Outback Australia: Do You Need a 4WD?

Every month we get emails from travellers astounded at the price of car hire in outback Australia.

They come to us begging for a solution to their dilemma: they want to hire a 4WD to see the outback and they can’t believe how expensive it is.

Sadly, most of these people are planning to visit Ayers Rock or Alice Springs – and you don’t need a 4WD for either.

I guess it’s the romance of the outback… the same romance that sees so many people buy those hellishly hot, all leather fake ‘outback hats’ that no Australian ever seems to wear!

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It’s not just overseas visitors who make this mistake, either…

Many Australians also seem to think that you can’t see anything outside of our major cities without a 4WD.

THE GOOD NEWS: There’s many, many places in outback Australia that you don’t need a 4WD to get to.

It’s our mission to help you make your outback travel dreams come true.

So we’ve put together a list of popular outback destinations to help you figure out whether you’ll need a 4WD when you’re planning your outback travel.

Use this in your travel planning to save yourself money and frustration.

NB: Please note that this is not an exhaustive list -we are simply listing some of the most popular outback destinations to help you plan.

Where Do You Want to Go?

The most important factor in determining whether you need a 4WD is to figure out where you want to go.

To help you out, we’ve put together three lists of big name places and attractions – places you can reach in an ordinary vehicle, and the adventurous places where you’ll definitely need a 4WD.

Places You Can go in an Ordinary Car (2WD Sedan)

No 4WD needed to visit these places (bitumen roads or excellent gravel roads, suitable for sedans):

Alice Springs


Ayers Rock/Uluru (makes us cry to see so many tourists wasting money on unneeded 4WDs!)

Birdsville (from the Queensland side)


Broken Hill



Coober Pedy


East MacDonnell Ranges


Flinders Ranges


Kings Canyon/Watarrka (via the Lasseter Highway & Luritja Road)

Lake Ballard


Leigh Creek

Lightning Ridge



Mt Isa

Port Augusta

Roxby Downs

Tennant Creek



West MacDonnell Ranges (including Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen)

White Cliffs



4WD Optional/Recommended:

This means that there is a gravel road involved, suitable for most sedans – as long as they’re not low-clearance/low profile vehicles; however, you should expect corrugations AND if it’s been raining, you won’t be able to get an ordinary 2WD through.

Arltunga Historical Reserve

Andamooka Opal fields

Birdsville Track

Borefield Track (between Roxby Downs and the Oodnadatta Track intersection)

Davenport Ranges/Itwelepwenty National Park

Gammon Ranges/Vulkuthanha National Park

Great Central Road/Outback Way (Uluru to Kalgoorlie section)

Oodnadatta Track – (the easiest ‘real’ outback track to drive. We’ve seen backpacker rental vans on this road many times)

Rainbow Valley/Ure Conservation Reserve

Red Centre Way (used to be called the Mereenie Loop)

Strezlecki Track

4WD Required:

Old Andado Track

Anne Beadell Highway

Binns Track

Canning Stock Route

Chambers Pillar

Connie Sue Highway

Dalhousie Springs

Gibb River Road

Gunbarrell Highway

Ernest Giles Road

Hanns Track

Hay River Track​

Lake Eyre

Lake Torrens

Owen Springs Reserve 4WD Track

Palm Valley/Finke Gorge National Park

Plenty Highway west of Harts Range

Sandover Highway

Sandy Blight Track

Simpson Desert Tracks

Tanami Highway (you could do it in an ordinary car as far as Yuendumu, but once you cross the WA border the road is dreadful, especially the last 200km into Halls Creek).

 Before You Click Away:

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You’ll be helping other travellers to find this information and plan their outback adventures.


  • Great post. I don’t have a 4WD – and when I travel can’t always afford to hire one – so it’s great to know there are so many places to see without one. Thanks.

  • Andrew mills says:

    Have recently returned from trip across Nullarbor and back and up through the Gawler Ranges and onto Mt Ive station and Lake Gairdner then down through Iron Knob to Pt Augusta. I have A Volvo XC60, but all roads could be done without the need for a 4WD. Some of the roads become impassable after rain, but all are good if it’s dry.

    • Gary says:

      Hi Andrew, yes did pretty much the same trip in July. The roads were pretty good although some were a little stoney. We made the comment at the time that a 2wd could do most of it with caution.

  • David Saint says:

    I want to experience driving in the outback I am coming to Australia on the 1st of September

  • Paul harris says:

    I would like to hire a 4wd for my son and I to travel from Cunnamulla to birdsville for the races from wed 29th August at 12 noon till Tuesday 4th sep .. either a dual cab Ute with canopy or land cruiser sedan equivalent

  • Peter says:

    I bought a new Landcruiser for a 4WD trip to the Kimberley from a Sydney. It involved the usual travel to Uluru, the Mareeni Loop, Tanami Desert, Gibb River Road, the Bungle Bungles and the rough road to Kalumburu.

