Along with seeing Uluru and exploring Sydney Harbour, taking an Australian road trip is one of the bucket list essentials when visiting this country. Even many locals dream about road tripping Australia, with the boy and I (do I count as a local yet?!) being no exception. We’ve had our fair share of trips already – including our budget 4wd journey up through the red centre of Australia – and will be heading off again shortly. As such, we’re no strangers when it comes to knowing the crucial things to consider when planning an Australian road trip.
Vast, diverse, wild and beautiful, the Australian landscape lends itself to road tripping. However, along with its size, sparseness and seasonal variations come problems, or at least things that can potentially cause problems! To help ourselves get in order, and hopefully to help you out too, we’ve created this list of crucial things to consider when planning an Australian road trip. Sure, we all like a bit of fun and a challenge, but why make life harder than it’s got to be? Hopefully this list will help ensure that your trip preparations, like ours, run as smooth as possible!
One of the most crucial things to consider when planning an Australian road trip is when you are going and where! Stretching across different climate zones (temperate, subtropical and tropical), seasons can vary wildly in this massive island and are something you definitely want to take into account.
High season in the tropics of North Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory runs during the winter months of May – September. This really is the best time to visit these places, especially on a road trip, because torrential rains and hellish humidity can make travelling there during the summer months a misery.
The summer months of November – March are better for road tripping in the south of the country (Victoria and South Australia certainly). Do be aware however that scorching temperatures during this time can be a problem, as well as bushfires. Keep abreast of any problems by following reputable weather and government websites.
When considering the time of year in which you’ll be on the road, you may also want to take into account when Australian school holidays fall, especially the large Christmas break that runs December – January. At this time there will be significantly increased traffic on the roads and many campsites will be a lot busier or even full. You may need to book things well in advance at these times and prices might be higher.
You will need to make sure your vehicle is in a fit state to make your intended road trip well before you set off. This is key, so do make sure you allow time for any necessary repairs etc that have to be done beforehand.
Obviously there are simple things that you can check yourself such as tyre pressure, oil, water, brake fluid and power steering fluid. However, there are some things that can only be tested by a professional mechanic. Book your car in for a service around 6 weeks before any long trip and tell the mechanic of your plans. It may seem like a hefty outlay, but believe us, it will cost you a lot more to get something fixed on your vehicle in a remote part of Australia, especially if you breakdown!
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re vehicle is properly registered in Australia before you set off on your road trip. We also strongly advice buying additional insurance cover with a registered body, such as the RACQ, that includes breakdown recovery.
Navigating, and the tools to help you do so, are one of the crucial things to consider when planning an Australian road trip. For example, are you going to use paper maps, a GPS system or an online app for your navigation?
Hema offer the best detailed maps of Australia and can easily be purchased through Amazon. If you’re not straying too far off the bitumen however, navigating in Australia is generally very easy as roads are straight, flat and well signed. Throughout the country many tourist offices provide free regional maps, which are certainly worth grabbing if you get the chance. You will also need maps for navigating your way in, out and around Australian cities.
If you’re using an online map system or Google maps to help you navigate, then do make sure you have a backup solution in the case of signal or reception failure, which is extremely common outside populated areas in Australia. GPS systems are a great option, especially if going off the beaten track in the Outback etc.
The more remote you are, the more fuel can cost in Australia. In fact on many Australian road trips fuel might well be your biggest expense. (In Central Australia, for example, we were paying in excess of A$2.50 p/litre for diesel – ouch!) As such, fuel is one of those crucial things to consider when planning an Australian road trip, especially if you’re on a tight budget like us!
Beyond price, the other thing that makes fuel a key component to consider when planning any Australian road trip you is where you can buy it. If you’re travelling really remote, then there might not be any fuel stations for a couple of 100km or so!
Due to both of these factors, you really want to consider your options for carrying fuel on board. Can you get jerry cans and use them in case you can’t get to a fuel station? Carrying fuel on board may also help you keep costs down. Ideally, you’ll fill the jerry cans up with cheaper fuel and then fill up your tank using them, rather than silly-priced fuel at pumps, in more remote areas.
Like fuel, water is a precious commodity when road tripping Australia and, like fuel, water can also be scarce in many parts of the country.
Thinking about how you might carry some water on board is therefore key. Can you fit some water containers in your vehicle? What size? Can you get a water tank fitted if you have a 4wd?
There are also many new and innovative water storage units on the market such as the Road Shower which fits onto your roof rack. As well as storing your drinking water, the black material of the road shower also heats up the water, meaning it can also be used as a handy warm shower too!
Consider price vs. valuable space saving when it comes to water storage on board and remember that if you are also using this water to wash dishes and /or potentially shower, that you’re going to need a lot of it! We estimate you’ll probably need around 3l per person/per day if you’re watching your usage (which you should!) – although, you’ll use more in hot desert or tropical areas of Australia.
For our water storage, we’ve gone for the Front Runner 60 litre universal water tank because it is versatile enough to fit either on roof rack or in the back of your vehicle. It also rectangular shaped, which means it gives you a flat surface you can store other items on top of.
