Drive Round Oz - Self Drive tours around Australia - Best Advice, Best Tours, the Best

ADVICE AND INFORMATION

General Advice

The sun, weather and time of year to visit:

Australia has two basic climate zones and the southern and northern half of the country must be treated differently. In the northern half it is warm/hot all year round but in the Summer (late November to April) it is the 'wet' season when it is humid, extremely hot, very wet and prone to cyclones (hurricanes). This is not a great time of year to visit the 'Top End' as roads are sometimes impassable (even tarmac ones) and it's just uncomfortably hot and humid! The Winter in the north and middle of Australia is peak season as temperatures are typically high 20s and 30s, it is not humid and it's the 'dry' season. Bear in mind it can get very cold in the desert at night.

Southern Australia is much more Mediterranean and even temperate in the far south. Warm, dry Summers and cool, wet winters are the norm. Spring through to Autumn is a lovely time of year to travel here. Winters can be cold with temperatures typically between 5 and 18dC along the south coast during the day. The Victorian Alps and Snowy Mountains in the south east will be covered in snow in Winter and will be very cold and icy, so make sure you're prepared for the conditions and take extra care.

Whenever you go, sun tan lotion, a hat and sunglasses are essential.

Accommodation:

AccommodationB&Bs, motels and hotels typically cost AU$100-190 per night for 3 to 4.5 star accommodation. AU$100 will get you a very basic room and there aren't many accommodations offering rooms at this price nowadays. The typical average for 3.5 to 4 star, good quality but not over-the-top accommodation is around AU$140-170 per night. Apartment style accommodations that include a kitchen are common and so breakfast is often not included unless you stay at a B&B. Many people like to use local cafes for meals and so many hotels don't even offer food.

There is very limited accommodation in many of the popular areas such as the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, Great Ocean Road, Margaret River region and in most areas along the coasts. This means that turning up last minute often results in only the poor quality budget end or very expensive high end accommodations being available. Booking in advance is essential in holiday seasons and even outside of this time in popular tourist areas.

Accommodation

Specific events also cause a problem. For example, the Hunter Valley and other wine regions often hold concerts and the accommodation is booked many months in advance. Events may be obscure such as agricultural shows, rodeos or music festivals. Turn up in these areas without an existing booking and you could have a long drive before finding anything available and it will often be in a place that is inconvenient for restaurants and other interesting things to see.

Outback Australia is a beautiful and mesmorising place but the 'town' may consists of just a motel, fuel station, car repair centre, restauraunt and of course a pub! These 'roadhouses' may be the only place to stay within a 500km radius. If it's holiday season and you arrive to find it fully booked it may be 3 hours to the next place to stay - assuming they have a room.

Campsites can be found almost everywhere...Planning in advance makes good sense and means you can travel with the peace of mind that comes from knowing you don't have to worry about whether there will be anywhere to stay when you arrive and whether it is of poor quality.

Some people like to combine accommodations with camping. Campsites can be found almost everywhere and are mostly clean and well kept. You'll pay anything from AU$10-50 per day for a typical small tent. National parks and other remote areas often have bush campsites. These are off the beaten track and provide useful basic facilities such as pit toilets and an area for a fire (always check fire restrictions before starting one). These sites are great if you enjoy getting back to nature. You'll find birds and animals all around and there's nothing better than sitting round your fire cooking dinner, downing a beer and gazing up at more stars then you ever knew existed.

Dangerous animals...Insects and flies:

Flies can be incredibly annoying at certain times of year in some areas but it's surprising how quickly you get used to a few hanging around! When things get really bad invest in a hat with a fly net or save the corks from your wine bottles and tie them on - it really works! Insect repellant helps. Even if you think there's no chance of mosquitoes or sand flies (common in the tropics) there normally is and so make it a regular routine to put it on in the morning and if you stop for long periods.

Dangerous animals:

Before you leave for Oz everyone will be telling you you'll end up bitten by a snake, stung by a spider, chewed by a croc, eaten whole by a shark or stung by deadly jellyfish. The chances of this are very slim but a few sensible rules should be followed. Snakes don't want trouble so walk heavily as you go through the bush and they'll be long gone before you see them. Always wear boots protecting your ankles and toes walking in the bush and don't rummage or sit on sticks and leaves as that's where they live! Don't leave your shoes and clothes outside at night as spiders may make them home. Pick up chairs and tables by their sides and not with your fingers underneath as you may disturb a spider. ALWAYS adhere to signs warning of crocs and "stingers" and don't swim on tropical shores during the wet season when jellyfish are about. It is reassuring to be acquainted with the procedure in the event of a bite or sting and so a little research before hand may give you some peace of mind.

Preparation before you leave:

Documentation...Firstly, always prepare a detailed list of things to take and then check it thoroughly before leaving home. Leaving your credit cards and cash at home won't make for a good start to your holiday! Our self drive tours include a list that helps with this.

Documentation:

Don't forget to take your driving license, passport with visa, flight tickets, booking confirmations, credit cards/cash, travel books etc. We strongly recommend you obtain personal health and general travel insurance before you depart for Australia. A good idea is to scan all your important documents and email them to yourself, that way if you've got access to the internet, you've always got a handy backup of your essential paperwork.

Driving tips:

Resting:

One of the biggest killers on Australian roads is falling asleep at the wheel. If your are planning any longer journeys you should stop and stretch regularly. At the very least every hour. If you feel drowsy stop immediately and take a power nap. Just a few minutes will see you feeling much better.

