There's an old adage which says that Australia's east coast has been so well 'done', that there's little new to see. Admittedly, this can be true for the lazy traveller. In countries, like Australia, where backpacking routes are so well known, how you choose to travel can make the crucial difference between following the crowd, or etching your own path and discovering sides to the country you never thought you'd see.
There are plenty of options open to you. Thousands of coach routes carve up the coast in every conceivable way and you can now even choose to fly and save days of time by getting to the big sights in a blink of an eye. However, when so much of the pleasure of the Australian east coast can be found in blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments, why put the control of your trip in other people's hands when the best method of transport for this mammoth trip is so readily available to all? The humble car is at your service.
Although you may have discounted the idea based on notions of cost, buying a car is actually not only one of the cheapest ways to travel the country, but also one of the easiest. The backpacker car market is huge, with an entire industry having grown up around the needs of thousands of people a year who look to buy and sell cars in extremely short spaces of time. In fact, it's so easy a system to navigate that, within 48 hours of arriving in Australia, my four friends and I were the proud owners of a Ford Falcon Estate, named Irwin (after the great Steve), for a mere snip at $2,000, including 2 tents, 4 chairs, a gas stove and large volumes of other camping paraphernalia which we could use to set up home wherever we pleased.
It's important to remember that you should be able to buy a car and sell it for roughly the same amount, if not more, than you bought it for, meaning that the real costs are the relatively minor ones of registration and petrol which, to anyone from Europe, is a less than prohibitive cost at under a pound a litre!
A few words of caution are worth considering. As with all second hand car markets across the world you have to do your homework before you commit in order to avoid ending up with a true dud. The Australian car market is also full of more idiosyncrasies than most, including an irritating law which means that cars have to be registered every 12 months in the home state of the original registration. If you're travelling from Queensland to New South Wales in a car with a nearly expired Queensland registration, you can find yourself with a costly bill on your hands and a range of buyers unwilling to take the car from you at the end of your trip.
In reality however, these draw-backs are minor and easily overcome with a quick Google search which will reveal literally thousands of helpful sites to act as a guide. And, once sorted, there's nothing between you 2,000 odd miles of open coastal road.
Iriwn rapidly became our home away from home. Admittedly the windscreen wipers didn't work, the indicators indicated the wrong direction and the mysterious 'turbo' button (which we assumed would super-charge us past any competition on the road) did little more than drain the tank of petrol in seconds, but without it and the freedom it gave us, we would have missed out on some of the best moments of our trip.
From pulling up on a deserted stretch of Mission Beach, where we spent a few hours in uninterrupted bliss, to perching on an out-of-town car viewing platform over Brisbane at night, Irwin enabled us to go where most travellers never get to venture.
One afternoon found us driving along a dirt track in the outback at sunset, slightly lost and completely alone, but with the most spectacular and unspoilt view of thousands of unbroken kilometres of red Australian wilderness. At one point we were surrounded by wallabies running alongside our car, chasing us for a couple hundred meters before vanishing off into the sunset. A giant kangaroo forced us into an emergency stop a few seconds later. It doesn't get more perfect than that.
There's simply not enough space here to list all the benefits. Your own car can set you free, opens up areas of the country seldom seen and, although you might find it hard to believe, in a group you can fund it all while still saving money on conventional travelling routes. What better way is there, to do justice to this backpacker's paradise, then to do it your own way and with your own personal method of transport? Nothing else comes close.