Trip Advisor forums were very helpful for preparing our travel plans - following are some key things that I learned from our travels that others may find useful. Not the normal we had a great time.. but logistical and practical stuff that I found difficult and time consuming to figure out.
My travel advice is specifically aimed at folks that want to campervan travel between Broome and Perth and see outback places like Karijini and Ningaloo, and folks coming from out of country like us, with only about 3 weeks to do it. This same posting was posted at Lonely Planet
basic travel plan/goal.... 3 weeks in the outback via campervan August 22 through Sept 11, north western australia. Country of Origin USA. campervan travel start in Broome and end in Perth, short stay in Sydney between flights. Could have started in Perth and ended in Broome but chose prior so as to start up north first before summer heat took stage. Broome to Perth opens the door for seeing everything along the western coast including Karijini, Ningaloo, Cable Beach, 80 mile beach, Kalbarri, Pinnacles and other places too, Once you hit Carnarvon to Geraldton heading south you leave the outback and enter a more compatible countryside with convenient gas stations, hotels, etc. Our specific travel plan centered on seeing the Karijini and Ningaloo with a brief visit to Kalbarri and Pinnacles and other short drive by's like Port Hedland, Tom Price, Carnarvon and brief visit of Broome and Perth themselves... basically maximize Karijinii and Ningalo.
1) It takes 3 intercontinently fights to do this trip..... if you go virgin blue airpass.... with 2 flights to get to Australia, (only 1 if you happen to live in LA) and 1 or 2 to get home to the USA, we decided to consolidate the flights at the beginning and end to allow maximum straight uninterrupted travel time on the back roads of western australia. the challenge is Broome if you fly VirginBlue Airpass, only Perth and Adelaide go there from a practical standpoint for USA arrivals - Suppose you could find Sydney to Broome via other airline, tickes probably expensive. I figured it is possible to fly back to back flights from Seattle-LA-Sydney-Perth-Broome in 2 days. We booked too late to substitute Adelaide for Perth, but that could have been possible. Jet Lag issues aside this worked. We didn't actually have jet lag it seems. Other plans that put flights in the middle of 3 weeks dictated arrival and departure committments, rental car or caravan drop off and pickup, checking in to hotels and dealing with luggage etc. Getting to Broome from USA takes several flights and consolidating the flights back to back literally eliminates at least 3 or 4 'useless' travel days. Not that a travel plan incorporating some of these cities isn't worthy... just saying if your goal is the outback, consider consolidating the flights. it worked for us. We flew premium class to Sydney and business class home from Sydney on the long flight... can't fathom flying economy. Business class on VAustralia costs like $8000 RT, probably out of reach for most, we were upgraded and can't overstate how wonderful the bed was on our return not to mention the food and service. VAustralia rocks.
2) Luggage restrictions - getting to Australia and back was relatively easy, but we opted for the Virginblue Airpass for the 3 flights intercontinental and this wasn't so great. The Airpass greatly restricts your luggage check in and carry on (because its cheap for international travelers) and we traveled at 15lbs max carry on and 44 lbs check in with a few things stuffed in our pockets. Turns out Virgin Blue appeared to treat us like regular Virgin flight guests (not airpass guests) and allowed normal baggage weights and they (nobody) ever weighed our carry on. We could have travelled 20 to 30 lbs heavier probably. It was a stressful deal. We had to buy used luggage that was cheap lightweight fabric so as to cut the weight. If you have the money, and want to pay the price to travel with heavy luggage, or are forced to do so no worries, but if money is tight, look forward to luggage weight issues. We took snorkel gear and lots of photo/video gear and all the batteries and chargers. It was a challenge to travel light. Also, buying a used luggage piece at the local second hand store last minute presents an awkward moment going through customs when the blood hound comes round and you go.... where has this bag been? little stressful for a moment there. (Edit... turns out there have been changes to the luggage requirements after our return. whatever the situation, its a tricky bit of business figuring it all out. At the time we flew it would have cost us $950 to get our excess baggage throught the 3 flight airpass process)
3) The key drive days for our plan was specifically designed to place full day drives between broome and Karijini, Karijini and Ningaloo and 2 full days between Ningaloo and Perth. It is possible to make these drives however they are full days. You must start early and limit stops and rests to absolute minimum. If you are renting a camper van you will NOT want to drive at night - the Kangaroos are crazy nuts all over the place at dusk in particular, especially in the Cape Range Park (Ningaloo) Almost all the local people up in northwestern australia have bumper bars and huge fog lights (roo lights actually) for a reason. The northern roos are not that big, but hitting a larger one the size of a large dog in a rental van without bar.... not good.
