Travel in outback Australia

Bush Camp Site
Bush Camp Site

Before I started to write about how difficult it can be to travel in outback Australia I decided to do three searches, just to gain some insight into various factors in Australia compared to the USA and Europe. Information in regard to:

  • uninhabitable land
  • land area
  • population

and none of the results are going to be accurate, simply because definitions of what to include for the purposes of calculating land size and whether land is uninhabitable or arable, is really irrelevant to this article.

This information is purposefully left open to interpretation for the above reasons.

  • Australia = 7.7 million Sq kms, the world’s 6th largest country by area. Total population: 24.6 million
    • 768,685 sq km2 of land is actually habitable in Australia OR 10% of the land we can live in!
  • USA = 9.8million Sq kilometres, the world’s 4th largest country by area. Total population: 320 million
    • 4.61 million sq km2 has no population OR 53% of the land we can live in!
  • Europe = 4 million sq km2, 7th largest country (if it were a country). Total population: 500 million
    • A very quick search on Google indicates not very much uninhabitable land, if any.

In summary, Australia is a large country physically but small in population, with good reason.

 

How to travel in Australia

Travelling in Australia should be similar to most other countries in reality.

We have a rail system, road transport network, planes fly all over the place, cars, buses and 4 wheel drive’s (4wd’s) traverse the country so there should be no difference in travel options around Australia compared to the USA and Europe.

It does not matter whether any of our systems of transport are better or worse than in these countries.

However, I do believe that there is one area in which we have a distinct difference to the USA and Europe. It is reported that 80 to 90% of Australia is uninhabitable.

Accordingly, when travelling by road through this uninhabitable land it is far safer to do so by 4wd vehicle and to take some serious precautions due to the total and complete lack of water and access in a fair proportion of this land.

The 4wd vehicle we need to take can be stock standard (ie straight from the dealer) and you will make it around most of the country without too much drama. It doesn’t need to be a new vehicle, as long as it is well maintained, it would be advisable to have a few modifications, such as:

  • All Terrain Tyres

    All Terrain Tyre
    All Terrain Tyre

  • bull bar
  • lifted suspension (2″ or 50 mm)
  • winch
  • snorkel
  • UHF Radio
  • Satellite phone
  • 2 spare wheels
  • other relevant spares – fan belts, filters, tyre repair kit, recovery kit

There are other ways to travel in outback Australia and these can add to your experience. Travelling options include:

  • 4wd tagalong tours
  • 4wd, 6wd or even 8wd bus tours eg Unimog style vehicle
  • helicopter or plane flights

and by taking one these options you will experience a whole range of different scenery’s and attractions but all are still a part of the Australian outback.

Personal Safety in the outback

There is a belief here in Australia that we can solve any problem when it happens, and most of the time I agree wholeheartedly because we are an ingenious people. There is however a need to be prepared, and that means carrying a range of things which will be invaluable in obtaining help.

Obviously most people will carry a range of tools and parts but do you have enough, or the right tools?

Fund raising rally

As a side comment, I have done a few fund-raising type rallies in specially prepared cars, not rally or race cars, but road registered cars with roll cages, heavier duty springs and more. As far as carrying parts there is a limit to what can be carried, but you can still carry too much.

In fact, one of the competitors in one of these events carried a spare “differential” (known as: Diffs) because his type of vehicle had a history of breaking Diffs. Each Diff would weigh in at around 80 to 100 Kilograms. Would you believe that he broke his Diff? Of course, he did!

Clearly the moral of this little yarn is that we need to balance weight against reality and use the “right” kind of vehicle in the first place. I don’t know about you but if my vehicle type had a history of breaking a component (ie Diff) I would fix that before I left for the trip or use another vehicle type.

Have a look at this list of discussion points for those times when travelling in the outback, and you will be a lot better prepared:

  • carry a good quality medical kit

    Medical Kit For Travelling
    Medical Kit For Travelling

  • carry a minimum of 20 litres of water per person per day
  • distances – it takes a long time to travel between places in a vehicle – don’t try to walk it
  • stay with your vehicle – it is bigger and easier to see than you and it will give you shade
  • if broken down don’t move around in the heat of the day, save your energy – others driving past will stop
  • use a mirror to flash a plane
  • if you have petrol, light a fire, by burning a tyre you will create a lot of smoke which can be seen for a long way
  • use your communication devices to relay your situation

Please ensure that at least one person in your car or group is a trained first aid officer, and make sure that the training is done in a country centre, simply because there is a different emphasis placed on those issues to be found in the country.

