Diff Locker – What is it?

Diff Locker - ARB AirLocker

What is a Diff Locker?

A locking differential (or diff locker) can make a significant difference in the performance of your 4wd in certain situations.

Known also as diff-lock or locker, it is a modification to the standard automotive differential. It’s purpose is to restrict each of the two wheels on an axle to the same rotational speed regardless of the traction available to each wheel.

Although an unlocked differential is a fantastic feature in a vehicle traveling on hard surfaces such as roads, it can cause significant problems in some situations that four wheel drivers may find themselves in.

How a Diff Locker works

So to understand how they work, it is firstly important to understand how a differential works and what it’s purpose is. Watch this video on how a differential works.

The differential has three jobs:

  • To aim the engine power at the wheels
  • To act as the final gear reduction in the vehicle, slowing the rotational speed of the transmission one final time before it hits the wheels
  • To transmit the power to the wheels while allowing them to rotate at different speeds (This is the one that earned the differential its name.)

The key point that is relevant in 4wd terms is the last point. That the differential allows the wheels to spin at different speeds. Further to this, the differential will direct power to the wheel that is easiest to rotate. Such is the nature of the differential.

Implications when off road

A four wheel driver will find that there are a number of situations where having a standard open differential will be problematic.

Heavy articulation – This is probably the most common situation that a 4wd will find itself in where a diff locker will come in handy. In this situation, the suspension of the car is extended to it’s extreme. For example, when the left front wheel rides up a ridge while the right back wheel is running over a large rock. As you can imagine, this will result in the right front wheel and the left back wheel trying to lift off the ground. So as they lift, they lose traction. The wheels on the ground will have more resistance, and therefore power will be directed towards the wheels that are lifting up. Resulting in wheel spin and loss of forward momentum. 4×4 stuck. To get past the obstacle, most 4×4 owners will take a run-up. This results in damage to the environment and potential damage to the vehicle.

Incongruous traction – Another common situation where a 4×4 may find a diff locker handy is in a situation where one side of the vehicle has solid traction and the other does not. For example if the vehicle is driving along a track where one of the wheel ruts is dry and the other is under water. The dry side will have greater traction that the wet muddy side. The wheels with greater traction will resist and power will be directed to the wheels in the muddy rut. Result: Wheel spin and stuck 4×4.

Locking the diff

So as mentioned above, a diff locker will force the wheels to spin at the same speed regardless of traction. In situation 1 above, when the wheels try to lift off the ground, the locked differential forces the wheels to spin at the same speed. The wheels on the ground continue to drive the vehicle forward and over the rock/ridge. The vehicle is able to navigate the obstacle easily and smoothly. Similarly in situation 2, rather than the vehicle becoming bogged with two wheels spinning, the wheels with traction continue to spin and drive the vehicle forward.

4×4 differentials

Non 4×4 vehicles only have one differential. 4×4 vehicles, however, can have up to 3.

4wd Gear - Diff Locker
3 differentials

So what do these differentials do? Why are there 3? Well the two that are located between the wheels serve similar purposes, but one at the front and one at the back. They allow the wheels to spin at different speeds. The centre diff allows the front and rear sets of wheels to spin at different rates. Why is this important? Because when cornering, the front wheels will travel further than the rear wheels and therefore need to spin at different speeds as well.

So while locking the front and/or rear differentials will force the wheels on the same axle to spin together, locking the centre diff will direct equal power to both the front and rear axles.

Types of Locking Differentials

There are essentially two types of locking diffs.

Automatic Diff Lockers will detect when traction is being lost and will automatically lock. It will unlock again when it detects that traction has been regained. Interestingly, some automatic lockers work by permanently locking the differenetial and only unlocking it when one wheel is required to spin faster than the axel. These types of lockers will not allow a wheel to spin slower than the axel and drive mechanism. an example of an automatic locking (or unlocking) differential is the well known Detroit Locker.

Manual Diff Lockers enable the driver of the vehicle to select when the differential is locked and when it unlocks. When the diff is unlocked it provides the full driveability of a normal open differential, but gives the driver the capability to choose when the extra traction is required. The differential can be locked by the means of a swtich or lever from the drivers seat. Examples of manual lockers are the ABR AirLocker which works with compressed air, the Eaton ELocker wich used an electomagnet, and the Ox-Locker which uses a mechanical, cable-operated mechanism o lock the differential.

Notes

It is imporant to note a few things at this point.

With the differentials locked and all wheels spinning at the same speed, the tendency of the vehicle will be to go straight, even when you turn the steering wheel. This occurs particularly when the front diff is locked. So be careful there.

With the differentials locked, it’s important not to drive on surfaces that don’t allow the wheels to slip a little. Surfaces such as solid rock or paved roads will grip the tyres. When you turn, the wheels will all want to spin at different speeds. With differentials locked, however, this won’t be possible. As you continue to corner, increadible strain will be placed on the drive line of your vehicle and will eventually cause things to break. This is called wind-up. So make sure you unlock your diffs and get out of 4wd before you hit the black-top.

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If the worst comes to worst and you damage a diff, then there are plenty of people who can help you out. For example. in Queensland, you could head over to the crew at Diff Lapping QLD. They’ll help you get back on the tracks quick smart.

How does a 4wd Snorkel work?

Safari Ram 4wd Snorkel

How does a 4wd Snorkel work?

A Snorkel, when fitted to your four wheel drive, moves the engine air intake from under your bonnet, to roof height. This has many advantages. The two main advantages are:

  1. Less chance of water entering the enging when crossing rivers
  2. Access to clearner and cooler air

What a 4wd Snorkel does

The intention of a snorkel is:

  • To raise the level of the air intake to reduce the chance of water entering your engine when crossing water
  • A higher air intake will reduce the amount of dust entering the system
  • To allow cooler air to enter your engine
  • To produce a ‘ram effect’. The air is rammed into your engine using your vehicles forward motion rather than the engine sucking air in.

Snorkel Types

There are 2 main types of snorkel Ram Snorkel Vortex Snorkel

The snorkel heads Both are designed to achieve similar results, but they do so in different ways.

Ram Snorkel

When the vehicle is stationary, air is sucked into the engine through the snorkel as usual. Air filters etc clean the dust and moisture out of the air.   As the vehicle starts to move forward, air is rammed down through the ‘scoop’ of the snorkel. The heavier dust and moisture particles are forced against the back of the snorkel head and are then vented through the drain holes at the bottom of the snorkel head.   Clean, moisture free air is rammed into the air intake. Additional cleaning of the air is performed by the standard air filters in the engine.

Safari Ram 4wd Snorkel
Safari Ram-type 4wd Snorkel

Vortex Snorkel

When the vehicle is stationary or in motion, air is sucked through a series of ‘blades’ at the bottom of the snorkel head. These blades cause the air to rotate around the snorkel head. Centrifugal force then throws the particles aside where they are collected in the bottom of the bowl. The clean, moisture free air is then drawn into the snorkel and down into the engine.

