Australia was simply made for road tripping. From the red centre to the scenic coastal drives, there is truly no better way to see Australia than setting off on the open road! Before embarking on your adventure of a lifetime, there are some essential things you should know.
If you’re new to Australia or visiting on a holiday from overseas, there are situations you’ll want to avoid and mistakes you just don’t want to make! We’ve road tripped all over the country and we’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Read on to discover 30 super important Australian road trip tips that you must know before you go.
Table of Contents
30 Best Australian Road Trip Tips
Share the driving
It’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around just how big Australia is, especially if you are from Europe. On our recent road trip in Western Australia we drove the equivalent of London to the far side of Turkey in a little under 3 weeks!
Needless to say this is not ideal for one person to do on their own. Aim to swap drivers every few 2-3 hours as the long hazy stretches of road can quickly lull you into a daze. You should also carefully plan your trip to try and break up the driving into smaller stretches.
Download your music
Australia has a lot of ‘middle of nowhere’, in fact the majority of the country probably counts in this category. There are two major mobile networks in the country, Telstra and Optus, and each offer better coverage in different areas.
Telstra is your best bet for reception in the more far flung regions but even so, there are plenty of places with little to no reception. If you don’t enjoy driving in silence then you need to download your playlists in advance.
We use Spotify premium which allows us to store music on our devices for offline use.
Avoid driving at night and during the sunrise/sunset hours
Seeing a kangaroo is a big attraction when visiting Australia, but one place you don’t want to see them is the middle of the road! Unfortunately there are a lot of kangaroos hit by cars, the evidence of this is seen all along the side of the road in rural areas.
The vast majority of these accidents happen at night and during sunrise/sunset which is when the animals are most active. Roos are big and can do a lot of damage to your car, there are also a LOT of them in the countryside!
A bonus tip is that if you must drive at night and see a roo too late, it is best to hit the roo rather than to try and swerve around it. A lot of serious accidents are caused by drivers swerving at high speed and a damaged car is better than serious injury or death.
Know how to change a tire and bring spares
There are a lot of gravel roads in country and outback Australia and they tend to be some distance from civilization. Gravel has a nasty habit of puncturing tires and out here a tow-truck can be 500km away or more. They charge by the km or by the hour so you can imagine how much it could cost you just for a tire.
The simple skill of changing a tire is easy to learn if you don’t know already. Make sure you have 2 spares if you know you will be doing a lot of off-roading. If you are planning to tow a trailer or caravan then bring spares for those as well.
Check your vehicle
As above, mechanics can be few and far between once you get out of the major cities, as well as not having an amazing stock of parts. Depending on how far you are planning to travel consider taking your vehicle in for a solid service and let the mechanic know your plans.
If you are sticking to well-trodden and more built up routes then at least check your tires, oil and coolant. Bringing along enough oil and coolant to get you to the next town in the event of a fault can also be a good idea.
If despite checking your vehicle thoroughly it still breaks down then you might want a backup plan. Breakdowns in the middle of nowhere can be a nightmare. If you have an older vehicle or one of questionable reliability then you might consider signing up for roadside assistance.
There are a number of providers that will cover you no matter where you are in Australia and purchasing a plan for a year can often be cheaper than a single call-out to a remote area. If you have a rental car then check whether this is included in the plan otherwise consider purchasing additional insurance.
Check with your car insurance provider or dealership as they can often provide discounted plans.
Keep a spare key somewhere safe
This ties into the previous tip as locking your keys in the car will mean the same expensive call-out. The only other alternative is to smash your own window and that is also going to be costly! The cheaper alternative is to purchase a small key safe at a hardware store.
These safes have a combination lock and can be fitted to the outside of your vehicle somewhere discreet. Another option is to keep a spare with a second member of the trip, make sure it’s kept somewhere that will always be taken out of the car such as a phone case or a wallet.
Similar to the point about pre-loading your music, having poor or no reception means that you may lose the ability to input routes into your sat-nav. Most apps have the ability to pre-load areas of the map so that you are able to navigate even with no signal.
I always download a wide area around where I am going whilst I have a stable connection or while still at home. You can also pre-enter the route before leaving an area of signal and as long as you don’t close the app it will continue to navigate with just the GPS.
Make use of free/cheap campsites and campgrounds
Australia is blessed with some great facilities for enjoying the outdoors. There are free campgrounds all over the country as well as a whole bunch of cheap campgrounds managed by the government. The latter often has facilities such as toilets and BBQs but each site varies.
Use the WikiCamps app to search for free campsites in Australia and the below links will take you to government campgrounds in each state.
If camping is not your thing then the next level up is a private campground/caravan park. These will often have more facilities and comforts such as hot showers, electricity, restaurants, bars and shops. They often offer multiple options from un-powered campsites to luxury cabins so can still be significantly cheaper than a hotel or private room elsewhere.
