The domestic travel network in Australia is highly developed and competitive, meaning that getting around Oz is very easy and relatively cheap. There are numerous options, depending on your budget, how much time you have on your vacation and what sort of travel experience you are looking for.
The first thing to remember is that Australia is huge. The world’s biggest island is about three million square miles, or about the same size as the USA (excluding Alaska), but with a population of just 20 million. So, it is important to plan your route and how you will be travelling. Sydney and Melbourne, for example, may look close on the map but will take about 12 hours to drive between.
Australia is blessed with an extensive network of airports and numerous airlines, meaning that taking a flight is often the best choice. Qantas, Virgin Blue, Jetstar and Tiger Airways are the main domestic flight providers and competition is fierce, meaning cheap flights are often easy to find. It pays to join their email mailing lists as they offer discounted cheap flights to destinations around Australia on an almost weekly basis. Generally speaking, Tiger and Jetstar are slightly cheaper airlines, but you get what you pay for. Rex (Regional Express Airlines) is good for many regional, less touristy destinations.
There is a huge selection of car and campervan hire companies in Australia, with all the major international rental firms, plus many local ones, available. Be sure to check the insurance to know exactly where you’re allowed to take your car or campervan – unless the vehicle is 4WD it is unlikely the insurance will cover you in destinations where the roads are unsealed, for example on Fraser Island or Cape York, in Queensland, or in Western Australia’s Kimberley. If you’re looking to travel between cities relatively quickly it is worth asking car rental companies about relocation deals – this is, for example, when rental firms have too many cars or campervans dropped off in Brisbane and desperately need to get some of their vehicles back to Sydney. If you’re lucky enough to time it right, these deals will generally cost you just $1 a day (plus fuel). For insurance purposes, rental car and campervan drivers normally have to be at least 21 years old (sometimes 25).
Buying a car in Australia can be complicated but will offer you the most freedom. Vehicles with valid registration are covered by compulsory third party insurance. The details vary between states, but in New South Wales for example, a “green slip” is issued as proof of this. When a car is bought or sold, this vehicle insurance transfers to the new owner until the registration expires. Buyers are strongly advised to also buy third party property insurance, which covers you against damage to another vehicle or property. Only buy a car or campervan in Australia that has a valid “pink slip”, which shows it is roadworthy. So-called “black slips” list faults not yet repaired. You can check the validity of registered cars and campervans at relevant Australian state government websites. For New South Wales, for example, visit www.rta.nsw.gov.au. Get a mechanic to check the vehicle before buying. It can be tricky selling vehicles outside of their state of registration, so consider this when planning your travels.
Australia is home to two of the world’s great train journeys – the Indian Pacific and the Ghan. Taking 65 hours to travel the 4,352km that separates Sydney and Perth, the Indian Pacific is a truly incredible trip. If you start in Australia’s east, the Indian Pacific train leaves Sydney and travels through the hazy canyons of the Blue Mountains before arriving in Outback town Broken Hill. It then travels on to Adelaide before crossing the mighty Nullarbor Plain and arriving in Perth. Similarly, The Ghan train begins (or ends) in tropical Darwin, travelling down through Australia’s dusty centre, stopping at Katherine Gorge, Alice Springs and opal mining hub Coober Pedy, before pulling into South Australian capital Adelaide two days later.
For travellers or backpackers with limited time and budget, buses offer the best method for getting around Australia. Buses in Australia are relatively cheap, reliable and can get you just about anyway you want at any time of day. Greyhound and Premier are the main two bus companies (Premier generally being cheaper but more basic). The buses are usually pretty good, many having DVD players, although strict laws on drivers taking regular breaks can make already-long journeys frustratingly lengthier.
Hop-on hop-off tours are probably the most popular option for most visitors to Australia. They’re a cost and time effective way to tailor a vacation to your needs. Once again, whether on a backpacker trip, family holiday or luxury break, a huge array of tour operators mean you’re likely to find a tour operator suitable for your Australian adventure.
While not for everyone, cruises can be a great (and surprisingly cheap) way to see much of Australia. A particular highlight of any cruise that involves a Sydney stop is getting to stay in the best hotel room in Australia, as cruise ships tend to moor right in Sydney Harbour, opposite the Sydney Opera House. There’s a huge array of cruise trips available to many different Australian destinations, including Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Broome, Brisbane, the Whitsundays, Port Douglas and Tasmania, as well as cruises that also include New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Shore tours are generally available for all stops.