I believe I can fly, said R Kelly. But he can’t, because he’s just a boringly flightless human… Like us. So an aeroplane is probably the next best thing. The price war between Virgin Blue ( and Qantas’s ( budget airline subsidiary JetStar ( means flights are eminently affordable Down Under. With such vast distances to cover we’re all big fans of Richard Branson for sticking his oar in and keeping the costs down.

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.

Virgin has a “happy hour” on its website every day between 12pm and 1pm (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 both companies’ websites and they’ll often email you special deals, etc. Travelling mid-week can be cheaper and near the weekend, as can hopping on a plane at ungodly hours, like before 7am. Gulp.

Adelaide to Darwin

The romanticism of train travel, the rumbling sound of the tracks 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 your conductor as you lay back in comfort and watch as the outback zooms by, spotting mobs of kangaroos on the red centre sunset. A few whistle stops help break up the 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 backpacker discount card, prices start from $460 for the Adelaide-Darwin journey in the daynighter cabin and drop for shorter journeys. Prices rise for Sleeper and Gold Kangaroo service. Visit for more information.

Sydney to 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. As a budget traveller you’re eligible for student fairs of $252. (But prices are due to double on 1 April 2007.) If you’re a trainspotter you’re sure to love one of the longest and most spectacular train journeys in the world.

If you’re not ready for such a huge trip you can get some training on The Overland. Taking a direct route from Melbourne to Adelaide, you’ll travel through the Grampians, to Horsham and over the border to your destination. Tickets for backpackers are $45 one way. 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.


Some coaches are more pleasant than others. For example, Jose Mourinho, is quite unpleasant. Coach services throughout Australia on the other hand are a very easy-going, cost-effective way to get around. They cover a surprisingly large area, linking many cities and country towns. 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, and Greyhound Australia goes to many destinations. 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, so they’re guaranteed fun.

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 is 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. Shop around for the one that best suits your price range and interests.

The ideal trip, if you can afford it, is travelling by car or campervan. Your own wheels, your own time. The open road with you and a friend – preferably in a ‘66 red Mustang convertible, yet more likely an ‘83 two-tone brown Holden stationwagon – and Australia’s beautifully varied landscape make for fantastic roadtrips. 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. (See the next page for top tips on buying a car).

If you’re embarking on an ephemeral adventure, 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 $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, shower and if you’re Richard Branson, a couple of hot tubs. 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.

Michael Keogh, manager of Cronulla Beach YHA Hostel in Sydney, offers some helpful tips on getting your hands on a dream machine.

Buying A Car
This can be either the best or worst decision you will make during your travels. Most travellers’ budgets range between $1,000 and $3,500, which is naturally at the lowest end of the market and cars in this price range can be fraught with danger, but if you get a reliable one, the benefits are fantastic. Here are some of the best ways to buy a car in Australia…

Car auctions
This is the cheapest way to buy a car, as this is where the dealers get them from. Usually they have no reserve price and you cannot pre-drive them or even inspect them. If you know a bit about cars, go to the various Sydney auctions and get yourself a bargain!

Backpacker car markets
Australia’s largest is in Sydney at Kings Cross ( The local council allows travellers to sell their cars in a parking station and there are usually many to choose from. This is where you will find many sad-faced travellers trying to sell their cars before flying on to their next destination. Naturally they are trying to get as much as they can, but they’re secretly stressing-out as they only have a short time before they leave Australia. If you can detect their desperation and make a ridiculous offer you might get lucky. These cars have usually gone around Australia several times past their normal life expectancy, and as you can imagine, most backpackers on a budget will not service them correctly, so the risk could be high.

Buying a car privately
This option offers the chance of excellent savings, but also the danger of financial disaster. The old saying “buyer beware” is paramount as there are no warranties and no comebacks – once you have paid the money, that’s it. Only consider this option if you or a travelling partner know a lot about cars and can inspect it yourselves. Pay an extra $30-$50 to have it independently inspected by a local garage. I’ve seen many people saved at the last minute by an inspection report that reveals the car they were about to spend thousands on was actually a “lemon” worth less than a tenth of the price.

Backpacker specialised car dealers
Yes, they are making a profit out of you but generally speaking their buy-back systems are good value – plus you know they have fully serviced and re-registered the car for a long period of time, have a national service network, and can arrange insurance etc. Most of these car dealers offer up to a 40 percent buy back and want you to spread the word to other travellers along the way.