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In the coastal and “high”-density areas of Australia, from about Adelaide to Brisbane/Cairns, hitching is much the same as anywhere else in Western culture. Road lanes are wide with very often large emergency stopping lanes, so finding a good stop is not very difficult. In the Outback, though, you may get more empty beer cans thrown at you than rides; some hitchhikers, however, wouldn't agree with that, stating that even hitchhiking through the desert can be pretty good, especially with the many trucks and 'road trains' that are usually going long distances. Because distances are so huge, people are used to driving several hundred kilometers and you will find drivers quite often offering to make huge detours to take you somewhere.
Australia poses some interesting and unique challenges for hitchhikers. Distances between populated areas can be vast, by far the majority of Australians live near the sea, with the majority of those living in the state capital cities. Temperatures can exceed 45 degrees Celsius in summer and go well below freezing in winter. In many ways Australia is an extreme environment, with some pretty extreme pests, people and weather; when it rains, it pours, when it blows up a gale, it howls. But in saying this when Australia or Australians smile upon you, the heavens open up from above and you can find yourself taken in, taken home, and for all practical purposes adopted for life.
As long as you remain on the main axes or smaller tourist roads you don't have to worry more than in other countries and you can hitchhike as you usually do. Only remember to carry more water than you think you need, temperatures and distances can greatly exceed your expectations. You might find it hard to stay at the road if the sun in hot and there is no shade. Also, if you walk too far from towns as it may leave you somewhere very isolated. A single walker in the middle of nowhere might have a better chance to get picked up because people are surprised or impressed. But make sure that you have a back up plan and enough water to walk back if you don't get a lift especially if the traffic isn't reliable.
Another tip that makes a bit more sense than for Europe for example, is to be very careful about not annoying your host. You could be thrown out of the vehicle by the irate driver 200km from the nearest town.
But the most unique aspect of hitching in Australia is the challenge of the Outback. There you can say that you are off the beaten track, which gives a great feeling of emptiness. However some basic survival rules have to be observed as you might get stuck for some reason. For some, hitchhiking throughout the outback is easy. The people can be friendly, especially the aboriginal folks who might have six people already jammed in a little car and still squeeze you in.
When going to the outback go to truck stops and talk to the “truckies” there. It is a good option as they are driving huge distances at once in places where not many cars pass by. Make sure the town you're going to HAS a truck stop, or you may be in trouble if you are dropped in the middle of the outback, which is similar to the middle of nowhere.
What to be careful with in the Outback
It is written in its own name! The outback is far from everything and "cities" can be very far from each other. What look to be a large town on the map can actually be a village with a dozen or fewer houses. Some parts of the outback are so remote that you do not want to get stuck out there hitchhiking!
Make absolutely sure you are carrying enough water AT ALL TIMES (3 liters per person/per day would be a minimum). It is very easy to get dehydrated under the Australian sun. If you can get decent water, all the better, but don't bank on it. Most bores are quite brackish tasting and roadhouse taps are heavily chlorinated -- here's to a good liter of fresh rainwater on a sunny 45 degree day! Be aware that phone coverage has a high chance of being nonexistent. (Telstra has the best chance of working by far.) Letting someone know where you are heading and how long till they should next expect to hear from you can be a good idea.
If you're in the tropics, be careful where you swim (crocodiles and deadly jellyfish) but don't worry too much about the other wildlife. Australia has dangerous wildlife in terms of spiders and snakes so keep it in mind but generally speaking, if you leave it alone, it will leave you alone. Very very few people die each year so don't stress too much either!
I managed from Broome through to Kununurra, Katherine up to Darwin and down to Alice. The only time I had to wait more than a half-hour was when I was dropped off on the turn off to Batchelor, which while on the main highway, is a real bad spot with nothing and no one for a long way. Anyway, give it a go. (Amory Tarr)
I have had some great lifts with road trains, Australia Post trucks etc etc, though they seem less and less common. In fact my first go at driving a road train was on a hitch across the Nullabor Desert, a truly mad but memorable experience of driving 50 tonnes of rolling monster across the midnight plains. (Dave Hodgkin)
Hitchhiking with “truckies”
Quite a few truck drivers give a first impression of being a bear, but are usually gentlemen in their own way. As roads are quite wide, it is not rare that they manage to stop for you! With a truck of course not going as fast as a car, you can easily make more than 500 or 1000km at once given the distances between the cities.
A lot of truck companies (but not all) have rules against drivers carrying passengers in their trucks. If you talk to the truckies at stops they are much more likely to ignore that rule. The only time truckies truly cannot give you a lift is when they are operating under a dangerous goods license and then, by law they are not allowed to have another passenger in the vehicle. Truckies will often take you long distances, especially if you are willing to stay awake, and help the driver pass the time through conversation. Routes such as Adelaide/Perth to Darwin, Port Augusta to Perth, Darwin to Townsville, are frequented by trucks, but if you want to get off the main road, be prepared to wait awhile.
