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Discover Australia

Australia in Brief

Summary

Australia is a stable, democratic and culturally diverse nation with a highly skilled workforce and one of the strongest performing economies in the world.
With spectacular landscapes and a rich ancient culture, Australia is a land like no other. It is the earth's sixth-largest country in land area and is the only nation to govern an entire continent.
Australia in Brief provides an authoritative overview of Australia's history, the land, its people and their way of life. It also looks at Australia's economic, scientific and cultural achievements and its foreign, trade and defence policies.

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The booklet should be attributed as Australia in Brief, Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
ISBN: 978-1-74322-161-7 - ISSN: 0815-9939 - 15 October 2014

Understand Australia

Despite its relatively small population, Australia punches well above its weight in many areas, and is a significant player in a range of world economic and political spheres.

 

Geography

 
Red kangaroos in the Northern Territory

Australia is both the world's smallest continent and the sixth largest country with a land area of 7,682,300 square kilometres (2,966,152 square miles). It is comparable in size to the 48 contiguous United States although it has less than one tenth the population, with the distances between cities and towns easy to underestimate. Australia is bordered to the west by the Indian Ocean, and to the east by the South Pacific Ocean. The Tasman Sea lies to the southeast, separating it from New Zealand, while the Coral Sea lies to the northeast. Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia are Australia's northern neighbours, separated from Australia by the Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea.

Australia is highly urbanised with most of the population heavily concentrated along the eastern and south-eastern coasts. Most of the inland areas of the country are semi-arid. The most-populous states are Victoria and New South Wales, but by far the largest in land area is Western Australia.

Australia has large areas that have been deforested for agricultural purposes, but many native forest areas survive in extensive national parks and other undeveloped areas. Long-term Australian concerns include salinity, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef.

Climate

As a large continent a wide variation of climates are found across Australia. Most of the country receives more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. Generally, the north is hot and tropical, while the south tends to sub-tropical and temperate. Most rainfall is around the coast, and much of the centre is arid and semi-arid. The daytime maximum temperatures in the tropical city of Darwin rarely drop below 30°C (86°F), even in winter, while night temperatures in winter usually hover around 15-20°C (59-68°F). Australian winters tend to be milder than those at similar latitudes in the northern hemisphere, and snow never falls in most parts of the country. Temperatures in high altitude areas of some southern regions can drop below freezing in winter (and sometimes even in the summer) and the Snowy Mountains in the South East experiences metres of winter snow. Parts of Tasmania have a temperature range very similar to England, and it is not unheard of for snow to fall in the summer in some mountainous regions of the state.

As Australia is in the southern hemisphere the winter is June–August while December–February is summer. The winter is the dry season in the tropics, and the summer is the wet. In the southern parts of the country, the seasonal temperature variation is greater. The rainfall is more evenly distributed throughout the year in the southern parts of the East Coast, while in the rest of the south beyond the Great Dividing Range, the summers are dry with the bulk of the rainfall occurring in winter.

History

The continent of Australia was first settled more than 40,000 years ago with successive waves of immigration of Aboriginal peoples from south and south-east Asia. With rising sea levels after the last Ice Age, Australia became largely isolated from the rest of the world and the Aboriginal tribes developed a variety of cultures, based on a close spiritual relationship with the land and nature, and extended kinship. Australian Aboriginal people maintained a hunter-gatherer culture for thousands of years in association with a complex artistic and cultural life - including a very rich 'story-telling' tradition. While the 'modern impression' of Australian Aboriginal people is largely built around an image of the 'desert people' who have adapted to some of the harshest conditions on the planet (equivalent to the bushmen of the Kalahari), Australia provided a 'comfortable living' for the bulk of the Aboriginal people among the bountiful flora and fauna on the Australian coast - until the arrival of Europeans.

Although a lucrative Chinese market for shells and bêche de mer (sea cucumber) had encouraged Indonesian fishermen to visit Northern Australia for centuries it was unknown to Europeans until the 1600s, when Dutch traders to Asia began to 'bump' into the North Western Coast. Early Dutch impressions of this extremely harsh, dry country were unfavourable, and Australia remained for them somewhat of a marker sign pointing north to the much richer (and more lucrative) East Indies (modern Indonesia). Deliberate exploration of the Australian coast was then largely taken over by the French and the British. Consequently, place names of bays, headlands and rivers around the coastline reflect a range of Dutch, French, British, and Aboriginal languages.

In 1770, the expedition of the Endeavour under the command of Captain James Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. Cook continued northwards, and before leaving put ashore on Possession Island in the Torres Strait off Cape York on 22 August 1770. Here he formally claimed the eastern coastline he had discovered for the British Crown, naming it New South Wales. Given that Cook's discoveries would lead to the first European settlement of Australia, he is often popularly conceived as its European discoverer, although he had been preceded by more than 160 years.

 
Part of the former Port Arthur convict settlement in Tasmania. The remains of the settlement form part of the 'Australian Convict Sites' entry on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Following the exploration period, the first British settlement in Australia was founded in 1788 at what is today Sydney, led by Captain Arthur Philip who became the first governor of the colony of New South Wales. This started a process of colonisation that almost entirely displaced the Aboriginal people who inhabited the land. This reduced indigenous populations drastically and marginalised them to the fringes of society. Originally comprising the eastern two-thirds of the continent, the colony of New South Wales was later split into several separate colonies, with Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen's Land) becoming a separate colony in 1825, followed by South Australia in 1836, New Zealand in 1841, Victoria in 1851 and Queensland in 1859. On the other hand, the western third of the continent was not settled by Europeans until the British established a naval base in Albany, then known as King George Sound in 1826. The Swan River Colony was formally established in 1829 at what is today Perth. The Swan River Colony was officially renamed Western Australia in 1832.

While Australia began its modern history as a British penal colony, the vast majority of people who came to Australia after 1788 were free settlers, mainly from Britain and Ireland, but also from other European countries. Convict settlements were mostly along the east coast, with scattered pockets of convict settlements in Western Australia. The state of South Australia, on the other hand, was settled entirely by free settlers. Many Asian and Eastern European people also came to Australia in the 1850s, during the Gold Rush that started Australia's first resource boom. Although such diverse immigration diminished greatly during the xenophobic years of the White Australia policy, Australia welcomed a successive series of immigration from Europe, the Mediterranean and later Asia to formulate a highly diverse and multicultural society by the late 20th century.

The system of separate colonies federated to form the self-governing British dominion of Australia in 1901, each colony now becoming a state of Australia, with New Zealand opting out of the federation. The new country took advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop its agricultural and manufacturing industries and made a large contribution (considering its small size of population) to the Allied war effort in World Wars I and World War II in Europe as part of the British Commonwealth forces. Australia was directly attacked in the Pacific War. Australian troops also made a valuable, if sometimes controversial, contribution to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. Australian Diggers retain a reputation as some of the hardest fighting troops along with a great social spirit.

Australia and Britain passed the Australia Act in 1986, ending any remnant power the British parliament may have had to pass laws for Australia. The British Queen remains as the head of state with an (Australian) appointed Governor-General as her representative in Australia.

Economy

Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP with other advanced economies.

The service industries, including tourism, education, and financial services, account for the majority of the Australian Gross Domestic Product – about 69%. Within the service sector, tourism is one of the most important industries in Australia, as it provides employment, contributes $73 billion to the economy each year and accounts for at least 11% of total exports.

