Over the past week I took advantage of a few days off and after a 1hr or so flight from Melbourne to Adelaide, I planned a solo tour of South Australia by rental car.
This is a wonderful way to get away from the stresses of every day life and get out into the far less populous areas of Australia without getting too far from a capital city.
The following will be a series of blog posts taking you through tips of how to chill out with some mindfulness touring while taking in the sights and ambience and capturing some nice photos.
The air travel is super easy so I won’t discuss it further except to say Adelaide Airport is very close to the CBD and you can pick up a rental car from there or, alternatively, take a taxi to the CBD, stay a few nights there exploring what Adelaide itself has to offer before picking up the rental car in Adelaide and returning it to the airport – this is what I did.
Rental car hire – the good, the bad and the ugly
Rental car hire is super easy, you can book online at the many rental car options such as Hertz, Budget, Thrifty, Europcar, Avis and others, and then just pick up the car at your location and drop it back at that location or another as arranged. For 5 days hire of a medium sized car such as a Holden Commodore with extras cover reduced and roadside assistance included, you will be out of pocket for around $350-400, not super cheap but given you have unlimited travel and quite a bit of freedom, not too shabby at all.
EASY, BUT there is a potentially BAD side.
YOU MUST READ the FINE PRINT!!
Many people hire cars and you hardly ever hear of major issues so why should you bother reading the terms and conditions, certainly the rental car office will not bother you with doing that, and all you have to do is tick that you read the terms and conditions.
The standard excess in event of any one accident is usually around $4000.
BUT did you know, that no matter what extra premium you have paid to reduce the excess and perhaps get extra cover, you will probably NOT be covered for accidents or events if either:
- you drive in situations not permitted by the contract eg. on ferries, across water floodways, BETWEEN DUSK and DAWN outside of urban areas as risk of wildlife strike
- you are reckless, negligent, stupid, or are breaking the law
- you continue to drive the car after an accident without permission from the rental company
- and many other scenarios – see my wiki for more details
Furthermore, only Budget permits you to drive on gravel roads (and these are almost unavoidable in South Australia outside of the cities), and NONE permit travel off-road tracks or unapproved gravel roads.
Lastly, on picking a car up, double check for existing damage and ensure it is documented on your agreement form to avoid disputes later on – consider taking a few photographs of any existing damage.
The potentially UGLY side:
None of the premiums cover you for damage by water, damage to the under-carriage below door seals (eg. hitting gutters, driving too fast over speed humps or on gravel roads) unless in an accident involving other parts of the car too, overhead damage (eg. car park boom gates), and many do not cover for hail damage – and this is likely to be unavoidable if you get caught in a storm with large hail stones.
The really ugly side is if you were not aware of the fine print and did have an accident involving a third party outside of the rental agreement, you would potentially be up for the full cost of the rental car plus third party property damages which could be enormous. So read the fine print, and drive carefully and responsibly.
My choice – a clear winner is Budget given they do actually allow cautious driving on gravel roads and they cover hail damage, but I would advise that you keep our speed to less than 80kph on gravel roads, and perhaps around 60kph to minimise risk of damage, and dust, and if you do get the car covered in dust, I would suggest you do them a favour and clean it inside and out before returning it – we would not like Budget to change their mind and ban use on gravel roads!
How to chill out exploring the countryside
Make sure you are confident that you can drive safely
- make yourself familiar with the car’s controls BEFORE you leave the rental office
- ensure you know where you are going – I strongly suggest a GPS app such as Metroview which works without the internet and thus does not consume your data bandwidth and still works in areas where there is no internet
- look at a map and memorise the key features BEFORE you drive to reduce confusion between GPS instructions and road sign instructions
- tell everyone you are on road trip holiday and not to call you
- get everything ready BEFORE you start your trip so you NEVER need to take your eyes off the road, a few seconds distraction and an awful lot unexpected can happen
- as you are driving in an unfamiliar car and regions, take extra care and vigilance, and drive responsibly at all times
- don’t drive between dusk and dawn in country areas – you won’t be covered for accidents and risk of hitting kangaroos or other wildlife is ever present
- if you tend to get migraines, avoid driving when the sun is low and causing flickering as you drive in and out of shadows cast be road side trees
- don’t rush yourself, if you are running out of time and the sun is setting, you may have to forego seeing that next sight and just head home while it is still light
- don’t speed
- don’t take any sedatives or alcohol
- don’t be reckless or stupid
- don’t stop suddenly to get a photo, slow down and stop when it is clearly safe to do so and be off the road
- don’t drive whilst fatigued, a brief micro sleep is a real risk for death – take a break every 2 hours or if you feel drowsy
Wind you window down, feel the breeze and still listen to your music to keep you refreshed and alert, and be fully mindful of your surroundings
You could just ramp up the sound volume on the car radio to overcome all the road noise, but long hours of high volume sound exposure will contribute to your noise-induced deafness in the not so distant future.
Instead, purchase a nice pair of noise isolating earphones, attach to your iPhone which can run both your music player and a GPS app which can given you voice instructions without really needing to look at a map (I use MetroView app which to me has been well worth the money, is fairly accurate, warns me of speed sign changes, warns me if I am going too fast, and generally gives good clear directions without need to look at the display and makes me a safer more confident driver in unfamilar areas – without it you tend to get constantly distracted looking for street signs, wondering if you have missed a turn off and gone too far, constantly checking your speedometer instead of watching the road, and getting generally stressed and fatigued which increase risks of accidents).
