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Australian Transport

"Ever heard 'Life is a journey, not a destination'?  Probably as many times as 'It's not about winning.  It's about how you play the game.'   In spacious Australia, if you want to win the game of great travel experiences, you'd better be concerned about the journey, as in how exactly are you going to get from Point A to Point B.   The way you decide to journey from one place to another is going to determine what kind of Australia you see and whether or not you should be called a loser.  "  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

Planes    |     Trains     |     Buses   |     Rental Cars    | 

90%+ of all visitors to Australia are going to be traveling PPT.   That's not a bus line or an airline.  That stands for pre-packaged tour.   The backpackers will be booking cheapo tours, the well heeled will be booking private jets.  How are you going to get around?

If Doug's Republic hasn't be obvious about it yet, we're advocates of independent travel.   If we were pro-PPT, this entire web site would've automatically redirected to a travel agency's site.  There's nothing wrong with PPT's as long as that's not your entire experience in Oz.  We recommended mixing and matching all transport options to create a unique trip. That's what Doug did, and that's why you're really here, isn't it?

transport in Australia

Getting around Oz requires all of the above or a very obedient kangaroo
 getting around Australia

We discourage you from making this your main weapon for seeing the country . . . unless you're filthy rich and flying around the country on your own plane.  Flying usually signifies that one is trying to see a lot of the country on a rush tour.  What most people's trip amounts to is a flight to a state capital, a few PPT's in the near vicinity, and then a return to the airport to fly to another capital.   Don't bother doing this.  Rather, concentrate on few regions and explore those well.  Flying does have its place.  If you want to sincerely explore a certain region of Australia, you can't get there any quicker than flying.

Flying within Australia is now a lot more competitive than it was.  Before Virgin Blue came on the scene, Australians needed stacks of freshly pressed laundered bills to buy a flight ticket.  Even today, you are are not spoilt for choice and if you don't get your pick of the cheap fares on offer for a given leg, you'll be left with little money for little Jorge's Christmas gift after your next Darwin-Adelaide journey.    With Virgin Blue competition, flight passes like the Qantas Boomerang Pass don't make a lot of sense anymore unless you're planning to add New Zealand and South West Pacific destinations in Western Samoa, Solomon Islands, Fiji, etc.  Qantas limits the deals to people flying into the country by Qantas or British Airways.  The cost of the tickets depends on the distance traveled, but it's possible to get better priced tickets on Virgin Blue.  

Below are some Virgin Blue deals booked one month in advance.   The cheapest fare for a direct leg is listed.

LEG (one way) Duration (in hours) Cost in AUD
 Melbourne - Adelaide 1.3 129
 Sydney - Melbourne 1.5 85
 Melbourne - Hobart 1.25 80
 Sydney - Perth 4 219
 Melbourne - Perth  3.25 199
 Perth - Darwin  4 279
 Brisbane - Sydney 2.5 115
 Cairns - Brisbane  2.08 209
 Darwin - Brisbane 4.08 199
 Sydney - Canberra 1 65

Qantas and Virgin Blue get into price wars three or four times per year.  Let them beat the hell out of each other while you try to score a sweet flight deal. 

How romantic is it to ride around Australia by train, eh?  I'll give you more points for taking a train than a plane if time isn't pressing.   But train travel in Oz has devastating consequences on one's finances.  As in the United States, Australians don't travel vast distances by train.  One goes by train for the experience, not to leave more money in the pension fund. 

Australia does not have one rail line, called Ozi Rail or some other name.   There is no Australian Amtrak.  Instead, there are a few Australian rail operators governing the major routes:

This company handles the Brisbane - Melbourne routes.  A detailed route map can be seen here. Covered on these routes is New South Wales and Canberra.   CountryLink offers two passes travelers would be keen on it.   The first, the Backtracker, Pass, lets the bearer travel with no limit on the CountryLink train and bus networks.   Those wishing to visit touristy New South Wales to see places like the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, the Outback town of Broken Hill, and Sydney will benefit from this one.  The cost varies by length of validity.   A 14 day Backtracker costs AUD 232; 1-month, AUD 275; 3-months, AUD 298; 6-months, AUD 420.  The Backtracker is only available to non-Australians and a return ticket is required to buy one.  The authorities don't want foreign permanent residents scoring the deal.

Another CountryLink pass, the East Coast Discovery Pass, is obtainable by foreigners and Aussies alike, though Aussies pay more for it.   The Discovery pass isn't as flexible.  It allows one to travel up or down Australia's east coast in one direction with a six month validity and allows the bearer 50% off a CountryLink ticket back to your point of origin.  Ticket prices vary by legs.  Sydney to Melbourne, direct or via Canberra, is AUD 130; Sydney - Surfers Paradise, AUD 130; Sydney- Brisbane, AUD 130.   Sydney - Cairns, AUD 369.45; Melbourne - Brisbane, AUD 220; Melbourne - Surfers Paradise, AUD 220; Melbourne - Cairns, AUD 450.45; Brisbane - Cairns, AUD 280.50.

You can buy your passes online and make online bookings after you become a passholder.

Transwa handles train and coach services in the state of Western Australia.  Three main routes ply through Western Australia.  The Prospector travels between Perth and the minefields of Kalgoorlie in the eastern part of the state near its border with the Northern Territory -- cost AUD 81.55 adult, AUD 40.75 child.  The Australind handles Perth to Bunbury (southwestern Western Australia) -- cost AUD 28.25/14.10.  The last, the Avonlink, connects Perth to the Avon Valley and terminates in Northam, with onward connections to Merredin -- cost AUD 17.80/8.90 to Northram, AUD 40.95/20.45 to Merredin.  Unfortunately, there is no West Coast rail pass equivalent to CountryLink's rail passes.  Inexplicably, there is no train network which hits the key areas along Australia's western coast.

