We are fortunate to have such an amazing country. From lush rolling hills to the arid outback, endless beaches to rainforests that block out the sky. Australia has such a diverse landscape waiting to be explored.
So how do you do it?
A campervan is one of the cheapest and easiest ways for you to explore Australia. These RVs are essentially a van (think Toyota Hiace or Mercedes Sprinter) that has had the inside renovated into a miniature apartment. They include bedding, a kitchen and storage – all in the back of your van.
Sure, you can fly around, staying in a variety of cities and hotels but not only does that become incredibly expensive, you also don’t get to experience those ‘one-off’ side-adventures that make travelling Australia on the road special.
This comprehensive guide to renting a campervan in Australia will help you make an informed decision about the many aspects to consider when hiring one. To help us with this article, we enlisted the advice of Adam Wilson from Calypso Campervans.
How do you hire a campervan?
Whether you are coming from overseas or are an Australian resident, the best way to hire a campervan is online or through a travel agent. Often, it is not possible to just ‘rock up’ to a rental company and expect for them to have a campervan ready to go.
“Book at least six months in advance for peak periods like Christmas, as prices may increase due to the availability of vans.” says Wilson.
Websites such as Outdoria feature a wide range of different models from a variety of companies. This allows you to find the perfect campervan within your budget.
What to look for when hiring a campervan?
There are many factors to consider when choosing which campervan to hire. It might be worth creating a list of things your campervan ‘needs to have’ and another list of things it would be ‘nice to have’. This means you can base your decision off your priorities and allows you to better compare each rental provider and their vans.
Do you drive automatic or manual? If it is displayed on your license that you can only drive automatic, of course you can only hire an automatic campervan. Most rental companies run half their fleet on manual transmission, while the other half is automatic. Be sure to book well in advance if you need one with an automatic transmission, as they are steadily increasing in popularity, according to Wilson.
Your bedding requirements will change according to how many people will be sleeping in your campervan. If you are just a couple going on a roadtrip, a two berth campervan will comfortably sleep you both. Most campervans only cater up to a maximum four sleeping berths. Groups larger than four should consider hiring a motorhome or multiple campervans instead.
Your couch can fold out into a large queen size bed like in this campervan
Money is one of the key determining factors in any holiday. The more you are able to splurge on a campervan, the better the vehicle you can hire. Typically, bedding, internal amenities and the overall quality of the vehicle improves as you spend more. However, the more you spend on a campervan, the less you can spend on other things like those impromptu ice-cream stops.
For example, Calypso Campervans range in price between $60 to $85 per day in off-peak periods and $90 to $125 per day in peak periods. Find the happy medium where you are able to hire a decent campervan while not overdoing the budget.
2WD vs. 4WD
99% of people who hire a campervan go for the 2WD option. These are able to tackle pretty much any paved road and are better suited for racking up freeway kilometres as you travel from destination to destination. If you are a bit more of an adventurous spirit and want to head deeper into the outback, a 4WD campervan may better suit you. These perform just as well on the tarmac as they do on dirt roads and allow you to venture to places unseen by many other road travellers. That being said, 4WD campervans are far more expensive and come with special rules and restrictions when hired.
Different campervans come in different layouts. Some feature dining tables, TVs, fridges, roof racks, curtains and sound systems. Choose a campervan that has all the amenities you ‘need’, rather than all the things you ‘want’. Keep in mind, the more bells and whistles inside, the more things there are to break and lose.
Check the contract before you commit
Before settling on any campervan, it is highly recommended that you read the company’s ‘product disclosure statement’ or rental contract. This document outlines everything you need to know about the campervan, your responsibilities as the renter and the services the company will provide to you. It will also discuss what you need to do if you break something or your vehicle breaks down. For example in the case of a breaking a mug, one company may require you to buy a whole new matching set, while another may only need that one cup replaced. If you have any questions about the PDS, contact the hiring company directly first.
What’s included when I hire a campervan?
Typically, the following things are included when you hire a campervan
Kitchen accessories such as; plates, bowls, cups, utensils, pots, pans, a kettle, teapot and dish cloths.
