Quick and easy tips for road trips in Australia to help you to be prepared for the unique conditions you’ll encounter while driving Down Under.
Many travelers say road trips in Australia can turn out to be the sort of experiences a bucket list was meant to have. It’s true, also, that travel around Australia by car can feel totally different, even if you’re a veteran road tripper in other parts of the world. We put together a quick list of tips for road trips in Australia to share what impacted and enhanced our experience. These should easily help you zero in on your own road trip plans.
Five considerations to plan the experience of a lifetime on the ultimate Australian road trip:
1st Tip: Be Realistic about Distances in Australia
Many visitors underestimate how big Australia is. Distances between the relatively highly populated east coast through the Outback to Western Australia or the Northern Territory are vast. Americans are simply not going to be able to get down under, drive across Australia and return home within a typical week’s vacation time.
Much of the Outback is desolate and sparse. This kind of driving can be fatiguing and you’d be wise to limit yourself. Plan for a daily maximum distance, stop at stations when you encounter them, and call it a day long before dark.
2nd Tip: Choose the Best Car to Travel Around Australia
It’s true that Australia has first class city driving conditions in its major metropolitan areas. We found the highway system around Brisbane and points west impressive and quick. But many roads in the vast Australian interior only have gravel pavement.
You’ll just as easily encounter rougher conditions such as those we experienced in the Northern Territory, where our friends introduced us to bush-bashing – which is what Australians call off-road driving in the outback. This wide variety of conditions makes it imperative that you choose the best car for your Australian road trip, prioritizing features that are a good match with the specifics of your itinerary.
If you’ll be driving around Australia on a budget – and let’s face it, most of us will be – you’ll need to consider a balance between comfort, fuel economy, and performance in your vehicle. For some, the best car for an Australian road trip will be a sedan, for others a cross-over, and still others are going to want a full-blown “ute” – which is Aussie-speak for utility vehicle like that of our friends in the video above. Check out how Gumtree organizes pertinent information and availability by vehicle type to get a proper sense of the level of investment required, features, and capabilities.
3rd Tip: Be Safety, Weather and Wildlife Aware
Know when animals are active – usually at sunrise and late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. Stay off the roads at night.
Keep safe when encountering giant road trains in regional Australia. Road trains are heavy vehicles pulling multiple trailers, which can reach lengths of 150 feet. Passing a road train, particularly for those who are not used to driving on the left, can be challenging. Make sure you can be seen (lights on for safety!) and comply with the driver’s turn signal indicators as to whether it’s safe to pass. Don’t tailgate or close convoy and maintain a consistent rate of speed. These heavy vehicles can be difficult to stop if you suddenly apply your brakes with little distance in front of them.
Extreme weather conditions can pop up quickly throughout Australia. During our four-month stay, we experienced hurricane-like storms off the coast of Queensland, which impacted well into the interior. When we moved to Darwin, it was the height of the “wet season,” with spectacular thunderstorms, torrential rains, and multiple lightning strikes. Flash flooding was common, particularly in low areas.
Any one of these weather events can spell potential disaster on a road trip, especially when you are in unfamiliar territory. Heed warnings and stay on top of forecasts where you’re headed. When possible, plan an alternative route that might be less vulnerable to severe weather conditions.
4th Tip: Be Prepared with Road Trip Essentials
Americans are generally used to shorter distances in mid- to heavily-populated areas with bountiful amenities such as more than one gas station, a variety of convenience stores, fast food options, and good restaurants. As such, we don’t necessarily consider or are even aware that more comprehensive planning is critical for longer trips in remote areas. Think about what you might need while waiting a long time for roadside assistance in the event of a mechanical failure. What will you wish you would have brought along after running out of gas in the middle of nowhere in a harsh climate?
Similarly, you’re going to want to alleviate the monotony of the long, flat highway in front of you with some great tunes or an audio book library. If you’re riding shotgun instead of driving, you’ll want things to read (perhaps out loud to your driving partner), snacks, and cold drinks to keep hydrated and alert.
Here’s a list of basic essentials you’ll want to build from:
Road Trip Essentials List (Australia)
- Charger cords
- Rechargeable lighting (headlamp if you’re roughing it, reading light, flashlight)
- GPS and Offline Maps App – make sure you install Google Maps Offline so spotty cell coverage doesn’t leave you stranded.
- Extra SIM cards for alternative cell providers. We found Australia’s cellphone and internet services a bit lacking in terms of speed, expense, and coverage, even in metropolitan areas. A single provider is often the only option in remote areas. Make sure you are aware which providers are operating in more isolated places (if at all) throughout your intended route.
- Portable Cooler to keep drinks and snacks at appropriate temperatures during hot days
- Drinking Water – bring more than you think you might need
- Sun Protection
- Clothing – long sleeves, light weight layers to add or subtract as temperatures change
- Hat for sun and wind protection
- Personal Medications – make sure you’re adequately stocked without having to refill
5th Tip: Obtain the Appropriate Permissions
Good lists of tips for traveling around Australia always inform about Aboriginal Land Entry Permits. These are required for entry and travel through aboriginal reserve lands. Routes such as the popular Great Central Road and off the Outback Way require permits, because they pass through Aboriginal communities. Understand that you should be a respectful visitor, be aware of sacred sites and behave appropriately. The Outback Way has a list of contact details in the various regions.
Australia has more than 500 National Parks and 14 UNESCO World Heritage Areas. Visitor, vehicle, accommodations and camping access vary. Campers will want to research possibilities ranging from organized campsites (with amenities like proper toilets, running water and electricity), cottages and cabins, to remote bush and beach sites. Check with individual states, regional authorities, and the National Parks camping and accommodation information system, which is categorized by state (example: New South Wales) to get a handle.
It’s exciting to consider planning one or more great road trips in Australia! We hope this article has been helpful and would love to hear about an Australian road trip you have done, or what your plans are!