Whether you’re roaring along the outback in a pimped-out campervan, or jetting over to the west coast – there’s plenty of choice when it comes to getting around Australia.
Being such a vast country, don’t be surprised if you find yourself driving for hours when travelling from one Australian city to the next. In fact, driving from Perth to Sydney is roughly the same as London to Moscow – so it’s very important to know how you will travel around the country. That way, by planning a little in advance, you can take advantage of some great travel deals and spend your money on the important things (ahem, we all know what that is). But whether you travel by plane, train or automobile, half the fun is getting there…
OZ BY AIR The price war between Virgin Blue (www.virginblue.com.au) and Qantas’s (www.qantas.com.au) budget airline subsidiary Jetstar (www.jetstar.com.au) means flights are eminently affordable Down Under. And with Tiger Airways (www.tigerairways.com) now offering cheap flights between Melbourne and Darwin, there’s even more competition for your dollar. You wouldn’t want to fly from city to city all your way around Australia because you’ll miss out on some stunning scenery and stop-offs along the way. But many savvy travellers include one or two flights in their itinerary, especially when the time on your visa starts ticking away.
Happy talking Virgin has a ‘happy hour’ on its website every day between 1pm and 2pm (AEST), with some pretty ridiculous prices on selected flights. That said, it’s notoriously difficult to actually get the site to work at this time, due to the volume of interest. So it’s best to start looking well in advance. It’s a good idea to register with an airline’s website and they’ll often email you special deals, etc. Travelling mid-week can be cheaper, as can hopping on a plane at ungodly hours, like before 7am. Gulp. Tiger Airways also provides cheap flights from Perth and Darwin to Singapore and Asia. So rather than having to get back to Sydney or Melbourne, you can now choose to fly home via Asia at an affordable price and really make the most of your last few days or weeks of freedom.
OZ BY TRACK Adelaide > Alice Springs > Darwin The romanticism of train travel, the rhythmic sound of the wheels below, the cinematic landscape scrolling past your window – it’s all part of the joys of The Ghan, one of Australia’s top rail journeys. Steeped in a history of desert-heat and hard-times, the train is named after the Afghan labourers who constructed the line. The line joins the south with the north, dissecting Australia right down the centre from Adelaide to Darwin, through Alice Springs. Do the entire trip, or do just half to the red centre. Leave the driving to the train driver as you lay back in air-conditioned comfort and watch the outback zoom by, spotting mobs of kangaroos in the red centre sunset. A few whistle stops help break up the two-day trip and for a couple of extra bucks, you can reach out and experience the outback first hand. Canoe the ancient Katherine Gorge ($24 for a double canoe) or take a helicopter ride over the grand Nitmiluk National Park ($169). In Alice, hop on a quad bike for a tour of the NT’s oldest working cattle station ($109). For travellers with a YHA, VIP, Nomads or International Student Exchange card, you can purchase the Explorer Pass for just $590, which will give you six months unlimited travel. For everyone else, the pass will set you back $690. Visit www.gsr.com.au for more information.
Sydney > Adelaide > Perth Australia’s other great railway journey is the trans-continental Indian Pacific, which joins two great oceans. The 4,352km trip involves spending three nights on board and stops at (from east to west) Broken Hill, Adelaide and gold-rich Kalgoorlie. Travelling along the Nullarbor Plain, you’ll also stop in the small outpost of Cook, boasting a population of just two people. If you’re a trainspotter you’re sure to love one of the longest and most spectacular train journeys in the world.
Melbourne > Adelaide The Overland will take you on a direct route from Melbourne to Adelaide, where you’ll travel through the Grampians, to Horsham, and over the South Australian border to your destination. The service takes approximately 11 hours and runs three times a week in each direction. From here you can meet up with the Indian Pacific, and travel onwards, west to Perth.
Melbourne > Sydney > Brisbane > Cairns If you are looking to explore New South Wales and the entire east coast of Australia, then CountryLink trains offer a variety of rail passes available. Coffs Harbour and the Great Lakes area can be reached by travelling on CountryLink’s North Coast services, while routes extending to Brisbane and Murwillumbah (via Byron Bay) will introduce you to the tropics. With an East Coast Discovery Pass you can take six months to travel in one direction up or down the coast, enjoying unlimited stopovers.Destinations covered by the East Coast Discovery Pass include Melbourne, Sydney, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane and Cairns. Visit www.countrylink.info or call 132 232 for details.
OZ BY ROAD Buses Coach services throughout Australia are a very easy-going, cost-effective way to get around and there are various passes that offer hop-on, hop-off options, or unlimited travel over a period of time. Firefly (Freecall 1300 730 740) has very cheap daily services from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Premier Motor Service (Ph: 13 34 10) offer backpacker discounts from Melbourne to Cairns, while Greyhound goes to many destinations all over Australia. There are also a number of smaller operators who can take you off the beaten track. There are backpacker-specific coach lines and as the name suggests these trips are tailor-made for young travellers.
Tours Tour the country like a rock star. Hopping on a tour bus with stop-offs at the highlights and an informed guide means you can throw the maps out the window and watch the world go by. This can be a cost-effective way to see the sights and get stuck into some adventures at the same time. Many tours are specific to an activity, like a learn to surf tour. Outback adventures, 4WD tours or wine tours are also popular, taking you off the beaten track. Your accommodation, food and equipment are often provided, and you’ll spend nights in hostels, cabins or tents, depending on the adventure. Many tours have flexible deals and allow you to create your own itineraries.
Buying your wheels The ideal trip, if you can afford it, is travelling by car or campervan. That means you have your own wheels, your own time and Australia’s beautifully varied landscape whizzing by. You can explore every nook and cranny, from secret beaches to ancient national parks with free or cheap campgrounds. Picking up a stationwagon, van or panel van gives you room to throw a mattress in the back for optimum freedom. With no itinerary, you can stay for as little or long as you like in one place. Supplying yourself with some camping and cooking equipment will make dinner cheaper, and subsidise the rising petrol prices.
Hiring your wheels If you’re embarking on a shorter trip, a rental car is a good bet, with no resale worries at the end of the line. You won’t have the cash for a pimped-up Range Rover, so you’ll want to go with a company within your price range. There are rental companies targeting budget travellers that have drop-off points in most cities and start from around $30 a day. If you’ve got a bit more money to spend, a campervan allows you to pull over on the side of the road and sleep where you like. The luxury campers come with a TV, food-preparation equipment, a sink and a shower. Cheaper versions of the campervan, targeted at the tighter traveller, are simpler but do the job just as well. Also, enquire about relocation specials for car and van rentals – you can get deals for as little as $1/day. It may mean being at your destination by a specific date, so you lose time to explore, but at that price you can’t complain.