Cleaning and cabin accessories such as; a dustpan and brush, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, bucket and hose, maps and area guides.
Although not huge, your cooktop and sink will provide more and enough room to cook any feast
Always check with the company you are hiring with to see what’s included in the rental agreement before you set out. Creating a checklist is also a good way to keep track of all the gear they have provided so you know what is yours and what it theirs.
What’s not included when I hire a campervan?
Otherwise known as ‘optional extras’ many hiring companies offer these accessories at an additional cost.
Bedding such as; pillows, sheets, doonas or sleeping bags and bath towels, are often not provided with less expensive rental companies. Be sure to confirm this before you book so you know whether to bring your own linen or not.
Outdoor furniture and accessories such as tables, chairs, awnings and roof racks are also often not included with inexpensive rental companies. A general rule of thumb is if you have to bring your own linen, don’t expect outdoor furniture to be included too.
Internal accessories such as booster seats for children, heaters, fans, phone charging cables, AUX cords and cigarette lighter adapters.
Additional safety equipment such as sat phones, emergency kits, GPS units, tyre puncture kits, bigger first-aid kits and locator beacons.
Licensing and Age Requirements
Like everything else, the license and age requirements to hire and drive a campervan will differ depending on which rental company you go with. The minimum age for most rental companies is 21, although some companies have a minimum age of 18.
Licensing changes according to where you are registered. For local Aussies, most hirers only allow someone with a P2 (Green P-plates) license or full license to drive their campervans. Whether you're P2 license is automatic or manual will also dictate which campervan you can hire.
International travellers hiring a campervan in Australia
Most rental companies are fairly lenient when it comes to international travellers. “They make up the majority of people who hire from us,” Wilson says.
Most providers require a full driver’s license from your home country in English or an international driver’s license to hire. If you are from a non-english speaking country and can’t obtain an international driver’s license, a Certificate of Translation may also be used to prove your license. Most rental companies won’t hire to international drivers on probationary licenses.
Be sure to check the requirements needed with the rental company before booking – the last thing you want is to hire a campervan for your big adventure, only to find you can’t drive it due to your age or licensing.
What are the fees and other costs for hiring a campervan?
Being aware of some of the different fees and costs for running a campervan is important to help you work out a budget.
Petrol is an obvious cost, as without it you won’t be travelling anywhere. Most campervans have a fuel range of 300 to 500kms depending on the size of the fuel tank and if you are city-driving or travelling on highways. Budget around $60 to $80 per tank of fuel based on an average $1.30 for unleaded petrol or diesel fuel. Be warned, the further you travel from civilisation, the more expensive the fuel and the fewer petrol stations become.
Tolls are another cost added to your final balance when you return the campervan. Although you don’t have to use toll roads, cities such as Melbourne are much trickier to navigate without using them. Consider using toll roads when you are unfamiliar with an area or would prefer to bypass city traffic.
Minimum hire periods
Many rental companies don’t allow their campervans to be hired overnight. This is due to a ‘minimum hire period’ decided by the hirer. This won’t likely affect any long term travellers, as the period tends to be around three to five days, but may instead impact local travellers looking to hire for a weekend getaway.
You can visit some amazing places in your campervan!
More often than not, your campervan will come with unlimited kilometres, meaning you can travel as far as you like on any given day. A few companies offer capped daily kilometres, which ends up usually being a few hundred, on their campervans. Exceeding the daily limits incurs a cost on any extra kilometres travelled.
Plan on travelling some of Australia’s outback highways? Maybe you really want to check out Uluru and Alice Springs? A few companies charge extra for travelling on outback or alpine roads – up to $10 per day!
Always thoroughly read the hirer’s PDS or contract before signing anything. Some deals are too good to be true, as although the hire price is low, you will incur exorbitant fees when you travel to make up for it.
Insurance for your campervan
According to Wilson, insurance tends to be the biggest deciding factor when hiring a campervan. All rental providers offer some level of insurance when hiring a campervan from them. This insurance operates similarly to 3rd Party Insurance, where you are covered if you are hit by someone else but you will incur a very high, non-negotiable excess if you are the cause of the accident.
