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Planning Your Great Australian Road Trip

By  AAMI

We’re spoiled for choice

Ahh, the Great Australian Road Trip. It’s almost a rite of passage in our country, whatever form it comes in. For you, it might be getting a few mates together to set out on a long weekend camping trip, or bundling your family into the car (with the promise of a Maccas breakfast) to set out on a school holiday adventure.

There’s just something about hitting the open road in our beautiful country. And some of those roads are loooong! Being the 6th largest country in the world, we host some of the longest highways. Highway 1 – a network of highways that circumnavigate the country – is over 14,500km long. Driving around Australia via Highway 1 would be like driving east to west across the U.S. three and a half times. And the longest straight stretch of road in Australia is the Eyre Highway between Balladonia and Caiguna, which stretches for 146.6km without turning. With all these impressively long roads, it’s safe to say there are plenty of road trip opportunities in Australia.

Today, we’ll explore some top Aussie road trips with you and also share some useful tips for staying safe while on the road.

A tradition steeped in history

It’s hard to imagine an Australia without the sophisticated 800,000km network of roads that link up our major cities and towns today. However, our country hasn’t always been this connected or accessible.

It wasn’t until Governor Lachlan Macquarie began putting serious effort into developing roads in the Sydney area around 1810 that building the Australian road system got underway. Up until then, people would have created their own haphazard, unofficial paths, travelling the country on foot, camels, horses or carts.

Then, the motorcar came onto the scene.

In 1901 the first car was produced in Australia, by Harley Tarrant in Melbourne. By 1916 there were enough cars on the roads to warrant the Melbourne City Council to introduce road regulations, like driving on the left side of the road, and using hand signals to indicate1.

Despite the lack of technology and adequate safety measures when it came to driving cars in the early 1900s, the Great Australian Road Trip was already at large. HH Dutton and Murray Augne made the first car trip from Adelaide to Darwin in 1908; and Francis Birtles completed the first west to east crossing in 1912, from Fremantle to Sydney. In a time when driving from Melbourne to Darwin would take eight days (it now takes about 42 hours2) and without towns and petrol stations along the way, road trippers had to take plenty of spare fuel and water. In fact, Birtles packed six cases of petrol and oil and forty gallons of water for one of his drives, and still ran out3.

There’s no doubt that the Great Australian Road Trip has allured Australians for a long time – even when road travel took a lot longer than it does now, and was a lot less comfortable.

After the First World War car ownership began to rise rapidly, and as roads became more frequently travelled, the need for road development and maintenance grew. The Australian road network steadily increased to meet the need of growing industries and national defence, particularly in the northern states. In 1974 the Australian Government created the National Roads Act, taking full responsibility for funding the national road network. It was then that we officially adopted kilometres instead of miles.

Today, we’re fortunate enough to have access to almost all of the 800,000km of Australian roads,4 a lot of which make for excellent road trips.

Isn’t it about time you set off on your own Great Australian Road Trip?

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Classic Aussie road trips

We’ve got some great ideas for where you could head off to. No matter what state you’re in, there’s a road trip to be had. Here are some of the classics.

Victoria: The Great Ocean Road

243km

Drive details:

The Great Ocean Road, one of Victoria’s most scenic drives, winds its way along the coast from Torquay in Melbourne’s south-west to Allansford, near Warrnambool. As suggested by its name, the Great Ocean Road drive provides a pretty great ocean view. It’s the perfect vantage point for viewing the Southern Ocean, featuring the best of Australia’s south coast.

Stopovers not to be missed:

  • The Otway Ranges offer beautiful rainforest walks and lookouts – plus there’s a treetop walk to help you get fully immersed in the rainforest surroundings.
  • The famous 12 Apostles are hard to go past and are rightfully a popular stopover during the trip (though there aren’t exactly twelve of them anymore…). See how the mighty Southern Ocean has shaped the coastline over centuries and left stunning rock formations.
  • Bells Beach, home of the Rip Curl Pro surfing competition, provides some amazing views – and some impressive swells for experienced surfers to tackle.

Trip length:

While the Great Ocean Road takes only a few hours to drive end-to-end non-stop, it’s worth taking your time and visiting a few towns along the way. You could easily make this a three or four day trip – the challenge comes in choosing which quaint seaside town to spend the night in.

