Exploring Australia by road is one of the classic adventures many of us dream about. Doing it all by campervan is, in my opinion, the best way to explore this vast, fascinating country. Every city and town comes with its unique heritage, local quirks and stories to be heard. From gold mining towns and whaling spots to penguin colonies guarded by dogs – every day on the road brings a new surprise. Hitting the road with a campervan is the simplest way to ensure you save cash booking accommodation and supply you with the ultimate freedom to explore what you want, when you want. My own Australian road trip adventure saw Kasha and I drive all the way from Adelaide, South Australia, to Brisbane, Queensland, with plenty of detours to Kangaroo Island, the Blue Mountains and along stunning coastal roads I’ll never forget.
If you’ve been dreaming of your own Priscilla, Queen of the Desert-style road trip Down Under, there are a few things you might want to consider first.
Should I buy or hire a campervan in Australia?
Number one on your list of essential items is a vehicle that will get you from A to B. You can either rent or buy a campervan; from experience I’d recommend the former if you want a more stress-free experience. If you want to buy your own camper, while it could potentially save you money in the long run, it comes with its own share of issues: faulty parts, accidents, breakdowns and difficulty selling on the vehicle.
We rented with Britz; their big white campers are as ubiquitous a sight on the Aussie roads as kangaroos. We chose the two-berth HiTop, which looked huge initially, especially after our diddy camper in New Zealand, and earned our new campervan the nickname Hippo. As it was our first time driving in Australia, having insurance to cover any accidents, 24/7 road side assistance and the freedom to drop off the car quickly to catch our next flight were all musts. If you have limited time, renting is just so much simpler.
What features should the campervan include?
Firstly, you need to consider how many people are travelling. This will allow you to narrow down your choices of vehicle. Do you want a station wagon, van, 4WD or a proper campervan?
For us, the two-berth HiTop campervan was perfect. In her sizable interior, Hippo contained all the mod cons we needed: built-in GPS, comfortable seating, CD player, double bed, fridge, lighting, storage space, gas hobs, microwave and a sink. In actuality, however, there was only a handful of features we found really useful:
- Fridge – Keeps all your leftovers, milk, meat and vegetables fresh, allowing for more camper cooked meals (saving you dollars). Alternatively, an Esky is a great way to keep things cool, but you’ll have to constantly buy ice to keep things fresh.
- A comfortable bed – This is your sleeping spot for the duration of your visit; make sure it’s comfortable, clean and comes supplied with fresh bedding.
- CD player / radio – Long drives are made shorter through karaoke contests – that’s a fact! If you get a more modern vehicle you might also be able to connect the entertainment system to an iPod or your phone through an AUX cable or Bluetooth so you can play your own music.
- GPS – 3G and 4G signal from mobiles can be patchy in Australia. A built-in GPS takes the stress out of driving and getting lost down back roads. Alternatively, you can hire a GPS system if one is not built in.
- Camping equipment – More often than not, many accessories are thrown into your package, including: cooking equipment, cutlery and crockery, camping chairs and tables. This makes all the difference when it’s too hot to eat in the camper, or you want to enjoy a meal under the light of the stars.
Personally, the hassle of having a toilet and shower on board was not worth the extra money – who wants to empty a road trip toilet? We would always end up in a campsite with toilets and showers anyway, so it wasn’t worth dealing with.
Where to camp in Australia
Unless you are planning on free camping, you’ll need to find somewhere to park up for the night. Campsites are everywhere in Australia, though you should be picky when choosing. If you have the cash, the more pricey brands like BIG 4 Holiday Parks often have the best locations and facilities. However, shopping around to find some of the smaller, independent campgrounds can also be rewarding as they often have unusual features and more personality – one of our favourites was a campsite in Eden that had its own mini-golf course. Here are a few things to consider:
- Distance to the city/town – Often campsites are on the outskirts of town. Ensure that there is decent public transport so that you can enjoy a drink or meal without having to drive into the city. It’s also better to be situated in the suburbs of larger cities so that you don’t get caught in heavy traffic.
