A Travelers Guide to Driving in Australia
Australia is a vast country with thousands of kilometres separating many towns and major cities beyond the coastal fringes. While air travel has opened up more destinations in the last few decades, touring trips will almost certainly involve a motor vehicle.
Long distance driving in Australia is challenging, particularly over shorter time frames. But it is a wonderful experience to traverse a land so large where the landscape can change so dramatically, where you can drift across time zones and where even seasonal weather takes on a whole new meaning.
Road tripping is one of the most popular and exciting ways to travel in Australia. As the colder nights settle in to the southern areas of Australia, the northern expanse welcomes the dry season with its warm days and pleasantly cool nights. Like migratory birds, many Australians head to the northern regions for the winter to enjoy either short recreational breaks or to tackle an extended road trip.
No matter if you are towing a caravan, trailer or just sleeping rough, driving will be a regular activity on any long distance touring trip in Australia.
We've put together a short guide on driving in Australia as well as some tips for staying safe.
Before commencing any distance travel, always ensure you have enough fuel to comfortably complete your journey and know where and when the next fuel is available on your route. It is important to regularly check your vehicles water, oil level and maintain the correct air pressure in your tyres. Always carry a bottle of distilled water in case your engine coolant drops below low. Simple checks and a quick 'walk around' inspection of your vehicle before departing can help to reduce your chances of a serious breakdown and lower your running costs.
Always carry a first aid kit in your vehicle and consider installing a fire extinguisher.
Tip: Use your smartphone or camera to take some images of the engine bay of your vehicle. If you strike a mechanical problem, you may be able to use your saved image to spot the problem and resolve it quickly or simply, or reduce the turnaround time on a repair.
some of the best advice you may ever get when traveling Australia is from people just like yourself
Be that aware that traffic signage and laws can and do vary from state to state in Australia – in particular speed limits, road markings and road signs. You can find links to all the individual state and territory road agencies here. To drive on Australian roads you require either an Australia drivers license or an international driving permit.
Australia is a harsh land and it continues to be shaped by extreme weather. All parts can be affected by fires and floods at any time of the year. You should never attempt to drive through floodwaters.
Always keep abreast of weather conditions in your present location and future destinations and plan accordingly. There are many weather apps available to download for smartphones, or you can visit the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) for the latest weather warnings.
Not all roads in Australia have been sealed with bitumen and many of these are not suitable for 2WD vehicles. When driving on a dirt or gravel road, always reduce speed. Always check road conditions before proceeding. You can access the Australian state and territory road and traffic reports below for the latest updates.
|New South Wales|
|Tasmania||Australian Capital Territory|
The major capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane all have electronic toll roads. There are two main ways to pay for tolls in Australia - online, in advance or in arrears of your trip, or by using an electronic tag device (E-TAG) in your vehicle. If you are planning to travel regularly on toll roads in these Australian cities then you can opt to create a ROAM E-TAG account that can be used to pay for all trips on toll roads in Australia. Generally for short term stays a visitors E-PASS will suffice and in most cases can be purchased from the relevant state road authority.
Visit ROAM for more information on using toll roads in Australia.
Tip: Some GPS devices give you the option to avoid toll roads should you wish.
Ensure your vehicle is serviced regularly by a qualified mechanic, i.e. at least every 10,000km.
In Australia, a number of companies offer an annual roadside assist service for a fee. This can be extremely helpful if you break down outside metropolitan areas or on more remote roads where help is not readily available. For more information on this product, click here.
Tip: Time your services to coincide with a) stays in larger cities or towns for greater competition and choice in service providers and b) just prior to planned trips to remote areas so you can ask the mechanic to check over your vehicle for any looming mechanical problems while the opportunity to fix them is easier.
Most modern smart phones have good map apps which are useful for simple navigating. However, as they rely on mobile phone reception a GPS device is a more reliable option if you are touring Australia. The stand alone basic ones are reasonably affordable now and can assist with trip planning, reducing fuel consumption and avoiding traffic delays and tolls. Usually a GPS will requires updates to its maps for new and changed road infrastructure. It is wise to carry a paper map of the area in which you are traveling. Maps can allow you to inspect a larger area where road networks and the landscape are visible in greater detail. They also double as a back up in case the GPS fails and, they allow you to perform a simple sanity check on your GPS route before commencing your trip.
On highways and rural areas it is common to see motorists using their headlights during the day. This is a safety feature that helps to improve your visibility to oncoming traffic during the day as well as the night.
Take a Break!
If driving long distances plan to stop for a break every 2 hours. Rest areas are generally located every 80-100 kilometres on main highways. Plus, sharing the driving can reduce fatigue particularly over long distances.
Look out for animals!
In some locations, livestock and native animals can wander onto Australian roads at any time of the day. Some native animals such as kangaroos, emus, wombats and koalas are particularly active at sunrise and at dusk. It is best to avoid driving at night on rural roads but if travel is necessary always reduce your speed. If an animal crosses in front of you never attempt to swerve your vehicle suddenly. You can lose control and in some cases cause the vehicle to roll.
If your vehicle breaks down, especially in a remote area of Australia, always stay near your vehicle. Your vehicle is your best protection from the elements. Always wait for help to come to you. Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) or satellite phones are useful communication devices for getting help where your mobile phone is out of range. These devices can be purchased or hired however, they should never be used as an excuse to ill prepare for any journey.
Road trains (articulated vehicles) are a common sight on Australian inland roads. They can be as long as 52.5 metres or half a football field with as many as 4 trailers and, can take up to 2.5 kilometres to overtake. When passing always ensure you have plenty of room both ahead and alongside the road train as the trailers can sway from side to side. Many truckers will indicate with their right blinker when there is room ahead for you to overtake safely.
Don't forget the Aussie sun!
The sun’s rays in Australia are very strong. When enjoying outdoor activities, such as a swim at the beach, applying sunscreen just comes naturally, however when driving we often wrongly assume that being inside the vehicle protects us. This isn’t so. Driving for long periods in a vehicle can and does expose the skin on your arms and legs to the sun and can lead to sunburn. Remember to apply a SPF 30+ sunscreen before driving.
AND FINALLY.... some of the best advice you may ever get when traveling Australia is from people just like yourself. Be it locals in a country town or regulars on the travel circuit, we have always found good people who are willing to share their experiences and pass on some good old advice.