G’day from the Top End, and welcome to our blog!
We thought that we’d take this opportunity to introduce ourselves and give you some insight into who we are, where we are from, and what we are hoping to achieve this year and beyond!
By way of introduction, we are Alan, Felicity, Lachlan (aged 5) and Nicholas (aged 4)! We live in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) and are your average Aussie family living the average Aussie life. Like many families with young children, we have wanted to get out and experience the splendour that the Northern Territory has to offer but have been a little overwhelmed by how to go about it with kids in tow. This blog will be a story of our journey – our successes, our challenges, our failures and the laughs we have along the way.
Given our location, unique issues such as the remote nature of many destinations, the presence of saltwater crocodiles and marine stingers at many of our beaches and waterways, and the tyranny of distance played on our own fears of how the kids would cope. In hindsight, I’m sure the kids would cope fine, and it was our own fears of how WE would handle the kids that was keeping us at home! Whilst Felicity and I have been camping before we haven’t camped with the kids and were a little unsure of how to go about it. So we started somewhere obvious – getting the right gear to start enjoying camping and all the fun it has to offer!
The biggest investment in our pursuits was the vehicle, and planning actually started late in 2014 when our previous vehicle, a Toyota Hilux 4x4 was written off after a collision with a wild horse near Katherine, NT. Rather than treat the accident as an impediment, we took it as an opportunity to start afresh and set about sourcing a replacement vehicle. Taking the ultimate role the new rig would play into consideration, we started building up a touring 4x4 from the ground up. We chose an Isuzu D-Max 4x4 crew cab ute as the basis because of its reasonable price, payload, economy, towing capacity, comfort and reputation for reliability. Given some of the remote destinations we would be striving to reach, reliability and confidence in the vehicle’s performance and economy were paramount.
As with any endeavour that requires a big financial commitment, we had to budget and plan the modifications to the D-Max well in advance. We started by hitting up the Isuzu Ute dealer to throw in as many extras as possible, and then used their buying power with the local ARB 4x4 dealer to work out some better prices on a bullbar, winch, canopy and snorkel.
With some nifty budgeting along the way, the D-Max has since been fitted out with an ARB canopy rack, side and rear work lights, UHF radio and some other modifications to make touring safer and more enjoyable. After some research on various online forums, we fitted a Dobinson Suspension 50mm lift and heavy duty suspension to better handle the terrain the vehicle was likely to encounter and the load that was likely to be carried along the way. Choosing the right tyres to best suit our needs was the next hurdle, but based on past experience the decision was an easy one.
As with any build-up of a vehicle, it’s a work in progress and there are still a few things that need to be done, but we’ll do our best to explain our reasoning behind the modifications and why we settled on the accessories we did later on.
We also had to update many of the general camping items that we did have as the old equipment had either perished (the joys of living in the tropics!) or wasn’t suitable for its new role for camping as a family. After making a list of what we had, what we needed and what needed to be replaced we hit up our local camping store and gave the VISA card a workout. We are now the proud owners of a new tent and OzTrail swags, sleeping bags and chairs. I also scoured the local classified and came up with a 9 quart camp oven and some other nicknacks for the kit. Again, our choices for selecting what we did will be expanded on along the way.
So having everything just about sorted for our inaugural camping trip, we’ve planned a weekend sojourn to the Tumbling Waters caravan park about 40 minutes south of Darwin. It’s close to home in case things don’t go according to our cunning plan, and there are a number of activities there to keep the kids entertained for hours. It also provides a ‘soft’ introduction to camping to keep the kids (and us adults!) from getting scared off by getting to too deep too soon!
When setting up a 4WD, you pretty well have the choice of going anywhere from mild to wild as far as what you do to it. But as today’s 4WDs are pretty well ready off the showroom floor to tackle beach runs, National Park tracks and dirt roads in general, you don’t have to outlay huge amounts of money if that’s all you’re going to be doing.
Owning a 4WD means you get to stunning places like this
However, if you’re planning regular weekend breaks or looking at a longer trip, it’s nice to have a couple of minor modifications and travel with a few accessories, to make that 4WD experience more enjoyable.
4WD Course – Get yourself onto a beginners’ type 4WD course. But shop around, as they all vary. Look for something that is at least a day course where you learn to try 4WDing using your own vehicle over a range of terrains, all while being under instruction. Tip – While you’ve got the chance, don’t hang back! This is a perfect opportunity to learn what your vehicle is capable of, so don’t be afraid to get it bogged so you can learn how to recover it.
