Eight things to know about desert travel

New to caravanning but hankering for desert adventure? Truly magnetic experiences await but desert travel presents unique challenges. And it’s not always about the rig. Here are some things to consider before hitting the red horizon.

 

SOME DESERT TRAVEL IS SURPRISINGLY ACCESSIBLE

If you’re dipping your toes into desert for the first time you’ll find plenty off the main track, some of it via the blacktop. From Mildura there’s Mungo Man and pink lakes within nearby national parks. And from Townsville, you’ll find dinosaur diggings between historic Charters Towers and Hughenden.

Or, check out gorges and mega-fauna fossils near Clare Valley heading towards the Flinders Ranges. Abate curiosity inland from the Western Australia mid-coast at the curious pinnacles. Desert country comprises 35 percent of Australia. Truly, we could go on and on.

Desert travel on bitumen via the Stuart Highway

 

NOT ALL POWERED SITES AT CARAVAN PARKS INCLUDE WATER

Water can never be taken for granted in arid regions, in fact, it’s not always included in the cost of a powered site. So always ask the question when arranging your booking.

If not, you may be able to purchase it at a caravan park en-route; enquire at the local information centre ahead of your trip on where to top up. Also, remember, town water varies in taste and some bore water has limited applications so thoroughly research the water situation ahead of your travels.

 

IT GETS COLD AT NIGHT

If the sky is clear, desert heat escapes the dry air when the sun goes down causing temperatures to plummet overnight.

Hot water bottles, layers including thermals and a lightweight, lined gore-tex jacket can help keep you cosy. And run any gas or diesel heating before the extremes set in as they can otherwise struggle to run.

 

THIS YEAR, YOU’LL SEE IT IN SPLENDOUR

Desert bound this year? You’ll discover just how far water can really travel. Deluges months’ prior and thousands of kilometres away can flow thick and fast. In fact, right now, flood waters from the Channel Country are forging into Australia’s heart at Lake Eyre, leaving a floral desert spray in its wake. With this tidal influx, towns are sometimes cut off in the process. Which is why you need to stay abreast of past, present and future conditions.

 

PETROL ISN’T AVAILABLE 24/7

In truly remote terrain, travellers have been forced to camp up waiting for a fuel delivery. But a more likely scenario is having to wait for a fuel stop to open. Some open late but it’s not unheard of for others to close as early as three on a weekend. If you’re lucky, you might be able to top up hours service for a fee. So research your fuel stops, and top up at every opportunity.

 

YOUR GEAR WORKS HARDER

Desert conditions test appliances and rigs, even on bitumen, with three-way fridges, battery systems and your rig’s engine, suspensions and cooling systems top of the list. Watch for changes/challenges during short-term trips, bearing in mind wear and tear occurs cumulatively. A good 4WD mechanic and caravan service centre can advise.

Clearly, your rig needs to be track fit for variable conditions. Check with road authorities and fellow commuters who’ve recently travelled the route. Knowing whether or not a grader has passed through will help you assess whether an alternative route is better, bearing in mind poor weather can rip up a road.

Wildlife is another road risk at dawn and dusk.

 

RECEPTION ISN’T GUARANTEED

Most travellers understand that mobile reception quickly falls away outside major rural population centres. So with communications, it’s best to take a multi-pronged approach. For checking in with folks at home against a shared itinerary you can use social media via a GPS device-so long as you have internet.

Satellite phones are affordable to hire for assistance during desert travel although call costs are expensive. UHF CB-Radios, meanwhile are important for communicating between fellow travellers out on the road, especially if road-trains share the route. 

Macca explains it beautifully here, how to co-exist with fellow long-haul travellers.

Finally, carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) for out and out emergencies.

 

DUST MANAGEMENT IS A THING

Some travellers filter and seal gaps while others swear by pressurising the cabin through a pressure hatch also known as ‘scupper’ vents. Whichever approach you prefer always ensure gas appliances are adequately vented even if they’re un-plugged. Good pinch-weld seals will help save your external lockers during desert travel.

Not all vans are the same, and you will learn what works in yours through trial and error. In the meantime double bag clothes and pack a mop as some of it will likely make its way in. If the van is pressurised, dust can still get in before reaching speed so accelerate slowly if tracks are rough near camp. Always maintain a clear distance between other rigs.