How to Plan the Ultimate Australia Road Trip

How to Plan the Ultimate Australia Road Trip

This post is sponsored by Gumtree. The content is based on my personal experience and research.

Few places lend themselves to a great road trip than Australia: open roads, stunning scenery, remote places… Whether you like adventure or a leisurely drive, Australia has the perfect conditions for a road trip. 

How to Plan the Ultimate Australia Road Trip?

There are many considerations for a road trip in Australia and to be successful, it does require some preparation. Thanks to a long tradition of “driving around Australia”, planning the ultimate Australia road trip is likely to start on Gumtree, a local trading website. If you are thinking of buying a vehicle for your Australian adventure, you can find all sorts of second-hand wheels, ready to take you places…

Dirt road near Mudgee in New South Wales
New South Wales

You can then start planning your Australia travel itinerary and have the best adventure holidays ever! I recently drove along the West Australia Coast.

The Best Time to go

The climatic conditions of Australia vary a great deal and the time to go depends on the season you prefer. 

Also, considerations around the season and climate may help you decide whether you want to be travelling around Australia, or whether you prefer local and shorter road trips. 

And remember that the seasons are the opposite than the northern hemisphere!

Summer: From December to February

Summer can be extremely hot and sunny in Australia, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your Australia road trip, on the contrary. The sky is blue, the beaches are so inviting and there is a holiday feel everywhere. 

Take the sun and relax on a beach in Tasmania
Summer in Australia

The top end of Australia is the only place I wouldn’t recommend as it gets very humid. North Queensland, the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia are probably best to visit in other seasons.

Summer is the best time for Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria.

Autumn: From March to May

After the humid heat of summer, the lighter temperatures of autumn are a welcome relief. Autumn is a perfect season for a trip to Australia, heading north into winter.

Winter: June to August

Compared to the Northern Hemisphere, winter is generally mild in Australia,  thus perfect for driving holidays. Winter is probably the best time to explore the north of Australia.

Olive grove amongst the Mudgee wineries
Winter in Mudgee, New South Wales

Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales can get pretty cold in winter.

Spring: September to November

In the southern states of Australia, spring is fresh and often windy. Western Australia is fantastic in spring if you want to see wildflowers. Spring is also a good time to start a round trip, heading south into summer.

The Australia climate and weather is so broad, you have many options on where to start and choose some of the best road trips in Australia.

Local Road Trip or Grand Tour?

The grand tour of Australia is a dream for many, a life-changing journey. Many people undertake the journey when they come to work in Australia for a year. Imagine driving across Australia at your own pace, discovering new landscapes and territories… 

Stopping by the side of the road on Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island

If the grand tour is not an option, there are plenty of options to admire the Australia scenery. There are many Australian road trip routes to choose from… Pick up a road map of Australia and start on your driving route planner. You will also need to prepare a budget for Australia.

Great Australian Road Trips

Here are a few ideas for an East Coast road trip:

Sydney & NSW road trips

View of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales
NSW’s Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains: my first suggestion for a Sydney road trip

Mudgee and Orange are great for a food and wine trip.

Jervis Bay

Batemans Bay

The trifecta BerryKangaroo ValleyBerrima is one of the best road trips from Sydney through the Southern Highlands.

Road trips from Melbourne, Victoria

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road
Great Ocean Road in Victoria

Great Ocean Road itinerary. You can do a Great Ocean Road day trip but it’s better to allow a couple of days.

Philip Island

Wilson Promontory

Grampians National Park

Sovereign Hill is another, less known Melbourne road trip.

You can also do the Melbourne to Perth drive across the Nullarbor Plain.

Queensland Road Trips

Also on East Coast Australia, the Sunshine state has some great ideas for going on a road trip:

Townsville to Mission Beach

Cairns

Fraser Island is a great Queensland road trip

Port Douglas

Daintree Forest & Cape Tribulation

There are also many road trips from Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

South Australia Road Trips

The dramatic coast of Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island, South Australia

My South Australia road trip took me to Kangaroo Island.

Tasmania Road Trips

Walk on a sandy beach train in Tasmania
Beach Trail in Tasmania

East Coast Tasmania road trip

Cradle Mountain

Ultimate Tasmania

Bruny Island

Western Australia Road Trips

Some of the best Australia road trips are in Western Australia.

Perth road trip including Fremantle.

Some great road trips from Perth include the South West and Albany.

