There are lots of interesting ways to see Australia, one of the largest countries in the world. You could go from city to city by bus or train, hitchhike your way across the country or rent a car and sleep in a tent. We saw one guy who did the whole trip on his bike and – if you can believe it – one guy even walked across Australia with all of his baggage on a rickshaw which he pulled behind him.
We opted for the much more convenient way of travelling, which was to rent a campervan. And since our trip around half Australia happened to be in the winter time of the southern hemisphere, we got an awesome deal on a little bit of luxury: A Ford Transit 2 berth campervan with a shower, toilet and even TV.
We travelled a total of 12,000 km in two months plus another 500 km or so we did in the smaller campervan we rented for a couple of days. Our journey around Australia took us from Sydney along the East Coast to Melbourne, over the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide and the Stuart Highway all the way to Cairns, from where we made our way down to Sydney again, of course stopping for a dive at the SS Yongala, a tour at Fraser Island and a short stay in Brisbane.
We got our campervan from KEA and since they declared bankruptcy just a few days before we returned the campervan, I won’t bother with a review of the rental company. They do however have the same campervans in New Zealand and all I am going to tell you is that these campervans are amazing.
The Advantages Of A Campervan
The more time we spent in the campervan, the more we grew convinced that this was a great choice. Not only did we save all the money we would have to pay for hostels and transportation, but we also had something we called home for more than 8 weeks.
That alone was special. It was nice to unpack everything and to put the backpacks away for a while.
You might disagree with the saving of the transportation cost since we did have to pay for fuel. Luckily we had a fantastic diesel engine and if you combine that with a driving style that would suit an old lady (mainly going no faster than 90 km/h) you end up with less than 100€ in fuel cost for each 1,000 km travelled. We probably would have spent more than twice that if we would have taken public transportation and overland buses.
The Cheapest Campervan Might Not Be As Cheap As You Think
So when you decide what campervan you get, don’t just get the cheapest one you can find. Consider fuel cost, especially if you want to drive that thing for more than 300km/day, because the cost of fuel can easily eat up everything you saved.
However I wouldn’t recommend planning to drive more than 250 km/day if you actually want to see something.
And when it comes to looking for a cheap campervan, many people often overlook the risk of an accident and cost of insurance. In lots of cases, the cost for all-inclusive insurance is more than the rental cost. In our case, we were lucky to have the no-excess insurance included in the rate, but a comparable campervan at another company had a standard excess of $7,500.
Of course, when you look at probability, you are cheaper of not taking the insurance, but if you are taking that risk, be aware that you actually have to pay $7,500 in case you get into a bigger accident.
If you are on a budget anyways, that might as well be the end of your whole trip and maybe your vacations for the next few years.
Another disadvantage of the cheap campervans (like Wicked Campers, Hippie Camper and the small Backpacker campervans) is the acceptance by Australians. If you are staying in a camper that basically screams that you are a young, budget traveler, chances are much higher that you might get a visit from the police checking on you. At least we made this experience with the Hippie Camper we had for a few days and people felt the need to warn others about the backpackers (us).
The Little Things That Make Your Campervan Trip Even Better
If you want to have a little bit of luxury you can’t really pass on a campervan with a shower and toilet on board. With that we were almost completely free to camp wherever it was allowed to do so (or at least wasn’t prohibited) and especially along Stuart Highway that is something that is really amazing. Our campervan even heated the water with the heat from the engine, so we could even have ourselves a hot shower.
With the two gas stoves we were able to cook our own food for most of the trip (except the occasional pizza from Domino’s – especially on Cheap Tuesdays) which saved us lots and lots of money. Our campervan had a real little kitchen which allowed us to cook inside. That doesn’t seem to be a big deal until it starts raining or when it gets dark and the mosquitoes come flying.
Us being online entrepreneurs we obviously won’t travel without a laptop, but what good is a laptop without power and without internet access?
