Overseas visitors can find us unexpectedly different...
1. THE HUGE DISTANCES
Distances between towns in Australia are not well understood by travellers from other countries, particularly those from Europe and NZ. Programming the GPS can be a real wake-up call, and it is not unusual to have instructions to continue along the same road for hundreds of kilometres. Some overseas travellers think they can drive a motorhome, say from Sydney to Broken Hill in a day, and see everything in between. Good trip preparation should allow for rest stops every couple of hours.
Roads in outback Australia are mostly unsealed or single lane bitumen, so slowing down for the conditions means you cannot cover the kilometres you would expect on European highways. Windscreen damage from flying rocks is common; in fact Denyse and I allow for one broken screen each year.
When on single lane bitumen, give way and slow down and pull completely off the bitumen for vehicles larger than yours. If the passing vehicle can stay on the bitumen, you will not be showered with rocks, reducing the chance of a broken windscreen and paint chips or dents to your vehicle. Remember to drive on the left hand side when leaving a single lane road.
Road trains can be scary when you first meet them on the road. The huge ones pulling four trailers are seen more commonly west of the Great Dividing Range. Be sure to pull over and give them plenty of room to stay on the bitumen.
Most overseas travellers want to see our cute and cuddly animals but may be unaware that Australian animals can be a major problem on the road from dusk to dawn. In fact, kangaroos, emus and wild pigs can appear out of the outback scrub at any time. Overseas travellers seem to start out late in the morning and travel until dark, not aware of the risk of hitting a 'roo or emu. Most Australians know of this problem, and choose to travel only in daylight hours, or slow down between dusk and dawn.
Particularly in western areas, days can be warm to hot in winter, but nights can be below zero. Denyse and I often come across foreign travellers who have not brought warm clothing on their outback trip assuming the warm days will continue into the night.
After even small falls of rain, roads can be impassable or very slippery and boggy at the edges. Much of the outback country is black soil, which turns into a boggy quagmire after rain. Travelling out of season to take advantage of cheaper fares means that overseas travellers can find themselves in this situation.
Australia is a land of climatic extremes and droughts, cyclones, floods and fires are a fact of life. Never camp in dry creek beds which can become torrents after sudden downpours, and remember to watch the weather reports regarding severe weather events and fires.
Flies can be a huge problem in the outback, particularly during the months from October through to May/June, when they tend to die off due to the cold weather. Small bush flies cover your face, and get into your eyes, nose, mouth and ears looking for moisture. Fly nets are a must as most repellents do not seem to deter them.
It is impossible to predict when fly plagues will appear, so it is always worth carrying a fly net; they sell out rapidly in the small towns in the west.
6. COMMUNICATION WITH OTHER TRAVELLERS
Fitting a UHF radio is a good idea for travellers in the west. Most of the big rig drivers are courteous and just trying to do their job; talk to them on channel 40, and other travellers on channel 18.
In emergencies, the duplex channels are very useful when out of phone range. Mobile phone reception is pretty much limited to towns in the outback, and Telstra phones have much better coverage.
7. WILD FLOWERS
Carpets of colourful wildflowers which appear after rain are a real surprise to overseas visitors. Seemingly barren country can be turned into a magical scene. We have found overseas visitors have not really been told about this, and it can be a real highlight for them.
Scenery in the outback is unique to Australia: magnificent red, yellow and orange mesas contrasting with the vivid blue sky. Despite having seen pictures, overseas tourists are simply not prepared for our huge open country, with no towns for hundreds of kilometres. The stark rocky landscape of the opal fields is more moon-like.
Australians are aware that gum trees can drop huge limbs without warning and this is why they are known as 'widow makers'. It is unwise to camp under them, but overseas tourists enjoy the shade.
9. WEIRD THINGS
I don't know what it is about Australians, but we put large replicas of almost anything beside our highways (like a banana, croc, pineapple, crab, barramundi etc) and install sculptures in the most unlikely places. In particular, there are two of interest at Broken Hill; the huge park bench at the Line of Load and also the Sculpture Symposium.
Howling noises at night can unsettle travellers camping in the outback, with dingoes and curlews the usual culprits.
Birds such as wedge tailed eagles, brolgas, emus and flocks of parrots and budgerigars are commonly seen. The large raptors feed on road kill and are unable to fly off suddenly, especially after gorging on the easily available food. Slow down if you see large birds feeding on the side of the road; apart from damaging your vehicle, it is sad to have these magnificent birds injured and killed.
Fruit bats are also a problem in some areas, and overseas visitors are intrigued by them... until they drop nasties on their RV or tent. They are also carriers of several unpleasant diseases, so it is important not to handle sick or injured bats.