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Dr Bob's Australian Prescription PDF Printable Version E-mail


Dr  Bob's Australian Prescription

Financial & Other Considerations for a Long-term and Long-distance journey in Australia by Motorhome or Caravan

Dr Bob

In Australia, March 2007

Following his very successful 32,000-km complete anti-clockwise circuit of Australia with his partner, Sandra, Dr Bob shares his experience of a very wide range of relevant financial and other matters. His advice will be of great help to any other caravanner or motorhomer planning a long-term, long-distance journey in this great continent.

To read Dr Bob's full acount of his journey, click: Dr Bob Down Under

For more of Dr Bob's excellent travel writing, click:

Dr Bob and the Spanish Fiestas by Motorhome

Dr Bob Travels Spain's Silver Road by Motorhome

Dr Bob Returns to Australia

Dr Bob in Morocco 2010

Dr Bob's Moroccan Prescription

Dr Bob in Portugal 2010

To read our notes on travel in Australia: click: Travel Notes Australia 

Contact Dr Bob and Sandra through their email address:

Financial Considerations

2 'spin-offs' have occurred to us which may be of some use to those who may be considering an extended visit to this incredible continent. With this in mind I have drafted these 'Financial Considerations' which may be of some benefit. If there are any queries of any form please do not hesitate to email me (***).

The Budget: Quite simply one has a daily budget which, in our case, covers all expenditures. Now the management of this is a purely personal choice, as we have dear friends who manage things in an alternative fashion, ie their daily budget does not include tax, insurance, ferries etc, etc. Anyway, your finances and their management are up to you.

Just a little mechanism that we used to balance the initial outlay of Insurance/s, Rego/s, RACQ, etc and, in our case, the A$2,000 on a generator: we simply divided the sum by 12. Then that amount is a debit on the first of each month and you economise until it is paid off. In our case this debit came to A$351/month and we found no difficulty at all in managing on A$80/day (GBP 35, 50). So well did we do, in fact, that we have already paid for the Insurances and Regos for next year and, of course, the generator was a one-off payment only. ('Cut your cloth according to your means').

Here in Australia, with so many tens of thousands on the road, you will often find yourself parked in a group where several are just waiting for their pension payments to arrive at the local Post Office or Bank before moving on. This, for us, is the biggest positive to a long journey, as it is simple to park up on a beach or in a National Park and wait for your budget to catch up in the case of an overspend.

The Vehicle: Hire or Purchase? For any trip of more than 3 months' duration - purchase it! Now this applies in the case of a caravan or a motorhome or any vehicle for that matter. No traveller we have met has ever reported to us that they have lost out financially by buying (when compared to renting), whereas we know that the 12-month hire of a motorhome of the same size as ours in Spain would have set us back A$50 to 60K even before the other expenses. And that's money gone!

Vehicles come in all shapes, sizes and values - from 7th hand 'whizz-bangs' at A$6,000 up to motorhomes from A$55,000 upwards. Our New Zealand friends purchased a second hand 4-berth Jayco motorhome for A$83,000 (new price A$88,000) and sold it 'On Consignment' a year later, making a profit.

NB. A whizz-bang is a panel-van-type motorhome where there is a side access door that slides. Hence 'whizz' as it slides, and 'bang' as they slam it shut. Never park next to a whizz-bang at night if you can help it!

Czech friends of ours, however, paid A$3,500 for the 3 month hire of a car - when we have seen better cars on sale for that price, which they could then have resold. So buy! It is definitely better if you have friends in Australia who can perhaps sell the vehicle for you, or overview the dealer who is selling the vehicle for you 'On Consignment' ie Advertised Sale Price = your price + his commission.

Oh, and remember: Australians seem to be much more honest that many nationalities!

Warranty: If you buy from a dealer or car yard you get a warranty, but not from a private sale. Thus the caravan had a 1-year warranty whilst the 4x4 had a 3-month warranty. Actually, we're not sure how much good that would have done us should we have broken down in Darwin.

