Time pressures combined with the vastness of the Australian continent may lead you to consider taking to the skies at some point in your trip. Both STA Travel and Flight Centre have offices throughout Australia, or you can book online. Try these:
Airlines in Australia
Australia's main domestic airlines service the large centres with regular flights. The major players:
A number of smaller regional airlines operate within smaller geographical parameters and flying into regional airports. Queensland in particular has several such airlines. A couple of the better-known airlines:
Airnorth Northern Territory and northwestern West Australia.
Regional Express Eastern and southeastern Australia.
Qantas offers a discount-fare Walkabout Air Pass (www.qantas.com/travel/airlines/walkabout/us/en) for passengers flying into Australia from overseas with Qantas or American Airlines. The pass allows you to link up around 80 domestic Australian destinations for less than you'd pay booking flights individually.
Australia has much to offer cyclists, from bike paths winding through most major cities, to thousands of kilometres of good country roads where you can wear out your sprockets. There's a lot of flat countryside and gently rolling hills to explore and, although Australia is not as mountainous as, say, Switzerland or France, mountain bikers can find plenty of forest trails and high country. If you’re really keen, outback cycling might also be an option.
Hire Bike hire in cities is easy, but if you're riding for more than a few hours or even a day, it's more economical to invest in your own wheels.
Legalities Bike helmets are compulsory in all states and territories, as are white front lights and red rear lights for riding at night.
Maps You can get by with standard road maps, but to avoid low-grade unsealed roads, the government series is best. The 1:250,000 scale is suitable, though you'll need lots of maps if you're going far. The next scale up is 1:1,000,000 − widely available in map shops.
Weather In summer carry plenty of water. Wear a helmet with a peak (or a cap under your helmet), use sunscreen and avoid cycling in the middle of the day. Beware summer northerly winds that can make life hell for a northbound cyclist. Southeasterly trade winds blow in April, when you can have (theoretically) tail winds all the way to Darwin. It can get very cold in Victoria, Tasmania, the southern part of South Australia and the New South Wales mountains, so pack appropriate clothing.
Transport If you're bringing in your own bike, check with your airline for costs and the degree of dismantling or packing required. Within Australia, bus companies require you to dismantle your bike and some don't guarantee that it will travel on the same bus as you.
Buying a Bike
If you want to buy a reliable, new road or mountain bike, your bottom-level starting price will be around $600. Throw in all the requisite on-the-road equipment (panniers, helmet etc) and your starting point becomes around $1750. Secondhand bikes are worth checking out in the cities, as are the post-Christmas sales and midyear stocktakes, when newish cycles can be heavily discounted.
To sell your bike (or buy a secondhand one), try hostel noticeboards or online at Trading Post (www.tradingpost.com.au) or Gumtree (www.gumtree.com.au).
Each state and territory has a cycling organisation that can help with cycling information and put you in touch with touring clubs. Bicycles Network Australia (www.bicycles.net.au) offers information, news and links.
Bicycle NSW (www.bicyclensw.org.au)
Bicycle Network Tasmania (www.biketas.org.au)
Bicycle Network Victoria (www.bicyclenetwork.com.au)
Bicycle Queensland (www.bq.org.au)
Bike SA (www.bikesa.asn.au)
Bicycle Transportation Alliance (www.btawa.org.au) In WA.
Cycling Northern Territory (www.nt.cycling.org.au)
Pedal Power ACT (www.pedalpower.org.au)
There's a hell of a lot of water around Australia, but unless you're fortunate, skilled or well-connected enough to land a position crewing a yacht, it's not really a feasible way of getting around. Other than short-hop regional ferries (eg to Kangaroo Island in SA, Rottnest Island in WA, Bruny Island in Tasmania, North Stradbroke Island in Queensland), the only long-range passenger service is the high-speed, vehicle-carrying Spirit of Tasmania between Melbourne and Devonport on Tasmania's northwest coast.
Australia's extensive bus network is a reliable way to get around, though bus travel isn't always cheaper than flying and it can be tedious over huge distances. Most buses are equipped with air-con, toilets and videos; all are smoke-free and some have wi-fi. There are no class divisions on Australian buses (very democratic), and the vehicles of the different companies all look similar.
Small towns eschew formal bus terminals for a single drop-off/pick-up point (it will be the post office, newsagent or corner shop).
Greyhound Australia Runs a national network (notably not across the Nullarbor Plain between Adelaide and Perth, nor Perth to Broome). Book online for the cheapest fares.
Firefly Express Runs between Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide.
