Nov
30
2009
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Great driving holidays – Emerald to Mackay (Qld)

By Australia / Queensland /

LEAVING Emerald and heading back out to the coast in the campervan was a welcome relief. I’m not saying anything bad about Emerald, it’s a very unique place, but to head out to where the Great Barrier Reef begins and see the view just says it all.

Pulling into Mackay we ran into trouble. Big trouble, so it’s worth taking note of this if you’re driving around Queensland in your hire campervan from DriveNow or caravan. We had all pulled over on the side of a newly tar-sealed road to wait for the others. We got out, I walked up to the motorhome to speak to Sheree and, just at that moment as we were standing there and talking, a delightful truck tears past doing about 90km in a 40km zone, showering not only myself but the motorhome with stones … and there goes the driver-side window. Luckily it missed my head! The window shattered into a million pieces all over Sheree and the interior of the motorhome. Welcome to Mackay.

Once we fixed the window we decided to ease our stress levels with a leisurely drive up the Eungella National Park, the home of the wild platypus. It’s worth the 50-minute drive up there just to see them – it’s like watching a remake of one of David Attenborough’s docos. They are so larger than life, so plentiful in numbers and cheekily played with the camera. It really is something you can’t miss if you are in this part of the world and especially if you have kids.

Just around the corner is the Eungella Chalet, a mountain top restaurant with great local afternoon tea, and you can sit there and spend an entire afternoon looking out at the most spectacular view all the way back down to Mackay township.

One weird thing I will tell you about the people of Mackay is their fishing competition. If you go fishing and think you have caught a big fish, you need to skin it and fillet it, then hang it on your street sign … no kidding. They are everywhere (see picture)! Yet the odd thing is you don’t get any bad smells, maybe because some of them have been there so long. We stayed at the Andergrove Caravan Park and enjoyed their Tuesday Morning Tea Special – scones and cream, and that certainly made up for the broken window, that’s for sure.

PETER “SPIDA” EVERITT
The Great Australian Doorstep – visit www.thegreataustraliandoorstep.com.au

 

Nov
27
2009
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Using Australian Toll Roads when Hiring a Car

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It’s a sign of the times when just about every major city in Australian today has road tolls in one shape or other, generally on the most useful roads & freeways.  If you’re an inter-state or overseas traveller with a hired car then paying for these tolls needs to be done within a certain time frame of travelling to avoid penalties, not only imposed by the Toll Service but also rental car provider.

A Quick Guide to Australian Road Tolls:

Sydney:

Sydney operates one of the most extensive networks of Toll Roads and Bridges in Australia. All use electronic e-tags and only 4 – the Eastern Distributor, M4, M5 and M2 – offer cash booths. Travelling without a Toll Pass incurs fees from the Toll Operator and in the case of a hired car from the Car Rental Company as well, so it pays to plan ahead.

Service Toll Charged Toll Type
Cross City Tunnel – Main tunnel Both directions Fixed fee
Cross City Tunnel – Sir John Young Cres North bound Fixed fee
Eastern Distributor North bound Fixed fee
Lane Cove Tunnel Both directions Fixed fee
M2 – North Ryde Both directions Fixed fee
M2 – Pennant Hills Road Both directions Fixed fee
M4 Both directions Fixed fee
M5 Both directions Fixed fee
M7 Both directions Distance travelled
Military Road E-Ramps Both directions Fixed fee
Sydney Harbour Bridge South bound Time of Day
Sydney Harbour Tunnel South bound Time of Day

As a visitor to Sydney or infrequent user of the toll roads you can register with the New South Wales Road Traffic Authority for an E-Toll pass to pay any toll fees across the state. These are valid for between 1-14 days. For durations longer than 14 days a second pass will need to be obtained.

You can register for a pass online at the NSW RTA website (www.rta.nsw.gov.au/myrta/myetoll/index.html), via phone on 13 18 65 or at any RTA Registry. Registration can either occur before or up to 48 hours after your trip.

When registering a hired car for an E-Toll pass ensure you advise the RTA of the rental company name and the expected start and end dates & times of your Toll trips. This is to eliminate any chance of you being charged by another renter using the vehicle on the same day.

Sydney Toll Roads and Rental CarsTo qualify for the E-Toll pass you need to travel in the designated ‘e’ pass lane when passing through the Toll Booths.  Your number plate will be photographed and matched to your pass registration.

