your adventure of a lifetime easy and enjoyable with some forward
long service leave has been granted, the English relatives are
coming to house-sit your suburban castle, the kids are all set to
take six months off school and the Australian map on the toilet wall
has been poured over.
open road awaits you...
comes the crucial decision about where to go, what to see, when to go
where and how to fit it all in on your long-planned around-Australia
even, whether you should go at all, or is it a mad hare-brained,
half-baked dream that you never really thought you would fulfil?
advice would be, don’t let anyone or anything put you off now. While
there are still some big decisions to be made – like what sort of
vehicle is needed and whether to camp or take a caravan – there is no
reason that a family, couple or single person can’t head off for a trip
around Australia and easily, simply and relatively cheaply have a
are the days when to tackle an Outback odyssey you had to be able to dismantle a
diesel engine, ford raging rivers, endure rutted dirt roads for hours and risk
life and limb battling crocodiles, snakes and rampaging emus.
bitumen now stretches right around Australia, ringing its coast and linking the
south to the north in the middle between Port August (SA), Alice Springs and
Darwin as well. Most of Australia’s Outback icons – like Uluru, Kakadu,
Monkey Mia, Ningaloo Reef and the Stockman’s Hall of Fame – can all be
reached by sealed roads and highways.
take some of the dusty road mystique away from the Outback dream, but it also
makes travelling a lot easier – for vehicle and passengers alike. It also
means that a conventional family car is perfectly able to be taken around
Australia, without compromising on all but the most remote tourist attractions,
as long as all the travelling and camping gear can be fitted in as well.
availability is another change from a decade or two ago, when any vehicles
attempting the round-Australia journey had to be fitted with long-range fuel
tanks and carry jerry cans of fuel. Nowadays, the main sealed Outback highways
all have roadhouses dotted at least every 200 or 300 kilometres along them, and
all sell diesel, super and unleaded fuel, as well as – in all but the most
remote places – LPG too.
and tyre troubles are not as problematic as they used to be. Bush mechanics
ready to perform emergency repairs are usually found attached to most
roadhouses, flat tyres are easily fixed and even getting spare parts trucked or
flown in from the nearest city takes days rather than weeks.
if the practical considerations that used to cause so many anxieties – and put
all but the most hardy families off attempting a round-Australia trip – have
now been allayed, the next steps are to work out how long to take, where to go
and what to see.
much time do you need to go around Australia?
is a question that is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. It
would be easy to spend two or three years on the road travelling around
remote Australia marvelling at its wonders – and still not discover all
its hidden secrets.
most families do not have this option. The luckiest have a year to
traverse the nation – others just three months. My advice would be not
to try and do too much.
is no point in ending up driving hundreds of kilometres every day, just in
order to say you have circumnavigated the country, if you never have lazy
days to just stop and lie on the beach and smell the gum trees, if not the
||Lazy days on
the beach await (but it's a bit of a walk...)
if your time is limited to three months, maybe rule out exploring the Nullarbor
and West Australia for this trip. That leaves plenty of time for a leisurely
explore up the coast from say Sydney or Melbourne, heading north towards the
delights of the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns and the Whitsunday coastline, before
heading west to Alice Springs, along the Flinders and Barkly Highway through Mt
Isa and Tennant Creek, and maybe arching back south via Kings Canyon, Uluru,
Port Augusta and Broken Hill.
weeks can be spent wandering around Outback Queensland and the Channel Country
between Birdsville, Longreach and Cloncurry, or exploring the wild rivers and
beaches of the remote Gulf Country, including the barramundi fishing at
Burketown, the World Heritage 20 million-year-old fossils at Riversleigh and the
wonders of Lawn Hill National Park north of Mt Isa.
if the holiday is only a month long, try and confine the bulk of the trip to one
state. For example, a wonderful month can be spent in South Australia, exploring
first the gorges, wildflowers and wildlife of the Flinders Ranges, followed
perhaps by a wild trip north via Lake Eyre and the Oodnadatta track leading to
the oasis of Dalhousie Springs on the edge of the Simpson Desert, and a tour
back to civilisation via the wineries of the Clare Valley, the sandhills and
lakes of the Coorong, the sea lions and seals of Kangaroo Island and the surf
beaches around Robe and Beachport.
