With a size of over 7.5 million km2, about the size of the entire U.S.A., Australia is massive. There are thousands of kilometers separating its major cities, and this should not be overlooked when planning a trip to Australia. It’s important to know where you are going, how long it will take, and what the best transportation is for you to get there.
To help you decide which transportation in Australia is best for you and your trip, we’ve created this extensive guide on how to get around Australia with all the information you’ll need including how to travel around Australia without a car.
Things to Consider
Before deciding what mode of transportation(s) you want to use during your trip to Australia, you will need to figure out a few things:
- Time: Given the size of Australia and the great distances between cities, how much time you have to spend in Australia plays a big part in how you’ll get around the country. If you only have two weeks to spare, then flying might be a better option than spending 12-20 hours on a bus. Alternatively, if you have 6 months to a year in the country, buying a car may be ideal for you. Time is very important in this decision making process.
- Budget: Is your budget big enough that you have the luxury to fly everywhere or take long comfortable train rides across the country? Is your budget pretty non-exist and you want to do everything for free or as cheaply as possible? Or is your budget enough to be flexible so you can mix and match transportation options to fit your needs?
- How much do you want to see: Correlated to how much time you have, you will have to figure out what you want to see. If you want to explore areas off the beaten path that aren’t accessible by public transportation then you’ll want to rent a car. While if everything you want to discover is on the east coast or in popular destinations and you have the time then you might want to travel around by bus.
Figuring out all three components are crucial in picking how you’ll get around in Australia, but once you determine all these things, you’ll be well on your way to figuring out the best transportation in Australia for you!
1. Getting Around Australia by Car or Campervan
There is no better way to enjoy Australia’s diverse and vast landscape than with your own vehicle. You have the freedom and flexibility to do as you please and go where you want. Be it a car, van, or motorhome, you’ll find a range of vehicles available to fit your needs and wants. Australia has branches of most major car and motorhome hire companies in airports, city centers, and some regional centers around the country.
A. Renting a Car in Australia
If you plan on spending less than three months in Australia but want your own transportation, the best option is to rent a vehicle. Rental rates vary between companies, model type, season, length of stay, and availability of vehicles but if you book well in advance and compare rental rates, you can find rates as low as AU$30 a day.
The most common car rentals are:
- Station wagons: A typical backpacker car, station wagons are often times the cheapest option. Station wagons offer great luggage storage space, and the seat in the back can be folded down to become a cozy sleeping space for two.
- 4X4: Often pricier, but 4X4’s are an ideal option for travelers wanting to do off-road traveling to places most cars cannot go.
- Campervans: Though more expensive than cars, campervans have become increasingly popular as they are often times like a smaller version of a motorhome with kitchen equipment and a living room area that can turn into a bed.
- Motorhomes: Ideal for families, motorhomes offer a kitchen to cook meals in, usually a bathroom, and a place to sleep. This option is usually the most expensive.
For a cheaper alternative or for travelers who are flexible with their time, you might want to consider rental relocation, as it can help you save hundreds of dollars. Rental relocation is when a car/campervan hire company needs to get their vehicles from one branch to another and offers cheap rates (sometimes as low as AU$1 per day) for someone to do that for them. The only disadvantage to this is that you are given a time frame to deliver the car and extensions on relocations can cost the usual daily rate. For rental relocations, check all popular rental company websites as they will have a dedicated page with relocation offers and prices.
B. Buying a Car in Australia
If you are on a Working Holiday Visa or plan on traveling around Australia for more than three months, consider buying a car, van, or motorhome. Selling and buying vehicles is very common among travelers and fairly easy to do. Buying a car in Australia isn’t as expensive as you might think. Reliable cars or vans can cost between AU$3,000- AU$15,000 and you can potentially sell them for the same price if they are still in good shape. The best places to find vehicles are on Gumtree, Facebook groups, and hostel notice-boards. Buying a car is an important decision and requires a bit of research, so before choosing this option, make sure you have a good idea of what you are doing.
2. Getting Around Australia by Rideshare
Rideshares or carpooling is a very economical way to travel and a great way to meet new people and share your experiences with other travelers. Many travelers who opt to drive a vehicle around Australia look for people to help share the cost, which makes rideshares in Australia very easy. There are plenty of platforms where travelers post rides such as Facebook groups, hostel bulletins, and rideshare websites. Here are a few to get you started:
3. Getting Around Australia by Plane
If you are looking to cover a lot of places in Australia in a short period of time, the best and fastest option is to fly. Unlike Europe where cheap flights are plentiful, flying within Australia can be expensive. Long distance routes like from Sydney to Perth (~5 hours) can cost AU$300 or more, while popular short distance flights, like from Melbourne to Sydney can cost less than AU$100 one-way.
