Driving Sydney to Perth via Alice Springs in 3 weeks?
October 26, 2007 11:36 AM   Subscribe

I am in the early stages of planning a trip from England to Australia and am looking at driving from Sydney to Perth via Alice Springs in March/April 2008. I have visited 40 USA States so am no stranger to driving thousands of miles. I normally simply use a hire car but feel that Australia would probably require at least a 4WD. A Motorhome is always a possibility but would rather stay in Motels. I see that between Perth and Uluru there are settlements named Northam, Merredin, Southern Cross, Kalgoorlie, Leonora, Laverton, Warakurna and Kaltukatjara. Anyone know if these settlements have Motels or Hotels?

We (my wife and I) would arrive in Sydney at around 08.00. Even allowing for delayed baggage reclaim, this is very early to check into a hotel. Do hoteliers in Australia appreciate this situation as a rule and allow you to check in and get some sleep after such a long journey?

My wife and I adore a car and a motel in the U.S.A. Is the road between Sydney and Alice Springs very much like a typical American drive i.e. settlements/towns with McDonald's, Denny's, Comfort Inn, Fuel (or equivalent) etc...... spaced periodically on the Highway?

In selecting a camper (which we would love to have a bash at) we have a quandary in, if you choose a Motorhome for comfort (TV, Air Con etc.....) you lose any off road capability (less than a regular car I would think). If you choose a 4WD camper, you lose the space a motorhome provides. Do you feel it is a good idea to go from Sydney to Alice Springs by car and then rent a Camper to Perth?

We intend to go to Australia for 21 days. If YOU were setting off from Sydney on this drive (after a couple of days to acclimatize) let's say on Day 5, what Day would you target to be in Alice Springs on allowing for being in Perth on Day 19? (I am trying to plan the Permits)


posted by Spannerman8 to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I drove around Alice Springs area in a giant 4WD car & felt like quite the fool. Nearly every road we were on was paved & smooth. At no point did we need anything more than a simple car.

That said, you're driving all the way across the country, which I have less experience with. I drove from Cains to Adelaide in a camper that slept eight. That was no problem. From there I flew to Alice Springs. Perhaps the roads you'll be on will be more treacherous than mine.

My biggest advice would be avoiding driving at night, as that's when you're most likely to hit the large nocturnal animals. Australian trucks tend to have giant steel bars on their grills to avoid being totaled by a kangaroo.

I will say that 3 weeks to see the whole width of the country seems tight to me. I was there almost 6 weeks and never got west of Alice Springs. You can do it, obviously. But you might feel rushed.
posted by iwhitney at 12:43 PM on October 26, 2007

My instinctive reaction is Dear God, I wouldn't, Ever. You want to drive >4000km in fourteen days? What are you going to see? However, it's your holiday. Some sites that should be very helpful are the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum, and travelmate.com.au.

I'm not sure what 'spaced periodically' means in the US, but in the outback it can be several hundred kilometres between fuel stations, possibly with food more often. It doesn't sound like you really understand how isolated these places are - there's not really any Macca's restaurants out there (meaning, between cities - there is in Alice Springs). On the other hand, you can definitely get to Alice Springs using only sealed roads, driving basically across to Adelaide then up.
posted by jacalata at 12:48 PM on October 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is the road between Sydney and Alice Springs very much like a typical American drive i.e. settlements/towns with McDonald's, Denny's, Comfort Inn, Fuel (or equivalent) etc...... spaced periodically on the Highway?

Hahahahaha! Define periodically. The Northern Territory has a population density of 0.1 person per km2.

The drive through western NSW and the NT is dry, dusty, lonely and most of the time as boring as hell. It's quite possible to drive for 6 hours and only see one, maybe two roadtrains. You will need extra water, and fuel, and food. My family did it (Canberra to Adelaide, via Uluru) with a 4WD and a raised caravan, and we had to replace a spring in Bourke but had no issues otherwise. I would definitely recommend a 4WD, the roads through the deserts turn into red clay when it rains and you're a lot less likely to get bogged. This is particularly important if you want to go off the main roads to see the sights.

You've set yourself a fortnight, I would aim for 6 days Sydney-Alice, tool around Alice and Uluru for 3 days, then 5 days Alice-Perth. It's a great drive, but most of your time will be spent driving through the desert - if you want to see more of the best bits of the country I would recommend flying between the major centres and hiring cars to tool around in when you get there. But I can totally understand the appeal of driving across Australia, and if I hadn't done it several times myself I'd probably want to do it too, as mostly boring as the reality is.

The Royal Automobile Club of WA has a good accommodation search, but the NT equivalent isn't available to non-members online. Warakurna and Kaltukatjara are indigenous communities (no hotels), but you should be fine at the other towns you mention.

Have a great time!
posted by goo at 12:55 PM on October 26, 2007

It looks like there is a roadhouse (accommodation) in Warakurna, actually: see here.
posted by jacalata at 1:02 PM on October 26, 2007

And I was just popping back in to say you should probably check with the communities for what accommodation options are available, as they might not be readily advertised! Sorry.
posted by goo at 1:41 PM on October 26, 2007

I don't have any first hand advice to give you; however, Google Maps was able to route the trip. You can "Search Nearby" just about anywhere along the trip. Pretty handy to find petrol, lodging and food.

On a side note, I'd like to point out to those with US familiarity, that the mileage equivalency for this trip would be New York, NY to Los Angeles, CA via Duluth, MN.

Have fun!
posted by enobeet at 1:42 PM on October 26, 2007

This is an Australian motoring associations travel planner.