If you do not travel through the designated lane or travel without a Pass a Toll Notice will be issued to the registered owner of the vehicle. This notice is the full Toll and includes an additional $10 administration charge. If the vehicle has been hired the Car Rental company will likely charge you its own administration fee ($50 is not unheard of) in addition to the RTA costs.

Melbourne:

In Melbourne CityLink operate Toll Services from the Tullamarine Freeway, across the Bolte Bridge, through the Burnley and Domain Tunnels that link the South-Eastern suburbs with the West Gate Bridge and Tullamarine Freeway, and a short stretch of road into Exhibition Street on the Southern side of the CBD.

So, if you have picked up a rental car at Melbourne airport and are heading into the city or southern suburbs the likelihood of using CityLink is high. There are a number of different payment options for casual users which can be pre-purchased over the phone including a 24 hour, Weekend or ‘Tulla’ Pass.

  • The 24 Hour Pass commences when you first use Citylink on your nominated day.
  • The Weekend Pass covers you from midnight Friday to midnight Sunday.
  • The Tulla Pass covers travel between Flemington and Bulla Road in either direction

You can also purchase these passes on the CityLink website (citylink.com.au) , via phone on 13 26 29, at the Post Office or selected newsagencies up to 3 days after you travelled.

Failure to pay within the specified time incurs a Late Toll Fee that is charged to the owner of the vehicle and in the case of a rental company you may incur additional administration fees from them.

Brisbane:

In Brisbane, Toll Services are concentrated south of the city and to the east running north of the airport and south across the Gateway Bridge to feed into the Pacific Highway and Gateway Extension Motorway.

Toll Services operate on the following and all operate under a fixed fee system:

  • Gateway Bridge
  • Gateway Motorway
  • Gateway Extension Motorway
  • Logan Motorway

Future plans include the Northern Link extending the Western Freeway into Brisbane inner city Bypass (2014) and the new M7 Motorway (2012) with the CLEM7 section including the 5km city tunnel to be opened in 2010. Another project due for completion next year is the Go Between Bridge linking Southern Brisbane with Milton.

Tolls for the CLEM7 and the Go Between Bridge connection will be published closer to the opening of the service in 2010.

On the Logan and Gateway Motorways tolls can be paid using the viavideo pass system (govia.com.au). Passes can be purchased by credit card or cash.

Credit Card – once pre-registered your credit card will be debited with tolls incurred during your nominated travel period (1 to 30 days).  Alternatively you can pay up to 3 days after your trip.

Purchase via:

Cash – a choice of viavideo passes allow you to pay for single, return or multi-travel journeys. Multi-travel passes come in pre-set denominations of $3, $5, $10, $15, $20, $25, $30 and $50.  Unused credit on cash passes will expire if not used within 30 days and no refunds or transfers are available.

Purchase via:

  • Participating go Via Retailers
  • Customer Service Centres

Finally, if you are travelling in your own vehicle and have a e-tag from your home city it is likely that this will be accepted by Toll Operators in other Australian cities and therefore there is no need to purchase a pass. Visit the Operators’ websites to confirm this before travelling.

ChrisC
DriveNow Partner and sometime Blog Contributor

Nov
20
2009

Driving and Mobile Phones – New Victorian State Regulations

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As with most countries, the holding and use of a mobile phone whilst driving has been banned in Australia for a number of years, with 3 License demit points and a fine for those caught doing so.

However, it is still an every day occurrence and common sight on Australian roads today.  VicRoads, the Victorian Road Authority, reports that you are 4 times likely to be involved in an accident when using a mobile phone and a staggering 23 times more likely if texting.

The Victorian Government has decided to get tough on this issue and has introduced Australia’s most stringent regulations governing the use of Mobile phones, GPS units, Televisions etc whilst driving.  These new regulations came into effect on 9th November 2009 in Victoria and include the following:

  • You cannot use your mobile phone unless it is secured in a commercially designed Car Kit or it can be operated without actually touching it (i.e. you have a Blue Tooth hands free kit)
  • You can use earpieces connected to the phone via a cord as long as you do not press any buttons on the phone or touch the phone
  • You can only use your phone in a Car Kit to make and receive calls or play music
  • You cannot use your mobile phone for any other function such as texting, video calls or email
  • Learners and P1 Drivers cannot use a mobile phone in any way whilst driving
  • Holding or sitting your mobile on your knee or lap is prohibited. (simply put if you’re driving don’t touch your mobile phone at all)
  • A GPS unit can only be used if it is an integrated part of the vehicle design or secured in a commercially designed car kit.
  • Any Television or other Visual Display Unit cannot be operated if it visible to the Driver or is likely to distract another driver.