Safari Vortex 4wd Snorkel
Safari Vortex-type 4wd Snorkel

4wd Trip – Wubin Wildflowers

4wd Trip - Wubin Wildflowers
4wd Trip - Wubin Wildflowers
Relaxing at camp

4wd Trip – Wubin Wildflowers

  • 4wd Trip Name: Wubin Wildflowers
  • Terrain: Sand tracks and dense scrub
  • Difficulty (Dry): Easy
  • Date Driven: 9th, 10th, 11th September

Day 1 – Wubin Wildflowers

Purple Flowers - Wubin Wildflowers
Purple Wildflowers

The Wubin Wildflowers 4wd trip took a small group of adventurers through the wildflower country to the north east of Wubin in Western Australia. The long weekend showed us the amazing display of wildflowers that visitors from all over the world come to witness. Although we are not avid wildflower watchers, we had heard that the wildflower display in Western Australia is well worth seeing, and we were not disappointed.   We pulled into Wubin road house at about 9:45am on the Friday and waited for the remainder of the group. Soon afterwards, we were joined by a couple from Germany who are slowly settling in to Western Australian life. They told us how they’d purchased their Land Cruiser Troup Carrier and were gradually setting it up to be an off-road tourer.

Some of the bargains that they had found were amazing! Such as a full length roof rack for just $50, a high lift jack, an exhaust jack, and a hand winch for a total of $150. Gumtree truly has been his best friend.

4wd Trip - Wubin Wildflowers
Fringe Lilly

After a bit of chit-chat, we then continued north east along Great Northern Highway. After about 30 kilometres, we eventually turned north, off the road and into the scrub. Just off the road, we stopped to air-down before continuing into the scrub along good quality tracks of orange/red sand.

We wound our way through the countryside, making sure that if we found a gate that it was left closed afterwards. On occasion, our trip leader would ask us to hold back while he went forward to find the track. He explained that although the track was marked on the GPS, on occasion it completely disappeared from sight because it had become overgrown with wildflowers.

After traveling north along Dalgary Road, we eventually came across a rock outcrop where we stopped for lunch. Out trip leader told us that the Dalgary Rock hole had been used by aboriginal people for centuries, and it had been also used by stockmen as a watering hole for livestock in the area.

Continuing on after lunch through even more wildflower country, we commented to each other that it was nice to drive through a cloud of everlasting petals, rather than the usual chocking cloud of dust that reduces visibility to almost nothing on many 4wd adventures.

Towards the end of the day, our trip leader led us towards an area that is well known for orchids. Although the display of wildflowers through the trip had been astounding, we were a little too late for the orchids and we only managed to find a few. Some aging examples of donkey orchids and one small stand of spider orchids was all that was on offer.

4wd Trip - Wubin Wildflowers
The three vehicles

As evening approached, we pulled into Camel Soak, a DEC campsite that was to be our first night’s accommodation. The others in our small group both pulled up in their fully equipped Troup Carriers, and were set up for the night in seconds. They were then able to sit back with a cold beer and watch the entertainment of us trying to set up our tent that, I must admit, we haven’t set up in quite some time. I’m sure they got a good laugh out of our ’discussions’ around which pole went were, and whether the fly was inside out or not.

We eventually got the tent up, only to have my wife query the strength of the branch that we’d placed out tent under. My somewhat short reply was “It’s fine. I’m not moving it”. Conversation over.

After a short walk up the rock outcrop, we found the waterhole and, urged on by our 5 year old son, spent some time finding larger and larger rocks to throw into it.

Camel Soak was also a favoured watering hole for the local aboriginals, and later became a place where camel trains would stop overnight during the construction of the vermin proof fence.

Day 2 – Wubin Wildflowers

White Flowers - Wubin Wildflowers
So many wildflowers!

After breakfast on day 2, the troupies were all ready to go in about 5 seconds and were then entertained as we tried to pack up our tent. Although packing the tent up was much simpler than putting it up the evening before.

The amazing wildflower display was, if possible, even more amazing as we drove the tracks towards the abandoned Rothsay mine site.

4wd Trip - Wubin Wildflowers
Abandonned vehicles

Along the way, we stopped at a couple of abandoned station building sites in varying states of ruin. Some with semi complete buildings, and others with nothing but a tin shed and emus.   The Rothsay mine site is an abandoned gold mine that was established initially in 1894 and was actively mined up until as recently as 1994.

We were able to walk down into the open cut trench of the mine, but were not able to descend into the underground section as it is much too dangerous.

At the Rothsay Mine Site Village, we were able to have lunch in the shade of a tree next to a concrete pad. This concrete pad used to be the foundation of one of the buildings that the miners used for accommodation. We also visited the old graveyard that contains only 2 graves. 3 if you include the more recent grave of someone’s poor pet pooch.

4wd Trip - Wubin Wildflowers
Rothsay gold mine
Everlastings - Wubin Wildflowers
Everlastings

NOTE: Access to the Rothsay mine site is now restricted. Mining in the area has re-commenced and so the general public are no longer aloud to enter.

On leaving Rothsay, we continued on to our second night’s campground; Boiada Hill campsite. This is a well appointed campsite that is maintained by the Subaru Club of WA.

The campsite has running water, flush toilets, a camp kitchen and (very) cold showers. Most of us used a solar shower filled with water heated on the campfire. We decided to abandon the tent fly and set up on the floorboards, inside the three-sided hall.

Day 3 – Wubin Wildflowers

Waking up the next morning, we discovered that one of the troupies had punctured a tyre along the way. Overnight it had become completely flat. It was a great opportunity for our trip leader to demonstrate his tyre repairing skills.

4wd Trip - Wubin Wildflowers
Old sheep/cattle run

Unfortunately for him, the puncture appeared to be on the inside sidewall so he had to crawl under the troupie to perform the surgery.

Wildflowers - Wubin
Mix of colours

Once the tyre was repaired, we were led along a number of other tracks to eventually find the rare Wreath Flowers that only grow in a few areas around WA. The plant is an interesting one that does not seem to fit with the surrounding flora. In the area, most of the plants are like the everlastings. Hardy, stiff, waxy plants that are designed to retain water. The Wreath Flower appears to be fleshy and green. More the kind of flower you’d expect in a tropical rainforest, or in the forests of Europe.

We then continued along more tracks towards Perenjori where we joined the bitumen road, re-inflated our tyres and headed home. At Wubin, our leader left us and continued on to Credo station to try his luck at making his fortune finding gold.

The 4w driving was never more extremee than some slightly rocky outcrops, but the scenery was amazing. It’s a pity that I’d forgotten to track this trip with my GPS.

4wd Trip – Wandoo Country

4wd Trip - Wandoo Country

4wd Trip – Wandoo Country

4wd Trip - Wandoo Country
Wandoo woodlands

This track may take you through areas at risk of dieback. Please STICK TO THE TRACKS!.

  • Terrain: Gravel, clay, sand.
  • Distance (Km): 107.2 kms
  • Difficulty (Dry): Scenic to easy.
  • Google Map: 4wd Trip – Wandoo Country
  • Date Driven: 15th May 2011

The area we drove through is rich in Western Australian history. The first section of the track, along Nganguring Road, follows the original settlers roadway from Perth to York. Interestingly, this same roadway turns into the well known Mundaring Powerlines track a little further towards Perth. In fact we could hear a group of drivers on the Powerlines track over our UHF radios.

