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Six hours. It doesn’t matter what city you live in. It doesn’t matter what you do for work. If you’re reading this parked up next to the boat ramp waiting for a mate to get his fishing gear loaded, or in the toilets at work dodging that report you’ve been putting off. Six hours. If you tipped your desk over right now, took to the photocopier with a baseball bat and flipped off the boss on your way out the door you’d only be six hours from serious adventure.
For the overwhelming majority of Aussie men we’ve never been six hours inland. Sure, we’ve been up and down the coast, flown to the world over, and lost a few nights on the beach in Bali. But Australia’s vast wilderness? That’s something else altogether. People travel the world to see it. They save their whole lives to get just a glimpse of it. Life out there is so vastly different from life in a big city, it’s incomprehensible.
And you could experience it yourself, six hours from now. We’ve decided enough is enough. You weren’t born to pay bills and mow lawns, you’re here to live the Australian dream, and we’re helping you get on the way. Over the next few thousand words, we’ve put our years of remote travel experience – in the far reaches of the country – to practical use in helping you escape the rat race. Whether you’re taking leave for a whirlwind tour or plan to spend a year on the road, this guide will make sure you’re doing it armed to the teeth with knowledge – as well as the Brand-New Mazda BT-50 Thunder.
THE GEAR YOU’LL NEED
First thing’s first, we’ve gotta talk cars here. We absolutely love your MX5. It’s a little weapon. Great on fuel, handles like it’s on rails, and will run with the best of them at the track. But let’s be honest, it’s probably not the most practical vehicle for navigating Far North Queensland’s most remote coastlines, is it?
Depending on your budget, a modern dual cab ute is the perfect platform you could ask for. They’re reliable, comfortable, capable, and pack plenty of space for carrying all of your camping gear and stubby coolers you’ll pick up from outback roadhouses.
The first is a line of communication with the outside world. Once you’re outside the city limits, UHF radios will be your go-to for everything from calling for help if you’re broken down, to radioing up to the truck ahead kicking up a kilometre of bull dust to ask for a way around. If you’re planning on regular camping rather than a camper of some sort, you’ll need to sort out a power supply as well to keep your devices charged and the camp fridge in the tray running. You’ll often go weeks without passing a grocery store.
That self-sufficiency for food goes through to repairs and recoveries as well. True remoteness is not something most people experience, and it’s a surreal feeling to know there’s no roadside assistance if you lock your keys in the car. Step 1. Carry a spare set of keys stashed somewhere outside your vehicle. There are plenty of magnetic lockboxes you can stash up underneath with a cable tie for extra security. Carry a basic automotive tool kit as well. You’d hate to have to drive 1000km on no shocks because you didn’t have a ratchet when a bolt rattled loose. Carry a 4×4 recovery kit too. It doesn’t need to be extensive but should have a few straps and some shackles. Go one step further and get your own winch so you can self-recover.
WHERE YOU’LL SLEEP
While that shiny new dual cab in the driveway may be the flashiest piece of your kit so far, it’s not the only major decision you’ll need to make. Where you sleep and where you stash your gear are factors that’ll ultimately decide how smooth your adventure runs. You can get by with a tent and some really basic kit, but it’s going to feel like you’re roughing it every night – and trust us when we say that gets old after a few weeks. Don’t trade in the trip of a lifetime for saving a few bucks on a cheap tent.
If you don’t want to tow, a dual cab ute offers plenty of practical options for long-term camping. If you want to keep your tub, a fibreglass tub topper canopy will give you a huge dry storage area perfect for a drawer set up complete with an extended roof up top. If you ditch the tub and get a full replacement canopy you’ll spend similar money to a camper trailer but have every convenience you can imagine.
The next step up from here would be a camper trailer. You’ll lose a little mobility off-road, but if you spend around the $30-60k mark you’ll have everything you could possibly need for a life on the road and a sub-5 minute setup time. Forward fold campers offer lounge and bedding areas while all should offer kitchens, battery setups, and showers.
Finally, off-road caravans are the bees knees for remote touring. There’s nothing like pulling up to camp, opening the door, and having a one bedroom apartment with you in the middle of nowhere. Expect to pay $80k and up depending on how fancy you want it to be. As a general rule they’ll all be nice places to spend your time once they’re set up, but high-end caravans will be lighter so easier to tow, and built better to withstand the harshness of corrugations and narrow 4×4 tracks.
Depending on what setup you go with, you’ll learn there’s both pros and cons of heading out bush or finding a caravan park. Larger vans and even camper trailers will impact your ability to poke your nose down overgrown 4×4 tracks and the hidden oases at the end of them, but they will make spending a week in a powered site at a caravan park a nicer experience. It’s hard to overstate how good an air-conditioned caravan can be when camping in the middle of summer. Finally, don’t forget the pub! You’ll be going through country towns and outback stations and all of them will offer a warm meal, a cold beer, and an actual room you can call your own for a night. If you’re roughing it with a simple camping set up a hot shower and clean sheets can be worth the money.
HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE
It’s easy to forget just how big Australia really is. With our three most populated cities all within a working day’s drive from each other, it really skews our perceptions of the sheer mileage you’ll need to cover when getting around the country.
It’s something you see all the time with international tourists heading to Australia for a week, planning a day trip from Sydney to Melbourne, and ducking out to Uluru on their way back. Put simply, you’ll need to take a minimum of a month off work to see the sights, and that’s if you’ve got a fast car. Highway 1 is essentially Australia’s version of a ring road, picking up most major cities along the coast line. Whether you head clockwise or anti-clockwise, you’re looking at a 13,000km trip, averaging a little under 500kms a day for a month. And that’s assuming you drove such a distance nearly every day, which isn’t practical.