Primary industry - mining and agriculture - has accounted for most of Australia's exports in recent decades. Iron Ore and Coal are by far the largest exports, along with wheat, beef and wool. The mining sector is extremely sensitive to global demand for iron ore, with events in the Chinese and Indian economies having direct impacts.

Australia has a comprehensive social security system, and a minimum wage higher than the United States or the United Kingdom. Due to a lack of supply, tradesmen are extremely well-paid in Australia, often more so than white collar professionals.

Politics

 
Parliament House in Canberra

Australia has a federal system of government, with eight state and territory governments and a national government. Laws vary slightly from state to state, but are for the most part fairly uniform.

The national parliament is based on the British Westminster system, with some elements being drawn from the American congressional system. At the federal level it consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Each Member of the House of Representatives (colloquially known as a Member of Parliament (MP)) represents an electoral division, with more populous states having more electoral divisions and hence, more MP's. On the other hand, similar to the US Senate, each Australian state has an equal number of senators, with 12 senators being directly elected by the people in each state, and 2 senators each from the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. The Prime Minister is head of the national government, and is the leader of the political party (or coalition of parties) which has the most Members in the House of Representatives.

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is also Queen of Australia and the head of state, and is represented in Australia by the Governor-General. As recently as 1975, the Governor-General was able to dismiss the incumbent government and then-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, although this proved highly controversial and by convention now rarely exercises powers without ministerial advice. A referendum to change Australia to a republic was defeated in 1999 (the idea to replace the Queen with a political appointee wasn't to the liking of most Australians). Republicanism in Australia remains a regular conversation point, albeit low on the list of real priorities.

State and territory governments are organised similarly to the national government with a state parliament serving as the legislature and the Premier (Chief Minister in the territories) serving as the head of the state government. There is also an additional Governor for each state serving as the Queen's representative in a mostly ceremonial role.

The two major political parties in Australia are the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party, which operates in coalition with the National Party (referred to as just the "Coalition"). There are smaller parties such as the Greens, as well as independents. The Liberal Party is a centre-right conservative party, with the term liberal referring to a free market economy.

Culture

Australia has a multicultural population practising almost every religion and lifestyle. Over one-quarter of Australians were born outside Australia, and another quarter have at least one foreign-born parent. The most multicultural cities are Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. All three cities are renowned for the variety and quality of global foods available in their many restaurants, and Melbourne especially promotes itself as a centre for the arts, while Brisbane promotes itself through various, multicultural urban villages. Adelaide is known for being a centre for festivals as well as German cultural influences, while Perth is known for its food and wine culture, pearls, gems and precious metals as well as the international fringe arts festival. Smaller rural settlements generally still reflect a majority Anglo-Celtic culture often with a small Aboriginal population. However, virtually every large Australian city and town reflects the immigration from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific that occurred after World War II and continued into the 1970s; in the half century after the war Australia's population boomed from roughly 7 million to just over 20 million people.

 
Part of Melbourne's China Town

There are approximately half a million Australians who identify as being of Aboriginal descent. Many fewer maintain elements of traditional Aboriginal culture.

Contrary to popular mythology, descendants from convicts are a minority, and even during the years of transportation free settlers outnumbered convict migrants by at least five to one.

Australian English was once known for its colour and colloquialisms but has lost a great deal of this to outside influence, although people in rural areas still tend to speak in a broader accent, using many of the slang words that have become outmoded in metropolitan areas. There is very little provincialism in Australia, although accents tend to be broader and slower outside of the large cities. There are only small pronunciation differences in the cities but these are becoming more common. For example the word "you", which is often rolled off the tongue sharper on the south east coast, almost as "ewe" as opposed to the west coast and other regions. Another modern variation is the presence of Afrikaan accents on the west coast, modifying the local accents slightly due to the high immigration in that area. Like in much of the English speaking world, more educated and/or white-collar Australian accents tend towards being softer or general in tone, rather than sharp, however it is a subtle difference overall and native speakers typically recognise regional variations.

Australians can be socially conservative compared to some European cultures and often have a balanced attitude defining their European origin with their growing Asian influence. They tend to be relaxed in their religious observance. While the Australian sense of egalitarianism has moderated in economic terms, modes of address still tend to be casual and familiar compared to some other cultures. Most Australians will tend to address you by your first name and will expect that you do the same to them.

Holidays

 
Fireworks over Perth to mark Australia Day in 2006

The national holidays in Australia are:

  • 1 January: New Year's Day
  • 26 January: Australia Day, marking the anniversary of the First Fleet's landing in Sydney Cove in 1788.
  • Easter weekend ("Good Friday", "Easter Saturday", "Easter Sunday" and "Easter Monday"): a four day long weekend in March or April set according to the Western Christian dates.
  • 25 April: ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps), honouring military veterans
  • Second Monday in June: Queen's birthday holiday (celebrated in Western Australia in September, with WA observing Foundation Day a week earlier)
  • 25 December: Christmas Day
  • 26 December: Boxing Day

Many states observe Labour Day, but on different days. Most states have one or two additional state-wide holidays, with Victoria and South Australia having a day off for a horse race (The Melbourne Cup and The Adelaide Cup). Western Australia has Foundation day typically the first Monday in June (recognising the founding of the state since 1829) but also celebrates the Queens Birthday at a different date to the rest of the country, either at the end of September or early October, due to the usual June date is such close proximity to Foundation day.

When a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday (and Tuesday if necessary) are usually declared holidays in lieu, although both the celebrations and the retail closures will occur on the day itself. Most tourist attractions are closed Christmas Day and Good Friday. Supermarkets and other stores may open for limited hours on some public holidays and on holidays in lieu, but are almost always closed on Christmas Day (25 December), Good Friday, Easter Sunday and ANZAC Day morning.

Peak holiday times

Most attractions in Australia remain open year-round, some operating at a reduced frequency or shorter hours during the off-peak season.

Salaried Australians have four weeks of annual leave and school children in the major population centres have January as a long break. Domestic tourism is strongest during January and the Easter school holidays.

Summer tends to be the peak travel season through much of the south, with the winter (dry) season the peak travel season in the tropics.

Australian teenagers celebrate the end of school at the end of November and early December for the 3 weeks known as schoolies. The volume of teen revellers can completely change the nature of some of the cities and towns they choose to visit, especially coastal towns like Byron Bay in New South Wales, the Gold Coast in Queensland and various localities along the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

Time

Australia can have up to five different time zones during the daylight savings period, and three at other times.

 
Time zones in Australia from GMT

In the east, Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria always have the same time. Queensland doesn't observe daylight saving, so it is an hour behind the other eastern states during that period.

In the centre, South Australia and the Northern Territory are half an hour behind during the winter, but the Northern Territory doesn't observe daylight saving while South Australia does. During daylight saving South Australia remains half an hour behind New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, but moves half an hour ahead of Queensland. The Northern Territory remains half an hour behind Queensland, but moves an hour and a half behind New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

In the west, Western Australia is two hours behind the eastern states in winter, and also doesn't observe daylight saving. It moves three hours behind the eastern states that observe daylight saving (remaining two hours behind Queensland).

There are no official abbreviations or names for Australian time zones, and you may see a few variations used. EST, CST, WST along with EDT, CDT are sometimes used. Sometimes AEST, etc., with the 'A' prefix distinguishing them from the North American time zones with the same names. In conversation, the abbreviations aren't used. People tend to say Sydney time, Brisbane time, or Perth time. Expect blank stares from most if you start talking about Central Summer Time.

