Outback safety

Arid landscapes are incredibly fragile. While they may appear barren and isolated, they support a wide range of truly unique and amazing plants and animals. Every step you take off the path and every wheel you take off the track will have a lasting impact.

If you are not travelling through a national park or conservation reserve, then you are most likely travelling through a pastoral property – someone else’s backyard.

Please consider your actions carefully:

  • Stay on the tracks.
  • Camp only in designated areas or in areas permitted by the appropriate land manager.
  • Use public toilet facilities where available. If a public toilet is unavailable, dig a deep hole, burn any toilet paper and fill in the hole.
  • Take your rubbish and waste cassettes to the nearest town facilities for disposal in identified waste bins. Do not empty cassettes into public toilets.
  • Camping close to stock watering points can affect grazing stock, therefore you are not permitted to camp within 500 metres of these areas.
  • Do not use soap or detergents in or near waterholes, stock watering points or artesian springs.
  • Pastoral homesteads and out-buildings are people’s homes and businesses. Please respect their backyard and don’t camp within one kilometre of a homestead or other buildings.
  • Bring your firewood with you and check fire restrictions with the Country Fire Service (or call 1300 362 361). Some national parks do not allow wood fires and we ask you not to collect wood in outback areas as it limited.

Travelling in remote outback South Australia can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. It can also be very hazardous with rapid onset of extreme weather conditions, challenging terrain, and isolation from services.

For a safe journey it is essential that you plan carefully, have a well maintained and equipped vehicle, and are well-prepared and well-provisioned.

You are responsible for your own safety

Tell people where you are travelling

Inform a responsible person of your travel itinerary, for example, a family member at home. Arrange to make scheduled contact and have emergency plans in the event that you do not reach locations within designated times (allow for minor delays).

Road and track conditions

Exploring our region by road requires a general understanding of the management responsibilities of the various types of roads and tracks. Always check road and weather conditions before you leave. Severe penalties apply for driving on closed roads and these are enforced.

  • Public roads (sealed and unsealed) are managed by the Department of Planning, Transport, and Infrastructure (DPTI) and they provide regular, current information about road conditions and road closures via their Road Report.
  • Roads within national parks and conservation reserves are managed by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, who provides regular, current information about road conditions and closures via their Desert Parks Bulletin.
  • Signposted public access routes on pastoral stations are managed by the Pastoral Board and are the only tracks on properties that can be accessed without permission from the land manager. Access to other tracks on stations  must be made by application to the Public Access Officer.

Fuel

Your fuel economy will vary greatly on the tracks you take. Make sure you plan ahead and carry enough fuel between all stops. Be aware that heavy track conditions such as soft sand, muddy tracks and slow, hilly terrain will increase your fuel consumption.

Packing

The lighter you travel the lower your fuel consumption and wear and tear on your vehicle. Take only what you need. Don’t forget a well equipped first aid kit and sun protection (such as hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts).

Water

It is essential to always carry adequate supplies of water (plus a three to four day reserve supply). During mild weather, estimate six litres per person per day. During warmer weather, estimate 10 litres of water per person per day.

Tyres

It’s a good idea to lower your tyre pressure (start with around 80% of your road pressure) and reduce your speed when driving on unsealed roads. Carry two spare tyres (check that they are both inflated) and always have access to a long handled shovel and a strong jack.

Outback communications

Only about five per cent of the outback has mobile phone range, with the majority of coverage in townships on main sealed roads. Coverage is sporadic on the unsealed road network. Satellite telephones provide alternative communications to almost anywhere in Australia and around the world. Some outback locations (such as Birdsville and Mt Dare) hire satellite telephones to travellers.

UHF radios are also a popular means of communication in the outback. To prevent confusion and ensure satisfactory communications for everyone using this part of the radio band frequency, protocols are in place. Please familiarise yourself with UHF use prior to departure on a long outback adventure.

  • Travellers can use channels 9 to 30 and 39 for conversations as well as channels 49 to 70, but should be aware that anyone within range (line of sight) can hear your conversation.
  • Channels 5 and 35 are for emergency use only.  Be aware that emergency channels are monitored by volunteers and may not always be available in outback regions (fines and imprisonment can apply for misuse).
  • Channels 1 to 8 and 41 to 48 are repeater channels, and as such broadcast over a longer distance (up to 100km). These should only be used to seek assistance when required. Channel 40 is the road or ‘truckies’ channel.  Channels 22 and 23 are for data only. Channels 31 to 38 and 71 to 78 are repeater inputs (do not use these channels for simplex transmissions as you will interfere with conversations on channels 1 to 8 and 41 to 48).

High Frequency (HF) radios can also offer reliable communications over thousands of kilometres. HF offers no-cost communications between mobiles travelling anywhere in Australia as well as to base stations operated by the VKS-737 radio network, and is widely used by visitors travelling in remote locations.

As communications in remote areas are limited and unreliable, it is strongly recommended that you carry a personal locator beacon (PLB). These electronic distress beacons can be activated in life threatening situations to assist rescue authorities in their search to locate and assist you and must be registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

Camping

If you are camping within a national park or conservation reserve, please ensure you have the appropriate permits, use designated camping areas (if they are available) and fully understand the rules you must abide by in parks.

If you are camping along public access routes (roads or tracks through pastoral land) you must camp within 100 metres of the track, stay at least one kilometre away from homesteads or other buildings and stay at least 500 metres away from stock watering points.

Only signposted public access routes on pastoral stations can be used without first seeking landholder consent. All other station tracks are considered to be private tracks. Contact the Public Access Officer on 1800 678 447 or (08) 8648 5300 for further information.

Exploring the Oodnadatta Track

Exploring the Oodnadatta Track is a journey of surprising water and plants in a landscape that at first appears barren and empty. Use the Oodnadatta Track visitor brochure, String of Springs, as your guide to the water oases, plants and animals on this renowned track.

Exploring the Birdsville and Strzelecki tracks

The Birdsville and Strzelecki tracks have become legendary tracks in outback South Australia. Use the Birdsville Strzelecki visitor brochure, Legendary tracks of the Marree-Innamincka district, as your guide to the plants, animals, history and industry of the tracks in this region.