Thinking about how you might carry food is also important. On longer trips (more than few days), we always take a fridge with us (we have a Dometic / Waeco 61l fridge/freezer) that runs off a dual battery system. This is so great for keeping food for longer in the hot Australian weather and we wouldn’t be without ours. Do bear in mind however that fridges like this are expensive! The Dometic / Waeco 61 fridge/freezer set us back around A$1200! eek!
If we’re just going for a shorter trip, we always opt for the cheaper method of just taking an esky (Australian word for coolbox) with us and filling it up with blocks of ice. We swear by our Coleman Cooler, which we find a good size (especially for keeping water bottles cold) and very reliable when it comes to not leaking!
Taking food in jars, tins or packets that will last longer is always a good option when it comes to food prep for a road trip. So are harder fruit and vegetables like apples or carrots that won’t bruise easily. Nuts, seeds and muesli bars make great driving snacks!
If you are heading off on anything more than a daytrip (which won’t get you very far in this big old island!), you’ll have to think about sleeping arrangements. Do you want to spend money every night paying for hotels/motels and will your route allow for this? If the answer is no to either of these questions, then there are a number of other options available.
Separate Tent: A stand-alone tent can be used in campgrounds, national parks or free camps round Australia. It’s a cheap and easy option and one that we used on our budget 4wd Road trip up through Central Australia. We bought an Oz trail for this trip and would recommend it because to kept us dry and warm. Stand-alone tents may not, however, be a great option for long road trips as the tent may not be very sturdy for roadside camping where you’ll be competing with vans, trucks and lorries. Stand alone tents also take a lot of time to set up and put down, especially when you also have to dismantle all the bedding each night too. Consider whether you’ll be moving frequently on your road trip through Australia and therefore, if a separate tent is your best option despite its appealing price tag.
Rear Conversion: Can you fit a mattress in your car or van? This might be a cheap and easy option for shorter trips, national parks or beach drives. We have a mattress that fits in the back of our Land Rover and this is perfect for overnight road trips or times when inclement weather makes staying in our stand-alone tent implausible, as it has on more than one occasion – we’re hardcore campers! With no need to set anything up, a rear conversion in your vehicle means you can simply crawl into the back when you’re done for the day, which is brilliantly quick and easy! Space and comfort however might prove an issue long term, unless you have a professionaly fitted campervan that is.
Rooftop Tent: These nattily designed tents fit onto your roof rack and can simply be popped up when it is time to sleep. Normally quick and easy to assemble, rooftop tents also often come with an annexe, meaning you can cook, get dressed or read out of the way of the rain or the viewing public! Good for speedy set ups, the downside with rooftop tents however is that you do have to dismantle them anytime you want to drive anywhere – even just to the local shops or the start of a hike. Perfect if you think you might be moving most days however, rooftop tents offer good value for money, especially if you have to pack up your camp regularly anyway.
Camper Trailer: Tow behind units that function somewhere between a tent and a caravan, camper trailers give you a lot more space and a greater number of facilities. They often include some basic kitchen amenities such as sinks, gas bottle holders or water storage devices too. Camper trailers also normally come with large awnings or annexes that can provide good shelter from rain or wind, meaning you can cook and relax wherever you are and whatever the weather. Many different brands of camper trailers are available and prices vary considerably according to the range of features. They are the most expensive sleeping option we’ve covered here so far, but they do also give you the most for your money. As such, a camper trailer will be a worthy investment if you’re road tripping long term. They will also give you an added degree of permanence, because you can unhitch the trailer and then go exploring for the day without having to pack anything down. Make sure you select an off road model if you want to ensure your camper trailer can go anywhere your 4WD does.
Caravans: The most expensive, most home-like, sleeping option for Australian road trips. Good for families or long term travellers, caravans are sadly beyond our price range and therefore not really covered here.
Do you need a satellite phone? I thought it was ridiculous idea at first. However when we started off-roading through the desert in Central Australia, I suddenly realised why it wasn’t!
Some other useful questions to ask are: Do other people know where you’re going? What systems do you have in place for when you get into danger? Does everyone in the car know what you have agreed to do in an emergency? This might sound drastic, but once you get into remote Australia, you’ll see how necessary being prepared is!
Now I’m no big planner, but vaguely thinking about your route before you go is definitely a smart move. You can leave a lot open-ended, but it is a good idea to at least have a vague outline. At the very least this will help guide you over what to pack, how much food and water to take and what time of year to go where (see the Season section for more info).
Planning your route, also allows you to get a grip on timings. Driving more than 600km a day is a lot and will probably take you around 8 hours, after you’ve stopped for a few breaks etc. In Australia 600km is nothing! Driving can be hard on the body and the mind, so take this into account, as well as the fact that this is a bloody huge country! Allow yourself ample time and remember that things will always take longer than you expect!
So those are our crucial things to consider when planning an Australian road trip. Have you taken an Australian road trip? What are you planning suggestions?