In those states which observe daylight saving, it commences on the first Sunday in October and ends on the first Sunday in April.

State/Territory Standard Time Daylight Saving Time
Western Australia UTC+8 N/A
South Australia UTC+9.5 UTC+10.5
Northern Territory UTC+9.5 N/A
Queensland UTC+10 N/A
New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania. ACT UTC+10 UTC+11

Power

I plug Chinese.jpg
 
 

As of 2000, the mains supply voltage specified in AS 60038 is 230V with a tolerance of +10% -6% and 50Hz. This was done for voltage harmonisation – however 240V (and less commonly 250V) is within tolerance and is commonly supplied. Mains voltage is still popularly referred to as being "two-forty volts". Bathrooms in hotels will often have a type I, C and A socket marked "for shavers only" as pictured on the right, along with a standard 3 pin (earthed) plug; two pin (the two angled pins) unearthed plugs are also common. Three phase (415V) is also used, for larger appliances.

 

(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)

What to do in Australia

Swim

  • in the surf. Australia has seemingly endless sandy beaches. Follow the crowds to the world famous Bondi Beach in Sydney, or Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. Or find a stretch all for yourself (but beware of dangerous rips on beaches, it is considerably safer to find a patrolled beach). The surf is smaller and warmer in the Tropical North, where the reef breaks the swell, and larger and colder in the south with waves rolling in from the Southern Ocean. (And yes, in the middle it is just right).
  • in calm tropical oceans. Cable Beach in Broome is swept pristine daily by the tide, has perfect sand, and warm water - go in winter.
  • in thermal pools. South of Darwin there are many natural thermal pools such as Berry Springs & Mataranka, surrounded by palms and tropical foliage. The most expensive resort in the world couldn't dream of making a pool this good.
  • in freshwater lakes. Inland Australia tends to be dry, but there are freshwater lakes where you would least expect them. Explore inland of Cairns at the Atherton Tablelands, or head outback to the Currawinya National Park.
  • in rivers. If its hot, and there is water, there will be a place to swim. Wherever you are, just ask around for the favourite swimming spot, with a waterhole and rope to swing on.
  • in man-made pools. The local swimming pool is often the hub of community life on a summer Sunday in the country towns of New South Wales and Victoria. Many of the beachside suburbs of Sydney have man made rock pools for swimming by the ocean beaches.
  • on the beach! Find your spot by the water, and get out the towel. Tropical north in the winter, down south in the summer. As always when in Australia, protect yourself from the sun.

Bushwalking

 

Bushwalking is a popular Australian activity. You can go bushwalking in the many National parks and rainforests.

Diving

 
A scuba diver looking at a giant clam on the Great Barrier Reef

Sports

  • Rock Climbing
  • Mountain Biking. Try the trails in the Snowy Mountains or black mountain in Canberra, or cycle for days along the Munda Biddi Mountain Bike trail in Western Australia.
  • Horse Riding. The horse has a rich tradition in the settlement of Australia since the arrival of the first European settlers. Relying on the horse to travel the vast distances and harsh environments of Australia was the foundation of a strong and lasting relationship between Australians and their horses. Today horse riding in Australia includes many recreational and occupational activities from cattle musters on vast stations, to the multi-million dollar racing industry. On the outskirts of towns and cities and out in the rural landscape, you will see the many pony paddocks and much loved horses that are a testament to the ongoing passion and commitment Australian horse owners have to their horses and the enjoyment they bring.

Ski

  • Skiing. New South Wales and Victoria have well developed ski facilities. Tasmania can also have skiing for a few months of the year, given the right weather.

See Winter sports in Australia

Surf

  • Surfing. If you think Australia is the most unpopulated and most remote place on earth were you can go to escape any trace of human contact, just find a good surf break in the most remote corner of Australia and you will be guaranteed to find someone surfing it. Australians love to surf and wherever there is surf there are Aussie surfers, any time and under any conditions. Virtually every coastline, except along the top end from Cairns across to Karatha has surf and surfers there to ride it.

Thrill activities

  • Sky Diving, all around Australia
  • Hot Air Ballooning, in Canberra, Brisbane or in the Red Centre.
  • Kitesufing and windsurfing in and around Geraldton, Western Australia and at Coronation Beach, the windsurfing and kitesurfing capital of Australia

Gamble

 
Horse racing at the Berrigan Cup race meeting in the small New South Wales town of Berrigan

It has been said that if there are two flies crawling up a wall, then you just need to look around to find the Aussie who will be running a book.

  • Casinos. Crown Casino in Melbourne is Australia's largest, located at Southbank, but there are others scattered in every capital city as well as Cairns, Launceston, the Gold Coast and Townsville.
  • Day at the races. All capital cities have horse racing every weekend, with on-track and off-track betting available. They are usually family occasions, and fashion and being seen are part of the event. Just about every pub in New South Wales will have a TAB, where you can place a bet without leaving your chair at the bar. Greyhound racing and trotting happens in the evenings, usually with smaller crowds, more beer, and less fashion. Smaller country towns have race meetings every few months or even annually. These are real events for the local communities, and see the smaller towns come to life. Head outback to the Birdsville races, or if you find the streets deserted it is probably ten past three on the first Tuesday in November (the running of the Melbourne cup).
  • The unusual. Lizard races, cane toad races, camel races, crab races. Betting on these races is totally illegal and you'll find the TIB (Totally Illegal Betting) around the back of the shed.
  • Two up. If you are around for Anzac Day (25 April), then betting on coins thrown into the air will be happening at your local RSL club, wherever you are.
  • Australia has almost a quarter of all the slot machines (locally known as "pokies" or "poker machines") in the world, and more than half of these are in New South Wales, where most pubs and clubs have gaming rooms (labelled "VIP lounges" for legal reasons) where one can "have a slap" and go for the feature.
  • If none of this appeals, and you just have too much money in your pocket, every town and suburb in Australia has a TAB. Pick your sport, pick a winner, and hand over your money at the counter.

Gambling is illegal for under-18's. This can often restrict entry to parts of pubs, clubs, and casinos for children.

 

(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)

Driving in Australia

Driving in Australia is an experience to be savoured. It is a way to experience the wide-open spaces and magnificent natural scenery, and there are so many destinations that can only be experienced by car. Before setting off you should make sure you are well prepared for the Australian driving experience.

 

Understand

DrivingInAustralia.JPG
 
 

All measurements in Australia are metric. Distances are in metres and kilometres, and speed in kilometres per hour.

Australians drive on the left side of the road and the majority of vehicles have the steering wheel on their right side. Around 70% of Australian cars are automatic transmission. When hiring a car manual transmission (stick-shift) is generally only offered as an option for the cheapest small cars. The gear stick in a manual transmission is operated by the left hand. The arrangement of the pedals is standard worldwide. In most cars, the indicator (turn-signal) stalk will be on the right side of the steering wheel and the windscreen wiper stalk on the left side of the steering wheel.

Driving conditions vary. Most Australians live on or near the eastern and south-east coasts. Roads within and between the cities and towns in these areas are sealed (paved) and well maintained, as are the main highways that join the state and territory capital cities. There are usually plenty of well marked rest areas on major highways, though these are usually very basic and do not always have toilet facilities.