    What I found at least was that 4WD capability per se is not needed, but wow, the roughness of the roads, the stones, the cruel corrugations for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres all meant that I felt a very strong vehicle was needed and that inevitably meant a 4WD was ideal. I felt sorry for the Landcruiser, the shaking and smashing of the roads (and yes we were abundantly cautious and conservative) was bad on the last 4 of the above named roads. But honestly some times too I think it would be entirely possible to avoid these extremely rough sectors by taking an alternative route. Sometimes I think people, especially on 4WD tours, seek out the more desperate routes simply to be able boast that they
    “did them” and the “doing” becomes the end in itself. But at the same time, I’m not sure that going into the Bungle Bungles would do a normal sedan any favours, and the BB’s are definitely worth visiting! Is the Tanami Desert really an essential – I don’t think so, just stick to the tar and go the long way around if you can’t use a 4WD. Ditto the GRR!

  • Ian says:

    Great post

  • Frank & Terezia Varga says:

    Thanks heaps for all the great info and suggestions, very handy for me and my wife’s first round Oz trip traveling clockwise from Melbourne beginning in mid May and planned for approx 3 months.
    We are towing a 21 foot caravan so a 4WD is essential (Ford Ranger) we will try to make the most use of our vehicle for off road attractions (caravan un hitched) but definitely not dirt bashing or tackling brain dead terrain, although would have loved to do the full Gibb River Road but refuse to put our caravan through that torture. We will visit El Questro from Kununurra while leaving our van in one of the caravan parks where we will stay for a few nights.

  • Sandra Mckibbin says:

    We are visiting Alice Springs in July and want to visit the West McDonnell Ranges. He have hired a 7m Brix Motor home for our holiday.
    Would that be suitable to visit the ranges in or do we need to book a tour. I don’t think we are meant to drive on dirt roads in the motor home

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Sandra, if you are visiting the West Macs, then then the roads are all bitumen (with the exception of 1km of dirt into Ellery Creek) , so the vehicle you’ve hired is fine. Cheers


  • Sandra says:

    We are visiting Alice Springs in July and want to visit the West McDonnell Ranges. He have hired a 7m Brix Motor home for our holiday.
    Would that be suitable to visit the ranges in or do we need to book a tour. I don’t think we are meant to drive on dirt roads in the motor home

    • Gary says:

      Hi Sandra, the camper is fine. There is a one short drive to Ellery Creek Big Hole on a dirt road of about a kilometre or so each way. Otherwise only the drive into Serpentine Chalet is dirt, all others are bitumen out to Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen.


  • Josh says:

    Are you sure the Red Centre Way is only 4WD optional? I read that the section between Kings Canyon and the West McDonnell Ranges still requires 4WD. Is that exaggerated? I can’t find any 4WD rentals available for my dates so 2WD is my only option. Thanks for the post!

    • Gary says:

      Hi Josh, it’s always a hard one as experiences between people vary so much. the condition of the road also varies, from reasonably good early in the season say April to May to quite rough and corrugated after the school holidays in July. What I can say is that the road is 4wd recommended. This means just that but I can also say that many locals, that being Aboriginal people that live nearby, use normal 2wds like Commodores, Falcons and Mitsubishis on these roads. You will find it difficult getting insurance to cover you “off” road so keep that in mind. Have you tried Central Car Hire in Alice Springs?

  • Luke Osborne says:

    What if im going to Perth from gold coast and wanna go straight through the centre of Aus
    Do I need a 4WD or can I have a 2WD

    • Gary says:

      Hi Luke, define right through the centre? If using the most direct route, ie the Outback Way, a 4WD would be better. This is mainly because of unsealed roads but again, your choice. You can do it by sealed but this would add some distance to your trip.

  • Sandi says:

    Hi . Great info . Wondering Can You do this trip in a premium unleaded vehicle or is it best done with a diesel Vehicle

    • Gary says:

      Hi there, premium unleaded can be difficult to obtain in some places whereas diesel is available everywhere, your choice. Cheers

  • Lyall says:

    Hi guys and thanks for the post.

    For Josh & anyone else interested – I did the Red Centre Way (or Mereenie Loop as it was back then) in the family Falcon station wagon in 2007 without too much trouble. It was reasonable for the car but heaps of potholes & corregations, and we did get a flat from hitting a deep pothole at one stage. So, for anyone considering this, definitely recommend carrying more than one spare if you can, but otherwise didn’t have too much trouble in the 2WD Falcon.

    Now my question for the hosts… these days I’m traveling in a 22-seater bus that’s been converted to a camper, so, 4 tonne vehicle with higher than average clearance and rear axle has double wheels both sides. However, it is still technically a 2WD… I’m just wondering how you think this sort of vehicle might go on the roads out to Dalhousie Springs from Oodnadatta?

    • Gary says:

      Hi Lyall, thanks for your comments. Re driving the camper bus and I reiterate, this is my opinion only, I believe you would be able to drive to Dalhousie. I would probably choose the route up via the ruins rather than going to Mt. Dare, only because it is generally in better condition. If, however, there is any rain about, I would not attempt it. These roads can be rough with exposed rock and very corrugated at times. Only you can make the decision to proceed but I hope I have given some info for you to be able to decide one way or the other. Cheers Gary

      • Lyall says:

        Thanks for that Gary – even opinions are helpful for swaying thoughts one way or the other as to whether or not it’s a good idea… I’ll try to pick my season carefully when I’m thinking of going. So then, just out of interest, (while avoiding summer for obvious reasons) which times of year would you recommend for minimal rainfall but also cooler (or at least tolerable) daytime temperatures?

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