After 11 months and a full lap of Australia by road, here are my observations about what it’s like to road trip around this massive country!
The Vast Distances!
Australia is a big country and when you travel by road, you have to be aware of this, especially in remote areas where fuel, food, water and help is much less readily available e.g. crossing the Nullarbor.
- Ensure you have supplies of food and particularly water.
- Understand the capacity and capability of your fuel tank and plan ahead your next fuel stops.
- Understand how you will stay alert when driving for hours e.g. podcasts, music, audiobooks, chatty hitchhiker, eye-spy games etc.
Wide Diversity of Landscapes
As the country is so large, there is a vast diversity of spectacular landscapes. These include;
- Ancient, rocky, geological wonders e.g. Bungle Bungles, Karijini National Park;
- Red, dusty outback deserts too parched to sustain anything more than shin high spinifex and termite mounds e.g. Karratha;
- Rich, dark, fertile earth planted with fields of sugar cane or bananas in the far north of Queensland;
- Rolling, golden wheat fields of Esperance, Western Australia
- Wild, blue, coastlines of South Australia;
- Big Karri forrests of Pemberton, Western Australia;
- Picture perfect beaches of Busselton and Dunsborough, Western Australia;
- Bustling, buzzy capital cities;
- Lakes, waterfalls, rivers and secluded waterholes for cooling off, and
- so much, much more!
East Coast Vs West Coast, which is better?
The east cost of Australia is more densely populated, has more fertile growing land and has more to see and do. Most of the west coast is unpopulated and there can be some long drives between destinations. As there is more fertile land for growing food on the east coast, it is understandable why much more of the population has settled on the east side of the country. Despite this, one of the most beautiful, green and fertile areas of Western Australia is in the south west of the state. This area is easily one of the most beautiful areas in the whole country. Perth also deserves a mention. Whilst Sydney and Melbourne has long been the dominant cities in Australia, Perth is a really beautiful and lovely city with a high quality of living. Similar could be said about Adelaide.
A Big Country Under a Big Blue Sky
Australia is blessed with a lot of wonderful weather. There is a beautiful blue sky here on the majority of days and the weather is so often excellent that potentially it is taken for granted. Blue skies creates the best backdrop to your travel pictures. It brings out the blue of the ocean, lakes and river as well as the sparkle and blue reflections in the glass and steel skyscrapers, thus (I think) showing them to their best advantage. It can be easily forgotten that other places such as London are often overcast, grey, dreary and drizzly.
The flip side to so much blue sky is that the sunny weather that can feel unrelentingly searing at times with shade sometimes impossible to find in areas too dry to support trees. Ensure you have a ventilated broad brim hat to protect your face when heading out into sunny weather.
Spoilt for Beautiful Beaches and Coastline
Australia is a big country and correspondingly there is a lot of coastline. Some of these coastlines are wild, rocky and turbulent with a devastating shipwreck history. Other parts of the coast are calm and safe for young families. There is so much beautiful coastline and beach in Australia that it is relatively easy to find a section of beach for yourself. There are plenty of deserted beaches in the more remote areas and even in the more populated areas, it is reasonably easy to avoid being too crowded. By contrast, many European countries section off their beaches with much of it considered “private beach”. Payment of a fee is expected on a “private beach” as well as additional payment if you want to use a sunchair and/or umbrella. There is almost no such thing as a private beach in Australia. Going to the beach is a free, budget friendly activity and what’s not to love about that!
Free or Cheap Attractions
Australia is an expensive place to travel when compared to other countries in South East Asia or India. Accommodation and food costs can add up as well as entry fees to paid attractions like theme parks, tours etc. Road tripping with a vehicle that allows you to sleep in it and cook your own meals is probably the most economical way to see the country. Despite the higher costs for accommodation and food, it is worthwhile noting that there are a lot of free or cheap things to do whilst travelling around that would be more costly overseas.
Visiting local parks and botanic gardens are free. These are often well planted with an interesting and diverse range of plants and may be adjacent to picturesque lakes and rivers. They often include additional amenities such as picnic tables, public toilets and sometimes BBQs.
Exploring a town or city is also free unless you join a paid tour. With all the information available on the internet and easily accessible on your phone, it’s easy to learn more about any location. Explore the main street of a small town or drive/cycle along the waterfront roads to gawk at the fancy, expensive houses! Most towns or cities that are built by the water, whether it is a river or the ocean will often have a nicely built waterfront area perfect for a lovely, scenic stroll.
Beaches are free and freely accessible in Australia, in contrast to the paid private beaches e.g. in Europe or areas where private property is built in a way that blocks free public access to the beach e.g. Asia or Europe.
There are many free lookout points in Australia and access to national parks is relatively cheap when considering that the rangers have the never-ending battle keeping out invasive plant species and feral animals, ensuring the walking trails are safe and maintaining toilets and other amenities. National parks are areas of stunning, untouched natural beauty. In other countries, access to a place of striking natural beauty usually comes with a cost, usually with stalls hawking touristy wares and it may have been spoilt by too much human traffic.