Tropical areas

It is also important to note that in the tropical north of Australia there a different conditions again.

A really simple example of this is infection. In these tropical areas it is really important to clean any wound, even a small scratch immediately. Infection can set in extremely quickly in these moist hot tropical areas.

Some communication devices

  • PLB – Personal Locator Beacon, registered to the person, works anywhere
  • EPIRB – A marine beacon designed to run 48 hrs and is registered to a boat, works anywhere on water
  • HF Radio – High Frequency radio, can have RFDS contact programmed in, not too good in very remote
  • Satellite Phone – the most recommended product, but reception can be limited in remote areas
  • UHF Radio – short range communications between vehicles, uses a repeater network via home bases
  • Mobile Phone – not much good outside of populated areas

 

Personal Location Beacons (PLBs), like the EPIRBs communicate by sending a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency which is relayed via the Cospas-Sarsat global satellite system.

PLBs are much smaller and are designed to be carried on the person, they have a battery life of 24 hrs (a minimum requirement) and usually come with a loop for hanging around your neck. PLBs are registered to the person via AMSA.

An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) are significantly larger than a PLB because they are primarily designed for Maritime uses, as such they are usually mounted in a boat and are built to float. A requirement of law is that they must operate continuously for 48 hours.

Each of these allow emergency services and / or RFDS to reach you according to GPS tracking, but they each operate slightly differently.

You will find that a lot of small communities in the outback, in particular the Northern Territory have either a hospital or emergency centre where you can be treated. These centres will fly you to a larger centre if needed or call in the RFDS depending on the situation.

 

 

Several Products which could be useful

 

Garmin inReach Technology*

Garmin InReach GPS
Garmin InReach GPS

The Garmin inReach technology utilises satellites to triangulate your location. These GPS Satellites orbit the Earth twice daily and the Garmin inReach sends and receives signals to these satellites. The Garmin inReach which can be bought online, from boating stores, camping stores etc is a reasonable cost but they are also a PLB.

 

 

Other alternatives

Satsleeve
Satsleeve

Buy a Satsleeve* for your mobile from Optus. Works with any carrier’s phone.

Contract plan can be put on hold and reactivated with 24 hrs notice.

Also, a PLB and once registered is also a good back up. There is a cost, which could be excessive, so research carefully.

 

 

KTI Safety Alert PLB
KTI Safety Alert PLB

The KTI Safety-Alert* PLB is ideal for bush walkers, 4wder’s, cross-country skiers and small aircraft pilots, it is the ultimate global rescue link for people who want peace of mind when they travel in outback Australia.

 

 

* I do not sell any of these items, but they can be found anywhere online with a quick Google search or through the link if provided here.

Free camping sites to find

There are many ways to find a free camping site, you can use any of these **:

Picnic lunch
Picnic lunch (our first day free camping)
  • Published books like CAMPS 9
    • As with all things published the CAMPS 9 books are updated frequently. If you want an online solution for the CAMPS9 style book, perhaps you
      could go to this page and download the “app“. There is a small fee.
  • Wikicamps
    • One of the most used “apps” available, for a small fee it can be downloaded to your phone
  • CamperMate
    • CamperMate also has an “app” which can be downloaded to your phone or PC.
  • Youcamp
    • Youcamp is a great resource where you can find places to stay for free or at a low cost on
      private land, in fact their website provides a whole new world of amazing private land camping adventures.
  • Grey Nomad sites
    • Here is one of many Grey Nomads sites for you to have a look at. Plenty of interesting reading on there aimed directly at Grey Nomads.

Any of these methods are more than capable of delivering you a wonderful free camp site or a low cost one at worst, some of them on private land and others in designated locations.

** Please note that any and all links in this post are provided to assist you in finding what you need. I receive no commissions from any of these and have no affiliations of any type. All provided for your benefit.

