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Travel Guide > Australia & Oceania > Australia

Australia Getting around

  
 
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Australia is huge but sparsely populated, and you can sometimes travel many hours before finding the next trace of civilisation, especially once you leave the south-eastern coastal fringe.

Almost all modern Australian maps, including street directories, use the Geocentric Datum of Australia (GDA) as their grid reference, which is for all purposes identical to the WGS84 used by the GPS. You can locate most things on an Australian map or street directory if you just have the "GPS coordinates".

Quarantine

There are restrictions on carrying fruit and vegetables (including honey) between states and even between regions of states that are involved in fruit growing. If you are driving long distances or interstate, or flying between states, don't stock up on fruits and vegetables.

By car

Australia has a generally well-maintained system of roads and highways, and cars are a commonly used method of transport. Most of the state capitals are linked to each other by good quality highways. Some parts are dual carriageway but many sections are one lane each way. Major regional areas have sealed (paved) dual-lane roads, but isolated areas may have poorly maintained dirt roads or even tracks. Distances and speeds are specified in kilometres and fuel is sold by the litre. There are no tolls on roads or bridges outside of the urban areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Australia drives on the left. Overseas visitors who are used to driving on the right should take care when they first drive, and again when they are driving on country roads with little traffic.

Generally, overseas licenses are valid for driving in Australia for three months after arrival. If the licence is not in English an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required in addition to your licence. Licensing regulations and road rules vary slightly from state to state.

While major highways are well serviced, anyone leaving sealed (paved) roads in inland Australia is advised to take advice from local authorities, check weather and road conditions, carry sufficient spare fuel, spare parts, spare tyres, matches, food and water. Some remote roads might see one car per month or less. Cellular coverage is non-existent outside of major highways and towns and you should take some precautions in case of emergency. It is a good idea to advise a person you know and trust of your route and advise them to alert authorities if you do not contact them within a reasonable amount of time after your scheduled arrival at your destination. Carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or satellite phone should be considered when travelling in remote areas, especially where you may not be able to make contact for several days. Police will not automatically start looking for you if you don't report in. Make sure you get one with a GPS built in. These can be borrowed from some local police stations, such as those in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. If you want to hire one, sort it out before you leave a major city, as you won't find hire places in small towns. Expect to pay around $100 to hire for a week, or $700 to buy one. Don't expect an immediate rescue even if you trigger a PLB. Heat and dehydration at any time of year can kill you. If stranded, stay with your vehicle and do what you can to improve your visibility from the air. Do not take this advice lightly, even local people die out there when their car breaks down and they are not reported missing. If you do have to abandon your car (say you break down and then get a lift), call in quickly to the local police station, to avoid the embarrassment and cost of a search being started for you.

Car rental

Car rental is widely available in major cities around Australia. National chains include Avis, Hertz, Budget, Europcar and Thrifty. In smaller towns car rental can be difficult to find. One way fees usually apply.

Restrictions usually exist on travelling into or out of Western Australia and the Northern Territory or on the car ferries to Tasmania, Kangaroo Island and Fraser Island. Rental cars in capital cities usually have unlimited mileage. In small towns they usually only include 100km a day before a surcharge is applied. Some companies allow travel on any gazetted road, while others forbid travel on a gravel/dirt road unless you hire a four wheel drive.

You will need to have a licence in English or a IDP from your home country, and check conditions carefully if you are under 25.

The very cheapest cars you can hire can be manual (stick-shift). Anything larger will usually be automatic.

Car purchase

There is a substantial second hand market in cars and campers for backpackers wishing to do extended road trips around Australia. Take common sense precautions if purchasing a car. Free state government services are available to ensure it is unencumbered by a finance arrangement and that it has not been previously written off as a result of an accident.

By plane

Due to the large distances involved, flying is a well-patronised form of travel in Australia. Services along the main business travel corridor (Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane) are run almost like a bus service, with flights leaving every 15 minutes during the day.

The only way to get the best airfare is to visit each of the airlines pages directly, and compare fares. Never assume the Qantas fare will be more expensive, as their online deals are often the cheapest available on a route. The best fares are always available on the most competitive routes. Consolidator websites and travel agents almost invariably add a surcharge to direct booking. Use them to compare, but always check the airline website before booking.

There are four domestic airlines in Australia that operate jet aircraft linking capital cities and major destinations.

Several airlines service regional destinations. Expect discounts on these airlines to be harder to come by, and for standard airfares to be above what you would pay for the same distance between major centres.

By train

Visitors from countries with well-developed long distance rail systems such as Europe and Japan may be surprised by the lack of high-speed, inter-city rail services in Australia. A historical lack of cooperation between the states, combined with sheer distances and a relatively small population to service, have left Australia with a national rail network that is relatively slow and used mainly for freight. As a result, travel between major cities will not only be faster by air, but often cheaper as well depending on the route you wish to travel. Train travel between cities is, however, more scenic, and tourists are likely to see more of Australia travelling by train than they would otherwise see, as well as cutting down on their carbon footprint. It is also often a cost effective way of getting to regional towns and cities, which don't have the frequent and cheap flights found between the capital cities.

The long-distance rail services that do exist are mainly used to link regional townships with the state capital, such as Bendigo to Melbourne, or Cairns to Brisbane. In Queensland, a high speed train operates between Brisbane to Rockhampton and Brisbane to Cairns. Queensland also has passenger services to inland centres including Longreach (The Spirit of the Outback), Mount Isa (The Inlander), Charleville (The Westlander) and Forsayth (The Savannahlander). There are also inter-city train services operated by Great Southern Railways on the routes Melbourne-Adelaide (The Overland), Sydney-Adelaide-Perth (Indian Pacific), Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin (The Ghan) however as noted above, these are not "high speed" services, so if you do not enjoy train travel as part of your holiday in its own right then this is probably not for you.

