Off road: a rookie's guide

Adventure: Its a big back yard out there and having a four wheel drive opens up so many possibilities for fun, adventure, friendship, self reliance and great memories.
Adventure: Its a big back yard out there and having a four wheel drive opens up so many possibilities for fun, adventure, friendship, self reliance and great memories.

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Getting off road and away from it all is a dream for many of us: a chance to really explore our wide brown land without the crowds.

But despite a large number of people owning a 4WD, plenty of those vehicles have never left the tar.

If you're keen for a bit of adventure, the best way to learn the basics is to join a 4WD club, according to President of 4WD Australia Brain Hevey.

"Clubs are formed by locality (e.g. Ballarat 4WD Club); by make of vehicle (e.g. Toyota Club of Melbourne); by level of 4WD ability (e.g. No Limits 4WD Club or Pajero Social Club) or by some other common driving theme (e.g. Independent 4WD Club)," he said.

Mr Hevey said that clubs usually charge an annual membership fee of around $50 -$100 p.a. to cover club equipment such as first aid gear and UHF CB radios, state or territory association affiliation fees, a contribution to the national Council, 4WD Australia and a range of insurances for club members and guests.

"Clubs provide safety and security for new 4WDers," Mr Hevey said.

"Club members collectively have decades of experience and are happy to share this and driving techniques, vehicle familiarisation, vehicle recovery, camping tips and responsible driving habits. So you immediately join a small community of like-minded people who will guide you, support you and, if necessary, rescue you if you get bogged, hung up, lost or if you forget to bring anything from toilet rolls to cooking gear."

Another option is to enrol in a 4WDing course. There are nationally-recognised, accredited courses conducted around the country, often by state and territory associations or senior club members.

"I guess what you dont want to do, is buy a 4WD and try to teach yourself," Mr Hevey said.

"4WD vehicles by there very nature are heavy, slower to pull up, have a higher centre of gravity and can have so many modifications and add-ons that you really need to be educated about what your vehicle can and cant do, where it can and cant go and how it should be driven in a range of track and topographical conditions."

While watching 4WD tv shows might get you inspired, they may also give you the impression that its all easy, but there's a lot to learn. Find a club that suits your interests, go to a meeting, say you are new to 4WDing and youll immediately have a dozen new friends - all willing to share and help you.

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Once you're ready to test your new skills, where do you go?

Mr Hevey said land management is usually a state issue (except in the NT). Land areas are classified as private freehold land (owned by someone), reserves (usually covering beaches, lake areas, swamps, specific areas of interest) and national parks. In some states (like Victoria) tracks are well defined, well maintained and regularly used by 4WDers. In other states such as Tasmania, 4WD trails are frequently boom-gated or closed to 4WDers but open to walkers, mountain bikers, horse riders. Other land areas may be forest reserves usually open to 4WDers (unless there is active tree-falling/clearing operations). In outback Australia, small towns, shires and regions rely on 4WDers for their existence.

You can buy specialised map books and 4WD track maps or download GPS maps and travel routes, however before you set off get local advice. Tracks that may be on your map or GPS when you are planning your trip may have since closed because of inclement weather, a washed out bridge, a bushfire or storm damage.

Again, clubs tend to know where to go to learn 4WDing, to test your skills, to have a day or weekend away or to take a week or month long trek.

"And most importantly, remember its a big back yard out there and having a 4WD opens up so many possibilities for fun, adventure, friendship, self reliance and great memories," Mr Hevey said.