Integrity Coach Lines The main operator between Perth and Broome in WA.
Premier Motor Service Greyhound’s main competitor along the east coast.
V/Line Connects Victoria with NSW, South Australia and the ACT.
Backpacker-style and more formal bus tours offer a convenient way to get from A to B and see the sights on the way. Following are some multistate operators; there are also smaller companies operating within individual states and territories.
AAT Kings Big coach company (popular with the older set) with myriad tours all around Australia.
Adventure Tours Australia Affordable, young-at-heart tours in all states.
Autopia Tours One- to three-day trips from Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney.
Groovy Grape Tours Small-group, SA-based operator running one-day to one-week tours ex-Adelaide, Melbourne and Alice Springs.
Nullarbor Traveller Small company running relaxed minibus trips across the Nullarbor Plain between South Australia and Western Australia.
Oz Experience Backpacker tour covering central, northern and eastern Australia in a U-shaped route – Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin – utilising Greyhound bus services.
If you're planning on doing a lot of travel in Australia, a Greyhound Australia bus pass will save you money. Bus-pass discounts of 10% apply to YHA- and student-card holders, and children under 14. For a full list of passes, check out www.greyhound.com.au/passes.
Short Hop Pass
With Greyhound's Short Hop Pass, you have 30 days to travel and you can get on and get off as many times as you like between two preselected major cities. Routes covered:
- Adelaide–Alice Springs ($229)
- Alice Springs–Darwin ($225)
- Melbourne–Brisbane ($235)
- Sydney–Brisbane ($139)
- Sydney–Byron Bay ($115)
- Sydney–Melbourne ($105)
Hop On Hop Off Pass
Greyhound's Hop On Hop Off Pass gives you 90 days to take long journeys in stages along a prescribed route.
Greyhound's simplest passes, giving you specified amounts of travel starting at 1000km ($189), up to 25,000km ($2675). Passes are valid for 12 months and you can travel where and in what direction you please, stopping as many times as you like. Use the online kilometre chart to figure out which pass suits you. Phone at least a day ahead to reserve your seat.
Following are the average one-way bus fares along some well-travelled routes, booked online.
Car & Motorcycle
With its vast distances, endless stretches of bitumen and off-the-beaten-track sights, exploring Australia by road is an experience unlike any other.
Under the auspices of the Australian Automobile Association there are automobile clubs in each state, which is handy when it comes to insurance, regulations, maps and roadside assistance. Club membership (around $100 to $150) can save you a lot of trouble if things go wrong mechanically. If you're a member of an auto club in your home country, check if reciprocal rights are offered in Australia. The major Australian auto clubs generally offer reciprocal rights in other states and territories.
National Roads & Motorists Association NSW and the ACT
Buying a Vehicle
Buying your own vehicle to travel around in gives you the freedom to go where and when the mood takes you, and may work out cheaper than renting in the long run. Downsides include dealing with confusing and expensive registration, roadworthy certificates and insurance; forking out for maintenance and repairs; and selling the vehicle, which may be more difficult than expected.
If you're buying a secondhand vehicle, keep in mind the hidden costs: stamp duty, registration, transfer fee, insurance and maintenance.
Registration When you buy a vehicle in Australia, you need to transfer the registration into your own name within 14 days. Each state has slightly different requirements and different organisations that do this. Similarly, when selling a vehicle you need to advise the state or territory road-transport authority of the sale and change of name.
In NSW, Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia, the buyer and seller need to complete and sign a Transfer of Registration form. In the ACT and South Australia there is no form, but the buyer and seller need to complete and sign the reverse of the registration certificate.
Roadworthy certificate Sellers are required to provide a roadworthy certificate when transferring registration in the following situations:
- ACT – once the vehicle is six years old
- NSW – once the vehicle is five years old
- NT – once the vehicle is three years old
- Queensland – Safety Certificate required for all vehicles
- Victoria – Certificate of Roadworthiness required for all vehicles
- WA, SA & Tasmania – no inspections/certificates required in most circumstances
If the vehicle you're considering doesn't have a roadworthy certificate, it's worth having a roadworthiness check done before you buy it. This can cost upwards of $100 but can save you money on hidden costs. Road-transport authorities have lists of licensed vehicle testers.
Gas certificate In Queensland, if a vehicle runs on gas, a gas certificate must be provided by the seller in order to transfer the registration. In the ACT, vehicles running on gas require an annual inspection.
