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May 2019 Issue
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Tread lightly

Avoid damage to sensitive land by sticking to the track, even if there's a waterhole or other obstacle in the way. Photo: Mark Wilson

Technique and careful driving can make a big difference to the impact a vehicle can have on the backcountry

For many trampers, the maxim ‘Take only photos, leave only footprints’ says it all for how they relate to the great outdoors. For responsible 4WD enthusiasts, the equivalent is ‘Tread lightly’, a collection of rules and off-road driving techniques that minimise track wear and environmental damage. If your next outdoor adventure requires driving up a river valley or along an access track, you can lessen your environmental treadprint by following these tips:

Stick to the track
Despite the go-anywhere image depicted in advertisements, 4WD vehicles generally do need a track to follow. It may be indistinct at times, particularly in a riverbed, and it may have an obstacle or two along its way, but it is still the track, so you should stick to it. Driving around obstacles just leads to the track getting wider. The terrain either side of the track also may be sensitive to damage from a vehicle. This is particularly the case if you come to a waterhole – the hole is likely to have a firm bottom and offer the best way through, whereas the terrain either side of the track is likely to be a sensitive area of bog or wetland. Of course, you should check how deep the waterhole is before plunging in.

Use 4WD
In a vehicle with 4WD, the power from the engine goes to all four wheels. With 2WD, the power goes only to either the front or rear wheels. If the going is slippery, steep or uneven, the front wheels of a 4WD will ‘pull’ the back ones while the back ones will ‘push’ the front ones, meaning much less chance of any of the wheels spinning and damaging the track. A 4WD driven with care will cause much less damage to a track than a slipping, sliding 2WD vehicle.

Lower your tyre pressure
Another technique for lessening damage to a track is to lower tyre pressures. This increases the surface area of each tyre by allowing it to spread across the ground, making it less likely the tyre will lose grip and allow the wheel to start spinning. Tyre pressure can be reduced by about 20 per cent without any issues, but they will need to be re-inflated as soon as possible once back on tarseal.

Carry it out
It’s one thing to lessen the impact of your vehicle on the environment; it’s even better if you can use your vehicle to help clean it up. If your 4WD has a rear-mounted spare wheel, consider getting a gear bag to fit it – they are a great place to stash the stray bits of other people’s rubbish you will inevitably come across as you drive through the backcountry.

– Mark Wilson is the author of 4WD South: 115 Off Road Adventures in NZ’s South Island.