Touring Australia - What to Expect Part 4.
collage of Australian images

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.

The Size and Remote Travel

It's difficult grasp how vast Australia is until you hit the the highway, see how far you travel in a day and then see how much more there is. Some people spend a year on the road and never cover the whole country.

With a land mass that is nearly the size of the United States comes a relatively small population. The U.S has 312 million people - Australia has 23 million. It is one of the least densely populated countries in the world beaten out only by countries like Namibia and Mongolia. This means there is lots of open space and long stretches of road with very little traffic. If you come from Japan or England it will seem like there is no one here.

The majority of the population live on the eastern seaboard in the south where they enjoy a temperate mediterranean climate. The southwest of Western Australia houses most of that states population while the rest of the nation mostly resides in small country towns. Eighty percent of the Australian population live on the coast - by the ocean.

Distances between towns can be large and fuel stops infrequent. While getting fuel is never an issue on major roads the remote interior may see the need to carry reserve fuel.

Most people who visit Australia concentrate on coastal destinations lapped by either the stunning Indian or Pacific oceans.

For those who intend to venture into remote or isolated destinations then a bit of prior research is required. Questions like - is there fuel, food and water available? Is the road open or does it still exist? Can it be accessed by a two wheel drive car or will you need 4WD?

The Outback Travel Guide has a look at a few different methods for getting around while the Outback Survival Guide has a look at what to do if you become stranded.

Communications

Much to may people's dismay Telstra is often the only real mobile phone option in regional Australia. They are the national telephone carrier and while they do have competition no one comes close to providing the mobile phone range that they can provide.

In major towns and cities coverage is constant with an abundance of competition and suppliers but when the population thins out expect no more than 30km of reception from a country town.

Prepaid mobile phones are the simplest and most cost effective method for short term visitors. Expect to have to show some ID when you buy one and be aware that some mobile phones work better in rural areas than others.

Public phones are available everywhere.

Most town libraries have a cheap or free internet service and internet cafes are becoming more common in larger towns.

Free wireless 'hotspots' are common in the cities but unheard of in the bush.

Your laptop is only going to be as good as your mobile phone coverage in the bush. If you use a wireless internet connection then it uses the same infrastructure as mobile phones.

If you need constant access to mobile and internet connections wherever you go then satellite is your only option. Satellite phones and plans are not cheap but they work well. Satellite internet connections at this stage involve a bulky satellite dish and box and are expensive. They are also notoriously slow and our experience using them on remote stations is that they are somewhat unreliable - uptime is nowhere near constant.

Finding Information

Tourism Australia is the official government tourism department.

Each state has it's own official tourism department and all cities have a well developed office or offices, full of helpful staff and colourful brochures.

On a local level, major towns will have a tourist information office, often located at the town hall or in the central business district. These office will have localised brochures and information relating to neighbouring regions as well as souvenirs and probably a drinks fridge.

Smaller towns may or may not have the ability to host a fully-fledged tourist office. Look for information boards on the outskirts of town. These will generally boast a display of local advertising and often a map containing points of interest. The town centre may have a tourist information board - often located at the town hall, shire office or in a park.

The local police office often posts driving information on their notice boards as well as having an intimate knowledge of the town.

Internet cafes are not common in remote towns while public libraries normally have an internet service - sometimes free.

The post office acts as the hub of small rural towns and provides a number of services including bill paying, banking and communications while the front counter is often the 'gossip' mecca for any community.

Some towns may have a small, privately owned museum or other attraction who act as the unofficial 'tourist information office'.

If the town only hosts a pub(hotel) or a roadhouse then these are your only options. Locals will know the road conditions ahead, availability of fuel etc. and are generally happy to help with information and advice.


Next - Part 5. Medical Care, Disease, Sexual Health, Police & The Law ►

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