Australia - GESTAPO got you again! - go for a DRIVE

Nov 2, 2001

The Bottom Line Free at last, we head for the closest car rental station

What really is a break, a vacation, a holiday? To me the opportunity to get away from a routine.

Humanoids have this tendency to fall into the "routine trap". They go to bed at a certain time, get up at 0700, clean their choppers, have a shower, get dressed and at 0730 eat breakfast. Then at 0755 run for the bus, train or car and make the journey to work, or the salt mine, arrive at 0845 enter the building and start at 0900.

They toil till 1200, break for lunch returning at 1300, toil some more, or at least make out to and at 1700 reverse the "go to work" process. Sound familiar? Isn't it exciting! And we do that from five to seven days a week every week until halleluiah - it's vacation time!

So what do we usually do in planning for the "big vacation". Down to the travel agent and buy a package of course. After all it is the cheapest way, whether we are going somewhere relatively nearby or overseas.

About two weeks before the scheduled day of departure we receive our orders, politely called an itinerary.

Don't you just love that itinerary! Look on Tuesday we will be in Kickamoocow and the following Saturday in Giddywallotop. Always wanted to go there honey, and finally we are!

Now it is clearly on the itinerary, but we never see it!! All the "thou shalts"! If we do see it we suddenly realise that routine we were trying to escape has been swapped for a life in the damn Army!

The Itinerary says it all - Thou Shalt be at the airport by 0545 ready to embark at 0610. Thou shalt fly to Kickamoocow where thou shalt land at 0920. Thou shalt meet the tour guide near the exit. Then it is the tour guides turn - "When I give the order all of thou shalt attend the baggage area and retrieve thine baggage. Then all of thou shalt walk to thine bus that will take thou past a beach, a church and the Civic Centre on the why to thouís Hotel arriving at 01100. Thou shalt disembark and unpack in thou room to be allocated on arrival. Then thou shalt report back to me in the lobby at 1200 for thine lunch". Sound familiar with just a touch of poetic licence?

This continues for the rest of that day, all of the next day and by the morning of day three you realise for more than two days you have resisted the urge to salute! It is at this point I casually walk around behind Mrs. Gestapo and whisper in her ear "thou shalt go to nearest river and drown thyself quietly".

FREE at last, we head for the closest car rental station. We are going to do something extremely radical! We are going to do what we want to do, when we want to do it! A little tip though - before you head for the car rental station duck back in to the hotel lobby and grab every brochure in site!

Now the Gestapo is gone, we can really enjoy ourselves. We do a deal at the car rental joint for say a weeks rental on a modest car - we don't need a Cadillac just to get around and doing that it can be surprising just how cheap it can be.

For the purpose of this exercise we will assume you didn't go to Kickamoocow, but instead went to Australia - a much better idea. So, where did that plane land? This is important because you don't really want to spend the week driving non stop - might as well have stayed with Gestapo lady.

From the USA planes generally depart Los Angeles but it doesn't make any difference whether you fly in to Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide. The cost is practically equal. Remember Australia is the size of the USA and you know how big that is - and here it is worse in a way because things are more spread out. So really, unless you have twelve months, you need to decide just what sort of area you want to see.

And this is not too difficult. If you love the tropics, natural beauty and crocodiles Cairns is the place to start. If the Las Vegas razzle dazzle style is for you then itís the Gold Coast you are after, landing at Brisbane. Sydney Harbour, the Rocks, the Bridge, Tunnel and Opera house and a great deal more including the Blue Mountains obviously means Sydney - and from there it is a pleasant drive to the National Capital, Canberra, also full of things to see. It is no accident that most overseas tourists "attack" Sydney - it really has got it all, except Crocodiles! If its fashion, flair and a touch of the unusual Melbourne is the place. The Outback is best tackled from Adelaide.

So, its not too hard to decide is it? And I have written many epistles on all these places so you can do a bit more research.

Now driving in Australia. We have been to the USA, and driven there, so I have a pretty good idea of the differences. And in fact there is only one. We drive on the left hand side, not the right. I found this took an hour or two to get some confidence, especially when going around a corner on "the wrong" side of the road and also when turning at intersections. Turning at a cross road was the worst for me initially. For instance when we turn left itís a hard left turn, whereas you go over to the opposite side of the road. But provided you don't forget, as I did once, the experience is more a strange feeling than dramatic.