So each time you head out for a 4wd trip on the renowned Powerlines, remember that you’re driving on a very important part of Western Australian history.

The track, as mentioned, is the original roadway from the Swan River Settlement (Perth) to the grazing and farming lands around York. Along the way there are a number of natural watering holes and springs, as well as the remains of buildings and lodgings built for shelter along the way. The local aboriginal people used a different pathway which was much more accessible and easier to navigate. The immigrants used the less convenient track in an attempt to avoid conflict. This was not always successful unfortunately.   Now days the Great Southern Highway follows the path that the local aboriginals originally used.

Our 4wd Trip

4wd Trip - Wandoo Country
Lined up on the hill

We stated out 4wd trip at the Lakes Roadhouse at the intersection of Great Northern and Great Southern Highways. From here, we headed east along Great Southern Highway for a while, before turning right off the main road onto Yarra Road and then left onto Nganguring Road.

Nganguring Road is now a narrow forestry track. The overhanging fire-bush makes some parts of the track very narrow and will decorate your vehicle with long, thin stripes running from front to back. After navigating the narrow sections, the track opens out into Wandoo woodlands. The understory turns from thick fire-bush into predominantly zamia palm and grasstree. The terrain is mainly red soil/clay with rocky sections, hard sand and some mildly rutted out tracks.

Along this track we came across a natural spring that was used by the early settlers as a watering hole on the way from Perth to York. Adjacent to the spring is the ruins of a number of old dwellings that were used as shelter for extended stop-offs.

Rest Areas

Mt Observation

We stopped near Mt Observation for morning tea. This hill is one of a number in the area that were used for navigation. Markers were placed on each hill for identification purposes and as the settlers made their way through the valleys, they would use these markers to prevent themselves from getting lost.

Rocky Outcrop

For lunch, we stopped at a rocky outcrop that was an interesting place for the kids to explore It also had fantastic views to the north and west.

Ruts and Hills

4wd Trip - Wandoo Country
Coming up the steep hill

A little further along on the 4wd trip there were a couple of heavily rutted tracks that tested the articulation a little, however none of the vehicles on the trip had any problems.

We then came across a steep and long hill climb that would be very challenging in the wet. The trip leader told us that in the past, the track has been very interesting and challenging. However it had recently been graded and there had not been enough rain in recent times to re-create all the interesting features. A few more years should remedy that. For fun, we drove up and then turned around and drove back down again.

From there, it was a short run on good forestry tracks to Mt Dale where our trip ended with afternoon tea. There are fantastic views from Mt Dale all the way to the ocean and the city.

The drive out from Mt Dale is along gravel roads to Brockman Highway.

What you’ll need

Really the trip was very simple in terms of 4wd difficulty. But it’s always best to be prepared. There are a couple of areas where, in very wet weather when the water’s up, you’d get very wet. There is evidence of water up to 2m deep in places!

  • Snatch Strap
  • Shackles
  • Tyre Pressure Gauge
  • Compressor to re-inflate your tyres
  • Camera
  • Puncture repair kit just in case

4wd Trip – Southern Shores

4wd Trip - Southern Shores

4wd Trip – Southern Shores

  • Terrain: All sand
  • Date Driven: 16th Jan 2011
4wd Trip - Southern Shores
Coming over the hill at White Hill Road

The Southern Shores 4wd trip is a well known track along the beach south of Mandurah in Western Australia. The 4wd trip starts at the end of White Hill Road and continues southward towards Bunbury. There are exit points at Preston Beach and Myalup as you head south. The conditions vary widely from still and perfect to rough, windy and very soft.   It is a very popular place for beach go-ers, fishermen, picnic-ers and four wheel drivers.

Our Southern Shores 4wd trip

We were lucky enough to be able to do this 4wd trip with a local 4wd club as visitors (prior to becoming members of the club). The support and assistance that the members of the club offered us made the trip very enjoyable.   As one of our first four wheel drive trips, it was a great experience. Enough to challenge us while being easy enough so that we didn’t have too much trouble… With the driving, at least.

Where it started

To start the trip, we were scheduled to meet at the Miami Plaza shopping centre at 9am. Driving in with our almost stock standard 2010 Mitsubishi PB Challenger and seeing a line-up of fully modified and built-up Landcruisers and Patrols made us feel a little out of place. The amazing welcome that we received from the club members quickly changed that.

After a quick briefing, we headed south, across the Dawsville Channel towards Lake Clifton, eventually turning right onto White Hill Road. White Hill Road quickly turned into a moderately corrugated hard sand road. Part way along, we stopped and reduced pressure in our tyres.

To get onto the beach at the end of White Hill Road, we had to drive down into a dune swale, and then up a large dune and over to the beach. Occasionally this dune is very soft and can be tricky to climb. The day we were there the track was hard and it was a simple drive and descent down the other side. Take a look at 4wd Tips and Tricks – Sand Driving if you’re interested.

The 4wd trip to Preston Beach

4wd Trip - Southern Shores
On the beach

The day was absolutely perfect. A gentle easterly blowing, flat crystal clear turquoise water, dolphins playing in the shallows. The sand was soft enough in places to make it interesting, but not so soft that it was difficult driving. Although we were told that the beach is a very variable place and can be windy, rough and very very soft.

We followed the convoy and gradually became used to driving on the sand. We passed many other vehicles who were there for a picnic, fishing or just a day out driving on the sand.

Part way along to Preston Beach, we stopped for morning tea and a swim. On such a hot day, it was fantastic to plunge into the beautiful water. Eventually, we arrived at Preston Beach and pulled into the car park for a pit-stop.

Oh oh… That’s not supposed to happen

On leaving Preston Beach and heading back onto the sand, there was some discussion over the UHF radios about one of the convoy leaking what looked like oil as we left the car park. Being new, we didn’t speak up until someone in the convoy said that they thought that the oil may have been coming from “a silver, or maybe gold Mitsubishi Challenger”…

4wd Trip - Southern Shores
Fixing up the power steering fluid leak

We quickly got on the radio and said “Well that’d be us then. I guess we should pull over and check it out”.

Everyone was very keen to help out. We looked under the car and could see some kind of redish fluid dripping from the bash plates. My first though was engine coolant, but when I touched it it was oily feeling. As luck would have it, the Triton behind us in the convoy had experienced exactly the same issue on a previous trip. At his suggestion, we opened up the bonnet and checked the power steering fluid.

It was almost completely empty. Looking into the engine bay from the top, he pointed out where the power steering fluid pipes joined into the steering mechanism. It was quite obvious that one of the pipes was not tightened as much as the other.

4wd Trip - Southern Shores
The old and the new. Two Challengers

I dug a hole under the front of the vehicle so that I could slide underneath and removed the bash plates. From there, I was then able to reach in and access the pipe attachments. The one that looked lose was only finger tight. A quick couple of turns with a spanner fixed that.

One of the advantages of travelling with a convoy of serious 4×4 owners is that if you don’t have the part you need yourself, then there is a pretty good chance that someone else will have it. A quick call over the UHF radio and a bottle of power steering fluid was on it’s way. A quick re-fill and we were back on our way.

