National Park, around 100km from Alice Springs, and is only accessible by 4WD. The valley is the site of a redirected river course, where flash floods used to crash through millions of years ago, carving out a beautiful sandstone gorge.
In true Aussie fashion, Palm Valley received its name because it is a valley full of palms. But what makes it unique is that the red cabbage palms that populate the valley floor grow nowhere else in the world.
Highlights: As well as the rare trees, you may also be fortunate – or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it – to meet some of the scary critters of the area, including the King Brown snake. Cruising over sand dunes as wild horses gallop past you, Palm Valley is one hell of an awesome 4WD adventure.
Hazards: It is so easy to get lost with so many sand dunes that look the same, all the dust and the lack of road signs, so always make sure you plan your route properly. And it’s also a good idea to let someone know where you will be.
TANAMI TRACK, NT
For the ultimate Aussie 4WD experience, you need to drive through the heart of the country, and traverse the odd desert or two. The Tanami Track runs north from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to Halls Creek in Western Australia, and cuts right through the middle of the Tanami Desert, one of the least-populated areas in the country. There’s not much to look at along the 1000-odd kilometres of road, but it’s one of those iconic kinda journeys, and the experience of space and solitude should stay with you long after you’ve returned to civilisation.
Highlights: This trip is more about the experience than the scenery, but the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater, about 100km south of Halls Creek is worth pulling over for (although look out for serial killers in the car park). The second-largest of its type in the world, the crater is 850 metres across and 50 metres deep. Other diversions include the Granites Gold Mine and Aboriginal communities, although permits are needed to visit these.
Hazards: Plan your fuel needs carefully, as there are very long gaps between petrol stations, and some are not open seven days a week. Make sure you’re carrying extra provisions, and if you run into problems stay by your vehicle and wait for help – it’s the people who wander off into the desert that come to a sticky end.
For more detailed information visit www.ntholidays.com/