How to survive and even enjoy a holiday in Australia.

You have two years time and your LandRover equipped in the most efficient way, You know exactly what to do through 20 years of Sahara experience? This is not for you then.

There are at least 300 travel books about Australia around. Most of them will contain enough information to pick the corner you want to see, help you to find a decent pub, an interesting National Park and more.

But few of them deal with 4WD trips, even less offer the perspective of persons with limited time and resources.

Facts to consider before even deciding on when and how to go:

  • Ship your own LandRover?

Australia is 17.000 kms to travel from Europe, 14.000 kms from California. If you consider shipping your beloved LandRover, be sure that you have plenty of time. If you stay less than a year or your car is not worth more than (US)$10000, leave it at home. Shipping costs are immense, a quarantine fee can apply and if it's not a right hand drive, don't even dream of leaving it in Australia.

  • What sort of Climate or Weather can I expect?

What you expect is climate, what you get is weather! Sandstorm approaching William Creek Airport

The average temperature in inland Australia in January is 40°C in the shade. That is, if you find any. February, late November and December aren't much better. In the tropics, it also rains more than a lot during the wet season, from October till March. Don't expect all roads to be passable then.

In spring, cyclones and sandstorms are quite common in the desert. Stay in your vehicle if you don't happen to be in the pub.

Winter can bring frosty nights in the desert. That means frozen water containers and the need to have a warming fire every night. You can expect cold nights in October or April, too. That won't happen in the tropics, though. Winter is just fine for Cape York. Far North Queensland only has two seasons: Hot and stinking hot.

  • Is there any dangerous or harmful wildlife?

Yes, there is. If you aren't up to that, go to New Zealand. If you don't like crocs, stay clear of the tropics. But if you stick to the rangers' advice in National Parks, and ask the locals which breed of snakes to be aware of, you'll be all right. Look twice where you walk, and wear boots when taking your spade. Spiders should be considered as dangerous, too - unless you are an expert.

  • Are there any dangerous diseases in Australia?

    In some patrs of the tropics, there is the danger of Ross river fever, a chronic disease like malaria. But there is no vaccination againt that, so you can't do anything like prevention. But only a few are infected, anyway. Malaria is extinct, and there are no other tropical dangers. Use your common sense

This is not the most dangerous life form you will encounter in Australia- but this species, the ordinary bushfly or pestilens supremum is certainly the most annoying one.

Len Beadell said your personal cloud of flies will give you some rare 40% shade, hard to find otherwise.

Flynets look stupid, see how pleased I am. But a flynet is better than spitting them out all the time or dragging them from your nostrils.

Get one large enough to cover your plate!

 

  • What are the cost of food, petrol/diesel and other basics?

Food in general is usually cheaper than in continental Europe and much cheaper than in Great Britain. Diesel is .95 to 1.10 AUS $ (that is .50-.60 € or US$) per litre. Petrol is a wee bit cheaper. An average trip to Australia will sum up to 10.000 kms, so calculate that in your travel expenses. Engine oil is 100$ per 25 litre drum, one should do. Camping is 10-15 $ in the outback and more on the coast.

So you picked a reasonable season in between. How do you obtain your means of transport now?

  • Renting or buying?

There are, of course, rental cars at $100-120 per day. Usually, they make you pay an insurance on top of that. Be aware, though, that many companies have restrictions on the tracks you may use, and they might not have the sturdy kind of car you are used to. Insist on a written contract defining the model exactly. If they can't offer at least a Heavy Duty Series Toyota, (HJ 45,47, 60 or 7x) look elsewhere. (We ordered a heavy duty Toyota and the only car waiting for us in Perth was that one below!) Rigid axles are a must. The car must be suitable to sleep in, too. See my warning below..

Track in the Harts Range, NT, two weeks after heavy rain.

Beware:The car above is a typical rental car from Boomerang-Reisen in Trier, Germany. It's a Toyota 80 model, to short to sleep in. The position of the spare wheel ruins your departure angle. The independent suspension turns washouts like this into a constant hazard, as your clearance is reduced to nil. The very soft powersteering makes it impossible to feel your way. There is no place to use a high-lift jack.

The engine of this car was worn-out and definitely lacking compression, the (wrong) fuel filter was almost blocked, according to Toyota. The brakes got terribly hot and that was no suprise by the looks of the disk. The jerry-cans and the roof were leaking, too. The spares lasted about 50 kms, they supplied no real jack and no spade. Their towing rope was an ordinary rope, not for vehicles, as the label stated. What is a winch for?

Their camping equipment may be quite suitable for a well-kept lawn on the east coast, but definitely not for the desert.

Don't rent a car from Dolphin Rentals, Perth or Skippy Camper rentals, Adelaide. The German rep is Boomerang, Trier. Yes, I asked my lawyer about that.

