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How to organise an Australian road trip

by Silke Elzner

Australia is a wonderful country which you haven’t really seen if you are only staying in the big cities.

I strongly recommend you also get into a car and explore this big country on a road trip. My fondest memories of our life in Australia are those of our big Australian road trips, from Sydney to Broken Hills, and from Alice Springs to Cairns.

The following article shall give you some tips and ideas for organising your road trip in Australia. It is designed with visitors from abroad in mind, but of course you can also find useful information if you are based in Australia already.

Ready? Let’s go!

Outback cattle

Plan your Australia road trip itinerary

The most important thing, and the fun part of organising a road trip in Australia, is picking a route that will suit you. You may want to look at a map and find all the important sights and spots that you would like to see while on the road. 
Some of the most popular road trip itineraries in Australia include: 

  • natural wonders like the Red Centre with Australia’s most iconic landmark Uluru
  • the East Coast including Byron Bay, Fraser Island, and the Blue Mountains; 
  • the tropical north with attractions like the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park and Cable Beach (avoid rainy season though); 
  • or Western Australia from Perth to Broome.

No matter which route you will decide on, remember that Australia is a big country. In fact it’s a VERY big country. I like to compare the aerial distance from Perth to Brisbane with the distance from Lisbon to Moscow, with the difference that there is no direct route.

If you are looking for a short and sweet route with stunning scenery, head to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria instead. 

Therefore, check driving distances carefully when planning, and stay realistic: You won’t be allowed to speed, and you will need your breaks to stay focused.  

Great ocean road

Organise a car for your trip

The best and easiest way to get around Australia is undoubtedly by car. A car offers maximum flexibility which allows for individual planning and spontaneous changes en route. Now, if you don’t own a car in Australia yet, there are a couple of ways how you can organise a car for your road trip.

For example, you can check websites that sell used things, such as this one. Here will also get a quick and concise review of the model, so that you can assess if it will be suitable for your trip.  Evaluate if the car would be useful for sleeping in, for off-roading, or for storing a lot of equipment. After your trip, you can sell the car the very same way that you bought it.

Of course, you can also rent a car, but this will limit you to certain routes as you will need to pick up and drop off at the rental car stations in the bigger cities and tourist destinations.

While a rental car may provide more comfort than a used car (depending on your budget), it will also be a rather expensive option, in particular if you are planing to hire the car for a much longer distance, or even if you don’t want to return it to the pick-up station.

If you need further information on car rental in Australia, check out this site.

Autumn in Country NSW

Sort our your drivers’ license

In particular if you are visiting Australia from overseas, make sure you have the correct car driving license with you. 
If your license is issued in a language other than English you will need to carry a certified translation with you.

Alternatively, get an International Driver’s License. In both cases, you will always be required to carry both with you at all times when operating a vehicle in Australia, the original license, plus the translation or the International License.

NSW Easter break ideas

Get car and travel insurance

Insurance is another important part of your road trip preparation.

There are a couple of things in the fine-print of car insurances that you need to read carefully. Compare and consider your needs for protection from financial loss. Do you want to get covered for damage to the third party car only, or do you want your car covered as well? 

Check for restrictions in the policy. Is road-side assistance included in the cover? Read this very useful article to understand your options and what to look out for when deciding on car insurance for your trip.

Don’t forget to also take out health insurance for yourself and your passengers. If you are a permanent resident or a citizen of Australia, you will most likely be covered by Medicare, but if you are a visitor, you will need a good travel insurance which will not only pay your medical bills, but which will also get you home when you are get seriously injured or sick along the road. 

Familiarise yourself with road rules in Australia

When it comes to driving in Australia, each state and each territory came up with their own road rules. In most cases, these rules will be the same, but in some cases there are some differences or variations.

It is important you familiarise yourself with the rules before hitting the road.

The following links will take you to the information that you need to get yourself up to speed with the laws:

Koala sleeping in tree

Finding accommodation options

It is very easy to find last-minute accommodation in cities like Sydney. However, as you leave the beaten path in Australia, options can thin out pretty quickly. To top it off, you will have no internet reception in many places, so research for hotels, hostels or other accommodation before arrival in a new town will be difficult. 

I have learned the hard way that it pays off to do your homework when planning a road trip in Australia and find suitable accommodation en route before heading off to a new place. Unless you are travelling along the East Coast, don’t expect the very best standard; the Australian Outback can be rough. 

If you prefer camping, then this of course will give you more freedom when on the road. Many national parks offer designated campsites in beautiful locations, and really, this is what a road trip in Australia should be all about.

Sunset at Uluru

Get your equipment ready

Don’t forget to buy your supplies before leaving the big city. Once you “leave civilisation” in Australia, stocking up on the essentials can become difficult and costly. A great cheap supplier for stuff that you may need on the road is Kmart which you will find in all Australian cities big and small, usually in a shopping centre. 

Browse the internet for road trip packing lists and spend some time getting this right for your particular needs. This applies in particular to road trips where you want to sleep in your car or spend the night camping in nature. 

Be careful about cooking your meals on camp fires though: Australia is a dry country, and open fire is in many parts prohibited. Many campsites will have dedicated BBQ areas though.

Still, buy some groceries that you can also consume uncooked. Always carry plenty of water when you are headed for the remoter areas of the country.

Palm Cove Stinger warning

Put together a playlist

Here’s an important tip for those long stretches of road where you will be craving some diversion: put together a playlist for entertainment on the road. Do not rely on internet coverage and thus streaming services once you leave the city. Download your most favourite songs, and maybe also add audio books or podcasts to the mix. 

If you want to listen to the radio, I strongly recommend you tune into Triple J which is my most favourite Australian radio channel with cool Australian music and alternative & independent artists from around the world.

Sydney weekend ideas 9-11 jan 2015

Stay in touch and let others know about your route

Did I mention that Australia is a big country? With no reliant internet coverage and not many people around, it is important that you stay transparent about your itinerary. Inform people at home about your plans so that they can trace back your steps if you stop checking in with them. 

If you are going to extremely remote places, also have a chat to the local people. Enquire about current road conditions ahead and let them know that you are headed that way. In case of a breakdown, chances somebody will be looking out for you are much higher if you are expected or if somebody can remember that you were planning on taking that route.

Avoid driving at night and at dusk. Dusk is the time of day when wildlife will become active and you may see yourself confronted with a kangaroo on the road.

Driving at night is very dangerous as it will get pitch black and you will have a hard time finding your way in the darkness. 

Old outback machinery

Behaviour when things go wrong

If things do get wrong on the road – the car breaks down, you have a flat tyre, you have an accident, you hit wildlife – stay calm. If you don’t have mobile reception, it’s best to stay with your vehicle. 

Do not leave the car to seek help unless you know it is just a couple of metres down the road. Even though it may take hours for another car to pass by, it is your best option. Leaving the car means you expose yourself to the elements and that you may get in trouble because of the heat or because you run out of water. 

These are my top tips for planning a road trip in Australia. Australia is a special country to visit, and it really deserves to be explored by car for a more immersive experience. I hope you found the above useful!

Feature Photosby Pixabay.