Australia is a land of huge distances, which significantly impacts the amount you can see while there. There are plenty of options for getting around by land or air, and the savvy traveller will use a combination of vehicles during their stay.
It’s definitely worth planning your transport in advance — at the very least, a rough sketch — as many forms of transport are cheaper the earlier you book. Due to low population density, there also aren’t as many services available as you’d expect in landmasses of a similar area. Like continental US. Or Europe. I did say it was big, right? It’s about 7.7 million square kilometres. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even begin to imagine size that vast!
How to get to Australia
You can arrive by boat, but most visitors to the country come by air. Since it’s a continental landmass (i.e. an enormous island) arrival by land just isn’t possible.
If you’re coming from the US or Europe, your flight will probably not be direct, though there are direct flights from LA, Dallas, Honolulu, San Francisco, and Vancouver, among others. Most of these direct flights fly into Sydney or Melbourne.
If you’re coming from Africa, there’s a direct Johannesburg-Perth route, and there are plenty of direct flights from Asia; Asian and Middle Eastern destinations are common stopover points for routes to Europe and other parts of the world.
Interestingly, Qantas has recently launched a daily direct flight between London and Perth, which will start on 25 March 2018. The trip will take 17 hours and tickets are available now.
So, before you start planning your trip around Australia, first look into where you can get to on your flight from home!
Fly around Australia
There are four major players in the Australian flight market: Qantas, Tigerair, Jetstar and Virgin; the latter three work on a budget airline model, while Qantas tends to be full service. However, we were surprised that we were asked to pay for alcoholic beverages at the weekend, so be prepared for that!
Smaller regional airlines fly to smaller destinations and are also worth a look when other services are busy or expensive.
Flights have become a lot more affordable in recent years; a trip from Melbourne to Sydney can cost as little as $49, Perth-Sydney is around $300 for a direct flight. Book in advance for the best prices.
There are also lots of cheaper fares for other routes, so make sure to check prices for your itinerary.
Also, be sure to consider how you’re getting to and from the airport, as this can add time and expense to the experience!
Travelling by train in Australia can be a great adventure, with two long-distance routes (the Indian Pacific and the Ghan) taking you from Perth to Sydney, or Adelaide all the way up to Darwin. These are multi-day trips with pricetags to match.
Trains are a great choice for short hops, especially on the V/Line around Melbourne — we often stay in Sunbury and train is the easiest way to get into the city. Longer journeys can be painfully slow, though, and it often costs less to fly. A journey from Sydney to Melbourne, for example, will take over 12 hours — not the best if you’re in a hurry!
Check out the Man in Seat 61 for information about train travel in Australia
Greyhound Australia runs a good network of interstate coaches that allow you to hop from one major city to another, as well as taking you to smaller destinations. They also offer a hop-on-hop-off pass that would be great if you’re going from one city to another and want to explore along the way.
On the whole, though, we don’t recommend you make bus travel your main form of transport in Australia — the distances are just so long!
Hopping on a bus tour, however, might be worth your while, especially for destinations that are difficult to get to. We loved our trip from Adelaide to Alice Springs, with a stop in Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) along the way — yes, we were in a bus for long periods of time, but there were also lots of interesting stops, and having a guide on hand meant we got a lot out of each destination.
We also did a tour to Kangaroo Island from Adelaide, which was another good choice as public transport on the island was not wonderful!
Tours are also good for day trips, such as a trip to the Great Ocean Road near Melbourne, or to the Blue Mountains near Sydney.
Car and camper rental
Australia is prime road trip country, with thousands of miles of empty highway, well-maintained camping spots and amenities… plus plenty of quiet beaches for those with an itch to surf. Distances are huge, so take care not to push yourself too far. Rest often and remember to drive on the left.
Major car rental companies all operate in Australia. Some companies will sell you a car with a guaranteed buy-back, which could work out a lot cheaper than a rental; if you sell it privately you may even make a profit! Insurance is recommended, as a breakdown in the outback could mean getting a tow for several hours, or sometimes days, if the vehicle can’t be fixed on site.
It may be worth hiring a car for transport to explore one destination, like we did in Western Australia. Craig’s parents met us in Perth and we used the car to explore the south of the state before returning to Perth to drop off the car and fly home.
Cycling and hiking
Cycling across Australia is gruelling, but it has been done. Estimate around one to three months journey, although this could be decreased: the current record is around eight days. Massive trucks, called “road trains” thanks to the number of carriages, power down the highways causing concern to cyclists.
Australia has some fantastic hiking routes, with Tasmania probably having the most to offer, though the 1000km Bibbulman track in Western Australia also draws our attention. That said, hiking trails run through all of Australia’s states and territories, so you can explore everything from rain forest to arid desert.
Australia is home to crocodiles, wild dogs, ostriches, kangaroos and wallabies (which can all be dangerous when roused) as well as a host of poisonous or venomous insects, reptiles and plants. Do your homework before you start into the wild.
So, how do I get around Australia?
In summary, we recommend you use a range of transport options to get around Australia. Purchase flights for long journeys, hire a car to explore a destination in depth, hop on a tour or two to get to tricky destinations. And add a mammoth train journey if time and budget allows!
Enjoy staying at some of the best holiday destinations in Australia with YHA. With over 80 amazing hostels to choose from throughout the country, and a mix of private and share rooms, YHA is perfectly suited for backpackers and locals alike.
One of YHA’s most popular hostels is Sydney Central YHA, located near Central Station. It is a 5 star hostel with panoramic rooftop city views, heated pool, sauna, free Wi-Fi and so much more.