Are you ready for your road trip to Australia? Visiting the country by driving its endless roads and crossing its incredible landscapes will undoubtedly be one of the best experiences you’ll ever have. If you have your international licence in your pocket, an itinerary mapped out and your equipment prepared… then all you need to do is go. Before you set off, check out our information and tips for a smooth road trip in Australia.
Table of Contents
The road network in Australia
Australia is a huge country. Most of the country’s economic life and housing is concentrated near the coast. 85% of the population lives within 50 km of the sea. This is why the road is the best way to explore all the country’s places and get off the beaten track. Before setting off on your adventure, it is strongly recommended that you prepare your itinerary. It is not always possible to get from point A to point B without making a huge diversions.
For example: it is impossible to get from Alice Springs to Sydney via a direct route.
The roads are all in good to very good condition. However, you should take extra care when travelling through remote areas, especially in the north of the country, which can experience heavy rainfall during the rainy season.
Read also : Road Trip Australia : Itineraries ideas
Highways and tolls
The majority of highways in Australia are free. However, there are some sections that are toll roads, mainly around Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. These toll roads do not have physical toll booths that allow you to pay on entering or leaving the highway, as in Europe.
To pay, you have two options: either pay before you enter the road (by buying a pass on the internet or by phone), or pay afterwards (on the internet, which is usually more expensive). You have 2 to 3 days after your passage to pay. After that, you will be fined, in addition to the motorway fees to be paid.
💡 OUR ADVICE: Find out in advance if your journey includes any paying areas. Using the GPS on your smartphone, decide whether to use them or avoid them by adapting your route.
If you are using a motorway that is subject to a charge, make a note of the name of the section of motorway so that you can make your payment correctly online… or risk paying a fine.
The main roads are all sealed and well maintained. It is possible to drive around Australia by staying on a main road in good condition. It is even possible to drive from north to south through Uluru (contrary to what some people think). A conventional vehicle can perfectly well drive around the country using sealed roads.
Unsealed tracks are common in some areas of the country: Western Australia, Northern Territory, Red Centre…
Gravel roads or off-roads are generally found at the access to some national parks, lookouts and camping areas. Each track is more or less passable, as many are made of dirt or sand. Others will be accessible with a conventional vehicle (car, van), while others require a 4WD.
In the Outback, the gravel roads are more numerous and generally less frequented by tourists. Some roads can even be flooded, especially during the rainy season. If you come across a flooded road, stop and try to assess the depth first. Be even more careful in crocodile-infested areas. The best thing to do in this case is not to take any risks. Turn back and find another route to take.
Driving in Australia
An international licence
A driver’s licence is required to drive a vehicle in Australia. If you have a driver’s licence in your home country, it is valid in Australia. To make use of this right, all you have to do before your departure is apply for an international licence unless your licence is in English.
Driving on the left
In Australia driving is on the left. The steering wheel and pedals are on the right and the gearbox on the left.
Driving on the left also means overtaking on the left and taking roundabouts on the left, while keeping the right of way. Don’t worry, it’s a mind exercise that you’ll pick up quickly for those not used to it already 🙂
Speed limits may vary between states in Australia. Road signs are generally well signposted.
In urban areas: 50-60km/h is often the maximum speed limit in cities.
Near schools: The speed limit is usually between 25km/h and 40km/h.
On motorways: The maximum speed limit is 110km/h, except in the Northern Territory where you can drive up to 130km/h, only on the Stuart Highway. As everywhere, exceeding the speed limit will result in a fine (a rather large one), as well as a loss of points on your licence.
Most road signs are similar to those seen in Europe:
Yellow signs: indicate a temporary change (roadworks, etc)
Green signs: indicate major roads (expressways, motorways, etc.)
