Whether you hire one, buy one or borrow one, a 4WD is invaluable for travelling around WA. You can explore the colossal dunes in the southwest, maneuver along abandoned tracks that weave through the outback remnants of the state’s mining history, or find a deserted beach where you can camp beneath the stars. And the beauty of a 4WD? That you can go where few travellers have gone before...
WHERE TO GO
Up North | The weather in these parts ranges from arid to monsoonal, depending on what time of year you’re travelling. This makes for diverse but exciting terrain for those exploring the north by 4WD. The Gibb River Road is a beloved 4WDing choice, for which a high-clearance vehicle is recommended. The route lets you take in some of the stunning gorges of the region, like Windjana – May to October is the best time to travel the 660km, but be sure to check ahead. Another standout stopping point is Tunnel Creek (remember to pack a torch). If you add Kalumburu Road onto your journey, you can also include Mitchell Plateau to the trip’s list of sights. You’ll need a vehicle with high ground clearance to take on the Marble Bar Railway, a challenging route in the Pilbara region following two sections of the century-old derelict railway that’s very overgrown in some areas. River crossings can be difficult in summer when the sand is loose, and take care to avoid protruding pieces of telegraph poles along the way. Rugged, overgrown, and extreme, this is a fun but difficult ride – aim to attempt it in cooler weather, but well after winter rains. From Halls Creek to Wiluna, the Canning Stock Route is popular with experienced drivers; in fact, it’s an iconic West Australian adventure. Covering around 2000km, the route is best tackled between May and September. Make sure you have the appropriate permits, and have planned very carefully (in terms of water, food, fuel and so on) since the route traverses some remote locations where help won’t be close at hand. The Warlu Way trail follows the Dreamtime sea serpent Warlu’s path through northwest Australia. Crossing around 2500 km, it takes in some of the standout attractions of the region, like Ningaloo Marine Park, Eighty Mile Beach, and the Dampier Archipelago; it’s a great way to spend eleven days (or a fortnight’s holiday, if you slow it down a little). The Trail starts in Exmouth and finishes in Broome; interpretive signage marks the journey, offering cultural/historical insights. Make sure you plan ahead because some areas you might choose to explore along the way are rougher going than others, and call for high-clearance 4WDs.
Out East | With loads of abandoned mine tracks in the Golden Outback – some not even on maps – this region is for 4WDers who enjoy exploring. Originally the Woodlines were light railways in the Goldfields, built to transport timber to the mines. The abandoned railway sleepers and formations, combined with the remnants of old communities, create visually diverse 4WD tracks. The paths following the Woodlines northeast of Norseman offer ghostly remains of old villages as well as an abundance of native wildlife, with access via several moderately difficult tracks leading off Eyre Highway out of Norseman. Starting from the Great Australian Bight at Israelite Bay Telegraph Station, the remote Telegraph Track heads east toward Eucla, and traverses varied terrain. If driving on the beach, be wary of seaweed-filled holes covered by windblown sand that can snare your 4WD. Twilight Cove is a coastal highlight; consider a sunset picnic when the escarpment glows red. Eyre Bird Observatory, surrounded by Nuytsland Nature Reserve, is worth visiting (if looking to stay overnight, take care to book ahead). Closer to Perth, the Mundaring Powerline Track is more than 20km, starting in Sawyer Valley, and travels on through to York. The route began as a service track for the power lines (hence the name), but usage is allowed for 4WD enthusiasts. Suited to a day’s drive, keep in mind it can get messy after rain. This is a great way to gain experience before hitting more remote and potentially difficult trails around the state. The John Holland Track was originally a cart road laid down in 1893, only to fall out of use, with parts re-established by 4WDing fans. From Broomehill to Coolgardie, the drive is best tackled in drier weather (especially the 4WD-only section) because rain can result in ruts and holes that make for tougher travelling (especially if you end up bogged!). Make sure to have enough fuel and water for the journey; the location is remote.
For a milder driving experience and a chance to revel in the history of the region, The Wheatbelt Way drive trail is especially beautiful during peak wildflower season (July to October). There are twenty-four sites on the self-drive route, which can take three to five days, depending on how long you explore the sights. A rough version of a loop that encompasses nine communities and a mix of sealed and unsealed roads, the first stop is Tin Dog Creek, the last Yelbeni Townsite and Museum.
Down South | The southwest has the best of both worlds – there’s too many beaches to count, while inland are towering forests. Spring is the best time to 4WD down south, when there are wildflowers and still plenty of mud. Tims Thicket and White Hill are 4WD-accessible beaches within the City of Mandurah, close to Perth and perfect for a weekend adventure (especially since the fishing’s also great). Make sure you use the approved entry and exit points (there are 4WD tracks that lead to each beach), and keep in mind the dunes are off limits. For something a little cruisier, The Karri Forest Explorer Drive (starting just beyond Pemberton) is a nice way to take in some of the region’s drawcards like the Gloucester Tree, Big Brook Dam and, of course, stunning karri forests and renowned wineries. You can even find accommodation along the way – camping or otherwise. Ask at the Pemberton visitor centre for details of the 86km trail that includes sealed and unsealed roads. If hitting the beach is more your thing, Yeagarup offers its famed landlocked sand dunes (10km of them in fact), a drawcard for 4WD enthusiasts. Remember to reduce tyre pressure, since you’ll be driving on soft sand. (Consider the Leaning Marri campground by the lake in D’Entrecasteaux National Park – a great base from which to explore the area.) Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park covers over 120km of coastline and has a number of 4WD trails for enthusiasts to explore, especially if you’re aiming for more obscure fishing and surfing spots (just check first to make sure it’s permitted). Local surfers recommend the Three Bears Track, a 4WD trail to popular waves between Yallingup and Sugarloaf Rock. Keep in mind, on various trails throughout the park, limestone adds a bit of a challenge. With heaps to see and do (including caving), you can afford to take your time.
Camping along the Woodlines (photography wa4wd.net.au).
Canning Stock Route
For many experienced 4WD enthusiasts the Canning Stock Route (from Halls Creek to Wiluna) is a must, with May to September the best time to try it. At around 2000 km, this route crosses deserts and is dotted by the original wells marking the stock route. Planning ahead is essential, because you’ll be truly isolated: see www.canningstockroute.net.au for information.
Located on the edge of a forest in D’Entrecasteaux National Park, this impressive land-locked mobile dune system is 10km long. Remember to reduce your tyre pressure before taking to the sand (and to adjust it back afterwards), and don’t change gears in deep, soft sand. The slopes can be intimidating, so take care. Note, too, that park fees apply.
There are numerous 4WDing tracks through the Goldfields, remnants of the Woodlines, light railways originally created for timber transportation to mining communities. Tracks follow the Woodlines northeast of Norseman, and if you stop to fossick through the old ruins, you could find anything from broken bits of old toys to coins. Access is via moderately difficult tracks branching off Eyre Highway, out of Norseman.
The Old Telegraph Track
Best for experienced drivers, this starts at the ruins of the old telegraph station near Israelite Bay and heads east to Eucla – expect to see the old telegraph poles the track’s named after. Keep in mind this is a track for dry seasons (it may be impassable during/after wet weather), and it’s remote, so make sure provisions are stocked. The Baxter Cliffs are beautiful, as is Twilight Cove. If travelling with children, stop and enjoy the Bilbunya Dunes.