In the eastern states (QLD, NSW, VIC, SA) more than the west (WA & NT), recent changes to insurance costs throughout the western world, have meant that trucks face stricter and stricter insurance limitations, one of which is that they are commonly not allowed to have any unlisted passengers in their vehicles. These rules are normally enforced by larger companies, where all riders sign in at the depot prior to the trucks' departure. If you personally know a driver it is often possible for them to sign you in and take you along to help keep them awake. These rules don't really apply to owner/operators, unless on long term contract to a particular company. Unfortunately it's hard for you to know which trucks it will or won't apply to, though you can be confident that with trucks for the big name companies like Australia Post, Woolworths etc this is absolutely the case. All of this does not mean you can't get a ride in a truck. What it does mean is that our global fear of strangers has gone up here as much as elsewhere, and the amount of trucks picking up 'strangers' is greatly diminished.
Police & Law
Searching in the Australian law database, Hitchwiki contributors have been able to find two distinct law texts. The first one features in the Australian Road Rules and has come up in searches for Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Northern Territory, the second one concerns Western Australia only. In theory, the laws say that in most places you're not allowed to hitchhike from a shoulder, in practice however police rarely cares.
Australian Road Rules
All the following has been taken from this website.
236 Pedestrians not to cause a traffic hazard or obstruction
- (4) A pedestrian must not stand on, or move onto, a road--
- (b) to hitchhike [...]
- (7) In this rule: road includes any shoulder of the road, and any median strip, painted island or traffic island, but does not include any other road-related area.
The definition of "road-related area" here is
13 What is a road-related area
- (1) A road-related area is any of the following
- (a) an area that divides a road;
- (b) a footpath or nature strip adjacent to a road;
- (c) an area that is not a road and that is open to the public and designated for use by cyclists or animals;
- (d) an area that is not a road and that is open to or used by the public for driving, riding or parking vehicles.
The definiton of "shoulder" here is: 12 What is a road
- (3) The shoulder of the road includes any part of the road that is not designed to be used by motor vehicles in travelling along the road, and includes:
- (a) for a kerbed road -- any part of the kerb; and
- (b) for a sealed road -- any unsealed part of the road, and any sealed part of the road outside an edge line on the road
As a conclusion: It is very clearly regulated where you can stand as a hitchhiker and where you cannot. You can't stand on a shoulder, but you can stand on most other kinds of surface next to the road.
Particular to Western Australia
259. Selling papers and cars, hitch‑hiking etc.
- (1) A person shall not, while on a carriageway or median strip
- (a) solicit contributions, employment or a ride from an occupant of a vehicle [...]
The carriageway is here defined as following: "carriageway" means a portion of a road that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic, and includes the shoulders, and areas, including embayments, at the side or centre of the carriageway, used for the stopping or parking of vehicles [...]
In conclusion: in WA, it's illegal to stand on the shoulder of the highway; however you may hitchhike from a footpath or off the shoulder. A law enforcement officer might not be aware of this, though. The source is to be found in this website.
In practice, Australian police are fairly relaxed about hitchhikers. Zenit has hitchhiked some 13000km in all states except WA and Tasmania and has never been bothered; he has heard stories about police in WA being more touchy, however. Keep in mind that it is also illegal to incite a vehicle to stop in a non stopping zone. Such zones include bridges and 30 odd meters either side, road edges with an unbroken white or yellow line, spots within 30 meters of an intersection, etc. In any event choose your hitching site carefully so not to place yourself or others in danger; as always look for somewhere well lit, with plenty of room for approaching vehicles to see you well in advance and room for them to pull on to the shoulder without blocking traffic. It should be noted that most freeways and motorways (as opposed to highways) have limited-access rules barring pedestrians or bicycles from entering them.
It is illegal but I've had police stop twice, once to tell me go back to town and catch a bus (but left me alone besides telling to do that) and the second time the cop gave me a lift about 40 or 50km to the border of Victoria/South Australia.
It's illegal to hitch in no-pedestrian zones like freeways but other places it seems to vary state to state. I don't think it's against the law at all in most places and I've never had any trouble anywhere in the eastern states.
Wait at petrol stations or truck stops for a ride. This way you won't get into trouble with the police, can ask people for a lift and you're close to water, food and a toilet. Some service stations don't like hitchhikers hanging around, though so be careful they don't call the police on you.
Bernhard had a chat with a crime prevention officer from the Queensland police and the officer said the following: "The hitch hiking legislation in Queensland says that a person can not stand on the roadway to solicit a ride. Meaning that if they stand on the footpath or away from the roadway they are not comitting an offence. One of the main reasons we do stop people standing on the road hitching a ride is for their own safety and the safety of the motorists driving. So some roads are very busy and its an offence to stand on the roadway and solicit a ride and it is a 40 dollar fine if the policeman chooses to give you a infringement notice for that offence." He also said that it is possible to stand on the footpath and hitch a ride, when there is enough space for a car to pull over. Police may stop a hitchhiker and ask for an ID, mostly to check on his records and WHY he is hitching a ride (is he running away from a crime? Is he in trouble? Does he need help?). Police officers want to know who is going through their area, so if a hitchhiker is on the footpath and not soliciting a ride at a dangerous spot, they will question him about his story but then let him go.
