Visiting Australia: Some hints, tips and general observations

After 11 weeks travelling around Australia we do not claim to be experts but we have gleaned some knowledge that will be useful to those planning a trip, particularly if you are planning on camping / campervanning. The below are our observations, hints and tips as they came to us, so there is no particular order.

We will start with an easy one; go to Australia, it is a fabulous country.

Internet: Don’t expect to be online at any given moment. You will find free wifi in the most remote of towns but then stumble around a city for hours in search of the stuff.

Phone Signal: The presence of phone signal will depend very much on where you are going, in the deepest Northern Territory, for example, plan to be off the grid for a little while. Telstra seems to be the provider with the best coverage countrywide.

Satellite Beacon: Because of both of the above, carry a satellite beacon when venturing even 5km from a town, it really could save your life.

Driving: Road tripping Australia is such a fantastic way, and in our opinion the best way, to see the country, you just have to bear a few things in mind. Australia is absolutely bloody enormous, we drove 15,000 kilometres and still only covered two coastlines and a bit of the interior. If you are planning to drive for any period of time be prepared for a lot of long straight roads and enormous road trains. We wouldn’t advise travelling after sunset because of the very real risk of hitting animals that could do as much damage to your car as you do to the animal; cows, horses and kangaroos can be found in abundance on the road edge both alive and as the victims of a road train. We would also advise having at least two drivers if you possibly can, on some roads we found ourselves switching drivers every hour or so because you can easily get bored on some of the longer stretches.

4WD: Lots of the best and quieter sites are only accessible in a 4WD vehicle. It is definitely worth the extra cost and saved us from having to pay to join tours to see things that we drove to ourselves for free. You will note that most of the locals drive 4x4s, there’s a reason. If you are renting, make sure to double check the small print with your rental company as some selected tracks may be off limits.

Crocs: Sadly, you can’t swim off some of the most beautiful beaches, or in waterfalls and rivers due to the presence saltwater crocodiles. Nearly everywhere we went was signed advising of any risks but, if in doubt ask a local or skip the water entirely.

Australians: Australians are incredibly friendly, particularly if you are used to commuting on the London underground. Aussies love to travel their own country so you will come across them in all shapes and sizes and ages in campsites. Anyone and everyone will come and talk to you. You will find yourselves telling the story of how you came to be in Oz and what your trip consists of over and over again to the point that you will have made an art of it.

Everyone Else: Visitors also seem incredibly happy in Oz and even the most reserved of peoples, the British, find themselves becoming much more extrovert. If you are in a campervan you will find that anyone else in a campervan going in the opposite direction will wave at you enthusiastically. Do not panic, you haven’t left the door hanging open or failed to secure something, they aren’t trying to get your attention, they are being friendly, get used to it. Aussie’s tend to point rather than wave so it seems as though they are telling you that the roof has blown of your car again, they are just being friendly

Barra: Fishing is hugely popular in Australia and Barramundi is the big drawcard. It’s a really big deal… we still aren’t sure what one looks like.

Kangaroos: Any drive will reveal kangaroos, just be prepared for the fact that a lot will have bounced their last bounce.

Stubby Holders: This is an essential souvenir and practical too, as it keeps your beer cold

Historical/Outback pubs: Any road trip will include stops at these fabulous drinking establishments. As a general rule they are plastered with bras, IDs and footy Shirts and staffed by Europeans trying to get their second year visa.

Booze: Alcohol is subject to an enormous tax in Australia and therefore extraordinarily expensive both in pubs and bottle shops. If you are on a tight budget, cutting out the booze will reduce your costs significantly. Supermarkets do not sell alcohol so you will need to go to a bottle shop, these have different opening times and will not sell certain strengths of alcohol until after a particular time of day, it varies from place to place.

Tours: Organised tours are generally expensive and we avoided them where possible, having a 4WD helped with that. The one time where it really does yield value is if you are doing things at the end of the season (whale watching in November) or if you want to see things out at sea and don’t have a boat (whale watching in November).

