Self-drive the NT

So you want to self-drive your NT holiday

Self drive NT seems cheaper when you are planning your visit to the NT.  It also has the advantage of the freedom to choose where to visit, when to visit and how long to stay in your favourite places.  Best of all you do not have to be told what to do and herded around like sheep on those big organised tours … yep, a self-drive mission is looking good.

Let’s get started with a plan to self-drive the NT.

Before you embark on your big kahuna self-drive mission there are a few mini missions you will need to complete before you go.

Mission A: Hiring a vehicle for your self drive NT holiday

Do you have the right licence?

  1. Some people only have a license to drive automatic vehicles
  2. Do you have a full license or provisional plates
  3. Is your international license valid for Australia
  4. Do you need a 4 WD or a 2WD ?

Make sure you are eligible to hire the vehicle you are wanting.

If you are planning on going off the sealed road then a 4WD is possibly the best option.  With all 4 tyres there for you it is much easier to get out of sticky situations and stay on the road.

Saying this there have been cases where people have hired a 4WD, got bogged and when assistance came it was found that they had not engaged the other 2 wheels and were in fact operating as a 2WD.   Moral of that story is that if you are going to hire a vehicle make sure you know how to drive it and what all the buttons do.

If you are not going off the sealed road then any 2WD is probably going to be great for your day out.

Another consideration is that most hire companies do not allow their vehicles of any type to go off road so beware of this when hiring.  Insurance will be voided if you drive and damage the vehicle outside of the go zones.

Break downs

Unexpected and rare but always there to ruin a perfectly good holiday.  Perhaps one shouldn’t say rare as this may depend on the quality of the vehicle you hire and the company from which you hire.

There was (still is) a company which calls itself something like ‘Hire a bomb’.  As the name suggests the vehicles can be a bit unreliable.  This is one end of the spectrum and most of the time the reputable companies can be relied upon to supply good working order vehicles.

But what happens if you are unlucky enough to breakdown ?  How far are you going to be from assistance ?  What communications will you have ?  What food and water ?  Is there a back up car for your use ?  What is their refund policy ? Think these things through before you head out into the wilderness.

What is the total cost of the vehicle ?

$45 a day sounds great for a hire.  That is until you get the list of other costs which go with it.  Things like insurance, tyre levy, pickup levy, extra KM levy (around 30cents /km after 100 km in the dry season), levy levy are some of the bits and bobs that add up?

Where do you pick the vehicle up from and from what time ?

Most hire companies open their doors at 730 am and close around 530 pm.  Outside of that and you are up for 2 days hire.  If you operate within that then you are limiting yourself to where and what you can do in a day.  No sunrises on the floodplain or sunsets on the rock for you I am afraid to say.

So you have sorted a car out and now are ready to plan your self-drive NT tour.  Time for nuts and bolts.

Mission B: Tour logistics for your self drive nt holiday

Where to visit in the NT

Assuming you have a rough idea of the region you are wanting to go to it is time to make a list of the best places to visit in the NT? Waterfalls, walking tracks, wildlife spots, view spots, picnic spots, permits and permissions etc etc.

At this point you also need to consider what restrictions / considerations of your group need to be taken into account in order for the best day to be achieved ?  Are there babies, mobility issues or other considerations that  need to be factored in and how do these play out at the sites identified as high interest.

When to visit the NT

Most places have a special time to visit.  This is when the light is in the right place, the animals are doing the right thing or maybe just because there is no one else around.

Word of caution here though is that the right time varies through the year and can vary from day to day.  Beware of school holidays and school groups coming up from down south as well as the dramatic impact that season has on access to sites in the Top End.

What dangers are there in the region you want to visit?

Safety is a big issue in the NT as all the elements are wild.  The weather variations are extreme whilst the fauna and flora are always keen to remind us that we are still part of the food chain.

Besides the uneven ground, heights, cracks, crevices, flowing water, floods, cyclones, potholes, snakes, crocodiles, spiders, sharks, jellyfish etc. etc. there is also just plain old dumb luck.  So be prepared.

Have your emergency numbers sorted.  Communications sorted and a solid first aid kit on hand.

Although WIFI is had in some places you should plan on having no reception on your phone nor txt.

Timings

What time to depart and how long to spend at each place? What is your schedule?  How to avoid rushing and missing the best spots?

Even for many Australians the size of this country can be bewildering.  A 200km drive to get to a spot is NOT a long way to travel.  However, staying for an hour rather than 45 minutes at a few locations will suddenly find time has run out.  None wants to mis anything or rush a holiday.  Get a map and plan.

Food & Water

Do you need to take food and water?  How much?  Do you have eskies or suitable containers for your provisions.  Are their facilities in the region you are visiting to purchase?

Depending on where you go there typically is food options and refreshments in the more popular spots.  However, confirm that beforehand and take back-up.

Nobody likes to be hungry and thirsty never-mind when they are cruising through the outback.

Water is the crucial element so make sure you have plenty of that.  Roughly 3 litres per person as a min. for an average day in the Top End in the dry season usually works well but have a secret stash of emergency water just in case of another 3 litres per person.

Mission C: Safety on your self drive NT adventure

First and foremost you should always carry a first aid box with you in the car and a small one when away from your vehicle.  Carrying a snake bite kit as well as some basic antiseptics and covers, thermal blanket and sling is a very brief get out of trouble kit when trekking around.  Other considerations are:

  1. Take any prescribed medications or antihistamines.
  2. What are your emergency procedures?
  3. Did you tell anyone where you were going?
  4. Will you have phone reception ?
  5. What animals or geographical considerations are there for safety?
  6. What are the other dangers on the road? Drink driving, Road Trains, Pot holes, Wash outs, flooded creeks and rivers, other drivers with no idea  …
  7. What is the weather forecast?
Mission D: Educational Component on your self drive nt experience

Where to begin your study ?

Find some decent reading resources which cover the basic information about your region and branch of from there.  Text books on geology, anthropology, natural resources, botany, history etc are always a great way to understand the region and cultures you are traveling to and through.

Understanding the information? Read more and think.

Making sense of what you see and do?

You will need to read and research heavily prior to your experience as it is more than likely you will not have SIRI help in the outback.  Google will not be there for you so come prepared.  Any questions you have will more than likely have to wait until you get home.

Beginning your self drive NT holiday

So you got a car, you have a plan and you are on your way … oops.

Flat tyre !

What now ?

Options:

A. Fix tyre

B. See emergency plan

C. Forget the self drive tour idea and join any one of many organised NT tours.

From Darwin Day tours to multi day tours there are plenty of NT tour options.

Group categories include: private tours, micro tours, small group tours, medium and large group tours … a size for everyone.

But what is an organised tour?