Australia is one of those places you never have to leave. It is full of everything you could possibly need: beaches, ski mountains, big international cities, rainforests, and deserts. It’s also a well-traveled country, which means there is a lot of information available. When I was researching our travels I was overwhelmed by the number of forums, blogs and tourism websites that told me all that I could see and do and how to get there to do it.
I generally try not to over-plan or research too much when I set off on a trip because I don’t want to have a set itinerary in mind. I want to have room for last-minute changes or impromptu excursions and I want to be surprised by what I see. The problem with this method, I found, is that I missed out on some key information that would have been helpful on our journey.
If you’re going to travel through the outback, you need a 4WD. We only rented a 2WD campervan, and due to the high insurance excess, we were not willing to take the chance of taking it “off-road”. Because of this, there were loads of little waterfalls, swimming areas and aboriginal art sites that we missed out on. When we come back, we’re coming back with a Toyota Landcruiser.
If you want to have cell phone service in the outback, go with Telstra. They seemed to be the only service provider actually providing anything out there. Due to the fact that we were not traveling off-road, we were never far from the next town, but if you are going to travel through Australia’s backcountry, I think it’s vital you have some way to communicate with the outside world. While in Australia, don’t miss out on the chance to visit Central Queensland’s Gemfields. Great fun and you’ll learn all about sapphire mining and more…
If you want a good hostel or place to stay between November and February, book at least a week in advance. That might sound easy, but when you get caught up in the thrill of travel, pre-booking can soon slip your mind. In addition, we started the trip in October and at that time had no problem booking the day before or even the day of for our accommodation. We soon realized that in November, this is not the case. If you don’t want to stay in a town’s most expensive hostel in that hostel’s most expensive room, call in advance.
It’s gigantic. Yes, I knew it was the 6th largest country, but you cannot possibly understand how big this country is, and how far apart everything is until you sit on a Greyhound for 11 hours. I didn’t do enough research. I didn’t take travel days into account when planning our stops and because of this, and our time constraints, we didn’t spend as much time in our last few stops as we would have liked. See also this post about fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities in Australia.
We knew we weren’t going to be able to see it all. Like every country we visit, we have grand plans to return, to give it a second chance and see those places that we missed. Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. I would have loved to know those things listed above, but we still had an amazing time traveling Australia and we still saw some of the most breathtaking natural beauty. I hope these tips help make your journey through Australia even better than our own.
On the Road
It wasn’t exactly like Kerouac’s wild adventure, but the two weeks we spent driving from Darwin to Cairns was a truly unique experience. We met some of the most outrageous characters, saw some of the most extreme landscapes, visited beautiful Keppel Island, and drove on a road that carried us over 2,500 miles (~4000km).
We picked up our campervan in Darwin and after spending far too long trying to sort it out (I don’t recommend using Travel Wheels), we headed to Kakadu National Park. We jumped with crocodiles, saw aboriginal art that has been dated as far back as 50,000 years ago and stood in awe of the natural landscape. These first few days were just the start of our understanding of the beauty this country has to offer.
Our next stop was Katherine where we swam in hot springs and freshwater gorges (careful of the crocodiles!). We hung out with wallabies while we cooked and watched the sunset behind rock formations. It was our last stop in the region and our last peek at civilization for quite some time. And if you have the chance, go check out the Great Barrier Reef while it still is amazingly beautiful which won’t be the case so much longer with all the pollution and climate change going on.
All that lay ahead was straight black tarmac with red dirt cresting the sides; Spinifex covered every other piece of visible land. We tried to pass the time with a few CD’s we bought along the way, but they were soon over-played and there were thousands of kilometers still looming. We talked about the landscape and waved to the odd car that drove past. We discovered that the engine in a van is under the front seats (in case you ever need to check your oil) and that every gas station in the outback doubles as a caravan park. We felt what 107 degrees F (42 C) feels like at 100% humidity and what that humidity leaves you with at night.
When we finally emerged from the red center and crested over the hill into Townsville and the coastline, we were glad to be out of the heat, out of the humidity, but we missed the Northern Territory wave. We missed the interesting Australians that we encountered. We felt a connection with the land there, something that we felt again later on when we returned to the Northern Territory. The people here are simple but honest. This semi-arid zone is full of life. Along our way. we spotted Emus with chicks, kangaroos, and cows by the dozen. We saw Kites and Vultures and Eagles circling us as we traveled. There’s something about the outback that makes you want to stay even though part of you kind of wants to leave.