Vehicle Registration (Rego): A word of warning here as we arrived and purchased in Queensland and all States are slightly different in respect of Rego and Safety Checks (MOT). In Queensland you require a Safety Check at an Authorised Centre before transfer into your name, and then nothing further. In other States, Safety Checks are yearly. Also it is, we understand, quite complicated purchasing in one State and then selling in another. Having said this, each State has a Motor Vehicle Website which will answer all your queries.

The Rego equates to the annual UK Road Fund Licence, but differs in that it includes compulsory third-party insurance cover. If you purchase via a dealer, then this will be sorted out as part of the sale and you must always enquire as to how much of the Rego is left. The dealer will arrange to have the vehicle re-registered in your name and it is up to you to negotiate whether this is an inclusive or additional charge. Remember to haggle! To give you some guidelines as to price, age, mileage, make, model, etc, there are a number of useful websites you can access before you start looking at vehicles.

In our case, the caravan was new and so the initial registration was in our name and part of the purchase price. Similarly the vehicle was Rego'd for the year, all within the purchase price. The Land Rover, on the other hand, was second-hand and purchased through a 'car yard'. Now here we negotiated the price down by A$1,000 but had to pay A$324 for the vehicle to be transferred to our name. The Rego (road fund licence) ran out 3 months later on that vehicle.

Rego for 2007/8 for a 4x4 = A$540. For the caravan = A$140.

Remember you will need an address for the registration authorities. Our friends from NZ used the hotel they were staying in while they found a vehicle. Then, if you are away and need to re-register, you can do that via the phone or internet and arrange for the registration certificate to be sent to an alternative address. They are really very helpful and, of course, many Australians are doing exactly what you are trying to do.

Safety Check: This is mandatory and at authorised centres only. It is necessary for a change of registration. A car yard will do this or have it done for you but in the case of a private sale, make sure it has been done. Do not buy without the Safety Certificate, as its absence warns you that the vendor knows just how many things need to be rectified before it would pass a Safety Check.

You will also need to ensure that all this is done yourself if you are selling at the end of the trip.

RACQ Inspection (Pre-purchase): This is just like an AA or RAC inspection in UK and you don't have to be a member. Here in Queensland (RACQ) it cost just under 100 and is obviously well worth having done. The rescue services are extremely efficient and will respond within days and leave the report for you at the car yard or with the vendor, but in a sealed envelope.

Rescue Service: Join a rescue service (eg RACQ) as otherwise costs can be astronomical, especially should you be 'out bush'. We met a pair of German medical students at Coober Pedy, where they had just had their 'whizz-bang' towed in. The tow alone was approx A$1,000 and they were having to contact their families for monies for the tow and repair. Our initial joining fee for the RACQ was A$99, with A$55 per annum thereafter.

Remember each State has its own Rescue Service: RACQ in Queensland, RACV in Victoria, etc. Each honours the membership of the others.

Motor Insurance: There is a plethora of insurance companies, as in Europe. We would just like to mention two: 'Australian Pensioners' (if you are over 50 years of age and not working full-time) and the 'AAMI'.

For the first year we had our fully comprehensive policies for both vehicles with Australian Pensioners and they have a wonderful policy whereby, on a yearly basis, you can insure for the full purchase price of the vehicle/s. So no haggling should you have a 'write-off'.

Unfortunately, for this coming year we needed to change the caravan to AAMI as they have a 'new for old' policy option in the case of a one-year-old vehicle such as ours. The replacement value, new, of the caravan would be A$50,000 so that is the value insured. We have kept the 4x4 with Australian Pensioners, as all motor vehicles are on 'market value' or valuation and we needed to increase the premium to cover the bull-bars, roof rack etc.

Some Insurance Figures

Caravan: Fully Comprehensive for A$50,000 - the premium was A$551 pa, either in one payment or monthly (no interest charged).

Land Rover: Value A$14,000 with A$1,730 bull bars and A$1,200 roof rack.

Remember the old adage: 'If you can't afford to insure, you can't afford to go!'

