Guided self-drive tours or do-it-yourself – which is best?

Guided self-drive tours are a big investment particularly if you are on a budget. On some guided tours you might still have to pay for food, fuel or accommodation. And just like on a trip of your own, you will have to prepare your own meals and set up your tent at every campsite. Is the guided tour worth it when you could travel with a couple of like-minded friends in their own vehicles to visit the same places without the additional cost of the tour?

John and I have been do-it-yourselfers for a very long time. We have travelled the length and breadth of Australia with family and friends and enjoyed many top experiences. But occasionally we have found it worthwhile to tag-along with tour leader Vic Widman of Great Divide Tours for some adventures we might not otherwise have had.

The Burke and Wills trip from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria and following the explorers tracks as closely as possible was one of these guided tours. I was very interested in following any explorers’ footsteps, so a trip themed around the Burke and Wills expedition seemed to be a very interesting prospect.

There are many advantages to joining a guided self-drive tour. Here I would like to discuss some things that spring to mind of both advantages and disadvantages.


  1. Peace of mind for inexperienced travellers with experienced guides leading the way
  2. All organisation is done for you including changes necessitated by weather conditions
  3. Mechanical help for minor vehicle problems
  4. Support and guidance through major obstacles
  5. Possibility of tours in places where special permissions are required

Support and Guidance through Major Obstacles

It is comforting to know that you are travelling with someone you can trust when conditions get rough or change unexpectedly.

Tour leader Cape YorkCape York is possibly the most popular must-do destination in Australia and most travellers want to include the Old Telegraph Track in their adventure. The track itself is easy enough, narrow, sometimes lumpy, sometimes with one side of the vehicle higher than the other. But the creek crossings and their entrances can cause a few headaches and a lot of concern: Palm Creek, with steep and washed away entrance and exit ramp; Bertie Creek, drive along a rocky bank before the crossing; notorious Gunshot Creek, steep down or straight down; Cockatoo Creek, underwater rocky platform with holes; and Nolans Brook, deep, flowing strongly and dangerous.

Peter Ikin of Cape York Connections has many years of experience in Cape York and has guided travellers step by step, or wheel-by-wheel, through every creek and obstacle of the Old Telegraph Track. His experience has enabled newbies and old hands alike to tackle all obstacles with confidence. You can see all of this and much more in our Cape York DVD.

Weather can often upset the best laid plans and sometimes this results in unexpected difficulties on a track. Rain turned the floodplain area between Dalhousie Springs and Purnie Bore into a quagmire and lake system on Great Divide Tours’ Simpson Desert trip in March of 2012. This was to be the first crossing of that year as the desert is closed from December 1 until March 15. Or so we hoped.

winching in the Simpson DesertThe travellers did make it through to Birdsville in the end, with the support and advice of the tour leaders through winching and snatching operations. All the adventure of that desert trip can be seen in our DVD Simpson Desert.

More winching operations occurred in the High Country on the Haunted Stream Track with Vic Widman and Great Divide Tours. There is a right and wrong way to winch, and Vic clearly demonstrated the right way when his own vehicle was caught up underneath after a stream crossing. The Haunted Stream Track threw up a few surprises on that trip, including a hole in a bridge in the wheel track and a fallen tree. See Vistas to Valleys to enjoy this adventure.


New territory, new adventures

Having travelled over most of Australia, John and I turned our interest into overseas trips, when Vic Widman joined with Steve Beston of NZ 4X4 Treks to organise tours in New Zealand’s South Island. Steve had permission and accessed tracks across farm properties and through Department of Environment land and so is able to offer 4-wheel drive travellers some special adventures not available to most travellers.

The advantages of these tours are that the vehicles are hired, accommodation and evening meals are included and you can get to see some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery while enjoying the adventure of a lifetime. Some of the adventure can be seen in New Zealand: Down South, and we plan on having another DVD available soon.

New Zealand is close to Australia, just a short hop across the ditch, and New Zealanders are very similar to Australians. So for a country we knew nothing about – Namibia – it was an easy decision to join the tour organised by Vic Widman with Self Drive Adventures (SDA). SDA specialise in places where you would hesitate to go on your own, such as Southern Africa, South America, Iceland, Morocco and Vietnam.

With expert guides and hired vehicles with roof top tents you can be independent while having the security and camaraderie of the convoy around you. And you can learn so much about the country and its people, where you can go and what you can see, that you can then have the confidence to go back one day and explore on your own.

Namibia was a wonderful experience – from the first sighting of a giraffe from the airport shuttle bus to the massive sand dunes of the south west, to the people, the amazing scenery of the Skeleton Coast and Etosha National Park where you can only get out of your vehicle in designated areas, it was a fantastic trip. See our Namibia highlights in this video.

Do it yourself

Of course you can do all these things yourself. There are advantages here, such as

  1. You can limit your costs
  2. You can do your own thing
  3. You can make changes to your itinerary when you need to
  4. You can choose your travelling companions
  5. You have the satisfaction of having completed a great trip, that you have organised yourself, when you get home

New Zealand is well set up for travellers who enjoy doing it themselves and you don’t need to hire a 4-wheel drive either. In fact, motor homes for hire are readily available in all major cities and caravan parks everywhere cater for these travellers. Parking areas at all tourist attractions also cater for motor homes too.Milford Sound, New Zealand

John and I had 10 days touring before one of our 4wd adventures in New Zealand and had a lot of fun doing our own thing. I booked our adventure online, including the vehicle hire and 10 nights’ accommodation at the caravan parks. And we flew into Christchurch and visited Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier, Wanaka and Queenstown, Te Anau and Milford Sound, Dunedin and Mt Cook. There is no doubt about it, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Highlights from this tour can be found as a separate chapter in New Zealand: Down South.

Lakes District view in EnglandEngland is another place where do-it-yourself is easy. We hired a car, which we picked up from Heathrow and, apart from a visit with relatives, we chose our own route and stayed at bed and breakfasts throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Most of this accommodation was organised on the day when we knew where we would be by the afternoon. Guide books to bed and breakfasts are readily available in information centres.

We had a lot of fun visiting some well-known spots and some lesser known spots too. There were the Lakes District and York, Fort William, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness and the Cairngorms in Scotland, Nottingham, the Wye River and what a beautiful drive that was in early autumn, Cornwall, Stonehenge and London. Of course, by choosing our own route we were in complete control of our own trip and again, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

So in conclusion, I can recommend both guided self-drive tours and do-it-yourself adventures. When the tour is just what you were looking for, then go for it and have a great trip!


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