Australia is an enormous country with diverse cultural and nature activities.
Despite the vast distances involved in an Australia road trip, driving around Australia is the best way to see and experience this wonderful country so travelling Australia in a camper van is a popular option with both domestic and international tourists.
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Travelling Australia in a camper van
Where to travel in Australia?
Where to go depends on what you like doing and how long you have to do it!
How long do you have for your trip? How far can you drive in that time?
Try to arrive and depart from different Australian cities to avoid having to double back on yourself.
Include a mix of cities and beaches in your itinerary as well as rural and nature spots and any Australian road trip should include a detour into the iconic Australian outback.
City lovers might head to the more populated south-east, wine lovers to the south-west, beach fans to the sunny Queensland coast or those seeking an off the beaten track experience should head to Western Australia or the Northern Territory.
In 1996, I spent 13 months driving up the west coast from Perth to Darwin, down to Alice Springs (and back!) followed by a trip along the east coast to Melbourne.
When to go?
A road trip during the peak school holiday season (December to early February) will mean greater competition for camper van rentals or purchases and for campsite spots. Beaches and attractions will be busier.
Off season will be cheaper and cooler.
Check the weather for the areas you wish to visit. You may choose to avoid the wet, humid season up north (November to April) or mid-winter in Tasmania.
Hire or buy a camper van in Australia?
Deciding whether to hire or buy a motor home in Australia depends on your budget, your confidence in buying a second-hand vehicle and the duration of your trip.
The pros and cons of buying a camper van in Australia
Buying a camper van or motor home can be an investment; unless the vehicle dies or sustains damage you can resell it and recoup some of your costs.
In 1996, after driving over 26, 000 kilometres I sold my beloved VW Camper van ‘Bruce’ for more money than I had paid for it.
If you are travelling as a couple, you will not have a problem finding a vehicle. There is a great demand for smaller camper vehicles.
You need to know what you are doing – if you have never bought a second-hand vehicle before, now is not the time to start!
The risk of losing all your invested money is real. Your vehicle could irrevocably break down or suffer irreparable damage.
You will only have roadside assistance if you pay for it.
Camping equipment and bedding may not be included. Plus. the vehicle may need minor repairs en route, tyres that need replacing and so on – it can be difficult to budget your overall costs.
There will be additional costs of tax and insurance.
It takes time to purchase and resell a vehicle. Visiting used car lots, scouring hostel notice boards or online selling sites will take time.
Furthermore, at the end of your trip you need to allocate enough time to sell the camper van – and make contingency plans should you run out of time.
Families or groups may find it difficult to source a camper van or motor home.
Due to my previous positive experience buying a camper van in Australia, our family of five were prepared to buy a motor home for our road trip.
But we could not find one. We realized that if we could not find an affordable camper van for five, there was not demand for it and we would also have a problem selling the camper van before we left.
The pros and cons of camper van hire in Australia.
Hiring a camper van gives you peace of mind that your vehicle is roadworthy.
There is someone to ask for help should you need it. Plus, roadside assistance is usually included in rental agreements.
You can pick up and drop off vehicles as and when you need to.
Camping equipment and bedding is usually included.
Hiring a camper van in Australia is expensive – even when you consider it is your accommodation as well as your transport.
In peak season demand and hire prices soar.
Some companies will not hire to drivers under the age of 21.
There may be restrictions on which type of roads you can drive on (no off roading)!
Camper van relocation deals in Australia.
If your timings and routes can be flexible, consider relocation deals to travel in a camper van around Australia.
A relocation deal is driving a camper van or motor home from one hire company location to another location within a given time frame.
On our recent East Coast road trip, we drove from Cairns to Sydney ENTIRELY on relocation deals and saved a lot of money!
Relocation deals offer some free days and some days at $5 per day. It is a budget-friendly method of travel!
You can often extend your trip by purchasing extra days for $75 per day.
By city hopping, you can complete a long road trip in sections using different relocation deals.
Camping equipment and bedding are included.
You will have the support of the vehicle rental company and roadside assistance.
You have to complete your trip within a time frame so you may not be able to spend as long as you would like to in various places.
If you complete your trip in sections, you will have to pack up and unpack whenever you move to a new camper van or motor home.
Pick up and drop offs are usually in a city location so you cannot avoid visiting – or driving in – cities.
You will know the specifications of the motor home (number of beds, seat belts etc) but not the exact type of motor home. So the camper van or motor home you pick up may not be what you would have ordinarily chosen!
