3 Week Australia Road Trip: East to West

With ‘Sex Pistols’ sprayed along one door in a sunburst of colour, my Toyota Corolla Wicked camper was eating up the endless tarmac of Australia’s barren Nullarbor Plain. Just as the sun crept towards the horizon, 26km east of the South and Western Australia borders, the automatic gearbox whined as it began to hunt between 4th and 5th. Soon overheating, the car slowly rolled to a stop, and I was greeted with panoramic views of the Great Australian Bight. I’d decided that there were worse places to break down. Reality set in, and I pondered how to go about hitch hiking 950km to the next main town, with no phone reception, no passengers, and no public transport.

Having travelled fairly extensively throughout two overseas work assignments, I was quickly becoming aware of how much of the world I was seeing, compared to how much of my own country I had seen. When talking to co-workers who were travelling to Australia, I found that I struggled to give many travel recommendations beyond a 250km radius of where I was raised.

After securing a (potentially) once in a lifetime work sabbatical of 7 months, I thought I’d spend the first 3 weeks driving from my home city of Brisbane, QLD, on the east coast of Australia to Perth, WA, located on the west coast of Australia.

A few notable points about the journey;

1. Total planned driving distance from A to B, without any additional exploring, was 6,820 km, or 74 hours.

Actual driving distance was 5,560 km, or 62 hours, due to breaking down halfway across the Nullarbor Plain, and avoiding the NSW/VIC coastal border route due to cyclone Debbie, Australia’s strongest cyclone since 2015.

2. Average daily mileage was 360km

3. 80% of the journey would be completed individually

4. Vehicle of choice was a 2014 Toyota Corolla Automatic, with fold-out rooftop tent, rented via the notorious Wicked Campers (cheaper, safer, and more reliable than the vans, more stable on the road, and better fuel economy)

5. Return leg would be direct flight from Perth to Brisbane (I was not keen to spend 3-5 days on a drive back along the same roads, and the additional safety risk in doing so alone)

The plan was to cruise 3-4 hours each morning, exploring each destination of an afternoon/evening and kitesurfing wherever possible. I have a fair few friends scattered around Australia who I also planned to visit and stay with where possible.

From a personal development perspective, it was also the perfect opportunity to consume a lot of targeted podcast content, learn Spanish through daily conversational practice, continue resistance training at Jetts around the country and plan my upcoming 6 month Central/South American trip.

On Saturday 18th March 2017, I set off from the north side of Brisbane in a my Wicked Corolla, complete with ‘Sex Pistols’ insignia artfully printed around the vehicle. I had enough clothes to fill a carry-on backpack, my kitesurfing travel case which would be checked underneath on the flight home, and a fantastic companion in my then girlfriend of 3 months, who would be flying back to Brisbane once we reached Sydney in four days’ time. First stop Byron Bay!

To avoid boring you with the details, I have extracted my personal highlights of the trip immediately below. At the end of this post, I have included a daily photo album with brief annotations.

Trip Highlights

Top 3 Driving Roads

1. Southern Corner of South Australia (from Victoria border to Robe)

2. Great Australian Road (via Lorne, Apollo Bay, Warnambool)

3. Great Western Highway (from western suburbs of Sydney to Orange via Katoomba and Bathurst)

Top 3 Locations

1. Robe, SA

2. Esperance and Cape Le Grand National Park, WA

3. Lorne, VIC

Trip Cost

Total Trip Cost, including food and drink = $3,723

– $780 in fuel

– $350 in flights

– $1230 in rental car costs

Average Cost per Day = $177

– $35 food/drink

– $30/night van site

– $82 rental van cost

How to do cheaper?

– More people (share costs)

– Avoid one way travel (BNE to Perth was a fixed charge at $400…)

– Avoid crossing Nullarbor Plain (additional ‘outback Australia’ charge of $10/day)

– Reduce level of insurance (I paid for fully comprehensive option, at $25/day)

– Set up camper in parks, or along beach, where there are some amenities. I opted most of the time for van parks to take advantage of warm showers, added security, wi-fi, and a social element as I was travelling alone

– Avoid accommodation in city centres (I splurged on a few AirBNBs in some cities to get out of the tent for a night here and there, and to base myself centrally for exploring)

Lessons Learned

– Podcasts are essential for long stints of boring highway, especially when driving alone. Decide on a deliberate curriculum that you want to learn prior to trip. My favourites from the trip were Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, ‘Waking Up’ by Sam Harris, The Joe Rogan Experience, Rhonda Patrick’s ‘FoundMyFitness’, and news in slow Spanish and Coffeebreak Spanish

– Time of year (early April) was starting to get slightly cold for sleeping in a tent along the southern coast of Australia. Believe it or not, this stretch is actually quite cool during the evening for most of the year

– Practiced conversational Spanish for minimum 1hr per day using online chat service ‘Baselang’ ($130 USD per month for unlimited skype conversation and tutoring with native speakers)

– Take more time. This goes for any travel itinerary really. I actually enjoyed the 3-4hours per day of uninterrupted time driving per morning. This allowed me to really get through a lot of podcast content, and do some deep thinking. In hindsight, 3-4 hours driving per day is perfect for most people, as it allows for one 20 minute break, and for most driving to be done before midday, before it gets hotter and busier on the roads

– Doing journey in short time period provided a stark contrast across the country, and allowed for very vivid comparisons to be made, while the entire experience was still very salient

Trip Album