On our way again

After our introduction to beach mechanics, the convoy headed off once more. For a couple of cars it was a little touch and go taking off again. There was some bogging, but nothing that the vehicle couldn’t get themselves out of. No problem for the Challenger though. We’d already had our share of toruble for the day.

We continued on south towards Myalup. As lunchtime approached, the trip leader started looking out for places to stop and eat. A place wide enough to accommodate the vehicles, and also allow other beach go’ers to pass us by.

We eventually stopped and set up the beach shelters and had a great picnic on the sand, and then another swim. There is no keeping our son out of the water. Not ever the huge stingray that swam past just behind a number of club members who were still in the water.

After lunch, we all turned around and headed back to Preston Beach, rather than continue on to Myalup.

Back at Preston Beach, we all re-inflated our tyres with our compressors and headed off.

After the 4wd trip

4wd Trip - Southern Shores
Airing up at Preston Beach

After the 4wd trip on the beach, a number of us headed off for a wine tasting at Vineyard 28. Sitting under the shade cloth with Jasper the Red Cloud Kelpy, the 4wd club members and the owner was great. Very relaxing. Fantastic wines. The perfect end to the day.

What you should take with you

The 4wd trip is all sand. So you’ll need all the things you’d need for any kind of sand driving:

  • Compressor
  • Tyre pressure gauge
  • Tyre Deflator
  • Snatch Strap
  • Recovery points
  • Shackles
  • A long handled shovel
  • MaxTrax or equivalent

4wd Trip – Dwellingup Fencelines

4wd Trip - Dwellinup Fencelines

4wd Trip – Dwellingup Fencelines

This track may take you through areas at risk of dieback. Please STICK TO THE TRACKS!.

Dwellingup is a small town south of Perth. The town has a long history originally as the terminus of the Pinjarra/Marinup railway, as a logging town. In more modern times, Dwellingup has become known as a centre for bauxite mining. In 1961, 132 homes in Dwellingup were destroyed by devastating fires that tore through the area. 800 odd people were left homeless in the Dwellingup area, however there were no fatalities.

Dwellingup is now a popular destination for holiday-makers and four wheel drivers. There are coutless interesting and diverse tracks being available for all skill levels. The Dwellingup Fenclines 4wd trip is one of these.

Before the trip

4wd Trip - Dwellinup Fencelines
Setting up camp in our borrowed caravan.

We were once again lucky enough to be allowed to join in with a Western Australian 4wd club on their trip down to Dwellingup. We headed down on Friday evening straight after work and arrived only about an hour and a half later. We pulled into the Dwellingup Caravan Park which is a fantastic, back-to-nature caravan park on the edge of town, hidden in state forrest. The park and camp/caravan sites are nestled in amongst tall jarrah forest, giving you the feeling of camping right out on the bush.

There were already a number of club members set up when we arrived and they were very keen to come over and have a chat while we set our camper/caravan up. It was the first time we’d set it up so it took a while, and ended up being quite a late night for our little son.

Meeting at the pub

The next morning, were were to meet the rest of the convoy at the Dwellingup Hotel at 8:30am. As it turned out, there were quite a number of vehicles, so we were split into two groups. At about 9:30am, after a briefing, we headed off with the second group to follow about 30 minutes later.

On the drive

We headed out of Dwellingup, west along the Pinjarra/Williams road until we reached Scarp Road. Scarp Road is a small turn-off heading slightly up-hill off the main road. If you continue straight down Scarp Road, you eventually find yourself at Scarp Pool, which we visited a little later on our trip.

4wd Trip - Dwellinup Fencelines
A section of the Dwellingup Fencelines 4wd Trip

Instead of continuing along Scarp Road, we stopped a little down the track and reduced our tyre pressure to around 20 PSI. A little further down Scarp Road, we turned off onto a track that you’d probably miss unless you were looking for it. It was slightly overgrown and was only just wide enough for us to drive down. And this was just the beginning.

As we continued along the track, we came across a number of very rough spots. We would not have thought our car capable of successfully navigating these challenges until we watched the Triton in front of us doing it. In particular, a couple of very steep sections where we lost traction a couple of times, and a few very rutted sections that required us to very carefully pick our lines. In particular, one section where the track turned sharply left. The left hand side of the track was level, but the rut on the right was approximately 60 cms deep and steeply sloping back towards the right. We watched carefully as the Triton in front of us navigated the turn. We noticed their right wheels slipping back into the rut.

As we drove through, I took the approach of keeping a little further to the right. This put me higher on the sloping rut and I managed to get through without slipping back down.

There were a number of averagely steep descents requiring low range 1st gear. Many of them were loose dust, leaves and gravel that all conspired against our traction.

Other sections were so narrow between bushes that all the cars came out with minor scratching. Nothing serious, only surface paint scratches that we decided to call ‘speed stripes’.

4wd Trip - Dwellinup Fencelines
Clearing the track

A little further on, just before our morning tea stop, we came across a pine tree fallen over the track. It had obviously been there for some time as a track around the tree was starting to form.

However the attitude of the particular 4wd club is that if a tree is blocking the path, if it is possible to clear it then it should be cleared. This prevents the track from spreading into the surrounding environment and causing destruction to nearby plant life.

One of the leaders of the convoy had a chain which he hooked around the tree and attached to his vehicle. With almost no effort, his car pulled half the tree off the track. With the rest of the convoy assisting, we were able to move the rest of the tree off the track manually.

A little further down the track, we arrived at Scarp Pool where we had lunch. Scarp Pool is a fantastic lunch location on the Murray River. The river at this point forms a couple of natural pools which are accessible by foot and are nice swimming spots. There are also toilets and picnic tables available.

Geographically Challenged

4wd Trip - Dwellinup Fencelines
Hanging out

After lunch, we continued along following the trip leader. Although it wasn’t of concern to us, the trip leader was clearly not 100% confident of where he was supposed to be heading. During the briefing, we’d been informed that it was the first trip that the leader was taking. Later he explained to us that the method they’d used to survey the track was slightly different from what had been used previously. They’d had a number of people driving different tracks. They then discussed the tracks and decided which would be the final route.

However in joining the routes they somehow became corrupted and didn’t match up. There was a large section in the middle that didn’t appear in the track at all. This did lead to the convoy heading down some very interesting tracks that were perhaps a little rougher than expected. And at one point, we had to drive around a fallen tree through some very tight and steep terrain. The turns were so tight that we were required to do ‘3 point turns’ to get through.

After a little while, however, we got back on track and eventually located where we were supposed to be.

The Hill

On our previous trip on the Southern Shores, we’d been told of ‘The Hill’. It had been described as a very intimidating and challenging hill. And when we arrived, it sure was.

4wd Trip - Dwellinup Fencelines
The Hill. They always look more scary in real life

The hill is quite intimidating. It is long and steep and weaves through the tall timber of the region. Standing at the bottom of the hill, we discussed the approach and how to tackle it.

The other group were at the top of the hill and were driving down it first, then turning around and driving back up. It’s what our group were supposed to do except, due to our previous geographic mis-adventure, we ended up at the bottom of the hill first.

