Driving is one of the best ways to see Australia. We're a nation of vast and varied beauty and whilst our cities and vibrant and entertaining, a real Aussie experience requires a road trip, even if only for a day. Whether you want to travel around Australia by car or ditch the tour bus and head out on your own, having a car gives you so much more freedom to explore at your own pace.
Like any country, Australian has its own nuances and rules, so here are some handy tips to ensure your can focus on the journey and enjoying the best that Australia has to offer.
Finding the right vehicle
The roads and driving conditions in Australia are varied, so you'll need to ensure you have the right type of vehicle to fit the job. The majority of roads in Australia are paved, so if you're planning to stay around the cities and venture well trodden paths you'll be fine with a 2 wheel drive vehicle.
Australian road safety rules say that all passengers must be restrained in Australia, so ensure the vehicle that you select has plenty of room for all of your passengers and any luggage you might have. Children under 12 months should be in a rear facing car seat and children up to four years old in a front or rear facing car seat. Ideally your child should be at least 145cm before allowing them to use an adult seat belt. Car seats can easily be added on to a car rental and will already be fitted for you.
City driving can be quite busy and car spaces small, so consider this if you're doing a lot of city driving. A compact sized car is perfect for zipping around and an automatic will have you navigating the traffic easily.
If you're venturing to central Australia or anywhere where dirt roads prevail, a 4 wheel drive is often the best vehicle. If you are hiring a car make sure to check with your provider that your journey won't venture on to any prohibited roads as some have year round bans and others during certain seasons of the year. This also goes for common hot spots such as Fraser Island where many a car gets bogged in the sand dunes each year! If you're driving in places like Far North Queensland, you may have to use a ferry so double check that this is also covered.
The best place to find a hire car
The best place for hiring a car in Australia is on the vroom vroom vroom website. They compare a great range of cars from a multitude of destinations around the country ensuring you'll get the best rate and the best choice in vehicles. We recently used them for a trip to the Gold Coast with our young son and the booking process and choice available was fantastic. It was very easy to collect our car from the Gold Coast Airport and a 4WD was perfect for all of the luggage that you accumulate when travelling with a baby! Best of all, it only took me a couple of minutes to book it through their site, which is a bonus for a busy mum like me who has to steal minutes here and there to get tasks done!
To the left to the left
Beyonce sang it and we'll repeat it. Drive to the left. Yes, we're one of the few countries in the world who drive on the left, so if you're in a touristy area we'll signpost it to remind you. Unless you're going to enter a major highway ramp the wrong way though, most roads will assume that you know to drive on the left, so you'll need to keep that in mind, particularly on some of our busier and more confusing round abouts.
In addition to driving on the correct side of the road another basic rule is that in an intersection we give way to cars on our right. Unlike some countries (namely Canada which confused us two Aussies), we don't have intersections with stop signs on each road. Australian roads have a combination of roundabouts and traffic lights unless you're in smaller back roads. Many major intersections will also have turning lanes and arrows to help guide you.
Check the signage
We love a signpost here in Aus. Luckily for you that will make getting around quite easy. We sign post destinations, speed limits and guides such as 'curvy road' quite frequently, so if you're on a longer drive you may be able to turn off your sat nav until you are near your destination and use it for those few final turns.
If you plan to self drive in Australia make sure you keep that lead foot under control. Australian road rules are strictly enforced. Roads are frequently patrolled by police and on speeding 'hot spots' are often targeted by fixed speed cameras in unmarked cars on the side of the road. Fines are quite hefty and not something you'll want to add to your holiday budget. Unmarked but strongly enforced are 50km/hr limits in suburban streets and please ensure that you slow down during school times and obey the reduced speed limits.
100km/hr is the norm for freeways (unless otherwise signed) although some more remote areas allow up to 110km/hr. Smaller highways you'll travel at 70 - 80km/hr and 60km/hr on smaller connecting roads. If you see police or emergency services on the side of the road, make sure you slow down to 40km/hr for their safety, even if you are in a 100km/hr zone. This new rule has been designed to keep emergency officers safe whilst working on the side of the road. If you speed on past you may be issued a fine.
When it comes to parking, particularly in the capital cities, check and double check the parking signs. Quite often there will be one rule for weekdays and another for weekends. Parking for too long, or parking illegally could result in a fine or worse, your car being towed. If you're unsure, ask a passerby to help you decode when you can park. Some of the signs bamboozle even the best of us.
It is handy to keep some coins on you for the meters, although some areas now require you to download an app and pay via credit card. Parking inspectors patrol parking zones quite frequently so unless you're quickly running to the shops to get some change, it's not worth taking the risk as parking fines are often over $100 in Australia.
