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20 Things You’ll Learn Driving Across Australia

1. There are countless things that can kill you—but they probably won’t.

Australia is home to some of the most deadly critters on earth. Jellyfish, sharks, snakes, crocodiles, and spiders just to name a few, yet throughout my travels, I never met an Australian who seemed too concerned. This in spite of the fact that I saw three red belly blacks and a brown snake in my short stint there. So, what gives?

As it turns out, you’re far more likely to be killed by a horse in Australia than a snake. According to a study published by the BBC, the combined might of Australia’s snakes, spiders, and jellyfish killed just 30 people between 2000 and 2013, while 74 people were killed by horses. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be careful, just that the land of Oz can have a bigger bark than its bite.

2. Kangaroos are awesome—at wrecking cars.

Speaking of dangerous animals, let’s talk about roos. These adorable creatures hop around the Outback capturing our imaginations and our hearts, but they’re also devious, car-destroying masterminds. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to these bounding buggers. They’ll safely hop across a road, just to spontaneously about face and leap in front of your truck, crushing any hope you had of reaching your destination. (Not to mention your entire front end.) After about the tenth near miss, there was no question why almost every truck has a “roo bar.”

3. Coffee is like a religion, and you’ll want to worship the flat white.

A few months ago, I was chatting with an Aussie over a beer when he mentioned American coffee was rotten. A little flabbergasted, I protested that surely amongst our booming coffee culture and the slew of small-town shops he had found something he liked. He agreed that there were one or two brands he enjoyed, but overall our coffee just wasn’t as good as the stuff back home. This story was only confirmed by others.

Naturally, upon my morning arrival in Oz, jet-lagged and exhausted, I ordered a flat white. Sure enough, It was smooth, rich, and invigorating, and I was immediately lost in coffee heaven. Amazingly, each cup after that was just as good if not better. Even the roadside truck stops in the most remote corners of the country served up fabulous caffeinated concoctions to your liking.

4. Everything is expensive, especially fuel and beer.

The Land Down Under is many things, but cheap isn’t one of them. Fuel prices are astronomical, with remote stations charging nearly $8 a gallon. Prices are only moderately better in the cities, so the costs of a transcontinental jaunt like the one we made can add up very quickly. In fact, the only fluid more expensive than fuel is probably alcohol, which in some places can cost as much as $140 for a 24 pack of Corona.

5. Aussies don’t like shoes.

Australians love flip flops, plain and simple. Despite the host of stinging, biting, and pricking flora and fauna littering their landscape, most of these hardy folk can be found wearing “thongs” or even going barefoot. I have no idea what has driven them to do so but don’t be surprised if you see a man walking through the bush or into a bar with no shoes.

6. Pies aren’t pies, but they are delicious.

In the United States, we have hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries as roadside food. In Australia, they have pies. Not apple, peach, or even berry, mind you, but steak, chicken, and a range of other savory flavors. These flakey delicious morsels can be found at every roadside stop, and there are fantastic bakeries in many of the small towns. Some rather famous ones along the Birdsville track even serve camel pies, which I’m told are delicious.

7. There’s no escape from the bugs.

We’re no strangers to bugs in the States. Scorpions, spiders, ants, bees, and plenty of other crawly critters can make our lives interesting, but Australia takes things to a whole new level. Most folks might assume it’s the weird and intimidating insects like the ones below that bother you most, but in reality, it’s the flies. They are absolutely everywhere. My first few nights in the Land Down Under were spent swatting and dodging these insects, while muttering expletives under my breath as they bit and crawled all over me. Slowly, I realized there was no escape, and relegated myself to misery while only occasionally swatting away a particularly infuriating nuisance. I’ll admit that there was a night or two that I almost wished a spider would bite me, just to put me out of my misery.

8. Hema Maps is the key to the outback.

Hema Maps has just started to establish a foothold here in the States, but in Australia, they are THE resource for everything outback. Maps, navigation units, guidebooks for camps, specific destinations, and the best overland tracks, even information on the amenities you’ll find in remote locations—you name it, they have it. I was blown away by just how comprehensive their guides were, and how helpful they became when our plans disintegrated due to weather. If you’re heading to Oz, be sure to check them out.

9. Australians love chicken salt.

You read that right. Chicken salt. I have no idea what ingredients this strange seasoning is made of, though I suspect very little of it is chicken. Regardless, the Aussies are absolutely crazy for it. You’ll see it on fries, chips, popcorn, and in bottles on tables everywhere. It’s yellow and reminds me a lot of the questionable silver seasoning packets you’d find in Ramen noodles on those late college nights, which is sort of disturbing. What’s even more disturbing, is that it’s actually kind of good.

10. You don’t know big.

I grew up in Texas, a place where we like to think that our state’s size is something we can hang our hats on, but Australia raises the bar when it comes to size. Just looking at the numbers, it’s not overly apparent. Their nation covers 2.97 million square miles, where the United States covers 3.797 million,  but here’s the thing, the scales are totally different, and it’s all thanks to population. Despite its enormous size, Australia has a population smaller than the state of California, about 40 percent smaller in fact. You can drive for hours or even days without seeing another car, and fuel stops are so few and far between that each one seems like a destination. As opposed to just cruising down the highways like we do in the States, Australia makes you feel every mile in constant awareness of just how isolated you are.

11. No worries is a way of life.

If there truly is a place in the world with no worries, it’s Australia. I’m not sure if it’s their isolation, their wonderful attitudes, or the fact that they’re just stoked to have lived through another day without being eaten, but Aussies have a relentlessly optimistic outlook on things. No matter where you go, how late you are, or what kind of mess you’re in, you’ll likely be greeted with a smile, and a warm “No worries, mate!”

