Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world, twice the size of India and 32 times the size of the United Kingdom. However, there are almost three times as many British people as there are Australians. So you can imagine that a large part of Australia is uninhabited. As there is no public transport in these remote areas, having a car is essential for people who want to see more of the country than just the cities. This article tells you how to rent one and what to look for.
In almost all Australian states, with the exception of Queensland, an international driving licence is required to drive. In Queensland, an international driving licence is not required by law, but it is strongly recommended as it allows travellers to have an English translation of their driving licence. An international driving licence is an addition to your own driving licence and is best arranged before departure.
In Australia, as in the UK, a C1 driving licence is required to drive motorhomes with a maximum authorised weight of over 3500 kilos. However, as an Australian car licence is valid for driving vehicles with a maximum total weight of 4.5 tonnes, Australian rental companies often rent out motorhomes weighing between 3.5 and 4.5 tonnes to European drivers with a B licence. Normally, the insurance will provide cover in this case, but check with your insurance company when renting a motorhome.
You will also need an Australia visa. Travellers from most European countries, including the United Kingdom and Ireland, can apply for an eVisitor visa which allows you to stay in the country for up to three months. All travellers, including children and babies, need their own visa. It is also important to have a passport that is valid for at least 6 more months on arrival in Australia. This is one of the requirements to enter the country.
Finally, to rent a car, you will need a credit card in almost all cases. This is required by the rental companies as a deposit for the rental so they can always charge for any damage.
What to keep in mind
Many rental companies have additional requirements for young drivers, as they are statistically more likely to have accidents. By law, anyone 18 and older can drive a car with a B licence, but car rental companies often set the bar a little higher. For example, a higher age limit or an increased rental price. If the driver of the rental car is 25 years or younger, or has only held the licence for a short time (between 2 and 4 years, depending on which Australian state you are renting the car in), it is advisable to check with the rental company.
Australia is a former British colony and for that reason they drive on the left side of the road. Very convenient for British and Irish tourists, but tourists from other countries should therefore take into account that the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.
It is true that drivers from the right have priority. At a T-junction, the car driving on the far side of the T never has priority, even if it is coming from the right. In Australia, as in almost all European countries, it is forbidden to have a mobile phone in your hand on the road. Another rule is that a car may only be parked in the direction of the road, i.e. not with its nose facing the traffic. So you may not cross a dual carriageway because there is a parking space on the other side of the road.
Nature has its own traffic laws
Driving in an Australian city is probably not very different from what you are used to, but those who dare to travel long distances through empty nature have to take into account conditions that we do not really know in the UK and Ireland. The roads are long, straight and quite monotonous. You can drive straight on for hours without the landscape changing. In those circumstances, it can be difficult to stay focused and not fall asleep at the wheel after a long drive.
In the rainy season, some roads flood and in extreme cases whole villages become inaccessible. In the dry season, forest fires are more frequent and can also block the roads. The road surface can suddenly become poor, have potholes or change into an unpaved section. The verge is also soft in places. Furthermore, the roads are unlit and at night all sorts of animals are active, which means there is a chance of a collision. Make sure that you find a place to stop before sunset.
A full tank is no luxury, because it can sometimes take hours before you pass a petrol station. You can fill a jerrycan with fuel and take it with you, just to be sure. Also make sure you bring plenty of bottled water. It can get very hot in the interior of Australia, so be sure to check the coolant level.
In a ‘Rest Area’ (indicated by a road sign) along the roads, everyone is allowed to camp freely. However, these stops are very primitive. A campsite is more comfortable because there are more facilities there. Some campsites are even free. In the high season, however, it is advisable to book a campsite.
If you are in Australia for a longer period of time, it can sometimes make more sense to buy a car instead of renting one when you arrive, and sell it again when you leave Australia. This is often cheaper than renting a car for a longer period of time.
It can be a good option to rent or buy a van or large estate car. This way you will have a roof over your head in the Outback.