Young drivers (18 to 21 years old) will typically have an excess of three to five thousand dollars, while more mature drivers (21 years and older) will only have an excess of around one to two thousand dollars.
Calypso Campervan Rentals for example, offers ‘upgraded’ insurance, where the excess is reduced to $1000 for an extra $15 per day, or reduced further to $400 for $20 per day. Basic insurance only covers you for any mechanical or electrical issues while on the road. However, if you chose to ‘upgrade’ your insurance, any damage to your windscreen and tyres will be covered too.
Keep in mind, currently no campervan rental companies will offer insurance on the undercarriage or roof of the vehicle and any damage to those will come directly out of your pocket.
Roadside assistance is also included in most hire agreements, which is explained further on in the guide.
Where to stay in your campervan?
One of the many benefits for travelling in a campervan is that it opens a world of different accommodation choices to you, most of which are far cheaper than a hotel room. Free camping and caravan parks are the two most common ways for a campervan to spend the night.
When packed up, your campervan has heaps of internal space to move around in
The cheapest option while travelling in a campervan is to ‘free camp’. As the name suggests, you don’t have to pay for this type of camping as it is not inside a registered caravan park. Free camping can be done in a number of places, of which the three main locations being; national parks, roadside rest areas and bush camps.
National parks offer limited free camping spaces and the roads to get to these spaces tend to be fairly bumpy. Bush camps are usually found in remote areas in the outback just outside of towns. Most roadside rest areas allow travellers to stop there for a maximum of 24 hours. However, some local governments don’t allow camping in roadside rest areas, so be sure to check the council’s website before settling down for the night.
Caravan parks are generally far nicer and cleaner than most free camping locations. Sites come in two types, powered and unpowered, with powered offering access to mains electricity and unpowered offering no electricity. Caravan park sites can generally cost between $5 to $50 per night depending on location, time of year and if it’s a powered site or not. Be sure to book ahead in peak season (public holidays especially) as caravan parks tend to fill up quickly.
If you are on a budget, mixing it up between free camping and staying at caravan parks is an easy way to save money for other activities.
How to plan a successful road trip
Planning often depends on the people who are travelling. Some prefer to schedule every aspect of their trip, others go-with-the-flow and choose where they want to go when they wake up. Whatever your style is, make sure it fits in with the timeframe your campervan is booked for.
“Do your homework and prepare well ahead. We still get a lot of people who don’t realise how big Australia really is. They think they can drive around it in a week,” says Wilson.
Downloading some maps, area guides and researching fun things to do will assist you greatly in your journey. Check out local forums and reviews about particular spots and activities. Asking other travellers and the omnipresent grey nomads for advice and secret spots will make your experience even more enjoyable.
What gear to take with you in your campervan?
Since you will be likely travelling through a wide range of different climates and environments on your journey, you will have to bring clothing that can accommodate for it. For example, winter time in Victoria is very different to winter in Queensland. Since you don’t have to carry a pack around like a traditional backpacker, feel free to pack your suitcase with all the clothing and electronic accessories you can fit. That being said, bringing at least a waterproof jacket, a hat and a decent pair of hiking boots should equip you to tackle most climates and terrains you will encounter. Most campervans do not come with an internal bathroom, so bringing a shower bag and portable shower shelter is an easy way to get clean after a big day on the road. If not, using a caravan park’s provided bathrooms is another option.
Keep an eye on the tides if you plan on camping by the beach!
Always make sure to carry spare fuel, water and long-lasting food in the campervan at all times. You never know where you might break down away from civilisation and it’s better to be safe than sorry. If heading into the outback, be sure to carry twice as much spare supplies, as towns and petrol stations are often a few hundred kilometres apart.
Picking up the campervan on the day
Finally the big day has arrived! You have planned this amazing trip and are itching to get behind the wheel and get going. International travellers should consider how they will be getting to the rental depot. Most providers are airport based or relatively close by, while others, such as Calypso Campervan Rentals, are located further out from the city but provide a courtesy bus for hirees.
Once you have made it to the where your campervan is located, be sure to do a thorough inspection before signing anything. Check the insides for damages, especially around the kitchen, windows, bedding, gas bottles and batteries.