Free Stuff: There are plenty of free things to do and see, you just have to put the time in to search for them. Lonely Planet / other travel guides are a good start but the best tip that we can give is to chat to the people who work on campsites. Years of living in the area and chatting to tourists means that they know a huge amount about the area in general and can tell you where the hidden gems are.

Waterfalls and Sunsets: You could easily grow complacent as there are beautiful examples to be seen everywhere

National Parks: Australia is overflowing with National Parks and you can read about all the ones we visited in our other blog pages. Some will charge you for entry and others are entirely free. If you are going to be there for any length of time we would advise looking in to Park Passes that grant you access without having to pay each time. We only know personally of the Western Australia Holiday Pass, which gave access to nearly every park for a month for AUD46, standard day entry was AUD11 per vehicle. It was an obvious choice for us as we must have visited 15 or so parks in that time. We don’t know if there are such things in other states but it is worth doing the research.

Boat Ramps: You will see sooooo many signs for boatramps; these are not tourist attractions they are slopes in to water, do not be fooled.

Visitor Information Centres: We were given abundant excellent advice by people who are enthused by the places in which they live and work and just want to make sure that you have a good time. If you read our blog posts you will see that we wax lyrical about the many fantastic centres that we visited, particularly the one in Katherine which holds a special place in our hearts. In all seriousness, we would advise making a stop at the visitor centre the first thing you do on arrival in a new place.

Guide books / leaflets / magazines: You can literally collect thousands of the things for free and they are actually well worth carrying around because they contain a huge amount of information. This is the series that we found particularly useful whilst we were there, we couldn’t figure out what the standardised name for them was:img_2608.jpg

Have we met? You will continually see and meet the same people along your road trip route. Despite being huge, Australia has relatively few roads and you are unlikely to be pioneering a new route.

Place Names: You will feel like a real foreigner when you try to pronounce or spell place names and you will inevitably get it wrong. As Brits we thought that we would be pretty safe with places like Derby…  it’s pronounced Durby in Oz … sigh

Buy a fly net: Just do it, trust us

Camp kitchens: Free sites and the minimal sites in National Parks are highly unlikely to have any kind of cooking facilities so you will need to bring those with you. In the more established sites the quality and contents of camp kitchens vary wildly from place to place so don’t arrive expecting particular facilities. As a general rule, you should only buy what you know that you can cook and eat with your own materials.

BBQs: This is the one exception to the above. There are barbeques absolutely everywhere, any area of green regardless how small will play host to one and they are either free or cost a couple of bucks.

Laundry: Most camp washing machines will run with cold water only, the cycles last 30-40 minutes and costs between 3-5 dollars

Food: The quality of the food was generally excellent, with the very large majority of it being produced locally or within Australia, a fact which is proudly blazoned over the packaging, even on products such as washing up liquid. We found that the fruit, veg, eggs and meat where all very good, but certain items were really expensive when compared to the UK.

Bore water: Bore water was fine for us although some places recommend that you boil it. There certainly was some interesting tasting water but it was all safe as far as we know.

Connoisseur ice creams: Just sensational.

Dogs: Staffies are everywhere, along with kelpies they appear to be the Australian dog of choice

Battery powered fans: These were a life saver to us at times. If you plan to visit the north on the shoulders of the wet season we would highly recommend purchasing one.

Dangerous creatures: They are everywhere, but did not impact any of our activities and did not worry us at any point beyond being wary of the risk. Take note of the advice given and be vigilant and do not let it ruin your trip.

Be sun conscious: It sounds obvious and like we are playing mother but you wouldn’t believe the number of really burnt people that we saw. The sun in Oz is like a flamethrower and it is powerful all the way through from sunrise to sunset. Wear factor 50+ suncream, buy a hat and never underestimate quite how much water you will need to drink

Hope this helps, enjoy!

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