Before You Go: No vaccinations are needed to enter Australia unless you have been in a yellow fever danger zone -- that is, South America or Africa -- in the 6 days prior to entering.
Australian pharmacists may only fill prescriptions written by Australian doctors, so carry enough medication with you for your trip. Doctors are listed under "M," for "Medical Practitioners," in the yellow pages, and most large towns and cities have 24-hour clinics. Failing that, go to the local hospital emergency room.
Generally, you don't have to worry much about health issues on a trip to Australia. Hygiene standards are high, hospitals are modern, and doctors and dentists are well qualified. Because of the continent's size, you can sometimes be a long way from a hospital or a doctor. Remote areas are served by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. However, standard medical travel insurance may be advisable.
- Tropical Illnesses -- Some parts of tropical far north Queensland have sporadic outbreaks of the mosquito-borne dengue fever. The areas affected include Cairns, Port Douglas, and Townsville. But as dengue fever mosquitoes breed in urban environments, tourist activities in north Queensland such as reef and rainforest trips carry a low risk. The risk can be further minimized by staying in screened or air-conditioned accommodations, using insect repellant at all times, and wearing long, loose, light-colored clothing that covers arms and legs.
- Bugs, Bites & Other Wildlife Concerns -- Snake and spider bites may not be as common as the hair-raising stories you will hear would suggest, but it pays to be wary. Your other concerns should be marine life, including jellyfish, and saltwater crocodiles.
Sun/Elements/Extreme Weather Exposure-- Australians have the world's highest death rate from skin cancer because of the country's intense sunlight. Limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the first few days of your trip, and from 11am to 3pm in summer and 10am to 2pm in winter. Remember that UV rays reflected off walls, water, and the ground can burn you even when you're not in direct sunlight. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high protection factor (SPF 30 or higher).
Wear a broad-brimmed hat that covers the back of your neck, ears, and face (a baseball cap won't do it), and a long-sleeved shirt. Remember that children need more protection than adults do. Don't even think about traveling without sunglasses, or you'll spend your entire vacation squinting against Australia's "diamond light."
Cyclones sometimes affect tropical areas, such as Darwin and Queensland's coastal regions, from about Gladstone north, during January and February. In 2011, Cyclone Yasi devastated parts of coastal Queensland, including Mission Beach, but serious damage is normally rare.
Here are some common motoring dangers and ways to avoid them:
Fatigue -- Fatigue is a killer on Australia’s roads. The rule is to take a 20-minute break every 2 hours, even if you don’t feel tired. In some states, “driver reviver” stations operate on major roads during holiday periods. They serve free tea, coffee, and cookies and are often found at roadside picnic areas that have restrooms.
Kangaroos & Other Wildlife -- It’s a sad fact, but kangaroos are a road hazard. Avoid driving in country areas between dusk and dawn, when [’]roos are most active. If you hit one, always stop and check its pouch for live joeys (baby kangaroos), because females usually have one in the pouch. Wrap the joey tightly in a towel or old sweater, don’t feed or overhandle it, and take it to a vet in the nearest town or call one of the following wildlife care groups: Wildlife Information & Rescue Service (WIRES) in New South Wales (tel. 1300/094 737); Wildlife Victoria (tel. 1300/094 535); Wildcare Australia in Queensland (tel. 07/5527 2444); Wildcare in Alice Springs (tel. 0419/221 128). Most vets will treat native wildlife for free.
Some highways run through unfenced stations (ranches), where sheep and cattle pose a threat. Cattle like to rest on the warm bitumen road at night, so put your lights on high to spot them. If an animal does loom up, slow down—but never swerve, or you may roll. If you have to, hit it. Tell farmers within 24 hours if you have hit their livestock.
Road Trains -- Road trains consist of as many as three big truck carriages linked together to make a “train” up to 54 m (177 ft.) long. If you’re in front of one, give the driver plenty of warning when you brake, because the trains need a lot of distance to slow down. Allow at least 1 clear kilometer (over a half mile) before you pass one, but don’t expect the driver to make it easy—“truckies” are notorious for their lack of concern for motorists.
Unpaved Roads -- Many country roads are unsealed (unpaved). They are usually bone-dry, which makes them more slippery than they look, so travel at a moderate speed—35 kmph (22 mph) is not too cautious, and anything over 60 kmph (37 mph) is dangerous. That said, when you are on a heavily corrugated or rutted road (which many are), you may need to keep to a higher speed (60 kmph/37 mph) just to stay on top of them. Don’t overcorrect if you veer to one side. Keep well behind any vehicles, because the dust they throw up can block your vision.
Floods -- Floods are common north of Cairns from November or December through March or April (the “Wet” season). Never cross a flooded road unless you are sure of its depth. Crocodiles may be in the water, so do not wade in to test it! Fast-flowing water is dangerous, even if it’s very shallow. When in doubt, stay where you are and wait for the water to drop; most flash floods subside in 24 hours. Check the road conditions ahead at least once a day in the Wet season.
Running out of Gas -- Gas stations (also called “roadhouses” in rural areas) can be few and far between in the Outback, so fill up at every opportunity.
What If Your Vehicle Breaks Down?
Warning:If you break down or get lost, never leave your vehicle. Many a motorist—often an Aussie who should have known better—has died wandering off on a crazy quest for help or water, knowing full well that neither is to be found for maybe hundreds of miles. Most people who get lost do so in Outback spots; if that happens to you, conserve your body moisture by doing as little as possible and staying in the shade of your car.
The emergency breakdown assistance telephone number for every Australian auto club is tel. 13 11 11 from anywhere in Australia. It is billed as a local call. If you are not a member of an auto club at home that has a reciprocal agreement with the Australian clubs, you’ll have to join the Australian club on the spot before the club will tow or repair your car. This usually costs around A$80, not a big price to pay when you’re stranded—although in the Outback, the charge may be considerably higher. Most car-rental companies also have emergency assistance numbers.
Tips for Four-Wheel Drivers
Always keep to the four-wheel-drive track. Going off-road causes soil erosion, a significant environmental problem in Australia. Leave gates as you found them. Obtain permission from the owners before venturing onto private station (ranch) roads. On an extended trip or in remote areas, carry 5 liters (1 1/3 gallons) of drinking water per person per day (dehydration occurs fast in the Australian heat); enough food to last 3 or 4 days more than you think you will need; a first-aid kit; spare fuel; a jack and two spare tires; spare fan belts, radiator hoses, and air-conditioner hoses; a tow rope; and a good map that marks all gas stations. In seriously remote areas outside the scope of this book, carry a high-frequency and a CB radio. (A mobile phone may not work in the Outback.) Advise a friend, your hotel manager, the local tourist bureau, or a police station of your route and your expected time of return or arrival at your destination.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.