After riding on the train called The Ghan through the Australian Outback from Adelaide to Darwin I arrived at my hotel called “the Vibe” and received my itinerary for the next couple of days that the Northern Territory tourism board had put together for me. First item on the schedule was having dinner with them that night at an awesome Thai restaurant called “Hanuman” and the second starting early the next day, “Have breakfast then grab a taxi to Thrifty Car Rental to pick up your rental vehicle“.
My jaw dropped.
Then the memory came flashing back, they had asked me before my trip if I could drive and if I had my license and without thinking about it I ticked the box yes. Not once did I think about how Australians drive on the opposite side of the road from Canadians and now the next 4 days of my trip was dependant on me driving myself from point A to point B.
I like to think that I am always up for a challenge, but this would be a difficult one that could be dangerous. I like to think I am a good driver, I can even drive a standard (stick shift) and this was an automatic, this couldn’t be too hard right?
My learning curve for driving on the “wrong side” of the road was a quick one. I showed up at the rental place, they handed me the keys and I jumped in the car.
My first manoeuvre was to get out of a tight parking lot and of course then make a right hand turn across traffic on one of the city’s busiest streets. I took a few deep breaths and turned on my blinker.
“Woosh, woosh” go the wipers instead of the “tink tink, tink tink” of the blinker.
Lesson number 1:
On many models of cars with the driving wheel on the right side of the car the blinker is on the right and the windshield wipers are on the left, the exact opposite to a North American car. I may or may not of then turned my wipers on a billion more times during the rest of my journey. Only twice did I remember and get it right, for some reason my brain had just learned that the blinker was on the left without even thinking about it, so it was hard to re-teach it the opposite.
Lesson number 2:
The seat belt is over your right shoulder, not your left. This one was weird to me, every time I sit in the passenger seat of a car or on the right side in the back, the seatbelt is over my right shoulder, so why did I constantly reach for it on the left? My brain saw the steering wheel in front of me and automatically went “seatbelt on the left, seatbelt on the left” and there I was every time I got in the car grasping air over my left shoulder with my left hand looking for the seatbelt.
Pay attention when turning corners. Darwin was full of boulevards and medians and it was my worst nightmare to turn a corner and end up on the wrong side of one going the wrong way. Thankfully that did not happen. Remember to keep the middle of the road on the right of the car and if all else fails follow the car in front of you.
Also note that there may be different driving rules in countries outside your own. In Darwin you can’t actually turn left on a red light (the equivalent of turning right on red in North America) unless there was a sign saying you could do so.
Get in the “right” side of the car. Obvious right? This one wasn’t to hard to remember, however… there was one time that I opened the left side door and almost sat down before I realized what I was doing.
Get familiar with your blind spots and mirrors as everything is different and opposite. I almost repeatedly smashed my head into the window looking over my left shoulder first instead of my right.
I am proud to say that I survived my few days of driving on the wrong side of the road from Darwin to Kakadu National Park and back and not once did I drive on the wrong side of the road while driving on the wrong side of the road. Now if only I had had an Australian travel guide on me I might not of made a couple of wrong turns when my un-locked iPhone’s GPS was spinning in circles. Honestly how did anyone travel before this new fan-dangled technology?
Have you ever driven on the opposite of the road from what you are use to? Do you have any other tips to share?
Thanks to Tourism NT for helping me with my trip through the Top End of Australia. Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly newsletter! :)
Photographed and filmed with a Nikon D5100 using a 17-55mm lens.