In more remote areas (known as the "Outback") motorists may travel for hundreds of kilometres between towns or road houses without opportunities to refuel, get water, refreshments, or use toilets. In these areas, even on major highways, you will have to plan your trip, including fuel and food stops. Off the major inter-city highways, road conditions can be difficult in remote areas. Many roads are unsealed (gravel or sandy) and often poorly maintained. Some may only be suitable for four-wheel drives and some (including major sealed highways) may not be passable at all in certain seasons or weather conditions.

Motorists need to be self-sufficient and prepared for emergencies when travelling off major highways in remote areas and be aware that outside of major towns, mobile (cell) phone coverage will almost certainly be non-existent. A satellite phone may be a worthwhile and possibly life-saving investment in the most remote, lightly trafficked areas. Permits may also be required to travel through Aboriginal communities in certain remote locations, though these permits can usually be obtained for free.

Buy or rent a car?

A very rough rule of thumb can be:

  • Less than 3 weeks: Rent a car.
  • Above 3 months: Most cost effective to buy.

Tips for buying

Most of the tips for buying a car in Australia are the same as the precautions you would take anywhere. However, in Australia

  • You should pay attention to the registration renewal date and the state in which it is registered. Different states have different fees and requirements for vehicle registration and renewal and it can be difficult to renew the registration when out-of-state. You need to register the car in the state you are "resident", and this can make buying a car registered in a different state a bit more difficult. If you are buying and reselling within a year, not having to renew the registration may make life easier for you.
  • If you are driving through the outback, the more common and simple your model of car is, the easier it will be to repair and obtain spare parts. The Oodnadatta roadhouse will definitely have tyres for a Toyota Landcruiser, but they are unlikely to have the right tyres for a Volkswagen Passat, let alone any other essential parts. Waiting for parts to be delivered to a remote service station can mean a delay of a week or more to your plans and this is assuming the local mechanic knows how to fix your particular model.
  • Perform a PPSR check to ensure there is no money owing on the car you plan to buy. If there is, you will inherit that debt from the previous owner. This check can be done on the internet and costs only a few dollars.

Tips for renting

  • Check the restrictions of your contract as some rental car companies will only allow you to travel a certain distance per day without paying an extra fee per kilometer, or within a certain distance of the base.
  • Not all rental car companies will allow you to drive their cars if you are under 21. Check any age restrictions.
  • Some rental car companies will request that you do a free tourist driving rules quiz before you take the vehicle, or will accompany you on a short drive to check your proficiency behind the wheel.
  • Check for any existing damage on the vehicle when you pick it up, and make sure that the rental vehicle office has a record of it so that you don't get charged for its repair when you return.
  • Cars with a boot that you can hide items in are less likely to be broken into than vans and motorhomes. Unbranded cars that don't look like rental vehicle cars might also attract less attention.
  • Shop around for the best price in relation to the length of time you are hiring for. Generally, if you need a car for more than a few weeks it can be cheaper to buy one and then sell it when you have finished with it, although you do need to be aware of the cost of insurance and maintenance during that time.
  • If you are travelling between major cities then there are companies that will give you a car for free (you just pay petrol) and will give you a time frame in which to transfer the car between the cities as this saves them truck transport fees.

Legal issues and safety

Driving is regulated by state government authorities, but there is a consistent set of road rules across Australia. [1]

Licences

Drivers in Australia require a valid driving licence. Foreign licences in English are considered valid for driving in Australia for visitors for three months. If your licence is not in English, an International Driving Permit which is issued in your home country before arrival in Australia is required.

Australian licenses are issued by the respective state and territory governments. Visitors with licenses from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States may convert their foreign licenses to an Australian one after paying an administrative fee. All other foreign license holders are required to sit for a theory and practical test before they can get an Australian license.

Seat belts

Use of seat belts is compulsory for drivers and all passengers, and infants must be secured with approved safety capsules and harnesses. Seatbelt laws are enforced, and the onus is on the driver to ensure all passengers are buckled. Penalties apply to the driver of the vehicle, and include demerit points which may lead to a license suspension. A fine of around $250 per unsecured driver and/or passenger will apply.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs

The blood alcohol limit is 0.05% throughout Australia. Learner and provisional drivers are not permitted to have any alcohol in their system whilst driving.

As a general guideline: For most men, It is 2 standard drinks for the first hour and then 1 drink every hour after that to stay on the 0.05% limit. For most women, it is 1 standard drink for the first hour and then 1 drink every hour after that to stay on the 0.05% limit.

Police conduct random breath tests along both major routes and back streets, both in cities and in the country. A driver does not have to be driving suspiciously or have committed any driving offence to be stopped by police for a random breath test.

If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol, you will have to make a court appearance. For a first offence, a fine and a period of suspension would normally be imposed if there are no aggravating circumstances. Refusing a random breath test is also an offence and similar penalties apply as for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Random drug testing is also conducted using a mouth swab.

Accidents

In case of an accident involving injury or death to any person, the police and appropriate emergency response authorities must be contacted. Phone the Australian emergency number 000. The GSM standard emergency number 112 also works from any mobile phone. 112 will use any available network and will work even with an overseas GSM phone without roaming enabled. Emergency numbers from other countries (such as 911) do not work in Australia.

The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident in which a person may have been injured or killed, or where there is serious property damage, is legally required to stop and render assistance. The penalties for leaving an accident scene can be severe (up to 10 years imprisonment), even if you are not at fault. You must contact appropriate emergency authorities, but you are not required to give first aid if you have not had training.

Persons rendering first aid in good faith in Australia are protected by law and are not at risk of legal action against them. If you can help at an accident scene, always do so.

Motoring groups

Each State and Territory has a separate motoring group which offers roadside breakdown assistance, as well as comprehensive road maps, tourist guides, and useful motoring advice from their numerous branch offices. You need to purchase an annual membership in one of these associations to qualify for roadside assistance, but this can be done when lodging a call for help (with an additional fee). Each State association has reciprocal arrangements with the others, so a single membership will do for all of Australia. If you are a member of the local motoring group in your home country, you might be entitled to free reciprocal assistance, such as maps, from the various motoring groups in Australia. Check with your local motoring group before you leave.

  • New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory: NRMA
  • Victoria: RACV
  • Queensland: RACQ
  • South Australia: RAA
  • Western Australia: RAC
  • Tasmania: RACT
  • Northern Territory: AANT

A different level of coverage with a higher fee is usually required to ensure useful assistance in remote areas.

Enforcement

 
A mobile speed camera in Victoria. The cars used are completely unmarked, and there is no sign the vehicle is a speed camera car coming from behind.

Speed cameras are used in all states and territories of Australia, with some states using hidden cameras, others preferring highly visible ones. The strictest place for speed limit enforcement is Victoria, with mobile speed cameras hidden in unmarked cars, as well as hidden fixed cameras behind highway signage. The official tolerance in Victoria is just three kilometres per hour in excess of the speed limit. Police speed traps, and mobile patrols also regularly pull over cars for exceeding the speed limit. In other states, exceeding the speed limit by 10km/h or so will usually result in you being sent a fine notice of around $200 (and demerit points if driving on an Australian licence). Exceeding the speed limit by more than 30km/h can result in a court appearance and possible criminal conviction. Red light and combined red light/speed cameras also operate at many urban intersections and a similar fine will result.

Fine notices are invariably sent to overseas addresses. Rental car companies often charge an administration fee if fines are incurred, and will pass your name on to the debt collection authorities. Your fine won't generally be pursued outside Australia, but you should consider the consequences if you wish to drive in Australia in the future.