Banks and Banking: We opted for the National Bank of Australia, as we were able to open an account from Spain and transfer monies even before we arrived. On arrival we just went to the bank and produced various proofs of identity (actually all they wanted was our passports with the entry stamps/visas) and they then ordered and delivered our 'pieces of plastic'. Now here we made a mistake and only ordered a debit & savings card, which allows you to draw money from a cash point, bank or post office and to pay at petrol stations, supermarkets etc.

A word to the wise. If you have an account with either National or Commonwealth Banks, then you can withdraw money at any post office (and even the smallest towns have PO's). If you use your bank to draw money over the counter when there is an ATM outside, then you pay a large transaction fee. Again, should you use the ATM of another bank there is a transaction fee. So you always use your own bank's ATM's or the counter if no ATM. Also, when you use a supermarket and pay by card, they will offer you 'cash-back' (just like the UK).

For A$19 pa you can also obtain a Visa credit card and this we would have preferred in a number of cases, where telephone payments were required. Our initial cards were not credit cards and were not accepted as such. We could have used our UK or Spanish cards but this would have occasioned a surcharge. Also, with National Bank we have been able to pay in personal UK cheques, for which one is only charged a A$10 transaction fee. So if you are running short, it is easy to transfer further money from overseas.

I imagine some travellers from overseas use the credit card from their country of origin all the way round, but I imagine the fees also add up.

At the end of the trip, a bank draft takes it all back.

Vehicle Servicing and Related Matters: We had the Land Rover serviced every 10,000 km and quickly learned to use independent Land Rover specialists, as opposed to the main dealers. So, for example, a minor service with the main dealer in Cairns cost A$100 more than a major service in Geraldton, WA with a Land Rover specialist garage. We also found that we could purchase nearly new and used parts for a fraction of their cost new, and were well advised to carry additional tyres on our roof rack, as in the bush/outback you can routinely pay twice the price you would pay in a city - even should they stock them. If not, you also have to pay transport charges (eg the young couple in Coober Pedy).

We carried a compressor, as well as the additional spare tyres, and also inner tubes for the Land Rover and caravan tyres. We purchased a set of jumper leads, some miscellaneous tools (not that we could use them, but people are all too ready to help and so need tools) and a battery charger. Better to be prepared. There are 2 large automotive supermarkets all around Australia: Super Cheap Auto and Repco. So if you use either of these, then you can exchange all the way round the country (as we had to with the compressor).

Miscellaneous: Camping gear and fishing gear we found to be a fraction of the UK price. Also melamine tableware, glasses etc for the caravan were about a tenth of the price in the UK. You just go to outlets like the Warehouse or Bi-Lo and there are shelves of the stuff, along with everything else you could think of.

Camping: 'Australia Wide' is an absolute must for campers on a budget! The best A$50 spent. We purchased 'Camps 3', but 'Camps 4' has just been published. The ultimate guide for the budget conscious traveller. With over 3,000 listings, it gives the rest areas, free camps, National Parks, State Forests and Parks, and low cost caravan parks throughout Australia, including Tasmania. It has comprehensive maps and details regarding each and every site. You can plan your journey using only this guide, although free maps of each State are available at tourist information or visitor centres, which give the rest areas in that State. It's absolutely invaluable. This is not to say you cannot find your own spots (especially if you are in a motorhome or 'whizz-bang') but it just makes things so much easier.

Op Shops (Charity Shops): We just loved these. They seem as much an institution as in UK. We should not have purchased clothes in Singapore, as we have bought others better and cheaper here. The number of shops and the variety of stock is incredible and we purchased quite a few things (pots and pans, wine glasses etc) for the caravan from Op Shops. In fact, we could have purchased anything from Op Shops given the time and inclination. Books were a case in point! New books and book exchanges can be on the pricey side. At Op Shops we found the prices much less, although in certain States you will find book exchanges for travellers either in libraries or the Visitor Centre. A great asset: you find a carousel or box and can swap your books on a 1 for 1 basis. Libraries themselves often have book sales with tables in the foyer of the building, at up to A$1 per book. Op Shops start at 20 cents.

There are numerous Op Shops: LifeLine, Red Cross, St Vincent de Paul (Vinnies), Salvation Army (Salvos), and animal charities are just a few. We particularly liked Vinnies, although they varied around the country and State by State.