The roads are exactly the same. All sealed smooth bitumen except for some rare concrete, some are multi laned freeways and the others one lane each way as appropriate to traffic needs. Driving in down town San Francisco was similar to any of the major cities here as were the areas surrounding the city. Yes we have traffic jams in the cities and no you won't hit a kangaroo!

As a rough "rule of thumb" the distance between adjacent Capital cities is five to six hundred miles where Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are concerned and all are easy day trips. Sydney to Adelaide direct is almost exactly a thousand miles and that can be done in a day without much effort. Between these cities there is plenty to see and a significant town or Regional City exists about every fifty miles, so there is nothing remote about this south eastern corner.

Even from Adelaide, the ideal gateway to the outback, is a safe trip north for the two thousand odd miles to Darwin. Alice Springs breaks the journey at the halfway mark and you can easily and comfortably break it much more often by staying overnight at any one of the Opal Field towns, about five hundred miles north of Adelaide. After Alice Springs, which can keep you enthralled for a week if you have the time, there is the large town of Tennant Creek only three hundred miles north and another four hundred miles is beautiful Katherine with its magnificent gorges and crocodiles.

The Highway is only one lane each way, but each lane is of course smooth bitumen and much wider than usual. It could almost be a four lane road but the extra width is really for the "Road Trains", up to a hundred and seventy feet long and carrying a hundred and fifty to two hundred tons. These vehicles are clearly marked "Road Train" mainly so when you overtake one you know its like passing two to three semi-trailers joined together. Just wait for the driver to signal you to pass and you will have no problems - but put your foot down!

The maximum speed limit in cities and towns is 60km/h (35mph) and 100km/h (62mph) on country roads and highways, unless signs indicate otherwise. The remote areas have speed limits marked at 110km/h (70mph) as do almost all freeways. In the Northern Territory there is no speed limit but you are expected to drive to the conditions. Over a hundred and ten miles an hour could have you charged with dangerous driving.

Most keep speed down around eighty to ninety miles an hour just in case of wildlife or stock. There are no fences in these parts but stock is still rarely seen because they are on multi million acre ranches called Cattle Stations.

You must wear a seat belt at all times and a helmet if on a motor bike. Incidentally some years ago all of Australia's road rules were standardised, so it makes no difference which State or Territory you happen to be in. As a bona-fide tourist your valid overseas licence is sufficient but you must carry it with you. International driver's permits are not required but if you have one by all means carry it but your local licence is still required.

When your car needs a drink please don't ask for "gas". In Australia it is called petrol and this is important because many cars do use gas only, or often both - and when I say gas that is Liquefied Petroleum Gas, not Petroleum. Nearly all fuel stations are self service but often not in small country towns. There is a safeguard of course in that you won't physically be able to insert the wrong hose. You must use unleaded fuel - leaded is only legal in some very old cars. Unleaded regular and premium unleaded grade fuel is optional, but most use the former.

The rental car company will tell you what to do in the unlikely event of a breakdown. In emergencies the number to call is 000, not 911. This is because our phones donít have number eleven, just zero to nine. In remote areas the Flying Doctor Service of Australia provides emergency services to outback travellers.

I strongly advise you not to drive in remote areas at night, including the outback, because the risk of hitting a kangaroo or wombat is just too great. Short distances at moderate speeds are fine, but hitting either of these characters at speed is like hitting a truck.

Avoid the temptation, unless you are highly experienced and in a four wheel drive, to take on the "adventure trips". Roads such as the twelve hundred miles of sand dune Canning Stock Route, the six hundred mile Tanami Track and basically any unsealed road. Some of these tracks aren't even "wheels in the sand", just markers and they present a perfect place to die for the inexperienced - especially outside the three months of winter.

The over four hundred mile Oodnadatta Track is a gravel road with sandy sections that in winter only is probably okay but its a drive from nowhere to nowhere so its hardly worth the risk. Stick to the bitumen and live.

Self drive holidays give you the total freedom to see precisely what you want to see, and for as long as you want to see it. Excellent maps showing all the sights are available.

This is one form of travel that I believe is well worth serious consideration.

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