Use the toilets at tourist info centres
If you are driving a long distance and have already stocked up on food and beverages then it can be annoying to have to purchase food and drinks to be allowed to use a roadhouse toilet. Most of the time you will go when you fill up with fuel but if you get caught out then there are the tourist information centres.
In most towns of modest size in Australia there is one of these places. They will have a toilet that is free to use and well maintained. There are also often unique displays and info on the local area and you may even pick up some tips and places you didn’t know about.
If you are reading this and are from overseas then don’t skip out on this just because it seems obvious! Having lived in other countries I can tell you that Australian police are much more eager to pull you over for driving offences and we also have a ton of hidden speed cameras.
Unlike other countries where there are 12 signs to warn you, in Australia they will hide a speed camera in a bush and you will never see it coming. The fines are also astronomical, be prepared to pay about $100 for the cheapest of them and more than $2000 for the most expensive, depending on which state you’re in.
Identify the best spots before you leave
With the long distances involved in driving around Australia, you don’t want to leave a place only to find out you missed seeing something great. You also don’t want to spend a whole day driving somewhere just to be disappointed.
Backtracking can often mean an entire day wasted on driving so read some travel guides and check out some photos of the places you want to go to make sure they’re worth it and to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Bring cooking gear and a cooler/fridge
Having the ability to cook meals on the move is great when on a road trip. The further you travel away from the cities in the Australia, things progressively get more expensive, especially food.
Added to this, not all camp sites have facilities for cooking or they can get busy. You can save a lot of money by shopping at supermarkets and cooking most of your meals.
If you are taking an Esky (that’s a cooler in Australian), then remember to buy a bigger one than you think you need. Ice takes up a lot of space and the beers go down really quickly in that beautiful Australian sun!
Have the ability to generate and store power
Depending on where you are planning to stay this tip may be more or less useful. If you are planning to wilderness camp or camp for multiple days then it can make your life a lot easier being able to charge gadgets and have a lights source.
If you want to save money in campgrounds then this also helps, unpowered sites can often be a lot cheaper than a powered one and are generally available even when most other sites are booked.
Consider investing in a 4wd
Depending on where you are planning a road trip this will be more or less useful. Certainly in some parts of Australia, the best places are hidden down narrow sandy tracks. Having a 4wd allows you to get to the hidden spots and the far less busy beaches.
In the outback a 4wd is a must, many of the free camp-sites and even many of the famous landmarks and tourist sites involve driving sandy tracks or corrugated gravel roads. The amount of gear you need to carry also will not fit well in a normal car.
If you know your route is going to be all paved and you are staying in accommodation the entire trip then obviously ignore this point!
Bring enough cooking gas to last
Depending on the type of cylinder you have it can be hard to find a place that stocks replacements once you are far from the city. During peak holiday times the supply can also rapidly run dry. The best thing to do is buy a large enough cylinder to suit your needs and make sure it’s full before heading off.
If you are using the small cans that you insert directly into the stove then these are often easier to find in the small towns than a gas bottle refill service. The supermarkets in country towns will often stock these.
Hardware stores are your best bet for swapping or re-filling cylinders. Check what type is sold along your route if you think you will need to refill.
Buy an annual national parks pass
Most if not all states in Australia have some version of an annual national park access pass. Depending on how long you are staying in a particular state and how many parks you plan to visit this can work out much cheaper than paying individual entry fees.
Keep in mind that a lot of campsites are within national parks so you will pay a camping fee on top of an entry fee. A lot of the best tourist sites are also within national parks.
In 3 months with our Western Australian all-parks-pass we have already saved more on entry fees than what it cost us. The pass is for one vehicle so the whole family is covered with one pass.
Know the seasons
Tourists are often under the impression that Australia is hot and sunny all year round. Depending on the time of year, you may actually come across rain and cold weather! It’s so important to know what season it is when planning your road trip so that you can prepare for the conditions.
Below you’ll find the best time of year to visit each part of the country.
Northern Territory, Darwin – May – October is dry season up north and the best time for a road trip.
North Queensland, Cairns, Brisbane – Similar to the NT, this northern corner of Australia is best visited during the dry season to avoid heavy rains and flooded roads. Aim to go between May – October.
Perth, Melbourne, Sydney – The lower half of Australia has its summer months between December – February. Blue skies and 30 degree days, what more could you ask for?
North WA, Exmouth, Broome, The Kimberley – Dry season falls between April – September, this is an excellent time to road trip the north of WA. You can expect high humidity and uncomfortable temperatures during the rest of the year.
Australian Road Trip Tips for Outback / Remote Australia
Let someone know your journey
There are vast stretches in the outback without mobile reception and you can go for days without being able to communicate with the outside world. One way to reduce the risk of this is to check in with someone who knows your journey and when you expect to arrive in the next destination.
This way they can sound the alarm if you are missing for a specified period of time. In certain areas you can also log your route with the local police or emergency services.
Carry an EPIRB or satellite phone
If the above tip is going to be too restrictive on your plans due to the set check in times then consider investing in an EPIRB or satellite phone. That way you can call for help no matter where you are.
