Australia is a vast country. To get from from A to B, you will usually have to go long distances. To make the most of the ‘inbetween’, Australia gives you the following options:
(1) Car/Campervan hire
Of course you can hire a car or campervan. You might prefer to drop it off in a different station than where you’re picking the car up, this might be a bit more expensive. Generally: Be careful about the rental firms, a lot of them are known to use pretty much wrecks of cars. And in any case, if you’re taking a road trip: Try to be prepared! Learn the basics about how to keep a car working. Especially if you intend to cross the outback, where the next gas station or any sign of life can be a few hundred kilometres away.
Backpackers’ Campervan rental firms: Travellers AutoBarn, Wicked Campers, Jucy, Spaceships
(2) Relocation deals
If you’re lucky and/or patient enough, you might get a relocation deal with a rental company. That means you get a nice campervan, a motorhome or even a 4WD (not just a minibus and a tent) for as little as one symbolic AUS$ (plus fuel costs of course). Sometimes you even get an allowance for fuel costs. Your part of the deal: You drive the vehicle from the defined pick-up point to the defined drop-off point within a certain amount of time (usually around a week or less, depending on the distance). The time restriction is a limiting factor, but if you plan on going somewhere you can only access with a 4WD (the Top End, or the Kimberley in WA), this could be a cheap way to get one.
(3) Car/Campervan buying
Buying is an option a lot of backpackers choose. It allows you to be flexible about where you go and how much time you take to get there. It’s not bad to know a little about cars though, just to make sure you’re not buying a rusty deathtrap. Also take care that the car you want to buy has a certificate of roadworthiness – you’ll need that for the registration. The car buying & selling market is quite extensive and not very complicated, you’ll find ads on notice boards in hostels and on the internet:
It makes sense to buy from other travellers, because they might have additional camping equipment to sell that you might also need. Otherwise, you can also check the papers: Car sales sections can be found in the Friday’s Sydney Morning Herald and Herald Sun (Melbourne) and Saturday’s Age (Melbourne). Trading post is a big online car pool that could also be worth a look: http://www.tradingpost.com.au/.
However, you need to consider it might take you some time to sell the car before going home, and you might lose some of the car’s worth (because you’ll want to get rid of the car quickly and might have to settle for a bad offer if you’re unlucky). Buying also requires quite a big amount of money (for a budget traveller’s wallet) upfront.
If you decide to buy, think about whether you’ll need a car (and buy tent & camping equipment for staying cheap) or a campervan. If you’ve got space left in your car, you can save on fuel costs by offering other travellers a lift – use the local hostel notice board to leave a note with your offer, departure date, destination and contact details.
(4) Hitchhiking & Lifts
Use someone else’s car or campervan! You chip in for the fuel, share you travel tales and learn more about another traveller’s potentially very interesting life. It’s a great opportunity to meet future friends. But choose well who you spend your time with. And of course, hitchhiking can be dangerous. You should avoid hitchhiking in/into the outback – you don’t want to end up lost there without food or water. Try to arrange a lift in advance and meet the person(s) you’re going with. If you get along, you can have a lot of fun and share knowledge, recipes, contact details…
(5) Greyhound buses
Greyhound Australia has a lot of routes throughout the country. Buses go regularly between the most important destinations on the East Coast (New South Wales and Queensland), but also through the center of the country, the Nullabor Plain and along the West Coast. The service on the paths rarely taken might not be too frequent. Bus tickets are relatively cheap, and you can also get hop-on-hop-off passes that allow you to travel a certain route (one-way) in normally 90 days with as many stops inbetween as you want. A little more expensive: kilometre passes, which are valid for 12 months. Price depends on how many ‘credit-kilometres’ you buy, which you can then ‘drive off’. The route you take is flexible; you can go anywhere and anytime you want.
If you’re not keen on experiencing the landscape en route to your next destination, you can catch a flight and save time. Flying is of course normally more expensive than the flatland mobility alternatives, but there are several low-cost airlines you can check:
Jetstar is Qantas’ low-cost sister
Virgin Australia is the VirginAir service for the Pacific region
Tiger Airways Australia – Tiger Airways is a Singapore-based Asian low-cost airline that has started offering regular services in Australia. For reasons of cost minimisation, Tiger Airways sometimes has a small own airport terminal instead of using the normal airport facilities. Make sure you add luggage in you booking if you need – it is not included!
There are only few railway routes in Australia, and rail service is not too frequent, on some routes there are only one to two departures per week. Some routes have only one set of rails for long stretches – with only few trains departing there aren’t too many trains coming the other way either.
Taking the train is neither the fastest nor the cheapest way to travel in Australia. It is something you do for the experience, because it has a vintage touch.
Recommendable routes: The Indian Pacific (goes through the Nullabor Plain, from Sydney/Adelaide to Perth) or The Ghan (goes straight through the Red Centre, Adelaide – Alice Springs- Darwin).
(8) Guided Tours
The Guided cross-country tours are on offer in all the backpackers’ travel agencies. They usually include transport, overnight stays, food and entrance fees for National Parks etc. The longest routes are along the East Coast, the West Coast, and straight through the Red Centre (from Melbourne/Adelaide up to Darwin or the other way round). You’ll find some Hop-on-hop-off bus services and a lot of shorter tours to local destinations, which will usually return to their place of depature. They are not necessarily much more expensive than doing the same trip individually. And you also get to meet a lot of fellow travellers.
My personal recommendation? Pick a good mix! The mode of transportation is a decisive factor moulding your experience of the country, especially in such a far-stretched destination as Australia. You’ll necessarily spend a lot of time sitting and moving. You should make the effort and try as many different modes of transportation as possible.
And remember: The journey is the reward.