Drive 4 Life: An outback adventure

By: Emma Ryan, Photography by: Norm Needham

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Ten youths and their carers overcame weather extremes in an outback adventure thanks to one benevolent 4WDing organisation.

We all know adventuring by 4WD is basically the best thing since sliced bread, but did you know it can also support charity? Drive 4 Life is a not-for-profit, tag-along 4WD tour company run by a group of lifelong 4WDers with a passion for promoting safe, family-friendly offroad adventures.

It runs tours throughout Australia several times a year, asking participants for a donation of $1000 or more per vehicle, depending on the duration of the trip. Drive 4 Life encourages even total beginners to give 4WDing a go, accompanying people safely to spectacular and remote destinations they mightn’t have had the skill nor confidence to get to on their own.

Every cent raised goes towards Northcott, a NSW-based organisation supporting more than 13,000 children and young adults living with disability. To date, Drive 4 Life has raised more than $715,000 for Northcott, which has helped clients living with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular disorders, as well as more uncommon disabilities. It has helped young people live more independent lives and works towards breaking down stereotypes and defying the limitations placed on people with disabilities.

While the tag-along tours are open to the public, every so often there are enough funds in the bank for Drive 4 Life to run a trip for the Northcott clients themselves. Its recent ‘Wheelies Tour’ of outback NSW was one such event, and I was happy to be invited along to represent Bauer Media, which is a major sponsor of Drive 4 Life via CTA’s sister title 4x4 Australia magazine.

The generous folk at Ultimate Campers were kind enough to loan us an Ultimate Xplor camper trailer in support of the event, while Toyota parted company with a LandCruiser 200 Sahara for the week. The camper/truck combo was basically my dream rig and, I’ll admit, I was tempted to cruise off into the sunset and hope no one ever noticed. But I refrained on account of jail being far too indoors for my liking, and begrudgingly accepted that it is better to have loved and lost than never to  have loved at all. Or something like that.


It was a crisp, sunny, late winter’s morning when we met the convoy outside Northcott’s Parramatta facility, where nine shiny Isuzu D-MAX and MU-X vehicles glistened in the early morning sun; a rainbow of trucks promising to take their lucky inhabitants to the heart of outback New South Wales. As a major sponsor of the event, Isuzu really delivered the goods on the vehicle front, and they made quite the sight cruising in convoy over the Blue Mountains, across the Great Western Plains and into the outback.

The vehicles contained 10 Northcott clients and their carers, young people mostly in their late teens and early 20s, plus the Drive 4 Life support crew. While a couple of the clients had been ‘bush’ before, for most of them, this was the first time they’d be seeing the outback and their first introduction to offroad adventure. Excitement abounded as the convoy headed west, with the UHFs getting a more of a workout than they’d have been used to on account of the happy chatter back and forth as the odometers ticked over.

Tackling the Darling River Run

Our plan was to tackle the Darling River Run, an iconic and accessible outback touring route that follows, you guessed it, the Darling River from north-west New South Wales to its confluence with the mighty Murray at Wentworth on the Victorian border. We would call into two working stations on the banks of the Murray: Trilby Station near Louth and Bindara Station near Menindee. While a 4WD is recommended and certainly necessary to explore the tracks around the properties, both are accessed by good-quality gravel roads. That is, when the weather is fine, which it decidedly was not during the trip.

We spent our first night in Nyngan, where the local IGA (another event sponsor) put on a barbecue for the hungry travellers. We huddled under the tin roof of the supermarket car park as the rain bucketed down, and a quick check of the weather forecast indicated it had no plans to stop anytime soon, casting its torrents across most of New South Wales, from the coast to the western border.

Bogan River

While the majority of the crew occupied the Country Manor Motel in Nyngan, we headed for the banks of the beautiful Bogan River to unfold the Xplor at the Nyngan Riverside Caravan Park. The rain ceased for 10 minutes, allowing us a more than adequate window to get the Xplor set up, and we were soon huddled inside making a cup of tea and enjoying our dry, comfy safe haven as the rain pelted against the uncompromising canvas.

We awoke the following morning to more rain, and the news that the roads into both Trilby and Bindara were closed, foiling our Darling River Run plans. Bound to the blacktop, we made a contingency plan to head to the iconic outback town of Broken Hill for a couple of nights. We made a trip out to Silverton for a beer or two at the town’s famous pub, a poke around the Mad Max Museum and a bite to eat. We also took in the view across the vast Mundi Mundi Plains, and headed to the Living Desert sandstone sculptures to watch the sunset.

The next stop on the Plan B route was Mildura, via Wentworth for lunch beside the aforementioned river confluence, one of the view glimpses we got of the river we had planned to drive alongside before the heavens opened. We then spent a couple of nights in Mildura, setting the Xplor up on the banks of the Murray at the Buronga Riverside Caravan Park on the New South Wales side of the river. The unpowered section of the park was tucked up a quiet corner and right on the river, a lovely place to camp with views across the water to Mildura and the docks from which the paddle steamers came and went. A wonderful place to share a bottle of wine and brainstorm river-related songs to play through the Xplor’s stereo.

Contingency plans

Ever the logistical masters, the Drive 4 Life crew managed to wrangle a last minute cruise on an old paddle steamer for the entire crew, a journey of a couple of hours that took in lunch and the scenery of the Murray. Not the river we had in mind, but beautiful all the same.

With the rain now stopped and just two days remaining before the convoy was due back in Sydney, we’d hoped to head north and get the crew into Mungo National Park, but alas, the roads were still impassable. Instead, we took a daytrip to the Pink Lakes near Underbool and the Murray-Sunset National Park, before steering the convoy back towards Sydney and home.

While it wasn’t the offroad adventure we were hoping for, it was a great week all the same and a testament to the Drive 4 Life crew who were able to persevere through the atrocious weather and completely overhaul the itinerary on the fly. A fun time was had by all, especially the Northcott clients who were provided the opportunity to expand their horizons both literally and figuratively, seeing the stunning red earth of the outback for the first time and making new friends along the way.

While Drive 4 Life is about providing the general public with safe and most of all fun guided 4WD tours, it was great to get to know first-hand the people it helps by doing so. So next time you’re going to go for a long drive, why not make it a Drive 4 Life? You’ll feel great knowing you’re doing your bit to help, too.

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Check out the full feature in issue #94 November 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.