An EPIRB is a personal locator beacon, once activated it will alert emergency services that there is a problem, while also giving them your location.
Satellite phone plans can sometimes be entered on a pay as you go basis so once you invest in the phone you only need to pay for the period that covers your trip.
Bring lots of water and food
When venturing into the outback never underestimate the amount of water you will need. If you break down in 50 degree heat and have no air-conditioner then you will burn through water rapidly. Always have sufficient supply in case of emergency as well as to supply you for any activities such as hikes that you might be doing.
The same goes with food, make sure you have enough extra supplies to survive on if you break down in the middle of nowhere and have to wait several days for rescue.
Know how to perform basic repairs
If you can gain some vehicle repair know-how prior to leaving on a long trip through outback and regional Australia then it can be a lifesaver. Skills like changing belts or hoses, replacing air or oil filters and more simple stuff like repairing punctures and changing fuses can be lifesavers.
For the cost of investing in some simple and relatively cheap parts and time spent watching plenty of YouTube videos, you can avoid getting stuck for many hours or days in the middle of nowhere.
Don’t off-road alone or have ability to self-rescue
If you are going to tackle some of the amazing 4wd tracks that Australia has to offer, or go off exploring some of the more far flung beaches, it’s always a good idea to have backup.
If you get bogged or in a position that you simply can’t get yourself out of, then it is going to be extremely difficult to get a rescue out to you and there are few services that offer 4wd recovery out in the sticks.
Take a buddy along on your trip with you or meet someone on the road to tag along with. If you simply must go alone then make sure you are well equipped with 4wd self-recovery gear.
Solid first aid kit
On any adventure, not just a road-trip, it is important that you are able to take care of yourself in the event of an accident. A first aid kit is one of those things that is a pain to spend money on and carry around, right up until you desperately need it.
As a rule, the more isolated you will be and the longer your trip, the more equipment you should bring along. On a road-trip your risks are not only vehicle accidents, but all the activities and equipment that you will be doing or utilising on your trip.
On a trip into the outback you need to plan for all the risks that you will be exposed to. Needless to say you should also take a course to learn how to provide effective first aid.
Fuel up at every chance and carry spare fuel
Service stations are few and far between in the outback. You need to make sure you fill your tank up every time you come across one. They will often have signs to remind you how far the next one is so you don’t forget.
You should also know the size of your fuel tank and how many KM you can get out of it. No point filling all the way up if the next station is 600km away and you can only do 500!
If you don’t have enough fuel storage capacity then invest in some portable fuel jerries. Make sure these are safely and securely stowed on the outside of your vehicle.
Overtake road-trains with caution and pull over for the cars with blue and red flashing lights
Parts of Australia, especially the north of Western Australia and inland Queensland, are huge mining regions. You will see some absolutely amazing machinery being transported on the narrow single lane highways.
If you see a guide car coming towards you with a yellow light it usually means that a normal sized car can fit past but you should slow down. If you see the police or a normal vehicle with blue and red lights then you really need to pull right off the road and stop.
As well as this there are road-trains, these are trucks that are towing up to 4 massive trailers and can be over 50 metres long! Needless to say, when planning to overtake these vehicles you need a nice long stretch of straight road where you can see well ahead.
BYO shower and toilet
There are not a lot of facilities when you head way out away from civilization. Wild camping doesn’t mean you have to live in squalor however. You can find 12v powered hot showers and portable loos in any good camping store in Australia.
A lot of wild camps often don’t allow you to just ‘go in the bush’ and a portable toilet is mandatory. It’s also just not nice to others to pollute the environment around a camp site.
Consider a solar power setup
If you invest in a good solar setup with backup batteries then you never have to worry about getting a flat battery in the wilderness or not being able to charge your gear. When really venturing out into the wilderness this is almost a necessity.
With the right setup you can run all sorts of gear in your camp including fridge/freezers, kettles, toaster ovens etc. Make sure you match your power supply to expected consumption and only use appliances that are made for camping.
The desert is cold at night
Deserts are a really funny environment, the temperature fluctuation between day and night can be massive and take you by surprise. If you are heading into the outback make sure you look at the forecast for day and night and pack accordingly.
You can get some freezing nights and it can even snow on the Nullarbor. You may just need a thicker sleeping bag then you would expect.
Use caution on unsealed roads
There are a lot of unsealed roads in outback Australia. After driving on the highway and getting used to the speed, turning off onto an unsealed road can be dangerous. Make sure you reduce your speed to a level that would enable you to react to sudden changes in the road condition or the appearance of wildlife.
These roads can be great and then all of a sudden be half washed away or have some huge potholes. Loose gravel can also be really slippery, especially on corners. If you are not used to driving on this surface then take your time to get the feel for it.
How to Hire a Car in Australia
Need a car hire for your road trip? No matter where in the world we road trip, we pretty much always use Rentalcars.com to book our car rentals. It’s easy, hassle free and they always have a large selection of providers to choose from. Browse car hire availability using the form below.
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