Are you considering travelling Australia by car? Read this tongue in cheek article on what to beware of and what makes a road trip in Australia so unique.
Travelling Australia by car is a great way to see the country. Whether you are planning an epic, around Australia road trip, or a Sydney to Great Ocean Road holiday, you should be aware of some uniquely Australian idiosyncrasies, as well as the potential issues that might catch you out while driving in Australia. But let me say from the outset – traveling by road in Australia is very safe – I would say as safe as anywhere in the world. You just need to be prepared.
It shocks most people to learn Australia is such a vast country. Australia is basically the same size as the continental United States. Texas fits into the state of Western Australia, 4 times! In rural areas, there can be long distances between towns. And, in the more remote parts of Australia, the distances between towns can be vast.
What You Need to Know About Travelling Australia by Car
Yes, a lot bigger than Texas, but without the US Interstate Highway System. Most Australian cities have well designed freeways systems, but out in the country areas it is a different matter. The only 2 major cities connected by freeway are Sydney and Melbourne, and that has only just occurred in the last few years, having taken 45 years to complete, since the first freeway section opened in Victoria.
There are some large chunks of freeway standard highways connecting Sydney and Brisbane and between Melbourne and Adelaide. But, generally speaking, driving in Australia is like driving on the USA’s scenic byways or state route system. Slower and passing through towns, where you definitely need to stay within the speed limits. There are large tracts of undivided highway (single carriageway) with no median strip.
But remember, although Australia is the same size as the continental US, it only has 1/17th of the population, with most of the population living in the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Canberra. Bottom Line: There is no traffic to speak of in rural Australia.
Australian motorists drive on the left and Melbourne has trams to contend with. These are no big problem, just follow what the locals do. All major roads have blacktop (bitumen) but you will experience dirt roads in the more remote places.
What You Can Expect to See When Travelling Australia by Car
Travelling by car, gives you the opportunity to experience the best road trips in Australia. For example, a Great Ocean Road trip is one of the best road trips from Melbourne and a great way to complete a Melbourne to Adelaide drive, along the coastal route. When driving in country Australia, you will see many unique things. Here are a few of them:
Australia is Obsessed with the “Big” Attraction
The big Banana, the big pineapple, the big koala, the big lobster. The big shrimp? No, we call that one the big prawn! The big worm? No, that one is so big, it is called the giant worm.
I could go on for a few more paragraphs with the “big attractions”. They are slightly hokey, but always good fun to stop off and take a break from driving. And some of them are actually quite educational, if you want to learn about pineapples and bananas, and so on.
Country Towns, Country Pubs and Quick Meals
One of the great bonuses of not having an extensive, freeway system is you have the pleasure of experiencing, the quintessential, Australian, country town, which you would otherwise, zip past the outskirts of, if on a freeway.
Here you will no doubt pass a number of typical Australian hotels, affectionately known as pubs. Many, will feature the classic, Australian veranda, providing great shade and an opportunity to have a drink or a meal outside. On the subject of pub meals, they are colloquially called “counter meals”. They are typically served between noon and 2pm for lunch and 6pm and 8pm for dinner, although many pubs now serve outside of those hours.
Failing that, your next best options are to hunt out the local bakery for pies (maybe Australia’s national dish), pasties, sausage rolls and sandwiches or rolls. They’re always good and home-made. The local fish and chip shop is also a good bet! Fish in Australia is of high quality. Fish and chip shops also serve burgers- try an Aussie burger with the lot! Your burger will come with beetroot and fried egg!
In all seriousness, towns may be few and far between and options for eating are limited. Pack some snacks and drinks in the car and if it is near mealtime you might be better off to stop and eat rather than drive to the next town which might be hours away (and everything closed when you get there).
Which means filling your gas tank in town might also be a good option. Sometimes options to refuel are far apart. If you have a quarter of a tank or less- refuel. Gasoline or gas, as Americans call it, is petrol in Australia. Fuel is sold be the liter. The price on the sign is for a liter of petrol. So yes, fuel is much more expensive than in the USA but about average for the rest of the world.
Wildlife Signs and Agriculture
Travelling by car in Australia, you see great wildlife signs. And, you will almost certainly see kangaroos hopping around the place, especially around sunset and sunrise.
Depending where you are, you will also see emus, koalas, parrots, hawks and eagles. Wedge tail eagles are the world’s largest eagles and they are a sight to behold!
Unfortunately, you will also see many feral animals such as foxes, rabbits, goats, cats and camels. Yes, camels are in the outback and were the original road train in Australia’s outback. There are so many camels, some are actually being exported to the Middle East!
If you are planning an East Coast Australia road trip, you see large tracts of land devoted to agriculture. Think, vineyards, cotton, peanuts, pecans, sugar cane, macadamia nuts, pineapples and bananas. Inland, you will see more grapes and vineyards, oranges, apples, pears, wheat (lots of that) and of course plenty of dairy and beef cattle and sheep. Australia is one of the very few countries in the world with food security (no need to import any food items).
Great Australian Town Names with Many Put to Song
Many Australian towns derive their names from local, aboriginal names or just have odd names. These are always sure to please. Here are a few examples:
Cootamundra, Wagga Wagga, Wangaratta, Dunedoo (hmmm), Humpty Doo, Mangalore, Nowhere Else (seriously), Nar Nar Goon, Tittybong, Wee Wah, Woolloomooloo (very easy to mis-spell) and Yackandandah.
