Tips for Driving in Australia as a Tourist
Tips for Driving in Australia
There are many ways of travelling around Australia and explore the country, but if you ask me what my favourite way of exploring land down under is, I have no doubt: self-driving in Australia is the way to go!
Although road tripping is more fun with a friend, a partner or family, and solos on the road, driving is an excellent way of travelling around Australia.
Some of my best adventures have been on the Australian roads and solo! However, as a keen solo traveller, it took me a long time to get familiar with the idea of driving around Australia Solo.
I first tried out a few easy road trips with a friend and loved it. This helped me build confidence when driving solo in Australia. Here is a practical list of tips about what you need for driving in Australia as a visitor.
Driving Licence Requirements for tourists in Australia
You need an English driving license for driving in Australia as a tourist.
Can you drive to Australia as a tourist? Yes, you can.
What if you are not from an English-speaking country? Do you need an international driver’s license to drive in Australia? Yes, you do.
If you don’t have an English driving license, you will need an English translation of a valid driving license for driving a car in Australia. You can get it from the driving license officers that have issued your original driving license. The cost of obtaining the translation, a.k.a. The International driving license varies depending on your home country and is valid for 3-5 years.
Australia Traffic and Driving Rules
As you may know, in Australia, we drive on the left. And driving on the left can be a bit confusing for first-time visitors coming from other countries like the United States, continental Europe and the rest of the world, where you drive on the right-hand side.
While in cities and populated areas following the traffic flow helps getting used to it, in the Outback and the rural regions, it does require a bit more attention, though, as it’s easy to go on the wrong side of the road if you are not familiar with left-hand side driving. So take it easy, drive slowly and possibly only in the daytime.
- Drive on the left always and on all Australian roads. I have been driving solo on many road trips, and driving on the left was easy to adjust. It’s better to drive automatic cars, and I can highly recommend everyone willing to go on a self-driving trip. That will help you stay concentrated on the traffic flow and reduce distractions, i.e. getting used to the left-hand side gear.
- Stay on the slow lane, which is the most left lane on roads, and overtake on the right side. There are passing lanes for short stretches of 1.5 km in Australian rural areas, which help you let fast drivers pass.
- Give way to the right, also at roundabouts. In some regional Australia, you have to beware of road conditions and roadworks. It can be not very clear at crossroads, T-intersections.
- Enter roundabouts clockwise in Australia; there are many roundabouts in the countryside. By entering roundabouts on the left (clockwise), you give way to the right. However, Australians don’t like to slow down and tend to drive through the roundabouts very fast. So pay attention when approaching roundabouts. Times there are series of roundabouts within short driving distances, and some are real monsters with built-in smaller roundabouts and multiple exits.
- Beware of speed limits in Australia: they are 100-110 km (62-68mph) in most states. Northern Territory has a speed limit of 130 km (80 mph). Speed limit cameras and police check are everywhere and in scarcely inhabited Outback roads where you wouldn’t expect to have cameras or police checks. In cities, 60-50 km h (31-37mph) is the standard speed limit.
- Don’t drink and drive in Australia – 0.05 bac is the blood alcohol driving limit, which is the same as in Europe. So beware of this because penalties and fines in Australia are high for drunk driving.
Road Signs in Australia
Australia’s natural environment represents the major attraction for travellers, but it is also concealed hazards that are often unknown to most people, especially overseas travellers. Not surprisingly, safety is a major concern of the local authorities across the entire country.
Fatigue has a huge impact on driving performance and is the major cause of all car accidents on Australian roads. Also, the danger of animal crossing the roads requires attention and high concentration while driving at night in Australia. Wildlife crossing the roads is common on Outback roads.
As soon as you drive out of town and more frequently in the Outback areas and nearby natural parks and forests, you will come across the unmistakable yellow warning signs with the black animals’ silhouette that warn you when approaching Australia’s natural parks and wilderness areas. And the number of injured Australian animals on the roadsides is tangible proof of the danger.
You can find plenty of informative material about the Australian natural dangers and road hazards everywhere. At beaches, in national parks, on the roads, and public places dotted with warning road signs.
What to know about Travel Distances in Australia
Australia is a top country of unique beauty and vastness. Its amazing, varied landscapes make it an ideal destination for road trips. However, it’s not easy to choose the right road trips, mostly because of Australia’s long driving distances and the many road hazards.
No matter how you choose your Australian road trip, either solo or with a travel companion, prefer short road trips with exciting things to see along your way and more options for stopovers.
Here below my tips to help you prepare for your diving adventures in Australia.
- Make sure you have a map of the travel distances at hand and calculate the driving route accordingly. Here is a handy chart of the distances between the main destinations in Australia.
- Pick a road trip destination with good road conditions, no rain or bad weather conditions. Ask for all the information you need to know about the picked route before leaving for your destination.
- Let someone know about your road trip. No matter where you go. Either the local tourist office, the local police officers or the main road officers.
- Have a travel distance map to the main destinations in Australia, like the one here below. Distances are in km, and next to each field, it shows you the average time for driving those distances.
Plan several breaks on all driving routes
If you plan to rush on your first driving experience in Australia, you will soon burn out. Planning many stops when driving is critical. Although traffic is almost unexisting in rural areas, long hours behind the wheel and remoteness make driving in Australia challenging. Don’t be surprised to see many road warning signs in Australia inviting you to stop like this survival motto:
Never drive if you are tired or feel drowsy.
There is car parking on highways, and resting areas, in the Outback service stations or Roadhouses are the best places to stop for a cuppa or stay overnight.
