Exploring Australia’s vast and varied landscapes by car is an adventure that promises both freedom and excitement. However, this freedom comes with the responsibility of understanding and adhering to the country’s driving laws and customs to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey.
Before you hit the open road, getting your bearings is crucial. Australia’s vastness can be daunting, with long distances between towns and cities. Be sure you have a reliable vehicle, preferably one serviced recently. Check the spare tire, jack, and tools—you don’t want to be caught off guard in the middle of nowhere.
Here are some other essential driving tips to remember as a tourist.
1. Understand The Road Rules
Before considering any car hire in Brisbane, note that each state in Australia may have slightly different road rules, but there are commonalities. You’ll be driving on the left side of the road, which might be challenging if you’re used to right-hand traffic.
Seat belts are mandatory for all passengers, and speed limits are strictly enforced. In urban areas, you’ll usually find a speed limit of 50 km/h, which increases to 100-110 km/h on highways.
2. Be Weather-Wise
Australia’s climate is as diverse as its landscape, ranging from arid deserts to humid tropics. Depending on where your journey takes you, weather conditions can significantly affect your driving:
- In the arid Outback, temperatures can soar to over 40°C (104°F). It’s essential to carry ample water, use sun protection, and avoid driving during the hottest part of the day.
- The northern regions can experience tropical storms and cyclones, particularly from November to April. During this period, stay informed about weather updates and road closures.
- In southern areas, winter months bring colder temperatures and rain. In mountainous regions like the Australian Alps, snow can lead to icy roads, requiring chains or even restricting access.
Being weather-wise also means dressing appropriately for the conditions and keeping your vehicle stocked with seasonal supplies, such as extra water during heatwaves or warm blankets in cooler climates. Whether you wish to explore the Australian countryside or have a specific route in mind, always anticipate the unexpected and have a plan for extreme weather to ensure safety.
You won’t be alone on the roads. Alongside other travelers, you’ll share the road with large trucks, known locally as ‘road trains,’ and an array of wildlife that includes not just kangaroos but also wombats, emus, cattle, and more, especially at dawn and dusk when many animals are most active. These animals can unexpectedly cross roads and pose a hazard.
To minimize risk, always be vigilant around sunrise and sunset, reduce your speed in areas with wildlife signs, and never swerve abruptly to avoid an animal, which can lead to loss of control. Instead, brake firmly when you see an animal on or near the road and only swerve if it’s safe to do so. Give all animals a wide berth where possible, and be patient as they cross.
Signage in Australia is clear, but distances can be deceiving. A GPS or map app is invaluable, especially in remote areas with non-existent mobile signals. Plan your route ahead of time and keep a physical map as a backup.
You should also be aware that road conditions can change swiftly in remote areas due to weather or other factors, making a contingency plan essential. Remember, some of the most scenic routes in Australia are off the beaten path, but they often require careful navigation and sometimes even a sturdy, off-road capable vehicle.
5. Embrace The Long Haul
Long-distance driving is not just a means to an end in Australia; it’s part of the adventure. The country’s sprawling landscapes and wide-open spaces mean you’ll spend a good amount of time on the road. To enjoy your journey, keep the following in mind:
- Take Frequent Breaks: Pull over at designated rest areas every two hours or at the first sign of fatigue. They are well-marked, and some of them have amenities like picnic tables and washrooms.
- Engage With Your Surroundings: Use long drives as an opportunity to soak in the scenery, listen to local radio stations for a taste of Australian music and news, or even practice some Aussie slang.
- Plan For Entertainment: Prepare playlists, podcasts, or audiobooks to keep you engaged and entertained during those stretches of road where the landscape doesn’t change much.
By embracing the long haul, you transform hours behind the wheel into an integral, enriching part of your Australian adventure.
6. Refuel Regularly
Never underestimate the distances in Australia’s vast Outback. Petrol stations can be rare sights, and missing the chance to refuel could leave you stranded. Therefore, always keep your tank at least half full. Once you spot a petrol station, consider it a sign to stop and fill up.
Moreover, be aware of the specific type of fuel your vehicle requires. Not all petrol stations in remote areas may carry a full range of fuel types, such as premium unleaded or diesel. Ensure you know what your rental car takes and plan your refueling stops accordingly.
7. Stay Connected
In many remote areas of the Outback, there is no mobile phone coverage, which means conventional means of communication may not be possible. Before you embark on your journey, inform someone of your itinerary and establish check-in times.
Typically, traditional Wi-Fi hotspots in these areas rely on cellular networks and thus may not provide reliable internet access or any access at all. Therefore, it is crucial to have alternative means of communication for emergencies.
Satellite phones or emergency beacons are essential for safety and can be life-saving investments for maintaining contact with the outside world when you are off the grid. Always plan for the possibility of being out of communication range for extended periods and prepare accordingly.
8. Know Your Limits
Understanding your personal driving limits and respecting Australia’s speed regulations are paramount. Even the most seasoned drivers can find Australia’s expansive and sometimes monotonous roads taxing. It’s essential to recognize when to take a break—drowsiness can creep up on you, impairing your reaction time and decision-making.
Stay within your comfort zone, and don’t attempt to match the speed of locals who are familiar with the roads. Also, one of the things to remember is that enjoying the journey safely is as essential as reaching your destination.
As your journey winds down, reflect on the experiences and sights that have made your trip memorable. By following these tips, you’ll navigate Australia’s roads safely and responsibly, leaving you free to enjoy the rich tapestry of landscapes and cultures that make this country unique. Remember, the best travel stories are the ones where the journey is as fulfilling as the destination itself.