Immobiliser fitting In Western Australia it's compulsory to have an approved immobiliser fitted to most vehicles (not motorcycles) before transfer of registration; this is the buyer's responsibility.
Changing state of registration Note that registering a vehicle in a different state to the one it was previously registered in can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
Renewing registration Registration is paid annually Australia-wide, but most states and territories also give you the option of renewing it for six and sometimes three months.
Road Transport Authorities
For more information about processes and costs:
Access Canberra ACT
Department of Planning, Transport & Infrastructure South Australia
Department of Transport Northern Territory
Department of Transport Western Australia
Department of Transport & Main Roads Queensland
What to Look For
It's prudent to have a car checked by an independent expert − auto clubs offer vehicle checks, and road transport authorities have lists of licensed garages − but if you're flying solo, here are some things to check:
- tyre tread
- number of kilometres
- rust damage
- accident damage
- oil should be translucent and honey-coloured
- coolant should be clean and not rusty in colour
- engine condition: check for fumes from engine, smoke from exhaust while engine is running, and engines that rattle or cough
- exhaust system should not be excessively noisy or rattly when engine is running
- windscreen should be clear with no cracks or chip marks
When test driving the car, also check the following:
- listen for body and suspension noise and changes in engine noise
- check for oil and petrol smells, leaks and overheating
- check instruments, lights and controls all work: heating, air-con, brake lights, headlights, indicators, seat belts and windscreen wipers
- brakes should pull the car up straight, without pulling, vibrating or making noise
- gears and steering should be smooth and quiet
Where & When to Buy
Hostel noticeboards and the Thorn Tree travel forum at www.lonelyplanet.com are good places to find vehicles for sale. Tour desks also often have noticeboards.
Licensed car dealers are obliged to guarantee that no money is owing on a car. Depending on the age of the car and the kilometres travelled, you may also receive a statutory warranty. You will need to sign an agreement for sale; make sure you understand what it says before you sign. Some dealers will sell you a car with an undertaking to buy it back at an agreed price, but don't accept verbal guarantees − get it in writing.
Private and dealer car sales are listed online on websites such as Car Sales (www.carsales.com.au), the Trading Post (www.tradingpost.com.au) and Gumtree (www.gumtree.com.au).
Buying privately can be time consuming, and you'll have to travel around to assess your options. But you should expect a lower price than that charged by a licensed dealer. The seller should provide you with a roadworthy certificate (if required in the state you're in), but you won't get a cooling-off period or a statutory warranty.
It's your responsibility to ensure the car isn't stolen and that there's no money owing on it: check the car's details with the Personal Property Securities Register (1300 007 777; www.ppsr.gov.au).
Cairns, Sydney, Darwin and Perth (cities where travellers commonly begin or finish their travels) are the best places to buy or sell a vehicle, especially Cairns. It's possible these cars have been around Australia several times, so it can be a risky option.
Larger car-rental companies have offices in major cities and towns. Most companies require drivers to be over the age of 21, though in some cases it's 18 and in others 25.
Suggestions to assist in the process:
- Read the contract cover to cover.
- Some companies may require a signed credit-card slip as bond, while others may actually charge your credit card. If the latter is the case, find out when you'll get a refund.
- Ask if unlimited kilometres are included and, if not, what the extra charge per kilometre is.
- Find out what excess you'll have to pay if you have an accident, and if it can be lowered by an extra charge per day (this option will usually be offered to you whether you ask or not). Check if your personal travel insurance covers you for vehicle accidents and excess.
- Check for exclusions (hitting a kangaroo, damage on unsealed roads etc) and whether you're covered on unavoidable unsealed roads (eg accessing campsites). Some companies also exclude parts of the car from cover, such as the underbelly, tyres and windscreen.
- At pick-up inspect the vehicle for any damage. Make a note of anything on the contract before you sign.
- Ask about breakdown and accident procedures.
- If you can, return the vehicle during business hours and insist on an inspection in your presence.
The usual big international companies (Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, Thrifty) all operate in Australia. The following websites offer last-minute discounts and the opportunity to compare rates between the big operators:
Having a 4WD is essential for off-the-beaten-track driving into the outback. The major car-hire companies have 4WDs.
Renting a 4WD is affordable if a few people get together – something like a Nissan X-Trail (which can get you through most, but not all, tracks) costs between $100 and $150 per day; for a Toyota Landcruiser you're looking at between $150 and $200, which should include unlimited kilometres.