Northern Territory is another excellent one-stop destination for just a month or
two. With Darwin as a very pleasant base – especially when the outdoor Mindil
beach markets with their exotic Asian food stalls are in full swing every
Thursday and Sunday night – there are great day trips to enjoy to Howard
Springs and Berry Springs.
week can easily be whiled away exploring the Mary River region and Kakadu
National Park. Next it is on to Edith Falls, Katherine and Nitmiluk National
Park, where a canoe-camping trip up the gorge should not be missed.
forward planning, to allow time to apply for Aboriginal permits, is well
worthwhile to gain access to the beauties of the Coburg Peninsula and Gurig
National Park through ancient Aboriginal-owned Arnhem Land. Or further to the
west of Katherine is Victoria River country, the wilderness of Gregory National
Park and the spectacular rock art of Keep River National Park on the border with
WA and the Kimberley.
south of Katherine are the hot spring pools of Mataranka, the excellent
Aboriginal outstation of Manyallauk where local Jaowyn people lead bush tucker
walks and teach traditional bush crafts, Elsey Station of We
of the Never Never fame and the lovely Roper River and the rough bush road
leading to the outback town of Borroloola.
a full year off, or even six months, makes a meander around most of Australia an
exciting and leisurely prospect. With this time frame, it is feasible to include
the lovely corner of south-west WA with its magnificent beaches around Esperance
and Cape Le Grande National Park, the coastal parklands filled with kangaroo
paws like McKenzie River National Park, and the wildflowers and mountain walks
of the Stirling Ranges. Don’t miss the surf beaches between Denmark and
Margaret River, the wineries, the tall tree forests, or the Augusta limestone
of Perth is perhaps part of Australia’s least hectic yet most beautiful and
accessible coastlines, with highlights including the beaches and gorge walks of
Kalbarri, the Pinnacles inland, the mango trees of Carnarvon, the dolphins of
Monkey Mia and the superb snorkelling, diving, coral reefs and extraordinary
manta rays and whale sharks around Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth and Shark Bay.
a full year to travel, don’t neglect or forget that little island to the south
of Victoria. Too many mainland Australians haven’t been to Tasmania and often
show no yen to visit, yet it’s a marvellous place to spend at least three or
four weeks. Distances are small, the scenery diverse and different from Outback
and dryland Australia, while the mixture of scenic beauty, history, culture and
outdoor pursuits makes it a delightful place to visit for travellers of all
direction to travel and when
am often asked to recommend which way around-Australia adventurers should travel
in their circumnavigation of Australia. It’s a hard one to pick, since there
are definitely preferable seasons to be in different regions, but the pieces of
the seasonal jigsaw don’t always fit neatly together.
it is safe to say that the best plan is to spend May to September in the
tropical northern Australian regions such as the Red Centre, the Kimberley, the
Top End, Cape York, Far North Queensland and the Gulf Country.
swimming possibilities and enjoying the delights of Victoria,
Tasmania and coastal SA without being too cold and miserable, I
would recommend the warmer and dry summer months of December to
southern Queensland and south-west WA are more flexible in terms of sunny,
outdoor weather, and are lovely in almost any months but the chillier winter
months of June to August.
some specialised outdoor pursuits have more specific time frames – if you plan
skiing in the Victorian Alps or NSW Snowy Mountains, plan for late July, August
and early September for reliable snow, while the trout fishing season in NSW and
Victoria usually opens in the first weekend of October.
special bush events or seasonal calendars can help set an itinerary. For
example, the grape harvest in the Victorian wine regions is usually between
February and April, while the Mt Isa rodeo is the first weekend in August and
the Tamworth Country Music Festival always held in the last week of January.
Attending a local festivity, bush rodeo or country show or picnic races is a
great way to meet the locals and really get a feel for a place.
these reasons, I tend to advise Melburnians or Sydneysiders setting off for the
Big Trip in January with 12 months up their sleeve, to spend the first four
months gently_pottering through Victoria, NSW, Tasmania and southern South
Australia. This is a good time to visit southern Queensland highlights such as
Noosa, Fraser Island and the Gold Coast hinterland.
route gives everyone in the family time to get used to the new style of living
and the quiet, slower pace in less foreign surroundings than will be encountered
in the “real” Outback and tropics further north, as well as allowing time
for the vehicle, ubiquitous gadgets and new camping gear to be broken-in, in
regions where help, civilisation and replacements are never far away.
