‘Well, at least we can now do more than look the part,’ were the words I uttered as we returned from 4WDing for the first time in Francois Peron National Park.
Driving smoothly along the sandy 4WD track that cuts through the Francois Peron National Park near Monkey Mia on Western Australia’s Coral Coast, I was glowing with excitement.
We had just completed our first EVER off road adventure as a family in our old Land Rover Discovery II. You know, the 4WD that broke down a month ago and had to be towed to Geraldton on a flat bed truck?
Well, The Beast (as we call it) is back, and she’s roaring in turbo-charged five cylinder diesel form, tackling the deep sandy track with ease. And now she is taking us to some far flung places that we would never have been able to get to in a regular car.
If we sound like 4WD newbies, that’s because we are, and we are flush with the excitement of first timers super keen to do even more challenging tracks.
Picturesque Francois Peron National Park
The Francois Peron National Park is an easy drive from Monkey Mia or Denham and reasonably busy; we saw at least ten other 4WDs in the area.
But to use the track you need to let your tyres down at the start, and helpfully there is a tyre pump station there. On the advice of a family we met the day before who had done the track already, I took our tyres down to 18psi with our on-board compressor.
Tackling Francois Peron National Park in a 4WD
Hand sweaty, heart pounding, I eased the Disco onto the track and started driving. First impressions were that sand driving is a lot like when you go over a patch of it on your bike. Its loose and slippery and the vehicle kind of floats over the top of it thanks to the soft tyres.
I kept the speed between 30 and 40km an hour in high range and just enjoyed the drive, getting the feel of things.
Just down the track we spotted a white Nissan Patrol that had pulled to the side with the occupants piling out to see a thorny devil, an amazingly spiked and shaped lizard. These creatures are found in abundance in the park. We let them enjoy the sight and crept past, hoping we too would see one later on.
Further up on the track, we spotted two bikes that had fallen off the back of the camper trailer, alongside their bike rack and QLD license plate. Whoops.
Tour guide to the rescue
A few minutes later, the Patrol came roaring down the track behind me and I pulled over to have a chat to the driver, who turned out to be a tour guide showing a French family around for the day. He gave me a pearl of advice – check the tyre pressures again before we tackled the most difficult section of the track near a place called Cattle Wells.
“You’ll find that the heat of the sand on the track will take your pressures back up again even though you’ve lowered them at the start,” he said.
He turned out to be a guardian angel when I stopped the car before the hard section and checked the tyres. They were back up to 25psi! I got them down to 17psi, the number the guide recommended, and saddled back up.
The Cattle Wells section was incredibly challenging. I made sure to stay in existing tyre tracks and kept my speed and revs up, but the sand track was like a deep pocket of powder from being used so heavily.
Trouble on the track
The Disco handled it beautifully though without even revving above two grand on the tachometer. Everyone gets bogged sooner or later though, and we stopped to help a couple who’s brand new Jeep Cherokee was in up to its axles.
Luckily their mates came along with a big Mazda Bravo to haul them out, and on we went, bumping along down the track, gaining confidence in a car that has let us down so much on the black top but absolutely nailed it off road.
It was a truly amazing feeling to pull in to the sandy car park at the top of Cape Peron and have lunch looking out over the wind-swept Indian Ocean with its bands of blue sharply contrasted with white beaches, red cliffs and the dry greens of the coastal plants.
Hearts skip at beat at Skipjack
The most astonishing thing was to drive up to Skipjack Point where Carmen and I took it in turns to go to the lookout while Ruby was sleeping in her car seat.
There we each stood totally alone at the top of an immense cliff looking out over a natural scene so stunning we both confessed to yelling joyfully into the wind. Sharks, manta rays, fish, birds – even a whale – were all visible to the naked eye. These sights, it felt at that moment, were only accessible overland with a 4WD.
Thorny devils at Francois Peron National Park
Driving back with our confidence high, we talked about how it reminded us of our first time scuba diving, where an entire new world was opened up to us.
Best of all, when Carmen had a go behind the wheel she finally spotted a thorny devil and we all hopped out to have a look at its spiky body.
Time to relax in the hot spring
At the end of our big day out I pumped the tyres up again and drove over to the Peron Heritage Precinct. Here there is an old pastoralist’s homestead that is open to the public, complete with an artesian bore that pumps out 40-degree hot water to a hot tub. The bore was built nearly a hundred years ago and travels more than 500m underground.
Carmen and I immersed ourselves while Ruby just dipped in her toes. And as we drove back refreshed and relaxed, we looked back at the sandy track and felt we could tackle it again no worries.
Have you been to Francois Peron National Park? Or recently gone 4WDing for the first time? Let us know what it was like in the comments below!
What you need to know:
Warning: Make sure your car has high clearance and is a proper 4WD (not an all-wheel drive!) vehicle when entering the park. Bring plenty of water.
When to go: Probably avoid when we went (the end of October) because it was really windy. The best time is March – June. You need a full day to appreciate the park in its glory. There are a lot of camping spots if you want to stay the night.
Cost: Entry fees apply, and vary depending on whether you are staying the night or not. I can’t remember the exact price because we have an annual parks pass so we didn’t pay! But I don’t think it’s more than $10 per person.