The two biggest airlines in Australia are Qantas and Virgin Australia and they service pretty much all the capital cities and popular rural destinations in Australia. Jetstar and Tigerair are Australia’s budget airlines so prices are much cheaper but you will have to pay for meals, entertainment, leg-room, and sometimes even carry-on luggage. If you choose this route, check out these essential tips for flying with budget airlines.
Other airlines such as Regional Express Airlines (REX), Skytrans, and QantasLink fly with small 50 seater or less planes to remote areas in the country. Tickets are often very expensive.
Flying can be less expensive if you book well in advance and look out for deals. We recommend using Skyscanner to search for cheap flights.
4. Getting Around Australia by Bus
Want to let someone else do the driving while you sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Australia? Then you’ll be happy to know Australia has an extensive bus (coach) network. Though the journeys are often very long (ex: Sydney – Melbourne: ~12h) bus travel is one of the most popular and affordable ways to get around Australia, specifically along the east coast.
Due to the high competition on the popular routes between Melbourne and Cairns, ticket prices are much cheaper and competitive on the east coast. Companies often offer deals and early bird sales, with ticket prices as low as AU$1.
On the west coast, since it’s not heavily traveled, distances between towns are much longer, and there is less competition, bus prices are a lot more expensive, and often times it’s better to fly or rent a car.
In Australia you’ll find that coach buses are well organized, reliable, equipped with comfortable seats, toilets, WiFi, and USB chargers, and often offer hop-on hop-off passes which allow you to get on and off the bus at different spots en route to your destination.
Below are the most popular coach bus companies in Australia:
- Greyhound: Biggest coach company in Australia with over 250 stops around the country in every state except Western Australia. Greyhound constantly offers great deals and flexible hop-on hop-off fares. Greyhound is a favorite among travelers, especially because of their WHIMit pass, which allows you to travel in any route in any direction for your chosen amount of time. It is one of the most flexible and inexpensive travel pass options in Australia. You can read more about the WHIMit pass here.
- Integrity Coach Lines: Main bus company in Western Australia and one of the only bus companies that services all major destinations between Perth and Broome. Integrity Coach Lines also offers flexible hop-on hop off passes.
- Tassielink Transit: Has the most extensive bus network around Tasmania, and offers regular bus services to regional and remote towns and villages, as well as access to some of the more popular bush walks.
5. Getting Around Australia by Train
Home to two of the greatest train journeys in the world (The Ghan & Indian Pacific) travelers and Australians alike yearn to see the outback by train. Traveling by train allows you to truly enjoy the vastness and diversity of the Australian landscape in comfort and style. However, it is quite expensive. For example the cheapest ticket on the Ghan costs ~AU$2,300 pp in low season. Nonetheless, if you love train travel, or have the means and the time, traveling by rail is a must in Australia.
Here are some of the most iconic long-distance rail travel in Australia:
- The Ghan: The all inclusive luxurious cross-country; north to south journey through the majestic Red Centre goes from Adelaide to Darwin and passes through Alice Springs. The journey takes three days to complete and includes stops with off train excursions.
- The Indian Pacific: What the Ghan does north to south, Indian Pacific does east to west. The all inclusive four-day journey goes from Perth to Sydney with a stop in Adelaide.
- The Spirit of Queensland: The 1,681 kilometer journey travels along the beautiful coast of Queensland from Brisbane to Cairns and takes 25 hours to complete.
- Spirit of the Outback: This 26-hour service goes along the Queensland coast from Brisbane up until Rockhampton, where it then travels inland through the outback and stops in Longreach.
- West Coast Wilderness Railway: This 35-kilometer journey takes a step back in time as it travels through enchanting rainforest on a vintage steam engine along Tasmania’s west coast. The journey takes four hours and costs under AU$200.
Along with the iconic rail journeys, there are also other train services in Australia that connect the major cities in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and in the south of Western Australia. The five main railway companies in Australia are Journey Beyond Rail, Queensland Rail, TransWa, V/Line, and NSW Trainlink.
6. Getting Around Australia by Hitchhiking
The cheapest way of getting around Australia is probably hitchhiking. Though not as popular as it used to be, it still is possible. This way of getting around requires time and patience. Travelers choosing this option should know that hitchhiking is illegal in some states in Australia. For more information on hitchhiking in Australia check out Hitchwiki.
That is just about everything you need to know about getting around Australia. We hope after reading this you are able to decide which transport option is best for you. Remember to choose the transportation(s) that works for what you want to see and do in Australia as well as for the time you have. Also, don’t feel compelled to stick to one kind of transportation, mix them up, as one option might work better for one part for Australia but not for another. With that being said, enjoy your trip to Australia!