Let’s be honest. Although us Aussies are secretly proud of our reputation for deadly creatures, there’s not too many that will kill you if you just leave them alone. There are however plenty of other ways to get yourself into a pickle. Growing up on the roads around our beautiful country then spending a few years as a soldier has given me some great insight. Today I hope to ease your fears and encourage you to come and see what so many tourists miss out on, with this guide on how not to die on a roadtrip in outback Australia.
Firstly, a few things not to expect in the Australian outback..
-Kangaroos do not box humans.
-Drop bears and bunyips are not real.
-Our deadliest snakes are not big by world standards, same with the spiders. (Don’t mistake their small size as being safe, however.)
-If someone gives you directions and says it’s ‘just down the road’, it may not take 5 minutes to get there. It might well be a 300km drive.
-Every second person in the outback is not a serial killer.
-it is not always 7,000 degrees.
And now, what you can expect to find..
As most people are aware, Australia can get HOT. Especially in remote areas away from the coast. Always carry at least one full drum of water per person in case of breakdown.
A not-so-well-known fact is that Australia can also get very cold. Alpine areas, desert and mountain ranges often drop below 0 degrees overnight. The variation in temperature over 24 hours can be extreme, especially in the desert. Be sure to take warm clothing and bedding.
Bushfires are a threat in the warmer months. NEVER attempt to drive through a fire. Your best bet is to stay right away and chose an alternate route if possible. In the unlikely event you find yourself trapped, wind up all the windows and cover yourself with whatever natural fibre you can find. Woolen blankets are best as they don’t burn. Get down as low as possible in your car and keep well hydrated.
Flooded roads are common especially in central and tropical areas. The depth of the water, how fast it is moving and the type of vehicle you have will determine if it is safe enough to cross. Generally speaking if it’s any more than a couple of inches deep don’t attempt it. If your engine becomes flooded and you stall, there is a very real risk of being washed away. Ask a truckie, they have 2-way radio and will be able to tell you if it’s safe to pass.
Breakdowns can and do happen in outback Australia. Extreme heat is often the culprit, and can lead to blown tyres, overheated engines and an array of other issues. Many inland areas have no mobile phone reception outside of towns, so you will need a basic understanding of how to mend your vehicle if you do have a breakdown. Some remote areas see no traffic for days on end so be sure to carry extra food, warm clothing and as mentioned earlier, spare water.
Australia is BIG. In remote outback areas, it’s not unusual to be hundreds of kilometers between petrol stations so you must take extra fuel. Not every town on the map will have fuel and those that do may be empty for whatever reason. This has happened to me on several occasions- you roll into town on the last whif of fumes, only to find that the petrol station is closed because their tanks are dry. Always carry your own fuel. I usually take 2 full jerry cans, however in very remote areas I would recommend 4.
Road deaths are the number one killer in outback Australia. Speed and fatigue are the main causes and it is easy to become complacent when it appears that you are the only one on the road. Just don’t do it. You could kill someones babies.
And now to the part you have been waiting for.. the critters. As mentioned earlier there’s very few that will kill you if you leave them well enough alone. On land, not much will actively chase you (unlike in Africa.) The exception to this is crocodiles (which can and do come out of the water and will chase you if you are near their nest), and cassowaries. These are large flightless birds found in the tropics. It’s rare but they will attack with the sharp axe-like bone on top of their heads if provoked.
When camping near crocodile infested waters, take note of ‘no swimming’ signs. Don’t assume that all waterholes will be signposted- they’re not. Always sleep up off the ground and away from the water’s edge. As a guide, crocs do not usually hang out in clean, rocky, shallow water instead preferring muddy depths. It’s best to assume that all water in northern Australia contains crocodiles and don’t swim unless specifically signposted as safe. Be aware that flood water can push crocodiles into areas where they would otherwise not usually go.
Dangerous land creatures will only strike you if they are cornered, or if you are unfortunate enough to stand on one. Always wear boots and long pants in the outback to avoid being bitten by snakes, scorpions, centipedes or spiders. Be mindful of where you sit and never make up your bed or swag until you are ready to get into it. If camping out, put the neck of one boot inside the other to keep small bitey creatures out. They love warm dark dry caves and you might get a nasty surprise in the morning if you leave your boots open.
Australian insects are more annoying than dangerous. There have been no recorded cases of malaria however Ross River fever and Glandular fever are carried by mosquitoes. While not deadly, these are highly debilitating. Ticks have recently been linked to Lyme disease. Cover up and wear a hat when hiking in areas prone to ticks and mosquitoes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide on how not to die on a roadtrip in outback Australia. Our vast interior has so much to offer- it is harsh, beautiful and totally unique. If you take these basic precautions, you will have an unforgettable time and have seen the authentic Australia in all of her spectacular glory. Many tourists come only to see the opera house and great barrier reef, and miss out on the ‘real’ Australian experience.
As always, if you have any questions or comments we’d love to hear them below.
Until next time, happy travels! 🙂