Australia is huge but sparsely populated, and you can sometimes be on the road for many hours before you find the next trace of civilisation, especially if you leave the south-eastern coastal fringe.
Almost all modern Australian maps, including street directories, use the Geocentric Datum of Australia (GDA) as a grid reference, which is virtually identical to the WGS84 used by GPS. You can locate most things on an Australian map or street directory if you only have “GPS coordinates”.
There are restrictions on the transport of fruit and vegetables (including honey) between states and even between regions within states engaged in fruit production. If you are travelling long distances by car or between states, or if you are travelling by air between states, you should not stock up on fruit and vegetables.
Australia has a generally well-developed network of roads and highways, and cars are a commonly used mode of transport. Most state capitals are connected by good quality highways. Some parts are two-lane, but many sections are single-lane in each direction. Large areas have two-lane paved roads, but occasionally there are unpaved roads or even poorly maintained paths. Distances and speeds are given in kilometres and fuel is sold by the litre. Outside the urban areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, there are no tolls on roads or bridges.
Australia drives on the left-hand side. Overseas visitors who are used to driving on the right should be careful when driving for the first time, as well as when driving on country roads with little traffic.
As a rule, foreign driving licences 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 the licence. Licensing requirements and traffic laws vary slightly from state to state.
Australia’s low population density and size mean long car journeys between major centres. Here are some approximate driving times, excluding rest periods:
- From Sydney to Melbourne by car: 9-10 hours (900 km / 560 mi)
- Brisbane to Sydney: 12-13 hours (1,000 km / 620 mi)
- Perth to Sydney: 45 hours (4,000 km)
- Sydney to Canberra: 3.5 hours (300 km / 185 mi)
- From Adelaide to Melbourne: 8 to 10 hours (750 km / 465 mi)
- From Brisbane to Melbourne: 19-20 hours (1,700 km)
- From Melbourne to Perth: 40 hours (3,500 km)
- From Perth to Adelaide: 32 hours (2,700 km / 1,677 mi)
- From Brisbane to Cairns: 22-24 hours (1,700 km)
It is almost impossible to predict the journey time just by knowing the distance. Ask your neighbours for advice on the best route and time. It is possible to achieve an average speed of 100 km/h or more on some relatively low-traffic roads if they are straight and there are few towns. On other motorways that cross mountain ranges and pass through small towns, even an average of 60 km/h can be a challenge.
Although the main roads are well maintained, anyone leaving paved roads in the Australian outback is advised to check with local authorities, check weather and road conditions and carry sufficient fuel, spares, spare tyres, matches, food and water. On some remote roads, one car per month or less can be seen.
There is no mobile phone reception outside the major motorways and cities, and you will need to take certain precautions in case of an emergency. It is a good idea to inform someone you know and trust of your itinerary and instruct them to alert the authorities if you do not report within a reasonable time of your expected arrival at your destination. Carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or satellite phone should be considered when travelling in remote areas, especially if you are unable to make contact for several days. The police will not automatically start looking for you if you do not turn up. Make sure you get one with a built-in GPS. You can rent them from some local police stations, for example in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. If you want to rent one, make sure you get one before you leave a big city, as you won’t find rental spaces in small towns. Expect to pay about $100 for a week’s rental or $700 for a week’s purchase. Do not expect an immediate bailout, even if you take out a PLB.
Heat and dehydration can kill you at any time of year. If you get stuck, stay with your vehicle and do what you can to improve your visibility from the air. Don’t take this advice lightly; even locals die on the spot if their car breaks down and they are not reported missing. If you have to leave your car (say you break down and need to be picked up by a vehicle), call the local police station quickly to avoid the embarrassment and expense of a search being initiated for you.