City driving

Traffic in Australia's major cities can be congested. As in any other place, it pays to avoid driving in or around the Central Business District (CBD) during peak times when everyone is trying to get to or from work, or on freeways on long weekends (bank holiday weekends) when everyone is trying to get out of town.

Routes

 
M1 Motorway, North of Sydney

The cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Hobart are covered by a relatively good network of urban freeways that allow for rapid driving from the suburbs into the city centre.

Melbourne trams

A hazard unique to Melbourne's CBD and the inner suburbs are trams (streetcars). Melbourne is known for its extensive tram network. There are some tram-related rules which may not be immediately obvious.

Normally cars can drive in the same lane as the tram tracks, and there will be a broken yellow lane marker left of the "tram lane". The broken yellow marker means cars are permitted to drive in the tram lane. Sometimes, there will be a solid yellow line next to the tram lane. This indicates that cars are not permitted to drive in the tram lane. In this situation, there may be a sign overhead that specifies times when cars are not permitted to drive in that lane. If there is no sign, then cars are not permitted on the tracks at any time.

Tram passengers have right of way when crossing the road to or from a tram. You must stop behind the tram when its hazard lights are flashing and/or the doors of the tram are open, unless the tram is stopped at a fenced stop with barriers and a clear "safety zone" sign.

Related to the tramways is the "hook turn" which is unique in Australia to Melbourne's CBD. As many roads in Melbourne's CBD have tram tracks, turning right (remember, Australians drive on the left) suddenly presents a problem, as while you are waiting to turn, you would be in the tram lane, delaying the progress of several trams. To get around this problem, the "hook turn" was invented. This involves turning right from the left lane. Here is how to execute a hook turn:

  1. Approach the intersection in the left lane, and indicate to turn right.
  2. On the green light, proceed into the intersection as far left as possible (avoiding the pedestrian crossing). Move forward until you end up perpendicular to traffic waiting at the red light on the cross street (the street you want to turn right into).
  3. Observe the traffic lights on the cross street. Once green, you turn to your right and proceed as normal. The traffic you were previously perpendicular to will follow as you complete your turn.

Signs indicating whether a hook turn is necessary are hung off tram power lines at the intersection. Do not attempt a hook turn at other intersections.

Speed limits and school zones

Speed limits are signposted at regular intervals, and can change frequently. A default 50km/h speed limit applies in urban areas where there is no signposted speed. School zones have a 40km/h limit during school hours and these are clearly signposted; usually with flashing electronic variable speed limit signs. South Australian school zones are 25km/h. In some state, school zones on major highways may be signposted at 60km/h or 80km/h. In New South Wales, school buses feature flashing lights when picking up or dropping off children. This is to warn drivers to slow down, however unlike in the United States, you are not required to come to a complete stop. It is illegal to exceed 40km/h when passing a school bus in NSW with its lights flashing.

Traffic signals

It is illegal to turn left on a red traffic signal. In some states, it is illegal to do a U-turn at a traffic signal, unless there is a sign explicitly permitting. In Victoria a U-turn is permitted at any intersection with signals, unless signage specifically prohibits this.

Overtaking (passing)

Overtaking is permitted to the right hand side only, unless you are driving on a multi-lane road and the other vehicle can be safely overtaken in a marked lane to the left of that vehicle. If the signposted speed is above 80km/h it is illegal for a car to remain in the right hand lane on a road except whilst overtaking another vehicle. When the overtaking manoeuvre is completed drivers should move back into the left lane as soon as it is safe to do so. Where no such lanes are marked drivers must only overtake on the right hand side of the other vehicle unless the other vehicle is stationary turning to the right or signalling an intention to do so. Whilst overtaking you must not cross over any continuous (unbroken) centre line, continuous double lines or where the double centreline nearest to you is unbroken.

Many rural two lane highways feature an occasional third lane for safe overtaking. A yellow diamond sign will indicate with black arrows which direction has priority for overtaking in the middle lane. The single opposing lane may also use the middle lane for overtaking, as long as both oncoming lanes are clear and the centre line closest to the opposing lane is broken.

In mountainous areas of Tasmania, there are occasionally bays to the side of the road which are to be pulled into by the slower vehicle to allow traffic to pass.

On mountain roads and other roads where overtaking opportunities are rare, it is generally appreciated if you pull over to allow faster traffic to pass.

Parking

Parking in major cities can be difficult and expensive, especially in the CBD and around tourist areas, such as beaches. Even smaller towns may have parking hassles on popular market days and for events.

Commercial parking lot charges are common in capital cities centres, and operate on an hourly basis on weekdays, and often charging a flat fee on weekends or evenings. These can be very expensive in the CBD area.

Cities often have council operated on-street parking that involves a fee payable. There is either a meter that corresponds to the spot in which you have parked, or a ticket machine to buy a ticket from. These spots will have a sign indicating the maximum amount of time you can park there (paying the appropriate fee), and at what times the fee operates. Feeding meters (staying longer than the posted time by returning to the meter or ticket machine, and inserting more money or buying another ticket) is illegal and will result in the same fine as not paying the fee.

Parking is policed sporadically, with some areas regularly patrolled and others rarely, but you are never entirely safe parking illegally. Fines are of the order of $100.

Areas signposted as clearways, prohibit parking during peak times. Parked cars will be often be towed, adding a $100 recovery charge, and considerable hassle.

Areas marked as no stopping, no standing, bus zones or taxi zones are illegal to stop in, even to pick up and drop off. Areas marked as no parking zones are those in which you may pick up and drop off, but you can't leave your car.

If you are willing to park a few blocks away and walk, it is often possible to find free on-street parking in residential areas near some attractions.

Major capitals usually have good public transport within the CBD itself, and this is an alternative to driving between CBD locations once parked.

Tolls

Some motorways, bridges, and tunnels in major cities require payment of tolls. On some roads, a cash payment can be made at tollbooths on the road, however increasingly there is a trend to electronic collection of tolls via transponders fitted inside vehicles. Some toll roads do not allow for cash payment at all. If you drive on such a road without a transponder, a photo is taken of your vehicle's number plate, and you have a limited time (between 24 and 72 hours, depending upon the road) to phone a number or visit a website and arrange credit card payment (plus an additional processing fee) before a fine is issued. Toll roads are clearly signposted and opportunities to exit are clearly delineated before reaching the first tolling point.

Avoiding toll roads may save you a few dollars, but you may pay in extra travel time, fuel cost, and navigation difficulties, particularly during peak travel times. If hiring a car, ask the agency for advice on toll roads. A single transponder can be used on any toll road in Australia, regardless of which company issued the transponder and which company operates the toll road you wish to travel on. There is no extra charge for travelling on another company's toll road.

Notably, Western Australia is completely devoid of toll roads.

Roundabouts

If you encounter a roundabout and are from a country that doesn't have many of them, like the United States of America, here's a quick guide:

Give way. Give way to vehicles already on the roundabout: enter the intersection only when there is no risk of collision with a car on the roundabout coming from your right. On most roundabouts, this effectively means that you give way to cars coming from your right, cars coming from the opposite direction and turning right, and cars on your left going all the way around the roundabout.

Indicate. When two roads cross at a small roundabout, indicate left to go left, right to go right, and do not indicate if going straight. On a larger roundabout with more exits, don't indicate left until you are taking the next exit.