For a complete Western Australia road trip itinerary, you should consider Kalbarri, Exmouth, Monkey Mia and Broome.

Northern Territory Road Trips

lesterlost-travel-australia-northern-territory-uluru-car (1)
Photo Thierry Mignon

Uluru

Kings Canyon

Alice Springs

Kakadu National Park

Clockwise or Anti-Clockwise?

If you do the grand tour of Australia, you need to decide whether to go clockwise or anti-clockwise. I think your starting date should command this decision. If you start in spring or summer, head south for your first experience of self drive in Australia

Driving solo in the Grampians National Park
Grampians National Park, Victoria

And if you start in autumn or winter, head north first. Indeed, many people who start their journey in Sydney embark on an East Coast Australia road trip. Depending on where you start from, that’s your direction sorted. Either way, driving in Australia is quite easy.

How Much Time for the Grand Tour?

Well, how fast can you drive? And how much do you want to see on your trip around Australia? I wouldn’t recommend doing this Aussie trip in less than 6 months if you want to allow some time to really discover the country.

Leisure drive in the vineyards of Tasmania
Vineyards in Tasmania

Six months is a long time to be on the road and you will need a comprehensive Australia road trip itinerary. I also recommend choosing some places to stay for several days or even weeks, in order to get a good rest and avoid road weariness. 

Solo Road Trip or Couple Road Trip?

If you are wondering what to bring on a road trip, a partner is a good idea! I have done road trips in Australia both solo and with my husband, and I love both. I love driving on my own, listening to my own playlist or podcasts, but it does get lonely. Couple travel is what I would recommend as Australia self drive will require some long stretches of road.

What to Pack for a Road Trip?

Things to take on a road trip

The list of things to pack for a road trip can be long and really depends on your travelling style. Whether you decide to camp, travel in a minivan or stay in accommodation every night, I recommend limiting your road trip essentials to the equivalent of “hand luggage” on a flight.

Seagulls on the beach at Batemans Bay
Batemans Bay, New South Wales

Offline Maps

Google Maps work very well in Australia, so long as there is an internet connection… There will be plenty of places without internet or phone reception, and even if you have a local SIM card, maps could cost you a lot of data. 

I recommend downloading the necessary maps to your smartphone before you go, so you don’t have to worry.

Podcasts, audiobooks, playlists

Even if you travel with a partner or a friend, conversation will dry up at some point… Podcasts and playlists can be some fun road trips essentials. Spotify is a great place to start for playlists!

Driving along dirt roads in Tasmania
Tasmania

Where to stay in Australia

When planning a road trip around Australia, you will find various accommodation options: camp sites, caravan parks, hotels, motels, resorts… If you are doing a road trip, short or long, it’s important to book ahead. Caravan Parks Australia Wide is a good guide to have with you. There is no shortage of accommodation in Australia, but places can book up, especially during school holidays and in some isolated places, there aren’t many options.

Things you need to know for a road trip

Driving rules in Australia

People drive on the left side of the road in Australia. It does take a little getting used to and you will action the windscreen wipers instead of the indicator many times before you get the hang of it.

Drive through the beautiful forests of New South Wales
Eucalyptus forest in NSW

Travelling with Children

Children and babies must be restrained in an approved car seat or booster seat, up to 7 years old in some states.

Australian Toll Roads

Tolls are mostly in metropolitan areas. If your vehicle doesn’t have a toll tag, you can purchase a temporary pass. You have 72 hours to pay a toll. Make sure you have that in your road trip items as the fines can be high!

Driving etiquette

Australian drivers are pretty good, disciplined and mostly polite. You do get the occasional Fangio but generally people stay within their driving lane. Do the same and always slow down when you get to a small town.

Stopping on the road to admire the view in Bruny Island
Bruny Island, Tasmania

The vast majority of people drive within the speed limit. There are police patrols, even in the bush and fines can be high! Also watch for speed cameras at the entrance of small towns.

Make sure you brush up on traffic rules in Australia.

Australian Roads

Depending on whether you want to visit the more remote places of Australia, you may need a 4WD vehicle. However, that’s not a pre-requisite for a road trip, including the grand tour. Mostly, asphalt roads are in good condition and a lot of unsealed roads are very easily accessible to 2WD vehicles. Driving in Australia for tourists is not difficult as long as you are aware of a few dangers.

A party of vintage cars in Mudgee
Mudgee, New South Wales

However, if a road is marked “4WD only” do not attempt it in a 2WD! Driving on sand also requires some knowledge and care.

