Guide to driving in Australia



David Whitley looks at the differences between life on the road in Oz and the UK.

Turning an Australian holiday into an epic road trip, whether by campervan or car, makes a great deal of sense. There are plenty of logical routes that combine several mindblowing natural wonders, but don’t expect driving in Oz to be like a mundane dash up the M1. Here are a few things to expect.

Long, straight roads: The concept of distance in Australia is very different to what it is in the UK. Drives are measured in hours rather than kilometres, and most Aussies would consider a four hour drive to be water off a duck’s back rather than a massive expedition that needs careful preparation.

Most of these drives are along roads that are long, straight and often incredibly boring. They don’t require the constant alertness of a busy motorway, but be prepared to fight off the fatigue with rest stops and loud music.

Darkness dilemmas: Many of these long roads don’t have street lighting. But it’s not the lack of light that’s the issue at night – it’s what might leap out into the road. Kangaroos have absolutely terrible road sense, and are particularly active at dawn and dusk – so you need to keep a very careful eye out when driving in country areas for what might be about to emerge from the side of the road.



Petrol: Petrol in Australia is generally about two-thirds of the price you will pay in the UK, but the variation in price from place to place is significant. As a rule of thumb, the further you are away from a big city, the more expensive it’ll be. So fill up when near a relative big smoke rather than paying an absolute fortune at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere.

How fast? The speed limit, generally, is 110km/h. But in the Northern Territory, there are some exceptions to this, where you’re allowed to burn it at 130km/h at some stretches of four lane highway.

Passing the big boys: The teensy problem, however, can be that once you’re in the outback, there aren’t all that many stretches of four lane highway. And this can make passing the humungous road trains (basically, two or three lorries tied together) and every-present dawdling caravans very tricky to pass. You have to bide your time until you can be certain nothing’s coming the other way, then absolutely floor it, to get past.

Hit the dirt: Not all of Australia’s roads are paved, and the question of whether to tackle the ones that are not depends on whether you’ve got a 4WD vehicle and what weather conditions have been like recently. Some dirt tracks are just about manageable with a conventional vehicle if there hasn’t been much rain. Others can be a real struggle in a high spec 4WD in good conditions, and utterly impassable in bad. Always ask at visitor information centres/ roadhouses/ hotels near the start of the road what conditions are like – and make sure you’re suitably kitted up with radios, emergency supplies and the works for the most notorious long distance outback tracks.