Brown signs: indicate tourist routes and often include the letter T
Yellow, orange or red signs: indicate a danger (animals, risk of flooding, speed bumps, etc)
In major cities:
Petrol in Australia is generally cheaper than in Europe, especially in urban areas. You’ll have no trouble finding it at affordable prices. Mobile apps have been designed to allow you to take advantage of bargains and easily compare prices, depending on where you are. For example, we recommend you to download FuelMap.
Outside the big cities:
Petrol stations are becoming scarcer in the countryside. In the outback, prices can be up to double those in Sydney or Melbourne.
We recommend that you take a gas can with you. You can fill it up at the cheapest stations. This is an effective way to save money during your road trip, and to avoid running out of fuel in the middle of the desert. Don’t forget that sometimes there are almost 400 km between one petrol station and another. In any case, always remember to check where the next petrol station is on your route before embarking on a long journey.
In remote areas, stations are often located in roadhouses, where all the commercial points are grouped together: restaurant, station, motel, campsite etc.
Tips for safe driving
Don’t drive too fast, the road is unpredictable
As well as using a lot of fuel by driving fast, you risk hitting an animal head-on. Many kangaroos cross the road without warning.
In addition, speeding fines are more expensive in Australia than in Europe.
Avoid driving at night (as the road is always unpredictable)
Kangaroos and other animals are particularly vulnerable near roads. The light from headlights attracts them and encourages them to cross in front of your vehicle.
Also be careful at sunrise and sunset. Kangaroos (always!) love to roam around during these times. Cows, goats, horses, camels, emus, wallabies, possums, and sometimes even koalas and wombats can be seen crossing the road… Keep your eyes open.
Australians know the roads and have no qualms about overtaking you. Make it a habit to always pull over a little more than normal to let the vehicle behind you pass if it is going faster. Often there are lanes on the road for slow vehicles.
In Australia, people greet each other all the time. Even when driving! Don’t be surprised if you get little hand signals.
Anticipate your fuel needs
Petrol stations are quite far from each other in some parts of Australia, so don’t get trapped. Avoid driving with less than a third of a tank of petrol. Carry a spare can of petrol, which you can hang from the roof of your vehicle.
In the event of a breakdown
Remember to take out insurance if you are going on a road trip in Australia! In the event of a breakdown, it is advisable to stay close to your vehicle. Always remember to bring water and food supplies. Especially if you are travelling in the outback on roads with little traffic.
Beware of gravel / unsealed roads in the outback
Before crossing the Outback or any other desert plains (Stuart Highway, Nullarbor Plain, Savannah Way) BE AWARE. You should have a minimum knowledge of the route ahead and the road conditions. Fires and flooding can be frequent depending on the season.
Have a rest!
Have a break every two hours or so. If you are traveling with several people, take turn to make sure everyone get a rest.
Fines in Australia
As with all regulations, the cost of traffic fines varies from state to state.
The most common fines issued to backpackers are for: poor parking, speeding, illegal camping and not wearing a seatbelt.
However, assume that the rates for these offences are within this range:
- Speeding: from $153 for speeding between 1 and 10 km/h. And from $607 for speeding over 45 km/h.
- Failure of the driver to wear a seatbelt: $300 / by a passenger: $300
- Blood alcohol: from $1100
The climate in Australia varies greatly from state to state and can be very powerful (heat, fire, wind, snow). To keep your vehicle in good working order, it is important to carry out regular checks. This will avoid unpleasant surprises during your road trip.
The inside of the vehicle
Oil level and coolant level (green): check weekly. They are located under the bonnet of your vehicle.
Maintenance of the interior: to avoid rapid wear and tear, remember to regularly clean textiles (carpets, rugs, seats), plastic surfaces (dashboard, steering wheel, door interiors), the windscreen and windows.
The exterior of the vehicle
Wind and rain carry sand and salt which can quickly damage your vehicle. In case of bad weather, put your vehicle under cover. If possible, or plan to take it to a car wash the following day.
If you are driving on the beach with a 4WD, check the pressure of your tyres. And remember to wash your vehicle as soon as you hit the road.
Tyre condition and pressure should be checked once a month.