12. It’s still a wild place.

Driving through the coastal cities of Australia, you’d think you were in California most of the time. There are shopping centers, high-rise buildings, and homes and apartments with perfectly manicured lawns, but the center of the country is a whole different animal. It’s still very much a frontier, with dirt roads connecting towns and road conditions changing moment by moment with the weather. On our last trip there we drove two days East only to discover during a conversation with locals that rains had just flooded the only road across the center of the country, and we would have to drive to the southern shore to finish our journey. To give you some scale, that would be like driving through Missouri and having to divert to the Louisiana coast because it rained.

13. Four-wheel drives are EVERYWHERE.

I knew that Australia had plenty of four-wheel drives, but it was only after crossing the country that I truly realized how saturated their market is. We spotted Land Cruiser Troop carriers, a Nissan Patrol, several 70-Series pickups, and a 6×6 MAN before the plane even reached the gate, and once we were on the roads, it was 4×4 nirvana. Every other vehicle seemed to be a lifted truck or SUV with a color-matched bull bar, lift kit, snorkel and all-terrain tires, not to mention the off-road caravans being towed behind them. It was shocking at first, but as we dodged kangaroos and slogged through deep sand and mud, it quickly became apparent that these modifications were necessary here. If you wanted to cruise the Outback, or even reach many towns, your only route through could be on unpredictable dirt roads, and nowhere was safe from the roos. To see all of the awesome 4x4s we stumbled upon in Australia, check out this article here. 

14. We speak the same language—sort of.

Technically speaking, Australians speak English, but as those of us that have driven through the South, Brooklyn, or Minnesota can attest, not all English is the same. Australians speak with an accent and vocabulary all their own. Thankfully, most are self-explanatory, but here are a few you might want to know.

Cactus When something is cactus it’s generally broke, inoperable, or screwed.

Bogan Australia’s version of a redneck.

Mozzie Mosquitos

Ripper Exceptional, great, or otherwise fantastic or exciting.

Stubbie A short beer.

Stubbie holder Possibly an even more vital piece of kit for Australia is the holder for your stubbie, known here as a koozie.

Sweet as Don’t let this catch you off guard waiting for the end of the sentence. You’ll never find out if it’s sweet as cream, pudding, or a cold tea on a hot day. Sweet as is simply an emphasis that something is awesome.

Ute  A pickup truck or general utility vehicle.

Cuppa A cup of tea.

Straya Australia, of course.

Sheila Woman

Breakfast Brekky

Beaut Beautiful

15. Australians like to tell you what things aren’t.

Next time you’re in Australia, try asking a local how the weather is. If it’s pouring rain, they’ll likely say “Well, it’s not dry.” If your truck breaks down and you ask a mechanic for a diagnosis, they won’t say it’s bad, but rather look at you sympathetically and say, “Ah mate, it’s not good.” My personal favorite was from a vintage Land Rover owner. When I asked him if it leaked oil, he said, “Well, she doesn’t hold it in.”

16. She’ll be right.

In case the no worries attitude just doesn’t cut it, the Aussies have another phrase under their akubras: “She’ll be right.” I’ve found that this one phrase can have two distinct uses. The first is before a stupid activity. For example, the driver says, “Can I make that water crossing?” The friend squints an eye shut and says, “Oh yeah, she’ll be right!”

The second is post-stupid activity.

The driver stares at his truck underwater in the river and says, “I can’t believe we did that. My truck is cactus.” The friend, always reassuring, says “Nawww, she’ll be right mate”

Either way, I find this comforting phrase to usually be ill-omened.

17. There are campsites everywhere, but bush camping is rare.

Here in the States, especially the Western states, we’re used to picking out any suitable spot on the side of a dirt road and setting up camp. This is fairly uncommon in Australia. There are improved campgrounds everywhere, often with showers, and at a minimum, toilets to make life easier. With so many options most people don’t bother bush camping or boon-docking unless they’re traveling somewhere extremely remote. The upside to this is that there are excellent places to stop and camp everywhere, so you’ll never find yourself driving long hours into the night while trying to find somewhere to sleep.

18. Most dirt roads aren’t adventurous; they’re just roads.

Another unique thing about Oz is that they have a seemingly infinite supply of dirt roads connecting Outback towns and destinations. Unlike the dirt roads we seek out here in the States, though, they just consider their dirt roads—well, roads. Sure, there are off-road treks like the Simpson Desert and Canning Stock Route, but in many regards, dirt roads are just part of life in Australia.

19. The people are amazing.

Australians are some of the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever met. They will offer directions, invite you to lunch, check to make sure you’re okay if you pull over on the side of the road, and even invite you to stay with them in their homes. Smiles and laughs inundate the small towns, and even the cities have a surprisingly friendly vibe. When I had the misfortune to encounter a single rude Australian on a plane, the six people around me began apologizing profusely for her behavior, and then added they were glad I was here and offered to buy me a coffee. The people alone have convinced me to return.

20. Australia can’t be put in a box.

The biggest thing that you’ll learn driving across Australia is that it will always surprise you. The vast expanse of red dirt and scorched earth is but one small aspect of this beautiful continent. Along its shores, you’ll find sugary sand beaches, lush rainforests, and towering cliff walls. There are bustling cities, snowcapped mountains, and crystal clear lakes flanked by golden dunes. Oz is deserving of its name, a colorful land packed with as much adventure as beauty. If you haven’t been, you need to go, and once you have, you’ll always dream of returning.

 

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Managing Editor.

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