Don’t drive at night, dawn or dusk.
This is when most accidents occur on Australian roads. I know that many people don’t care about this. I never drive by reduced visibility in areas that I don’t know. When hiring a car, one of the first things that you will need to know of is that you are not allowed to driving at night in Australia. The travel insurance will not cover you if you have an accident either. So always prefer an overnight stay along your way.
Have a map of all Services Stations
Petrol stations in Australia are called “Servos”, are all self-service and take credit cards and debit cards. In rural areas and the Outback, there are only a few of them, with long distances in between. I like to keep my car topped up and fill up at every petrol station no matter how full the car tank is. This gives me peace of mind, and it helps me taking regular breaks when on the road.
Beware that not all service stations accept credit cards in the Outback, so having some cash with you, it’s a good idea. Some service stations close early at 5.00 pm, and many are not open at night and on Sundays and public holidays.
Top tip: download a fuel map to map out where petrol stations are along your driving route.
Use a driving distance calculator.
If you don’t have a printed out map to help you figure out what to expect and evaluate potential driving routes, you can use a driving distance calculator like Google Maps. This gives you an idea of the route length and difficulty. Another great tool to help you calculate road distances with fuel usage and road conditions is this.
Be sure your car is prepared.
Many solo travellers feel overwhelmed when it comes to planning a road trip. With the right information and adequate preparation, you can nonetheless have a fantastic experience without having to be an expert driver nor using a four-wheel-drive car.
Check car conditions, road and weather conditions. Be sure your car is prepared and in an excellent state for driving the route to your destination.
What to pack when Driving in Australia
If you plan to hit the road in Australia, make sure you have all these essential packing items with you:
- A full water tank with at least 10-15 litres of pure water is no. 1 thing you should be packing into your car. Shop for food in the central town to be self-sufficient along your way or at least till your next destination. In rural and Outback areas there are few small shops. At service stations, you can buy some food but don’t expect to find as much as you find in town. It is also expensive to shop.
- Pack essential camping gear like
2. small gas-fired heater,
4. a warm jacket
If your car breaks down at night, you will be safe.
- Phone coverage is not something you can take for granted in Australia. In a rural area, the internet is slow. And on long roads of isolated regions, there is no coverage at all. I followed the tip of my Aussie friend years ago, and since then, I only use a prepaid Telstra sim card. It’s the best. Telstra is the only phone and internet provider in Australia that can guarantee decent coverage. But still, don’t expect to have a phone connection in the middle of nowhere. That’s the downsides of driving remote regions of Australia.
Tips for Driving in the Australian Outback
Driving in the Australian Outback needs even more attention than on normal roads. And it is by far the most challenging drive for international travellers. The major concern on the Outback roads is the high risk of wildlife crossing the roads, especially at night.
If you love road tripping, you will love driving in the Australian Outback. I am sure this will be the most exciting part of your entire Australian Trip. I can highly recommend picking easy driving routes and short road trips on sealed roads for a great experience.
Like a road trip to Uluru and the Red Centre of Australia is a great way to start exploring the Outback.
Here is more information about driving in the Australian Outback.
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Last updated in April 2020
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March 26, 2014 @ 7:15 am
Not allowed to drive rentals at night? New one on me! I’ve rented several cars, usually from Hertz (Australia) & they’ve never said anything about that. (although they did say the insurance would be void if I took it offroad)
I would add, though … give roadtrains plenty of space. They take forever to stop, and take no prisoners! 😀
March 26, 2014 @ 10:49 am
That’s correct, it’s not allowed to drive at night with a rental car! Beware if you do it and have an accident you are bound to pay the entire costs, as no travel insurance will cover you! Thanks for the tip with the roadtrains. 🙂
December 29, 2015 @ 1:20 pm
I checked with Hertz in Adelaide when I rented a car from them last month. You CAN drive it after dark …. BUT you’re fully liable for any damage caused by hitting any wildlife.
December 30, 2015 @ 11:16 am
Hi Keith, thanks for this update. I know that some car rentals companies allow you to drive at night, with this clause. I personally wouldn’t take the risk. There is no travel insurance that will cover you, in case of a damage caused. So I think it is silly to take this risk, unless you really have an emergency I wouldn’t drive at night. 🙂
Agness of aTukTuk
July 20, 2017 @ 2:37 pm
Your tips are very useful and practical! This is an exceptional post!
July 22, 2017 @ 6:45 pm
Hey, Michela. Wow, these are very detailed tips. Excellent! These are very helpful, especially for the solo travellers. I would like to add that even if you’re accustomed to driving on the left side, it’s still advisable to be careful because you may encounter other drivers who are not used to it. Also, never forget the first aid kit, tools, and necessary car accessories such as an air compressor.The guys from westcoastsuspension were the ones who helped me with what I needed for my 4WD for our long drive. Hope that helps.
August 26, 2017 @ 3:33 pm
Very useful tips, thank you for the info! 🙂
June 21, 2018 @ 5:37 pm
I have a california u.s. license. Do I need an international license in addition to rent a car in Austalia? Who do I contact to get an international license?
June 21, 2018 @ 6:03 pm
Hi Linda, yes you can drive in Australia with your US driving license, (because it’s in English and regarded as a valid license). However only for three months and as a tourist. You can only drive vehicles that your license allows. Here is a link to the aus.gov site: https://www.australia.gov.au/information-and-services/transport-and-regional/driving-with-an-overseas-licence – Hope that helps! 🙂