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Kimberley and NT News: Update on the investigation against Australian 4WD Hire
December 14, 2018

14 December 2018, Issue #073

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In this issue:
  • The latest on Australian 4WD Hire
  • 2019 Trip Planning and Booking
  • Mobile coverage at Kalumburu
  • Reader Question: Can you help?

Hi everyone!

Some of you may have already noticed, November ended sooner than expected, the first half of December passed even faster, and Christmas is imminent!

I myself was caught by surprise, as every year. I suspect some of you may find themselves in a similar situation, so I'll try to keep this one short.

The main item in this newsletter issue is an update that I have been waiting for for quite some time...

The latest on Australian 4WD Hire

I first mentioned Queensland based car hire company Australian 4WD Hire in newsletter issue 68.

At the time the company had been highlighted in the Queensland parliament, where Tim Nicholls MP spoke of a "relentless, systemic and well-rehearsed fraud" that the company was carrying out against unsuspecting tourists.

In previous years several of my readers had already contacted me about their negative experience with Australian 4WD Hire. The newsletter received even more feedback.
While some people have been very happy with their hire, there was also a number of people who felt they had been scammed.

The stories people told me were very similar to what you find in the ABC article above and another one here:
After returning home from their holiday, customers received a message from Australian 4WD Hire accusing them of things like
  • negligence leading to damages on the vehicle/returning it in a disgraceful state,
  • speeding and reckless driving causing unreasonable wear and tear,
  • damaging the engine with contaminated fuel,
  • submerging the engine/vehicle in water.
On grounds of these or other alleged contract breaches part or all of the bond was withheld or customers' credit cards were charged, and customers found themselves several hundred or thousand dollars out of pocket.

Apparently no evidence was produced, and when questioning those accusations customers were threatened with legal action.
This was not an empty threat either. As the first ABC article stated, between 2016 and 2018 the company has sued 10 people, claiming up to $66,000.

Customers have also accused the company of threatening with legal action unless negative online reviews are withdrawn.

As I had mentioned in my June newsletter, in 2016 I myself had a dispute with one of the company's lawyers over reviews that had been posted on my website.
My experience was similar to that reported by customers. I was approached in a way that I interpreted as an attempt at intimidation, unreasonable requests were made and I was threatened with legal action.
(I wasn't intimidated and in the end they changed tack and we managed to resolve the issue amicably.)

My November newsletter was later than planned because I had hoped to finally be able to give you an update on this saga.

The ABC story I had been waiting for eventually ran last Friday and the headline says it all:

Australian 4WD Hire company admits customer it was suing did nothing wrong

Nothing else to add.

I want to thank everyone who wrote to me and shared their experiences, both good and bad.
And I want to thank especially those people who had the courage to lodge an official complaint with the ACCC, to contact Tim Nicholls, and to get involved in the investigation.
Let's hope that this marks a turning point.

2019 Trip Planning and Booking

In the last newsletter I already addressed the need to plan and book your Kimberley trip early enough. The newsletter had some general recommendations and time frames and you also find those recommendations in the last pages of the free Kimberley Pocket Guide, starting from page 49.

I have since been in touch with the folks from Bluey Travel. Bluey Travel provides a trip planning and booking service that I highly recommend for many reasons.
(Not the least of which is that you won't be alone in the case of a dispute with your car hire company.)

From my conversation with them I can give you some more details now:

They already had a strong start to the 2019 season so far and are looking forward to another busy year.
In other words, plenty of people have booked already, and while there is still good availability at this stage, they certainly encourage people to book early for several reasons:

Peak booking activity starts as soon as the New Years hangover has worn off so things can change quickly then.

Experience shows that car hire and accommodation packages sell out quickly. This is particularly relevant if travelling one-way between Broome, Kununurra and Darwin, especially during the main season (starting around mid June).

Campervan hire availability is usually good, even at later stages, but early bird discounts apply so it pays to book early here, too.

Also, they tell me their pricing for the early part of the season (May to early/mid June) is very competitive.

Bluey Travel are also in the process of expanding their services to include the west coast, and while 4WD car hire and accommodation won't be available through them until 2020, campervans are available from/to Perth.
(Ask them about it, it's not on the website yet.)

That's what I can tell you about vehicle hire. Expect the situation to be similar everywhere, no matter where you book.

Regarding accommodation bookings keep an eye on these particular dates in Broome and Darwin event calendars, they tend to book out very quickly:
  • Darwin V8 Supercars (June 14 - 16)
  • Darwin Cup (August 5)
  • Broome Cup (August 14 - 18)
Also be aware that accommodation around these dates often carries surcharges.

Other key dates are the Kimberley Moon Experience (May 25, part of the Ord River Muster) in Kununurra, and the Staircase to the Moon dates in Broome, though it's usually possible to work around these somehow.

To sum things up:
While for campervan hires the worst case scenario is missing out on early bird discounts, if you are looking at hiring a normal 4WD for the main season and staying in accommodation, the time to get organised is now.
The sooner you get things booked, the smaller the chance that you have to adjust your itinerary because of limited availabilites.
I strongly recommend you have everything booked by end of March the VERY LATEST or there is a real chance of 4WD hire cars everywhere being booked out altogether.

(Well, Australian 4WD Hire may still have something available...)

Make things easy for yourself by going through Bluey Travel. It won't cost you extra and will save you a lot of time and headaches.

Mobile coverage at Kalumburu

About a week ago the new mobile phone base station has been switched on in Kalumburu.
It's serviced by Optus and comes as part of the governments Mobile Black Spot Program.
If you use Telstra or another service provider, keep in mind that you can still use the Optus service to make emergency calls.

Such Optus towers are currently also up and running at El Questro, Home Valley, Ellenbrae, Imintji, Bell Gorge and also Purnululu. (Did I miss one?)

But none of these had anywhere near the impact that the new base station will have on life in Kalumburu.

Reader Question. Can you help?

When I received Delisa's question about travelling the Kimberley with her toddler, I had a look through the website because I dimly remembered that similar questions had been asked before.
Turns out those questions usually referred to older children or they didn't receive that many useful responses.

So I published Delisa's question and it would be great if you could jump in and help her and future readers.
If you've been travelling the Kimberley with very young kids, what were your experiences and what tips do you have for Delisa and others?

Travelling the Kimberley with a 10 month old

And that's it for today.

What I usually do this time of the year but didn't do today is fill you in on what's been happening with our wet season so far (brutally hot!!!) and what's expected to happen (nobody knows anyway, no matter what they say).

We'll start having a look at that with the next issue.

Until then I want to wish everybody a very Merry Christmas and great start into the New Year!

Enjoy your holidays and let's talk again in 2019 :)


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