A good point to note that being stuck in a traffic jam or at traffic lights constitutes as driving therefore all the above continues to apply.

One of the times when you are more likely to step outside regulations such as these is where you are out of your normal driving environment, for example when hiring a car. Fortunately Car Manufactures and Car rental companies are coming to the rescue on this front.

Once the domain of luxury foreign imports, over the last couple of years more manufacturers are including embedded Blue Tooth functionality into a wider range of vehicles. As rental companies update their fleets, these Blue Tooth equipped cars are becoming more readily available for hire. It’s simply a case of pairing your phone with your vehicle when you pick it up.

ChrisC
DriveNow Partner and sometime blog contributor

Nov
16
2009
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Great driving holidays – Rockhampton to Emerald (Qld)

By Australia / Queensland /

BIDDING farewell to the ocean, regrettably, we set off inland to the vast spaces of the Queensland mining Outback – Emerald. There’s some great roads around there, in fact, Queensland has had awesome roads pretty well everywhere we’ve been so far. But one thing to watch are the road trains as these gigantic things are hauling enormous mining machinery. They take up the entire road, both sides, and their support car often only travels a couple of hundred metres in front, so when you see one – get off the road! And I mean off the road. The truck is usually still travelling at about 80-100kms an hour and if you aren’t off the road, there is no mercy. If there is no where to pull off, try anyway! It’s better to get stuck than get mutilated by one of these babies.

Upon arrival at Emerald we headed just past town to Fairburn Dam and Lake Maraboon. What a place. Whoever built this caravan park (Discovery Lake Maraboon) deserves a medal. A big one, too. This awesome spot is one of the best we have stayed in. And to top it all off, they have boats you can take out on the lake where you can catch Red Claw – tonnes of them!

The Emerald township itself isn’t much. But it is home to the world’s largest Vincent Van Gogh painting. Go figure! I bet you are saying ‘what the hell?’ right now, and, trust me, I am hearing you! But there it is in all its glory in the town park. We asked a stack of people why it was there, but no-one really knew. It’s a vibrant little community and you can see the local mining companies really look after the people and their town which is great to see.

It’s Red Claw for dinner tonight!

PETER “SPIDA” EVERITT
The Great Australian Doorstep screens on the How To Channel on Foxtel.

Visit www.thegreataustraliandoorstep.com.au for more information.

Nov
09
2009

Keeping Kids safe in Cars – New Regulations in Australia

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Australia’s states and territories have finally got their act together and established a National set of rules to govern children and how we secure them in cars.

The introduction of these new rules does vary. In Victoria they come into effect from November 9th 2009, Tasmania introduces them in December 2009 whilst the other states and territories will follow in 2010.

In a nutshell the following will apply:

  • Under 6 months – Children must be seated in an approved and properly fitted rear facing child capsule
  • 6 Months to 4 Years – Children must wear an approved and properly fitted rear or forward facing restraint with in-built harness
  • 4 – 7 Years – Children must wear an approved and properly fitted forward facing child restraint with in-built harness or an approved booster seat, correctly fitted and fastened

Whilst these rules are to be welcomed they do not take into account that all children are not alike and nor do they grow alike. In 2007 the UK introduced regulations that stipulated child restraints based on height, all the way up to 12 years. A surprisingly innovative and refreshing approach for a Government given how obvious and practical this approach is.

Working off height ensures that an adult seat belt is better used by shorter children in the 7-12 year bracket through the use of booster seats. There might be some disgruntled short 12 year olds (I would have definitely fallen into this category) but at the end of the day if the unthinkable happens and you are in an accident at least you are maximising your family’s protection.

As far as the Front Passenger Seat is concerned the safest approach is simply not to use it for any child under the age of 12. A great rule of thumb is if they are not teenagers yet then keep them behind you.

The Car rental companies that DriveNow partners with in Australia all carry a stock of booster and child seats.  These can be hired and are normally charged out on a per day basis. When booking with DriveNow you can order your child seat(s) at the same time.  It’s highly recommended to do this when making your booking rather than leaving it until the last minute. Stock will be limited and run out fast particularly at busy times such as Christmas, Easter and School Holidays.

ChrisC
DriveNow Partner and sometime blog contributor

Nov
06
2009

Great driving holidays – Bundaberg to Rockhampton (Qld)

By Australia / Queensland /

ROCKHAMPTON is the Beef Capital of Australia – and the world – so they tell me, with over 3500 head of stock going out of Rocky every single week.