Take with you:

A camera (for selfies, of course) and camping gear if you choose to set up at a camping site.

Tasmania: Hobart to the Bay of Fires

300km

Drive details:

Tasmania’s East Coast is a clear winner for road trip enthusiasts who enjoy beaches, restaurants featuring local produce, and stunning scenery. This drive starts in Hobart and involves a leisurely crawl down the coast to finish at the world-famous Bay of Fires.

Stopovers not to be missed:

  • Maria Island is a short 30 minute ferry trip from Triabunna, just a little over an hour north from Hobart. This is a tranquil, remote island with no shops or cars – perfect for hiking and exploring Tasmania’s convict history.
  • Known for its picture perfect ‘wineglass’ contours, Wineglass Bay is ranked among the top ten beaches in the world. It’s set in the Freycinet National Park, and there are plenty of opportunities for hikes, kayaking, snorkelling and other fun activities in the area.
  • The Bay of Fires marks the end of this road trip, but make sure you leave enough time to explore this properly. There’s a four day walk you can take, or a 90 minute summit walk will lead you to breathtaking views of the orange-coloured granite rocks.

Trip length:

It can take anywhere from 6 hours driving direct, to 5 days doing a slow amble along the coast.

Take with you:

Your appetite – there are plenty of restaurants, retreats and wineries to stop off along your journey – and camping gear if you’d like to camp.

South Australia: The Nullarbor

1,675km

Drive details:

Another iconic Australian drive, many people complete the Nullarbor on the way from Adelaide to Perth (almost 3,500km in total) over a few days. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, you can’t get much less bustley than the arid, open plains of the Nullarbor. This is also where you’ll find that impressively long 146.6km stretch of road we spoke about earlier.

Stopovers not to be missed:

  • The Nullabor Plain roadsign – have you even done the drive if you don’t have a photo of you in front of the sign?
  • The Nullarbor Roadhouse is a great place to stop over on your Nullarbor road trip to stock up on supplies, refuel and even stay a night or two. There are motel rooms available as well as camping facilities.
  • Visit the Head of the Bight, 20km east of the Nullarbor Roadhouse. From here, you have spectacular views of the Great Australian Bight, and can often view whales.

Trip length:

It will take about two days to cross the Nullarbor, and a stopover will be necessary as you’re not advised to drive at night. Set aside a few weeks if you’re going from Adelaide to Perth, with an adequate amount of time to see the sights along the way.

Take with you:

This is a big drive into a vast and empty part of the world. Be prepared, and everything should go to plan. Travellers are advised to take extra fuel, oil and coolant, water and spare tyres just to be safe.

Western Australia: Gibb River Road

660km

Drive details:

This road trip is ideal for those that like adventure and rugged Australian scenery. While most parts of Gibb River Road can be traversed by 2WDs these days, some sections of the road are best tackled in a 4WD – particularly during the rainy season when water can deteriorate the condition of the road. Plus, many of the turn-offs to see attractions like waterfalls and gorges (aka. the fun stuff) are only accessible in a hardy vehicle.

Stopovers not to be missed:

  • Be sure to explore the beautiful Windjana Gorge National Park where you can see beautiful birdlife and freshwater crocodiles in the wild. Stay away from the crocodiles though, obviously. Rumour has it they aren’t friendly.
  • Go for a swim in the pristine Isdell River at Galvans Gorge, which is one of the most accessible gorges on the Gibb River Road. Here, you’ll be able to see a gorgeous waterfall and admire some impressive boab trees.
  • Discover some traditional Aboriginal rock art at Mitchell Plateau. There are some beautiful bushwalks in the area, and you can even book a scenic helicopter flight from the Mitchell Plateau camping ground.

Trip length:

While the Gibb River Road can be driven in one day, you’re well advised to take your time and see as much as you can along the way. You could comfortably spend eight days on this road trip.

Take with you:

As you’re heading into a remote and beautiful area, take extra fuel, water, spare tyres and consider packing a satellite phone. Bring swimwear if you’re up for a dip!