If you're in the suburbs or further afield it's often better to park at a shopping centre where you'll be able to leave your car for longer and won't need to pay for parking. High rise car parks are also a good option if you need to park for a little bit longer in the capitals however they can be quite expensive on weekdays, so you may wish to return your car and rehire another car a few days later if you're planning on having a few days break in the city.
The driving conditions in Australian cities can be quite busy. Peak hour in Australia's capital cities is getting longer and longer. If you'd like to avoid the traffic its best to get out of the city before 8am and return after 6pm. This also goes for the major arterials leading in and out of the city. If you're not keen on driving in the dark, summer might be an ideal time for your visit as daylight extends until as late as 9:30pm and allows for extended driving.
Each city has its own unique set up and quirks. Hobart has a series of one way streets which can be eternally frustrating if you miss your stop! Sydney is the city of no right hand turns during peak hours to keep the traffic flowing and in Melbourne you'll have trams and hook turns to contend with! Our advice is to do a quick search of where you're going before you get there and to leave a little extra time. Unfortunately Australian drivers aren't the most patient lot so you may be faced with the odd beep and dirty stare if you hold the traffic up or dawdle around. This can be quite stressful if you're new to an area so be prepared and try and enter any areas you're unsure about outside of peak times to give yourself a bit more time to navigate any tricky roads.
Drinking and driving
If you're hiring a car in Australia you may want to add on an additional driver for those times where you want to enjoy a drink or two. The 'booze bus' - or mobile breath testing bus, is a common feature on Australian roads. Police can and will also randomly stop drivers to breathalyse them. Australian road rules state that you must be under 0.05 in Australia or you will be disqualified from driving immediately and depending on how far over the limit you are, receive a hefty fine. The rules are applicable across Australia so if you have an incident in one state you're also disqualified across the rest of the country and the police in other regions will be able to access this information.
In addition to alcohol, police also check for illicit drugs such as amphetamines and cannabis use. You may be asked for a tongue swab which will be tested on the spot. Sometimes readings can be false which may mean that you will have to visit the mobile testing bus or police station to be retested to rule out a fake positive. These tests are quite routine in Australia and if you're doing the right thing should only take a minute of your time before you can happily continue on with your drive.
Finding your way around
There are lots of choices when it comes to car rental in Australia. Having a hire car makes it easy to travel around Australia by car and opens up so many more destinations for you. Cars can easily be collected from all major and most smaller airports and from a range of depots around the country. This means you can easily hire a car for a portion of your journey before you move on, or you can organise a longer term car rental if you are going to self drive around Australia.
The driving conditions in Australia are excellent with paved roads the norm. A useful extra is to hire a sat nav device. Data in Australia is quite expensive, so adding on a sat nav unit will free up your phone. It is illegal to touch your phone once your car has started, so make sure to stow it away or use it hands free. If you are using it for navigational purposes, set up your journey before you leave and then place it in a holder where you don't have to touch it again until you stop. The fine for using your phone whilst driving goes into the hundreds as well as increasing your risk of an accident.
It's wise to be prepared for the driving conditions you'll face before you set out. Toll roads are becoming more prevalent in Australia, but if you have a hire car you need not worry. All toll roads in Australia are automated, so you'll be able to drive straight through without stopping at a booth. You may notice a small device attached to the inside of the windscreen not far from the rear vision mirror. This is your electronic toll pass tag. They've got different names all over the country, but they all work together, so you'll be covered within Australia no matter which toll road you drive on. Your toll will be added to your bill when you return your vehicle.
If you are borrowing a car or have bought a car, you will need to buy a temporary pass either before you drive on the toll road or usually within 48 hours of driving on the road. You'll see plenty of signs, so don't worry, you'll easily be able to sort it out after the fact. If you're doing a longer trip you may want to set up an account, then you'll be set for the longer term.
Oh, the places you'll go
Whilst it may seem like a little more responsibility than taking organised tours, self drive in Australia really is the way to go. If you're travelling in a family or group of over 2 you'll get much better value from hiring a car in Australia than booking a tour. Australian road safety rules are logical and if you're an experienced driver you'll find our signage and roads easy to navigate. Whilst Aussies can get a little possessive of their lanes, they're very friendly otherwise, so feel free to ask the locals how to get to a destination or for any tips if there is a rule or sign you can't make sense of. If you're hiring the staff at the collection point are also a wealth of knowledge for you to tap into.
Hiring a car in Australia is simple and flexible. Car rental in Australia is a popular way to access the right vehicle for your travel needs. It is cost effective and the generally excellent driving conditions in Australia mean that you'll be able to enjoy your journey and not worry about navigating tricky roads (unless off road is more your cup of tea!).
So now you know the essentials, you should have the confidence to hit the road. With the perfect car and road trip in mind, all that's needed are some snacks and some tunes! Happy driving!
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