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Driving in Australia

Possoms and roos warning signAustralia is a huge country and one of the best for extended driving holidays. There’s endless variety and enough to keep you busy for years. The vast distances involved should not be underestimated, but the rewards are endless.

A pristine coastline of cresting surf beaches and dazzling coral reefs shows off the legendary surf culture and lifestyle, while the iconic outback offers a wonderfully isolated experience.

Many of these extremely remote outback areas present their own unique challenges and unexpected hazards. If you intend to travel to these areas you should plan your trip carefully and seek local advice on precautions you should take.

When travelling to remote tourist destinations it’s essential to leave your travel plans and expected arrival time with local tourist authorities, the police, your hotel, or friends and family.

In addition, you’ll need to check roads are open when travelling anywhere in the Top End – the northernmost part of the Northern Territory – during the wet season as many become impassable. Take particular care when driving on unsealed roads, four-wheel-drive tracks and desert or beach roads.

Staying on the right side of the law

Police in Australia are extremely vigilant when it comes to speeding and drink-driving. The penalties for both are severe and there is a high chance you will be caught. All state highway patrol vehicles are fitted with moving radar and breath tests take place as a matter of course whenever vehicles are stopped. In addition there are many fixed and mobile speed cameras.

In Australia, the legal limit for drinking and driving for most people is 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or 0.05 blood alcohol concentration. (In the UK, the limit is 80 milligrams.) Rather than trying to work out how to stay inside the limit, your best bet is simply to avoid alcohol if you’re planning to drive.

As a visitor, you may drive in Australia on a valid UK licence for up to three months. You must carry you licence and a valid passport with you when driving or risk an on-the-spot fine.

Star drive

Within easy reach of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic drives. The most spectacular section is between Lorne and Apollo Bay and it’s here you’ll find the famous 12 Apostles rock formations. The drive winds its way along a rocky coastline of sheer cliff edges, amazing headlands, scenic lookouts, the edges of beaches, and even lush rainforests, offering panoramic views of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean.

Best of the rest

Due to the enormous distances involved, it’s best to focus on a particular region or state and really get to know it. Start in a cosmopolitan city such as Melbourne or Sydney and then drive the classic East Coast route between Australia’s two largest cities to take in the must-see highlights and other lesser-known gems. If you have more time you could extend this trip all the way to Cairns in Queensland’s tropical north. 

Equally you could escape the crowds and travel from Perth up the west coast to Ningaloo, journey through the remote Kimberley region in the far northwest or settle for a circuit of Tasmania to see some truly unique wildlife and scenery.

For the truly adventurous, you could always tackle an epic journey through Australia’s rugged interior, although this will involved serious planning. The Savannah Way links Cairns to Broome. From the spectacular midway point of Katherine, it’s possible to detour to Darwin. Along the way you’ll pass 15 national parks and five world heritage areas.

Laws of the land

  • Seat belts must be worn at all times.
  • All vehicles on Fraser Island, off the Queensland coast, must observe a maximum speed of 80km/h on beaches and 30km/h in towns.
  • Passengers under the age of seven are not permitted to travel in the front seat without a child restraint or seatbelt, even if the back seat is full.
  • In Australia, vehicles drive on the left.
  • You cannot cross double unbroken lines.
  • When overtaking you must not break the speed limit.

Australian speed limits

Speed limits vary between the various states and territories.

Australian speed limits

Road type

Speed limit

Local traffic area

40 kmh

Built-up areas

50 kmh

Highways roadworks

80 kmh


100 kmh

Select highways/motorways/freeways

110 kmh

Local knowledge

In Australia the local mantra “stop, revive, survive” really does ring true. It’s recommended you stop for a rest break every two hours. There are many rest stops provided. Also look out for the network of volunteer-run “Driver Reviver” stations located at various points on the national highway system. You’ll be able to grab a coffee and stretch your legs, while at the same time meeting the locals.

Many long stretches of the national highway network also remain single carriageway, shared with many lorries, so care and attention is needed.

The mobile phone network generally works in well in towns and cities, but on the edge of built-up and rural areas it is limited or non-existent.

Did you know?

It’s illegal to drive with your arm (or any other part of your body) out of the window, unless you’re indicating.

Luke McCormick is the founder of Edge Retreats, a site dedicated to the best in design and luxury hotels.

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