Girls learn to 4WD on Fraser Island
I used to have a sticker on my school bag that said “girls can do anything”. I’ve always thought this true but some activities have been beyond me, and 4WDing was one of them.
Words like axle, diff lock, high range and low range confused me and I sure as hell wasn’t going offroad when I couldn’t even open my own bonnet unassisted.
Enter the Australian Offroad Academy who recently launched a ladies-learn-to-4WD course, aptly named Girls Got Grit, to learn the basics of safe off-roading on heritage-listed Fraser Island. I was so in!
With a bag full of kaftans, big hats, sunglasses (we were going to an island after all) and eight girlfriends, I set off to learn to 4WD on the biggest sand island in the world. Boy, did we prove that girls can do anything.
If you’ve ever wanted have your own 4×4 adventure and didn’t know the first place to start, check out these basics we learnt with Australian Offroad Academy to have your own 4WD experience on Fraser Island.
The starting point for any 4WD adventure is tyre pressure.
PSI? I had NFI but Dave explained that on soft sand you need less pressure in the tyres to create a greater rubber surface to grip. Okay, makes sense… I think.
With a contraption that loosely resembled a stethoscope we dropped our PSI as low as 20, although this would depend on the tyres you’ve got. One tyre does not fit all (this was news to me)!
The training course
It’s no Nurburgring, but tucked behind Kingfisher Bay Resort is a custom-made track where Australian Offroad Academy puts you through your 4WD paces. The track is like crossfit but for 4WDs, with a circuit of challenging drills to test the moves you’ll need out in the big, wide off-road world.
It’s here you’ll learn the difference between hill descent and traction control and start to feel like you were born to 4WD after all.
No student is allowed to pass without completing their very own vehicle recovery where you’ll discover that snatch straps are more than just a funny name.
Driving beyond the training ground
On Fraser Island, it’s not just about navigating the roads – there’re tides to factor into your experience – so make a tide chart your friend before visiting the island.
Be aware that hire cars aren’t allowed to drive on the beach two hours either side of high tide. It’s a trap for young players, so double check the tides before setting off.
Fraser’s sandy tracks accommodate two-way traffic… just. The moral of this story is that someone has to give way.
Avoid a Mexican stand-off by retreating to a passing bay. For those nervous about reversing, I guarantee you won’t look at a parallel park the same way after a day on the tracks on Fraser. You’ll be a pro in no time.
When in doubt of the other car’s intentions, use your indicator to show your movements. If all else fails, wind down the window and have a chat. This seems to be how people roll here. We said hello to almost everyone we crossed paths with.
When driving in a convoy, you need to be aware of larger tour groups and give way to tour coaches. They’re often on tight deadlines to meet certain destinations and are far less agile than a standard 4WD. After all, now that you can drive your own wheels you can stay as long as you want at your final destination, so you’re not in any rush to get anywhere.
Check your speed
Winding your way around Fraser’s inland tracks you might be lucky to get over 35/kilometres an hour. It might sound slow, but it’s the most fun you’ll ever have at a crawl.
If this is too slow going for you, get down to 75 Mile Beach, a gazetted highway with a speed limit of 80 kilometres.
Keep your wits about you though – not only do you need to be aware of cars, but keep an eye out for small plane take-offs and landings as Air Fraser Scenic Flight uses the sand as a tarmac.
Enjoy the freedom of self-driving
The best part of driving yourself around Fraser Island is the freedom to choose how long you want to stay and play.
Believe me, when you see Lake McKenzie with is bright blue water and white sand you won’t want to get out. We celebrated our newfound driving skills by splashing in the water for hours.
After one weekend with Australian Offroad Academy, the ladies and I are confident with air pressure, vehicle recovery and beach driving. Not bad for eight ladies who’d never taken rubber off road.