There may not always be a camper van or motor home available when you want one especially if you are a group or a family so you will need to be flexible on your travel dates.
Alternatively, contact companies directly.
Our experience of relocation camper vans
As a family of five, there was not a lot of choice of motor homes but despite this, and despite travelling in winter, we were always able to find a camper van relocation when we needed one.
We used Imoova and got one motor home direct from Britz.
We completed our trip in two sections. If you choose to do this, unpack the minimal amount of stuff!
For our Cairns to Brisbane section, we had a very cramped, hi-top camper van. It had very little space and restricted head height. The camper van ‘slept’ five but three of us were in a tiny double bed. It was more suited to a family of three rather than five!
However, from Brisbane to Sydney, we had a brand new luxurious six berth motor home!
We mostly freedom camped but also stayed in hostel car parks and showgrounds. We stayed on campsites twice.
If you are travelling with children, make sure you check the seat belt configurations; not all motor homes and camper vans are suitable to travel in with children.
There are strict rules in Australia about where children can sit and who needs a car seat and you will need to check the rules for the different states you are visiting.
A further option – but one I cannot recommend as we have not used it – is to hire a privately owned camper van or motor home directly with the owner through a website such as Camplify.
The major downside of this option is having to return the vehicle to where you started from.
Touring Australia in a motor home or camper van
The type of camper van or motor home you choose for travelling around Australia depends on the number of people travelling, how many seat belts you require, how comfortably you wish to travel and what your budget is!
Choose a camper van or motor home that best suits your needs – both for comfort and safety.
Converted cars (such as a station wagon) are basic and compact campers for two people. You sleep in the back of the car and cook outside with the open boot your only shelter for cooking.
These vehicles are small, cramped but cost effective.
Most cars will be sold (or hired) with all the camping and cooking equipment included.
These vehicles are easy to pack up, are maneuverable in cities and do not require extra large parking bays!
Camper vans sleep 2 – 4/5 people and vary in style from a converted van, to a hi-top or a small motor home.
There will be limited space for standing or cooking inside, a table area, seats that convert into beds with additional tiny beds in the roof.
These camper vans are cramped but comfortable.
Some smaller camper vans may have their additional seating right at the back of the vehicle which is not ideal for children.
Motor homes will give groups and families much-needed space and extra comfort; cooking, washing and general living will be easier and more comfortable!
Large motor homes can be unwieldy in towns and cities and parking is also an issue with limited parking bays for larger vehicles.
If you want to freedom camp, you will need a larger, self-contained motor home.
A self-contained camper van or motor home
A self-contained camper or motor home is one that has a toilet. It provides more freedom of where to go and where to stay and entitles you to freedom camp where it is permitted to.
Self contained camper vans will cost more money to hire or buy but on an extended trip this money will be returned to you by the ability to freedom camp.
Plus, if you are travelling Australia with kids, not having to get up multiple times during the night to go to the toilet outside is worth the extra money!
Don’t immediately go for the cheapest option; think about your safety first.
How many seat belts do you need and are they attached to the vehicle frame (the safest option) or the interior cladding?
Are the seats forward or rear facing or – a less safe option – sideways facing. If the seats surround a table, can the table be dismantled for driving?
Can cupboards and drawers be locked in transit to prevent items flying around in the event of a crash? Is there ample storage to pack away loose items before driving?
If you are travelling Australia with kids, look for shoulder belts – not lap belts – and points to safely attach a car seat.
Will the children sit behind the front seats (the safest option) or right at the back of a camper van?
Check you are adhering to child restraint laws for each state you are travelling through.
Motor homes and camper vans vary in safety standards around the world so think about what you need and ask the right questions.
Driving around Australia tips
If you are planning a road trip in Australia, you will need to spend time researching rules and regulations before you set off.
All drivers must carry their licence in the vehicle at all times. You will need an International Drivers Licence in English characters to hire a camper van or motor home.
Each of the eight Australian states has their own driving rules so research them before entering the state.
States have different rules about crossing state lines with fruit and vegetables or the use and purchase of alcohol.
Australia has strict car seat regulations and where children can sit in vehicles. Not all camper vans or motor homes will meet these requirements so do your research before you hire or buy!
Tips for travel around Australia in a camper van
On the road
Get to know your vehicle before you set off
Know how to use, stow and secure gas canisters, how to dump your waste properly, how to secure doors and drawers for travel and how to create your bed and so on.
Learn the stopping distances for your vehicle and how high and wide it is!
