AustraliaTravel Tips

Road Trip from Perth to Darwin – What You Need to Know?

Road tripping is one of the best ways to discover huge country of Australia. There are some amazing road trip routes around the country such as from Melbourne to Adelaide through Great Ocean Road, Melbourne to Sydney, Broome to Cairns or Adelaide to Darwin via Stuart Highway. However, I chose Perth to Darwin road trip as I think the western coast is less touristy than the east coast and it fit my timeline well. This was actually my first time road tripping alone and although I thought I planned it well, still, there’s so many things go the other way around. So, for your reference, these are some tips I got along the way.
  1. It’s a long journey

The distance of driving without stopping from Perth to Darwin will take about 5000 kilometres. However, including all the stops and detours, I think overall journey took more than 6000 kilometres. I lost track of the mileage count as my 1st car had to be replaced just after a week because of major breakdown. And after that I was too busy planning for daily trips, and forget to keep track of the mileage. There are lots of nice places to stops along the way. The most important things are, to plan where to stop, when to stop and always have Plan B for everything. Sometime you’ll have to drive for 100km for a day, sometimes you have to drive for 2 or 3 days and stop only at Rest Area to overnight. There’s not many car in Australia’s highway, so you can maintain 110km all the way. The main challenge is, you’ll get sleepy because the road usually so straight and out of nowhere. So, for that reason I really recommend you do this trip with someone or in a group.
  1. When to go

Road status information
It is really important to check rain season and road condition. Usually raining season is between March to May. When I went there in early May, there’s flood in Exmouth so I cancelled to visit it at all. In Monkey Mia, strong storm flooded half of the campsite where I stayed. And in Kakadu and Nitmiluk, most of the walking tracks were still closed even thought it should be open by that time. Some of the main roads were close during raining season as well. There is high possibility to get stranded somewhere. The peak tourist season is from June to September. The weather might be better but there will be too many people in some places as many people will go up north and west to avoid cold winter weather in down south. You can choose to go around mid September or mid May instead.
  1. Car vs Caravan vs 4 Wheel Drive

This is actually the most important thing to consider before planning your route and places to stay and visit. It is because there are LOTS OF UNSEALED roads in Western Australia and Northern Territory, either to the attractions or to free, nice campsites. When I almost reached a free campsite for the first night of the road trip, I realized that it was located at the end of 7km of unsealed road. That was so disappointing and I have to drive back to nearest town. Of course I can just go ahead, but if anything happens there, no insurance will cover anything as it’s clearly stated in the agreement with the rental car, ‘no driving in unsealed road’. Besides the free campsites, I also couldn’t go to few other places like Purnululu National Park, Gibb River Road, half part of Karijini, great attractions in Kalbarri and many more just because of the unsealed road. I read lots of information about this trip before but most of it don’t even mention about the unsealed roads. So, for this reason, I would recommend 4 wheel drive. However, it might cost double the price than normal wagon car. And comparing car or caravan, it depends on how many of you in the trip. If more than 2 then, caravan is the best as you can sleep and cook inside. But if you are alone, then wagon car is more economical. The rental company that I used also provides wagon car with all camping equipments from kitchen utensils, stove, tent, chair and table, but not sleeping bag.
  1. How to get good campsites

Stromatoliles, living fossil in Hamelin Pool
In Australia, you can’t park your vehicle anywhere you like to overnight (although some people still doing this), but it is possible to get free campsites legally. I used HEMA Map book provided by the rental car company (most of rental company will provide this book with the car) and I also use WikiCamp Apps. I bought the apps for AUD4.99 and its worth it. Besides listing campsites details like phone number and address, its also provide recommendation from other users as well as recent photos. The apps was very convenient to use and I would recommend to anyone who want to do road tripping in Australia. There are free campsites which only have toilet without water or tissue paper. There are cheap campsites with basic necessities for AUD10. There are good holiday park for AUD15 per person in grassy campsites. I’ve tried all of that. My favourite was one holiday park in Kununurra where my tent was just next to the nice lake and there were few freshwater crocodiles in it. Don’t worry, they just came at dusk and waited for people to take photo and then left. Good crocodiles.
  1. About petrol

The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park
The more remote you go, the more expensive everything will be, from food to petrol to basic necessities. While in Perth you may get AUD1.50 per litre for unleaded petrol, somewhere at a roadhouse, in a lonely highway, on the way to Kununurra, it can rise up to AUD2.13 per litre. So, it’s really important to make sure your tank is full most of the time and make plan for the next petrol top-up. There’s also a website that you can check the petrol price in any area.
  1. Places to stop

Well, this is up to you anyway. It depends how long you want to travel. I travelled for about a month and these are places that I stopped, for a while, or for few days.
·    The Pinnacles at Nambung National Park
·    Jurien Bay and Kalbarri
·    Shark Bay – Denham, Monkey Mia, Hamelin Pool
·    Carnarvon
·    Point Quobba
·    Karijini
·    Karratha & Dampier
·    Cussack
·    Port Hedland
·    Broome
·    Kununurra
·    Lake Argyle
·    Katherine
·    Nitmiluk
·    Kakadu
·    Litchfield
·    Darwin
(I cancelled Exmouth and Cape Range National Park because it was flooded few days earlier)
However, if you plan to go by 4-wheel drive, there’s lots more places you can go. I really recommend 4-wheel drive if you have the budget! I feel like I only covered 30% of the attractions with car.
  1. Where and what food to bring/cook?