So we waited and watched the other group drive down and then back up again. It was good to watch as it increased our confidence significantly.

Once they’d finished, we all got back into our cars and took turns driving up. When our turn came along we waited at the bottom for the call. Eventually it came ‘We’re up now. Next ones are OK to follow’. We replied, ‘Ok, we’re on our way’ and headed up.

The 2010 Mitsubishi PB Challenger comes standard with a rear diff lock which we engaged. We didn’t think we needed to, however we thought that using any means to help us get up was probably a good idea. So off we went. The track was steep to start with and quite heavily rutted. Part way up it kicked to the right around a large tree. At this point, there were a number of large rocks, some solidly set into the ground, while others were loose, causing us to loose traction quite a bit in this section. But I kept the revs up and drove though. Other cars had some trouble getting through this section, needing to back down a little and pick another line. One of the convoy staked a tyre and had to perform roadside repairs at the top of the hill.

After we’d all made it up, there was as a very steep descent down the other side. After this descent it was a reasonably short trip back to the main road and back to town.

NOTE: I have since done this hill again after wet weather. It can be very slippery and dangerous. TAKE CARE!

After the trip

Back at the caravan park we all cleaned up. In the showers were a number of very large huntsman spiders. They’re very typical of the area.

Although some of the club members had headed home, the rest of us headed off to the Dwellingup Hotel for dinner. I can reccommend the t-bone steak with mushroom sauce. It was a great end to a very exciting day. As we left the hotel, it just started a light rain which lasted all night.

Early the next morning we got up, packed our camper trailer up and headed home.

Other Information

First driven: 22 Jan, 2011

Google map of the trip: 4wd Trip – Dwellingup Fencelines

Terrain: Clay and dirt tracks through the bush. Dusty in the try, muddy and slippery in the wet.

4wd Tips and Tricks – Steep Terrain

Billy Goat Ridge. Bendleby Ranges, Southern Flinders

4wd Tips and Tricks – Steep Terrain

Driving your 4wd on steep hills is one of the most exciting and potentially dangerous things you can do in your 4×4. Exciting because it’s adventurous. Dangerous because there is a real risk of rolling your vehicle. And on a steep hill, you could keep on rolling… All the way down…

Driving your 4wd up steep hills

When driving up steep hills, your first goal should be to retain traction. As soon as you loose traction, you lose forward momentum and risk not making it.   There are a number of things to remember

Billy Goat Ridge. Bendleby Ranges, Southern Flinders
Billy Goat Ridge. Bendleby Ranges, Southern Flinders
  • Tyre pressure – You’ll need as much traction as possible. To help achieve this, reduce tyre pressure. Read more here: 4wd Tips and Tricks – Tyre Pressure.
  • Gear Ratio – Select 4wd Low Range and a low gear to ensure adequate power to drive you to the top.
  • Momentum – That depends on the terrain. Sand you’ll probably need more momentum than harder ground. Try not to overdo it because you may damage the track and your 4wd. Remember, maintain traction.
  • Gear Selection – This will depend on how much momentum you feel you need to get up the hill.
  • Walk it – If you’re not familiar with the track, or if it may have changed since you were last there, then walk the track. If you can’t walk it, it’s a fair bet that you won’t be able to drive it.
  • Plan your line – Decide which line you’re going to drive, but the best traction will probably be in the existing ruts created by other drivers.
  • Stall Recovery Technique – Before you start, make sure you know what to do if you don’t make it.
  • Drive it – Take it easy and steady. Drive carefully and maintain traction.

How to recover if you don’t make it

If you don’t make it up, then it’s very important to know how to get back down. It doesn’t sound hard, but there are some pitfalls to avoid.

The pitfalls

The biggest pitfall is the uncontrolled descent. The automatic reaction when you are about to stall on a steep hill is to prevent stalling by putting your foot on the clutch. What this means is that you no longer have any forward drive, but worst of all, you have nothing preventing you from rolling backward. And on a steep hill, you’ll roll backwards very quickly.

Billy Goat Ridge. Bendleby Ranges, Southern Flinders
Billy Goat Ridge. Bendleby Ranges, Southern Flinders

Once you’re rolling backwards, your next automatic reaction will be to hit the brakes. On a steep hill, this won’t stop you. The momentum of your vehicle will keep it moving backwards, but with no wheel rotation, you will loose the ability to steer your vehicle.

To avoid these very dangerous pitfalls, you need to know the Stall Recovery Technique as described below.

Stall Recovery Technique

The Stall Recovery Technique is the strategy used to reverse down from steep hill climbs.

Manual Vehicles

Stall recovery steps in a manual transmission vehicle.

  1. Allow the vehicle to stall. Do not touch the clutch. This is harder than you think. It’s difficult not to automatically put your foot on the clutch.
  2. As you stall, put your foot on the foot brake.
  3. Engage the handbrake. You now have 3 things preventing you from going backwards.
    1. You’re still in gear,
    2. Your foot brake,
    3. Your hand brake.
  4. If you can, get someone else to double check the track and guide you down. Don’t get out of your car because that’ll mean releasing the foot brake. Your handbrake may fail and the engine can turn over under compression. But it’s handy to have some help in getting back down.
  5. Put your foot on the clutch.
  6. Put the vehicle into reverse gear and engage low range if you haven’t already.
  7. Take your foot off the clutch.
  8. With your foot brake on, release the handbrake.
  9. Carefully and slowly remove your foot brake. With reverse gear engaged, but the engine turned off, you’ll remain still.
  10. Turn the key to start the engine with your foot off the clutch.

Now you’re on your way. Try not to touch the accelerator or the brake. If the hill is steep enough, you may need to lightly touch the brakes. This is risky though. You don’t want to lock your wheels and start to slide.

Billy Goat Ridge, Bendleby Ranges, South Australia. Photo by Mauchit

Automatic Vehicles

Stall Recovery is a little different in automatic transmission vehicles because, as a general rule, they don’t stall. However, on occasion they do. So if you decide you’re not going to make it up the hill, you still need to know how to retain control and back out safely.

  1. Put your foot on the brake.
  2. Engage your handbrake.
  3. If your engine has stalled, put it into Park. At this point, you have 3 things preventing you from rolling.
    1. You’re still in drive or park (you lose this when you go to Reverse),
    2. Your foot brake,
    3. Your hand brake.
  4. If you can, get someone else to double check the track and guide you down. Don’t get out of your car because that’ll mean releasing the foot brake. Your handbrake may fail and the engine can turn over under compression. But it’s handy to have some help in getting back down.
  5. If your engine has stalled then you need to start it up if you can.
  6. Occasional when you shift from a forward gear to a reverse gear, your vehicle rocks slightly backwards. This can be enough to start your vehicle sliding.
    1. Put your vehicle into Neutral first.
    2. Engage Low Range if you haven’t already.
    3. Then move your vehicle into Reverse.
  7. With your foot brake on, release the handbrake.
  8. Carefully and slowly remove your foot brake. You’ll start your descent.

Now you’re on your way. Do not to touch the accelerator. If the hill is steep enough, you may need to lightly touch the brakes. This is risky though. You don’t want to lock up your wheels and lose control.