Tasmania has no passenger rail services. The Northern Territory has the rail line linking Darwin to Adelaide through Alice Springs only, and the Australian Capital Territory has only a single railway station close to the centre of Canberra.

Long distance train operators

  • Great Southern Railways A private train operator running tourist train services, The Ghan, The Indian Pacific and The Overland between Sydney, Broken Hill, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin, Perth and Melbourne.
  • CountryLink - Links Sydney to Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, and regional connections to most New South Wales towns, including Dubbo, Coffs Harbour, and Wagga Wagga.
  • V/Line Passenger - Train & coach services in Victoria, including combined Train and Coach services between Melbourne and Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra.
  • Queensland Rail - Traveltrain - Long distance passenger train services in Queensland
  • The Savannahlander - A Queenstrain service that links Cairns with the outback town of Forsayth, using old heritage trains, and providing overnight accommodation and tours on the way.
  • TransWA - State government run, operating train services to Kalgoorlie and Bunbury. Also operates coach services to much of the state, especially the South West.

Rail passes

  • East Coast Discovery Pass Get on and off as many times as you like on the east coast trains between Melbourne and Cairns. Different prices apply depending on which section of the line you want to traverse. One way travel only is permitted. Discounts apply on other train journeys, and often bus connections to local towns are included. This ticket is available to everyone, international visitors and Australian residents.
  • Australian Flexi-Pass Available to non-Australian passport holders. Allows unlimited train travel on the Ghan and the Indian Pacific, New South Wales Countrylink and Queensland Rail. It will get you to every capital city on mainland Australia, as well as the tropical north of Queensland. If you are not travelling to Western Australia or the Northern Territory there are probably cheaper options.

Local public transport

Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Wollongong and Newcastle have train and bus services integrated into the city public transport.

By motorail

Some trains allow you to carry your car with you on special car carriages attached to the back of the train.

The Ghan and the Indian Pacific allow you to transport cars between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Perth, and Darwin. You cannot remove your car at any of the intermediate stations.

Queensland Rail have motorail services on the Sunlander and the Spirit of the Outback, allow cars from Brisbane to Cairns and Longreach.

By bus

Bus travel in Australia is cheap and convenient, although the distances involved for interstate connections are daunting. Greyhound has the largest bus route network.

  • Firefly Express
  • Greyhound
  • Murrays

By boat

Many major Australian cities have ferries as part of their public transport system. Some smaller roads in the regional areas still have punts to carry cars across rivers and canals. The islands of the Barrier Reef have some scheduled services, and there are a few cruises that cross the top of Australia as well.

However, large inter city transportation ferry services are not common.

  • The Spirit of Tasmania
  • Sealink
  • Sea SA

By thumb

It is legal to hitchhike in some states in Australia, so long as certain guidelines are followed. However, it is less commonly done than in neighboring New Zealand. In Australia hitchhiking is often frowned upon by locals and police, especially in metropolitan areas.

Hitch hiking is illegal in Victoria and Queensland. It is also illegal to stand on the verge or walk along freeways (often called "motorways" in New South Wales) in all states (effectively making hitchhiking illegal in many practical places, in all states).

If forced to hitchhike due to an emergency you may find a motorist willing to take you to the nearest town to obtain help. It would be rare to find a motorist willing take you further afield. (Some major inter-city highways and freeways have telephones to request help.)

It is most common to see a tourist hitching in rural areas. The best time to hitchhike is early morning. The best location is near, but not on, the main exit from the town you are in.

By bicycle

Cycling the long distances between towns is not particularly common, and most long distance highways in Australia have poorly developed facilities for cyclists. Never-the-less some intrepid travellers do manage to cover the longer distances by bicycle, and have a different experience of Australia.

Trips and routes need careful planning to ensure the correct supplies are carried. To cycle between Sydney and Brisbane you would have to allow 2-3 weeks with around 80-100km per day.

Transport Companies in Australia

Airline Air Asia X
flies into the Gold Coast, Melbourne and Perth from Kuala Lumpur, at often deeply discounted fares. You can save money from Europe if having a stopover in Malaysia.
in Australia
Airline Tiger
flies from Singapore to Perth.
in Australia
 
Airline Jetstar Airways
flies to Hawaii and several Asian destinations, including Osaka, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh, and also operates a hub in Singapore.
in Australia
Airline V Australia
flies between Melbourne Brisbane Sydney and Los Angeles, and is currently competing strongly with Qantas and Delta on these routes.
in Australia
 
Airline Qantas
the only nation-wide full service airline, flying to major cities and some larger regional towns;
in Australia
Airline Virgin Blue
a nation-wide budget airline, flying to major cities and a few larger regional towns;
in Australia
 
Airline Jetstar
Qantas's discount arm with limited service and assigned seating.
in Australia
Airline Tiger Airways Australia
one of Asia's largest LCC has a main hub in Melbourne and a secondary hub in Adelaide serving about 10 destinations across the mainland and Tasmania, prices are very competitive.
in Australia
 
Airline Qantaslink
the regional arm of Qantas, covering the smaller cities in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia;
in Australia
Airline Regional Express
covering larger towns & cities on the eastern seaboard as well as country South Australia;
in Australia
 
These are just 10 of 22 Transport Companies in Australia. Show more.




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