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Do you need a 4WD to drive around Australia?

In the past few weeks I’ve had several people email or Facebook message me asking if it’s really necessary to have a 4WD to drive around Australia?

A few decades ago the answer would have been almost certainly YES!

But these days it isn’t as critical as it once was.

National Highway One runs right around the country and it is sealed virtually all the way so you can definitely drive around Australia and never get your tyres dirty.

There are plenty of backpackers in Hiace vans and old Falcons & Commodores, vanlifer’s in converted Sprinter vans and other 2WD travellers who are getting out and seeing Australia without a 4WD.

But . . . in my opinion, they are missing some of the best this country has to offer.

There are just so many great places to go that DO need a 4WD that you will want to explore once you get out there.

And given that doing The Big Lap for most people is once in a lifetime experience, why wouldn’t you want to be able to do and see everything when you have the opportunity?

For example . . .

You can drive around Kakadu National Park on sealed roads but if you want to get out to Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls then you’ll need a 4WD.

Heading north out of Kakadu through Arnhem Land you can take your 4WD up to Garig Gunak Barlu National Park on the Cobourg Peninsula which is one of the most remote and awesome destinations we stayed on our Big Lap

Only a small number of vehicles are allowed in at a time so you feel like you have the place to yourself – a big change from the crowds of tourists in Kakadu.

Sunrise over secluded billabong at Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, Cobourg Peninsula, NT

Of course Cape York is probably the ultimate 4WD destination on your drive around Australia and I can’t imagine leaving that off my Big Lap itinerary.

Exploring the Telegraph Track, Cape York, QLD

Head East out of Mataranka towards the Roper River on the Savannah Way and you have 1000+ km’s of remote Gulf Country to explore . . . but you’ll need a 4WD!

With a 4WD you can drive the Gibb River Road which takes you right through the heart of the Kimberley instead of skirting around the bottom on the sealed road – who would want to miss that?

Jen taking in the view from the Gibb River Road

Pretty much everywhere you go in Australia you’ll find that the sealed road runs out and that’s where the real adventure begins and many of the best destinations are found.

The great thing about Australia compared with countries like the USA is that we haven’t sealed all the roads so it limits the numbers of people that can travel them.

So having a 4WD is a great way to escape the crowds and discover the true outback.

From a practical point of view, a 4WD will get you everywhere you want to go but it is also much stronger and more capable of carrying your gear.

This is important when you consider you’ll be driving at least 30,000km fully loaded.

So if your only option is to do the big lap in a 2WD then definitely do it because any way is better than no way.

BUT . . . seriously think long and hard about it because having a 4WD will make for a much bigger adventure.

Further reading & viewing:

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Steve Baile
Steve Baile
I’m the founder of Expedition Australia, a writer, filmmaker & adventure travel junkie. Passionate about my family, health and fitness, hiking, 4WD touring, adventure motorbikes, camping and exploring as much of the planet as I can.


  1. We did a very quick big lap in our 2WD campervan. Never stayed twice in the same place. But never traveled far in one day either. We’ve always been tossing up whether we should upgrade to a 4WD. with all the necessary infrastructure.
    However we’ve come to the conclusion that we should do the 4WD stuff in someone else’s vehicle ie a tour company.
    We did the Gibb river road with a tour company and that was excellent. For those of us in a hurry who don’t like sitting around, they know the best spots, they do all the organizing, we help with meals etc if we want to.
    It was a camping tour so we were all given a tent, a stretcher, and a sleeping bag. By the end of the trip some people could set it all up and down in 10 mins. We took about 20 mins.
    We had up to about 4 hours hiking some days to the most remote swimming holes. Most of our particular group didn’t join us for that. Choosing instead to do something else.
    So there was the opportunity for all to enjoy.
    Sure it cost a lot of dough, but considering the saving in 4WD etc it may have been worth it.
    We are going to do Cape York the same way.

    • G’day Ken, sounds like you guys have found a good compromise that works for you. At least you’re getting out and seeing the best bits one way or another. I’ve got on board a 4WD tour up to Cape York with my grandmother back in 2002 and it was great. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and let someone else do the work 🙂

  2. Hi Steve
    I don’t know much about 4wd but I wondering if a LSD is enough to do those areas you mentioned? It was suggested to me I need a lock-diff. I’m a single gal in my 40’s who will be making the trip on my own. Is it even wise for me to venture off-road on my own, given my naivety regarding 4wd?

    • Hi Kylie, a LSD is better than no LSD for sure but that’s only one factor – the advantages of a 4WD are more than just traction . . . ground clearance, heavy duty tyres and the general robustness to handle the rough roads are also important. For example, the Gibb River Road across the Kimberley, you could most likely drive nearly all of it in a 2WD but there are rough patches and river crossings where a 4WD really makes the difference. Also, many of the side tracks you’ll want to take are rougher and need a 4WD even more. Travelling alone I would be careful about heading off down ‘little used’ tracks and certainly let people know your plans if you do so that if you get stuck you know someone is coming to find you (take a PLB, Sat Phone or other satellite communicator just in case). But most of the time you’ll find stretches of unsealed road along the way that are still well used so travelling alone is no big issue. Basically, having a real 4WD will give you more options of places to go and less chance of vehicle problems. Hope this helps. cheers, Steve

  3. Hi Steve, just wondering if it is possible to drive the gibb river road in the driest part of the year in a 2wd Toyota van, whether or not the crossing are too high for such a little van.

  4. Last Spring (August – October 2016) I made a big lap (19000km) in a two-wheel-drive ’95 Ford/Mazda mini van converted into a camper (white with “Hoover” on the side). I drove counter (anti?) -clockwise from near Brisbane through every state and territory (except – unfortunately – Tasmania) on the bitumen. Yes, I missed out on the KImberly from the ground, but I did see the Horizontal Waterfalls and THE pearl farm. I also saw what’s left of the 12 Apostles (down south…) – both from the air. There was also that visit to the Great Barrier Reef – I traveled by rail.

