My husband and I recently bit the bullet, did something we’d been talking about for a long time and took our kids on an extended holiday through Outback Australia visiting the Red Centre, Uluru and Cooper Pedy. Although we were aware that many families shared our dream of ‘packing up and heading off’, we were still surprised by how many families we met on the road.
On our return, we received a lot of interest from others who are considering this type of holiday with their own kids and many had similar questions and concerns. In this article, I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions we received with regards to the planning of our trip. I hope it inspires and assists you and your family in planning your own adventure across this vast and magical country.
Planning an extended caravanning or camping holiday with kids? Here are some things to consider:
How long should we plan to travel in the Outback?
The amount of time to take depends on individual circumstance:
- Where you want to go
- The amount of time your family can realistically take off work/school/extracurricular activities
- Your budget
If you were leaving from the Newcastle area, I would suggest at least four weeks for a trip to Uluru and back and at least 10 weeks for Outback Australia/Top End (Kakadu, Darwin).
Camper trailer, caravan, tent or motorhome?
This again comes down to personal preference and circumstance. There are pros and cons to all of the above options. Whichever way you go, there is a degree of setting up and packing up.
If you are only planning a one-off extended trip then a better option may be to hire, as owning requires storage and fit-out, with rego and maintenance required on top of that for a caravan, camper trailer or motorhome.
If you’re unsure, a good place to start is a visit to one of the caravanning/camping shows held in Newcastle and Maitland annually. You’ll be able to test and compare options and find out what will work best for you and your family.
To free camp or not to free camp?
Free camping, we discovered, is a popular option for travelling families and for good reason. Besides the obvious benefit of keeping travel costs down, free camping allows the rare chance to live off-grid and away from the crowds for a while.
Wikicamps was invaluable for us. It is a comprehensive, user-updated website which provides information and reviews for different campsites Australia-wide.
There are many places to free camp in outback Australia, but in some areas (such as National Parks) it is not always encouraged.
Many National Parks have allocated bush camping areas which are inexpensive (around $3-$7 per person/per night) and provide toilets and sometimes showers, but no power.
Some smaller towns encourage travellers to stop by providing toilets, showers, drinking water and a safe place to camp for a small donation.
Is there phone service in the Outback?
Most towns, even the smaller remote ones, now have at least one phone tower, usually Optus or Telstra, with little to no phone service in between the very remote outback towns.
If you have access to a satellite phone this would be the best, and perhaps only, option if an emergency arose.
Do we need to book ahead for Outback accommodation?
If you plan to visit Uluru there aren’t many options for accommodation outside of Yulara (Ayers Rock resort). We had to book three months in advance to secure a powered site in July, which is one of the busiest months. We witnessed many people arriving without a booking and expecting a site only to be turned away.
We didn’t book anywhere else as, with two little ones, we didn’t want to be locked into deadlines. The only place we had trouble getting a site was Coober Pedy in South Australia. It’s the only town for many kilometres and very busy with tourists. We took an overflow site at one of the 3 caravan parks and it was expensive but our only option.
If you require a powered site or prefer a certain van park outside of Uluru and Coober Pedy you might need to book ahead but you’d probably only require days or weeks in advance, not months.
What are road conditions like?
It is possible to drive all the way from Newcastle to Uluru on sealed roads but where’s the fun in that?
If you are considering travelling more remotely and hitting some dirt roads you’ll need to ensure that the roads are open and safe to travel on.
Conditions vary greatly depending on the weather, the amount of recent traffic and whether or not the road has been graded recently. Always check with local authorities and try not to rely on word of mouth, as people’s individual opinion of what is rough varies greatly.
How much will it cost?
As a very average and general rule of thumb, most people we met on the road were budgeting $1,000 per week. This includes fuel, accommodation, groceries and other expenditure. Fuel is usually the biggest expense and fuel, groceries and alcohol can all get expensive when travelling remotely.
What should we take on an Outback trip?
It’s a good idea to plan for the unexpected. We took four spare tires, two for our vehicle and two for the van, a battery jump starter, recovery kit and tools. Thankfully we didn’t need to use them, but we met many people who had blown tyres and breakdowns, some of them stuck in the same place for days waiting on assistance and parts, which can be expensive and hard to find when travelling remotely. Having 24-hour roadside recovery insurance is definitely worth considering.
It’s always a good idea to have bottled water on board, as it can be expensive to buy in some remote towns.
Alcohol is also expensive, especially in the Northern Territory, so stock up before you leave.
As far as entertainment, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the holiday was being screen-free with limited service. We took a bag of matchbox cars and some colouring-in books and when my 2-year-old and 4-year-old got bored of these they made their own fun, finding friends and exploring our new surrounds.
Activities for the car are a must. We did take in-car DVD players to use on the extra-long driving days and for those times where we just needed some peace and quiet in the car.
What time of year should we travel in the Outback?
When travelling in Australia, this is one of the biggest considerations. Australia is such a vast country with so many variables in weather. If you’re planning an Outback trip, peak tourist season is April to October. Outside of these months, the weather can get extremely hot and humid and the flies extremely bad and, as you’ll be wanting to do walks, hikes and outdoor exploring, it makes sense to travel when it’s cooler. Also, during the wet season in Northern Australia, many of the roads can get flooded and impassable and becoming stranded is a real danger.
If you’ve been considering this type of holiday, don’t hesitate. With the recent droughts and bushfire activity, choosing Outback Australia or an extended caravanning/camping trip for your next family holiday is not only a wonderful way to support our small towns that are struggling, but also a great way for your family to see and learn about this beautiful country.
Meg is a stay-at-home mum whose interests include gardening, reading, writing poetry and not staying at home. A born and bred Novocastrian, Meg enjoys camping and travelling with her family and weekend road trips to discover new and interesting places. Meg has two energetic kids and is passionate about kids having the opportunity to be outdoors as often as possible.