Select your lane. On multiple lane roundabouts arrows will usually be on the road indicating which lane you should choose to go which direction. Otherwise, just take the left lane to go left, right lane to go right, and either lane to go straight. Bicycles may stay in the left lane and go right, but if they choose to do this, they must give way to vehicles in the right lane exiting.

Rural driving

Outside of major cities and the main freeway between Sydney and Melbourne, Australian highways are mainly two-lane undivided sealed asphalt roads. While less than 15% of Australia's population lives in regional and rural areas, about 60% of fatal accidents occur on these roads because the speeds are freeway-like (speed limits vary between 100km/h and 130km/h) but the conditions are more dangerous than freeways because there is no barrier or division from oncoming traffic.

Some rural highways have regular overtaking lanes but on others you will need to pass slower traffic by pulling into the lane on the opposite side of the road, the one used by the oncoming traffic. Obviously, this should be done when there is no oncoming traffic present or approaching. It should only attempted when you have plenty of visibility, and it should be done as quickly as possible. Do not ever overtake by pulling off the road to the left as Australian drivers won't anticipate this even if the shoulder is paved - it is also illegal.

Some less major rural roads and outback roads are unsealed gravel roads. These are harder to drive on at high speeds and you will have to contend with the odd stone being thrown up. Windscreen damage is not unusual. Some rental car companies do not allow their cars to be taken off sealed roads, even if the unsealed road is an official minor road, others increase the excess or won't cover stone damage. Many gravel roads in the south are in good condition and experienced drivers tend to drive on them as fast as they would on the sealed roads. When on gravel it is essential to slow down well before a corner or you risk skidding as you turn. Loose or drifting gravel also poses a hazard as your tyres may lose traction as the gravel rolls or shifts under the tyres. If you feel you are losing control on gravel, slow down and try to avoid braking or turning sharply. Use your gears to slow down when you can. Roads in the northern tropics are often sandy, rocky or corrugated.

When you are driving on Australia's open roads you may see dead animals on the side of the road. The fact is, quickly swerving or braking heavily could cause a much more serious accident. Sundown and sunrise are times to be on the alert through the Australian bush, as well as regions where you will encounter water sources like rivers and reservoirs, or the plains surrounding mountain ranges.

If you come across multiple tyre marks on the road, this could suggest that animals regularly use this part of the road as a crossing, so just be a little more aware, and also, using the high beam head lights at night, will make it harder for an animal to find an appropriate escape route, so practice flicking them off for animals as well as for on coming traffic.

Slow down when approaching cattle grids as these may be bent, broken or deeply potholed on the approaches. Severe tyre damage or a broken spring can result from speeding over these grids. Leave gates shut or open as you have found them.

Do not enter creek or gully crossings without first checking for depth, dips and holes and finding the shallowest path. Water crossings in northern Australia (Far North Qld, Kimberley, Top End) are often inhabited by crocodiles so it is not advisable to walk these rivers. Vehicles are washed away more easily than most people realise.

Mobile (cell) phone coverage will probably be highly intermittent even on relatively major highways unless you are near a population centre. Check the coverage of the network you are using. If you can budget for it, a mobile phone car kit with an external antenna can increase your range. Again, consult the coverage charts to see where an external antenna may help. You can check the Telstra Mobile coverage maps for the roads you are travelling in advance.

Once away from the major centres you won't have broadcast radio. A collection of CDs is useful if you are used to music while you drive.

Some mountain and tableland areas of NSW and Victoria are noted for having very frosty nights that may cause diesel to solidify in vehicles causing the engine to stop or run abnormally. Usually vehicles will run normally without intervention, when the morning warms.

Fuel

Outside of major centres, do not assume that fuel will be available late at night, in the early morning, or in some cases even on a Sunday. Even on some major regional roads, roadhouses may be closed late at night. If you are planning a long drive overnight, make sure you know where and when you are going to get fuel.

Speed limits

Maximum speeds vary between states and are normally signposted.

The default open road speed limit varies between states in Australia. Those default limits should always be observed in rural and regional areas where there is no signposted speed limit shown and the area has no street lights and is away from town ships or built up areas. It is generally best to assume that the default limit is 100km/h unless you are sure a higher limit is applicable.

When travelling on un-paved or gravel roads the posted limit may not be appropriate to the prevailing conditions. You should never presume the road is safe to travel at the posted speed limit, the actual safe speeds of travel on unsealed roads may vary tremendously within a short space of both time and distance due to current weather and/or road conditions. For this reason many gravel and dirt roads in Australia do not have speed limit signs posted lest they should mislead road users into believing that the posted speed is either achievable or safe. As an example of this, in Tasmania they do not normally install advisory speed signs on unsealed roads where travel speeds greater than 35 km/h can be achieved.

In the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland the default speed limit on an open road is 100km/h. In New South Wales the posted speed limit is normally 110km/h on motorways (freeways/tollways) in non-built up areas, high quality rural (divided) roads and (undivided) rural roads with low traffic volume in the western part of the state, other parts of the state are a default maximum speed of 100km/h unless indicated otherwise. In South Australia the default speed limit is 100km/h, though many major rural roads and state highways are posted at 110km/h. In the Northern Territory the default speed limit is 110km/h, with speed limits of up to 130km/h on major highways away from urban areas. In Western Australia the default speed limit for open areas is 110 km/h with a limit for freeways of 100 km/h unless zoned otherwise.

Road markings

The dividing markings on the road indicate if overtaking is legal. A broken dividing line indicates that you may move to the other side if the road to overtake if it is clear. A solid or double solid dividing line indicates that no overtaking is allowed and you may only move over to the other side to avoid an obstruction. A broken line next to a solid line means that you may move to the other side of the road to overtake if you are driving on the side of the broken line but not if you're driving on the side of the solid line.

A centre road marking appears to same as a lane dividing marking. It can be sometimes impossible to tell if you are on a two lane one-way road, or a two way road, just by looking at the current section of road, as the line markings are the same. This can be a hazard when divided roads change to single carriageway roads, and you have to remember what type of road you are currently on. If unsure, just stay left.

Distances can be a problem for the unprepared

 
Be wary of your fuel

Australia is a very big country, and while driving is a fun and interesting way to get around, you have to remember that it is a long long way to get from point A to point B. Taking the capital cities as an example, it is easy to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide in a day (8 hr), or Canberra to Sydney (3 hr) but driving from Melbourne to Sydney is a good 10 hrs solid driving. If you want to drive to Perth from Melbourne, you must use the Eyre Highway and cross the Nullarbor Plain, which means driving for approximately 3,500 km, including 2,000 km on a virtually dead straight, totally flat road with only a few roadhouses, each a hundred kilometres apart. You will have to spend at least one night on the road, so book in advance. The general advice is to have a rest every two hours 'Stop, Revive, Survive'. Always expect the unexpected and drive to the conditions. You should also be wary of your fuel supplies and always allow a generous reserve for unexpected contingencies. A good rule of thumb is to carry sufficient fuel to be able to turn around and return to the place you were last able to secure adequate provisions. Distances between fuel supplies can be extreme, even on main roads and conditions can change without warning. Check that you have a map indicating fuel outlets, petrol stations (gas stations) and local fuel depots providing either petrol or diesel fuel. Outback communities do not always have fuel supplies or they may be limited. LPG (liquid petroleum gas) may be un-available in some areas and in remote areas it is very unlikely to be found.