It’s not going to be a leisurely trip either way, so for a real adventure, we’d recommend linking up with a couple of mates to kick the trip into gear, rather than the family or your better half. Overall, this lap will keep you within a cooee of the coast most days, across the iconic Nullabor, through the wide expanses of the west coast with day trips to amazing places like Kakadu National Park, the Daintree rainforest, and the iconic Kimberley.
You’ll be an absolute mess by the time you get home, you’ll miss the entire red centre and Tassie, but you and your mates will have stories to tell for years to come. We’ve dubbed this the turbo route.
If you can swindle a little more time off, or don’t feel like budgeting big money for any speeding fines the turbo route might require, we’d recommend giving yourself three months to do a full lap of Australia justice. Make no mistake, it’s essentially a modified turbo route and won’t see you drift far from Highway 1, but you’ll get to see far more of the country.
When you’re rounding the bend near Port Augusta you’ll have a couple of days up your sleeve to head north and check out Uluru. It’s an experience like no other and well worth a week detour just to sit and stare at it. You’ll also have enough time to duck up to Cape York for a week to see the tip of Australia, and spend a week in Tasmania. You’ll see up all the best bits Australia has to offer, you just won’t have time to soak them up. An extended turbo lap will see you clocking a little over 20,000km for an average of 230km a day. For three months.
Finally, the recommended route. You can see most of Australia in three months, but you’re going to miss a few exceptional waypoints that every man needs to see once in his life. You won’t see snow on the mountain peaks of Tassie, and if you do you won’t get to experience summer on Fraser Island. Giving yourself a full 12 months to do the route won’t drastically change how far you’re travelling but will allow you to time your destinations better and really bask in Australia’s glory. Going to Cape York without spending a few days sitting on your back side watching the sunset over the water with a bucket of prawns and a few beers would be like going to the drag races to watch people push their cars. It’d be a bit of fun, but you’re really not experiencing everything it has to offer.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
At this point you should have a pretty solid understanding of what you’re driving, what you’re towing, where you’re going, and how long you’re going for. All the exciting stuff, right? Now for the sad times. Someone’s gotta pay for this adventure of yours. Your skillset, pace, trust fund, and budgeting skills will dictate largely what the specifics of your trip look like.
There’s a couple of questions you’ll need to ask yourself. First up, how are you funding this? Are you going to be saving up every dollar you’ll need before you head off or are you going to try and earn money on the road? Earning money on the road will slow you down drastically so that needs to be figured out ahead of time. You’ll also need to factor in what additional costs you’ll have along the way. Will you count your new car purchase against the trip? Or get yourself a couple of months ahead on the payments before you set off?
Finally what’s left back at home for you? Some people choose to sell everything they own and never look back, others will put renters in their house, or get a mate to flat sit and cover the rent.
There’s a couple of guides people typically use to budget and it depends on how you’re doing your trip as to what will work best for you. If you’re planning on taking it slow and spending solid amounts of time at each place then $1,000 a week is a reasonable budget. If you’re doing the whole lap in a month it’s going to cost you more than $4,000 so keep in mind that it wouldn’t fit into that budget bracket.
The other method that works best for people constantly moving is $1 a kilometre for couples, and $2 a kilometre for families (or couples who like to live big). These are just general guidelines though and where you land on them will ultimately be decided by the three major factors.
- Fuel – it can be as much as $3 at some roadhouses off the beaten track.
- Accommodation – there’s a big difference in price between a powered campsite and an air conditioned donga.
- Food – which really hinges on if you’re cooking every night or eating every chicken parmi you can find. Scrimp and scrape and you could clock in around $0.80 to $0.90 a kilometre. Live like a king and expect it to balloon from $3 – $5.
Before the big day there’s a lot more to prepare than just making sure the fridges are stocked and you’ve packed your favourite bottle opener. If you haven’t done remote trips before you should enrol yourself into a driver training program. They’re experts in this stuff and can answer any questions you might feel too foolish to ask. Likewise, there are bush mechanic programs to teach you everything from basic trackside maintenance to more significant repairs.
We reached out to a couple of experts on remote travel to get their input too. Steve Etcell, owner of Sydney based 4×4 specialist Ae-Co 4×4 has this to say about getting ahead of any hurdles you might face.
“Getting a 4WD specialist mechanic to look over your rig is crucial in making sure your setup is reliable and ready for the trip, even better if you can find a specialist in your particular make and model. Spending $200 on an inspection pre-trip is better than spending many, many thousands of dollars and equally as valuable holiday time while on the road fixing something that could have been found before leaving.”
Kalen Ziflan from specialty 4×4 insurer Club 4×4 added, “Given the investment put into a fit-for-purpose four-wheel-drive and possibly even a trailer to tow, making the right selection when it comes to insurance is critical. Consider where you’re planning to travel and tell your insurer, the last thing you want is to find out that there were exclusions at your time of need. Consider off-road recovery, as many roadside assistance providers do not service you off-road. Finally, make sure the total sum-insured for your assets covers the cost of all of the modifications and accessories you’ve added – otherwise you’re quite simply under-insured.”
No matter what route you take or how long you go for – if you’re doing it in a Brand-New Mazda BT-50, you’re in for the adventure of a lifetime.