Have another go

Once you’re down, change your strategy. If you didn’t make it once, you probably won’t make it a second time unless you try something different. Try reducing tyre pressure, pick a new line, lock your diffs if you can, and have another go. Or take the chicken track.

Driving your 4wd down steep hills

Driving down steep hills in your four wheel drive is much simpler because you’ve got gravity on your side. This isn’t always a good thing if the track is too steep. As with driving up, it’s important to retain traction.

The steps to take to safely descend a steep hill in your 4×4 are:

  • Walk the track – If you can’t walk it then you won’t be able to drive it
  • Pick your line – Decide on the best path. Usually the line that’ll give you the best traction will be right down the middle of the existing ruts created by other drivers.
  • Increase traction – Reducing tyre pressure increases the surface area of your tyre in contact with the track, increasing your traction.
  • Gear Ratio – Use low range. If you don’t, your car will run away from you and it’ll get scary.
  • Gear Selection – Use first gear. A combination of first gear and low range will keep you in control.
  • Backout plan – If it gets too steep and scary then you’ll need to have a backout plan before you head down. Remember that getting out will probably mean reversing back up a steep hill.

How to recover if you don’t make it

If you decide you’re not going to make it, then you’ll probably need to reverse up a steep hill. But first you need to stop going down.

Assuming you’ve followed the steps outlined above, you probably won’t be travelling very quickly. To stop yourself, apply the brakes gently until you come to a stop. Don’t hit the brakes hard or you’ll lock up your wheels and risk losing control. Remember that just because your wheels have stopped, it doesn’t mean your vehicle will.

Once you’ve come to a complete halt, put your handbrake on, then engage reverse.

From here it’ll be a simple matter of reversing up the way you’ve come.

Driving across steep hills

Simple… Don’t to it. Driving sideways across steep hills vastly increases the chances of losing control of your vehicle; as soon as you lose traction, your vehicle will slide sideways. You’ll also run a very real risk of rolling your vehicle all the way to the bottom. And I don’t mean on the tyres… So DO NOT drive sideways across steep hills.

Other Information

This information is provided for interest only. Although every attempt to ensure accuracy has been taken, please don’t rely on it when you’re out there. Everybody’s car and skill leves are different so what works for one may not work for another. Please make sure that you know what you’re doing. I would always recommend joining a 4wd club and/or undertaking some training before heading out into the wilderness. I would also always recommend traveling with at least one other vehicle.

4wd Tips and Tricks – Sand Driving

4wd Tips and Tricks - Sand Driving

4wd Tips and Tricks – Sand Driving

The tips and tricks outlined below are applicable to driving in any sand, be it on the beach, in sand dunes, in the desert or in the forrest. Anywhere you come across soft sand, these techniques will be applicable.   If you are driving on sand dunes, then please read the 4wd Tips and Tricks – Driving on Steep Terrain article as well. In particular, it is worth mentioning again, that you should NEVER drive across a steep hill, especially sand dunes. Doing so can have disastrous consequences. There is a serious and very real risk of rolling your vehicle all the way down to the bottom of the hill.

Elements of Sand Driving

There are two elements to driving your four wheel drive on soft sand. These are:

  1. Tyre Pressure
  2. Momentum

Applying these elements do your driving technique will result in your vehicle ‘floating’ on the sand, decreasing your chances of becoming bogged. Naturally there is no guarantee that you won’t bury yourself to the axles, but your chance of success is increased if you pay attention to these elements.

Tyre Pressure

Reducing your tyre pressure will spread the weight of your vehicle across a greater surface area, and increases the surface area of the tyre in contact with the ground and achieves two objectives: 1. Increases traction 2. Prevents the tyres from sinking into the sand quite as much.

4wd Tips and Tricks - Sand Driving
Jeff-WA heading up a sand dune

There are many schools of thought on how much you should reduce your tyre pressure when driving on soft sand, but a guide would be to reduce your tyre pressure to half that of your normal road driving. If you find your engine struggling then reduce tyre pressure some more. You can try reducing in 4psi increments until you’re satisfied. Finding the right pressure for your vehicle and the current conditions can be a lot of trial and error. For more information, please read the 4wd Tips and Trips – Tyre Pressure article.

Momentum

Driving on soft sand can be compared to a speed boat on water. When the boat is travelling slowly, it sinks into the water a little and the engine is required to work harder to maintain forward momentum. As soon as the boat speeds up it starts to plane along on top of the water. The engine requires much less effort to push the boat along and the boat is able to quickly skim along the surface of the water.   Similarly, driving slowly on soft sand will allow the tyres to sink into the sand much more than driving more quickly. When the tyres sink in a little, the engine must work much harder to maintain forward movement.   As you increase your speed, your tyres will float on top of the soft sand much more, and the effort required to maintain your forward momentum will be greatly reduced.

Use low range initially. If you start to get bogged, low range will provide you with the power you need to drive out, but will also allow you adequate speed to keep you on top of the sand. If you decide that the beach is hard enough then you can change to high range.   CAUTION: Do not overdo your speed. Driving on sand is nothing like driving on the road and driving quickly greatly increases the chance of serious accident.

Bogged

If you regularly drive on the sand, then eventually you’ll get bogged. Accept this fact and prepare for it and your day will be much more enjoyable.

When you do get bogged in soft sand there are a number of techniques to getting back out.

  • Firstly, it’s important to realise early that you are bogged. There is no point in spinning your wheels. This just digs you in further and makes any recovery effort more difficult.
  • Don’t panic! The vast majority of the time, if your car stays bogged for a while then the only consequence is that you’re late to your campsite. So stay calm and take your time to think it though.
  • Reduce your tyre pressure even more than you already have. Remember that the more you reduce your tyre pressure the more your vehicle will ‘float’ on the sand.
  • Try to reverse out. Often the tracks you used to drive in are solid enough for you to drive out on. Then you can have another go or take a different route.
  • Slowly drive backwards and forwards over the same track. This compacts the sand and hopefully allows you to drive out.
  • If these tips don’t get you out then get your shovel out and start digging. Choose which direction you want to drive out and then dig out the sand in that direction. Don’t forget that you’ll need to clear the sand from underneath your axles and differentials as well. And if you’re bogged enough then you’ll also need to clear the sand away from your undercarriage as well.
  • Make a track for your wheels. You could try lining the track with dry seaweed (wet seaweed can be slippery), sticks, leaves etc. Anything to gain some traction.
  • Also, try something like Max Tracks. Static methods of recovery and those that don’t use other vehicles are much safer.
  • If these fail then get out your snatch strap if you have a travelling companion. Keep in mind that you don’t need to tear the car in half in order to pull someone out of the sand. Often a gentle ‘tow’ is enough.
  • Still bogged? Do you have a winch? If not then don’t give up, just do it all over again, but try harder.

More sand driving tips

4wd Tips and Tricks - Sand Driving
It wasn’t really that steep… was it?

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of driving on sand, below are some more tips and techniques for driving your four wheel drive in the sand.