Inspect the cockpit of your campervan and make sure all the headlights, indicators, brake lights and hazard lights work. After the inside is checked, make sure the exterior isn’t damaged, or if it is is, the rental company is made aware before you leave the lot. A good idea is to inspect the undercarriage and roof for damage, as rental companies won’t insure you for damages against them.
“When a customer picks up their campervan, like to spend 10 to 15 minutes showing the driver how the campervan works, including how to setup the beds, cookers and electrics,” says Wilson.
Once it’s passed all the tests and you feel confident and safe driving in it, sign the rental agreement, grab a list of contacts within the hiring company, pick up some maps, brochures of places to go and hit the road!
Tips for travelling Australia in a campervan
Watch out for wildlife
“40% of all people who have hired from us in the past have had an accident in one of our campervans.” says Wilson. “Most accidents tend to be minor, but the worst accidents are usually animal strikes – either people hitting kangaroos or the campervan rolls when they attempt to swerve to avoid one.”
However, the solution is simple.
“Don’t drive at night.” says Wilson.
Between 5pm at night and 7am in the morning is ‘peak kangaroo time’. If you are inexperienced in driving rural roads at night, avoid driving during the night and plan your trip accordingly. For more information, check out our guide to ‘What to Do If You Hit a Roo’.
Try to stop driving before sunset, so you avoid peak kangaroo times
Talk to fellow travellers
Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone and strike up a conversation with a fellow road traveller. You won’t be the only ones travelling Australia and other adventurers are encyclopedias of knowledge waiting to be talked to. Some of Australia’s best kept secrets are spread by word-of-mouth.
A good habit to get into is checking over your campervan every time you stop for petrol.
“Check your oil, water and tyre pressure often, especially when doing long-distance driving,” says Wilson.
Your campervan will likely come with a self-contained kitchen. Many travellers are afraid of using it and think that eating out is cheaper. Sadly this is not the case. You can create larger, healthier meals than any roadside pub could dream of in the back of your campervan.
What to do if you break down or get in an accident in your campervan?
If you happen to break down, the first thing you should do is contact the rental provider and explain the situation. Electrical and mechanical faults of the vehicle are typically covered for free by roadside assistance, while broken windscreens, punctured tyres and flat batteries come at an extra cost.
If an accident occurs, the first thing you need to do is call the police. Once the call has been made, call your rental provider for further instructions. Depending on your contract will depend on the excess you will have to pay, as well as any associated insurance costs.
What to do when you drop your campervan off?
After having the adventure of a lifetime you have come to love your little campervan. It’s carried you through thick and thin and you have created some great memories in it along the way, but it’s time to let her go.
Be sure to bring your campervan back in the condition you hired it in, or watch out for huge repair and cleaning fees
The first thing to do is check what your rental agreement says. It may contain a specific place or time you need to have the vehicle returned to. Other aspects to check for include:
- Whether it needs to be returned with a full tank of petrol
- If any internal or external cleaning needs to be done
- If there is a ‘remote drop-off fee’ if you are returning it somewhere like Broome
Not following the agreed returning terms may void your bond or incur additional late fees.
What to do if you need more time?
Maybe you took longer than expected and won’t make it back to the depot in time. Be sure to call ahead as soon as it becomes apparent you are going to be late, as they may have another booking that day for your vehicle.
“Deadlines can be extended in off-peak times, generally during winter, but during peak periods we get back-to-back bookings and deadlines cannot be changed,” says Wilson.
If you do drop off your campervan late, you will likely have many late fees added to your balance, but at least the police won’t be looking for you in a ‘stolen’ campervan.
You made it! I know it’s been a big read but I hope we have been able to learn something about hiring a campervan in Australia. It will be an experience you will never forget and you will meet some amazing people on your journey.
If we missed something, feel free to leave a comment below or get in contact with an Australian campervan rental company with any questions you have.
We would like to thank Adam Wilson from Calypso Campervan Rentals in helping us with this article and any questions we had. Images taken by Outdoria, ingehogenbijl / Shutterstock.com and Neale Cousland / Shutterstock.com