5 Outback Travel Mistakes To Avoid

Hardly a week goes by without us getting emails from travellers saying something like this:

We’re flying in to Alice Springs on the 9th and then out on the 12th

We want to hire a 4WD drive to go to Uluru through the West MacDonnell National Park, see Kings Canyon and then we have to be back in Alice by 3pm on the 12th to fly out… What can you advise?

This email contains one of the most common outback travel mistakes that people often make.

Can you guess what it is?

To help you plan an amazing, life-changing adventure in the outback, we’ve put together a list of the common mistakes that many first time outback travellers make when they visit us here.

We know these tips will save you time and money.

One of them may even save your life.

1. Not Enough Time

Many travellers (overseas visitors especially) seem to think that three days in the outback is all you need.

We’re not sure where people get their information from, but three days to see a place that’s two thirds the size of continental USA?

That’s just crazy.

The outback is not like Paris or London.

It will take you half a day – often longer- to drive from destination to destination.

This means that for every individual destination you want to visit, you’ll need to add a day of travel time PLUS one day at the destination.

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This map which compares Australia to the mainland United States is to remind you that Australia is HUGE.

Do not underestimate this.

HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE:

Adopt the philosophy that less is more. 

This means that if you’ve only got 3 days, plan to fly in and visit ONE place.

That’s right.

One place.

You’ll have a much more enjoyable, meaningful and life-changing time in the outback if you pick one place and get to know it deeply rather than trying to cram 5 or 6 outback places into two or three days.

No one wants to go home needing a holiday after their holiday.

2. Hiring a 4WD When You Don’t Need One

STOP! 

Before you hire that expensive, huge and thirsty four wheel drive (4WD), are you sure that you really need it?

We’ve written this over and over again on our website – yet many visitors to the Australian outback still seem to think that they need a 4WD even to drive on world class bitumen highways.

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This is just a waste of your hard-earned money.

Many people just want to visit  ‘big name’ places like Uluru, Alice Springs and Kings Canyon – all accessible by high grade, sealed (bitumen) roads.

Sure, if you’re planning to drive the Red Centre Way or head off along the Gunbarrel Highway, we recommend a 4WD.

However, before you book your hire car, do your research and ask whether you really need one. You might be surprised by the answer.

HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE:

Our ‘Do You Need a 4WD to see the Outback?’ article is a great place to start.

3. Thinking that Uluru is the ONLY Attraction

We love Uluru.

We go there about half a dozen times every year – we can just pop down there on the weekend!

But it’s not the ONLY place to see in the outback.

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The outback takes up a huge portion of the Australian continent – so there are thousands of places to see.

What’s more, if you’re touring along the east coast of Australia, the outback is a lot closer than you think.

HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE:

There is SO much more than just Uluru to see – which is what our site is all about.

Check out the resources on our Destinations page, Outback New South Wales andOutback Queensland government tourism sites to learn how close the outback is to Australia’s capital cities.

4. Travelling During Australian School Holidays

Wondering why Australia’s domestic airfares and your hotel bookings are ridiculously expensive?

Have you checked to see whether your holiday dates coincide with Australian school holidays?

If your travel dates happen to be at the same time as Australian school holidays, try to change them!

Sorry, but there’s no other way to say this: airlines RIP US OFF during school holidays.

We know: we have children who we’ve sent interstate to grandparents for school holidays (Alice Springs to Sydney or Adelaide). The airfares are OUTRAGEOUS – we’ve paid up to $1600 per person.

Hotels will also have their cheaper rooms booked out as well. Some hotels (Ayers Rock Resort, we’re looking at YOU) double their rates during our winter (June-July) school holidays.

HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE:

Check before you book airfares and hotels to see whether it’s school holiday time, and keep in mind that each Australian state and territory’s school holiday times can be different.

This link will take you to a site that lists school holiday periods in all Australian states and territories.

5. Not Being Prepared

There’s two closely connected mistakes that many first time travellers make when preparing for a holiday in outback Australia:

1. Forgetting our climate’s extremes.

2. Attempting journeys beyond current driving/camping skills

Let’s have a word about our outback climate.

In the summer it gets VERY hot.

In the winter it gets freezing cold (below 0C (32F) at night).

We especially want overseas visitors to remember this – Australia’s climate not the endless summer that you see on the TV series Home & Away.

In the outback (the REAL outback, not the Top End/Northern Australia) we get a very cold winter.

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We’ve even seen Australians come to Alice Springs in mid-July and freeze their butts off, mistakenly thinking that it’s always hot.

No. NO. NO!

HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: check the average daily temperatures before you plan your trip.

Check out this page to help you plan.

Once you know what the temperatures will be you’ll be able to pack and plan your activities to suit.

The other mistake we see often is people planning activities that are beyond their levels of experience and skill… like crossing the Simpson Desert.

This might seem incredible to Australians, but we get emails from overseas travellers with NO previous desert driving experience wanting to do things like cross the French Line (Simpson Desert) in summer.

(NB: the Simpson Desert is closed December to March every year, anyway).

It may seem harsh, but we write back and tell people they’re likely to kill themselves and to rethink their entire trip.

HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE:

Ask yourself this: Do you have the skills to drive safely into the Sahara Desert and take your vehicle over the dunes on a narrow track (not a road), camp without facilities, and get yourself out if you’re bogged in sand?

If the answer is NO, then you’re not ready to tackle the Simpson Desert, either.

That’s not to say you can’t have a self-drive remote outback adventure – sand dunes and all!

Build your skills with the Oodnadatta Track, the Birdsville Track, the Finders Ranges or one of Victoria’s Desert Parks before heading into a major expedition like the Simpson Desert.

If your heart is still set on the Simpson (or similar) as a once in a lifetime adventure, go with a group of experienced 4WDers,  join a tour, or do a tag-along tour in your own vehicle.

Article from Travel Outback Australia

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Comments 3

  1. Great article.
    Doing the lap in 2011 I met people who would not take their Cruiser on 1 km of great dirt to see a sight. But you do not need a 4WD to see much of the outback and we saw much more than those people. We and many others went to Wolf Creek crater in a 2WD with minimal clearance. Just drive to the conditions, that section of the Tanami was fine for the Falcon at very slow speed. You can’t be in a rush and need to be able to get out of a problem should it arise.

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  2. Good article. Met a young couple from Italy in 2015 in Alice Springs. They were intending to go via the Red Centre way in a 2WD bomb they hired. At the time the Red Centre Way was is poor condition. They thought they could do the loop including Kings Canyon in 3 days. Apparently their friends did it the year before. Despite our warnings to them, and that it would be potentially dangerous they set out anyway. Don’t know whether they made it or not. We avoided the loop that year as we didn’t want to take unnecessary risks even in our GU. And it didn’t prevent us seeing all that the Red Centre has to offer.

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