Personally, I can recommend buy-back-schemes. They allow you to pick your car, you are responsible for servicing the vehicle, but there are NO restrictions. Better still, you can equip it to your needs. I ended up buying one of these former buy back cars for good. There are many companies offering these schemes, lots of them near the major cities. Car Connection and Bike tours offer 4WD, Motorbikes and your choice of camping gear + tools except the sleeping bag.

If you want to come back to Australia (You will want to, trust me!) you might like to buy a car. Registration is easy, third party personal damage insurance is included in the fee. You can find a SIII 109 or an old HZ47 Toyota for $5000 to $8000 (Australian). 6-8 weeks of rent fees won't be less than that.

Gear you should pack

  • medical prescriptions
  • GPS
  • camera gear and tripod, tools to do emergency repairs on these.
  • plenty of film or video cassettes. No chance to buy a roll of 120 transparency film in Alice Springs.
  • a change of clothing, depending on the season. Suitable clothes are very good value in Australia, keep that in mind.
  • Spare glasses, binoculars.
  • a set of sockets + ratchet, open-ended spanners, combination and electrical pliers and a good wire cutter. Take a glowplug or a sparkplug socket, too. The excellent SIDCHROME tools aren't made anymore. A Philips screwdriver size 1 and 2, general-purpose file and a filter removal tool can be bought in Australia, if you don't want to carry them.

Gear you'd better leave at home.

  • Any food, animal or plant products. If you bring any of these, it goes in the big bin in the airport. It's illegal, too. Do you really want any trouble for smuggling a sausage? Yes there is Italian style coffee in Woomera and Chinese sauce in Tom Price. Woollen socks and a wooden guitar are about the only things that will get through customs. As a rule of thumb, nothing that has been alive can be imported.
  • Large amounts of clothes. You'll rather need the practical gear you get anywhere in rural Australia. Try the 'chic for the stable' shops like CRT, Westfarmers or any 'workwear'! Footwear like Rossi or Blundstone boots is better than anything you get in Europe. Thongs (plastic sandals) are $5. Avoid the tourist 'safari' clothing. Commercial washers are available in almost every Caravan Park laundry.

    Places like this sell everything - sort of

  • any other non food articles you can find in a supermarket. Why carry toothpaste or shampoo round the world if you had better brought another spanner or your allen keys for the tripod? Mind you, Australia is a civilized country. Any hardware store will assure you that they invented outdoor life.
  • Sprays (because you aren't allowed to take it on the plane) cold climate fluid gaskets, candles and other wax products
  • maps. You get reliable, detailed 1:250.000 maps from AUSLIG. Order them by credit card to the place where you pick up your car. A general reference map will be available at any petrol station. Don't rely on the latter off the bitumen.
  • your compass unless your home is in South Africa. Australia has a different inclination zone, that means your needle will hang!

 

Planning your trip

The only way to see all states of Australia is to stay at least three months. If you can't do that, try some planning. Calculate 500kms as a maximum per day, and allow plenty of extra time for unexpected delays. Repairs and sudden rainfall can lead to exciting hiking tours between spare-part dealers, wreckers and toolshops. Yes, I have once ruined an engine driving too fast through a floodway. Got a spare engine with cracked housing on Christmas eve 1992 and was on the road again two days later.

Tourist offices seem to send their customers in their thousands to the East Coast. This is the place to be if you are keen on the Spanish east coast, Mallorca or the like. Definitely it is not the place for 4 WD tours, except on Fraser Island.

If you want to see the desert, calculate a reasonable 10.000 kms trip for a 6 weeks holiday, better for 8 weeks.

Popular Desert Tracks and leisurely travel times

  • Oodnadatta Track: 2-3 days, add one day for Marla-Alice Springs
  • Hawker to Innamincka via Strzelecki Track 2 days. Add one day for Camerons Corner detour
  • Innamincka to Birdsville via Cordillo one day and 4 tyres if you fly to fast
  • Birdsville Track to Marree or Lyndhurst 2 days Calculate 10 days for a roundtrip Flinders-Innamincka-Birdsville-Marree-Hawker
  • Tanami Track 2-3 days
  • Gunbarrel Highway: 4-5 days (Kulgera - Wiluna) permit required
  • Great Central Road Laverton-Kulgera: 3-4 days permit required
  • Mathilda byway and highway Birdsville-Cairns via Mt Isa & Gulf 4-5 days
  • Outback NSW Mildura - Broken Hill-Tibooburra-Innamincka 2-2,5 days
  • Alice Springs Western McDonell Range-Mereenie Loop Road-Kings Canyon (Alice Springs Tourist office's recomended Track, not ours!) 2-3 Days.
  • Simpson Desert via French Line 3-4 days
  • The Canning Stock Route: you never know! Can take two weeks. Definitely not a good plan for your first trip to Australia

 

by Annette Flottwell