    I also watched “Absolutely Fabulous – The Movie” in the oldest Garden Cinema in the world in Broome WA. There is a surprise interruption about 33 minutes into the screening.

    It can be done and you can see a lot of the Outback – just not the parts waaaay off the road. Wherever I went, people kept telling me that “I have seen more of Australia than most Australians”.

    And now for the SHAMELESS PLUG: I got a lot of help in planning the trip from Steve Baile’s DVD set “The Big Lap”

    – Jim Cambron, Independence Missouri, USA

    • Tasmania Jim is a place where you can do anything. It has a lots to offer. Nice choice. Weather is good, amazing white sand beaches, and the rain forest. You has nothing to ask for. Self-driving gives you a lots of freedom to go around. When are you coming back to Australia?

      -not at fault car hire | not at fault accident

  5. Considering how cheap used 4WDs are, like a GQ patrol or an 80series cruiser, i think if people are stressing over this question, perhaps they could considering buying one of these and selling it when the get back.

  6. Hi Steve,
    I watched your DVD more than 15 times and beleive me everytime i watched it, i learn something new, Thanks for making this this ultimate series.

    I enjoyed it so much that i bought one for mine friend living in America, to plan a big lap in near future.

    Please advise whether their are enough fuel station serving LPG if we want to do a big lap in Ford falcon which is dedicated LPG only,

    Or please me any link related to that.

    Thanks a lot for making this series and God bless you?

    • Hi Pardeep, thanks for the great feedback and for your support – we really appreciate it 🙂
      As for LPG stations, virtually all service stations sell LPG so it probably won’t be an issue for you. It’s not likely that with a Ford Falcon you will be travelling too far off the main roads anyway. If I were you I would study the map of Australia and look at some of the more remote areas you plan to visit, check the distance between fuel stations and then phone or email the fuel stations to confirm they have LPG. Certainly around the built up areas on the eastern side of the country will be ok but it’s just the less populated areas you need to check. Cheers, Steve

      • I just travelled from Melbourne to Townsville across to 3 ways and Darwin to kunnanurra ,back down the centre to Adelaide and return to Sydney then Melbourne we were towing a 17 foot poptop with a dual fuel commodore ( with 80 litre lpg tank) it was ok until we got past Gympie and then in North Queensland ,gas got harder to find and a LOT more expensive ….going across the centre we ran out a few times and had to turn to petrol to make the town with gas ,,,Julia creeks gas pump was out of action for a crew days being repaired so we filled up with petrol ,,, you would probably have bigger capacity lpg tank than I did , but remember if you’re towing , your consumption will be worse ,we were only getting 6 kilometres a litre ,so only about 360 kilometres a useable tank . Gas doesn’t seem to be popular with cars in north or west Queensland ( in Melbourne they are everywhere )

  7. Hi Ken, I am curious about LSD – is this the same as ‘All wheel drive” and VW ‘4 motion’? I have a VW transporter 4 Motion converted to a campervan. How restricted will I be to travel off road? I don’t expect to cross rivers…
    Cheers Jan

  8. Hi Steve,
    In terms of 4WD what sort of level of car is necessary? Could you get to the places you went to in something like a Ford Territory 4WD 6cy Diesel or do you need a more heavy duty 4WD like a pajero or a patrol? Is it necessary to have a caravan that is off road too or could you do most of the off road trips in the 4WD as day trips?

    • Hi Michelle, a Territory would get you further than a 2WD but they are not a serious 4WD like a Pajero, Patrol or Landcruiser which would get you anywhere you want to go. If you don’t have an offroad caravan you can certainly do day trips in your 4WD or even carry a basic camping kit so you could do overnighters. There are trips like the Gibb River Road which you’d need at least a few days (ideally more) to travel so being able to camp would be ideal.

  9. Hi….just bought a 2017 Ford escape 2 litre AWD turbo SUV with plenty of grunt. I know it’s not a 4WD and the rear wheels cannot be locked and only take up in the wet or when they need to on dirt roads etc. but would this SUV be suitable to drive around Australia with some light off road work taking in some of the attractions in Northern Territory etc.

    • Hi John, you’ll certainly get a lot further than just a 2WD vehicle and would be fine on most unsealed roads. It’s only the tougher 4WD tracks where you’ll be restricted – like Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu for example (although that track has improved in recent years as well). So the short answer is ‘Yes, but you’ll still have some restrictions’ – better than not going at all though.

  10. am buying a touring c/van and 2wd high ride isuzu and have j- tech suspension fitted to the c/van . Hopping to do gibb river

  11. Hi Steve and big lappers: My big lap is in a 2.2T caravan semi offroad. (so not really off road). But I plan to pack a tent, small BBQ to do some of the 4WD roads and tracks and go tent camping for a few days at a time. while the caravan is at a caravan park.

    Or do I downgrade to a camper trailer or windup offroad camper. glad to have choices I guess.

    PS: you have really inspired me to a 1 year trip, just juggling when and how ?

  12. Hi Steve!
    Is there some kind of legal requirement or concern about the rain?
    From what’s in your pictures I would assume any small 2WD car can handle dirt roads like that.
    Haven’t seen your film so far.
    My concern about driving proper 4WD is getting stuck way further from help 🙂

  13. Hi Steve
    I have a 2012 Navara. I know its not as capable as a Paj, Patrol or Cruiser. But is it capable enough to tackle say GRRd or similar ? I’ll be towing a Bushranger off road (?) camper tailer.

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