There is little traffic on back roads, but what there is will consist of a fair proportion of road trains (semi-trailers towing up to three trailers). They will not necessarily be able to quickly reduce their speed, as their effective stopping distance is often far too great. Do not expect a road train to be able to take rapid evasive action to avoid your vehicle, even if you have a technical right of way never pull out in front of a heavy vehicle, slow down rapidly or stop without ensuring you have left a clear path for the larger and much heavier vehicle to proceed unhindered.

In years past Australian motorists travelling on outback and isolated roads had a tradition of stopping or slowing to enquire as to another motorists welfare or assist if they were in difficulties. This sort of behaviour is declining and motorists now tend to travel at much greater speeds and with much lesser regard for the plight of others. You should always ensure you have adequate skills, resources and knowledge to deal with the prevailing situation on your own. If you do experience difficulties stay with your vehicle, do not wander off or set off cross country to summon assistance.

As an example, here are the distances from one state capital to another:

Driving distance
Cities Route Distance
SydneyMelbourne Hume Highway (National Highway 31) through Albury-Wodonga 860 km
  Princes Highway (National Highway 1) through Batemans Bay 1,043 km
SydneyBrisbane Pacific Highway (National Highway 1) through Coffs Harbour 964 km
  New England Highway (National Highway 15) through Tamworth and Armidale 1,018 km
SydneyAdelaide Hume and Sturt Highways (National Highways 31 and 20) through Wagga Wagga and Mildura 1,410 km
  Mitchell and Barrier Highways (National Highway 32) through Dubbo and Broken Hill 1,659 km
MelbourneBrisbane Newell Highway (National Highways 31, 39, 42 and 15) through Dubbo 1,681 km
MelbourneAdelaide Western and Dukes Highways (National Highways 8 and 1) through Horsham, Victoria 724 km
  Princes Highway (National Highway 1) through Mt Gambier 912 km
BrisbaneAdelaide Newell, Oxley and Mitchell Highways (National Highways 15, 42, 39, 34 and 32) through Moree and Broken Hill 2,031 km
  Stuart Highway (National Highways 87 and 1) through Alice Springs 3,019 km
AdelaidePerth Eyre and Great Eastern Highways (National Highways 1 and 94) through Ceduna and Norseman 2,695 km
PerthDarwin Brand, North-West Coastal, Great Northern, Victoria and Stuart Highways (National Highway 1) through Roebourne and Katherine 4,166 km
SydneyPerth Hume, Sturt, Eyre and Great Eastern Highways (National Highways 31, 20, 1 and 94) through Wagga Wagga, Mildura, Port Augusta, Ceduna and Norseman 3,942 km

Animals

Australia is the land of kangaroos, emus, wombats, feral camels, horses, rabbits and cattle. Sometimes these animals wander onto roadways. Kangaroos in particular will leap across roadways directly in front of vehicles, and are more likely to hop along the roadway than hop off it. Emus also run across roads and have no sense of how to get out of the way of a car. Off the main highways many roads run adjacent to farms that are unfenced, and stock on the road are common. Many animals caught in headlights come to a complete halt, but a short blast on the car horn may help startle them into moving off the road. Briefly switching off your headlights may also encourage them to move on. Most animal collisions occur at dusk, at dawn, or at night when some animals are more active less visible.

Drive carefully when you spot these big animals and be ready to use your brakes. Swerving to avoid an animal can also lead to fatalities, so if the choice is between hitting the animal or potentially losing control of the vehicle, hit the animal.

Most car hire firms impose a curfew on driving after sunset in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Often a collision with an animal has a higher excess (deductible) than other collisions. Away from cities and main highways try to be at your destination before nightfall. If forced to travel at night, keep your speed down.

Many vehicles in the bush have "bull bars", a rigid steel or aluminium frame, fitted in front of the radiator. These are to protect passengers and the vehicle in the event of a collision with an animal. If you do hit a native animal, stop if it is safe to do so. There are trained wildlife rescue groups in each state who care for injured and orphaned animals. If such an incident occurs endeavour to remove any dead or injured animal from the road if it is safe to do so and within your physical capabilities.

  • NSW wildlife rescue, toll-free: 1300 094 737. WIRES
  • Victorian wildlife rescue, toll-free: 1300 094 535.

Outback driving

 
Road signs at Tilpa, NSW

If you are driving in the outback, be prepared for anything. Some roads have little traffic, so there may be a substantial amount of time before anyone will pass should you break down. There are few towns and petrol stations etc, so motorists need to make sure that they carry adequate and surplus amounts of food, water and fuel. The interior of Australia is a true desert, so if your vehicle has no air conditioning, you could suffer from common day time temperatures of 45°C (113°F) and past 50°C (122°F) on really hot days. Night time temperatures can drop to freezing. Even if you are travelling on well travelled outback roads, a small diversion of the main road to see an attraction may see traffic volumes reduce significantly.

Depending upon the estimated time of travel and the remoteness of the roads, it is wise to take at least 10 litres of drinking water per person per day of travel, and an additional 3-5 days of extra drinking water per person, in case of breakdown. Do not have all of your water in one container at any time. Shade material and very thick warm blankets are also important survival tools. A box of matches or cigarette lighter should always be carried when intending to travel into isolated areas. A fire can provide warmth and can be very helpful in attracting attention if lost or stranded.

Do not expect your mobile (cell) phone to work if you are in the outback. Large areas of the country do not have service. If you really go to the back of beyond hire a satellite phone, or a PLB (distress radiobeacon.)

Outback roads vary in quality and type. A freshly graded and wide gravel road can make for relatively easy driving. The same road several months later with rutting, corrugations and washed out creek crossings can be a nightmare for a 2-wheel-drive vehicle. The road reports will usually mention where there is rutting, corrugation, and washouts. Rutting is where the wheels of vehicles have worn away the road surface, meaning than low clearance vehicles can hit the bottom of the cars on the central raised section of the road. Corrugation is common on gravel roads that aren't freshly graded. Washouts occur when creek crossings see water flows since the road was last graded. The road surface is replaced by pebbles, sand and is uneven for the duration of the creek bed. Some outback roads are gravel and graded regularly. Others are unimproved dirt roads, where just a grader has been through, and the road base can be sand. It can be very difficult to tell the difference just by looking at a map. Some roads require a heavy duty 4wd (four-wheel-drive) vehicle for safe passage. One that is especially prepared for the trip with suitable equipment depending on the length, isolation, and roughness of the track. Advanced planning is required for such trips, you cannot just hire a passenger sedan and go. An SUV or soft road 4wd vehicle is not always suitable for roads marked as requiring a 4wd. Some outback road conditions may seriously damage anything other than a highly robust heavy duty vehicle to the extent it may become un-drivable, the occupants may then be exposed to some considerable inconvenience and risk.

Temperatures can be extremely hot during the day, and can drop drastically once night falls. Always go to the local police station when you are going off the sealed (paved) highway, and tell them where you are going and how long you expect to take. This will help them to look for you if you are stranded. Never ever leave your car when it breaks down in the middle of nowhere. In case of a long wait, it gives you shelter and it is a lot easier to spot a vehicle than a person walking in the bush. Also, a person uses about four times as much water when walking, and Australia is a dry country.

