Independent travel in Australia

If, like me, you're way past the point of experiencing Australia from the wrong side of a bar or whilst permanently attached to some kind of spiky fruit bush then now is the time to say 'crikey, thank the Lord I don't have to go through that again'. Independent travel in Australia is a rite of passage for many young people aged between 18 – 30 (lucky buggers) but when you've lived a bit and don't have to rely on making Aussie dollars to get around then it's about time to really discover what life Down Under is all about.

Travel in Australia should surely be relaxing, exciting and leave you with a deeper understanding of the country rather than covered in indeterminate stains from a Melbourne kitchen or with a patchwork of paper cuts thanks to delivering the good old Aussie Yellow Pages.

Hiring a car or taking the train can get you all over Australia and combining independent travel with a local tour operator's knowledge is an extremely rewarding means of learning about the wildlife, landscapes and people of Oz without having to dig out that mouldy old backpack. Sometimes, traveling with a local tour operator is the only way to experience hidden Australia where guide books are redundant and insider expertise allows you to unlock life a world away from the oh so well stomped circuit.

Here are a few tours to add to an independent itinerary and if you're looking to follow a more mature and profounder path then toss your Akubra hat into the air and whoop 'I'm coming home, Bruce!'.

East coast camping & self drive tours of Tasmania

Taking five days out to go bush camping along the east coast of Tasmania will introduce you to the hidden waterfalls, beautiful white sand beaches and gigantic sea cliffs that most suburban Sydneyites have never even heard of. The fresh alpine hills and rainforest covered valleys of the Blue Tier are just outstanding and following the criss cross of trails and camping out under the stars is not even worth contemplating unless you're walking and sleeping alongside a local expert. If you don't fancy the prospect of a cosy swag and camp fire then don't lose heart, a self-guided drive around Tasmania can be equally rewarding with chances to get into the Central Highlands or even over to Flinders Island certainly a rare experience to treasure for life. Again, undertaking such a tour without expert knowledge would leave you bereft of hidden gems with chances to observe platypus, whales, wallabies and splendid fairywrens close up about as exciting as chatting to the locals while staying overnight at an out of the way B&B.

The Great Barrier Reef

Anyone can drive along the long and lonely stretches north of the Gold Coast but if you'd prefer to swap four wheels for a glass bottomed boat and your redundant GPS for a marine biologist then take a few days out of the road trip and head to the Great Barrier Reef, before it's too late. Skimming over the coastline of Queensland will leave you indebted to the majesty of Mother Nature, as well as your knowledgeable tour guide and dive instructor, as you discover the creatures and significant sites that make this area such an important aspect of Australia's natural heritage.

Great Ocean Road

Tackling the Great Ocean Road independently is always an option but undertaking a small group tour with your very own driver and guide is the only way to let each and every member of your traveling party experience the rich variety of scenery that you'll encounter around every bend. Laid back itineraries enable travelers to really absorb the experience as well as giving guides the chance to pause to observe wildlife by the side of the road or to take a few extra moments to really appreciate landmarks, such as: Memorial Arch, the Yabbie Chimneys and the 12 Apostles. Yes, you can do it yourself, but if you'd prefer the experience to be as relaxed and immersive as possible then do your driver a favour and unwind on the back seat for a few days.
Travel Team
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The Red Centre

Again, it is possible to get to the Red Centre in the Northern Territory by yourself, no problem, but learning about Aboriginal culture before going onto discover the significance of Kata Tjuta, Karlu Karlu and Kings Canyon is not something that you can just highlight with a luminous marker in your Lonely Planet. A five day guided tour from Alice Springs to Darwin via Uluru is never going to be forgotten and watching rock colouration change at sun down with a cheeky glass of fizz in your paw will more than whet your appetite for yet another unforgettable night under Red Centre skies.

The Kimberley

Traveling independently across Australia is one thing but sitting in the back of a 4WD along the Gibb River Road en-route to an overnight billabong camp on the Mount Barnett Station, is quite something else. The Kimberley deserve so much more respect than just a cursory nod and spend a few moments in the company of a Bunuba guide and you might just get to appreciate the essence of stillness as well as absorbing the magnitude of this breathtaking region of Western Australia. Navigating from one gorge to the next by way of creeks, caves, waterfalls and the Bungle Bungles is not something to be taken lightly so give up the driving gloves and let a local take the reins for at least a few hundred odd clicks.

Adelaide to Perth

There are plenty of reasons to ditch the east coast for the southwest with a small group tour from Adelaide to Perth encapsulating much of Australia's most spectacular coastal scenery alongside seasonal wildlife, including whales, sea lions, dolphins, wallabies and wombats. The Nullarbor Plain, Great Australian Bight and aboriginal lands of Yalata are as important to South Australia as the Natural Bridge and The Gap are to Albany, and if you're looking to take on a 4,000km road trip, without the arm ache, adding a small group tour onto an existing independent itinerary is one of the best routes that you're never going to have to drive
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: pixculture] [Top box: Steve Bittinger] [Great Barrier Reef: Kyle Taylor] [The Kimberley: Graeme Churchard]