Use your camper van!
Camp in isolated rural spots, drive to lesser-visited towns and hamlets, avoid backpacker hot spots!
Do not go off-roading unless your vehicle can handle it. Off road in Australia can mean miles and miles of dusty, rocky roads usually with bone shaking washboard ruts.
Driving at night
Avoid driving at night. It is tempting to spend your day sightseeing covering the miles at night but, not only will you miss the Australian landscape you have come to see, there is a real danger of hitting wildlife at night. There is a reason the massive road trains have enormous bull bars on the front!
Be aware of these Goliath vehicles. They are longer than you think when you overtake them or they overtake you. They cannot slow down or stop quickly.
If in doubt, get out of their way.
Plan your journey
Carry enough food, water and fuel at all times. Use dumping stations when you see them – you may not see another one for a while!
Know what to do and who to call in the event of a crash or breakdown.
Keep essentials accessible
You don’t want to search for your torch in the dark or turn out every drawer looking for the roadside assistance number!
Don’t drive tired or under the influence of drink or drugs.
Do not leave valuables unattended or on display when you leave your vehicle.
Try to camp with other camper vans or motor homes. The downside is you are not alone, the upside is there is safety in numbers.
A self contained camper van means you do not have to go out at night alone to use a toilet. Or do multiple trips with children!
Tips for camping in Australia
Freedom camping is one of the great benefits of travelling Australia in a camper van.
Freedom camping sites require no payment and operate on the goodwill of the local authorities. Access will only continue as long as travellers respect the rules – so please consider those following you!
Only freedom camp in designated freedom camping spots; if a sign says no overnight camping allowed, don’t do it. You will be moved on or fined if you are caught.
Some sites may have a public toilet on site, others will only allow self-contained camper vans to stay.
Freedom camping sites run on an unreserved, ‘first come first served’ basis so arrive early if you can, especially in peak season. It will be frowned upon by your fellow campers if you squeeze into a site breaking the quota.
Sites have a one or two-night maximum stay.
Follow the unspoken freedom camping rules – remove all litter, no excessive noise and observe all signs regarding open fires or barbecues.
The brilliant Campermate app shows you all the free and cheap campsites throughout Australia. Don’t set off without it!!!!!
Camping in Showgrounds
Some Australian towns permit camper vans and motor homes to stay on their showground sites thereby generating money for the local community between show dates.
These sites are concrete or grass pitches with strict rules about litter and noise. Most showgrounds have toilets or washrooms available to use.
The sites usually have a warden and lockable gates so you may need to arrive before a given time to get in.
Locate showground sites via the Campermate app; fees vary between $5-$20.
Camping at hostels
A great option for an overnight stay is to park your camper van in the parking area of a youth hostel and use the hostel facilities at a fraction of the usual price.
Some hostels advertise this option on their websites or use the campermate app.
Sometimes you just need a bit of space, a comfy sofa, tv and a hot shower!
Australian campsites vary from rural grassy family run locations to mammoth urban sites. Campgrounds provide washrooms, laundry facilities and sometimes a restaurant or bar.
Costs vary according to the facilities on offer and the season.
Wherever you camp, be aware of any signs regarding dangerous wildlife, particularly crocodiles. The signs are there for a reason.
Avoid camping near a river.
Bring all food scraps and litter inside at night to avoid attracting scavengers.
Do not leave your boots or shoes outside and if you forget, shake them before putting them on. Creepy crawlies won’t be put off by the smell of your shoes!
Always shake clothing and washing before bringing it inside the vehicle.
Open a window or vent when cooking inside a motor home.
Use roadside or beach barbecue spots when possible; easy to cook on and less cleaning up!
Never cook on a disposable barbecue inside a vehicle or bring it inside after cooking on it. They emit carbon monoxide fumes.
Shop regularly for groceries in small batches. This is annoying during your holiday but there is limited storage space inside a camper van or motor home.
Learn to give everything a home and keep everything in its place. A small camper van rapidly gets messy and you will spend a frustrating amount of time searching for items.
Live with minimal items
Remove a limited number of clothes and belongings from your large luggage and then stow the large bags out of the way.
Soft bags are easier to store than hard suitcases.
We loved every minute of our road trip in Australia in a camper van. We explored cities, small towns in the outback, forests, lakes and beaches and met interesting people from all walks of life from all over the world.
We would not hesitate to complete another Australia road trip!
Have you travelled Australia in a camper van or motor home? What are your tips?