A Backpacker’s roadtrip in Australia: How & What you need to know

By Chia Jeng Yang

To get over freezing and almost dying in the Himalayas, I decided to head down to Australia. The land of kangaroos, camels (Turns out, Australia has the largest camel herd in the world.) and vast open deserts seem to be the best place to warm up. I decided to bring beachwear and tank tops. In the south of Australia. In July. Where an Australian winter can reach 5 degrees. I painfully learnt of the need to research local weather temperatures, before happily relearning that lesson in Taiwan, but that’s a story for another time.

After a month in the cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, I was done exploring the pub crawls and the admittedly awesome speakeasies (hidden bars). I wanted an adventure dammit. And so I found myself on a roadtrip from Melbourne to Perth. It was the most amazingly meditative trip. This is how I did it.

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
This took 2 weeks. For reference, London to New York is only 3,500 km. Pilots ain’t got nothing on our family wagon.

After arriving in Melbourne from Brisbane, it took me 6 days to arrange my roadtrip. By the 6th day, I was in a family wagon with 3 other Dutch backpackers out of Melbourne. I did this with the help of a website called Gumtree, a Craiglist clone, and found Debora, Matt and Simon heading from Melbourne to Perth.

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
Avoid offers of private driving sessions

What we stocked up on:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
Tents + Sleeping bags. Blankets are a must especially in winter. Simon here has 2 giant fleece blankets and 2 sleeping bags and is stuffed like a Mexican burrito. I slept in the car.
  • Tents/Pillows/Blankets: The desert nights could easily get to below 10 degrees, especially with the howling winds
  • Maps and Lonely Planet travel guides: There’s no phone coverage in the deserts between Adelaide and the West Australia/South Australia border, near where the dotted line beside the car icon on the map above is. So expect 2 to 3 days of meditative retreat as you contemplate the likelihood of being discovered murdering your travel buddies. (Though my mobile plan was the cheaper, more urban based Optus mobile company. I am told that the mobile company Telstra, although about double the price, have much better rural coverage. But enjoy nature dammit!)
  • Extra car spares: Bring extra car spares, like a tire and a fan belt. It won’t be cheap and funny being stuck somewhere where the nearest people live 1000km away. A fan belt cost us about 60 AUD, while I’m told it can reach 200-300 AUD in the desert.
  • Extra water + Food: Our water supply was dangerously drained at times because we did not consider the water we used for cooking and washing up. This is especially crucial in the total-desert portion of the trip. We didn’t drink as much water as we would have liked but a good estimate would be about 3L per person per day. Chocolate was also good for morale. I slaughtered a bucket of Malteasers myself.

What you can expect to experience:

Mosquitos:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang

Kangaroos:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang

Cute koalas plodding alongside the road:

bloggif_541a7cee9e5b1

Kookaburras:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang

Sometimes just nothing:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
So apparently it can fog in the Grampian mountain park, as pointed out by Debora (Between Melbourne and Adelaide)

Amazing mountains:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
Driving in the Grampians, we saw a giant mountain, stopped the car by the side of the road and just climbed. Views in Australia can be unimaginable. 

Beautiful sunrises:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
Not pictured: Winds that can be best described as ‘Holy crap did the car just move’. Tactical tent positioning was of utmost importance.

The cliffs of Australia:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
Little known trivia: Film site for Pirates of the Caribbean (At World’s Edge) [Not really.]

Random monsters of the desert:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
Because sometimes Transformers gets lazy.

Weird signs:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
Proof we’re in the middle of nowhere. A sign illustrating the great cities of the world, Moscow, London, Paris and Hobart.
australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
It may be hard to believe but the sign was a gross exaggeration. There were only about 5 people present.

Kick-ass rock formations:

australia road trip nullarbor map desert jeng yang
Rock wave formation at Hyden, West Australia, near the end of our trip. Parkour attempt proved highly unsuccessful.
  • Birds with screes that sound like crying babies. Not funny at night.
  • Staying in a hostel that turned out to be a popular drug den in Adelaide
  • Figuring out where the hell to camp because even though it’s in the middle of nowhere, ITS STILL ILLEGAL TO CAMP IN THE WILD. Sometimes you can stumble upon campsites especially nearer to the cities, but it’s ridiculously expensive (around 20-30 AUD, almost the same price as a hostel room). Shortly after passing the desert, we were almost caught illegally camping. A park ranger drove up and talked to us, thankfully 15 minutes after we had packed up camp. This camp was a good 200km away from any town. ANYWAY, find somewhere secluded and relatively hidden from the main road and make sure to leave early in the morning, say around 8-9 am.
  • Love the fact that you’re literally in the middle of nowhere

Total basic costs: (~400 AUD)

Petrol: 200 AUD

Tents/Blankets/Supplies/Food/Water: 100 AUD

Spare petrol can/fan belt: 100 AUD

Do you know any awesome adventure tips and tricks?

Share with us in the comments below or submit stories here at chiajy2000@yahoo.com.sg!

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