Some towns even have 'Op Shop trails' as they have so many shops, and you get a map from the Visitor Centre.

Cost of Living: Surprisingly, we found Australia more expensive than we had been led to believe. But then again, most Australians feel it is expensive!

Fuel: We have given fuel prices as we have driven around and, of course, we were hit by fuel hikes on our journey. The total fuel cost for 31,614 km was 3,350 or 2,250 and our consumption costs varied from 14c/km to 20c/km depending on the cost of fuel. In Queensland and NT/Top End we found fuel prices more expensive.

Food: We thought food to be more expensive and, after Spain, the wine was a ridiculous price. We purchased casks or 'clear-skins', which are more reasonable. Meat and some seafood were really expensive, due primarily to the huge export trade in the case of seafood and the drought conditions of the last 3 years in the case of meat. It would be uneconomical to sell at less than the export price and so Australia suffers to that degree.

There are 2 large supermarkets which, people argue, control prices in food and fuel: Woolworths/Safeway (which equates to Tesco) or Coles, which we found a more expensive alternative. When you buy food at either of these, you get vouchers which are redeemable at specific servos (services or petrol stations). So with A$30 of groceries you get a voucher which allows 4c/litre reduction on fuel. With Woolworths you must use a Caltex servo; with Coles it's Shell.

There are a number of other supermarkets, such as Aldi and IGA/Foodlands. It's certainly worth shopping around and using roadside fruit/veg stalls if you get the chance.

Travel Insurance: We insured with STA for health (medical & dental) and travel insurance. We understand from Scottish travellers who we met at Lakes Entrance, Victoria, that there is a form of reciprocal health care cover between UK and Australia (excepting for death and funeral expenses apparently) but as we no longer live in the UK (and indeed Sandra has to have private cover even there), we both took out policies at approximately 350 each. Thankfully we only had 2 claims to make: one for loss of spectacles and one for a dental problem (and that was only A$80). No problems with either claim.

Australia, just like the UK, allows supermarkets and chemists to sell a lot of 'over the counter' (OTC) medication and the pharmacists are really helpful. Sandra uses an inhaler and we were able to replace this OTC without the need to see a GP. In Spain one is able to purchase a plethora of medication OTC, including antibiotics, and in India you can buy just about anything (although you need to be aware that it may not be an active drug - there is a huge trade in fakes). We came with 3 courses of antibiotics, used one and gave one away. On balance we would say that medication here is slightly more expensive than UK (especially if you purchase supermarket 'own brands' in UK).

Airline Tickets: We purchased Qantas tickets that allowed stopovers at up to 5 destinations to/from Australia. They cost 650 each and we didn't shop around. As they were one-year tickets we actually had to arrange the return flight from Australia, once flight schedules were available. However, as we were not changing flight details as such, there were no extra charges levied. However, we were told that should air fares have increased, or had we changed flight plans, then we would have had to pay the difference plus ₤50 pp. Just be aware!

Australian Visa: We understand that this can now be achieved on the internet but we had huge difficulties, not helped, I am sure, by the fact that we were applying in Spain and that we also required a one-year visa. For that, proof of financial worth, bank statements, etc were required. I believe there was a time when they even needed proof that you had insurance and a valid return ticket. So check the internet on the Australian High Commission web page.

Eventually, we decided to take our Spanish motorhome up to Madrid and do everything in person. The staff at the Australian High Commission could not have been friendlier and, although we were expecting it to take up to 5 working days, on recognising we came from Murcia they had the visas in our passports for the following day. Note that the application forms change every 3 months (don't ask me why), so once you have them, process them and return. We processed on the 19 January 2006 and the visa states that you have a year to enter Australia and then, of course, the visa is valid for a year from your arrival date. The cost was 50 per person (35 approx).

Caravan or Motorhome? (or 'whizz-bang' or station wagon. etc). This is the great controversy!

