Highway 1 is the longest national highway on the planet. It’s a combination of roads including major motorways such as the Princes Highway, Eyre Highway, Great Northern Highway, Stuart Highway, Bruce Highway and Pacific Highway to name but a few.
It’s not always the shortest route between destinations but it is the continuing ring road that for the most part, hugs the coast, and constitutes a ring road around the island.
If you choose to see Australia by jumping onto Highway 1 and tearing off into the ‘outback’ you won’t even need a map. It’s bitumen all the way, heavily signposted and well travelled.
Oh, and you won’t see much either. All the action and all the sights tend to branch off this ring of blacktop and divert into big towns, smaller communities and the tourist sights. Colloquially known as ‘doing the big lap’, this route won’t take you through the red centre to see a place like Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kings Canyon or the myriad of locations on offer through the middle either.
Some people do the trip in a month, some in 3, 6 or 12 months and many ‘grey nomads’ (retirees) hit the road and never stop touring.
No one can tell you how long it will take to travel around Australia because it’s a different experience for everyone. Many Europeans are happy to spend endless hours sun baking on pristine beaches while Australians, who have lived by the coast all their lives, may want to delve into the rugged inland gorges and deserts.
What is a Realistic Time Frame?
If the goal is to simply circumnavigate the country then a month will get you around.
Three months means you will have the chance to see some of the sights and experience the differences in climatic conditions from North to South.
Six months allows a more leisurely pace and the freedom to spend extra days, here and there, as your fancy pleases.
Twelve months is going to give you a good comprehension of just how big the place really is and you’ll be able to see and experience a wide variety of landmarks and places. A twelve-month journey will also make you realise that you have missed a great deal and you may want to do it again.
Research and Bite Size Chunks
If you only have one to three months then we seriously suggest you select a region and get to know it intimately. Distances between towns and tourist sights can be huge – up to 600km or more. Packing up camp, driving 600km and setting up camp again will easily consume a full day. For most parts there is little to see along the outback highways – the interesting stuff usually hides off the beaten track.
Quality maps and caravanner’s forums will reveal a host of unpublicised attractions. Information about all the gorges, waterholes, waterfalls and spectacular countryside in a region is often omitted in the local tourist office and National Parks brochures. Ningaloo in Western Australia’s north is a perfect example. Local tourist advice would have you visit a few beaches at Coral Bay before heading inland to arrive at Exmouth and the top of Ningaloo Reef. However, there is a gazetted (public) sand-road that follows the coast and receives very little traffic. The beaches along this stretch are some of the most pristine you will ever find and it is possible to camp – beachside, on the local stations for 6 dollars a night. Some people spend three months a year there. Advise like this is never easily won from official sources. Tourist Offices, The Department of Conservation and local authorities like to keep everyone in one place – it’s less work and less worry for them. You discover this sort of information from websites like this one, public forums and from other people on the road.
Timing is Everything
Pick your season. It is possible for someone to be skiing in the southern snowfields at the same time someone else in the north is baking in 42-degree heat.
As a general rule, spend summer in the south and winter in the north.
The seasons in Australia and the southern hemisphere are –
Summer – December, January, February
Autumn – March, April, May
Winter – June, July, August
Spring – September, October, November
The ‘top end’ or extreme north experiences tropical weather which is referred to as the ‘Wet Season’ and the ‘Dry Season’. The tropical wet season coincides with the southern summer and high temperatures, extreme humidity and massive rainfall are the norms. Roads and bridges can become impassable with flooding and towns and communities become landlocked. Travel can be severely restricted.
The tropical wet is spectacular, with stunning lightning storms, waterfalls and rivers. The tropical dry season bathes in moderate to warm days and nights with good accessibility. Both seasons deserve a visit. The tropical dry season is a great time to escape the southern winter.
The article Driving on Australian Roads offers an insight into the road system while The Outback Travel Guide explores a few common transport options.
A gentleman at a junk sale once asked us “Do know the secret to travel around Australia and returning home with $100,000?”. The answer – “Leave home with $200,000.”