So we bought a 12V charger for the laptop and an inverter to charge the batteries for the camera. Both were plugged in to the cigarette lighter, which saved us from having to go to a caravan park just for recharging the batteries.
For mobile internet we even had two options. We got a mobile data package from Telstra and Woolworth. The latter one had far less coverage and speed, but therefore cost only 30% of the Telstra package. This way we got good coverage and speed in rural areas and the cheap data for the cities.
Since the coverage of radio is quite bad in most parts of Australia, having an audio input to the campervans radio system was a huge bonus. This allowed us to listen to music, podcasts and audiobooks from our laptop and smartphone.
The best ways to inform yourself when travelling is by going to the information centers and talk to other travelers or the grey nomads (retired folks who basically live in their motorhomes and caravans, apparently there are over 100,000 of them in Australia ).
They will give you the best information on where to sleep, where the best beaches are and where you have to be careful.
Things You Should Consider and The Downsides Of Campervans
We travelled in winter time, which meant that at 6 pm at the latest, it was pitch black. In some places sunset was even at 5pm, which meant if you haven’t found a place to stay for the night yet, it was probably not getting easier to find one.
Also the wildlife, e.g. kangaroos will make your life miserable as they just love to jump in front of driving cars. Therefore you should try to find the place where you want to spend the night before it gets dark.
In some areas, especially in cities, some Australians don’t really like campers and it is prohibited to sleep in your campervan in public areas.
Some places are more strict than others, so the consequences of ignoring the “No Camping” signs can be either just an unfriendly getting woken up by a police men, who tells you to go somewhere else, or even a $2000 fine (which is the apparently strictly enforced in the Whitsunday region).
We tried to obey the law as much as possible and went to caravan parks in the bigger cities. We avoided areas where campers weren’t welcome. Why should we spend money there if they wouldn’t even allow us to stay there?
Australia is the country of gravel roads which means with a regular 2 wheel drive you won’t be able to see everything.
We missed out on lots of places simply because the roads didn’t allow us to go there. Our rental company had a very generous limit of 12 km on gravel roads as long as they where well maintained. Other companies only allow a max of 500m on gravel roads, which basically means there are even more places you aren’t allowed to go.
Quick warning: Don’t go on roads that aren’t sealed or well maintained if you don’t have a 4WD. We got stuck twice. Don’t trust the road signs or maps. If the road doesn’t look right, don’t drive on it. We have to learn that the hard way.
Our last point of advice sounds simple, but it really isn’t: Australia is huge. Most people from Europe have no understanding what this really means. Americans from the country maybe have a better feeling for this. Australia really is huge.
Don’t plan to see too much and don’t calculate your travel distance by using Google Maps. And if you do add at least another 50% more kilometers and twice the time you think you will need. You will drive slower than you think and you will have to go far more kilometers as most good stuff is not on the highway but sometimes actually more than 100 km to either side of it.
I thought we could do the first leg from Sydney to Melbourne in about 2 days since Google Maps said it’s only 850km and 425km a day seemed to be a good pace. We spent a week on that trip and did about 1300km. Lucky for us, we didn’t have a tight schedule and we were able to adjust quite easily.
So , Who Should Rent A Campervan In Australia?
I am not even going into the whole topic of when to buy and when to rent a campervan or if a 4WD with a caravan is better. I leave that to others. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to each option.
However, I do recommend that if you are planning to take a trip around Australia, you might want to consider a campervan instead of travelling by bus. More so if you are a couple looking to travel together.
In the end the campervan offers more luxury than any hostel ever could for the same amount of money (assuming you get a good campervan in winter) and you get to see much more places because you are not reliant on the bus routes, which in most cases don’t really take you to the nice places.
You save lots of money on tours you would have to pay to take you to places that can easily be reached with any campervan.
And believe me, the feeling of being able to go wherever you want and stay wherever you want outweigh all disadvantages a campervan could ever have. We’ve chosen a campervan and couldn’t be happier with that decision.