Generally, there are rest stops every 80 to 100km.

Other Things You Need

Insurance

At a minimum, you need to take Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance to cover injuries you could cause to others. Also, your vehicle must be registered.

Drivers Licence

You can drive for three months with a foreign licence in English. Beyond that, you will need an Australian drivers license. If your license is not in English, you need to get an International Driving Permit from the Automobile Association of your country. 

Distances

Australia is a country of enormous proportions. If you come from Europe, this will take some getting used to. Even if you come from the US, the fact that you may need to drive for 5 or 6 hours just to get somewhere is something to take into consideration.

The rainbow is at the end of the road in Namadgi National Park
Namadgi National Park, ACT

I recommend spending some time calculating distances on Google Maps, to give you an idea of how much driving you can fit into a day.

Driving day or night?

Most roads in cities or coastal areas are well lit and in good condition so daytime or night time driving won’t make much difference. In remote areas though, it’s very different. Even in rural areas, you may have to drive in pitch darkness and the animals tend to come out at night. In the bush, I would suggest driving during the day only, and also avoid sunrise and sunset.

Sleep

If you have a long distance to cover, don’t neglect your sleep. If you are travelling as a couple, or with friends, talking late in the night can be tempting. But you really need your sleep. Don’t risk falling asleep at the wheel!

Family and friends

When you travel around Australia by car, you are bound to drive into fairly isolated areas or be gone for a few days. Every few days, let someone know how you are travelling.

Wildlife & Road Trains

Wildlife

Australian wildlife is plentiful and quirky, and fun for the most part. If you are planning a road trip to Australia, you’ve probably heard that “they’re all out to kill you”… Whilst not strictly true, wildlife can be a serious threat on the road.

Kangaroos on the road can be dangerous
Grey Kangaroos

Animals like kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and koalas can seriously damage your car if you hit them and this type of damage is not necessarily covered by insurance.

Animals tend to come out at dusk and night. In some places, you can drive with kangaroos bouncing everywhere…

Wombats can seriously damage your car
Wombat in Tasmania

If you come across an animal, do not swerve! Hit the brakes but do not swerve, as it is the best way to lose control of your vehicle.

Road trains

This is an occurrence unique to Australia and you will only encounter them along the highways travelling from the Northern Territory to South Australia, or to Western Australia, across the Nullarbor Plain. 

Road trains are not trains, but massive trucks pulling several trailers. A road train can measure up to 100m long! They travel fast and they own the road, so it’s best to stay out of the way and pull over to let them through.

Road Trip Essentials List for an Emergency

Check your vehicle thoroughly

When picking up your vehicle, make sure you check it thoroughly. If you buy a vehicle privately and especially if it’s second hand, make sure the paperwork is in order, the tyres are in good condition…

First aid kit

You should include a first aid kit to your road trip supplies, even for a short road trip.

Satellite phone

This is more relevant if you go off road, into more isolated areas but it can be a lifesaver in case of emergency or breakdown.

EPIRB or PLB

This is an emergency tracking device, a beacon you can activate if you become stranded. Again, this is relevant only if you go to seriously remote areas.

Extra Water & Petrol

On long drives through the bush, a simple water bottle isn’t going to cut it. You need additional water supplies in your road trip kit, especially if you drive during the summer months. 

Endless skies and fields are a great driving adventure

The same goes for petrol, you may want to keep a spare jerrycan of petrol in your boot.

Snacks & Food

If you are camping along the way, you need to plan your meals and make sure you don’t run out of food between supply towns. All the same, if you are driving for shorter road trips, snacks should be on your road trip must haves. Driving can be tiring and a little food will help you along the way.

In case of Breakdown

If you have a breakdown in an urban area, a tow truck will easily come along… However, if you are in the bush, things could be a little more complicated… 

It's easy to roll your car on dirt roads
Car rolled in Tasmania

Whatever you do, do not leave your vehicle and assume you can walk to the next town… People have died making that mistake! 

Wait there, and flag down the first passing vehicle…

What to Include in your Budget

  • Cost of the vehicle
  • Insurance
  • Fuel
  • Food & Drink
  • Accommodation or camping fees
  • National Park fees. Having a National Park checklist is a good idea!
  • Tours & activities along the way

Now you know what to take on a road trip and you are ready to start driving in Australia. Tell me which way you are going in the comments below!

