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Vast and diverse, Australia offers visitors everything from coral reefs to snowy mountains and cosmopolitan cities. You’ll need your own set of wheels to tour the spectacular coasts, red centre and national parks of this huge country, with driving through the outback a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Driving Tips for Australia
Navigating Australian roads is easy, even in the country’s biggest cities. While the rewards of driving in remote areas are great, travellers should make sure they are properly equipped with spare fuel and water before hitting the tarmac.
Driving licences: a valid UK driving licence permits a driver to drive in Australia for up to three months. An International Driving Permit must accompany licences written in languages other than English.
Which side does Australia drive on: the left.
Highways and freeways: 68-81mph (110-130kph)
Major roads and small highways: 37-56mph (60-90kph)
Outside built-up areas: 62-68mph (100-110kph)
Built-up areas: 31-37mph (50-60kph)
School zones: 16-25mph (25-40kph)
Alcohol limits: stricter than the UK limit of 0.08 percent, at 0.05 per cent. Random breath tests are common. Offenders face a court appearance and a fine or suspension of license.
Driving age: 16 to 18 years depending on state or territory; 21 to 24 years for car hire.
Seatbelts: mandatory for all passengers, if fitted. Children under seven years must be seated in an appropriate child restraint.
Mobile phones and GPS: the use of a mobile phone while driving is only permitted in conjunction with a hands-free kit. Dashboard GPS units are legal.
Cost of fuel in Australia: cheap, at around 50 per cent of the cost of fuel in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: both petrol stations and car hire suppliers accept payment by major credit cards.
Insurance: basic insurance is included with car hire but optional excess reduction is recommended.
Traffic and parking: city traffic is typically congested at peak times, but navigating cities by car outside of rush hours is often as fast as using public transport. City car parks are expensive while metered street parking has strict time limits, yet train station parking is often free. Outside urban areas, parking is easy to find.
Australia’s rail network is rather limited, partly due to the sheer distances between most major cities. Taking the train is a more expensive, slower, yet often more scenic, alternative to flying. The train can be a good choice for accessing regional towns that don’t have airports. Some of the most popular routes are: Adelaide to Alice Springs and Darwin, Brisbane to Cairns and Sydney to Perth, operated by Great Southern Railways. Additionally, most major cities have suburban rail networks, with Sydney also boasting light rail and monorail lines. Single inner-city train rides typically cost between £2.00 and £4.00.
Taxis are a great way to get around cities late at night when most buses and trains cease to operate, but public transport is a cheaper option for daytime travel. Metered taxis can be hailed in the street, telephoned for or booked online. Credit card payment is accepted at a surcharge and tipping is not expected. The flag fall day rate in Sydney is £2.00, with a waiting rate of £0.50 per minute, a distance rate of £1.25 per kilometer and a booking fee of £1.60.
Greyhound buses travel between major cities, with Firefly Express and Murrays offering more limited routes. Fares between Sydney and Melbourne cost around £50.00. Buses are also a good way to connect with city suburbs that aren’t served by rail or ferry. They are cheaper than trains, with some free lines offered in central Sydney and other city centers. Timetables and route maps are usually posted at bus stops. Passengers must flag down buses if they want them to stop. Tickets can be bought in advance or via the driver.
Pacific cruises dock at Australian ports from November to February, but the vast majority of visitors arrive by air. Sydney and Brisbane have inner-city ferry and high-speed catamaran services respectively, while Tasmania is connected to Melbourne via the Spirit of Tasmania. Inner-city ferry prices are marginally more expensive than suburban trains, but the scenery is well worth it. Single Sydney ferry trips of under 10kms cost around £3.50.
Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport is Australia’s busiest air hub, followed by Melbourne Tullamarine Airport, Brisbane Airport, Perth Airport and Adelaide Airport. Sydney’s airport handles flights to and from London-Heathrow with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Qantas. With flights to Australia it is common for UK travellers to route through a major Asian or Middle Eastern airport such as Singapore or Dubai. Due to the large distances between major Australian centres, domestic flights are popular, with the Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane routes the most used. Fares typically range between £50 and £125.
With seven vast states, Australia is a huge country that takes most visitors more than one visit to explore in its entirety. Most travelers enter by air via Sydney in New South Wales, with this state boasting not only Australia’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, but the pretty Blue Mountains, Canberra and dozens of attractive beachside communities.
