I’ve just been reading somebody else’s story about the problems they had when travelling around Australia for a year. The tears were rolling down my cheeks while I was reading. Not at their misfortunes, but because they chose to use Optus as their telecommunications provider! In the outback!!!
I really shouldn’t laugh at anybody else’s mistakes. God knows I’ve made enough of my own, stupid ones at that (yes that’s my tent). Looking around, other people have made some pretty laughable mistakes as well.
Choosing a provider other than Telstra for telecommunications
As much as I hate to promote them, Telstra is the ONLY provider that has decent coverage across the country. I can’t count the number of times I have had people ask to use my phone in the outback, including in the towns, because they have no coverage. Optus, 3, Virgin, Vodaphone, or any other provider is ok in the cities, but once you get outside them … forget it.
I pay $95/month for all calls and 10g of data. If I need more data I can purchase it on an as-needs basis (yes, I’ve needed extra, even with 10g a month but usually because I’m streaming rugby remotely). I hotspot my laptop to the phone to upload blogs and do anything else I need to. I use the phone to connect to social media, use google maps as a GPS, google information about places we’re visiting, and do whatever else I need to do on the web.
Underestimating the strength of the sun
I’ve hosted visitors from the northern hemisphere who’ve come straight from the middle of their winter to the middle of our summer. And of course, the first thing everybody wants to do is get outside in the sun to warm up, usually on the beach. All I can say is it’s not a good idea to go to the beach when you’re jet lagged and likely to fall asleep.
The sun in Australia is hot. Remember that hole in the ozone layer? It’s over Australia. Do not forget to use sunscreen. Every day. Even in winter.
We didn’t have sunscreen when I was a kid, and I remember summers when we couldn’t lie down or even have a sheet over our backs because we were so sunburnt. Our skin would blister, and we’d have competitions to see who could peel the longest strip of skin from somebody’s back. It’s no wonder so many people have skin cancers now, and it still happens to visitors. A lot.
If you do go hiking or anything else in the sun don’t forget water. Lots of it. And wear a hat
Not doing any research
Do we ever love having a dig at tourists who know nothing about Australia (we call it “taking the piss”). Those people who have seen a picture of a kangaroo or koala, or of Bondi Beach, and think that’s our life. No, you will not see kangaroos jumping down the main street of Sydney, and yes it does rain here, and it gets cold. And Neighbours or Home & Away aren’t reality TV.
I once watched a show on National Geographic or Discovery channel about the top 10 most dangerous animals in the world. I think all of them were found in Australia. Crocodiles, funnel web spiders, inland taipans, brown snakes, great white sharks, irakandji, blue ringed octopus. The list goes on.
But you know what? In all my travels I have never seen one –except for crocodiles, they’re everywhere in northern Australia. Don’t swim. Really. DO NOT SWIM. Salt water crocodiles ARE found in fresh water.
That’s not to say dangerous animals aren’t there, but they don’t spend their time lying in wait for human prey – well, except for crocodiles again. That said, it’s still wise to be careful. If you corner a snake, (even accidentally, they sometimes get into sleeping bags because it’s warm), or put your feet into your shoes and squash a spider, they will bite. And those bites can make you very, very sick, or kill you.
At the other end of the scale, cute & cuddly animals can be dangerous. Watch out for Drop Bears. If you are walking under gum trees keep a look out. Drop Bears are so named because that’s what they do – they drop onto you from the trees. And they have a sharp bite. You can ward them off by spraying fresh urine on your head and neck.
And watch out for cows. Cows kill more people than sharks do.
Having the wrong vehicle
I’ve written before about how you can get around Australia and see all the major icons in a 2WD vehicle, but if you do want to go off road, you need to be prepared. A poxy little all wheel drive SUV is not going to cut it. There is a reason that everyone in the Territory refers to anything other than a Land Cruiser or a Hilux as “just a car”.
Have you ever read the “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” series? I loved it. I read them all one after the other, over just a few days. I couldn’t put them down. Until it came to the section where Blomkvist tracked Harriet to at sheep station in outback Australia. When he arrives he’s met by somebody (I can’t remember who) in his Jeep. That’s where the book lost all credibility for me and I nearly stopped reading. Nobody in the outback has a Jeep!!
If you’re going to stay on tar, or even well graded dirt, you don’t need to go all Daktari, but if you are going off road, be prepared. You need a real 4WD, with high clearance, and recovery gear, and good communications gear including a satellite phone (and yes, a Jeep will do).
Not having a safety plan
This is the biggest mistake people make. Outback Australia can be very harsh, it’s very hot in summer, and the sun is very strong. And there are large distances between places, especially for those used to the European landscape. If you’re driving through the outback you need to have a plan in case something goes wrong, like you break down or get bogged. And that plan should be DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE. If you do you might die.
I can’t stress this one enough. Make sure you’ve got plenty of water on board. At least 10 litres per person, plus whatever smaller bottles you have. Our Cruiser has a 40 litre tank, and I carry a 15 litre container in the Vitara. I also have a 1.25litre bottle in the fridge and 600mil bottle to drink from while driving. All are refilled regularly.
And stay with your vehicle. That way you have shelter from the elements, water to drink, and you are far more likely to be found. People have died in the outback because they’ve gone out looking for help, and the only reason they were found is because somebody followed the tracks from the car after the car was found first.
If you keep this in mind you’ll have a fabulous time. Australia is a beautiful country and I highly recommend you take as much time as you possibly can and travel around. You’ll love it.
I’ve even been out there with just a girlfriend for company, as well as on my own. We made some mistakes, sure, but we had an amazing time.
What recommendations do you have for people travelling in Australia?