Whether you like adventure or a leisurely drive, here is a guide on how to plan the ultimate Australia road trip.
#australia #roadtrip #travel

32 Comments

  1. Sharyn

    July 27, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    I enjoyed your blog. I travel in and around Australia regularly and found some new useful tips.

    1. Delphine

      July 27, 2019 at 6:47 pm

      Hi Sharyn, thank you for dropping by. I really feel like taking a road trip right now after all this research and reflecting on my previous travels

  2. Rhonda Albom

    July 27, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    So complete and detailed. I have only done a few of these Australia road trip segments, my favourite being the Great Ocean Road. There are so many on my wishlist, but I don’t think I have the patience to do the “big” trip in one go.

    1. Delphine

      July 27, 2019 at 6:48 pm

      I’m like you Rhonda, I’m not sure I’m ready to be on the road for 6 months… I have friends who did for 7 months with 3 kids and they’d had enough by the end. They also said they were on the move a lot, Australia is a big country and they couldn’t settle anywhere for very long. I really want to drive from Sydney to Perth across the Nullarbor though…

  3. Juergen Klein

    July 27, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    Wow, this is a long post. One thing I would like to recommend: do NOT rely on Google maps for navigation! Their routing is always favouring main roads. This might be faster but is not the reason to take a road trip. You want to see things, have interesting or scenic reasons for a break! And to rely on Google offline maps can be tricky because often one map gets deleted when you download the second – but you might need both.
    We are using our Android devices with dedicated offline navigation apps, where you download all maps beforehand!

    1. Delphine

      July 28, 2019 at 7:45 am

      Hi Juergen, I’ve done pretty well with google maps offline but this is a great tip, thank you for sharing this advice.

  4. Danik

    July 28, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Would so totally love to do a road trip all the way around Australia and survive it! I dont plan to roll over the car! πŸ˜€ I only been to Melbourne which is totally amazing city but I really want to get into the outback and explore! Good tips on road trips here.

    1. Delphine

      July 29, 2019 at 9:36 am

      Australian cities are interesting but the real Australia is in the bush. It’s well worth hitting the road and seeing some of the beautiful landscape Australia has to offer. I hope you get to fulfil that dream someday!

  5. Emma Riggs

    July 29, 2019 at 10:11 am

    Road Tripping Australia sure does take some forward planning and preparation. It’s such a vast country and the weather can be extreme, as you’ve mentioned. Lots of really important info here, thanks.

    1. Delphine

      July 29, 2019 at 6:45 pm

      Hi Emma, you’re an old hand at road tripping, I admire your set up! It must make camping so comfortable! I’m you upvote my tips, you’re a bit of an authority on living on the road!

  6. Susanne

    July 29, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Australia has been on my wish list for a long time. Your tips will definitely make traveling preparation easier. I’ll remember that in any case and maybe it’ll work out soon with a trip to Australia.

    1. Delphine

      July 29, 2019 at 6:41 pm

      Hi Susanne, Australia may appear easy to travel around and it is when you look at the state of most roads and the fact that the vast majority of the population lives in coastal areas. However, the distances, the wildlife and the isolation of some places mean that you need to be prepared and ready for any sort of emergency.

  7. Samantha Karen

    July 29, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    So much detail! I would love to go on this Australian road trip. Looks like such a beautiful country. Also, that wombat is beyond cute! I want it.

    1. Delphine

      July 30, 2019 at 7:48 am

      Hi Sam, I’m biased but I agree that Australia is a beautiful country. The wildlife makes it a fantastic destination as they are everywhere.

  8. Heather

    July 31, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    I knew that road trips in Australia were a huge deal and I totally agree it’s a great way to see a country (just like here in the US). However, I had no idea how much there was to think about for the planning. Your trips are extremely helpful-especially for the wildlife and speed traps. I would have to have someone with me though. It’s the one kind of travel I don’t like to do alone.

    1. Delphine

      July 31, 2019 at 2:44 pm

      Hi Heather, I think any kind of travel requires some preparation and I have to admit I’m not always the best at that. But a serious drive in Australia can’t be approached lightly. Another advantage of being organised is that you don’t miss out on anything really important.

  9. Lyn Lindfield

    July 31, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    Great comprehensive post. For most people, tourists and locals alike I think the best plan is to break Australia up into more manageable segments and see it region by region over several different trips.