Be aware of steep drop-offs on beaches. These are caused by wave action eroding the beach sand and forming small cliffs. Driving too close to the edge will cause these cut-aways to collapse, resulting in your vehicle rolling and probably becoming very wet.

Bright sunshine will make features on the beach harder to see. With the glare off the white sand in your eyes, it’s very easy to not see holes, cut-aways, erosion etc. Driving your vehicle into a sand hole can bring your day to a very sudden and complete stop.

Don’t get caught too close to the water. If you do a quick google search you’ll find any number of photos of 4wd vehicles being destroyed by pounding surf. Or buried to the roof after a high tide.

Don’t turn sharply. With reduced tyre pressure, turning sharply will increase the chances of your tyre separating from the bead of your rim. Tyres that separate from the bead deflate very rapidly.

Not getting bogged is much easier than digging yourself out of a bog. Err on the side of caution in all aspects of sand driving.

What to take with you

  • Long handled shovel
  • Snatch Straps
  • 4wd acceptable recovery points (factory tow points are often not strong enough).
  • Shackles to connect your snatch straps to your recovery points.
  • A tree protector or bridle. This can be used to disburse the load across multiple recovery points.
  • MaxTrax or equivalent.
  • A sand flag so that people can more easily spot you from over the top of a sand dune.
  • Tyre deflator to let your tyres down before you hit the sand
  • Compressor to re-inflate your tyres
  • UHF Radio so you can ask someone else for help

4wd Tips and Tricks – Water Crossings

4wd Tips and Tricks - Water Crossings

4wd Tips and Tricks – Water Crossings

These 4wd tips and tricks are provided for guidance only. I strongly recommends that you undergo 4wd training with a qualified and recognised training school. I also suggest that you join one of your local 4wd clubs to further your experience.

When you’re driving your 4×4 off the beaten track it’s inevitable that eventually you’ll need to cross a waterway where no bridge exists. Water crossings in your 4×4 can be an exciting and spectacular part of any 4wd experience. However it can be dangerous and result in damage to your vehicle, yourself and others. Not to mention damaging your pride if you get it wrong. Remember to keep it slow and steady.

Water crossing Techniques

It’s important to get water crossings right if you don’t want to risk serious damage to yourself and/or your vehicle.

4wd Tip and Tricks - Water Crossings
Lykey playing in the pool

Things to consider

There are a number of things to keep in mind when considering a water crossing.

  • It’s important to remember that if the water is moving and the level is higher than your undercarriage then it’ll start to push against your bodywork. As the surface area that the water has to push against increases significantly, there is a much greater risk of being washed away.
  • Know the safe depth for your vehicle:
    • Know how deep your vehicle will allow you to go before it start to float. Some cars float more easily than others.
    • Know where your air intake is located. You don’t want your engine to suck water into it, particularly if it’s a diesel engine. Install a snorkel.
  • Consider attaching a tarpaulin to the front of your vehicle. This assists in keeping water out of your engine bay.
  • If the crossing is deep then wind down your windows before you enter the water. Particularly in a vehicle with electric windows. In an emergency, this will be the easiest and quickest exit.
  • Spray your under-bonnet electrics with a water repellent (such as WD-40).
  • Consider loosening the fan belt if your vehicle does not have a viscous coupling type fan. This prevents your fan from becoming a propeller and potentially damaging your radiator. If your fan does have a viscous coupling, then simply tie a piece of string to a solid piece of the vehicle and loop the other end around the fan blade to prevent it from turning. When you exit the water, simply slip the loop off the fan blade and the fan will begin spinning again.
    • To determine if you have a viscous coupling fan, turn your engine off and try to turn the fan with your hand. If it turns then it has a viscous coupling.

Before you cross

  • Make sure it’s safe to do so (no crocodiles, water is not flowing too fast to walk in), then walk the crossing first. Sure, you’ll get wet, but it’s better than getting stuck or floating away in your 4wd. Even the bottom of a very shallow crossing can be sticky mud.
  • Don’t cross with a hot engine, transmission and diffs. It’s important to allow it to cool. The sudden cooling and contraction of metals can cause serious damage. Your vehicle can cool down while you are checking the crossing.
  • Mark any holes or obstacles with a stick. Plan where to a going to drive and mark your path with sticks.
  • Select the right gear for the crossing. This allows you to maintain a steady speed. Many experienced 4w drivers use 2nd gear low range, but this will depend on the exact situation you find yourself in.
  • Watch someone else do it first if you can.
  • Attach recovery straps to your recovery points before you enter the water otherwise you may need your scuba gear. If you’re recovery gear is just a hook then try to work out some way of ensuring that they stay attached. For example, cable tie them to the recovery point. Also ensure that your recovery straps are not going to be dragged under your wheels as you try to cross. Tie them tightly so that there is tension between your recover points and your roof racks for example. Pre-attaching recovery gear allows for quick recoveries.
  • Select the correct tyre pressure before you enter the water. Remember that the opposite bank could be sandy, muddy, rocky, steep… If in doubt about the safety of the crossing, DON’T DO IT. Better safe than sorry.

While crossing

4wd Tips and Tricks - Water Crossings
Jeff-WA Getting wet in Margaret River, WA

During the water crossing:

  • Enter the water slowly. Less than walking pace. Once the front bottom of the vehicle has contacted the water then accelerate gently. Maintain a steady speed that allows a bow wave to form in front of your vehicle. This assists with keeping water out of your engine bay. Following the bow wave also means your vehicle does not have to work as hard to maintain momentum and traction.
  • Follow your line. You planned your crossing so try to stick to the plan.
  • Remember that the other bank may be steep and muddy. Ensure you’ve selected the correct tyre pressure before you enter the water.
  • Do not change gears in the water. This assists with maintaining a steady speed and also, more importantly, keeps water from entering between your clutch plates causing them to slip.

After you’ve crossed

When you are out, it’s important to:

  • If you can, stop at the opposite bank to let the water drain from your vehicle. Don’t do this if you need momentum to get up the opposite bank, or if the crossing is shallow. This achieves a number of things:    Carrying excess water makes your vehicle heavier which means it can be harder to climb the bank. Dumping water on the exit track can make is wet, muddy and slippery for the people following you.
  • Dry your brakes out by ‘squeezing’ them. A couple of solid presses on your brake pedal is a start.

So you didn’t make it

If you don’t cross successfully then you’ll need to be recovered. If the water is deep enough then expect wet seats and carpets. If your engine is in danger of becoming waterlogged then turn your engine off. Otherwise leave your engine running. The exhaust exiting your exhaust pipe will prevent water from entering your engine from that direction.

When recovering your vehicle it’s 4×4 etiquette for the owner of the stranded vehicle to get the wettest. Don’t sit in your car and expect others to get wet for you.

Before exiting the vehicle, ensure that it is safe to do so. If the water is flowing too fast for you to stand in, then stay with your vehicle (if your vehicle is not being swept away). If there are crocodiles around then stay in your vehicle or make yourself comfortable on the roof racks and wait for rescue.

