Driving In Oz Hut

Backpacking in Australia? Try Driving Instead

Sunset Van Australia

Backpacking through Australia is one of those things that everybody seems to want to do, or has done. The beaches, the barbecues, the banter with friends are just a smattering of what this country has to offer. But how to see it? That’s the question you must ask yourself. Internal flights are cheap and the legendary Greyhound buses are a fantastic way to meet people whilst soaking up the rolling views. However, if you have a little more money to spend, a willingness to share and a thirst to do things for yourself, you can’t beat driving across this continent. There are a number of ways in which you can do this, starting with the obvious ‘buy a car’ to renting a van from a company. Some of the companies will also allow you to drive some of their vans back to where they were originally hired from, effectively giving you a free vehicle. You just pay for the petrol.

The benefits of driving yourself are twofold (although probably more). To start with, you will be experiencing every inch of the road on your own terms. You are traversing this place. You decide where you stop for photos or lunch, when you start, when you finish, where you are going. If you drive from Sydney to Cairns, there are few pleasures in life as gratifying as the moment you look at a world map and realise just how far you have gone.

Australia Last Fuel Sign

Secondly, being a part of the journey from start to finish gives you a far greater sense of the landscape in which you are passing through than if you flew or took a bus. Australia is a country that never ceases to amaze you and driving yourself is all the more rewarding. One minute you will be passing through a barren dessert with a dust devil whipping around to your left, the next minute you are driving alongside a river with verdant foliage everywhere, so reminiscent of the Mississippi that you may forget where you are.

Laws For Driving In Australia

If you decide you do want to drive, what should you be aware of? Well, here is a short list of the major laws which will be governing you whilst driving in Australia.

Australia Wilderness

You must hold a full driving licence in English. If your licence is not in English, then you are required to apply for an international driving permit from your native country before you arrive in Australia.

You must carry your passport with you at all times whilst driving. On the spot fines apply if you are pulled over and are missing either your licence or your passport.

Australians drive on the left. Not too much of an issue for British nationals, but if you are from a country that drives on the right (much of the rest of the world), then be cautious. Especially when approaching a roundabout. Always give way to the right.

National speed limit varies from area to area. A good rule of thumb however is 50km/h in residential areas and up to 100km/h on the freeways. Always check the signs to keep informed.

Seat belts must be worn by all passengers (and the driver) at all times. On the spot fines apply.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. You should not drive with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.05.

Now that’s out of the way, are there any general tips that I can give you? Well, yes and here they are.

Driving Makes The Travel Last Longer

Driving Australia In A Van

It hardly needs to be said, but Australia is HUGE. Really, really HUGE. It will take you a long time to get from one place to another and there is always going to be a strong temptation to blast your way through. Don’t do it. There is so much to see and do that you just would not get the chance to if you were backpacking in any of the more conventional ways. If you see a sign for a town with a quirky name, head down to see it. You may put your schedule off by a couple of hours, but you are going to be rewarded with a town that does not rely upon the tourist trade.

If you have any mechanical knowledge it is worth brushing up on the type of car you have. I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again: the distances between places in Australia are huge. The last thing you want is to break down at exactly the point between two towns; 100kms either side is a long way to walk for help (and certainly not advisable). Before setting off check your oil and water every time. I cannot stress how important this is. The heat rises dramatically throughout the day and the engine gets very hot. Even a small leakage in your radiator can become an enormous problem. Carrying extra water for your engine is a good idea. Should you forget to check your vitals and find yourself stranded, do not set off from your car in search of aid. Wait with your vehicle. Another person is guaranteed to be passing through the same way you are and they are always willing to help. A little known tip about driving through Australia is that other road users will often beep their horn or flash their lights if they come across someone at the side of the road. This is them asking you if you need assistance. Waving your hands will get them to stop, but shaking your head will tell them that you’re just resting and don’t need any help. It would be good practice for you to do the same. You never know when you may need help.

Driving Australia Hut

When you end up in a hostel, consider advertising that you have a car and are willing to share petrol. Companionship and extra fuel money are boons when on the road and should not be sniffed at.

Finally, take regular breaks. The road signs remind you constantly that you should break every two hours. Whether you do it as regularly as that is down to you but make sure you heed the warnings. It is very easy to get sucked into the journey and count down the miles you have done and how many are left, but it is just as easy to realise you’ve veered onto the other side of the road because your mind is not focused on the task of keeping the car steady. There were 367 fatal car accidents in Australia between 2010 and 2011, mainly out on the freeways and mainly because of driver fatigue.

Other than all of that, enjoy it! The roads are straight and limitless, the people friendly, the weather (generally) fantastic. You’ll see kangaroos keeping pace at dusk, sunsets that seem to last forever and you’ll end up in towns that few travellers ever see.

The lifestyle branded upon Australia is relaxed and easy-going. Take this on board when you pack your car and see if you can inject a little of this spirit into your own personal drive-time.