If you wish me to add other pieces of information or you would like to let me know of a free camp site, please leave me a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Travel in outback Australia

  1. Emmanuel Buysse Reply

    Great post and good info!

    I know a friend who travelled to Australia 2 years ago. He stayed there for 6 months, I thought he went to Sydney and Canberra, because the most is hostile or you can’t go to there.

    It is like you say, you can actually do it, with a jeep, enough resources, just be careful with all the animals, there are really dangerous ones out there.

    But he recommended me to go, so I think soon we will take a trip to there!

    Thanks for sharing it.

    • Steve Post authorReply

      There is a lot more to Australia than Sydney and Canberra, these two cities are within 300 kilometres of each other. Canberra is the Capital of Australia and Sydney is the capital of the state of New South Wales.

      From Sydney to Perth (east to west) is around 5000 kilometres, from Melbourne to Brisbane (South to North) is around 3000 kilometres and that puts you halfway up to the very top of Australia (another 3000 kilometres) and then there is Tasmania, the smallest state and the best state (oops, sorry shouldn’t be biased but I was born there!). All these figures are intentionally rounded off.

      Whilst the humble Jeep is a great vehicle, most of us use the Toyota, Nissan or Mitsubishi style of vehicle. The main reason being that it is far easier to get parts in the event of a breakdown. This is not a slight against the Jeep.

  2. Barry Reply

    I have heard about Australia but I have not been there before. I wish to travel around the world someday, and as Australia is such a large country I would like to make it the first place I go to in my trip.

    The need to be so prepared when travelling in outback Australia is the main reason for me to want to do it first.

    I wish to thank you for the information about how to prepare for travel in such difficult places. Especially when you mentioned that carrying just the right amount of equipment to save on the extra weight.

    This information will be a fantastic aid when traveling in Australia.

    • Steve Post authorReply

      I am so happy that you have heard about Australia, now take the next step and visit. There are so many wonderful things to see and do, and not just in the outback, that it could take you 12 months or more to see it all.

      But I wouldn’t do it that way, I would visit for 6 to 9 months then return home to really enjoy what you have seen. Then return in 2 years and do the rest.

      If you need assistance in the preparation for your trip, contact me here and we can put something together for you. Glad to be of assistance.

  3. Bex Reply

    I have a sister who lives in Australia and I have always wanted to visit. I have always had an outback adventure in the periphery of my mind and now reading your post, I feel much more empowered about going out and accomplishing an adventure such as this.  I loved the comment about solving the problem when it happens – resonated with a very in the moment and wise kind of way being. This post will be a very handy tool as a precursor to having an adventure in the Australian Outback. Thank you for the insights,  I will bookmark it for sure.

    • Steve Post authorReply

      Contact your sister and book a flight here. If outback Australia is not your go, then we can arrange a number of other types of holiday.

      However, I do think that you need to see some of the most iconic places Australia has to offer, from Uluru to the Great Barrier Reef and then the Great Australian Bight.

      We have great train adventures however to me the best is travelling in outback Australia.

  4. Stefan Reply

    Hi, that was an interesting read. I’ve never been to Australia, in fact it’s the only continent I haven’t been to.

    I’d love to go because there is so much to see and friends were all very excited about travelling there.

    Now I live in Thailand, that’s not that far away any more 🙂

    I have one question, because there is so much territory which is uninhabitable. Is there also no mobile connection?

    I mean, is it worth having a good internet gadget with or is this most of the time a joke in the outback? 

    • Steve Post authorReply

      The humble mobile will not work once you get into the outback, satellite phones, UHF and HF Radio are the only recommended communications formats that will reliably work. However, these also do not work everywhere, but if you have that problem then you are so remote that it is assumed that you are super experienced and that you are prepared for anything and everything. Bad thing to assume hey!

      You are so right about Thailand not being that far away, it takes less time to fly from there to here than it does for us to fly across Australia!

      With that thought in mind I expect that you will be preparing to visit soon!

      When you do wish to visit don’t forget to contact me and I can assist with your travel arrangements.

  5. pmbaluka2016 Reply

    That was a very interesting article on travelling through Australia. Though tough but it sounds like it’s gonna be a real adventure to do off roading in Australia. I like the checklist of what exactly to carry in case anything happens and I like the idea of carrying those communication gadgets.