For us it would be a motorhome every time, but then we are a little biased as we already own one in Spain. The caravan gives you more room and allows you to uncouple and explore off-road with your 4x4, but the motorhome is just so convenient in respect of parking/camping. In the latter you can go up any bush trail looking for a hidey hole to stay the night. If you don't find one, then no difficulty either turning or reversing back. Try that with a 20-foot caravan and a paucity of skill and little patience - and of course I speak personally.

When we were initially considering purchasing our own motorhome, a UK traveller on a Spanish site imparted the following advice. 'If you want to get onto a site and then stay there for a month or more - get a caravan. If you like travelling from place to place - a motorhome every time!' We have found this even more true in Australia, although unfortunately the motorhomes here are by no means as competitively priced as those in Europe. In fact most of them would cost at least twice the price of our caravan and 4x4. For the same price as our combination, we could have purchased a 2-berth Mercedes motorhome (second-hand) with insufficient room to swing a cat.

Australian motorhomes seem to be in their infancy, with many looking like horseboxes. At no time on our journey have we seen such a user-friendly layout as in our own motorhome, although it is a six-berth. For better ideas, just check the Oz motorhome websites and try to imagine living in such a space for the duration of your stay. Having said that, we have seen innumerable couples (of all ages) travelling quite happily in whizz-bangs. I think the oldest couple were from Poland - he in his 80's and she of about the same age and crippled with Parkinson's disease (hat's off to them, I say!)

Even before arriving here, our mentors 'the Full-Timers' had informed us of a family company in Sydney that looks for vehicles on your behalf and to your specification - so they are out there. (See ***)

Mobile Phones: An absolute must, even though there are innumerable spots where you cannot get reception. Telstra (telephone company) say they cover 98% of the population - but that's not 98% of the continent. You can bring your existing mobile with you and just change the sim-card or purchase an inexpensive basic model. Be wary, as Telstra is currently picking up some bad publicity regarding the mark-up on its mobiles.

Land Line Telephones: Purchase a Telstra phone card (or carry lots of change) and also a SuperBuzz Card, which you can purchase from servos/PO's etc. This gives you 17 hours of UK calls for A$10. Yes, I know it sounds unbelievable but it's the case. So, you use you Telstra card to access the SuperBuzz number and then follow the prompts, using your SuperBuzz card number. There are a number of such cards but we were informed at a seaman's mission that this was the best for UK seamen - so that was good enough for us.

Internet: If you carry a laptop, then you can buy service via Telstra and will have access wherever your phone is showing a signal. We don't run to such extravagances and so use internet cafes or libraries. In South Australia and Victoria you can use library internets for free - and that's a Statewide facility. In the other States, always check with the library first but then be prepared to look elsewhere if it's not free. It surprised us that sometimes libraries were more expensive than internet cafes in the same town, but then again we were often allowed to check our emails for free or a nominal charge. In libraries it is usually free to surf the web.

Launderettes: What a Godsend. Every little town has one or more, with a pretty standard A$3/wash-load and A$1/10 mins in a dryer. So you don't need to go on to a caravan site just for this facility, though they all have them.

Caravan Sites: In almost 32,000 km, we stayed on just 2 actual caravan sites - Coober Pedy for the A/C and Christies' Beach, Adelaide, as it was in a city. We stayed on rodeo/show grounds in Mossman, Mareeba, Ravenshoe and Darwin. All the rest of the journey it was wild/free campsites - although we were lucky to find friends outside Cairns and in Perth, Adelaide, Canberra etc.

It's difficult to generalise about prices, but an unpowered site would generally be A$10-A$18 and a powered site anything up to A$40 - certainly in high season. Taking a ballpark figure of 20 cent/km for fuel, we would just pull out of town until we could park up and then go backwards and forwards. In the day, we would often unhitch and leave the caravan at the Tourist Information/Visitor Centre.

We have a dislike of caravan parks, as they are over-priced and most of the facilities we would not use. You still pay extra for the laundry facilities. Then, you are often disturbed by people pulling out at dawn or arriving or coming back late. If you are disturbed on a 'free-camp', then at least you are not paying for the privilege!

Anyway, this topic is really one of personal choice, as some travellers will always prefer sites for company, safety issues etc.

Contact address for Dr Bob and Sandra: