Saturday, July 23, 2011

In and Out of Remote Areas…

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One of our challenges as we tackle the more remote areas of our country, is the lack of mobile service. We use Telstra 3G, Blue tick phones and both of us have data packages on our phones. But there are definitely long stretches without coverage! This makes staying in contact with our friends and family very tricky. We have discovered little pockets of phone signal in bizarre, unexpected places. Currently we are in Kalkarindji, a remote aboriginal community way down The Buntine Highway in The Northern Territory. We have been working on cattle properties in the general area and have literally been uncontactable for weeks! It seems odd to be in a tiny flyspot of a community, literally hundreds of kms from towns with names that you would recognise, and we have phone signal. We have made good use of that I can assure you.

We recently did some research on satellite phones. Well to be completely honest, we had a close call whilst navigating a water crossing….we nearly got stuck! We were a long way from anywhere, nobody knew where we were, and it was in an out of the way spot that does not illicit regular traffic! Thankfully we got out of our sticky situation, but it did give us a bit of a shake up. Hence the research into satellite phones… Call it insurance, or peace of mind! Call it whatever you like, I feel a lot better knowing that we have it on board. It also helped that the Government has a grant scheme that pays half the cost of the phone…

If you spend any time at all travelling, it is just a matter of time before you will need your jack! There are so many jacks to choose from. Frankly it doesn’t really matter which one you have just as long as it’s safe. We are in the process of replacing our jack, after blowing a tyre on the bitumen I might add! The tyre was all the way down to the rim and because of the angles we had to use rocks to hold the car up to move the jack several times….Thankfully we completed the task without incident, but this is not recommended!

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Here are some Tips for safe Travel in remote areas:

  1. Always let someone know exactly which road you are going down, and when you expect to be through (reasonably).
  2. Always carry adequate water supplies. Dehydration is not nice! We lost all our beautiful rain water from an errant rock hitting our water tank on one trip, so be prepared! Fortunately we also had 2 x 20 litre jerry cans of water with us.
  3. Be friendly, talk to other travellers at rest stops or lookouts. You may just meet a travel buddy, which can make all the difference when negotiating water crossings. Or when your rear diff collapses in the middle of nowhere, this we know from personal experience! They can also tell you about the road ahead, if they have come from that direction.
  4. Always carry a spare tyre, or two depending on which track you’re headed down. Before you leave town, spend some time at a tyre place learning how to replace your tyres. Finding out on the side of the road is no fun. And make sure you have the tools for the job, should it become necessary.
  5. If you don’t have much recovery gear….Use your brain! Exercising caution is a whole lot cheaper, fools truly do rush in…. Because we travel alone, we take less risks. We don’t put ourselves into a situation that could be potentially too dangerous if we got stuck.
  6. Snatch straps are inexpensive in the scheme of things, it’s one of those things that you will eventually need. If not for yourself, then for someone else (see #5). Our snatch strap has been used once to rescue us, and twice to rescue someone else. Don’t forget the D-shackles to fit your snatch strap.
  7. Slow down on the dirt, your reaction times are greatly reduced. Accidents happen very quickly, and a little bit more time to stop may save a great deal of expense, or someone's life. Also, slow down for oncoming vehicles – we recently had a stray rock smash our windscreen from a vehicle passing too fast in the opposite direction. We have found that engaging 4WD on dirt roads greatly improves the way the vehicle handles.
  8. Take a shovel! Useful for heaping coals on the camp oven, digging your way out of sand/mud but also for those essential nature calls on the side of the road. This is my biggest peeve! People dig a hole! It’s not hard!
  9. Lower your tyre pressure to navigate rough corrugated roads, or drive on sand. Your passengers will appreciate it! Your tyres will appreciate it too. And you may just make it through a boggy patch, where you would otherwise be stuck.
  10. Know how far you can go on a tank of fuel. Range on remote roads is critical. There isn’t another service station just around the corner. Most people fill up every opportunity that comes along.
  11. A Little “Bush Courtesy” goes a long way. If you see someone stopped on the side of the road, stop and check on them. 99% of the time, they are fine, but if you were broken down, I am sure you would like someone to stop and help you. Also, slow down for walkers or cyclists on dirt roads, the reduced dust is really appreciated.
  12. Driving with your lights on is always recommended, provided they are on LOW beam. It significantly increases your visibility, especially with dusty roads.
  13. Know your vehicle. Weight, stopping time, turning circle etc… Adding the camper to your car changes everything, so spend some time learning to reverse, what happens when you adjust the brake controller, how much your stopping distance increases. We recently weighed in at 5.5 tonnes, and knowing this has changed the way we do some things.
  14. Keep a close eye on your batteries. In the heat of North Qld, NT, or WA they can dry out very quickly. Keep some distilled water on hand for top ups.
  15. Preparation is paramount. The RFDS says 25% of all remote area rescues are unprepared city folk in the outback. Research as much as you can before you leave. In this case, someone else’s experience is the best teacher. You don’t need to learn that the Rabbit Flat Road House is closed when you arrive there needing fuel. Know before you go.

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There are probably many more hints and tips available on remote area travel. Sign up to some of the online forums where you can pick other peoples brains for ideas, and see what they come up with. We have just written down some of the things that we have had challenges with over the past 20 months.
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There is so much to see off the tar in this country! So many beautiful Gorges, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, National Parks, Mountains, Unusual rock formations, Meteorite Craters etc. It would be a shame to do a lap around the country and miss all that Australia has to offer!

Go on, get prepared and get out there!

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