Tyres - In most cases, manufacturers fit 100% bitumen road tyres, which of course are fine on the black top. We suggest you start looking towards an all-terrain type tyre which is a compromise between bitumen, sand, dirt and rock. That way, the one set of all terrain tyres can allow you to tackle tracks and terrain that a road tyre just won’t cope with.
Tyre Gauge and Air Compressor - It won’t take you long to learn that 4WDing over various terrains with today’s radial all terrain tyres can take a variety of air pressures – anywhere from highway driving at high pressures, to very low pressures when driving on sand to increase your foot print. The issue here is when the terrain changes, you’re going to want to lower pressures and eventually pump them up again. This is where a portable 12v compressor and tyre gauge to measure pressures allows you to make changes in tyre pressure with confidence.
Deflator - So that you can change those tyre pressures quickly and safely (and avoid losing valves and getting dirt in areas where you don’t want it), invest in a good quality deflator with a pressure gauge to make easy work of it. This bit of kit is a “must have” for anyone wanting to get off the bitumen roads.
Time to reduce the tyre pressures now we've hit the dirt
Shovel – Yep, a good quality shovel will come in very handy for a variety of things. And for ease of use, we prefer one that has a long handle. Not only can they be used to dig yourself out of a bog, they’re really useful when changing wheels to help get the wheel back on without breaking your back. They’re also perfect for clearing around the campsite and digging a trench for a fire pit, and of course when mother nature calls, you can bury and burn that waste!
We don't go anywhere without taking a long handled shovel
First Aid Kit – This is one essential piece of equipment you should be carrying. Kits come in all sizes and styles, and it goes without saying, but attend a simple first aid course so you know how to administer some form of first aid. What you need a first aid kit to include may be different to someone else (ie specific medications), so if it doesn’t include what you need, simply add to it if necessary.
Secure Your Load – Whether your 4WD is a dual cab, ute, or the more traditional wagon style or SUV, it’s very important the items you store don’t roll around during transit. So consider using a specific custom tie down system, and add a cargo barrier if your 4WD is a wagon. And many aftermarket storage places can provide drawer setups that are ready to be bolted straight in and work brilliantly.
We use a custom storage solution for our set up
Roof Rack - When getting away in your 4WD, storage can be at a premium. So here’s where a simple roof rack system works wonders. Consider using the genuine manufacturer’s racks, and look to a reputable supplier who specialises in roof rack storage. This will help ensure that you’re purchasing a system that’s designed for your specific type of vehicle.
Having a roof rack means we can vary our storage depending on our requirements
Communications - UHF radios are a great way for communicating between fellow travellers, particularly when you’re travelling in a group. And every 4WDer should have a radio in their set up especially when doing a difficult recovery such as winching.
A UHF radio is just one basic item every 4WDer should have
Multi-tool and Gloves - We carry a multi tool set in each of our setups, and you’d be surprised how often they get used for a variety of things. Also carry a good quality pair of leather working gloves to protect your hands when working in, and around your vehicle and campsite.
Now of course there are many, many more accessories you can buy as a 4WD owner. A visit to any reputable 4WD aftersales business could leave you very broke! But the great thing is, you don’t necessarily need it all. Over time, you’ll learn the type of 4WDing adventure you’re looking for, and can add those accessories and modifications to meet your growing needs.
And if nothing else, being the owner of a 4WD means you will never say, “I don’t know what I want for my birthday”!!
Having owned three four wheel drive vehicles before the D-Max, I quickly became familiar with Cooper Tires and their reputation for longevity and performance. For the last ten years we have had vehicles with Cooper Discoverer S/T tyres which have seen some tough work and held up admirably under the conditions. So when it came time to give the D-Max some suitable shoes for the touring we had planned, the decision was a no-brainer - Cooper Discoverer S/TMAXX tyres in 265/70R17. The S/TMAXX would offer the versatility and performance we were after in a tyre that would perform as a daily driver during the week, but double as a solid performer in the variety of conditions that might challenge it come play time. A quick trip to see Grant at Tyrepower, Stuart Park, had us sorted out with our sporty new Cooper shoes and the kidlets sporting a new Cooper ball cap each! Talk about excited – the kids were happy as clams!
Grant & Linda
My Aussie Travel Guide