In fact, many of these great names have been put to song. I’ve been Everywhere Man, by Lucky Starr is quintessentially Australian. Give it a listen, it is classic how quickly he can sing the names of the towns.
Legal and Safety Matters
Australia, quite deservedly, has a reputation for being a very safe country in terms of crime, as well as having a very low rate of car accidents, when compared to other countries. But nonetheless, you should take note of the following legal and safety matters when travelling Australia by car.
Don’t Speed, Drink or Run Red Lights in Australia
As you see everywhere in Australia, if you drink (alcohol) and drive in Australia, you’re a bloody idiot! We have advertisements bombarding us with that message. Just don’t do it! The police take a dim view and there will be no forgiveness just because you are a tourist. Absolutely none, I can assure you. Random breath tests are set up in areas to catch you – that’s right- for no reason you can be pulled over and asked to breathe into a breathalizer. The legal blood alcohol limit in Australia is .05. It doesn’t take much to be over!
Oh, and we have speed and red-light cameras everywhere in the cities and rural towns looking for speeding drivers and those that run red lights. Fines for speeding and running red lights are huge. Again, just don’t do it. Turning left (the equivalent of a right turn in the US) on red, is prohibited. There will be no sign saying “no left turn on red” as the default is there is no left turn on red, unless there is a slip lane.
You will notice Australians don’t speed on the highways. That’s because it is easy to get caught and mailed a ticket! And yes the rental car company will find you!
Driving after Dark in the Country
When driving in the country, be careful of the wildlife. The wildlife can be prolific from about 30 minutes before sunset onwards. Many of Australia’s animals are nocturnal or active in the evenings and early dawn. Kangaroos, particularly, travel together in large mobs and can be hard to avoid.
It is an unfortunate fact of life, but if you are traveling in rural Australia, you are going to see dead kangaroos, wombats and cattle on the side of the road or even in the middle of the road. This can be confronting, so be prepared for it. Just remember, there are millions and millions of kangaroos in Australia.
Generally travel at night is not recommended due to the animals. It is not safe. Hitting a kangaroo is the equivalent of hitting a large deer. It can kill you. Plan your travel times and distances accordingly.
Road Trains in the Outback
Surely, the only country in the world that has road trains is Australia. These make B-Doubles look like mini minors! These huge trucks can be the length of 4 or 5 semi-trailers (or lorries). If driving in the Outback, you will see them.
The drivers are highly trained, just be careful if you attempt to pass them! Most have a sign on the back warning you it is a long vehicle and they are not kidding.
Australia is a huge country and it can be warm. There can be vast distances between towns in the more remote parts of Australia. Did you know Perth, on Australia’s west coast, is the world’s most remote city? That’s right. It is further away from another city than anywhere else on earth. Much of Australia is dead flat and with dead straight roads. Yes, boredom can sometimes set in!
So, follow the signs and take a powernap. You will see signs everywhere on Australia, to take a 15 minute “powernap”. This is even more important if you are driving solo.
You will see no end of witty signs In Queensland to encourage you to rest, such as “Rest or R.I.P”. There are even trivia quizzes. Pose a question and 5 km down the road provide the answer. A very smart way to snap you to attention.
Fuel and Water in Rural Australia
When travelling Australia by car, there can be long distances between towns in remote and rural Australia, avoid travelling with less than half a tank of fuel. You will generally see signs advising you how far off the next fuel is. And never travel without water. You just never know what can happen and not having water in the case of a car break down can be disastrous.
Lights on for Safety, Even During the Day
Did you know that the longest stretch of straight rail line in the world is along the Nullarbor plain in South Australia and Western Australia? It measures 297 miles (478 km) of dead straight rail line without even 1 minor curve.
Well, a Sydney to Perth driving itinerary will have you right next to that railway line. No hills, no curves and no traffic. It’s easy to lose concentration when driving in that scenario, so put your lights on, even in the middle of the day! It is much easier to sight oncoming traffic.
Why You Should Consider Travelling Australia by Car
Yes, it’s big and vast and that is one of Australia’s great charms and the best way to experience this is travelling Australia by car.
The big sky of Australia is just amazing during the day. But at night, it is even better. There is no place on earth to get a great view of the starry, starry night. The stars in Australia are awesome!
The red dirt, the country hospitality, the ability to get away from everything, the friendly pubs, the awesome beaches and coastline (which I haven’t even mentioned) and the chance to observe the Australian culture away from the big cities.
These are all great reasons for travelling Australia by car. Here are some ideas for some great places to visit in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Tasmania. (You can put your car on the ferry to travel between Melbourne and Northern Tasmania). Look out for our soon to publish, 3 Week Australian Road Trip Itinerary, publishing shortly.
Renting a Car in Australia
If you want to rent a car for travelling in Australia we recommend renting a car with Holiday Autos The Holiday Auto site reveals all charges and inclusions and lists local suppliers. The price quoted is the price you will pay. I have tried other car rental sites and even booking directly with the rental car company, only to get there and find the actual price was many times the quoted price by the time they added all their undisclosed extras and mandatory charges. This site eliminates those unpleasant surprises and the rates are fantastic.