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The Complete Guide to Getting Around Australia

When navigating a country as big as Oz, it’s all hands on deck in terms of your transport mix. Find the best way to get from A to B with this handy list of travel options.
The best ways to get around Australia
The best ways to get around Australia

Planes, trains, automobiles, and then some, are all a necessary part of exploring the vast land down under.

Australia is the sixth largest country in the world and covers a staggering 7.6 million square kilometres. It’s 4,000 kilometres between the most easterly and westerly points, and almost the same from north to south. If you were to circumnavigate the country, you’d be covering a distance of 34,000 kilometres. All in all, this is a big place — and one that takes some serious tyre tread to conquer.

Depending on your chosen itinerary and just how widely you want to wander, you’ll almost certainly end up using a variety of transport options during your stay. State and territory capital cities Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, and Darwin draw the bulk of visitors. But you’ll also want to check out holiday hot spots like the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Cairns, and the Whitsundays, and characterful outback centres like Broken Hill, Alice Springs, and Broome. Nut out your travel plan, then start slotting in the necessary modes of transport to make it happen.

Here’s a guide to the best ways to get around Australia.

Ten of the best things to do in Australia

Australia Tours, Activities & Attractions

Air travel

The heavy travel lifting on your Aussie adventure will be done by air. Australia has a robust domestic airline market, with five major carriers — Qantas/Qantas Link, Virgin Australia, Jetstar, Rex, and newbie Bonza. It’s fairly competitive — unless you book at the last minute — in which case they will all hit you where it hurts. The rule of thumb is to have your eye on the ball early and lock in sale fares well in advance of your trip. Register for email alerts from each airline to keep tabs on their latest offers, and always check if luggage is included in the ticket price (it generally isn’t). Regardless, plan to travel light. And let’s face it, what will you need? Some thongs (flip flops), a towel, and your cossie. Sorted!

The best ways to get around Australia
The best ways to get around Australia: Take to the skies.

Train

The rise of rail in Australia began in the 1850s and was quickly embraced by each state to transport raw materials and agricultural products. Over the following decades passenger services were introduced, but no real thought was given to a unified national network. The result today is a relatively piecemeal affair, and high-speed rail remains a much debated pipe dream. That said, train travel is a viable and cost-effective alternative to air — particularly within individual state borders. With the exception of Tasmania (which has no commercial passenger train services), individual state rail networks are fairly comprehensive and there are some good state-based rail passes available. New South Wales’ excellent Discovery Pass links its rail and coach network with extensions to Melbourne and Brisbane. A two-week pass will set you back just $232 per person (at the time of writing) and entitles you to unlimited trips. Bargain!

The best ways to get around Australia
The Indian Pacific, Australia. Image: Journey Beyond

Australia also has some amazing experiential rail services. If you have the time and money, options like The Ghan and Indian Pacific are once-in-a-lifetime journeys.

Car

Having a car at your disposal will give you the flexibly to go where you want, when you want. Like most aspects of travel, it’s become more expensive to hire a car in Australia since the pandemic (not to mention filling it with petrol!). There are still some good deals around if you book in advance and opt for operators based offsite from major airports. It will cost you upwards of $1.70 a litre (at the time of writing) to gas up your chariot.

The best ways to get around Australia
Do an Aussie road trip. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland

Depending on how long your holiday is going to be, it might make more fiscal sense to purchase a second-hand vehicle outright and sell it again at the end. Along with the purchase price, you’ll need to cover additional costs like an initial vehicle check by a mechanic (which is highly recommended), registration, and stamp duty.

Car-pooling is another option that’s popular with budget travellers. Check out websites like Coseats and Share Your Ride to find cheap lifts between cities and key regional centres.

Buses and coaches

They’ve been crooned about and immortalised in film, and there remains something nostalgic about hopping on a Greyhound bus and travelling through the night from one destination to the next. Bus travel in Oz is far and away the cheapest method of getting around, and it’s also the form of transport with the lowest average emission of CO2 per person (so, a gold star for you from the environment).

The best ways to get around Australia
The best ways to get around Australia. Image: Greyhound Australia

Greyhound Australia’s National Whimit Travel Pass will get you right up the east coast of the country, across outback Queensland to the Northern Territory, down through the Red Centre, and on to Adelaide. The two-week version is priced at $349 per person, while a 30-day pass is $439. If you plan to explore Western Australia, get familiar with Integrity Coachlines. They offer point-to-point fares and hop-on-hop-off passes, priced by the total number of kilometres you want to travel (which in this part of Oz, trust us, will be a lot!).

Vans

The ‘van life’ movement is huge in Australia and making like a turtle (with your home on your back) is a fun way to get off the beaten track and see some of the best bits of the country. Long-term small van hire can be as little as $60 a day, which is amazing value, because you sleep as well as travel in it. From there, you can scale up to speckier vans and full-blown campervans depending on your budget (expect to pay around $300 a day for the latter). Check out the deals offered by Jucy, Wicked Campers, Britz, and Apollo.

The best ways to get around Australia
The best ways to get around Australia: Live in a van.

Finding places to park for the night is a doddle, thanks to the excellent Wiki Camps app (available for a small one-off fee). ‘Free-camp’ sites won’t cost you anything to stay in, but they generally have limited or no amenities. In many regional Australian towns, the local showgrounds are available to campers for a small fee (usually around $20 a night), and they offer the use of showers and toilets. Caravan parks are plentiful right across the country, but they’re much pricier; expect to pay anywhere from $80 to $150 a night in popular tourist towns.

Boats

Australia is one big island, so exploring it by boat is ideal. Cruising has taken a bruising in the last little while, but it’s on the mend and there are a handful of continental round trips on offer. Princess Cruises offers a 28-day itinerary travelling from Sydney to Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, the Kimberley Coast, Perth/Fremantle, amazing Kangaroo Island, Hobart, and back to the Harbour City. Prices start at around $200 per person per day for an inside cabin, which is amazing value (given all meals are included).

The best ways to get around Australia
The best ways to get around Australia: Buy a boat.

Alternatively, if you’re a competent boatie, you could purchase your own vessel from a broker like Grays and set sail on the adventure of a lifetime!

Overland tours

Organised overland tours of Oz take the hassle out of arranging your own transport, include accommodation in the cost of the tour, and even cover some meals. You’ll benefit from the services of a local guide and meet other like-minded travellers. Overland tours are a particularly good way of exploring remote areas like regional Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and some of the most popular tour routes include Perth to Broome, Broome to Darwin, and Darwin to Alice Springs. Try Intrepid Travel, Autopia Tours, Adventure Tours, Kimberley Offroad Adventure Tours, AAT Kings, and Outback Spirit.

This post was published thanks to Grays.

Browse our range of Australia tours and experiences here.

Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best ways to get around Australia? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Envato

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

 

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  1. Hey Adam. Thanks for your guide! I ended up buying second-hand vehicle as suggested and sold it for almost the same. I also saved quite a lot on gas by carpooling. Another site that is worth mentioning is bushride.com. It’s popular with the German’s abroad and I met a few travellers through there too. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Lena. Thanks for the feedback and tips! They’re much appreciated. Regards, Adam Ford (Editor)

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