Video

S1mon with his nissan submarine

4wd Trip – Francois Peron National Park

Francois Peron National Park 4wd Trip

Francois Peron National Park

Francois Peron National Park 4wd Trip
The Red Bluffs of the Cape

Called Wulyibidi by the local aboriginal people who have inhabited the region for 26,000 years, the Francois Peron National Park is located within the Shark Bay World Heritage Sanctuary. The area is a former sheep station, and the original homestead can be accessed via a short 2wd road from the main Denham – Monkey Mia road. The Homestead offers visitors the opportunity to see what life was like on a sheep station in the area. An artesian well also provides visitors the opportunity to bathe in a hot spa, with water heated to approximately 40 degrees c

Francois Peron was the zoologist appointed to a trip to Australian waters between 1801 and 1803. He rose to prominence from a trainee to head zoologist after all other qualified personnel either died during the voyage, or deserted in Mauritius. During this trip, Peron was responsible for the collection and documentation of over 100,000 specimens of Australian flora and fauna. This is the single most comprehensive collection of Australian natural history to date.

Cape Peron 4wd Trip

There are a number of 4wd tracks though the Cape Peron National Park, all of which are red softish sand which can become very corrugated in parts. The tracks are all single lane which means that on occasion, you are required to pull over to let someone coming in the opposite direction to pass you by.

Francois Peron National Park 4wd Trip
The long track through the scrub

The Homestead is accessible via a short unsealed 2wd track leading off the main Denham to Monkey Mia road. From here, a single 4wd track heads north, and splits off to lead to a number of different destinations:

  • Big Lagoon (Camping, boat launching, toilets, beach fishing and BBQs)
  • Herald Bight (Camping, beach fishing, boat launching and toilets)
  • Castle Well (Beach fishing)
  • South Gregories (Camping, boat launching, toilets, beach fishing and BBQs)
  • Gregories (Camping, boat launching, toilets, beach fishing and BBQs)
  • Bottle Bay (Camping, boat launching, toilets, beach fishing and BBQs)
  • Skipjack Point (Walk trail, viewing platform)
  • Cape Peron (Walk trail, toilets, BBQs)

On our trip, we didn’t have time to visit them all, unfortunately.

Busy Weekend

We were up in Shark Bay during the Easter break (2011) and it was busy… While we were up there, we heard a number of locals saying that it was the busiest that they’d ever seen it. Having said that, during our drive in the national park, the majority of the time we were the only car in sight.

In order to drive on the 4wd tracks, cars are required to reduce tyre pressure to a minimum of 20psi. This helps preserve the tracks by reducing the chance of people becoming bogged. We decided to go to 16psi as we usually do. The national park has installed a ‘re-inflation station’ at the homestead. The air hoses are the same as what you’d find at the service station, and means that there is no excuse for not letting your tyres down.

Big Lagoon

Francois Peron National Park 4wd Trip
Our first view of Big Lagoon

Throughout the national park, and in fact the entire Shark Bay area, there are a number of flat, low-lying areas called Birridas. These birridas are gypsum clay pans that used to be saline lakes. It is not recommended that you leave the designated tracks when crossing birridas, as the hard crust can hide some very sticky mud. Also, driving on the birridas will cause significant environmental damage which could take decades to repair.

With changing sea levels, some of these birridas have become flooded by the sea to form beautiful lagoons. In the Francois Peron national park there are 2 such lagoons, one is Little Laggon and the other is Big Lagoon.

The drive out to Big Lagoon is much the same as the rest of the national park. Softish red sand and low lying scrub as far as the eye can see.

Our first view of Big Lagoon, after 10kms of driving, was as we crested a small rise. Over the top we were presented with a grand view of green scrub, red sand, white beaches and magnificent blue water.

However, once we actually arrived at the beach, we discovered that it was covered in rotting sea grass. There were also quite a number of people camping there and it was crowded, smelly and unpleasant. We didn’t stay very long before we decided to head out to see some of the other sites.

South Gregories

We decided that the next stop would be South Gregories for a late lunch. One the way there, we came across 3 people in a very dead car. Although we didn’t get directly involved, we were told that the transmission had died. There were already a number of people assisting in getting the vehicle off the track. Once the other cars had moved on, we offered to try to make contact with someone using our UHF radio. We couldn’t quite get reception on our mobiles.

Francois Peron National Park 4wd Trip
Our Lunch Spot – South Gregories

We managed to contact someone closer in towards the homestead who said that as they were heading back to Denham, they’d relay the message on when they were able to get reception. We told the people in the car that we’d help them further if they were still there on the way back. As it turned out, the message must have go through as they were not there when we returned later in the day.

At South Gregories, we set up the awning on our car, rolled out the picnic blanket and set up for lunch. Although it was still quite crowded, it was a much more enjoyable environment from our experience at Big Lagoon.

Cape Peron

From South Gregories, it was a relatively short trip up to Cape Peron. The scenery here is spectacular. Red cliffs, blue ocean, white beaches. Amazing.

There were a number of people swimming off the white beach which looked very inviting. However as it was getting late in the day, we decided to just take a look around, and then head back towards Skipjack Point.

Skipjack Point

Francois Peron National Park 4wd Trip
One of the many Birridahs that the track crosses

Skipjack Point is one of these locations where people tell you that you’ll see amazing marine life from the viewing platform. “Head out there!” they say. “You’ll see manta rays, sharks, turtles, fish, everything!!”. When we’d heard people saying this we’d though to ourselves ‘Sure. Once in a blue moon, someone lucky will see one of those things… but not us…”

So on arrival at Skipjack Point, we were amazed to see a school of manta rays (or eagle rays?) swimming past! We waited for a little while watching the huge fish swimming the base of the bluff when suddenly we spotted a shark a few hundred meters off the coast! Other people on the viewing platform told us that only about 10 minutes prior to us arriving, they’d seen a huge turtle swim by. What an amazing place! Well worth a visit!

Back to the Homestead

As there is only so much time in the day, we eventually decided that it was time to head back to Denham. However we wanted to see the artesian hot spa at the homestead. After driving the 45kms along the soft, corrugated track, we eventually arrived back at

Francois Peron National Park 4wd Trip
The Re-inflation Station

the ‘re-inflation station’. There were about 10 vehicles queued up to use the facilities so I decided to re-inflate using my own compressor.

We then parked the car and went for a walk through the Homestead and found the artesian hot spa. The spa is fed by water that originates some 542 meters underground. The water was originally used as drinking water for the livestock. It has now been transformed into a hot tub that is free for all park visitors.

The water comes from the Canarvon Artesian Basin at about 35 to 60 degrees c.

The hot tub was very popular when we arrived with about 15 people either already in, or taking a short break from the very hot water. We dipped our feet in as we were not all that keen on fighting the crowds.

What you’ll need

As I have mentioned, it was a very busy weekend so tackling this track on our own was not a problem for us. However it’s a good idea to be self sufficient. I’d recommend taking:

  • MaxTrax or equivalent
  • Snatch Strap and shackles
  • Air Compressor
  • Sand Flag
  • UHF Radio
  • Camera
  • Snorkel (for you, not your car)
  • Goggles

Other Info

You can see a video of part of the trip here: Mitsubishi PB Challenger in Caper Peron – Shark Bay

A google map of our trip can be seen here: Map of Cape Peron 4wd Trip