I've taken many a road trip in Australia. In fact, I've driven in, across, and around five of the six Australian states. I've covered some ground. But the most recent road trip I took was a bit different than the rest. This most recent one was, by far, the road trip to the most remote spot I've been in Australia. Even more remote than Kings Canyon or Uluru. That’s not to say I won’t go more remote one day – because I will – and in Australia, it’s kind of hard not to go remote, and I'm quickly running out of road trips on the roads most travelled. So, before I get into all of what the cities of Esperance and Kalgoorlie had to offer on this trip, I thought it best to cover some of the basics. I am pleased to present to you ten basic rules of an Aussie outback road trip.
1. Find a friend.
Never travel alone, because the last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle of the bush with no mobile phone reception in scorching hot temperatures and have nobody to bitch about it to. For this road trip, I met up with Oscar, my old housemate from Sydney who now lives in Perth.
2. Pick a car.
Always choose your vehicle wisely. I would suggest renting a car to ensure you get one in good condition. If you’re going off road, get a 4WD SUV of some sort, or at least a Subaru. For this trip… we did not pick a car wisely, much to my dismay. At Oscar’s insistence, we took his car: a 1995 Ford Probe. I named her Polly Probe. She survived the journey, but she was very shaky at the end. Literally.
If you must take a car like this, make sure the owner has some sort of roadside assistance scheme before you leave.
3. Get petrol when you see it.
Americans: gasoline is called petrol here in Australia, and you get it from a servo (an abbreviation for service station.) In parts of Australia, servos may be few and far between… hundreds of kilometers sometimes. So, when you pass a little town and the sign as you leave says 200km until the next petrol station, you may want to back that ass up and fill up your tank. In other words, make a U-turn, get some petrol, and never let your petrol gauge get below half empty unless you are certain you know where the next servo is.
4. Bring water.
Lots of water. More than you think you need. First, bring some distilled water in case your car overheats, because you can pour distilled water into some part of the engine to help cool it down. And if that’s wrong, then too bad because I really don’t know how cars work. Second, bring some normal drinking water. And maybe some Gatorade or something. And an Esky (cooler) full of ice. And some snacks. If your car overheats and you’re stuck out in the scorching sun in 100+ degrees Fahrenheit (or 40 plus degrees Celsius) then you definitely want to stay hydrated so that your muscles stay moist and tender as you slowly cook. And maybe watch out for hungry dingoes.
5. Bring chocolate and peanut butter.
But only if you’re travelling with me in a really old car and I get super bitchy about how if the car breaks down I will be furious with you. Oscar bought some chocolate and peanut butter to appease me in the event that Polly Probe failed us in the middle of nowhere.
6. Switch to Telstra.
Australia has three main mobile phone service providers: Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. If you’re not in a city, then Vodafone won’t work. So if you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, you have a 100% chance of being fucked with Vodafone. Optus isn't nearly that bad, and if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere and have them as your provider, you have about a 75% chance of being fucked. And then there’s Telstra. Telstra has the most coverage around Australia, though not everywhere. So, if you get stuck and have Telstra, you’re at about a 50/50 chance of being fucked. So, better your odds and get Telstra. And try not to break down in an area that’s too remote because you really don’t want that sort of fucking. I had Vodafone, but I broke my contract early and switched to Telstra about two weeks before the trip. Not only did I feel safer, but I was also able to check-in on Facebook and upload photos along the way. Oscar was on Vodafone. Oscar couldn't upload shit.
Exhibit A: On the left, a typical Vodafone tower. On the right, a typical Telstra tower. Can you tell the difference?
7. Drive during daylight only.
Australia has the most road kill per capita of anywhere on the planet. Ok, so maybe I made that up. I doubt statistics have been compiled on that, but if they ever were, Australia would seriously be in contention for top honours. Driving in the day, you hardly see any wildlife, but that’s because most marsupials are nocturnal. Kangaroos and all the rest are active from dusk til dawn, hopping about across fields, bushland, and – of course – roads. So, make sure you get up early to start your drive so you can get to your destination before sundown. The last thing you need is to hit a five foot tall kangaroo or some giant angry ugly emu while driving at night. Also, there are tons of stray cattle and an accidental population of wild camels which were introduced ages ago. Who knew? Not only will you feel horrible and probably shit your pants if you hit an animal while going 120 km/hour, your car might be seriously jacked up and maybe even immobile.
8. Install a roo bar.
If you don’t listen to me and you decide that you must drive at night, then please install a roo bar. Also known as a bullbar, the roo bar is a bar (or series of bars really) that you install on the front of your car to protect it from animals. It’s sort of like a bulldozer for animals. So you can just plow kangaroos down left and right all night long while you speed across the bush and you won’t have any damage to your car. Unless of course the kangaroo jumps into the side of your car. Then the roo bar won’t work. And you’ll probably have shit your pants.
9. Watch out for oversize loads.
On our journey across the bush, we encountered a few oversize vehicles – or wide loads as we’d call them in the US. If a road is paved in some remote part of Australia, it’s probably fairly narrow, and there’s probably no paved shoulder to drive on. So, when an oversize load comes up – and some may be carrying a building on their bed and be as wide as both lanes – move the fuck over onto the shoulder and stop your car. When it passes, continue on. These things are seriously wide, and unless you want to veer into a ditch or hit a sign, you’re best bet is just stopping rather than trying to drive on the shoulder of the road.
10. Watch out for road trains.
Finally, beware of road trains. They aren't wide loads, but they are long loads. No, a road train isn't a train on the road, but it’s a really long truck. It’s basically what an American would call a semi or Mack truck, but instead of pulling a trailer behind it, it can pull up to four long trailers. It’s always a bitch passing a semi on the highway in the US, but can you imagine passing one with four trailers? It’s scary. Also, when they are coming at you on a narrow road, and you pass them, the wind generated by the truck can just push your car off the road. So, yeah. Hold onto the wheel. Tightly.
How long can these road trains be? Well, in Australia, the max length on most roads is 53.5 meters. That’s 175 feet for the Americans in the audience who are like “what is that in feet?” In easy to understand terms, that’s over half of the length of a football field, nearly double the length of a basketball court, or longer than some Boeing 767 models. So yeah. It’s long. Very long. And when it’s moving super fast at you, it’s a bit scary… or a lot scary.