Campervan Hire in Australia
Many visitors to Australia never venture outside the cities. They miss a great deal as a result. To experience the real Australia it's necessary to get "Out bush" into the Outback.
Some people take a package tour. These have the advantage that guides explain about the different interests on the trip. On the down side they usually visit the more frequented attractions with their attendant crowds. Another disadvantage is that they run to a strict itinerary so participants are not masters of their own destiny.
Increasingly visitors are planning their own trip, which increases the enjoyment and extends the holiday. Hiring a campervan is one of the best ways to see Australia, but from the other side of the world making the correct choice can be difficult.
For visitors from Britain the sheer size of the country is a trap. Australia is BIG. It is one and a half times the size of Europe, stretching for 4,000 kilometres from east to west and over 3,000 kilometres from north to south.
The climate varies enormously between the areas and throughout the year. Fortunately the weather is always perfect somewhere. Australia. Winters are cold and wet in Victoria and Tasmania, but they are the best time to see the northern half of the country. The summers in the north are wet and humid, but then the southern part of the country has good weather. Simplistically, the dividing line is the Tropic of Capricorn. Spring and autumn are generally good everywhere.
The first decision is which part of the country to visit. These days the internet is the best first port of call for information, visiting not just the National Australian site, but also those for each state. The motoring organisations are also good sources of information. You can of course do it the old fashioned way and borrow some books from the local library.
Although distances in Australia are vast, base your holiday planning on a maximum of 250 kilometres per day. Some days you may need to cover 1,000 kilometres between locations, but when you reach your holiday area there will be days when you cover greater distances on foot then in the vehicle. Walking is essential to maximise the enjoyment of Outback trips.
The major surprise in campervan hire is the insurance. While most people have comprehensive cover, owners of older vehicles sometimes have few assets and only have the compulsory third party bodily injury cover. Drivers involved in accidents with these vehicles may find themselves footing the bill for the full cost of repairing their own vehicle. Hire companies ensure that their vehicles carry full comprehensive cover, but the excess can be large and results in a large bond/excess. This can be removed at a higher rate, but hirers need to be aware. Read the terms of business carefully.
Animals are a hazard on Outback roads. Kangaroos and cattle are attracted to the lusher growth at the verges, particularly at dawn and dusk. They are unpredictable, resulting in many single vehicle accidents. These may not be covered in the basic insurance. It is best to avoid driving at dawn, dusk and during the hours of darkness, but if it's necessary, slow down.
Almost all vehicle hire companies restrict 2WD vehicles to bitumen roads only. Some of the best bit of Australia are only accessible over dirt roads. The condition of these tracks varies from smooth tracks, immediately after grading, to deep ruts and corrugations. Frequently they are capped with clay and are as slippery as ice when wet. After heavy rain these dirt roads are normally closed until they dry out after a few days. Don't be tempted to ignore these closures as fines are heavy for people found driving on closed roads.
Often National Parks are only accessible over dirt roads, and hire companies will normally permit hirers of their conventional vehicles to use these access tracks. For anyone planning to see Outback Australia a 4WD camper is the best option. These dirt roads give access to a greater range of scenery, much of it quite stunning.
Dirt tracks are daunting for many visitors when they use them for the first time, but they are not macho driving experiences. Driving on them needs nothing more than sensible care and lower speeds. Allow greater stopping distances and be aware of the loose surfaces. Driving over corrugation calls for special resolve. These shake the vehicle so badly that is seems likely to fall apart, but it is necessary to find the correct resonant speed. Once this is reached, for most vehicles this is about 80 kilometres per hour, the vehicle travels more comfortably.
Another hazard peculiar to Outback roads is the road trains. They consist of a prime mover pulling three or more trailers and are often over 50 metres long and 150 tonnes. They can't manoeuvre quickly. Pull over and give them plenty of room. On dirt roads they generate so much dust that it's impossible to see anything coming. Pull off the track and wait until the dust settles.
Outback service stations are hundreds of kilometres apart. Fill you fuel tanks, and your bellies at every opportunity. The next service station may be out of action. Regardless of the type of vehicle you're driving carry four or five litres of water per person per day, plus plenty of food. Although unlikely, if you break down, stay with the vehicle and keep in the shade. If you're going to remote areas, consider hiring a Personal Location Beacon in case of emergency. If one of these is activated emergency rescue is only a short time away.
Campervans vary from small, basic two person units to larger multi occupant luxury machines, which can be three metres high. Easy to remember to avoid multi storey car parks, but also easy to forget in national park camp grounds where tree branches may be a hazard.
While the luxury campervans, sorry motor homes, can have air conditioning, and allow all activities to be carried out inside, the smaller units are more restricted. This is not a great disadvantage as, thanks to the good weather, campers live outside most of the time, so the campervan becomes just a mobile bedroom.
There are often one way hire options, which for an overseas visitor saves the time necessary to drive back across the country at the end of their holiday. There is a small premium for this.
Australia has magnificent areas of wilderness and national parks, and a campervan is one of the best ways to experience these places in relative luxury. You can of course hire a tent and camping gear, but you still need a vehicle to see the country. Life is easier with a campervan.
© Jim Ditchfield 1996