This allows one to set the two apps going and then place the iPhone inside the central console where you will not be tempted to even touch it whilst driving – my Entymotic MC-3 earphones have volume controls and next track control so there is no need to touch the phone whilst driving which is not only a dangerous distraction but illegal – check the local laws to ensure the you are within the law. My understanding of Sth Australian law (and here) is that you must not be touching the phone whilst driving nor make or receive a phone call unless it is commercially mounted, and, the phone must not be held or be resting on the body, and in Victoria that it must be commercially mounted if using it as a GPS navigation assistance map. The law allows use of Bluetooth earphones and thus presumably other earphones, and obviously you cannot fix a commercially mounted device to a rental car, so if you are going to use the phone for GPS you should lock it away in the center console where it can also be powered via USB port and only use the audio component. Obviously if you car comes with GPS built in then this is a preferred option but you would need the window up and no ear plugs.
When in urban areas you should have the earphones not fully occluding your ears so you can easily hear local traffic – this is not such an issue on country roads which generally rely far more on visual vigilance although it is good to remove one every so often to ensure the car sounds like all is functioning well.
The Entymotic MC-3 earphones are also great at gyms to avoid noise-induced deafness from the ridiculously loud music they tend to play, and handy on airplanes and airports while trying to chill out but surrounded by crying kids, and if need be, to avoid street noises and partner’s snoring whilst trying to sleep.
Being lazy, I have generally resorted first to wotif.com.au, and then if nothing there, go to stayz.com.au HOWEVER, as I found, it seems the majority of accommodation options in regional towns in Sth Australia do not use either of these websites and instead you need to book online directly at the local town’s booking website, thus for instance for Burra, go to http://visitburra.com/web/accommodation/
You can generally find nice accommodation for 1-2 people for around $120 per night off peak – avoid school holidays and public holidays.
Food and water:
Food and water can be problematic away from the urban areas as you will be lucky to find a cafe or general store open in many towns, and particularly after 6pm, although most towns generally have a hotel that serves evening meals.
If you are going into regional areas it would be wise to take enough food and water even if you are not going to the desert outback regions – always great to have a snack and water for when you might miss a meal or you decide to go for a bushwalk.
If you are traveling into rural areas of Australia and want internet access, you can’t go past the extensive coverage provided by Telstra -sure it is the most expensive but you get what you pay for.
Even if your phone provider is not Telstra, it is worth buying a Telstra broadband device which can be set up as a WiFi hotspot for your phone and laptop – you can get 2Gb data to use over 30days for about $30.
Avoid using up all this data accidentally through your devices performing background updates or continuously accessing the internet without you realising it (I somehow lost 1Gb overnight and had zero left in the morning!):
- ensure you use your devices for a few days at home before leaving to ensure any software updates are done before you leave
- power off the Telstra device when you are not using it
- close down any apps which constantly access the internet such as Google maps
- turn off notifications for email, facebook, etc
Be aware that even with Telstra you may not be able to access mobile phones or internet if you go off the grid or into gorges.
National parks and entry fees:
There is a little gotcha for South Australia’s National Parks – most require a $10 entry fee PAYABLE ONLINE BEFORE going otherwise there is risk of an on-the-spot fine by the park rangers – there is an additional fee for camping.
Make sure you check online before you go.
Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back.
Take a map – as a last resort I always take a photo of the map and I have spare batteries and memory card for my cameras (which I now carry on a belt to take weight off my back in give me more rapid access to the cameras).
Take your mobile with a GPS app that does not need the internet – my favourite for bushwalks is MotionX-GPS and you can email your position or track once you are back in internet territory. These apps will run your iPhone battery to 50% in around 2hrs so take a spare powerpack (don’t forget the USB cable).
Take usual precautions regarding clothing (something warm for nights and rainproof), sturdy walk shoes, hat, UV lotion, food and water.
Watch for snakes – assume they are all venomous – if you get bitten, you need first aid bandage to firmly compress the limb which then should be kept still (no further walking or running), and you need a mechanism to call for help (I carry a radio beacon EPIRB for just this purpose). Recently a young man was found dead in the Sth Australian outback after he had gone missing for some time and he had written a note explaining he had been bitten by a snake. Without antivenom, many Australian snakes will cause delayed onset paralysis which may not only ensure you stay immobilised but may eventually cause death by respiratory paralysis and inability to breathe.
Consider taking hiking poles particularly if there will be significant walking in rugged paths or up or down mountains.
As most of my shots would be street scenes, or scenes at a distance from the road, the gear I chose and which I used 95% of the time was:
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens for wide angle work
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens for telephoto work (the new mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 with 1.4x converter would be better but I don’t have that)
- ND400 filter to give long exposures in bright sunlight at beaches
- gradient filter for wide angle landscapes on cloudy days to retain detail in the sky
- polarising filter for wide angle shots on sunny days and in the forests
- I also used the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens for shallow DOF shots at the Botanic Gardens and also for indoor shots at the art gallery