Check the insurance conditions, especially the excess (the amount you pay in the event of accident and which can be up to $5000), as they can be onerous. A refundable bond is also often required – this can be as much as $7500. The excess and policies might not cover damage caused when travelling off-road (which they don't always tell you when you pick up your vehicle). Some also name specific tracks as off-limits and you may not be covered by the insurance if you ignore this.
Choosing a Vehicle
2WD Depending on where you want to travel, a regulation 2WD vehicle might suffice. They're cheaper to hire, buy and run than 4WDs and are more readily available. Most are fuel efficient and easy to repair and sell. Downsides: no off-road capability and no room to sleep!
4WD Good for outback travel as they can access almost any track for which you get a hankering, and there might even be space to sleep in the back. Downsides: poor fuel economy, awkward to park and more expensive to hire or buy.
Campervan Creature comforts at your fingertips: sink, fridge, cupboards, beds, kitchen and space to relax. Downsides: slow and often not fuel-efficient, not great on dirt roads and too large for nipping around the city.
Motorcycle The Australian climate is great for riding, and bikes are handy in city traffic. Downsides: Australia isn't particularly bike-friendly in terms of driver awareness; there's limited luggage capacity, and exposure to the elements.
To drive in Australia you'll need to hold a current driving licence issued in English from your home country. If the licence isn't in English, you'll also need to carry an International Driving Permit, issued in your home country.
A few simple actions can help minimise the impact your journey has on the environment.
- Ensure your vehicle is well serviced and tuned.
- Travel lightly to reduce fuel consumption.
- Drive slowly – many vehicles use 25% more fuel at 110km/h than at 90km/h.
- Avoid hard acceleration and heavy braking.
- Crank the air-con only when absolutely necessary.
- Stay on designated roads and vehicle off-road tracks. Drive in the middle of tracks to minimise track widening and damage, don't drive on walking tracks and avoid driving on vegetation.
- Cross creeks at designated areas.
- Consider ride sharing where possible.
For more info, see www.greenvehicleguide.gov.au.
Fuel types Unleaded and diesel fuel is available from service stations sporting well-known international brand names. LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is not always stocked at more remote roadhouses – if you're on gas, it's safer to have dual-fuel capacity.
Costs Prices vary from place to place, but at the time of writing, unleaded was hovering between $1.20 and $1.50 per litre in the cities. Out in the country, prices soar − in outback Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland you can pay as much as $2 per litre.
Availability In cities and towns petrol stations proliferate, but distances between fill-ups can be long in the outback. That said, there are only a handful of tracks that require a long-range fuel tank. On main roads there'll be a small town or roadhouse roughly every 150km to 200km. Many petrol stations, but not all, are open 24 hours.
Hazards & Precautions
- Roadkill is a huge problem in Australia, particularly in the Northern Territory, Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania. Many Australians in rural areas avoid travelling once the sun drops because of the risks posed by nocturnal animals on the roads.
- Kangaroos are common on country roads, as are cows and sheep in the unfenced outback. Kangaroos are most active around dawn and dusk and often travel in groups: if you see one hopping across the road, slow right down, as its friends may be just behind it.
- If you hit and kill an animal while driving, pull it off the road, preventing the next car from having a potential accident. If the animal is only injured and is small – perhaps an orphaned joey (baby kangaroo) – wrap it in a towel or blanket and call the relevant wildlife rescue line:
Department of Parks & Wildlife Western Australia
Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania
Behind the Wheel
Fatigue Be wary of driver fatigue; driving long distances (particularly in hot weather) can be utterly exhausting. Falling asleep at the wheel is not uncommon. On a long haul, stop and rest every two hours or so − do some exercise, change drivers or have a coffee.
Road trains Be careful overtaking road trains (trucks with two or three trailers stretching for as long as 50m); you'll need distance and plenty of speed. On single-lane roads get right off the road when one approaches.
Unsealed roads Unsealed road conditions vary wildly and cars perform differently when braking and turning on dirt. Don't exceed 80km/h on dirt roads; if you go faster, you won't have time to respond to a sharp turn, stock on the road or an unmarked gate or cattle grid.
Third-party insurance With the exception of NSW and Queensland, third-party personal-injury insurance is included in the vehicle registration cost, ensuring that every registered vehicle carries at least the minimum insurance (if registering in NSW or Queensland you'll need to arrange this privately). We recommend extending that minimum to at least third-party property insurance – minor collisions can be amazingly expensive.
Rental vehicles When it comes to hire cars, understand your liability in the event of an accident. Rather than risk paying out thousands of dollars, consider taking out comprehensive car insurance or paying an additional daily amount to the rental company for excess reduction (this reduces the excess payable in the event of an accident from between $2000 and $5000 to a few hundred dollars).
