Transportation: Getting around by land

Other transportation pages are here:
    Air
    Water

More information on travel to and in specific parts of Australia is given on these pages:
    Cape York, Queensland
    The Kimberley, Western Australia
    Perth area, Western Australia – choose the link for “Transport”

We will be adding more details to this page as we find them.

Getting around by land

Your choices for transportation by land are:

Related information:

Rent (hire) a vehicle

Many travellers prefer to rent a vehicle rather than take a guided tour. The major international car rental companies are here, and most of them have both conventional (2-wheel-drive) and 4-wheel-drive cars and campervans.

Most car-rental companies restrict where you can go, so be sure to check before you head off onto unsealed (unpaved) roads or even all the way across or around the country.

Also check exactly what the insurance covers. The standard insurance for rental cars often does not include damage to tires and windscreens (windshields), but you should be able to pay a bit more to include that coverage. Be wary also of the “excess” or deductible — the amount you pay for any damage before the insurance covers the remainder. A standard policy may leave you liable for around A$2,500 or more; a policy to reduce that amount to something more reasonable may add A$15 or more per day to your rental costs. Most rental companies’ websites are very lacking in cost information about insurance!

Major car rental companies:

Apex Rent a Car

There are also quite a few booking agents on the web, far too many to try to list here. Some are located in Australia, others overseas. It pays to shop around, but you may have considerable difficulty getting enough information from anyone’s website to properly compare prices, and do be very, very careful about what your insurance covers or does not cover.

Larger towns and cities generally have several local car-rental companies. These companies may be cheaper than the international companies, but they often restrict where you can drive the car (only in the immediate area).

If you want a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, local companies are often your best bet. They may also provide camping equipment, at additional cost. Check websites or other travel information for places of interest to see which ones have local car rentals.

More information on renting motorhomes and campervans is here: http://www.avalook.com.au/rentals.htm.

Buy a vehicle

Many people coming to Australia for a stay of more than a few weeks want to buy a car or campervan and sell it again when leaving the country. This is not always cheaper than renting a vehicle, but you won’t have any restrictions on where you can take it. On the other hand, if the vehicle breaks down, you can’t turn it in to the rental company and get a replacement.

Buying a new car over the Internet is quite possible; we personally know two people who have done that and were very happy with the results. (See this page for one person’s experience.) Or you could find a car dealer after you arrive and choose a car from their stock.

Cars

For lots of information on cars and motoring in Australia, including new and used car prices and comparisons, dealers, financing, garages and services, here are some sites to check:
http://www.drive.com.au/
http://www.carsales.com.au/
http://www.carpoint.com.au
http://www.autoweb.com.au/
http://www.autos.msn.com/

A popular place to buy a used car is the Travellers Auto Barn, which has branches in Sydney, Cairns, and Brisbane. You can arrange for them to buy your vehicle back for an agreed price, assuming that you return it in good condition.

Another place to buy a car and sell it back when you leave is AussieCars. They have offices in all the capital cities.

Campervans and motorhomes

Campervans and motorhomes are all-in-one; for more about what’s in them, and links to some of the many places to buy or rent them, see the Campervan and motorhome rentals page.

Until about 5-10 years ago, motorhomes were unusual. Now they’re very common and popular. New and used vehicles, including some 4-wheel-drive models, are readily available to purchase or rent. Here are some of the major brands and dealers:

  • Swagman is one of the most expensive and luxurious lines of motorhomes, which come in a range of sizes. They will do buy-backs, so they sell used models too.
  • Winnebago motorhomes are available from many dealers, including Robert’s RV World in Victoria.
  • For smaller campervans, try John Terry Campers in Sydney.
  • Britz, Maui, and other rental companies sell used campervans and motorhomes. See the Campervan and motorhome rentals page for contact information.

For more information, or to find advertisements for new and used vehicles, you can subscribe to several commercial magazines, and there’s an owners’ club (that anyone can join) that publishes useful booklets on places to stay and other valuable information: Campervan & Motorhome Club of Australia.

Caravans and tent-trailers

A caravan (called “travel trailer” or “mobile home” in the USA) is towed by a car or truck. New and used caravans are readily available. Some are designed specifically for off-road use. Many popular designs use a pop-top to keep the caravan’s profile low during towing.

Trailers with fold-out tents are very popular; some of these open into quite elaborate structures.

Bring your own car or motorhome

It’s probably not worth the expense and hassle, unless you’re coming from New Zealand, and possibly not even then. You’ll have to post a hefty bond to ensure you export it again and don’t sell it, and there may be some complications related to vehicles with the driver’s seat on the left-hand side.

For the official word on importing a motor vehicle, visit the Quick Guide to Customs for Travellers page at the Australian Customs Service site.

Global Positioning System (GPS) waypoints

Ian Mann has published a good set of GPS waypoints and other travel information.

You can also get Australian waypoints from the Australian Geographic Place Names (Gazetteer).

For other waypoint information, visit the SwopNet Waypoint DataBank.

