Australia is a colossal country with extremely diverse wildlife and great natural beauty. The Eastern Side (to be covered very soon) is more populated and is popular with travellers and surfers alike. The Western side is less populated and as a result seems more rugged and is certainly less busy. The climate is tropical in the North, with wet and dry seasons, further down south the summer is between November and February with the winter months coming in May-Aug, although it only really gets cold and wet right on the South Coast.
Entry into Australia is quite strict, expect to be asked lots of questions and baggage checks, they take national security very seriously, which is actually a refreshing change if anyone has gone through English customs! If you are going for a holiday then a VISA can be obtained from the airport for approximately £20. For longer stays, including work/travel visas please check with your travel agent (info to come on the site soon).
Australia is distinctly cheaper than the UK, hostels can be as cheap as £5 a night in a dorm, going from £15 a night for a double/twin. Food and going out will cost a lot less than say London, although expect a beer to cost a bit more in remote areas. Remember to bring a valid photo drivers licence if you are intending to drive, in most cases, unless your on a budget, this is the best way to go.
In general, Australia is a very safe place crime wise, you shouldn't get too much trouble in major cities, although common sense should denote which places to avoid late at night. It would also be advisable to get advice before travelling into any major aboriginal areas to avoid any conflict. If you intend to go on a long journey into the Bush, travel in two vehicles, take plenty of water, always let someone know where you are going, and when your expected back. If problems do occur, try and stay with your vehicle wherever possible as this dramatically increases your chance of survival.
Australia has a vast array of wildlife that is unique, Kangaroos, Koalas, Quokkas to name but a few! As a result make sure you respect the environment and the natural habitat. There is also some very dangerous wildlife out there, snakes and spiders are about that are very deadly but it is unlikely you will come face to face with many unless you are travelling in the jungle areas. Dingoes have also been in the headlines, they are not on the whole dangerous, most of the time they are scavenging for food, and can be avoided by keeping your food locked away in your van. Perhaps the biggest problems for people come in the water, crocodiles like to eat, so if it says 'Don't Swim', don't! On the beaches, jellyfish and sharks are about in certain areas, so make sure you follow local guidelines.
Australia is a vast place, on the map you can imagine a place being only a couple of hours away, in most cases you need to triple that. But hiring a car or a van in the best way to see the country and get to the really remote spots. The speed limit on the highways is 110kph and this is strictly adhered to, although in some of the remoter areas we never saw any police speed traps. There is also a strict drink driving policy so if your gonna drink let someone sober drive! One major problem with driving in Australia is tiredness, the terrain can seem endless at times, and due to the lack of traffic you may go an hour without seeing another car, so make sure you take adequate stops drink lots of tea and water or whatever keeps you awake, engage in conversation or games while driving this might just save your life!
Campervans are a great way to explore the surrounding areas as you take your accommodation with you. Britz are the main firm and are reliable but make sure you go with a company that offers a low excess rate (e.g. $500), this means that if you cause any damage the most you'll have to pay is about £200. A word of warning though, we went with a small firm called Dolphin, who were quite cheap, but the van we hired had a dodgy gearbox, and meant that we had to get them to ship out a replacement. We also had the misfortune to hit a kangaroo on the way up to Shark Bay which caused some damage to the side door, as a result when we returned the replacement van, they held our excess fee and tried to blame the gearbox failure on us. Nothing you can do about hitting animals except try and avoid driving after dusk, as kangaroos come out at dusk and don't seem to have any awareness of vehicles. If you do think your going to hit one, brake gently and keep on going, never try and swerve as you may flip your van or hit a rut in the road.
Other things to look out for are flying stones which can crack windscreens and making sure you have enough fuel! Always check your map and make sure you can make it to your destination before dark, if not, plan to stop somewhere along the way. Green road markers by the side of the road indicate the distance in kms to the next main village or town, although there are roadhouses dotted in between. Fuel prices can get more pricey in the more remote areas, and it is also advisable to carry a spare can of petrol if you are going somewhere really remote.
Always read your contract with your hire company, many have rules about driving on unsealed roads (dirt tracks), quite often you can drive on them a little way, but 4WD tracks are normally off bounds
Europacar or Budget are a reliable car hire companies and have offices in all major cities, meaning you can often relocate the vehicle, make sure you stick to sealed roads or only use unsealed roads very little.
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Perth and Western Australia
The Indian Pacific
Adelaide and the surrounding area
The Great Ocean Road
Australian Photo Gallery
VIEW AUSTRALIA GALLERY
READ AUSTRALIAN TRAVELOGUE
Info supplied by Andy Webb