Tips for Driving in Australia
There are many ways of getting around Australia but if you ask me what is my favourite way of exploring land down under, I have no doubt: driving around Australia is the way to go.
Although road tripping is more fun with a friend, a partner or family, also for the passionate solo traveller, solo driving is a great way of visiting places.
Some of my best adventures have been on the Australian roads and completely solo! However as solo traveller it took me a long time to get familiar with the idea of driving in Australia alone.
I first tried out a few easy road trips with a friend and I loved. This helped me build confidence to venture out on my own.
Here is a practical list of tips about what you need for driving around Australia.
Licence Requirements for international travellers in Australia
An English driving license is required for driving in Australia. If you don't have an English driving license you will need a translation into English of a valid driving license for driving in Australia. You can get it from the driving license officers that have issued your original driving license. The cost for obtaining the translation, also known as international driving license, varies depending on your home country and is valid for 3-5 years. Beware that many car rentals in Australia require the original driving license when hiring a car in Australia, so take the original driving license with you!
Driving rules in Australia
As you may know Australia is a left driving country. Driving on the left in Australia can be a bit confusing for travellers coming from other countries like the United States, continental Europe where you drive on the right side. In cities and populated areas following the traffic flow helps getting used to it. In the Outback and rural areas it does require a bit more of attention though and it's easy to go on the wrong side if you are not familiar with left hand side driving. So take it easy, drive slowly and possibly only at day-time.
When first driving in Australia be aware of these traffic rules:
- Drive on the left always and on all Australian roads. I have been driving by myself on many road trips and driving on the left was easy to adjust. I only drive automatic cars, and can highly recommend it. That will help you stay concentrated on the traffic flow and reduce distractions, i.e. getting used to left hand side gear.
- Stay on the slow lane which is the most left lane and overtake on the right lane. In Australian rural areas there are overtaking lanes for short stretches of 1.5 km, which help you let fast drivers past.
- Give way to the right, also at roundabouts. In some regional Australia you have to beware of road conditions and road works. It can be quite confusing at crossroads, T-intersections.
- Enter roundabouts clockwise, in Australia there are many roundabouts in the countryside. By entering roundabouts on the left (clockwise) you give way to the right. However Australians don't like to slow down and tend to enter roundabouts very fast. So pay attention when approaching roundabouts. A times there are series of roundabouts within short driving distances and some are real monsters with built-in smaller roundabouts and multiple exits.
- Beware of speed limits in Australia: they are 100-110 kmh (62-68mph) in most states. Northern Territory has a speed limit of 130 kmh (80 mph). Speed limit cameras and police check are pretty much everywhere and also in isolated Outback roads where you wouldn't expect. In cities 60-50kmh (31-37mph) is the standard speed limit.
- Don't drink and drive in Australia – 0.05 is the blood alcohol limit.
Tips for surviving long driving distances in Australia
Australia is a top country of unique beauty and vastness. Its amazing varied landscapes make it for an ideal destination for road tripping. However it's not easy to choose the right road trips, mostly because of the long driving distances in Australia and the many road hazards. Many solo travellers feel overwhelmed when it comes to planning a road trip. With the right information and adequate preparation you can however have a fantastic experience without having to be an expert driver nor using a four-wheel-drive car.
These driving tips will help you get read and prepare for an Australian road trip.
Check car conditions, road and weather conditions
Be sure your car is prepared and in excellent conditions for driving the route to your destination.
Use a driving distance calculator like Google Maps
To help you figure out what to expect and evaluate potential driving routes you can use the driving distance calculator from Google. This gives you an idea of the route length and difficulty. Another great tool to help you calculate road distances with fuel usage and road conditions is this one here.
Plan several breaks along your way
If you plan to rush on your first driving experience in Australia you will be soon burn out. Planning many breaks when driving is key. Although traffic is almost unexisting in rural areas, long hours behind the wheel coupled with remoteness make driving in Australia challenging. Don't be surprised to see many road warning signs in Australia inviting you to stop like this survival motto:
Stop, rest, survive!
Never drive if you are tired or feel drowsy
On highways there is car parking and resting areas, in the Outback service stations or Roadhouses are the best places where to stop for a cuppa or stay overnight.
Never drive at night, at dawn or dusk
This is when most accidents occur on Australian roads. I know that many people don't care about this. I never drive by reduced visibility in areas that I don't know. When hiring a car in Australia one of the first thing that you are not allowed to drive at night and the travel insurance will not cover you if you have an accident. So always consider an overnight stay along your way.
Beware of wildlife crossing roads in Australia
Austrlian wildlife is very active early in the morning and before sunset. I couldn't believe my eyes when I first drove in the Australian Outback, the roadkill is huge in Australia and 90% of car crashes are with animals.
Have a map of all Services Stations
Petrol stations in Australia are called “Servos” are all self-services and take credit cards as well as debit cards. In rural areas and in the Outback there are only few of them, with long distances in between. I like to keep my car topped up and fill up at every petrol station no matter how full the car tank is. This gives me peace of mind and it helps me taking regular breaks when on the road. Beware that not all service stations take credit cards in the Outback so having some cash with you it's a good idea. Some service stations close early at 5.00 pm and many are not open at night and on Sundays and on public holidays.
The best tip: download a fuel map to map out where petrol stations are along your driving route.
Essential Packing list for driving around Australia
A full water tank with at least 10-15 liters of pure water is no. 1 thing you should be packing into your car. Shop for food in a main town to be self-sufficient along your way or at least till your next destination. In rural and Outback areas there are few small shops. At service stations you can buy some food but don't expect to find what you find in town. So be prepared.
Pack basic camping gear like a blanket, a small gas-fire heater, headlights, a warm jacket. If your car breaks down in the night you will be covered.
Phone coverage is not something you can take for granted in Australia. In suburban area internet is slow. And on long roads of isolated regions there is no coverage at all. I followed the tip of my Aussie friend years ago and since then I only use a prepaid Telstra sim card. It's the best. Telstra is the only phone and internet provider in Australia that can guarantee a decent coverage. But still don't expect to have a phone connection in the middle of nowhere. That's the downsides of the Australian Outback.
How to choose your Road Trips in Australia
In Australia you are spoilt for choice when it comes to going on road trips. No matter how you choose your Australian road trip, either solo or with a travel companion, prefer short road trips with interesting things to see along your way and more options for a stopovers.
Pick a road trip destination with good road conditions, no rain or bad weather conditions. Ask for all information you need to know about the picked route before leaving for your destinaton. Let someone know about your road trip. Either the local tourist office, the local police officers or the main road officers.
Driving in the Australian Outback
If you love road trips, you will love driving in the Australian Outback. I am sure this will be the most exciting part of your Australian Trip. Choose a short Outback road trip on sealed roads. A road trip to Uluru and Kings Canyon is a great way to start when first driving in Australia.
This is a complete guide with tips for driving in the Australian Outback.
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This post was updated in July 2017.