Exclusions Be aware that if travelling on dirt roads you usually will not be covered by insurance for your rental vehicle unless you have a 4WD (read the fine print); some agreements even specify specific roads or tracks that you're not allowed to drive on. Also, many companies won't cover the cost of damage to glass (including the windscreen) or tyres.
Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road and all cars are right-hand drive.
Give way An important road rule is 'give way to the right' − if an intersection is unmarked (unusual), and at roundabouts, you must give way to vehicles entering the intersection from your right.
Speed limits The general speed limit in built-up and residential areas is 50km/h. Near schools, the limit is usually 25km/h (sometimes 40km/h) in the morning and afternoon. On the highway it's usually 100km/h or 110km/h; in the NT it's either 110km/h or 130km/h. Police have speed radar guns and cameras and are fond of using them in strategic locations.
Seat belts & car seats It's the law to wear seat belts in the front and back seats; you're likely to get a fine if you don't. Small children must be belted into an approved safety seat.
Drink-driving Random breath tests are common. If you're caught with a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.05% expect a fine and the loss of your licence. Police can randomly pull any driver over for a breathalyser or drug test.
Mobile phones Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal in Australia (excluding hands-free technology).
Feature: Road Conditions
For up-to-date information on road conditions around the country, check out the following:
Australian Bureau of Meteorology Weather information.
Department of Planning, Transport & Infrastructure South Australian road conditions.
Live Traffic NSW NSW road conditions.
Main Roads Western Australia WA road conditions.
Road Report Northern Territory road conditions.
Traffic & Travel Information Queensland road conditions.
Feature: Ride Sharing
Ride sharing is a good way to split costs and environmental impact with other travellers. Noticeboards are good places to find ads; also check these online classifieds:
- Catch a Lift (www.catchalift.com)
- Coseats (www.coseats.com)
- Need a Ride (www.needaride.com.au)
Various organisations use 'carbon calculators' that allow travellers to offset the greenhouse gases they are responsible for with financial contributions.
- Carbon Neutral (www.carbonneutral.com.au)
- Climate Friendly (www.climatefriendly.com)
- Greenfleet (www.greenfleet.com.au)
Hitching is never entirely safe in any country in the world, and we don't recommend it. Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. People who do choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go.
All of Australia's major towns have reliable, affordable public bus networks, and there are suburban train lines in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Melbourne also has trams (Adelaide has one!), Sydney and Brisbane have ferries and Sydney has a light-rail line. Taxis operate Australia-wide.
Long-distance rail travel in Australia is something you do because you really want to − not because it's cheap, convenient or fast. That said, trains are more comfortable than buses, and there's a certain long-distance 'romance of the rails' that's alive and kicking. Shorter-distance rail services within most states are run by state rail bodies, either government or private.
The most important long-distance rail links are as follows:
- Great Southern Rail Operates the Indian Pacific between Sydney and Perth, the Overland between Melbourne and Adelaide, and the Ghan between Adelaide and Darwin via Alice Springs.
- Queensland Rail Runs the high-speed Spirit of Queensland service between Brisbane and Cairns.
- NSW TrainLink Trains from Sydney to Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra.
- V/Line Trains within Victoria, linking up with buses for connections into NSW, South Australia and the ACT.
Following are standard internet-booked one-way, high-season fares. Backpacker discounts are also available.
Adelaide–Darwin Adult/child $2329/2089
Adelaide–Melbourne Adult/child from $149/69
Adelaide–Perth Adult/child $1839/1649
Brisbane–Cairns Adult/child seated from $369/184; sleeper from $519/311
Sydney–Brisbane Adult/child seated from $66/66; sleeper from $216/179
Sydney–Canberra Adult/child seated from $40/28
Sydney–Melbourne Adult/child seated from $66/66; sleeper from $216/179
Sydney–Perth Adult/child $2599/2329
Queensland Rail offers the Queensland Coastal Pass allowing unlimited stopovers one-way between Cairns and Brisbane in either direction. A one-month Coastal Pass costs $209; two months is $289. The Queensland Explorer Pass is similar but extends over the entire state rail network. A one-month Explorer Pass costs $299; two months is $389.
NSW TrainLink has the Discovery Pass for both international visitors and Australians, allowing unlimited one-way economy travel around NSW, plus connections to Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Melbourne and Canberra. A 14-day/one-/three-/six-month pass costs $232/275/298/420; premium class upgrades are available.