Northern Territory: Red Centre Way

690km

Drive details:

Taking you past iconic and sacred sites like Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges, this drive along the Northern Territory’s Red Centre Way is one to put on the bucket list. The route takes you in a loop, starting and ending in Alice Springs. It can be taken in a 2WD, however during certain periods some roads are only accessible by 4WD.

Stopovers not to be missed:

  • Before you head off, spend some time in the Alice Springs Desert Park learning about the wildlife and Aboriginal culture of the area.
  • Make a stopover at Standley Chasm, an impressive natural chasm best viewed in the middle of the day.
  • Travelling the Red Centre Way is hardly worth it without a visit to Uluru. This sacred Aboriginal site is near the town of Yulara, where you can stop over to refuel and stock up on supplies. There is a great tourist centre at Uluru and if you’re game you can embark on the stunning 10km walk around the rock.

Trip length:

Starting and finishing your trip in Alice Springs, you’re advised to take a good solid five or six days to complete the road trip (including time spent exploring the sights).

Take with you:

Take camping gear if you’d like to make use of the affordable camping sites on the trip, or you can stay in motels. It’s also good to bring some hardy, comfortable footwear if you’re planning to take advantage of the amazing walking tracks. (Hint: your shoes and clothes are going to get dusty!)

Queensland: The Great Barrier Reef Drive

140km

Drive details:

From Cairns to Cape Tribulation, this northern Queensland drive is one of Australia’s great coastal drives. You’ll pass beautiful secluded beaches, resort towns where you can hop on a boat and experience the reef up close, and the lush Daintree Forest. You may even come across a cassowary or two!

Stopovers not to be missed:

  • Make a stop at one of the stunning northern beaches between 10 and 25 minutes’ north of Cairns. Yorkeys Knob or Palm Cove are great places to stop over for a quick swim and to catch some rays of sunshine.
  • Consider staying a night or two in Port Douglas, famous as a resort town. Here, you can kick back, enjoy a spa treatment, or visit some local restaurants and bars.
  • Cross the Daintree River on a cable ferry and enter the beautiful Daintree Forest. You can soak in the environment properly by visiting the Marrdja or Dubuji boardwalk and immersing yourself in the sights, smells and sounds of the forest.

Trip length:

It’s about a three hour direct drive, but it’s a great full day trip with plenty of interesting places to stop over.

Take with you:

Plenty of insect repellent! Mosquitoes and sandflies are abundant in the jungle region of northern Queensland, so come prepared.

New South Wales: Grand Pacific Drive

140km

Drive details:

There are many different ways you can drive the Grand Pacific Drive between Sydney and the Shoalhaven region. With many wineries, the Royal National Park and adventure acitivities like skydiving on offer along the trip, it’s an ideal road trip for, well… almost anyone!

Stopovers not to be missed:

  • Don’t miss the amazing Sea Cliff Bridge – an impressive winding road suspended over the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
  • If you haven’t taken the time to explore Wollongong before, now is as great a time as ever! You can do some retail therapy, or enjoy a meal or drink at one of the many restaurants and bars.
  • Stop over in Kiama to view the lighthouse and blowhole, and to set out on one of the coastal walking tracks.

Trip length:

The Grand Pacific Drive makes for a great day trip from Sydney (1 hour out) or even Canberra (2.5 hrs out). Alternatively, take a few days and head a little further down south, or return via the Southern Highlands.

Take with you:

A friend or family member who will enjoy the activities you enjoy – whether that be lazy strolls through coastal towns or adventure activities such as skydiving (yep, you can do this directly over the beach in Wollongong).

A note on road tripping in remote areas

If you’re adventuring in remote areas of Australia – or even just travelling through – it’s really important to make sure you’re equipped for whatever the road or weather throws at you. While car trips are a lot more comfortable and safe than they once were (and you probably won’t need to bring six gallons of water along for the ride), you can prepare for the trip by packing your own emergency car kit, and by ensuring you’ve got some kind of roadside assistance.

You can add AAMI Roadside Assist as an optional extra to your AAMI Comprehensive Car Insurance policy for less than $86 per year. That means we’ll be able to help you out with:

  • Flat batteries
  • Flat tyres
  • Emergency fuel
  • Towing your car
  • Lost or locked in keys.

