Exploring the northern part of our extensive country during the ‘wet’ season can be a worthwhile experience. Places like Kakadu and Katherine Gorge are at their best and greenery is abound. However, there can also be drawbacks as rain usually falls daily and roads or tourist spots can be inaccessible. Camping spots can be closed and humidity uncomfortably high.
Whenever conditions are wet, the chances of something going wrong increase. Driving conditions need to be suitably modified and drivers must be vigilant at all times. But with the right preparation can also come rewards. For example, rainy conditions bring out flora that cannot be seen during the drier times. Don’t be put off by the wet conditions but consider carefully if other times of the year may be more suitable.
While Australia is generally considered to be a ‘dry’ country, there can be many occasions when intrepid caravanners may encounter wet conditions. These can consist of the ‘wet’ season in the northern regions of the country, rainy wintery conditions or flooded roads.
In a broad sense, any of these should be avoided if possible. Wet conditions certainly increase the likelihood of an accident or damage to equipment. Driving, or more importantly towing, when it is raining or the roads are covered with water requires a lot of care. Road surfaces can be slippery and visibility reduced. When water floods the road, the underlying surface can be badly damaged.
There is also the possibility of aquaplaning . This is a condition where the tyres are actually raised off the road surface by a layer of water. The result is complete loss of directional control or braking. Even when tyres do stay in contact with the road, braking distances will increase when the surface is wet.
Time spent on preparation never goes astray. Ensuring that the RV is waterproof should have a high priority. An RV that keeps out the water when standing still, may well let rain in when it is assisted by high wind pressure while out on the road.
The average caravan, camper trailer or motorhome should not be considered as being suitable for travel along flooded roads or through creekbeds when the water level has risen. A few manufacturers make special off-road units that have features like increased ground clearance that are designed to cope with these conditions. In some cases modifications may be able to be carried out on existing touring caravans but advise from experts is needed.
When having your RV serviced it is a good idea to tell the business owner where you intend to go and asking if any items need special attention. Checking the condition of sealants on older caravans is highly recommended.
Never leave home without first checking the road or likely weather conditions, particularly if venturing in to unfamiliar territory. During the ‘wet’ season and when rain is likely to fall, a dry road or track can become treacherous very quickly. Where possible consult locals or check with someone who has travelled in the opposite direction.
In regard to safety, by far the most important components are the tyres. Contrary to popular belief, the tyre tread does not provide grip or traction – not unless you are driving a tractor that is. The sole purpose of the tyre tread is to remove water from the road so that the tyre itself has contact with the road surface. So the greater the depth of tread, the more water can be removed.
Tyre experts suggest that there should be a minimum of 1.5mm of tread depth. Many tyres have tread depth indicator bars that show up once the tyre reaching its minimum depth. Ask a tyre specialist to point these out to you.
Correct inflation pressures are also important. The car’s tyre placard will show the recommended tyre pressures for maximum load conditions. Accurate tyre pressures for the caravan or trailer can only be determined after weighing the unit. A tyre dealer should be able to assist in determining the most suitable pressures for the load carried. It is not necessary to deflate tyres just because the road is wet.
When it is raining or there is a likelihood of water over the road, travelling slower is a must. Slower driving reduces the chance of aquaplaning and makes it easier to maintain control. While driving with the headlights on is recommended, make sure that the headlights are switched to low beam.
Avoid sudden braking or change of direction. All actions should be gradual and smooth. While engine power is being applied it is easier to maintain control over the car/trailer combination. On slippery surfaces, applying the brakes can cause loss of control. Never brake while negotiating a corner or turn.
Any puddles should be considered as potential danger. Where possible drive around these or straddle them. You never know how deep the hole might be. When it comes to creek crossings or deep floodways, always stop and check out the depth. Sometimes there are roadside depth markers. Alternatively wait for another vehicle to go through so as to establish the depth. If in doubt as to whether to proceed, walk through the crossing to check the depth and look for snags or areas that may be washed away. Do not drive through if there is strong water flow.
As explained in the previous article on off-road driving, a UHF radio is high recommended. The story can be found under the heading 'Off The Beaten Track'
Fit new windscreen wiper blades
If windows fog up switch on the air conditioner and heater to remove moisture from interior.
Don’t venture along roads or tracks that are “Closed”
If venturing onto unsealed roads carry adequate provisions in case the road becomes impassable and you need to wait for dryer conditions.
If unsure whether a road or track is passable check with local authorities or a motorist coming in the opposite direction.
More information can be obtained from State motoring organisations, Transport Departments, local police stations and tourist information offices.