4) Caravan Rental - took a lot of research to shop the camper van rentals and we chose GoCamper based in Perth. Small company with super nice ownership (June and Paul) the van was very clean and well maintained. We looked at Britz and Wicked closely - and a couple others on line and we saw lots of them on the road too. The Wicked vans looked really dirty and run down. The crazy paint jobs aside - they looked old and beat up compared to GoCamper. We would highly recommend GoCamper. The only thing that was a little unusual about our rental, which was a pop up top version van, is the huge truck trains that travel Tom Price to Port Hedland - they run 110 KM and the passing trucks create 'concussion' sufficient to pop the top. Not the fault of GoCamper, and hard top campervans wouldn't have this problem. We shared our experience with GoCamper, wouldn't be surprised if they upgraded the pop up tie down straps for vans destined for Top Price area. we were all worried about traveling without a chem toilet because we couldn't get one with caravan rental. we purchased a travel fold up seat thing and bag system and never used it. Suppose on the long drives we could have had issues, but we never did. If you 4wd off the beaten path get something but if traveling the roads and major parks it seems like there are adequate facilities even if the outback.
5) Weather... August 22 through Sept 11... was perfect. Not a single drop of rain in the outback. barely hitting 80 degrees F in broome, maybe 75 degrees F in Perth with lots of wind and breeze. The last couple days in Sydney on Sept 9th and 10th we had light rain and breezy one day and a little cold at night, broken clouds the other day and a little chilly actually. The outback days were perfect temps for camping, not too hot days, not too cold nights. We almost made this trip in October, I think we really lucked out traveling before the heat and humidity.
6) Karijini - unless you book the ultra expensive Eco Retreat, Dales campground is the place to camp and it is very assessible but they do not pre-book. The campsite had a few open spots for our arrival, but the campgrough appeared mostly full. Lots of rigs coming and going each morning, many were hitting the road to the gorges further away, many were leaving and arriving outright. This place must get full during peak summer travel times. How do they handle overload? Heads up.
7) Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo.... we booked the Yardie Creek campground and glad we did. The other big caravan park inside the park, and the other one just before the park near the lighthouse looked big and crowded, not too crowed but certainly busy. When we left on a Monday or Sunday morning at 7am, there was a line up of at least 15 campers waiting to get into the park on the lotto system. The big caravan parks had showers and stuff where Yardie Creek only had an outhouse, but Yardie Creek is located at the end of the sealed road, little bit more quiet and located right on the beach with only 8 sights. The campground attendent (Ken during our visit) was very accomadating and helpful. Kept the place clean. Each night the 8 campers would meet for wine and sunset. very nice. Also, not too many folks went past Yardie Creek Gorge from what I can tell. You need a 4wd to do this. The creek crossing at low or medium tide looks real easy. I have a 4wd at home and have done some 4wdriving.... the creek crossing at lower tides is nothing. I would definitly want to go back and 4wd past Yardie Creek gorge next time. You can prebook Yardie Creek on line but is kind of hard to find the website and don't confuse it with the other in park caravan park - the correct website has actual photos of the 8 sites and current availability.
8) Snorkeling the Ningaloo..... I have only snorkeled in florida keys and Maui and the snorkeling at Ningaloo was excellent. I thought Oyster Stack (closest to Yardie creek btw) was the best. You are 'required' to snorkel only during high tide at Oyster though so check the charts. Turquoise bay has the famous drift current but I found the place crowded and the drift current a nuisance actually. the coral and fish no better than Oyster. If you want to snorkel around and focus on a specific fish group or coral set, you end up fighting the drift at Turquoise bay. The danger signs at Turquoise bay about the strong drift near the exit point.... serious warning. the current is almost like a river there if you push your luck and test the outer edges. more about Oyster Stacks its relatively shallow and up close personal with the coral and fish too, it was better. We took the gear so as to avoid the hassle with renting gear. We saw turtles, a puffer fish, the normal colorfull fish, one huge swarm of little blue fish and the coral was actually more colorful than first thought. A lot of the coral is brown grey but there was a fair number of pieces that were bright green, blue and purple. Also the time of day and angle of sun made a difference. There were tons of seashells on beach at Yardie.
9) Seeing the Karijini georges.... I would like to go again and if so I would rent a 4wd and plan on 5 or 6 days to see all the gorges and I would also consider hooking up with someone, or learning how to do some rock climbing. We saw the gorge creeks and pools and canyon walls alright, and you can see tons of cool stuff, but the gorges only go so far and you eventually hit the last pool/drop that can't be passed without rock climbing gear. If you are going to see world class gorges (world class yes?) do what it takes to get past the usual ending spots. No mistake, seeing the basic gorges from the top view points and down below where easily assessible is worth going.... just saying - there is a spectacular opportunity just beyond that next pool. Also, the gorges are scattered across the park and while the dirt roads are groomed and smooth, all that driving in 2wd everyday for 30 to 60 miles round trip would be a pain in my opinion. Also, if you go to Ningaloo, you might want to go past Yardie Creek. I wish we had more time and that we had rented a 4wd to see more gorges.