In Australia’s major cities, there are a number of outlets offering a wide range of rental vehicles from leading international rental companies. In smaller towns it can be difficult to find a rental car. One-way charges often apply in smaller regional outlets.
|Rental vehicle conditions generally apply to travel to or from Western Australia and the Northern Territory or on ferries to Tasmania, Kangaroo Island and Fraser Island. Rental cars in capital cities usually have unlimited mileage. In small towns, they usually cover only 100 km per day before an extra charge is made. Some companies allow driving on all gazetted roads, while others prohibit driving on gravel or dirt roads unless you hire a four-wheel drive vehicle. Always check the vehicle carefully for damage, including to windows and roof parts, and document any damage in detail with the hirer before leaving the depot.|
You must have an English driving licence or an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your home country to drive anywhere in Australia. Check the terms and conditions carefully if you are under 25 years of age and make sure your licence category matches the vehicle you wish to hire before booking.
The small cars you can rent can be manual (stick-shift), while the larger cars are usually automatic.
If you don’t have an Australian driver’s licence, some car rental companies will ask you to take a free tourist driver’s test, which covers basic traffic rules, or take you on a short drive to see if you are competent to drive.
A campervan is a vehicle converted into a camper (recreational vehicle), usually a minivan, that accommodates the large number of young European and American backpackers who traverse the country. The east coast, from Sydney to Cairns, is particularly rich in happy and hungover young people travelling in these vehicles.
Britz and Maui tend to operate in the high-end segment of the motorhome market, while competition is fierce in the low-end segment: the largest operators include JucyRentals, Hippie Camper and Spaceships.
The equipment and quality of the motorhomes varies considerably. Some are equipped with showers, toilets, kitchens and other facilities, while others have little more than mattresses in the rear. It is usually suitable for 2-6 people, depending on the size of the vehicle. Check the surcharges very carefully and make sure you are not paying the same or more for a lower quality vehicle.
Don’t think that hiring a campervan is a cheaper way to see Australia. Fuel costs vary greatly depending on where you are. Fuel costs in the Australian outback are much higher than in urban areas. Add in the cost of car hire etc. and travel and hostel accommodation is often cheaper and more comfortable – but the freedom on your own four wheels can make up for it.
Buy a car
There is a large second-hand market for cars and campervans for walkers who want to make long trips to Australia. Take common sense precautions when buying a car. Remember the importance of a full mechanical checklist, driver’s licence, registration and insurance. Government benefits are available free of charge to ensure it is not burdened with a financial package and has not already been written off in an accident.
- Travelling Car Barn
- Gumtree provides a guide for backpackers to buying motorhomes in Australia. It also lists vehicles for sale privately and from dealers.
- VINNER REVS Check by entering a vehicle identification number (VIN). A VINNER REVS Check report tells you if a car is in debt or if it has already been written off or stolen. You can check the VIN, VIN and VIN number and it works for most states and terrorists, including New South Wales, Quebec, Colombia and West Africa.
- Redbook is an Australian authority responsible for setting car prices. Find the market price of any vehicle.
In big cities, taxi services are quite expensive. Uber is available here (with the usual controversies), as well as smartphone apps like myDriver, GoCatch, which can be extremely useful to find a licensed taxi when there is none on the street.
If you are travelling alone, it is usual for a passenger to sit in the front passenger seat next to the driver and not in the back seat. But if you prefer to sit in the back seat, that’s no problem.
Due to the long distances involved, air travel is a popular mode of transport in Australia. Flights along the main business travel corridor (Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane) are operated almost like a bus service, with departures every 15 minutes during the day.
The best fares are almost always on the most competitive routes, while routes to remote destinations with fewer flights tend to be more expensive. It should be noted that Qantas often offers competitive fares, so don’t ignore this option just because it’s the national carrier. There are only a handful of major airlines in Australia, so it won’t take long to compare prices for domestic routes:
- Qantas, the only full-service national airline serving major cities and some key regional cities;
- Virgin Australia, a national airline serving major cities and some larger regional cities;
- Jetstar, the discount arm of Qantas, with limited service and assigned seats.
- Tigerair Australia, Virgin Australia’s low-cost airline, whose hub is in Melbourne and which flies to Sydney, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Alice Springs, Hobart, Mackay, Perth and Canberra, has very reasonable prices.