Cooking tuna+vege curry. Only in Australia 🙂

For dry groceries I really recommend that you buy for the whole trip just once in Perth. Its much cheaper and much more choices. No matter how big is your budget, you’ll have to cook at least few times, at least for breakfast and sometimes its just hard to buy food in remote area. For me, its fun to cook and camping in new places, eating and on a camping chair and listening to the bird chirping loudly like they have something important and hot gossips to tell each other. I cook almost everyday. One of my favourite dishes to cook is curry. Doesn’t matter it’s vege curry, or egg curry or tuna curry. All taste good and satisfying to me, after long hours of driving. It is easy to cook too. Allagappas Curry powder can be found everywhere in Asian shop in Perth and powdered coconut milk is sold in major supermarket. Nasi goreng is my favourite too. Pasta is easy as well. You can chop onion, sautée it, put canned peeled tomato and canned tuna in oil, there you have it, Tuna Bolognese. In the morning I usually have normal bread and jam or peanut butter with hot coffee. I also make sure I have a full flask of hot coffee if I have long journey for the day. Apples, stonefruits and pear are the most convenient fruit to keep. My point is, you can have healthy simple food while road tripping, on a budget. Forget ready, canned food as its bad in nutrition and taste. I mean the taste really really bad. I’ve tried and promised myself not to buy that again. So, learn to cook simple recipe like above or anything you like and you’ll survive any road trip or camping. Food is expensive in Australia. If I’m doing road tripping in Malaysia, I won’t bother to cook at all. Not only cheap, Malaysia is food heaven and you can find good, cheap food everywhere.

Most important groceries to buy (in Perth before you start the trip) would be rice and pasta, flour, sauces, beans, canned tomatoes, tuna, onion, garlic, ginger, jam, coffee, tea, sugar, salt, biscuits, etc. Things like bread and fruit you can buy along the way because it won’t last very long. Some rental company provide Esky box (cooler box) but you need to always make sure there’s a lot of ice inside to keep your veges or meat fresh. But I decided to not use Esky just after the first week. For protein intake, I always make sure I have enough tuna and eggs and only when I reach town, I buy chicken or fish. Vegetable like carrot, cabbage and potato are good for long term (and good to cook curry) so it’s always in the car as well. And don’t forget some instant noodle of course. That’s the easiest to cook after a long, tiring day!
Pat’s Lookout, Nitmiluk National Park
  1. Important things to bring

·    Good sleeping bag (suitable for the weather)
·    Head lamp – it is very important and I just can’t explain why. Just bring it!
·    Good walking shoes –  I always use running shoes as I’m comfortable with it. Some people prefer hiking shoes.
·    A pair of slippers – you always gonna use this at every stop
·    A warm jacket – if you have waterproof is better
·    Comfortable pants – for walking, driving, etc. Bring the most comfortable one.  
·    Comfortable cotton t-shirt
·    Day pack – to use on everyday basis
·    Notebook and pen – to write your experience. Write everyday. It will be a nice memento for yourself.
·     Powerbank
·    Car charger
·    A cap or a hat – its very hot in Australia!
·  Sunglasses
·    And other normal stuffs you bring when travelling

 

  1. Other tips

    1. Start driving at least one hour after dawn and stop an hour before dusk as there will be lots of kangaroo and other animal walking near major road when it’s a bit dark. There’s lots of accident involving animal here. From Kalbarri to Carnarvon, there’s lots of dead kangaroo on road’s shoulder. I think there’s one in every 20 kilometers.
    2. In autumn, it gets dark around 5pm and I always make sure that I already had my tent ready before that. It’s best to reach 2 hours earlier as you need to cook for dinner too.
    3. Check your map and route, every single day. Make sure you know roughly how many kilometers you have to drive and where to stop and make sure you know at least 2 campsites at the area. Don’t gamble on this.
    4. GPS is not really necessary as the roads are straightforward just after you left Perth
    5. Always make sure you have lots of drinking and washing water, and tissue paper as well.
    6. Call road assistant of there’s anything wrong with the car. Anything at all. You won’t know when or where you’ll get phone signal again. I called them 3 times along the trip, and 2 times, my car end up in a workshop.
Lake Argyle view from a light, small plane
I think I’ve covered all the basic for road tripping from Perth to Darwin. It was one of the very interesting trips that I’ve done so far. It also challenged me in many ways. But I survived to tell the story. J
Untill next time, let’s travel far and wide!

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