about April, head up the Sturt Highway from Port Augusta and the Flinders Ranges
(or via the more adventurous Oodnadatta track) to enjoy Alice Springs, Uluru and
the Red Centre, although remembering it can be cold overnight. Darwin and
Katherine are glorious in May and early June, with enough of the wet season
waters still lingering to cloak the wetlands in green and bring the wildlife out
in droves and flocks.
early June, double back east using the Barkly Highway from Tennant Creek,
through Mt Isa to Townsville. This is the best time of the year to enjoy the
Great Barrier Reef and far-north Queensland, and to head up to the tip of Cape
York at Bamaga. Don’t miss a ferry ride to Thursday Island in Torres Strait.
July, head west from Cairns on the Savannah way, exploring the Gulf Country and
the wild reaches of Karumba, Normanton, Burketown and Lawn Hill National Park,
before tackling the good gravel road linking Burketown to Borroloola, the
amazing Lost City Rock formations and the Roper River, then linking up to
Mataranka and Katherine.
is now time in August to tackle the magnificent Kimberley district with the
highlights being Kununurra, an adventure down the Gibb River Road, Geike Gorge,
the bright little pearl and tourist town of Broome and the wonderful Dampier
Peninsula and Cape Leveque to its north.
mid September, the heat is building in the Kimberley before the wet tropical
and it is time to slip south along the WA coast, gradually visiting the Pilbara,
Exmouth, Carnarvon, Kalbarri, Monkey Mia and the Pinnacles on the way.
and November is perfect in Perth and the south-west corner, while the Nullarbor
Plain crossing in early December awaits all those getting ready to turn back
east for their first swim in the pool or warm hot soaking bath for months before
celebrating a family Christmas and a perfect end to a perfect year away!
tastes, time scales and interests vary so much, it is hard to make
many blanket recommendations about the best places to go and things
to do on any trip around Australia.
there are a few un-missable places that must be glimpsed and crossed
off every Australian traveler list of must-dos. Most are pretty
predictable – and I would miss none of them – Uluru, Broome, the
Great Barrier Reef, the rainforests of far-north Queensland, Fraser
Island, the Flinders Ranges, Kangaroo Island, Kakadu and Purnululu
(the Bungle Bungles).
after those obvious ones, the range of places to go is as broad as
the country is vast.
guiding golden rules – only learned the hard way after years of
ignoring them in my youth – for getting the best out of any trip
and discovering places I might not even have heard of before I left
are always to:
out what national park are in any region before visiting as usually
a national park has been declared to protect a special place, a
particularly scenic location or rare bird, plant and animal species.
as many tourist brochures, guide and history books as possible in
advance as a bit of prior knowledge adds exponentially to the depth
and enjoyment of any subsequent experience.
to locals and fellow travelers whenever and wherever possible,
asking their advice about camping spots, fishing tips, favorite
places and so on.
that holidays really stand out from each other not so much for
places visited, but for people met and local experiences and events
enjoyed. So take the time to stop and have a yarn, and even to
back-track and return to a town already visited if it means being
able to attend some bizarre local ritual such as the Kajabbi yabby
races or the Brunette Downs Outback picnic races or the local
B&S ball held in a remote woolshed.
experiences are often much more memorable than glimpsing yet another
tumbling waterfall, pristine beach or gorgeous gorge. Don’t
neglect adding a touch of history, arts, Aboriginal culture and even
industry to your trip as it once again adds another dimension –
whether it is attending the extraordinary Laura Aboriginal dance
festival on Cape York, descending down an underground silver mine in
Mt Isa garbed in full miner’s rig, popping in to the wonderful,
and free, NT Art Gallery and Museum in Darwin, or taking a
historical walking tour around Fremantle.
though costs can seem sometimes to be mounting alarmingly, this
might be the only time you are in some of these places and your only
chance to really taste all the experiences. So, even if it seems
expensive, lash out with a flight over the Bungle Bungles, or a boat
trip out to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. The chances are that
you are living frugally camping and cooking for yourselves – and
anyone who is camping out for a year, especially with a family in
tow, deserves a treat and a splurge now and then.
