Getting Around Australia
Australia is massive, so it’s really important that you put some serious thought into how you’re going to get around.
The two most popular options of transport are either to get a bus pass or to hire a car. However, you can travel by bus, car, plane or train, and Australia’s transport links are brilliant.
Most backpackers travel the east coast from Melbourne / Sydney to Cairns (or vice versa) by bus or car. Both options give you a huge amount of flexibility to see what you want, and it can take anywhere from three weeks to three months. The average travel time from Sydney to Cairns is a month. Every now and then you will come across a backpacker who lives in his car. A mobile hotel. It can be done…
With the emergence of budget airlines you can now fly internally extremely cheaply, which is a great way of getting from one side of the country to the other, and it saves a bit of time too!
Australia by bus
Most backpackers in Australia use bus passes, enabling them to see as much, or as little of Australia as they want. Backpacker tour buses are extremely popular, but the market leaders are Greyhound and Oz Experience. They cost a little more than a simple bus trip, but you get to see more of Australia. Also, it’s a great way to meet like-minded backpackers. A bus pass usually throws in a bunch of free activities, discounts, help with accommodation and so forth.
Oz Experience is a little bit more expensive than Greyhound and they target pre-university gappers as opposed to post-university gappers. It all depends on what you want.
The most popular passes are with Greyhound and offer the following deals:
- Up to 5,000km of travel – AU$799
- 30 day pass – AU$1,060
- Cairns to Melbourne – AU$445 on a 90 day travel pass (the same pass costs AU$520 with Oz Experience)
There are a number of different types of bus passes, and if you don’t want a one, then they do single trips too.
Australia by car or campervan
A car gives you a huge amount of freedom to explore Australia at your own pace. If you’re clever and / or lucky you can buy a car when you arrive and sell it again before you leave without spending much more than your fuel and insurance.
Common backpacker car choices are the Holden Commodore and the Ford Falcon. They’re affordable, have got plenty of space for luggage and are cheap to service. You should be able to pick up a relatively reliable one of these for around AU$3,000. Buying privately is nearly always the cheapest option, but if you’re short of time, some companies offer a guaranteed buy-back scheme (although you’ll be guaranteed a lower price than you paid and beware of any loopholes). Driving around Australia is a magnificent way to see the country and you will stop off at any number of small Australian towns, whenever you want, wherever you want.
Check out hostel notice-boards in Cairns or Sydney. Most people are driving either to or from these two places. You will always be able to pick up a deal when someone is about to leave the country and backpackers usually take care of their cars. The notice boards are also a fantastic place to catch a lift with someone. Backpackers are always looking to split the journey costs to keep the cost of the trip down.
Check this awesome video of a roadtrip from Cairns to Perth
Traffic is generally pretty low and drivers are fairly courteous. It is worth being aware that you need to be 18 to legally drive in Australia.
The most common car/campervan hire agencies in Australia are:
- Hippie Camper
- Travel Wheels
- Travellers Autobarn
Campervans can cost as little as AU$37 per day and a station wagon AU$39 per day.
The bonus of hiring a car or campervan is the rental cost is split into how many are in your group, which means big savings. Oh, and accommodation is covered too!
Australia by train
Australia has some truly epic train journeys. A tourist highlight is catching the Indian Pacific, which takes you all the way from Sydney (east coast) across the Nullabor Desert to Perth (west coast), described at a hotel on wheels.
Trains are perhaps the most comfortable way to cross large distances – and large distances are something Australia has plenty of! You can buy point-to-point tickets, or a range of flexible rail passes. Most travellers decide to ignore trains, but they are cheaper than Greyhound/Oz Experience and more comfortable too. The toilets themselves sell the ticket!
Train-wise, you’ll probably only want to look at ‘The Ghan’ which runs north to south and ‘The Indian-Pacific’ which runs east-west (or visa-versa obviously).
Check out this video of a journey on the legendary Ghan Train
Trains up the east coast are run by Country Link if you want to see the east coast by alternative means.
Australia by plane
The main internal carriers in Australia are Qantas, Jetstar (which is Qantas’s budget airline) and Virgin Australia.
There are seven major international airports in Australia: Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Internal flights in Australia is big business, and a lot more people travel by flight than they did a few years ago. The airways are buzzing and it easy to fly from one side of Australia to the other.
Domestic flights in Australia are often cheaper than driving or taking the train, especially if flying from one side of the country to the other. Also Australia is a major tourist hub for flying to New Zealand and south-east Asia. Australians like to fly to Bali for their hols and there are always cheap deals floating about.