Touring Australia - What to Expect Part 3.
Australia is still regarded as one of the safest countries to visit with great weather, a multitude of unique sights and a vast range of experiences on offer. More people than ever before are taking to the highways - land surfing from one tourist hot spot to the next and camping or finding casual accommodation one night at a time. We've put together a bit of a primer to help get you off on the right foot.
- Part 1. The Language, People, Money, Service, Tipping
- Part 2. Food, Water, Animals & Insects, Weather & Disasters
- Part 3. Getting Around, The Roads, Accommodation
- Part 4. Size, Remote Travel, Communications, Finding Information
- Part 5. Medical Care, Disease, Sexual Health, Police & The Law
Major cities and metropolitan centres have frequent and reliable public transport systems. It's possible to visit these cities and rely solely on buses, trams and taxis to get you around.
However, the magnificent public transport systems of places like Europe and Japan don't exist in remote Australia.
Iconic outback destinations like Uluru, Karijini, Cooberpedy and The Bungle Bungles are serviced by regular public transport. These places exist because of their unique geography but there is a world to see in the environs surrounding them and if you can't get to it you can't see it.
Greyhound style coaches service most country towns with rail services available in some regions. Air travel is possible anywhere but it comes at a high price. Moving people cheaply is all about numbers. The U.S. has cheap internal air travel because it services 312 million people. Australia has 22 million for a land mass nearly equal in size.
By far the easiest and most economical way to see this remarkable country is in your own vehicle. A regular family sedan will get you to most of the tourist hotspots. If you want to get off the beaten track and explore places like Gibb River Road or Cape York then you'll need a four wheel drive with high ground clearance.
Car and 4WD rentals are plentiful and the roads are full of people travelling in 2WD and 4WD camper vans. Camper trailer and caravan hire is readily available.
Camping grounds in rural regions are abundant and having a camper van or camper trailer means it's easy to find a secluded spot to watch an outback sunset.
More can be found at the Outback Travel Guide.
Seven states and seven different sets of road laws - crazy. Road laws that are administered in different ways.
New South Wales uses camera's mounted at waypoints to calculate your average speed over a given distance. If your average speed is too fast a fine turns up in the mail. Queensland hides mobile camera's in heavily tinted 4WD's parked on the verge while the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) has the authority to pull you up for a random breath test. In Western Australia you may encounter a tripod mounted camera hiding behind a bush or a lone cop with a hand held radar.
One thing that holds true for every state is that they all look unfavourably on speeding, drink driving and failing to wear seat belts. Penalties can be severe.
The road conditions vary from state to state as well - depending on budget. We drive on the left hand side here and most of the signage and rules are common sense and readily understood.
Most highways are sealed bitumen roads in good order. Many rural roads are gravel or dirt. Some are heavily used and graded regularly while some are desolate with kidney-destroying corrugations.
In the north some roads become inaccessible because of flooding in the 'wet' season.
Two issues to be aware of - road trains and animals. Road Trains are long trucks, pulling 3 to 4 trailers and up too 54 metres long. They travel at 100kph and they take a long time to stop. Give them some room and some respect.
The animals are a completely different issue. Kangaroos are a hazard everywhere. They go under or over fences with ease and kangaroo corpses litter the highways from one end of the country to the other.
Many large, northern cattle stations are unfenced meaning livestock are free to roam the highways at will. Other hazards are emu's, horses, sheep, camels donkeys and wild pigs.
Big birds like wedge tail eagles and bush turkeys (Australian Bustard) feed on other roadkill and are slow to get in the air. They have the potential to destroy a windscreen or radiator.
Most people who tour Australia jump from caravan park to caravan park, setting up shop for a night or two before moving on. It's a reasonably economical and social way of bedding down. Those people who aren't towing some sort of mobile dwelling often utilise the chalets or cabins normally available at caravan parks. Prices tend to be just below motel accommodation.
Cabins normally have an ensuite and small kitchen. Caravan dwellers use community toilets/showers and a swimming pool and barbecue are often freely available to patrons.
Motels and hotels(pubs) provide an easy alternative and will often offer simple meals. Hotel accommodation varies from grand old colonial architecture resplendent with upper floor balconies to worker style rooms (dongers) out the back.
The southern half of the country is peppered with hundreds of Bed&Breakfast's while beach side towns may have houses available for short term rental.
The north sees services thin out. Caravan parks are plentiful due to the never ending stream of itinerant tourists on the highways and casual Roadside Camping is much more common.
Stations often offer what they call 'home stay' - a room and meals at a genuine working cattle station. It's a unique opportunity to spend a night or a week in totally different environment.
Resort style accommodation pops up in the most unlikely places. Luxury serviced chalets along deserted beaches often close to iconic tourist destinations. These places are generally expensive and heavily booked.
And then there are the humble backpacker hostels. Dorm style rooms where the majority of residents are casual folk under 30 who are working and partying their way around Australia.
Large community gatherings such as Motor Racing, Rodeo's, Equestrian Events or Mining Expo's may see all available beds in town booked out for the duration of the event.
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