From New South Wales, many travelers head north into Queensland, home to Brisbane and Cairns. From Brisbane, the Gold Coast and its surfing beaches and amusements are easily accessible, while Cairns is a popular jumping-off point for visits to the Great Barrier Reef or Whitsunday Islands.
Victoria is Australia’s most southerly state, with Melbourne as its capital. From here, it is possible to take a car ferry to Tasmania, where Cradle Mountain, un-spoilt beaches and historic Hobart await.
The lesser visited South Australia has Adelaide as its hub, with other highlights including the Barossa Valley for wine and the Flingers Ranges for wilderness treks. Enormous Western Australia offers modern Perth as well as beachside Broome, while the Northern Territory has Uluru as its showcase attraction.
Our Travel Editor’s Recommended Drives
Great Ocean Road – following the wonderfully scenic Victorian coastline, this route offers awe-inspiring vistas. Don’t miss the Twelve Apostles rising majestically from the water or Port Campbell National Park for further scenery to die for.
The Red Centre and Alice Springs– the best way to appreciate the Red Centre’s magnificent sights is to drive from Alice Springs to Uluru, where the image of the sun setting to the backdrop of Ayers Rock can be witnessed. The King’s Canyon rim walk is a must for hikers.
Gibb River Road–stretching between Western Australia’s Kununurra and Derby, this adventurous four-wheel drive journey takes travellers more than 430 miles (700kms) across the remote outback and through dramatic mountains. Unforgettable.
Holidays and Festivals
New Year’s Day (1 January)
Australia Day (26 January)
Labour Day (March, May or October, dependent on state)
ANZAC Day (25 April)
Queen’s Birthday (June or September, dependent on state)
Christmas Day (25 December)
Australia experiences its summers and winters at opposite times to Northern Hemisphere nations, with the coldest temperatures experienced in the south. Winter (June through August), the peak travel season, sees temperatures of between 19 and 31°C in the north and of above freezing in the south, making this a good time to travel. Summer (December through February) sees heat, humidity and rain, except in the southern states. Wet weather is common in northern areas from November through April.
Australia Travel Tips
Australia draws UK travellers with its great weather, diverse landscapes and cosmopolitan cities. The best way to see the country is to hit the open road but before setting off, ensure your trips runs smoothly by brushing up on these travel trips.
Australia contact numbers:
Country code (+61)
British High Commission, Canberra – +61 2 6270 6666
Emergency services - 000 (mobiles – 112)
Australia uses the Australian dollar (AU$) as its currency, with dedicated currency exchange offices available in city centres and airports, yet rates, including surcharges, vary so shopping around is recommended. Australian ATMs accept Visa, Cirrus, MasterCard and Maestro cards and are found in even most small towns.
Health and safety
Travellers do not need any special vaccinations in order to enter Australia. Yet they should take precautions against mosquito bites as mosquitoes here can carry dangerous viruses including dengue fever. Additionally, sun block should be worn to protect against the sun’s rays. While it’s unlikely visitors will encounter any dangerous animals in the main tourist hubs, deadly spiders and snakes are present in select areas.
Casual and informal, Australians greet visitors with open arms. The typical friendly banter of Aussies, particularly regarding sport, should be taken with a pinch of salt as this is a nation that loves to tease without intention to offend.
Visas for Australia
Tourists from all Western countries require a visa for stays of less than three months. However, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship issues ‘eVisitor’ visas at no charge to British and other EU citizens. This visa must be applied for online prior to arrival and is normally approved instantly.
Australia uses electricity at 240V/50Hz. Electricity outlets accept plugs with two flat, V-shaped prongs. Therefore UK visitors need an adaptor in order to use three-pin electrical appliances.
Businesses: 09:00 to 17:30, Monday to Friday
Government offices: 09:00 to 16:30 or 17:00, Monday to Friday
Shops: 09:00 to 17:30, Monday to Saturday
Banks: 09:30 to 16:00, Monday to Thursday, 09:30 to 17:00, Friday
Arvo – Afternoon
G’day - Hello
Barbie – Barbecue
Aussie – Australian
Beauty – Fantastic
Bob’s your uncle – It will be alright
Brekkie - Breakfast
Fair dinkum – True
Heaps – A lot
Pokies – Poker machines