Travel Around Australia: Our Top Transport Tips

Don't underestimate the size of Australia. Make your way around easily with these travel tips for rental vehicles, cheap flights, bus travel and trains.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, by [theboywiththethorninhisside]. Photo © Getty Images/Jill Harrison

Transport Around Australia

Australia is made up of six states (including the island of Tasmania) and two territories, and 85% of the population lives within 31mi (50km) of the coast. To see all 2,969,907mi2 (7,692,024km2) that make up Australia's massive continent, you’ll need a significant amount of time. Don’t set unrealistic goals to see the whole country in three months – it’s just not going to happen.

The three eastern states – QueenslandNew South Wales and Victoria – are the most populated, and span a distance farther than Maine to Miami. Going from Perth on the west coast to Sydney is a long journey, and there’s a whole lot of nothing in between. The huge red Outback desert cuts a gigantic swath through its middle, where Uluru truly is in the middle of nowhere.

With so much ground to cover, there are many ways to get around. Some methods of transport are fast and expensive; others are much slower but way cheaper. Luckily, it’s easy to find transport that suits your needs and budget when getting from A to B.

The Cost of Flying Around Australia

Moving from city to city and state to state by plane is undoubtedly the most efficient way to see Australia, using one of the country's domestic airlines. Qantas and Virgin Australia are the biggest carriers, while Jetstar, Tigerair and Regional Express (Rex) will get you there, too – usually for less money and a bit less comfort.

If you fly, be sure to check the carrier's luggage weight limits, as many restrict carry-on bags to 7kg (15 pounds) in economy class, charging extra fees if your bags are over. Weight restrictions go even lower when you’re flying smaller planes in more remote areas (think places like the Kimberley, the Top End or Uluru).

Even the longest domestic flights in Australia are close to five hours (think Perth to Sydney, Darwin to Melbourne, etc.), so if your vacation time is limited, flying is the way to go.

Traveling by Coach or Bus

Traveling by bus is often the cheapest way to get around Australia, particularly if you're backpacking. Sit back, relax and admire the vast open road as someone else does the driving for you. However, be warned, going by coach will take longer, so make sure you have something to keep you entertained and travel in comfortable clothes.

The biggest bus company is Greyhound Australia, which covers routes around the whole country. Choose a specific one-way or round-trip ticket or purchase one of Greyhound's Whimit passes. Choose the time period that works, ranging from 7 to 21, 45, 60, 90, 120 or even 365 days, and just go. They give you unlimited consecutive travel on luxury buses, tricked out with air conditioning, restrooms, WiFi and USB ports. They have coaches running all over the country, as long as you have the time, they've got the coach to get you there.

Many other tour companies offer comfortable coaches and guided tours in different parts of the country, often with local Indigenous guides who will spark your imagination by weaving Dreamtime legends and tales into your experience as the miles roll by. Each region's tourism website reveals some of the best to choose from: Queensland, New South Wales, Canberra, Victoria, Tasmania, Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia.

Travel by Train in Australia

Trains are another terrific way to travel across Australia, not hindered by slow speed limits, road construction or traffic. Plus, certain trains are filled with romance and hark back to days gone by, rolling along tracks constructed in the 1870s that trace the railroad routes that opened up the country. To experience that history, ride The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide (or vice versa), the legendary four-day, three-night journey complete with luxurious sleeping cabin, fantastic food, and tour stops along the way. It's one of the world's great train trips, across the wild Outback. 

Catch the Indian Pacific, another luxury train that rumbles coast to coast on a four-day, three-night trip between Perth and Sydney – from the Indian Ocean to Pacific Ocean - on a memorable adventure. That route opened in 1970, connecting east and west on one single train for the first time in Australia's history.

Trains also criss-cross the eastern states, so the option of going the slightly slower route and seeing the countryside is easy. Train travel is likely to be slightly more expensive than taking the bus, but dining cars, lounges and even sleeping berths on some routes make it a more civilized way to go.

Driving or Campervan-ing Around Australia

Assuming you're comfortable with driving on the left-hand side of the road, exploring Australia by car or campervan (what Aussies call motorhome RVs) is the best way to get up close and personal with big cities and places so remote you'll wonder if there's anybody out there.

For easy exploring, simply rent a car at the airport and go, finding hotels along the way or booking them ahead. Before you hit the road, research the distances you’ll need to travel, and plan ahead to ensure you’ve got enough gas to get to where you're going.

If you're ready to join the country's "Grey Nomads" (retirees who roam around the country in their caravans), then choose where to begin, how far to drive and rent a van.

You may even find it cheaper to buy one. Check hostel/campground noticeboards for people selling, and once you’re done with it, sell it the same way you bought it. You'll need to have your own car insurance in case of any emergencies. Before you set off, everyone who travels across the wild landscapes of Australia knows to carry extra tires in case of a blow-out.

There are plenty of mobile phone apps to help guide you along the way, to campgrounds, caravan sites, national parks and must-see sights, too. Try WikiCamps Australia for places to camp; HemaExplorer to download offline maps so you're never lost, even if your phone signal is gone; and Star Walk 2, the fantastic stargazing app that shows you every constellation in Australia's Southern sky.

*This article was previously written in 2007, and updated in 2018.

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