The sun is bursting with pride on the horizon. The open road yawns in front of you. The CD player is belting out your favourite tune, while the wind whistles through your hair.
This, my friend, is not a dream. It’s the setting for the ultimate road journey across Australia.
Frankly, after surfing and belting out some ‘acca-dacca’ on the karaoke, no experience is as quintessentially Aussie as The Roadtrip.
Quite simply, you must do a roadtrip while you’re here. But first you need to think about your wheels…
Buses and Coaches
Some coaches are more pleasant than others. Alex Ferguson, for example, is a very unpleasant coach. Coach and bus services in Oz on the other hand, are a very cost-effective way to get around. They cover a surprisingly large area, linking most cities and towns. There are various passes, offering hop-on, hop-off options, or unlimited travel over a period of time.
Good for: comfort, no driver needed and the wallet – there’s no big financial outlay.
Not so good for: stopping wherever you want, plus the driver may have criminally bad film tastes. The Hottie And the Nottie anyone?
Tour the country like a rock star. Hopping on a tour bus to visit the highlights with an informed guide means you can ditch the maps. Many tours are specific to an activity, like a learn to surf tour, Outback, 4WD or wine tours. Your accommodation, food and equipment is often provided, and you’ll spend nights in hostels, cabins or tents, depending on the adventure. Many tours have flexible deals and allow you to create your own itineraries. Shop around for the one that suits.
Good for: getting local knowledge, less hassles and meeting people.
Not so good for: cost – more than a bus.
Buying a Car or Campervan
The ideal trip, if you have the time and money. However, buying a vehicle can be either the best or worst decision you will make during your travels. Most travellers’ budgets range between $1,000 and $3,500, which is the lowest end of the market, so cars in this price range can be fraught with danger. But if you get a reliable one, the benefits are great.
The cheapest way to get your wheels is at a car auction. Usually they have no reserve price, but you cannot pre-drive them or even inspect them, so it’s a good idea to take someone who knows their spark plug from their cylinders.
Australia’s largest is in Sydney at Kings Cross, where you will find many sad-faced travellers trying to flog their wheels before flying home.
Naturally they are trying to get as much as they can, but they’re secretly stressing-out as they only have a short time to sell – make a ridiculous offer and you might get lucky.
Good for: ultimate sense of freedom.
Not so good for: financial risk
Hiring a Car or Campervan
If you’re embarking on a shorter adventure, a rental car is a good bet, with no resale worries – plus a dependable vehicle. There are rental companies targeting budget travellers in most cities and start from around $30 a day – the longer you hire for, the cheaper it can be.
For a bit more money, a campervan allows you to sleep and eat where you like.
Enquire about relocation specials – for as little as $1/day. It may mean being at your destination by a specific date, so you lose time to explore, but at that price you can’t complain.
Good for: freedom comes cheap.
Not so good for: taking your time.
Travel Buddies & Travel Choons
Finding a companion for a roadtrip can be as straight-forward as turning to your mate and convincing them to pull a ‘sickie’. But not always.
Whether it’s sharing petrol costs or good conversation, a travel partner is essential. Post some signs around hostels, or just spread the word among friends.
Music is a must, especially if your companion turns out to have the conversational skills of George Dubbya. You can always turn the CD player up to 11. So make sure your iPod is topped up with more Arctic Monkeys than ABBA.
Going Solo? Drive & Survive
Driving along a deserted road, finding an empty beach, stripping your clothes off, running naked in the sun, watching a flock of kangaroos jump by.
Roadtrips rock, but if something goes wrong it can quickly turn from heaven
to hell. We don’t want that, so here are some essential tips to help you stay safe.
1. Most rental companies are very professional and give you all essential tools and spare parts. But double check anyway. Private vehicle? You may need to stock up.
2. Before hitting the highway, check the car’s road-worthiness; the lights, indicators, breaks, fluids (water, oil, petrol), tyres (including spare tyre) and watch for possible fuel or oil leaks. Make sure both the vehicle, and you, are insured.
3. Bring a first aid kit, torch, a jack and wheel spanner, mobile phone and charger. If you are spending a long time on the road in remote places, bring a spare fan belt, radiator hoses, jump leads, towrope, fire extinguisher, warning triangles, spark plugs, points, fuses, fuel filters, jerrycans and even a second spare tyre.
4. Make sure you have a map and if you can, carry a set of spare keys.
5. Be careful in wet weather. Many roads in tropical/northern Australia become impassable in the wet season (summer). Check locally about conditions.
6. Also watch out for wild animals on the road, especially at dusk and dawn.
7. Driver fatigue/boredom is arguably the biggest danger. Make frequent stops to stretch your legs and, if possible, change drivers at regular intervals. You’ll find free tea stalls in some Outback regions.
8. Make sure people know your itinerary. Let them know when you are expected to return to civilisation.
9. In remote areas, always stock up on petrol and drinking water whenever you get the chance.
10. Take pen and paper. Good for noughts and crosses, but also leaving a note in an emergency situation.
And if the Car Breaks Down…
First and foremost, stay with the car. Rescuers are more likely to find the car than you alone, especially in bad weather.
If you are stuck in a desert area, conserve and stay in the shade during the day. Get under the car if there is no shade.
Make yourself as visible as possible to rescuers and open the hood to your car to indicate that you are having trouble. If an aeroplane passes, wave both hands over your head. Burning a tyre will give a distinctive smoke signal.
Stay cool and positive, you will most certainly get help soon.
Photos: Thinkstock, Getty, TNT