Back at the beginning of the year, a friend and I drove for 2 months in a van up the west coast of Australia. It was pretty much one of the most awesome times I've had. So here's a few things I learned, and why I think driving is one of the best ways to go.
If you want to see a lot of a certain state or area of Australia, then getting a car or van can be an awesome choice. You'll be able to make your trip more flexible than if you're relying on planes and trains. It's pretty easy to drive into a town, scout it out, and decide to run for the hills. Having to follow time schedule for transport means you might get stuck waiting.
It can be a money saver too, as a van includes a bed and a kitchen, and you can usually find a lot of free places to park for the night. Just talk to the locals as you go, a lot of them can point you in the direction of popular places people squat. You can also find some decent caravan parks if you're looking for showers, laundry, and some friendly people to chat with. Am I saying it's going to be a super cheap trip though? No...gas prices, food, and more is more expensive in the outback since it has to get shipped out, so bring a friend and split the costs.
Obviously if you're only thinking up a 2 week trip then rentals are probably going to be the way for you. But if you're planning a longer term trip, buying a van may be the better option.
We rented, and while the company was great for the most part, and our van was reliable...renting long term can rack up a hefty bill. On top of that companies will also hold a large insurance deposit on your credit card for the duration of your trip. In my situation they waited a month and a dozen upset phone call from me to return said deposit, and since it was put on my credit card in Australian dollars, when it was returned the currency rate had changed and I lost out...(lesson learned!)
I know what you're thinking, but then I'm stuck with this van? What happens when I leave? There are plenty of backpackers doing the same thing you are, so if you pick a popular tourist haven to end your trip on, chances are you're going to find someone to take it off your hands.
If you really want to find a deal, find people who are leaving soon, and NEED to sell their van now, chances are they'll be more willing to haggle as they want to get some money back before they depart vs. just ditching it. Then when you sell it back, you can raise the price possibly and make a little extra cash.
What to bring?
- An atlas, complete with caravan park information can be a lifesaver. Cell phone coverage is skimp in between towns, so relying on your google map app isn't going to cut it. Atlases can help you determine which roads are paved and unpaved faster, tell you which caravan parks include what, and you can play "spot the odd landmark names" while driving.
- First aid - if you're renting your van may come with one. Packing a standard supply of bandaids, disinfectant, sunscreen, and your preferred method of dealing with insects is wise. There's a lot of crazy poisonous things in Australia, so be prepared.
- Bug spray (for killing) - At night time every insect known to man wanted into our abode. Every time we set up our beds ended in some 30 minute escapade of us vs the flying cockroach. So bring a weapon if you don't like things crawling on your face while you sleep.
- Drinks/Snacks - water, a few easy dinner staples, if you're a drinker maybe a bottle of your choice. There's going to be that day when you don't drive as far as you thought you would, or you stayed in a national park....you're going to want some back up supplies for the days you don't get to the store.
- Snorkel - if you want to jump in and see the sea life, buying your own at the beginning of the trip will save you some money. Renting them at every spot is going to rack up quickly. Don't just dive into the ocean without reading the signs though, again Australia is full of a lot of crazy stuff, so read about what sea life is in the area...if it's a public beach it should have a posting.
- Solar light - while some vans have lights on them for the interior and exterior, in our case the lightbulb died on the exterior of our van when we were in a national park. So having a solar light will save you battery money, and can be used any time you need to find your way in the dark.
Where to go?
Well that choice I cannot help you make. Do some research decide how long you have and what your top sites are that you want to explore. You will find things you want to see on the way, locals will point you to things you had no clue about, so don't fret....you'll have a great time on the road.