As far as itineraries go, the choices are nearly endless in this infinitely varied country blessed with excellent roads and motorways. Perhaps you’ll choose the Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s most spectacular coastal roads, and follow the ocean south-west of Victoria for 243 kilometres. Or the Legendary Pacific Coast Drive between Sydney and Brisbane, 930 km. Or the spectacular 1033 km route that runs from Sydney to Melbourne. More adventuresome travellers may prefer less common itineraries, such as those to be found in the Northern Territory or Tasmania.
An adventure, yes, but cushy
The country has a remarkable tourism infrastructure that can satisfy both your yearning for nature and your appreciation of creature comforts. Perhaps you would like to take advantage of the excellent facilities – playgrounds for the kids, laundry rooms with dryers, lavatories and even swimming pools – provided by the numerous campgrounds scattered strategically throughout the country. While they are often recommended by the camper rental agencies, campgrounds are not the only option. Most of Australia’s 516 national parks, for example, offer camper spaces in a preserved environment for a modest fee. And spontaneous camping enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that a halt next to the sea, parks or gardens is generally tolerated in villages and towns, and these areas are often fitted with showers, toilets and picnic tables. You’ll want to steer clear of major cities, however, given how difficult it is to park and the fact that overnight stays are generally prohibited. Camping alone in the bush or outback – the immense desert-like stretches between towns - is also discouraged. But apart from these few restrictions and precautions based on good sense (given the distances and a climate that can be quite extreme), getting around in a camper is safe and is generally thought of as being the best way to discover just about everything the country has to offer.
Choosing your vehicle
While the different mobile camping vehicles might be called camping cars, campers, campervans or motorhomes, in fact the first three refer to vans or recreational vehicles (RVs) that can sleep two to four people and are generally fitted with bunk beds and a kitchenette. The prototype was the famous Volkswagen bus, that emblematic van of the 60s for free spirits on the move. Motorhomes, on the other hand, usually designate larger vehicles that are designed and built for mobile camping and can sleep up to six people. Their comfort level and price may be higher than the campervans because they are also fitted with a loo, a shower, a television and an efficient system of temperature control.
The Australian motorhome and camper rental market is quite competitive, making it possible to negotiate for the best offers. You will find rental centres near the airports of all major cities. For an additional fee, you may choose to drop your vehicle off in a different city than your starting point (with the exception of Hobart in Tasmania).
Planning your budget
When planning your budget, the two main factors to consider are rental cost and the price of petrol, as motorways are toll-free in Australia.
Depending on the rental agency, the model and time of year, rentals can run from $250 to $2,000 (Australian dollars) per week. The price includes unlimited mileage, 10% VAT, insurance, cook and kitchen ware, road assistance, road maps and a list of campgrounds. Other elements may also be included, such as state tax (3% of the total cost), camping gas, linens and a multiple drivers option. Drop-off fees ($260 to $360) are additional.
While insurance is included in the price of the rental, the excess or deductible in case of accident can run as high as $7,500. The deposit required when the vehicle is hired is generally the same amount as the excess fee. There are, however, many damage waiver options that can considerably reduce the excess. They are worth looking into, especially since the damage waivers included in most forms of credit card insurance are not valid for campers or motorhomes.
The price of fuel varies from region to region; unleaded petrol is the least expensive: $1.30 to $1.60 per litre depending on whether you’re filling your tank in a city or the outback. Diesel costs more: $1.40 to $1.70 per litre. Campers and motor homes require 10-15 litres per hundred kilometres (e.g. they might get 17-28 miles per imperial gallon), depending on the vehicle’s make and model.
There are many variables to consider when establishing your budget. The increased availability of low-cost domestic flights might make mobile camping seem less cost-effective, but a quick estimate will show you that a holiday on the road is still less expensive than the classic option of flying, booking hotels and renting cars. And it offers far more flexibility and freedom.
So go for it! While the Northern Hemisphere is inescapably slipping into winter, it’s late spring in the Southern Hemisphere and the vast landscapes of Australia await discovery. But before you head for the outback, make sure you’ve got enough petrol and water, and stop to shop one last time in the city so you can fill the fridge and freezer of your movable home. Then, your mind freed of those material constraints, you will be able to freely enjoy the countless treasures that the Island Continent has in store for you.
Driving permits and age requirements
An international or national driving license with, where necessary, a certified English translation are required by rental agencies. You must be between 21 and 75 years old to drive a camping car in Australia.