    I wonder what is a tentative budget for someone visiting Australia for the first time? Seems I gonna visit Australia on vacation one of these fine days and I have bookmarked your website for more information. What’s a one month’s budget for a single person?

    • Steve Post authorReply

      You are asking what a tentative budget would be for a first timer to Australia. Without being rude or condescending I must say that is akin to asking how long is a piece of string?

      Why? Simply because costs vary depending on the holiday you wish to do.

      I am assuming that because you are looking at this post you may be interested in travelling through remote outback Australia. Now that is narrowed down a bit there are still many different options, including hiring a 4wd vehicle, hiring a touring van just for less adventurous trips, or perhaps you wish to fly from one location to another and then hire a vehicle.

      Just out of interest we recently did a trip from Sydney to Perth in our 4wd and towed a camper trailer which allowed us to free camp most of the way. The trip took in total 10,000 kilometres and our all up cost was around $10,000. This cost included breakdowns (we had 3), vet visits for our cat and a few other misadventures which cost us money.

      Many of the overseas people we spoke with had hired vans and were touring around Australia staying in free camp sites where ever they could. They all seemed to enjoy that style and there was always at least two of them, assuming that was to share in costs.

      Contact me if you are interested in coming and together we can arrange a trip to suit your needs.

  6. Strahinja Reply

    Hello and thank you for this amazing post. I am planning on travelling to Australia in December so I could really use some expert tips about the nature of this amazing place.

    I am a nature lover. I enjoy hiking, walking and cycling. I am specially interested in Australia wilderness, deserts and dirt roads. Your post really helped me. I will definitely carry with me a medical kit since this is really obligatory when going through Australian wilderness.

    Thank you also for listing the free camping sites, we will definitely visit them during my trip.

    Best regards,

    Strahinja

    • Steve Post authorReply

      Since you are an avid hiker and walker I can advise you that there would be two really good tracks for you to consider, however they need to be carefully planned and careful consideration given to the amount of time you have to walk these.

      There are several more tracks that I could recommend however, as you are coming here in our summer they would be too dangerous to contemplate, due to heat and a lack of water.

      I have reviewed this track: https://300kmsaday.com/a-long-… without having walked it myself because I am not a walker. However, I found a bunch of interesting information and saw a small part of the track. The Heysen Trail is quite a lengthy hike, 1200 kilometres in fact. There is no obligation to walk it all in one go, there is plenty of smaller components to this walk.

      This walk in December would still require good preparation as the temperature in sections of this walk can be up to 45 Celcius (113 Fahrenheit!) or more.

      Another walk is in Tasmania and is through the centre of the state starting at Cradle Mountain to St Clair and is called the: The Overland Track, and winds it’s way through the National park. There are numerous options to stop and camp along the way.

      However, Tasmania is the southern most state of Australia and this track is in the mountains. The temperatures in December can get to as low as 0 degrees and strong winds often apply. A good day is regarded as less windy and a temperature around 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit). Naturally, this climate is vastly different to outback Australia on the mainland, but it is still a component of Outback Australia.

  7. Juliet Reply

    Thanks for this post. I have always been curious to know about Australia. This part of Australia sounds very exiting. I would love to travel round by rail. It’s interesting to know that 80-90% of Australia is inhabitable. Also, with the list of precautions and things to be taken on the journey, Outland Australia sounds like an adventure waiting for me! 

    • Steve Post authorReply

      If travelling by rail in Australia you will want to consider a couple of trains, namely: The Ghan, and The Indian Pacific.

      The Ghan travels from Adelaide, the capital of South Australia through Alice Springs and onto Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. It has a number of stops in historic townships and is a wonderful experience. You are able to book many configurations for the journey allowing you to partake in a variety of activities including camel expeditions, helicopter flights, river cruises. The website for The Ghan is full of information.

      The Indian Pacific crosses Australia from East to West. Sydney to Perth, it takes 4 days / 3 nights to make the crossing but to my mind this is a rushed trip but I believe the meals and entertainment value of the trip is exceptional. No I haven’t done this trip. Again, you can break this trip into several stages and by going to the Indian Pacific website you will gain an appreciation of the options.

      These are the two major train adventures but there are more, and if you are  interested to know more please send me a message.

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