10) Sydney... we had (only) 2 full days in Sydney and stayed at the Sheraton at the park. 2 days is just the bare minimum to walk around and see the Sydney Bay(s), Opera House, Bridge and a day trip to Bondi Beach. We visited the wildlife park and aquarium. Both were smaller than expected but maybe that was because they cost like $35 each to enter and we were expecting more for the cost. The main zoo was probably bigger but we didn't make it there. Life in Sydney is expensive. Actually everything in Australia is expensive. double your drink and food budget if coming from USA. Side note, might want to visit Sydney before the place becomes a tourist zoo. Why? the Sydney bay area is crammed with tons of stuff to do and see but its all in this little confined cramped area, the traffic is terrible and everywhere you go is crowded, especially in the summer when the weather is good I would imagine. Expensive and crowded - not my idea of an awesome time. And, not wishing to start a fight, but the Opera house was real nice and a tour and show if possible would be very very nice, but once you see the bridge and opera house.... I wouldn't say seeing Sydney would be like seeing New York or even much better than seeing Seattle. its a nice city and the place to be in Australia, that is good enough, just saying its expensive and congested and well, I would rather see the outback and other far away places. 2 or 3 days in Sydney would be enough for me.
11) Souviniers... strange topic, but I was secretly hoping to get a souvinier boomerang or didgeridoo.... turns out, you are not going to find real artifacts without seeking out actual aboriginal tribes stations... might have better luck on Ebay. Karijini Visit center had a couple of boomerangs priced at $250 for the pair I think. Real didgeridoos are actual tree trunks or branches I think that are eaten from the inside by termites and you don't see these at tourist trap places. All the didgeridoos and boomerangs are 'manufactured' and while hand made and crafted by actual aboriginals (as claimed on advertising) they are mass produced and look mysteriously similar. Also Didgeridoos the good ones are 3 to 4 feet long, airport travel becomes a problem. I didn't see any aboriginal road side craft stands in the outback where you could buy a real artifact from the craftsperson that made it. The tourist traps in Sydney (wildlife and aquarium) have a great selection of inexpensive Didges and boomers, no need to buy them in Broome or Perth where prices are even higher.
12) Aboriginal people ... we didn't go to Australia to see them specifically, not that they would appreciate the visit from us even maybe, good question. We only saw them a few times in the outback. They appeared to be few, remote and distant. If you came to America and wanted to experience the Native American Indian, you could easily find tribes and museums and actual Indian cultural places awaiting a visit, although not too many Indians still live in Tents. Experiencing the Aboriginals where we were proved not so easy. There was a 45 minute tour at the Yanchep park in Perth that we missed. I am guessing it was not a up close and personal with a real tribe adventure. I have researched on google and it appears that traveling the outback via 4wd through tribe land areas requires permissions and permits sometimes,.... perhaps the aboriginal world is getting tougher and tougher to see... speculation on my part. I listened to some radio when I could in the outback and it appears that northern Australia is somewhat obsessed (concerned at least) with Aboriginal issues and Park land Conservation, particularly the Ningaloo coast area and the Pilbari. Must have been a dozen different stations all sounding liking NPR or the BBC all of them decisively pro conservation and pro aboriginal rights. Not that championing the rights of aboriginals and protecting the land is bad.. but it seemed like a nonstop and one sided politically correct dump on all things that might favor a non-native or land owning or park using person. The debates weren't balanced in my opinion. This stuff doesn't directly impact travel plans maybe, unless you have aspirations to experience the outback aboriginal... things are happening, things are changing, doors may be closing.
13) Broome as a town has lots of stores - a small mall, you can get most anything there. I was worried we would fly all the way there and need to buy stuff that we couldn't pack and not get stuff. Considering the distant local, you can get stuff. things are expensive.
14) Perth - could have been a suburb of Seattle. didn't spend any time there. It was bigger than expected.
15) Carnarvon - only saw the one mile jetty and a brief visit of the train museum... If traveling through with nothing better to do ok, I wouldn't necessarily make this a destination.
16) Coffee and good beer... Hey I am from Seattle what can I can say.... don't expect espresso shops - the gas stations have push button machine joe and they typically cost like $4 to $5 for a basic long black, especially in the outback northwest. Micro brew is relatively non existent. Sydney place when asked about 'porter' said what? A 6 pack of local micro brew that I did find was $19
17) Spiders, Snakes and Jelly fish... didn't see any. It appears that the major travel parks are 'managed' in this regard, like nuisance bears in a US park would be managed by park rangers. I didn't want to swim with the box jelly fish although I tell all my friends I do, but I was interested in photographing snakes and spiders and jellyfish, if I did stumble upon some. but no such luck. If you do go looking for trouble, probably should brings some gaiters. Many local folks that frequent the bush were wearing leather gaiters - normal clothing it appears.
