With access to some of the best beaches in the world, who wouldn’t want to get out there for an off-road adventure with friends or family! Beach driving can be a great day out or weekend away for keen four-wheel drivers, so we’ve put together some notes on preparation and driver awareness to help you enjoy a safe and relaxing trip.
Here in Queensland we’re lucky to enjoy a number of great sand driving locations along our beautiful coastline. Most of these popular recreation areas are within or adjacent to national parks - that means you will need to obtain a permit for your vehicle. From Minjerribah (North Straddie) to Fraser, vehicle access is regulated by the Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing (NPSR) to ensure impact on these areas is managed for the future enjoyment of all recreational users.
Vehicle access permits are required for the following Queensland recreation areas:
- Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) - for four-wheel driving access to Main Beach and Flinders Beach
- Moreton Island - some areas closed to vehicles or restricted to 30km/h or low tide access only
- Bribie Island - 4WD access not permitted north of northern searchlight, some areas restricted to 30km/h
- Cooloola (Great Sandy National Park) - access to Rainbow Beach from Noosa North Shore
- Fraser Island - 80km/h limit on the beach, 30km/h on inland tracks
All vehicles must be registered and a permit obtained BEFORE entering the recreation area. Each area has a different fee structure and permit options.
Packing & Preparation
Prepare your vehicle and plan ahead. Go through the same vehicle checks you would for any road trip; tyre condition, oil level, coolant (anti freeze / anti boil) and transmission fluid. Pack the essentials for recovery situations and running maintenance:
- Snatch strap
- Tyre deflator and pump / compressor
- Traction mats
- Tow rope
A UHF radio is also handy; set to ‘scan’ as this lets you listen out for other traffic nearby. Depending on where you are, a sand flag could be mandatory – if you are on dunes it’s advisable to have one anyway.
Often the last step before rolling out onto the sand is to adjust your vehicle tyre pressure to suit the sand conditions. Remember when running at reduced pressures to avoid sharp turns or hard braking as this could cause a tyre to roll off the rim; and don’t forget to re-inflate your tyres once you leave the beach, to avoid overheating and damaging them.
Once your vehicle is prepared, make sure you and / or your driver is also prepared. This should include making sure you have a valid vehicle access permit, personal supplies for the trip, rubbish bags to take your rubbish with you, and a good understanding of the area and conditions you’re likely to come across and what to do if you get stuck. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is just as dangerous on the beach as it is on the bitumen.
Road Rules Apply
The only lines you’ll find on a beach driving track is the high tide line, but all road driving rules still apply. Additional driving restrictions may apply, such as speed restrictions, in some sections of almost all beach four-wheel driving areas. Basic road rules apply; keep left and use your indicators when turning or overtaking, turn on park lights or headlights in adverse or low-light conditions, wear a seatbelt and never allow passengers to travel outside of the vehicle.
In most cases you will be sharing the recreation area with other visitors, potentially including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders - all of which vehicles must give way to. Use only designated access points to the beach and keep off the sand dunes. When passing on narrow sand tracks, the closest vehicle to a passing bay should move off the track. The other vehicle should wait until the move is complete. Vehicles coming downhill, heavy vehicles and those towing a trailer or van generally have right of way.
Just as you (should) do on the bitumen, drive within your limitations of skill and experience. Attempting to practise driving stunts in off-road conditions is pretty silly and puts both you and your passengers at risk of serious injury or death. You can gain confidence by taking a four-wheel driving course, building specific skills and and understanding of the capabilities of your vehicle.
Beach & Sand Driving Etiquette
Regular beach drivers know that in addition to the regular road rules there is an etiquette for sand driving - an understanding between beach drivers and other beach users about how to go about enjoying your adventure without ruining someone else’s.
- Help each other out. Even experienced four-wheel drivers get stuck in some challenging conditions. On narrow sand tracks, no-one gets in or out if people don’t assist each other when stuck or bogged.
- Take your rubbish with you. Littering is illegal regardless of where you are in Australia - littering within a National Park and along our coastlines is both illegal and ignorant.
- Respect local wildlife. It is an offence to wilfully kill or injure native wildlife, even the ones some consider less likeable. In Queensland, much of the wildlife you will come across on sand driving adventures - including snakes, bush turkeys and kangaroos - are all protected. Don’t attempt to feed wildlife and keep a respectable distance.
- Be aware of others. Park at an angle to the shoreline so other drivers know you’re stopped. Keep a sharp eye out for pedestrians, wildlife and other recreational vehicles (including horse riders). Always consider how what you’re doing may impact other people’s experience.
- Use your head. Learn about specific conditions you may encounter in the area you’re heading to so that you’re properly prepared. Only travel within 2 hours either side of low tide unless you’re 100% sure that safe access is possible outside of these tide timeframes.
NPSR offer a number of resources online for visitors to Queensland recreation areas, including videos on safe beach driving, maps, and condition reports.