When you are really stuck...
For a ride
Train hopping is also still possible in Australia although this is an option to consider with extreme care. The three day journey from Mt Isa to the coast on the coal trains (pick up a Beanbag, a tarp and a shade cloth from the Op-shop in town, few things beat spending the night on a pile of coal at 20km/h under the desert stars :) The cargo train across the Nullarbor, a trip of a lifetime, certainly one of those life-changing adventures.
However, don't be stupid and jump off when the trains are moving too quickly. One hitchhiker had the terrible experience of seeing a teenager jump off a train which came from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and that did not end up well. That boy lost his life simply to save the cost of a short trip. What a waste.
If you do jump onto rail services just make sure you use some common sense.
First, make sure you have enough water (3 liters/day/person). Remember that you can survive more than a month without food but that you will die without water in a few days. But if you get really stuck for water, you can still survive ;) First stop moving to keep your energy and relax as much as you can. Find a spot with shadow next to the road and as soon as you hear a car coming from either direction stand up and show you are here. Destination doesn't matter, you just need to reach the first town. You can even have a “help” sign and look as innocent/unarmed/helpless/etc as you can, but mostly cars will stop or at least slow down.
For a place to stay or for food
See Nomadwiki as it is more relevant for this website.
Personal experiences of hitching Australia
I have hitched the entire coastline of Australia, and although there are sometimes long waits between rides, I have met some of the most generous and welcoming people. Make sure you get to the edge of the towns, just where the highways start or turn from a 70 into a 100 km/h zone, or similar. (Author unknown)
I hitched around 4,000km in the states of NSW, Victoria and South Australia. There are plenty of long lay-by stop areas along most highways (including Pacific Highway) where cars can easily and safely pull off the highway to pick you up. I found any highway (especially Pacific Highway) with a decent amount of traffic is very reliable with average waiting time of 15-20 minutes and never any longer than 30-40 minutes. In more rural areas and backroads I often encountered as little as 10 cars per hour and sometimes only 1-2 per hour, but people living in rural areas are much more likely to pick you up as they know they may be the only car for a while. The Australians are very welcoming and hospitable, on many occasions the driver would offer a place to stay for the night with a meal or insist on giving me 20 dollars for food. When hitching in cities, pedestrians have sometimes come to me and again insist upon giving me money for a train ticket further down the road. I felt very at home hitching here, the generosity of the people being overwhelming. (Jools 2011)
I have been stuck for up to 3 days in a number of places in Australia (notably Coober Pedy and Ningin), whilst on the other hand I've been given the keys to the family holiday home and told to make myself at home when I get there (In Manjimup on the way from Perth to Albany), or taken home for a week, nurtured and spoiled rotten. Whatever the circumstance you find yourself in, more than in other countries, be prepared. (Author unknown)
I hitched from Perth to Uluru via the Great Eastern & Central Highways, then north and east via Stuart, Barkly, and Landbrough Highways to Brisbane. Journey took 10 days and 16 rides. Be ready to go by sunrise, as most traffic in the outback is in the mornings, and rarely any traffic in the afternoon. Daylight is your friend for getting rides. Hitch from the edge of towns, as inside towns you won't get rides. Truckies will only give you rides if you befriend them, they will never stop. Nomads (people with caravans) will never ever give a hitchhiker a ride due to their prejudices, so be fun with them to boost your morale. Times for rides were 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 2 hours, 3 hours, 3 days, 1 hour, night+morning, 1 hour, night+morning, 1 hour, 1 hour, night+morning, night+morning, night+morning. Balupton (talk) 03:10, 4 June 2015 (CEST)
I hitchhiked up and down the Stuart Highway and Kakadu National Park and bits and pieces of New South Wales, Tasmania and almost regularly on the remote Tanami Highway. Generally I found it easier to get lifts in remote areas. Especially in the outback and close to Aboriginal settlements. There might be two or three cars per hour on some roads. But chances that they pick you up are very high. There is a great sense of caring. Some Australians are truly paranoid about hitchhikers due to some events in the past. Tradies (craftsmen) are friendly quite often while tourists are certainly less likely to pick you up and Australia is a very individualistic country. Kakadu National Park was hard in the beginning but turned out allright. I just don't like it when there are too many tourists vans driving by. At stages I picked up 10 litres of water and just walked along the road. It seemed to have quite an effect on some people who gave me a lift to find me standing next to the road far away from anything else. In Kakadu you are supposed to stick to campsites for camping though. All in all it is not a walker/hitchhiker friendly national park. All in all Australia is a great country for hitchhiking because a lot of people are open and like to talk. You hear great stories on your way and can learn a lot. Hitchhiking can be truly adventurous here. (Japanangka 14.09.16)
- Bruce Highway
- Hume Highway, from Sydney to Melbourne
- New England Highway, from Sydney to Brisbane
- Pacific Motorway, from Sydney to Brisbane
- Princes Highway, from Sydney to Melbourne
- Stuart Highway, from Darwin to Adelaide
See as well