Automobile clubs

If you buy a car or other vehicle for your travels around Australia, you’ll want to contact one of the automobile clubs for inspections, insurance, maps, and other useful information.

If you’re planning to rent a vehicle, the auto clubs can be very helpful sources of information; and they will grant reciprocal privileges to members of most equivalent overseas organisations.

Here are some web pages:

  • Australian Automobile Association
  • NRMA (primarily New South Wales, but operates Australia wide)
  • RACQ (Royal Automobile Club of Queensland)
  • RACT (Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania)
  • RACV (Royal Automobile Club of Victoria)
  • RAC (Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia)

Driver’s license

Whether you rent or buy, you’ll need a valid driver’s license. If you have a driver’s license from your home country, with your photograph on it, you probably won’t need anything else. In some cases you may need to carry a translation of your license if it isn’t in English. You do not need a so-called international drivers’ license – they went out of fashion years ago.

Road condition reports

In northern Australia in the wet season (November through April), unsealed roads are often impassable, even for 4-wheel- drive vehicles, and sealed roads may be cut off by flood waters for a few hours to a few days.

In any season, before setting out on an outback journey, you are well advised to check on road conditions with the police, the state main roads department, or local branches of an automobile club. Here are some web sites to help you:

Bus (coach) on regular service

On local bus transport in each city, a variety of tickets are available, from single-trip to weekly (or longer) passes. Some passes include travel on trains and ferries as well as buses. Tourist tickets, that include entrance fees to major attractions, may also be available.

The Sydney busessite has timetables, maps, info on tickets and fares, including prepaid.

Meltrip is an unofficial site containing links to most public transport timetables in Melbourne, as an alternative to the official Metlink site, which can be difficult to use if you’re not familiar with the Melbourne area.

The main company operating inter-city buses in Australia is Greyhound, which nows owns McCafferty’s (you’ll still see buses painted with the McCafferty’s name). Several other companies also run buses on the heavily-travelled Sydney-Canberra and Sydney-Melbourne routes, among others.

Greyhound has a range of deals in travel passes, with fares based on pre-set routes (travelling in one direction and stopping off as often as you like), time (valid for 2 to 12 months), or number of kilometres (no other restrictions). Discounts apply to cardholders of various backpackers’ and seniors’ groups. Details on the website, where you can also buy tickets and passes.

Tour bus (coach)

Bus (coach) tours generally include accommodation and some meals in the price, if the tour is more than a day. Many tour companies operate in Australia. Your travel agent can tell you about some of them. We’ll add some links here as we find them.

The Wayward Bus

Some tour buses, especially those catering for backpackers, are transport-only. The Oz Experience (a bus with lots of flexibility on one ticket) is one: http://www.ozexperience.com.

A variation on the tour bus is the tag-along tour, where you drive your own vehicle in a small group led by an experienced guide. These tours are usually for 4-wheel-drive vehicles and explore outback areas of the country. For more information, see this page.

Train

Local train services are a great way to get around in the major cities.

One way to explore Australia’s east coast is with a Countrylink East Coast Discovery Pass. You get six months’ economy class travel, one way on NSW’s Countrylink and Queensland Rail’s rail and coach networks, plus unlimited stopovers. More information.

Here’s a page that has collected links to a bunch of official sites.

The links cover both ordinary trains and the fancy, expensive ones like the Indian Pacific (see the Great Southern Railway) and the Great South Pacific Express. To go directly to some of those sites, try:

Queensland Rail Traveltrain – Includes blurbs about each train, timetables, and info on where to book.

Great Southern Railway, including the Indian Pacific (Sydney to Perth) and the Ghan (Adelaide to Darwin).

Motorcycle

You can buy or hire a motorcycle, or take an escorted tour. The requirements for buying a motorcycle would be similar to those for buying a car.

This page has a long lists of sites about motorcycle rentals and tours. To buy a bike, try Bike Sales.

Bicycle

You can buy or hire a bicycle, or take an escorted tour.

We’ve met people riding bicycles around the country, but it’s difficult unless you have a support vehicle carrying your supplies. Although Australia is mostly flat, compared to many countries, it’s a very long way between towns in much of the country, and you have to carry a lot of water. Most roads are quite dangerous for bicyclists because they don’t have much of a shoulder, and in many cases the shoulder isn’t paved.

A bicycle can be a good way for getting around within a town, and we see many motorhomes with bicycles strapped on the back.

Here are some places to contact about bicycling and bicycle tours:

Walk

It’s generally a bit far between towns and cities for walking, but for recreational walking in beautiful scenery, you have a choice of many places to visit. You can take a bus to the nearest town or roadhouse and start your trek from there.

Some information for bushwalkers is here: Bushwalking, hiking, trekking clubs and Bicentennial National Trail.

Horse, camel

Numerous places offer treks on horseback. We’ll try to find a few to mention here.

For something a bit different, you could try a camel trek or expedition. Several companies offer desert treks.


Page last updated 24 October 2007