    1. Delphine

      August 1, 2019 at 7:35 am

      Hi Lyn, I agree that the full tour is a big undertaking and takes a long time. Right now, I’m more into small local road trips but I would love to drive from Sydney to Perth on the Nullarbor. Who knows whether I’ll do the full tour some day!

  10. Tania Muthusamy

    July 31, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    I enjoy a great Australian roadtrip but I always include a lot of stops along the way, otherwise it can get very tiring. And yes, always with company, as it’s so much more fun. Australia has very good roads, so that makes it quite safe and easy enough to find your way around this huge country. I love all the detailed information you have provided Delphine.

    1. Delphine

      August 1, 2019 at 7:36 am

      Hi Tania, an Australian road trip is not only about the drive but also about the many places you can visit along the way. So it’s important to manage some time to stop and enjoy life. When you think about how big the country is, it’s quite amazing that you can drive all around it quite safely.

  11. Paulien

    August 2, 2019 at 12:07 am

    What a detailed post, very informative! I’ve never been to Australia but it’s on my travel list for so long. Indeed, I’m from Europe, so it will take some getting used to the enormous distances between places. I can’t imagine driving for 6 hours without seeing anything but nature. I also think I’ll have to go to Tasmania too, that wombat is SO CUTE!!

    1. Delphine

      August 2, 2019 at 8:06 am

      Hi Paulien, the distances are pretty big but there are plenty of places to see within a relatively short distances. Even in Sydney, it’s actually quite easy to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Tasmania is fantastic for road trips. It looks a lot smaller but the distances are not to be underestimated, especially when driving on windy mountain roads. The best is driving through the wilderness, it’s so peaceful!

  12. Jeremy

    August 2, 2019 at 12:19 am

    I have only visited Perth and that was decades ago ! Always wanted to return to Australia, and hopefully do a road trip ! Love the southern route with the coastal landscapes, and also the northern route with the desert outback setting ! I hope that rolled over car is not yours =S

    1. Delphine

      August 2, 2019 at 8:02 am

      Hi Jeremy, the car lying on its side is not mine, thankfully! We saw it on Bruny Island in Tasmania, no one was hurt but it looked spectacular. It was a tour company vehicle driving too fast on a dirt road…

  13. Yukti Agrawal

    August 2, 2019 at 4:40 am

    Wonderful tips on taking a road trip in Australia with regions and climate variations. As Australia is diverse, there are many places which we can visit in winters too. I have done Great Ocean Road road trip and it was really beautiful and hopefully, I will do it other road trips in future.

    1. Delphine

      August 2, 2019 at 7:59 am

      Hi Yukti, the Great Ocean Road is one of my favourite road trips in Australia. It’s such a beautiful stretch of the coast! And there is also plenty to see inland, with a beautiful rural landscape and some gorgeous forests.

  14. KRISTINA BINIAHAN

    August 2, 2019 at 10:58 pm

    Incredible pics and great tips. I live in Sydney and love a road trip. I’ve done the Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Gold Coast and really wanting to do the whole Sydney to Perth and back through Darwin. In the planning for Christmas this year. Will bookmark this for reference πŸ™‚

    1. Delphine

      August 3, 2019 at 9:05 am

      Hi Kristina, I’m also planning a road trip for Christmas. I would love to go to New Zealand but I wonder if it’s going to be too busy…

  15. Rhonda Albom

    September 24, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    So comprehensive and so helpful. We are actively planning a WA road trip now. Many of the tips are the same for New Zealand, but there are definitely a few new ones here.

    1. Delphine

      September 25, 2019 at 8:34 am

      Hi Rhonda, I think the most daunting thing about a road trip in Australia is the massive distances. I bet a lot of travellers are taken aback by the amount of time you need to drive from one place to another without seeing very much. At least New Zealand is a bit kinder with the distances…

  16. Emily

    October 26, 2019 at 12:15 am

    This is such a great resource for people traveling to Australia. We are Australian and are currently living in a caravan. We’ve been meeting other families from all over the world who are also doing a Big Australian Lap. Everyone we meet from Europe says that the environment in Australia is amazing and it’s a great place to travel with kids, as long as you have time!

    1. Delphine

      October 26, 2019 at 8:15 am

      Hi Emily, I’m pleased this article is useful. It’s true that Australia is a great place for an epic road trip. A friend of mine took her three kids, husband and trailer all around Australia for several months and really enjoyed it. I hope to make the trip some day myself.

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