To Consider Before You Leave
or upgrade your membership of your state’s motoring association
–the RACV, NRMA, RACQ etc – to the highest level of membership,
such as the RACV’s Total Care coverage. For $145 a year, this
category ensures that while you travel in remote Australia you will
not have to pay any towing costs if your car breaks down, regardless
of the distance towed, you will be guaranteed a replacement hire car
(a 4WD if that is what you drive) while your own vehicle is being
repaired, and the cost of an extra night or two of accommodation if
you have to stay longer than intended while repairs are completed. A
very worthwhile extra investment.
plan a trip itinerary day by day, nor arrange precise rendezvous
with friends in remote places days in advance. Better to try and
work out a rough schedule, planning week by week instead (for
example this week in the Pilbara, this two weeks in the Kimberley,
this month based around Darwin) leaving plenty of room for unplanned
changes, wonderful discoveries and eventful happenings.
is no ideal solution but think before leaving about the best way for
your needs and budget to stay in two-way contact with friends and
family. Mobile phones are great for populated areas and larger
Outback towns, but don’t work anywhere else. However, at least
that way friends can leave messages even when you are out of range,
and you can pick them up and call back via a public phone, found in
even the most remote roadhouses, hamlets and national parks. Having
a portable email address (eg Hotmail or Big Pond) is great because
you can send and receive messages when in most towns all for the
cost of a local call in an Internet cafe. Two-way Royal Flying
Doctor Service (RFDS) transmitters and radios for the car can still
be hired, but their expense and awkwardness really makes them only
suited to a short, two or three week trip in the extreme remote
Outback for emergency use. Likewise satellite phones, which give
coverage all over Australia are wonderful, but expensive to buy,
hire and make calls on.
bit of prior reading and extra knowledge, history and information
about the places being visited makes an enormous difference on a
trip around Australia, not just for learning but also for giving
ideas about what to do and where to stay. The Lonely Planet guides
are excellent for information about towns and more populated areas
and attractions along, for example, the Queensland coast, NSW and
Tasmania, but pretty sketchy on details once the bitumen is left.
For remote parts of Australia, it is hard to go past the Australian
Geographic book series, which includes individual books packed with
information, beautiful photographs and some of the best Outback maps
of Australia on regions such as Cape York, The Red Centre, the
Kimberley, the Nullarbor, Corner Country, the Blue Mountains, the
Great Barrier Reef, the Flinders Ranges and the Gulf Country (all
retail for $32.95 from Australian Geographic shops.)
a great believer that it is hard to have too many maps – I just
love good maps – on any journey. Before taking off on any trip
around Australia, visit your local Motoring Association, if you are
a member, as they dispense many free regional maps. So too do the
state tourist association shopfronts in most cities. A road atlas is
an excellent idea to give the “big picture” sense of where you
are heading, but usually lack enough detail for slow, day-to-day
travelling and exploring. But if you have children, it is great to
mark off your progress and snail-like route in a road atlas as you
go. Despite their expense, I have yet to find a 4WD touring book of
Australia that is of any practical use; they tend to be good and
incredibly detailed in some spots, appalling bad, sketchy and
downright wrong in other regions. For remote exploration of regions
such as the Tanami Desert, the Plenty Highway and Outback
Queensland, the independent Hema maps are excellent; once again
detailed Australian Geographic maps are unbeatable.
you leave, talk to as many friends or acquaintances as possible who
have made the round-Australia trip, or who make regular bush or
Outback expeditions as their annual holidays. Gather as many travel
tips from them as possible – highlights of their journey, what the
kids liked best, the most useful gadget they took with them,
unforgettable moments, best camping spots. On the road too, always
take the time and make the effort to talk to fellow travellers in
camp grounds, caravan parks and roadside stops – often that little
gem of passed-on experience or a local tip can turn what would have
been a good stay or visit into a truly memorable one.
one phrase: “Don’t even think about it.!” While I have
travelled with a dog when it was absolutely unavoidable (and I was
travelling by myself passing through some pretty remote country),
pets are really not a good idea. Domestic animals don’t mix with
Outback Australia. They will severely restrict your ability to visit
and stay in the most magnificent national parks of the Outback since
it is almost impossible to find a kennel or cattery in any of the
nearest towns, and pets are banned from national parks. More to the
point, they can be a danger to children and native animals, are
banned from most caravan parks, and often are not allowed on
beaches. Together with the long distances travelled and often
extremely hot weather, the most pertinent question of all must
finally be asked: “Is it fair to the pet?”
On The Road Magazine 2001. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is