- Powered sites – If you need to recharge any devices, cook or use the camper’s power, it’s better to have a powered site so you don’t drain the battery.
- Amenities – Washing machines, dryers, a kitchen, showers (coin operated or free), barbecue areas, lounge, game rooms – these are all things to look our for.
- Ratings – Definitely check out what previous people have said about the campsite. Often campsites will have permanent residents, which can make the place not quite as welcoming. Or even worse – we booked a camp spot last minute and found it was infested with cockroaches!
Classic Australian road trip routes
There are countless different routes you can take, depending on what you want to see and where you start your journey. Here were some of our favourite road adventures.
Uluru: A trip to see the Red Centre is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Rugged roads along the Northern Territory are what adventures are made of. The breathtaking hiking trails in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and Kings Canyon are the perfect reward at the end of a long journey.
Great Ocean Road: This wave-battered coastline on the southwest of the Victoria region is renowned for being one of the greatest coastal drives in the world. Highlights include the dramatic limestone stacks of the Twelve Apostles, tales of shipwrecks and incredible rock formations. Tower Hill Nature Reserve, a lush green spot around an extinct volcano, is another must-see spot in the area.
Kangaroo Island: A lesser-visited gem just off mainland South Australia, this island is full of protected nature reserves, penguin colonies and unique cave networks.
Melbourne to Sydney: The drive between two of Australia’s biggest cities is so underrated. Discover charming coastal towns like Lakes Entrance, Tilba, Eden and Wollongong and learn the history of the first-ever settlers to this area.
Sydney to Brisbane: Hippie beach towns like Byron Bay, Gold Coast surfing spots and Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo: this drive may be well travelled but it features some iconic Aussie experiences too.
10 Tips for driving in Australia
- Don’t break the speed limit. Australia has a LOT of speed cameras, mobile speed vans and handheld speed guns, so anyone breaking the speed limit can get lumped with a hefty fine. Ask any local about the speed limit and they’ll agree that it just isn’t worth exceeding it. Generally, residential areas have a maximum speed limit of 50km/h while motorways it’s often around 110km/h – always be alert for speed signs however as there are often regional differences.
- Watch out for wildlife. If you drive for long enough through Australia’s rural areas there’s a very good chance you’ll see kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums and plenty more besides right along the roadside. Unfortunately, road kill is a big issue in some parts of the country. Pay extra attention when driving at dawn and dusk as this is when many animals are more active. If you have to drive at night, stay alert and drive slowly and carefully.
- Split the driving. If you are travelling in a couple or group, make sure to change drivers every few hours. The distances between cities is often vast and often quite dull. Kasha and I generally swapped around every few hours.
- Stop at the roadside attractions and stretch your legs. As corny and touristy as they are, Australia’s Big Things are great fun. From oversized fruit to a playable guitar, each tells an interesting story of the local area.
- Bring along plenty of food and water, especially if you’re headed to the outback.
- Keep an eye on your petrol. It can sometimes be a long time between service stations (petrol garages) especially in The Outback.
- If you get into trouble, 000 is the Australian emergency number you need to call.
- Keep your car and medical insurance documents in an easily accessible place – you never know when you might need them.
- Don’t drink and drive. It sounds obvious, but drink driving is a serious offense in Australia, and since road accidents due to drinking are common, police issue serious penalties. Save yourself the trouble and enjoy an extra night in the campsite or leave your camper behind and get a taxi into town.
- Have fun! Australia is one of the most spectacular places to drive, so sing to karaoke, enjoy regular photo breaks at stopping points and take your time exploring this incredible country.
Campsite drinking water: a warning
Unfortunately, Kasha and I have firsthand experience that drinking water in Australian campsites isn’t always clean. After getting sick at a campsite I won’t name, we now have a rule not to drink borehole or rain water, even if all of the signage indicates that the water is safe to drink. I will happily use a water fountain in the city, where I know that the water system is clean and up to standard, but campsites don’t always offer that same certainty. Alternatively, if you are out of options, boiling water is an effective way to get rid of bacteria.