Several airlines serve regional destinations. Expect discounts to be harder to get on these airlines and standard fares to be higher than what you would pay for the same distance between major centres.
- Qantaslink, the regional branch of Qantas covering small towns in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia;
- Regional Express, which covers the major cities on the east coast as well as South Australia;
- Skywest, which covers the Western Australia, Bali and Darwin region;
- Airnorth, which covers the Northern Territory;
- SkytransAirlines, which covers the Queensland region.
- Sharp Airlines, which covers several regional cities in Victoria and South Australia.
Scheduled air services serve only a handful of the thousands of airports in Australia. There are many opportunities to charter aircraft that can take you directly to small country towns or even offshore islands. Costs can be comparable to scheduled airlines when 3 or more people fly as a group. The Australian Private Pilot Licence allows private pilots to carry passengers and recover the cost of the aircraft and fuel from passengers, but not to solicit passengers or operate commercial flights. That said, if you check the websites of local flying clubs, you will see that there are always private pilots willing to fly a nice weekend if someone is willing to pay for the cost of the aircraft and fuel.
Visitors from countries with well-developed long-distance transport systems, such as Europe and Japan, may be surprised to learn that there are no high-speed trains in Australia. A historical lack of interstate cooperation, combined with considerable distances and a relatively small population to serve, has meant that Australia has a relatively slow national rail network, used mainly for freight. Nevertheless, inter-city rail journeys can be very scenic and offer the opportunity to discover new aspects of the country. They are also a cost-effective way to travel to regional cities, which are usually more expensive than flights between national capitals.
Existing long-distance trains are mainly used to connect regional communities with the state capital, such as Bendigo in Melbourne or Cairns in Brisbane. In Queensland, a high-speed train connects Brisbane with Rockhampton and Brisbane with Cairns. Queensland also offers 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 Melbourne-Adelaide (The Overland), Sydney-Adelaide-Perth (Indian Pacific), Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin (The Ghan) routes; however, as mentioned above, these are not ‘high speed’ services, so if you don’t like train travel as part of your holiday, this is probably not for you.
There is no passenger rail service in Tasmania. The Northern Territory has only the Darwin to Adelaide railway line, which passes through Alice Springs, and the Australian Capital Territory has a single railway station near the centre of Canberra.
Long-distance train operator
- Great Southern Railways – Private rail operator running tourist train services, the Ghan, Indian Pacific and overland routes between Sydney, Broken Hill, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin, Perth and Melbourne.
- NSWTrainlinkRegional – Connects Sydney with Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, with regional services to most New South Wales cities, including Dubbo, Coffs Harbour and Wagga Wagga.
- V/Line – train and bus services within Victoria, including combined train and bus services between Melbourne and Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra.
- Queensland Rail -Traveltrain – Long Distance Passenger Train Service in Queensland
- TheSavannahlander – A Queenstrain service connecting Cairns with the hinterland town of Forsayth, using old heritage trains and offering accommodation and sightseeing along the route.
- TransWA – a state government-owned company that operates rail services to Kalgoorlie and Bunbury. TransWA also operates bus services in large parts of the state where rail services have operated in the past, particularly in the south-western part of the state.
No rail pass includes all train travel throughout Australia. However, if you are a train lover and plan to travel a lot by train, there are passes that can save you money. Plan your trip carefully before investing in a rail pass. Rural trains are rare and can arrive at regional destinations at uncivilised times.
- Fit. Use all NSW Trainlink services (trains and buses). You can travel anywhere in NSW, but also north to Brisbane and south to Melbourne.
There are four passes that include all Great Southern Railways (GSR) services and optionally NSW Trainlink and Queensland Rail services, which are only available to overseas travellers. Remember that NSW Trainlink operates the XPT services from Sydney to Melbourne, so passes that include NSW Trainlink can also be used for this service.