Assistance is available 24/7, and you’re covered in every Australian state and territory (provided it’s accessible by a 2WD). Roadside Assist can give you some level of assurance that you’re not on your own if something goes awry on your Great Australian Road Trip.

Staying safe on the drive

There are 18.8 million registered vehicles in Australia5 – and that means a heck of a lot of cars on our roads. On your road trip, you’re contending not only with lots of other drivers and all sorts of weather and road conditions, but also potential wildlife. Oh yes… and possibly even some slight differences in driving habits from state to state.

Here are some key ways you can stay safe on the road during your road trip.

Fuel up!

If travelling through rural areas of the country – you know, where the nearest town is 100km away – it pays to have a spare can of fuel on hand, just in case. Keep in mind that fuel in remote areas can be extremely expensive, so it might also be worth your while stocking up before you leave.

Bring a spare tyre (or two)

If you’re travelling a long distance, it makes sense to take a spare tyre or two for the journey – particularly if you’re heading into rural areas. While AAMI Roadside Assist can respond to flat tyres in some circumstances – you’ll be on your way quicker if you’ve got a spare in the boot!

Brush up on your road rules

While Australia’s road rules are basically the same from state to state (you always need to drive on the left side of the road!), there may be some slight subtleties to look out for.

It’s important to observe and obey speed signs wherever you are and keep a look out for any other traffic signs that may not be usual in your home state. A prime example is Melbourne’s famous hook turn, which features commonly in the CBD and requires you to turn right from the left lane at traffic lights once the light has gone red. This has baffled many an interstate driver, but can be figured out by driving carefully and observing signs.

Also note that in some states it’s illegal to cross the border with fresh produce like fruit and vegetables.

Bring a map (yes, we mean a physical one)

While Google Maps is often there for you when you need it most… it can’t quite be relied upon when your 4G is out of range – not to mention if your phone battery goes flat. It never hurts to have a good old fashioned map book on hand if there’s a chance you could get lost or need directions.

Make sure you’re insured

Unfortunately, accidents can happen to anyone – even if you’re a safe driver. That’s why it’s important to take caution on unfamiliar roads, follow road signs including the speed limit, and look out for wildlife. It’s also best to have car insurance in case anything does happen.

AAMI’s Comprehensive Car Insurance can cover damage to your car as well as damage to other people’s vehicles or property. Compare our car insurance options and work out what’s best for you.

What to do if you DO have an accident

If you find yourself involved in an accident while on your road trip adventure, first and foremost it’s important to ensure everyone is safe. Call 000 if anyone is injured, turn your vehicle’s hazard lights on and safely move your car out of the way of other vehicles.

The next step is to exchange details with other people involved in the accident, including any witnesses. Try and collect each person’s full name, licence details, address and contact number. Take as many photos of the accident as you can – you’ll need these if lodging a claim for loss or damage of your car.

Check out our visual guide of what to do in a minor car accident.

Got a caravan or motorbike?

Roadtripping with a caravan in tow? Or heading off on a motorbike journey? Sounds like quite an adventure, and we’re happy to say that AAMI can offer insurance for these too!

Check out AAMI Motorcycle Insurance options or AAMI Caravan Insurance.

Australians have been embarking on road trips since before roads even existed. There’s no doubt that whether you’re traversing the barren landscape of the Nullarbor, exploring the treasures of the Kimberley region or setting out on a coastal drive – road trips in Australia can make for an epic adventure. Now, go and enjoy your own road trip adventure. We wish you a safe and truly amazing journey!

Sources

1.     Museums Victoria, Coming of the Motor Car

2.     Fleetcare, No More Bulldust–The history of Australian roads

3.     SA Memory, Epic Car Journeys

4.     Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 1974

5.     Australian Bureau of Statistics, 9309.0 - Motor Vehicle Census, Australia, 31 Jan 2017

 


AAMI Home Building and Home Contents Insurance, Landlord Insurance, Strata Insurance, Car Insurance, Motorcycle Insurance, NSW and ACT CTP Insurance, Caravan Insurance, Business Insurance and Travel Insurance are issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 AFSL 230859 (AAI) trading as AAMI.. Consider the Product Disclosure Statement before making a decision about this insurance. This advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.