The drive up from Bundaberg is a good one. Good roads and great areas to pull off the road, too, when those wonderful road trains almost mow you down. You will not see anywhere else in Australia the sheer numbers of cattle roaming the roadways. Obviously not too safe when you are driving, but certainly great scenery!

Upon arrival in “Rocky” we were invited to visit the Gracemere Saleyards on one of their busiest days of the year. We were there for five hours and they put through 1400 head of stock in that time! Trucks, dust and loads of cow poo was everywhere so watch your step.
One thing we didn’t know about Rocky was that it was home to many, many salties (aka saltwater crocodiles). The river running through town is infested with them, so stick to the caravan park pool if you’re keen on a dip.

Definitely the highlight for us was the Capricorn Caves. Just a 15-minute drive north, and what a place. Great access for everyone, including strollers and wheelchairs. You can even get married while you are there! Luckily, Sheree already has that ring on her finger – third time lucky, they say!

PETER “SPIDA” EVERITT
Watch The Great Australian Doorstep on the How To Channel, Foxtel

Nov
05
2009
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Can I really get a One way Campervan Rental from a $1 a day?

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YES you didn’t misread the title, and NO it’s not another one of those sales gimmicks. Truly it is possible to rent a Campervan for as little as a $1 a day or even essentially for nothing from some of Australia’s leading providers.

So, perhaps a bit of background to explain what’s this all about and how it comes about.

With Campervans and other vehicles being hired and dropped off at different locations around the country, the rental companies are often left in the position of having plenty of vehicles but sitting in the wrong locations. These need to be moved across to branches where customers are expected.

In particular this becomes more necessary as the Australian Seasons change.  Popular Touring times in Northern Australia – Darwin, Broome and Cairns are during the Dry season running from May until late October. For Southern parts of Australia the most popular touring period is generally November through until mid-to-late autumn in April and May.

At the end of each touring season rental companies tend to have too many vehicles in the wrong part of the country and hence the need to relocate them.  During these season changes tends to be the time when the greatest numbers of relocation deals are available.

Vehicle Relocations cost time, effort and money if undertaken by the rental companies themselves.  They quickly realised that a much better campervan-great-ocean-roadoption was to provide one-way campervan deals at substantially discounted prices (down to as little as a $1 a day) and have the travelling public relocate the vehicles for them. Often free fuel is included with offers of up to $350 of fuel not uncommon.

This is a complete win-win outcome. The vehicles are relocated at minimal cost to the rental company and travellers get amazing deals.  Think about this, a top of the range Deluxe Motorhome can cost in excess of $300 a day to rent, so to pick it up for $1 or $5 has got to be a bargain in anyone’s eyes. Generally you are given 6 or 7 days to travel between the locations however different suppliers have different conditions and the travel time allowed does vary on the distance between branches.

How does it work?

  • Some suppliers allow you to go on the register of Drivers and they will then contact you when a vehicle is available. Or if you have a flexible agenda you can see what deals are available within the next 4 weeks
  • Several websites including www.drivenow.com.au list all the Relocation Deals available in the next few weeks.  Unlike some, DriveNow does not charge a booking fee. The full benefit of the relocation is passed on to the customer.
  • On picking up your Campervan you must drop it off at the specified destination by the specified date during business hours of the destination branch. Failure to do so does incur hefty daily penalties.
  • Some suppliers also have limits on free kilometres of travel between cities. These generally allow for scope to enjoy the journey but once exceeded a per km fee is charged.
  • Your trip will be subject to the standard insurance options of a regular campervan rental. That is, unless you take an insurance excess reduction option, a bond of AU$7500 will be lodged on your credit card at pick up and returned when you drop off the vehicle subject to any damage.

So, with all this good news what are the drawbacks for travellers? Well four spring to mind:

  • Your choice of campervan will be limited to those that are up for relocation
  • Only certain Pick up and Drop off locations will be available and you must drop off the Campervan by the specified date or incur additional full daily charges
  • Some providers have a cap on the number of kilometres you can travel for free between locations before a per km fee is incurred. The free allowance is enough to get you to the drop off point with a wee bit of room for wandering.
  • Deals are available on an ad hoc basis, there’s no booking months in advance

The bottom line is that if you can travel at short notice and then work to a timetable between locations then these Relocation deals will save you an absolute fortune on Campervan Rental. To have free fuel thrown in is the icing on the cake.

For further information on current one way rental deals in Australia check out DriveNow’s One Way Campervan Rental Deal information pages.

ChrisC
DriveNow Partner and sometime Blog Contributor