Planning Your Journey in Australia
Planning Your Journey
The first thing to do is to obtain a good road map and have a look at your intended route. Many tarmac roads suddenly run out and you are left with an unsealed road in front of you. Most standard car hire firms have a clause in the hire agreement that stops you taking them onto loose surfaces.
It has happened to us that we have been unable to reach our destination, as our hire car was not a suitable vehicle.
A good source of maps and information is The Australian Geographic Society. Most large cities have at least one shop and many have more.
In Adelaide The Australian Geographic Society shop can be found in the Meyers Centre in Rundle Mall. I find that you can buy any map, which covers any part of Australia in these shops. Guides on camping, 4 wheel adventures, Farm House accommodation and many other ideas for an adventure type holiday are also available.
Type Of Car
Always check before you sign your contract to see if you can cross state borders. On our last trip in 2009 we found a company where you could not cross state borders with any of their vehicles, including 4 x 4s. So always make enquiries well ahead of time to avoid disappointment. Another instance was in WA where we wanted to drive from Perth to Broome, only to be told that this would be crossing the line of Capricorn and was not permissible on the grounds of tax and insurance. It seems that this firm divided one state into two, because of its enormous size. So again always check that you are insured to do what you want to do. Don't take anything for granted.
The major hire companies have three classes - Small, Medium, and Large.
The small cars are normally for city and local areas and have the mileage limited on the hire agreement.
The Medium cars are for longer distance and you can take them interstate but they have limited boot space for luggage and I personally would only recommend these for two people.
The Large Cars are for long distance travel and many companies have people carriers in their large car fleets. These are the vehicles for distance travel and have room for the luggage and four people.
Always check with the hire company that you are getting what you think you've hired. On one occasion a friend booked what he thought was a 4 x 4 and only when we tried to climb a sand dune was it clear that it was only a 2 wheel-drive vehicle! Thankfully on this occasion help was close at hand.
These start as two berth basic vans with no air conditioning and move up with the full works, showers, air con, fridges etc sleeping up to eight.
The normal campervan can only be used on sealed roads and only be used from early morning till dusk, as it can be dangerous to travel outside these times due to the wildlife on the roads, mainly the Kangaroos. If you hit one it will severely damage any car or campervan and your insurance will not cover you, leaving you with a large repair bill and a holiday to remember for the wrong reasons.
One firm that caters for the backpacker is WICKED CAMPERVANS. These are very basic but cheap and the backpackers love them. These are now in most State capitals, check them out at the wicked camper vans Internet site
The Campervan that we hire is a 4x4 Landcruiser Troupie from Britz campervans, see the Britz Internet site
These are excellent to take off road and open up areas that are inaccessible with a normal campervan.
The main drawback is these do not have air-conditioning in the sleeping area, only in the driving compartment. If you go in the height of the summer it can be real hot to sleep in these vehicles at 40 degrees Celsius plus.
On the plus side these have the power you need plus the range to travel long distances. There are twin fuel tanks fitted that hold 90 litres each, one as the main tank and the other as a reserve. I never run on the reserve as you can get to a remote town only to find that they have no fuel left. That way you still have a range of 300 - 400 km left in the reserve tank which should be more than adequate to get you to a supply of fuel at the next town or roadhouse.
More recently we have been hiring our 4 x 4 from Kea as we prefer the pop-up top as it is more aero dynamic so fuel saving and more stable for off-road so less chance of us having a roll-over.
Check out Kea's video clip here
If you intend to travel into the remote outback you should always let someone know where you are heading for and the day you plan on reaching the next stop on your journey.
Mobile phones DO NOT WORK IN OUTBACK AREAS, other than large towns like Alice Springs. You can hire a satellite phone from the hirer of the 4 x 4 vehicles. I believe that is law that the vehicle hire firms must hire you an emergency beacon for your safety. This must only be used in a real emergency like a rollover or other serious accident or for an emergency medical condition, as all Emergency services will be mobilised if you utilise this. A flat tyre or a small cut is no reason to set this off and you will be fined heavily for misuse.
Unsealed Track Conditions
It is important to check the condition of the route that you plan to take as all or part of the route might be closed due to weather conditions. Tourist information centres will look this information up for you or you can check out the up to date situation on the Internet.
You can be stranded for weeks at a time in poor weather in the remote areas. The closures are on sections from one town to the next. You are safe in a small town but cannot get to the next and may have to turn back. Unsealed roads become impassable in the wet season or after heavy rains and are closed to all traffic.
You must be aware that road trains and other large vehicles use unsealed roads and the damage that will occur would make these unusable for months ahead.
If the route is closed DO NOT ATTEMPT to try to go through. If you follow simple rules you will have a holiday to remember for the right reasons and not the wrong ones.
Rules of the Road - Highway Code
Whilst certain rules of the Highway Code are constant throughout Australia there are others that vary from state to state. It is always a very good idea to obtain Highway code information relating to the state or states that you intend driving in.
The following links should help you to do this in advance of your trip: -
In January 2009 I was stopped for passing a police vehicle parked off the road, but with its blues on, only to be told that there is a law within Australia that you have to slow down to below 40k per hour whilst passing any emergency vehicle with its emergency lights on. I feel that this law was only invoked on this occasion as an excuse to run a breathalyser test on me. However, I must say that the police officers were extremely polite but did point out the error that I had inadvertently made that caused them to stop me.
We were right in the outback so don't feel that you can ever drink and drive in Australia. It might be worth a mention here that the drink drive laws in Australia are more stringent than the UK and what is an acceptable limit here is not there. PLEASE DO NOT DRINK & DRIVE.
If you have any experiences from driving in Australia that you think would be helpful to others and would like to share these with us please do so via our Contact Poms Eye page.