We spent two weeks in the cramped quarters of our campervan learning the dos and don’ts as the days passed. It would have been advantageous to learn from those who had gone before us and we may have been able to avoid a $250 speeding ticket and a few other mishaps. If this post helps just one other traveler who is looking to take a road trip in OZ, then my mission has been accomplished!
I hate to say it, but receiving a $50 fee from our campervan company and a $197 ticket in the mail from the Australian government has left a bad taste in my mouth when I ponder our trip to Australia. You may be thinking to yourself, “Well you deserve a ticket if you were speeding.” Maybe so. But first let me plead my case. After a few fender benders in my home country, only one of which I was at fault I might add, I have become a very cautious driver. That being said, I most likely drove UNDER the speed limit for most of my stay in Australia. Therefore, going over the speed limit in OZ was certainly unintentional.
Everything is Opposite
Driving in another country where everything is the opposite of what you are used to at home is highly stressful and definitely takes some acclimation. First of all, I’m 99% sure you will flip on your windshield wipers EVERY time you want to turn on your blinker! Imagine already feeling frazzled and anxious about which side of the road you are on when you are making a turn, then to make matters worse, your wipers jump in your face and cause you more confusion. The steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car as well. I can’t tell you how many times we would get in on the wrong side of the car to drive.
After you have successfully made the turn, or unsuccessfully in some instances, you may be driving along feeling confident that you have gotten the hang of things. Just as you start to relax a little, your GPS informs you of an upcoming roundabout. “Take the second left,” the computer says. I’m not used to roundabouts at home, but they have them everywhere in Australia. Sometimes ten in a row! We follow the advice of the GPS and it gives us the wrong exit number. There is not much you can do about this except just be aware that the GPS will not always tell you the correct exit number on roundabouts. If you know you are supposed to be going straight and the GPS tells you otherwise, I say go with your gut, unless you have a faulty inner sense of direction.
Next thing to look out for are the dreaded toll roads. It’s not like the U.S. where you stop and pay your toll in cash. Actually, a lot of times you may not even know you are passing through a toll road unless you see the sign. If you miss the sign and don’t go to their website within 48 hours, you will be fined for the toll plus penalties.
My advice on how to avoid toll charges and headaches during your vacation is to go to all the websites of the toll roads that you will possibly be passing through before you leave and sign up with your credit card information ahead of time. That way you don’t have to scramble to get internet within 48 hours, which may be either a nuisance or difficult to find. Your car rental company should give you the web addresses.
Rapidly Changing Speed Limits
Now in addition to all these things to think about while driving on the opposite side of the road, you also need to be paying very close attention to changing speed limit signs. Don’t for once let your guard down! I don’t understand the reason the speed limits in Australia need to change five times within a few kilometers, but they do. I believe it’s to bring revenue and to be tricky, however, I may have a biased opinion. While the speed limit is changing rapidly and even your GPS is confused, that is when they snap a pic of you with their speed cameras. “Ha! Gotcha!” And a month or two later you get your ticket in the mail. Well played Australia.
Sleeping without Getting Bit
There are a few other pieces of information besides driving rules that will make your road trip more comfortable. Since you will be sleeping in your van and the windows don’t have screens, you may want to bring a mosquito net or two. You can use this to either surround yourself while you are sleeping or put them up against the windows and moonroof. Our first night of campervan sleeping did not come without quite a few unwanted mosquitoes. The next day we went on a hunt for mosquito netting. We were not successful in finding the netting so we improvised with packing tape and a pack of thin dish rags. We must have resembled trailer trash as we assembled our makeshift mosquito netting each night.
Groceries & Beer
You can easily spend an arm and a leg buying groceries in Australia. Our first grocery store experience was at a small store, since it was the only thing around for miles, and we spent $50 on barely anything. Eventually we found stores like Coles and BI-LO were the least expensive. If you punch these names into your GPS you can track down the closest store. When it comes to buying beer, expect to pay at least $25 for a 12 pack no matter where you go. Thanks to a couple of Aussies we encountered, we finally understood why beer, alcohol and cigarette prices are astronomical in this country. Since they have socialized medicine, the government jacks up the taxes on the items that have a high risk of causing people to get sick and in turn end up at the doctor or hospital. It makes a great deal of sense when you think about it this way.
Cheap Places to Camp
Finding a spot to camp for the night was not always easy for us. We were visiting during Easter break so many caravan parks were booked or we were forced to pay exorbitant holiday prices. Before we left for Australia we searched for a book or website that would give the names and locations of places that you can stay for free or extremely cheap. This information was almost impossible to find and even our car rental company did not have any advice for us.
We did find a book store that carried a book of National Parks only to find they were sold out of them at the moment. Since we stayed along the coast for most of our trip, we payed anywhere between $25-$50 per night because we did not stay at any National Parks. You can get away a lot cheaper by knowing where the parks are before you go.
Here is a list of National Parks in Australia.
Choosing a Campervan Company
We spent hours of research before our trip comparing car rental companies. Before we began our search we really had no idea what a campervan entailed and what to look for while making our decision. Price was a definite factor in our decision since we found some rental companies to be a great deal more expensive than others. Choosing a campervan versus taking the bus seemed logical to us since we enjoy the outdoors, camping and the ease of being on our own schedule.
A few of the companies we researched include:
Our decision came down to the best price, reviews, and availability during Easter break. Make sure you compare prices WITH insurance. Some companies base prices are lower and their insurance is higher and vise versa. I would recommend getting full coverage insurance for peace of mind.
Looking for a Surfboard?
Figuring out the best way to surf in Australia for our two-week stay was another big issue. We considered bringing our own boards but after we figured in all the airline fees for surfboards and how easily our precious boards could get dinged, we decided against it. It wasn’t logical for us since we were continuing on to South East Asia after our stop in Australia. After a little trial and error, we found the best way to go about buying and selling boards while you are on your trip is to find a pawn shop. You can buy decent boards for inexpensive and this is also one of the easiest places to sell your board before you leave. The pawn shop in Byron Bay in NSW keeps a good stock of surfboards on hand.
If you cannot find a pawn shop, then some surf shops will have used boards that you can purchase. They are not always the best prices and we found the surf shops were not allowed to buy them back. They can put them on consignment for you as a last resort. The pawn shop seemed like a better option for us since we got cash in hand before we left.
There are definitely a lot of things to consider while planing your road trip. Even though we encountered a few mishaps and planned our trip during an extremely busy holiday, we still had an amazing time and I would definitely recommend visiting this country at least once. Plan as much as you can and let the road decide the rest!