Many vehicles will come fitted with cruise control but don't get lulled into a false sense of security. It will take you much longer to react to anything happening on the road up ahead if you've got the cruise control on and your feet on the dash!

Air conditioning:

Most cars and campers have air conditioning, Keep the windows up if you're using it. No point in air-conditioning Australia instead of the inside of your car!

Animals and travelling at night...Animals and travelling early and late:

The rule for traveling at night, dawn and dusk is simple - don't! Animals feed at this time and hitting a kangaroo, camel, goat or wombat will hurt it (and possible you) and wreck your car. They are bigger animals than you think. A kangaroo is often the same weight as a man and often more. Watch out for large birds (often wedge tailed eagles) on road kill. They don't like to leave their food and sometimes fly off at the last second in your direction. An eagle with a wing span of 9 feet can cause serious damage if you hit it! The same is true of emus. When panicked they can run along the side of the road, turn suddenly and often run across your path instead of away from you. Whatever the animal, slow down and make sure it is out of harms way before you pass.

Roads:

For the most part Australian tarmac roads are in good shape and you can get to the vast majority of the tourist sites without leaving them. Many tourists want to see some of the less traveled routes and to do this you'll drive on roads without the 'black top'. The condition of these can vary dramatically and it's worth asking locals/the police what to expect. Many of them require a 4WD car/camper.

Warning signsIn the north the wet season makes many roads impassable and it's best to avoid the area at this time of year. At other times the roads range from smooth, firm gravel to deeply corrugated and very soft. Beware of bull dust in large holes in some outback roads. It's difficult to see and even more difficult to control your vehicle when you hit it. If you've little or no experience off road just take your time and drive within your abilities at all times. Don't try and be a hero. It's just not worth the consequences of a nasty accident especially in a remote location. Also, make sure you check with the place you're getting your vehicle from. A large proportion either forbid travel on un-surfaced routes, or require extra insurance to cover you should the worst happen. Check before you go 'off-piste'.

Speeding:

With the exception of some parts of the Northern Territory where there are no speed limits the police are extremely rigorous when it comes to speeding. Mobile cameras are used in many cities and if you are just 2-3kph you'll be in for a fine. This zero tolerance policy means that for the most part Australians don't speed.

Drink driving:

There was a day when distances were measured in the amount you could drink between two places. One town to the next might be a six-pack or a long journey could be a crate (24)! Those days have gone and drink driving is just as socially unacceptable as it is in many other parts of the world. If you do then one large, typically Australian billboard I've seen sums you up…"If you drink and drive you must be a bloody idiot!" No expensive marketing man needed for that succinct slogan!

Water crossings can be hazardous, check before driving in!Water crossings:

Water crossings can be dangerous so don't go rushing in. Look carefully and walk your route first. Check for large boulders and holes. If on a motorbike take your luggage off if necessary and carry it across first. When traveling in a car or 4x4, it is important to check the depth of all water crossings before driving across. In northern Australia in the wet season water levels can rise very rapidly and the force of water can be stronger than you think. Storms are very heavy but often short. If you get stuck between two rivers the best thing to do may be to wait as levels go up very quickly but come down just as fast. You may be there for a day or two but that's better than chancing your luck in the water. Finally, keep an eye out for crocs if you're in that region.

Petrol, oil and water:

Don't take chances with these. In hot areas you'll drink much more than you expect and if you reach the point where you are thirsty you're not drinking enough. Plan for about 10 litres a day - more if you need it for cooking or if you intend to walk in the bush or do other exercise. Don't rely on other travelers to have spare petrol, oil or water - they'll need it for themselves! Plan your route carefully and check that you have plenty spare when you reach the next roadhouse or town. Be very careful if you intend to go into remote regions - see sections below on planning your route and preparation.

Planning your route and daily preparation:

Always take a detailed map especially if you're in remote regions on gravel roads. In these areas talk to local authorities about your intended trip. Always plan your route carefully noting roadhouses and towns and work out the distances to cover. Be aware of possible wrong turns - it can literally save your life. Imagine traveling on a track when you unknowingly take a wrong turn. You reach the point where you don't have sufficient fuel to return to civilisation before realising you've gone the wrong way. You may be stuck in a hostile environment for days before anyone comes along - if you're lucky. It's no exaggeration to say that many have died making this kind of mistake. Remote trips are incredibly exhilarating but you must plan the distances and points of return properly. ALWAYS let others know (local police for example) your route and estimated time of arrival and be sure to check in as soon as you arrive. Buying or hiring an emergency radio and/or beacon is essential in very remote areas.

Tools and useful extras...Tools and useful extras:

A toolkit is often included with the car or 4x4 but if you are travelling in remote areas there are a couple of extras you might find handy. Firstly, always carry a good knife. You may only need it for opening beer bottles but it can also be put to many other uses. Another handy item is a tube of "liquid metal" or similar that allows you to mix two putty like materials together. It cures to a solid and can be used to fill holes in sumps, repair petrol tanks etc. Interestingly, soap can be used to fill a hole in a petrol tank as fuel won't dissolve it. Another outback quick fix is putting pepper into a holed radiator to stop the leak!

Breakdowns and punctures:

The vast majority of Australians are extremely friendly people and will always help if you've broken down and are stuck. A carton (24 beers in a pack) is the classic Aussie way of saying thank you if someone helps in a tricky situation!