How to conquer Australia's biggest sand dune
When you’re parked at the base of 'Big Red', Australia’s tallest desert sand dune, waiting for your turn to have a crack at driving up its long, steep western side, the sandy obstacle looks bloody gigantic.
There are more than 1100 sand dunes in the 176,500 square km Simpson Desert, the world's largest sand dune desert, but Big Red, at more than 40 metres high, towers above them all.
It’s at the eastern edge of the Simpson, about 40km west of Birdsville, and driving up and over this thing is on every off-roader’s must-do list.
Many have tried to drive it, many have failed – but that's part of the fun.
Use our easy-to-follow tips and you’ll be able to drive up and over Big Red – and any sand dune you want to tackle – in no time at all.
Drop your tyre pressure
You will have already switched to 4L (4WD low range) or the equivalent in your vehicle for this climb. (4H, 4WD high range, is an option if you're driving flat, firm sand or less substantial dunes than Big Red.)
For sand-dune driving, especially if you tackle a dune this big, drop your tyre pressure to about 124kPa (18psi), or even lower – somewhere between 103 and 124kPa (15-18psi) is a pretty good range to aim for, depending on how soft the sand is.
The last time we were at Big Red many of the approach tracks were heavily corrugated because people had driven the dunes without sufficiently dropping tyre pressures and the result was ripped-up routes.
Remember, when tyres warm up from use and ambient temperature, pressure increases, so use your tyre pressure gauge to monitor them.
If you're not making it over a dune, maybe your tyres have warmed up due to sustained driving or because of the desert or beach heat and, in that case, you just need to bleed them down again.
Drive with controlled momentum
We’d usually recommend gentle, constant throttle and resultant momentum – not full-blown speed – to get through sand and over sand dunes, but for something like Big Red, you need to use a bit more mongrel. Don’t be afraid to plant your right foot a fair bit on approach.
At any point on your climb, if you feel the vehicle slowing to a near-stop and you start sinking into the sand, immediately stop accelerating. If you insist on flooring the loud pedal when you're at this point of no return, you're not getting anywhere, and you will get bogged.
To avoid getting bogged, the key is to stop accelerating straight away and simply reverse back down the track slowly to where you started your attempt – and have another go.
Get over the dune
Keep your speed constant as you near the crest of the dune; don’t back off too much, but don’t launch your vehicle over the dune like you’re in a Mad Max movie, either.
Make sure you’ve cleared the top of the dune and are completely over it before you ease up on acceleration too much.
That's how you conquer Big Red – now go have a beer and bask in the glory.
Dune driving tips
Step 1. Drop tyre pressure
Step 2. Drive with controlled consistent speed/momentum
Step 3. Get over the dune
Step 4. Have a beer to celebrate.