The best thing about Australia as a traveler, is the provision of decent, well maintained amenities. These include public toilets, overnight rest stops, picnic tables, parks, lookouts and BBQs. These amenities, especially toilets, are available in even the smallest, remote towns and they are kept in decent condition. I’m not sure who cleans and maintains these but my bladder is grateful! Other options for free toilets include service stations, road houses and restaurants. Even in the most remotest locations, there are pit toilets at overnight rest stops. For those of us who travel overseas, you will know that clean, free toilets are quite hard to find in some places. Even if you can find a toilet to use, it can be quite a horror show! This type of abominable ablution situation is pretty much non-existent in Australia!
Driving long distances is inevitable when road tripping Australia. This gets dangerous as the route can be boring and it can be hard to stay alert. There are designated pull-over, day or overnight rest areas available at regular intervals on the main travel routes in the remote parts of the country. These rest stops are great because you are encouraged to stop and rest. What a wonderful amenity! These rest stops must have prevented innumerable accidents brought on by tiredness. The best way to find these rest areas and to understand what amenities they have is to use theWikicamps app. Using Wikicamps, you can plan ahead to pull over for a bite to eat or a quick cat-nap or to rest overnight. These rest stops range greatly. The simplest ones are just a place for you to safely pull your vehicle off the road. Others might include shade, picnic tables, interpretive signage of the surrounding area, a nice view, fire rings and pit toilets. For those in self contained vehicles or the budget conscious, these free rest areas are a good place to sleep overnight. If you don’t have Wikicamps, these rest stops are usually pre-empted by road signage.
In regards to pit toilets, they are not my favourite but I’m grateful for them nevertheless. In remote locations, it would not be economic or practical to have anything else. Potentially, due to either better design or a drier climate, the pit toilets in Western Australia are the best in the country. They mostly don’t smell and are cleaner. Unfortunately, the ones in the Northern Territory are the worst, perhaps due to the humidity.
Mostly Safe from Crime Against Person or Property
Australia is a very safe country to travel around in. Property theft is minimal as long as sensible precautions are taken e.g. lock your vehicle etc. Carjacking, bag snatching, identity theft, rape, murder, assaults, gun violence etc. which might be a concern in other countries rarely happens here. This removes a level of constant guardedness that is required when travelling in other countries thereby making travelling Australia a much more relaxing proposition.
Caravan Parks in Every Town
Road tripping around Australia is super easy because there are caravan parks in every town and city and even at the small isolated roadhouses on the Nullarbor. These are usually in a scenic locations e.g. riverside, lakefront, oceanfront, near a National Park, close to public transport to the city etc.
Everyone is catered for at these caravan parks. If you have a vehicle but require accommodation, they will have a cabin. For those with caravans, motorhomes, tents, campervans etc. there will be powered and unpowered sites for hire. Use of the communal toilet and shower block, BBQs, laundry and usually a camp kitchen are amenities that come with the campsite. The usual items in a camp kitchen are tables and chairs, tap and sink, toaster, kettle, fridge and freezer. At times a stove and oven may be available.
The big name franchised caravan parks like Discovery Parks, Top Parks, Big 4 and Kui usually have more facilities. These may include, games room, TV room, swimming pool, spa, jumping pillow, kayak hire, waterpark, tennis court, fish cleaning area etc. These big chain franchises provide a really consistent, quality product but it can lack character after a while as they can be so similar from park to park. Beware the school holiday periods when these big parks become heavily booked out with family holidaymakers and the place looks like a parking lot for caravans!
Smaller family run caravan parks or National Park campgrounds provide a nice alternative often boasting more natural surrounds and/or a less commercial feel.
Caravan parks are a more economical way to travel especially in a family group. It will be cheaper than hotel accommodation if you only require a campsite. Self catering always works out cheaper and healthier than eating out in restaurants. These parks are often geared towards families with facilities like pools, playgrounds, jumping pillow and waterpark available for the kids to use to their heart’s content. During school holiday periods, it is not uncommon to see kids zipping around the park on their scooters and bikes, making new friends and having a great time. It’s a wholesome, active way to have a family holiday and I think a longstanding tradition among white Australians. It is much rarer to see non-white Australians using caravan parks or bringing their families for such a holiday. Potentially, this is because caravan park type holidays are quite a foreign concept to them and they are not familiar with its advantages.
Aussies Love Their BBQs
Every evening at a caravan park, there will the smell of barbecuing meat in the air. Slapping some steaks, chops and/or sausages on the BBQ is a quick and easy dinner favoured by plenty of people at the caravan park. This will usually be accompanied by a can of beer or a wine glass or three. As the demographic in caravan parks are usually older grey nomad types, it is concerning to see so much meat and alcohol being consumed. This however might not be representative of the average Australian diet. This may just be the easy holiday treat diet or that it’s really hard to miss the smell of BBQ meats in the open air. It’s much harder to discern when people are eating salad quietly in their caravans!
