Travellers in their millions flock to Australia each year, and most will head to the vibrant yet relatively densely crowded East Coast, either hopping on and off bus tours or flying into the main cities and out again. For a totally different experience, set your sights on the rugged and less-travelled state of Western Australia (WA), and travel at your own speed.
Driving through the country’s largest state is a truly unique experience and one you won’t forget. It takes up a third of the vast continent – most of Europe would fit inside of it – yet is home to only a tenth of its population, 92% of which are crammed into the teeny tiny south-west corner. This is also where you’ll probably find 92% of the backpackers.
There are many amazing sights in the south-west region around Perth and Margaret River. To the east you can travel through the tall trees of Pemberton to the magnificent rock formations of Albany and eventually to picturesque Esperance. To the north lies the Nambung National Park, home to more unusual rock formations (Australian’s are very proud of their rocks!), the Pinnacles.
Head any further north or east, however, and it becomes hard to comprehend the huge distances between everything, so there are so many things you just can’t see on a tour bus. With your own wheels you can get to places which make you feel like you’re the only person left on Earth. You can drive right onto some of the unspoilt beaches, and find yourself camping under more stars than you ever imagined existed. Don’t drive after sunset though, as that’s when the ‘roos come out and they don’t have too much road sense!
So many of the especially incredible places are only accessible via unsealed roads which are too rough for some vehicles – true hidden gems, in a vast wilderness of nothing. In the north-west you can get to the campsite at Karijini National Park just fine, but unless you have a sturdy vehicle (or you can hitch a ride) you still can’t get to the dramatic river gorges – a rugged oasis where you can trek and swim for hours, and a little courage is rewarded with breathtaking sights.
Near the town of Northampton, a mere hour and a half’s drive along a rickety unsealed road actually delivers you to whole new country! The must-be-seen-to-be-believed Principality of the Hutt River has been a sovereign state and independent of Australia since 1970, and you will actually get your passport stamped. If you’re lucky, the monarch Prince Leonard might even tell you his fascinating tale himself.
Still more roads are so bumpy that they are passable only in a 4×4, so you’ll find even fewer people en route. One such road is the Gibb River Road in the northeast, and into the wilderness of the Kimberley National Park, which is one of Australia’s last remaining true frontiers and boasts yet more wacky rocks, the Bungle Bungles. Make the effort to get out here and you will be privileged to sights few others have ever seen.
Not your ordinary travellers
Though you will obviously meet other like-minded travellers on your journey, you’re also likely to meet many Australians with the same idea. Plenty of citizens reject the rat race for the freedom of exploring their own country and creating their own lifestyle. “Grey nomads” retire and sell up so they can buy a camper and set off on the road. Families break from convention, homeschooling their children and living in campsites, finding various means to earn a living on the move. Young couples on their honeymoons shun the busy beaches of popular tourist destinations for the pristine coastline and sense of adventure of their home country. You will meet people who are drawn to the vastness of WA for many reasons, and you can bet the perspectives they share will be fascinating and eye-opening.
So, are you convinced yet?
Are you revved up for an Antipodean adventure? If you need more convincing, there is the fact that staying in campsites will be much cheaper than hostels. There are even many free camp spots along the major routes, some of which are just carparks next to the road, while some turn out to be stunningly picturesque. Camping in National Parks however, which is also often free or for a nominal fee, is absolutely unforgettable, and the scenery, space and wildlife will blow your mind.
Should I rent or buy?
This is the first big practical question you need to consider, and really depends on where you want to start and finish your trip, and how long you want to be on the road for. There are countless rental companies – try Wicked Campers, Spaceships and Jucy to name but a few.
Rentals will always have limits however, and the cost mounts up if you are planning to be away for more than a few weeks. If you really want to feel free to go where you please and take as long as you want, it is worth looking into buying a vehicle. Many travellers do this and are able to sell theirs for almost as much as they bought it for, so it actually may not be as expensive as it seems. Advice for purchasing a vehicle is outside the scope of this post but these two blogs here and here give a great overview of what you need to be aware of.
As always, whatever type of trip you’re planning, travel insurance is a necessity. The friendly advisers at Worldwide Insure are ready with expert advice to make sure you have the cover you need for your trip-of-a-lifetime. Call 01892 628584 or visit www.worldwideinsure.com today for an instant online quote.