- Rail Explorer Pass- GSR only ($450 for 3 months)
- Trans Aus – GSR + NSW Countrylink. ($598 for 3 months)
- From Reef and Outback – GSR + Queensland Rail. ($672 for 3 months)
- AusrailPass – GSR + NSW Countrylink + Queensland Rail ($722.00 for 3 months, $990.00 for 6 months)
Trains and buses are integrated into the city’s public transport system in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Wollongong and Newcastle. Trams also run in Melbourne and Adelaide, and ferries in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. In the other capital cities, there are only bus services. For more details on public transport, see the city guide articles.
There are local bus services in some regional towns, but check guidebooks for connections as frequency can be low and services may not be available at weekends and in the evenings.
On some trains you can transport your car on special trolleys attached to the rear of the train.
With the Ghan and Indian Pacific you can transport cars between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Perth and Darwin. You cannot pick up your car at any of the intermediate stations.
There are no more car transport services in Queensland.
Bus transport in Australia is cheap and convenient, although the distances on the interstate routes are impressive. Greyhound has the largest network of bus routes. Note that there is no bus service from other capital cities to Perth.
- Firefly Express, 1300 730 740 (local rate), +61 3 8318 0318 (international calls), email: [email protected] Firefly Express operates services between Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
- Greyhound, 1300 473 946 (local rate), email: [email protected] Greyhound travels to more than 1,100 destinations in Australia every day of the year. A range of ticket options are available, allowing you to travel at your own pace and hop on and off as often as your ticket allows.
- Murrays, +61 13 22 51, email: [email protected] Murrays offers connections from Canberra to Sydney, the south coast of New South Wales and the Snowfields.
Many major Australian cities have ferries as part of their public transport system. Some smaller roads in regional areas still have poles to take cars across rivers and canals. The Barrier Reef Islands are regularly visited and some cruises also cross the tip of Australia.
However, large ferry connections between the cities are not common.
- The Spirit ofTasmania. The only long-distance ferry line connecting Tasmania with the mainland, it carries cars and passengers daily by road across Bass Strait between Melbourne and Devonport.
- Sealink connects Kangaroo Island, the second largest island in South Australia, with regular car ferries.
- Sea Saturday offers a shortcut across Spencer Gulf between Adelaide and the Eyre Peninsula, with daily car ferry services.
Hitchhiking is legal in some Australian states, provided certain guidelines are followed. However, the practice is less common than in neighbouring New Zealand. In Australia, hitchhiking is often frowned upon by residents and police, especially in urban areas.
Hitchhiking is illegal in Victoria and Queensland. It is also illegal to stand or walk on highways (often called “motorways” in New South Wales) in all states (which actually makes hitchhiking illegal in many convenient locations in all states).
If you are forced to hitchhike due to an emergency, you may find a motorist willing to give you a lift to the nearest town for help. (Many major motorways and interurban roads have emergency call boxes where you can request help).
It is common to see a tourist hitchhiking in rural areas. The best time to hitchhike is early in the morning. The best place is near the main exit of the town you are in, but not on it.
Long cycling distances between cities are not common in Australia, and most Australian trunk roads are poorly equipped for cyclists. In some states, old railway lines have been converted to railways. The Rail Trail Australia website has good material on routes off the main highways that are much safer.
Nevertheless, some intrepid travellers manage to cover the longest distances by bike and experience Australia differently. Long-distance cyclists can be found on the Nullarbor and other remote roads.
Long-distance cycling routes have been developed in Western Australia that are well worth exploring.
Journeys and itineraries need to be carefully planned to ensure that the necessary supplies are transported.
Cycling between Sydney and Brisbane takes 2 to 3 weeks at about 80 to 100 km per day.
Walking is the only way to discover certain landscapes in some parts of Australia. In Tasmania, the Central Highland Overland Track and the South Coast Track are good examples of things to do on a walking holiday. The Bicentennial National Trail is one of the longest hiking trails in the world and stretches from Cooktown in North Queensland to Healesville.