18) Exmouth... smaller than expected and there is a ton of development going on right now. Its a fishing town for sure.
19) Lighthouse caravan park in Cape Range... they have these premium cabins on the top of the hill... we strongly considered these before we opted for the campervan method.... glad we didn't do the cabins. The website makes them look like they are on top of the world, actually they are blocked by the lighthouse hill for 50% of the ocean view and on the back side is this huge government military high wire antenna station... Oddly, I never saw photos of this military communication place when searching google, I think Google maps covers it up (need to look again) because of classified reasons, bottom line the light house cabins top of hill are a nice base for exploring the park, at a premium price too, and have a nice half view of the ocean and they do see the light house which is nice, but its not a full panorama as presented on the web and the antenna base behind is a complete 'non' park experience.
20) Get the caravan campsite book.... the $60 or $80 book that everyone raves about. It is likely that your caravan park plans will change and finding out where things are on the road at 5pm sucks. There appears to be plenty of hostels everywhere once you hit south of carnarvon, that will take a person in for bath and kitchen use, $15 a night, sleep in your van. In the outback roads you can stop just about anywhere at one of the rest pull off areas (every 10 miles it seemed) without bother.
21) Cell Phones.... international cell phone use is expensive, web access at $15 a meg.. outragious. It took great pains to get our 2 cell phone accounts arranged so that we wouldn't get screwed by the phone company. If you don't deactivate your voicemail.. you pay for each message recieved while you are gone. Checking email with the bandwidth charges... better really need email cause its going to cost you. we are running a shared MyTouch 4g account with unlimited text/web.. We made a few important calls at $1.69 minute - and a couple text messages to each other that cost .50 cents for the sender and the reciever. Also, figuring out how to dial long distance international calls to Australia proved annoying. the dial out code the area codes and the number structure.
22) yardie gorge... I said in no particular order, sorry.... Yardie Gorge is located at Yardie Gorge campground at the end of the sealed road in the cape range park, Ningaloo. It is a short gorge, the part you see from the boat tour and from the trail that is, not sure the boat tour is worth it, although I was told the tour guide was good and informative. The gorge you see from the campground goes back and makes one major turn and then ends, the boat tour ends there too, the gorge pools go on a bend or two more max and then hit creek zones. The hike is easy and good, worked for us. Here is the thing we did, we hiked all the way to the top of the ridge about 1 or 2 miles back away from the ocean past the end of the trail. There is no trail and you have to navigate several side feeder gorges. We looked at the hike at first and said, lets see how far we get in 1 hour... 1 hour later we were on top of the ridge. Fortunately there are Roo trails EVERYWHERE, sorry for yelling, At the top you get a view of the entire gorge canyon out east and a full panorama of the ocean and gorge system out west, you see the whole gorge system, not just the first two bends or so. If you like hiking and can handle about 400 feet of elevation gain over 1 or so miles... worth going. No spiders or snakes, gaiters might be a good idea though. Also, at the top, the very top, the rocks have evidence of coral remains from econs ago when the terrain was sub ocean. interesting.
23) Pinnacles... these are worth seeing. Only need a couple hours to do it... They are fun and really looked surreal during sunset hour. you can drive a 2wd car easy. We didn't see Cervantes, but down south a bit is Lancelin, have a nice hostel there. The ocean beach was nice and we saw some surfer action, not nearly as exciting as the surfers at Bondi though. Nice white beaches in this area.
lastly, turns out that the truck trains in the Port Hedland to Tom Price area are one of our most talked about travel stories. (truck trains are like an 18 wheeler truck but most had 2 trailers in tow, some had 3... so you have a truck and 3 or 4 trailers total) We were not expecting so much heavy truck travel and congestion way out in the middle of nowhere. Not only are there a lot of truck trains, but there are big trucks of all sorts too. This route must be a central core route for commerce and they must no have rail systems, or australians are obsessed with trucking things around. The trucks are huge, they drive fast, most of them drive exactly 110km which is fast for big truck and you are constantly being run off the road by wide loads being escorted by pre and post lead trucks. One wide load was escorted by police - huge dump trucks with wheels 12' diameter. We had to pull completely off the road. Go see the truck trains before they invent the rail system.... just kidding a bit. They were not expect and they were fun, sometimes scarry.
Hope this helps someone. good luckEdited: 25 September 2011, 01:44