How to save money on an Australian Road Trip
- If you have a GPS system already, you can often simply buy an extension that plugs directly into your current system (definitely the case for Garmin sat navs) and saves you paying a daily charge for hiring a GPS.
- Cook your own food at the campsite. Eating and drinking in restaurants can add up, but a beer and a barbecue brought from a supermarket is doable on a budget. Stock up on breakfast cereal and snacks too or you’ll find yourself spending a lot of cash at service stations.
- Consider going veggie to save cash. Supermarket brought fresh fruit and vegetables are cheaper than neighbouring New Zealand and are often grown locally. Give meat a miss and you can save a heap of dollars that you can spend on more adventurous things than burgers.
- Swerve the endless international debit or credit card bank fees by using a prepaid currency card like Revolut or Monzo. This is my tried-and-tested method. The phone app gives me a breakdown of what I’m spending, allows me to make bank transfers and get the best possible exchange rate.
- Popular cities often have an influx of cars and campers that they need shifted to other places. To combat this backlog, vehicle rental agencies frequently offer incredible relocation deals that can cost you as little as $1 a day. You might have to drive long distances in a short time, but if you’re low on cash and looking to get from A to B this is ideal.
- Ride-sharing is another way to help with fuel costs. There is a myriad of websites devoted to this, or you can just talk to a few people at hostels along the way.
- While I didn’t experience it myself, freedom camping (allowed in certain areas only) is a popular option for those looking to pinch the pennies. Just be aware that you won’t have any amenities (like toilets) or security. Provided you clean up after yourself when you leave, you’ll enjoy a free night in Australia: whoever said nothing comes for free?
Australia tips from top bloggers:
Michael Turtle from Time Travel Turtle
“One of the best long-distance drives you can do in Australia is between Melbourne and Sydney. It’s likely you’ll want to visit the country’s two largest cities anyway, so why not see all the incredible sights in between them? You can drive via an inland route or a coastal route. Both have their own benefits but my preference is for the coastal drive. If you give yourself about a week, you’ll be able to drive just two or three hours each day and spend most of your time exploring the locations around where you’ll spend the night. You’ll be able to see some of the small coastal towns in New South Wales, the national parks along the Victorian coast and some historic settlements. Do a bit of a detour and you can even spend the day in the capital, Canberra. There are lots of campgrounds for campervans along the way but they can get full during school holidays and the summer period (December/January) – so book ahead if that’s when you’re travelling. As a fallback option, there are also lots of motels and other accommodation options along the route. A lot of the local councils won’t allow you just to park a campervan on the street and sleep there (especially near the beach) so always check the rules before thinking of doing that.”
Anna Phipps from Global Gallavanting
“Australia is a massive country filled with so much natural beauty and places to explore – sometimes it just feels like Oz was made for road trips. Without a doubt the best way to explore Australia is with the freedom and flexibility of your own four wheels. Not only does a campervan save you money on accommodation, transport, tours and food but it also gives you the ultimate freedom to explore off the beaten track. There’s no better way to see the Land Down Under.”
Nellie Huang from Wild Junket
“My absolute favourite Australian road trip is the Red Centre Way. This area is The Outback at its best and it’s the very heart of the country. Instead of taking the Stuart Highway between Alice Springs and Uluru, we chose to take the scenic route along the Red Centre Way to travel through red desert sands, lush valleys, towering gorges and a number of waterholes. The drive starts from Alice Springs and makes its way on a loop around the Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges, Kings Canyon and Uluru/ Kata Kjuta National Park, Camping in the Red Centre was easily my favourite experience in Australia.”
If you have any questions about road tripping around Australia, campervanning or have some tips of your own, I’d love to hear from you, simply comment below!
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Our campervan was kindly provided by the folks at Britz, but as always, all opinions expressed are entirely my own. This post contains no affiliate links.