You can type in your starting point, your ending point and one place you wish to go by. In case you're not aware, Sydney is in NSW, Alice Springs in NT and Perth in WA. The nice thing about this trip planner is that it tells you about trouble spots and can also alert you to fun things to see and do. It can also plan a trip avoiding unsealed roads. Oh and I notice too, it has links to places to stay.
posted by b33j at 4:26 PM on October 26, 2007

My instinctive reaction is Dear God, I wouldn't, Ever. You want to drive >4000km in fourteen days? What are you going to see?

Considering that is less than 300k per day through land which is largely devoid of interesting sights, it wouldn't be that bad, particularly for someone who has prior experience of long distance driving.

As a kid, I travelled with my parents from Melboure to Alice Springs. We travelled the Oodnadatta track (considerably worse in the 80's than now) and many other difficult and unsealed roads, and did it all in a Nissan Urvan, a boxy 2WD van. Quite often there was no accomodation to be seen at the end of the day, and we camped wherever looked good. This might be an interesting option for you!

Take water, extra fuel and if your car breaks down, stay with it.
posted by tomble at 4:38 PM on October 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

A few things come to mind:
  • Space is big. Really big. So is outback Australia. 14 days for all that means a lot of driving and not too much stopping.
  • Looks like you're thinking of taking the Great Central Road from Alice -> Perth? I don't thinks it's sealed all the way, but I could be wrong.
  • At least one of the places you mention - Warakurna - is, I'm pretty sure, nothing more than an Aboriginal community. You might be able to buy fuel there, but not stay.
Sydney - Alice is, I think, sealed (never actually travelled that way). Thing is, once you get beyond the "populated" areas (e.g. the western plains / wheat belt areas in NSW), places to stop and stay become few and far between. Plan a bit, and don't think "it's only mid-afternoon, I'll just keep going to the next town" - because it could well be half a day or more away.

And Google Maps is your friend. This, for instance, is Kaltukatjara. I don't think you'll be able to get a double-cheeseburger-and-fries there...
posted by Pinback at 5:03 PM on October 26, 2007

Googlemaps is cute, but the link to RACQ will actually give you places to stay on a map, like this for Kalgoorlie. It's a dynamic database so I can't link directly to it, but using the trip planner or find a town will give you the information you need. It even lists the attractions for each town, including things like museums, cultural centres, scenic flights and so on.

RACQ claims you can do the 5264.15 k trip with 66 hours driving even if you avoid unsealed roads. If you drive eight hours a day (and it's tough on the really straight roads with no distractions), you could do it in less than ten days.

However, one leg of the journey is 12 and a half hours between towns.
posted by b33j at 5:49 PM on October 26, 2007

See also and note: these are really not comparable journeys.
posted by rob511 at 6:29 PM on October 26, 2007

Wow, I've done a similar trip (around the perimeter of the country in 2 months), and I would NOT undertake the trip you are describing. If you expect to 4wd at all (meaning, you are driving on "developmental" or unsealed/unpaved road), then you should plan to drive 1/2 as fast, much much less if it's rained recently. You will need to have a vehicle with a Snorkel if you're going anytime around the Wet.

Some people do legs of the trip you are describing as 2 stage journeys- the first stage they drive out as far as they can and leave a cache of gasoline, then drive back. The next trip they take their actual supplies with them and count on the cache of gas to get them where they are going.

I had 1 day where we had to go back to pick up a pair of sandals that I left at the hotel. We lost 2 hours (1 each way) and had to get gas again because the next town was so far away that we wouldn't have made it. And this was in the north, where the settlements are much closer together.

If you are not black skinned you will not feel welcome in the Aboriginal communities, I suspect. And even if you are, I think you'd feel sorely out of place. Many of them are set far form the main road and are truly isolated, with little/no services.

I'm assuming that you're prepared for days and days of featureless driving. It sounds very boring (and very hot) to me, but I like a bit of variety in my driving. For perspective, the drive across Utah is amazingly interesting in comparison.

Make sure to read a few stories about those who have died in the outback, and make sure not to repeat their mistakes (don't leave the car if it breaks down).

Good luck! Make sure that you do your homework- find someone else who's done the drive to talk to. Most Australians that I met on the trip didn't even know if the roads around the country are paved, not to mention the roads across the middle.
posted by Four Flavors at 12:36 PM on October 28, 2007

It is not AT ALL like driving across the US.

As an Australian, my heart skips a beat when I see questions like this. Please please please be careful. Don't underestimate how difficult the journey is. I don't want to be alarmist, or dissuade you from seeing the Outback, because parts of it are amazing. But driving across the interior Australia is, without exaggeration, just like driving across the Sahara Desert (except with paved roads...mostly)

Once you are in Far Western New South Wales, you will just encounter desert.. dotted every several hundred kilometres by tiny towns.. often with just a few dozen people. also to bear in mind, even though it is March/April (autumn), the temperature can still soar into the high-30s/mid-40s (Celsius).

While there are major roads that will get you from Sydney to Alice to Perth, the roads leading off of it can be seldom travelled. Take a wrong turn and break down.. it might be days before anyone comes past.

Again, Just be careful!! I am with Goo. Airfares a very cheap in Australia. Flying from Sydney to Alice Springs and getting a car there to see Uluru is a much better option. You may also consider visiting the Kimberly Region of Western Australia and the Kakadu National Park up north- this is the Australian Outback at its best.

Good luck
posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:16 AM on October 30, 2007

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