Small Town Community Pride
When travelling through small towns, I’ve been struck by so many examples of sweet, small town community pride. Small towns often have signs up promoting themselves as “RV friendly towns”. This is accompanied by super large pull in parking bays for caravanners with their “big rigs”. We recently have seen electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the smallest of towns. This is a great initiative for the future as it encourages electric vehicle users to travel out further.
These small towns are always very clean and tidy with beautiful gardens, trees and flowers. There will always be clean public toilets. If there is a visitors centre, it will be staffed with a friendly and helpful person. Towns often have art or sculptures scattered about to make it more interesting or give historical context. If the small town is in South Australia it will likely have a vintage artillery piece near the centre of town. These places encourage travelers passing through to stop by having welcoming infrastructure such as picnic tables at a local park. One example of community spirit that comes to mind is a small town that covered the walls of the visitors centre and public toilets with brightly coloured art done by local artists. These were for sale at a very reasonable price but it also made for such a cheerful and colourful welcome for traveler visiting.
Actually, it seems the winning formula for a small town to attract tourists is to have an award winning bakery, some wineries and a gin distillery doing tastings.
Travelling During the Covid Pandemic
It has been a strange and unprecedented time to be travelling. In general, Australia has managed the Covid-19 pandemic well enough to allow us to travel. We have been both vigilant and lucky to have avoided any lockdowns. We remain hyper-connected to our newsfeed to try to pre-empt any lockdowns and plan our route accordingly. Crossing state borders in the “before times” would be done without thought but these days, much planning and forethought is done when even considering entering a new state. It’s important to be up to date on all the requirements when crossing state borders e.g. entry passes etc. The focus on Covid when crossing state borders is so all consuming that we have a few times neglected to consider the fruit and vegetable quarantine restrictions and have been forced to consume and throw out a lot of fresh food.
Covid is so much on the front of people’s mind that when meeting new people on the road, the conversation invariably turns to something Covid related. There are unfortunately people stuck on the road, away from home due to border restrictions. It’s always eye-opening when meeting people with varying views. We met a fervent anti-vaxxer whilst soaking in the relaxing thermal pools at Innot Hot Springs.
Despite the constant bad news portrayed in the media, our experience with the various state health systems has been quite good. We have been able to phone up the health department to ask questions about how we would isolate without a permanent address. We have been able to book appointments for free vaccinations at differing locations to fit in with our travels. When we attend for vaccinations, it has always been efficient, courteous, professional and quick. As long as you are familiar with the most up to date regulations and comply, the entry paperwork (when required) for crossing state borders as well as the face to face border checks with the police has been trouble-free. There has personally been no room for complaint thus far.
In the last 11 months, with the exception of ACT and Tasmania, we have been to all the other states and the Northern Territory. We have therefore been able to use the various state contact tracing QR scanning apps and witnessed first hand the behavior of the general population in relation to Covid. Residents of the NT and WA are generally proud of the way their government has handled Covid. South Australians are the most vigilant with their compliance with QR check-in codes and mask wearing. People in Victoria and NSW, despite having to live through the longest lockdowns, are the most relaxed. Many do not bother to check-in to venues and others wear their masks badly.
I often wonder what it would be like to travel Australia without a pandemic. How would the vibe be different? During this pandemic, there have been grey nomads stuck interstate unable to return home and a lack of foreign backpackers and tourists. The few foreign backpacker-types left in Australia seem to have been drawn into Western Australia where there have been less lockdowns. I suspect the vibe in the camp kitchens would be very different in “normal” times. These days, camp kitchens are not greatly used as most people have their own facilities in their caravans. Perhaps if overseas travel was open, the camp kitchens would be filled with a cacophony of different languages and the smells of different types of cuisines. The big cities are definitely quieter without international students and the tourist hotspots without busloads of Chinese tourists. I feel for the big tourists drawcards like Cairns, Airlie Beach and the Great Ocean Road which would be struggling without international travelers. To an extent, domestic tourists can fill the gap but domestic tourists tend to want a different offering so the tourism business has to evolve to suit.
Is Australia too Vanilla for the Intrepid Traveler?
The classic picture of an intrepid traveler is a person experiencing massive culture shock. Perhaps they are faced with cultural norms and practices very foreign from their own and faced with food that bears no resemblance to anything they may usually consume. It might look like a person out of place in a country where they look different, do not speak the local language or dress like a local. For an English speaking person, used to the luxuries of a developed country, is traveling Australia too boring, too vanilla to excite the senses?
Maybe, but …….as the title of the blog says…..”Make It What you Want”. Travel is about contrasts. Traveling Australia is different to traveling other countries and there is so much to appreciate about travelling here. For example, the fresh air and the night sky littered with stars as can only be appreciated from a remote location. Spectacular, untouched natural beauty and well maintained walking trails that you can have entirely to yourself. The breathtaking magnitude of the vast spaces that make up Australia and the serenity that comes with enjoying a beautiful beach with no one else in sight. These are the things that make Australia special.
So, what’s it like to road trip around Australia? It’s an experience of a lifetime!