Beware of potholes and corrugations on gravel roads. Potholes are not always visible on sandy roads or those with a lot of bulldust. The road surface might seem quite even, but hidden potholes hit with sufficient speed can overturn a car. Corrugations are wavelike formations that form on a road surface when enough cars have been driven over it. At low speeds the car will be shaken to a degree that's almost unbearable. At higher speeds there is a risk of losing control of the vehicles steering and direction. In most cases, a speed of 50-60 km/h is a happy medium; not too slow and not too fast. Do not try to swerve around lizards or other small creatures as the car is likely to become very un-stable with a high chance of crashing.

Dust can also be a problem on unpaved roads, and heavy vehicles travelling at high speed often leave a trail of dust and small stones behind them, severely impairing visibility in vehicles behind them. As a precaution, do not tailgate. The significantly reduced visibility in dust storms caused by vehicles in front can have deadly consequences and any stones thrown up will become high speed projectiles.

Some two-way paved roads have only one lane paved, right down the middle. When approaching another car both of you are expected to move left off the bitumen onto the dirt at the side of the road, pass, and then move back onto the black. Be wary immediately after passing, as the other car will have stirred up a huge dust cloud which will lower visibility for several seconds.

Bulldust is a fine talcum powder-like dust that is very common on outback Australian tracks. Patches of bulldust look like smooth hard patches but in fact it usually is a fine covering of dust over a deep hole. Driving through bulldust at speed is very dangerous and must be avoided. It can cause damage if sucked into engines too, so in very dusty areas you should have a filter on your air intake and check it regularly.

Pay particular attention to the weather forecasts in outback areas and be prepared to stay put for a while if the weather sets in. Unsealed outback roads, especially, can be closed with little notice in the wet, isolating communities, at any time of year. Creek crossings are very common on outback roads, with dry creek beds. These creeks rise quickly after rain and can become impassable for several days. In the rain bulldust turns into a clay, which fills your wheel rims and can bring a two-wheel drive or a motorcycle to a grinding halt. Scraping out the bulldust and a bit of a push can sometimes get you on your way again, but it can be very tough going.

Respect road closures, even if the road or track appears traffic-able. The road may have been closed due to being damaged or impassable much further down the road. If you proceed you may end up having to turn back or become stranded at a remote location. Of course if you should experience difficulties then the chances of anyone passing by and rendering assistance are somewhat reduced if the road has been closed. Just find as comfortable a place as possible and wait for the conditions to improve and for the road to re-open, or seek an alternative route if available. Roads are sometimes closed to prevent them becoming seriously damaged by vehicles transiting them when the surface is too soft or slippery after rain. Do not cause damage to a road by continuing your journey and transiting a road or track when it is has been closed, especially if your vehicles wheels are leaving furrows or ruts. No one will be impressed that you made it through, rather you may attract the wrath and considerable disdain of other road users and possibly the local authorities for cutting up the road whilst it was too soft for traffic. Many roads and tracks in the outback are public thoroughfares passing over private property, parks, reserves or leasehold pastoral land, you may be asked to contribute to the costs of grading or repairing the road if you damage it due to reckless behaviour.

If you encounter a gate on a public road or thoroughfare in the outback it may have a sign on it (or nearby) advising of the roads entrance conditions and gate closure requirements. The Dingo Fence or Dog Fence is a notable example of such formal gating. This fence is one of the longest structures in the world and is the world's longest fence. It stretches 5,614 km (3,488 mi) from Jimbour on the Darling Downs near Dalby in Queensland through thousands of kilometres of inland Australia finally ending west of Eyre peninsula on cliffs of the Nullarbor Plain near Nundroo 160 kilometres west of Ceduna and 347 kilometres east of the South Australian-West Australian border. Any gate on this fence must be closed at all times other than when a vehicle is actually passing through the gate. Other gates range from very formal solid constructions down to humble bush gates using many different methods of closure. The rule with these gates is to always leave it as you found it. If it is open leave it open, if it is closed then you must close it again and ensure that it is done properly. Pay very careful attention when you first open the gate to ensure that you fully understand how to close it again. If you are travelling close behind another vehicle they may open the gate and then drive on, leaving you to close the gate. Pay careful attention to any such situation to ensure there is no confusion as to the status of the gate upon arrival (open or shut) and who is closing it, do not just drive off unless you can see the gate is being properly managed by others, traditionally the onus is upon the last one through to close the gate, however if you opened it you still have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that it is left as you found it including being correctly fastened. Heavy grazing stock losses or intrusion of feral animals may arise from incorrect gate management by travellers. In some cases penalties may be applied for not following correct procedures where closure is mandated.

Road trains

 
An Australian Road Train

Road trains are a special hazard on Australian roads. These leviathans can reach lengths of up to 55 m, with up to four trailers, so treat them with care and respect.

Oncoming road trains should be given all the space they need. On asphalt roads, you should slow down and drive partly on the road shoulder if possible.

A road train coming up behind you should often be allowed to pass as well. When they overtake you at high speeds, they would often create a "vortex" which sucks you towards them. Therefore, be alert and stay in control of the vehicle at all times. In many cases overtaking a road train is not a good idea. If you have to do it, be sure to choose a nice long stretch of straight road where you can make sure that there's no oncoming traffic for about 2 km. On gravel roads there's only one piece of advice: don't.

When behind a truck on a long stretch of road, many truck drivers will indicate to you that there is no traffic ahead and therefore safe to overtake by flicking the right indicator light on once or twice. Treat this signal with caution as sometimes there is not enough space between you and the next oncoming car. Use your common sense. If you are equipped with a CB radio, you may be able to talk to the truckie and confirm the condition of the road ahead for safe overtaking.

Staying awake

Once you are outside the metropolitan areas, traffic tends to thin out and driving becomes relatively boring. The long straight stretches, the slowly changing scenery, and the fine weather on many through routes can be a recipe for drowsiness. Make sure you stop every couple of hours and, if possible, change drivers. On some routes local service clubs provide coffee and there are bill boards with road safety advice. These are there for a reason. People die on those routes from drivers falling asleep.

When you arrive in Australia allow for "jet lag". Do not leave your car heater or air-conditioner switched to "recycle" as this can make you drowsy and watch for other signs of fatigue (blurred vision, yawning). On summer evenings, you can usually leave the windows open, for the fresh air and smell of the bush.

Wet season

In the north of Australia, the period from November (sometimes even October) to March is considered the Wet Season. Many remote communities (and even some major towns on the Queensland coast) are completely isolated during the Wet, unless they have a landing strip for light aircraft. Rivers that are dry at other times of the year can overflow their banks due to extremely high rainfall.

Sometimes, bridges are washed out, or dirt roads are turned into muddy quagmires. Water levels can rise quickly from nothing to flooding. Notably, the Bruce Highway, which is the main road from Brisbane up through the Queensland coast to Cairns, is notorious for being cut for days at a time in many areas, mostly near Innisfail and Tully, which are both just south of Cairns.

Travellers intending to drive around the North should contact local authorities beforehand as they will know the most about local conditions. They will also be the poor sods called out to rescue you if you get stuck, so be polite. In Queensland, it is possible to go from Cairns to Cooktown via Mareeba or Mossman using an inland route, which is fully sealed and suitable for normal cars. If you intend to take the coastal route (starting just north of Cape Tribulation), you can't do it whenever it is raining, unless you have a serious four-wheel drive, preferably equipped with a snorkel.

If travelling around the north on unsealed (unpaved) roads, a powerful four-wheel drive vehicle is a must. Being bogged in the middle of the Outback can be fatal if one is not properly prepared.

 

(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)

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