The Great Southern Railroad offers the routes that get you from one end of the country to the other.  The Great Southern gets you from the East Coast to the West Coast, the Top End (Darwin) to the Bottom End (Adelaide), and between all the cities in the south.   They offer four main routes.  Considering how much fuel costs nowadays, compared to driving these places yourself the rates are decent.  Where they screw you is on the additional cost of a sleeper cabin.   If saving every penny is a consideration, flying is much cheaper.  Backpacker and student rates are about 10% higher than the child-pensioner rates quoted.  The prices below are valid until April 1, 2010.  After that date, the prices will change.  Hint:  they won't be lowered. 

1)  The Overland   Adelaide-Melbourne, Melbourne-Adelaide
This 828 km journey goes during the day and travels three times weekly.   A service is provided whereby you can transport your car along with you.  Fares start from AUD 90/45 for adult/child. 

2)  The Indian-Pacific      Sydney-Adelaide-Perth
This is a long hauler.  The trip takes 3 nights to travel 4,352 kilometers.   The Sydney-Adelaide leg costs AUD 308/130 for adult/child without a sleeper.   Add in the sleeper cabin and money starts flowing to the railways:  AUD 501/365.  Some 4-star hotels don't cost the price of a sleeper.   The longer Perth-Adelaide leg costs, without sleeper, AUD 458/211.  With a sleeper, AUD 1036/628.   The whole journey, without sleeper:  AUD 716/286; with sleeper, AUD 1362/887.   

3)  The Ghan        Darwin-Alice Springs-Adelaide
Doug experienced part of the Ghan, the original Ghan.  Before 2004, the Gan only traveled between Adelaide and Alice Springs.  In 2004, the train line was extended all the way to Darwin.  After Doug totaled his second vehicle near Alice Springs, he caught the Ghan from Alice Springs back to Adelaide along with all the belongings that had been in his car.  The railway officials in Alice Springs (Northern Territory) didn't charge Doug a penny for the extra gear.   When he got to Adelaide, the officials there were complaining that he should've had to pay a AUD surcharge.  But it was too late.  Doug was already in Adelaide with all his gear.    The costs for this one -->  Adelaide-Alice Springs and Darwin-Alice Springs:  AUD 358/166 without sleeper and AUD 656/400 with.  The whole hog from Adelaide to Darwin is just twice the Adelaide-Alice Springs and Darwin-Alice Springs prices.  Alice Springs lies almost exactly in the center of Australia and the center of the Ghan railway line.

4)  The Southern Spirit
The Southern Spirit is not for everyone, the advertisement on their specialized web site says.  Nope.  It's for those who have inherited vast wealth or become self made millionaires.   Their journeys are rare, and the only offer two trips.   The Grand Tour, from Uluru to Brisbane via Melbourne and Australia's east coast, lasts 14 days/13 nights.   Meals and wines and all pampering is included.  It should be for the AUD 8,590-13,990 per person you'll be paying.  No option to go without a sleeper on this one, mates.   All cabins are twins.   The Coastal Epic is the Grand Tour in reverse and costs the same.

If you love taking trains, then this is the best deal going.   It's the AustRail Pass.    Only non-Australians can get their hands on it.   This pass gives the holder 6-months unlimited use in economy class on trains from the CountryLink system, Great Southern Railway, and others.    The cost is AUD 800 if purchased before arrival in Oz, AUD 890 if purchased in Oz.   The pass can be purchased from selected sales outlets throughout Oz, various overseas travel agents, or by calling the toll free number 13 22 32 in Australia.

For more comprehensive information on all of Australia's rail lines, visit here. 
Australia's train network

Why not take out even more money from your wallet and consider a bus pass?

A bus pass and a bottle of booze will make you feel like a rambler

The AustRail Pass doesn't go everywhere.  The bus passes from Greyhound practically do.  And for that, you'll pay for them.  Most common are the Greyhound Explorer passes.  You can buy regional passes valid for a year or get an All Australian pass that covers the entire 23,0457 km network and will cost your over AUD 2,700.  More economical passes are valid for shorter lengths of time, like 45 days.   A Cairns to Brisbane pass, for example, costs AUD 305; a Cairns to Sydney pass, AUD 367.   Another common option are their Day Passes.  You can buy these in 3, 5, 7, 10, 20, and 30 Day flavors, but there is a cap how many kilometers you can travel in total, which averages out to about 300-333 km/day.  The longer the pass, the better the value.   The 3 Day (1,000 km limit) runs AUD 139.   The 30 day (10,000 km limit) costs AUD 930.  

Fixed Day passes are a variation on this.  Sold in 10, 15, and 21 Day blocks, you get bigger kilometer limits.   The 10 Day Pass gives you 15,000 km (AUD 372) and the 21 Day Pass gives you 31,500 km (AUD 679).

Flexi Day Passes do not have to be used over X consecutive days.    You can buy a 10, 15, or 21 Day Flexi Pass and have 60 days to use it up.  

Pickups on the bus:   Doug has a firsthand account of an Israel man who had a near pornographic encounter with a Norwegian lass on a Greyhound bus leaving Alice Springs.  There is no corroborative evidence that the story actually occurred, but Doug will give the man the benefit of the doubt.  Sleazy, "bath-house style" pickups can occur on the Greyhounds at night.   Steer clear if this repulses you or book your passes immediately if it excites you.

Want to take all the brain work and adventure out of a trip to Australia?   Then you're on the same page as most of the backpackers who use the Oz Experience Jump On Jump Off bus.   Oz Experiences works with the backpacker hostels and picks you up and drops you off there.   The only thing left for the backpacker to do is engineer a sleazy pickup, which should be easy since now you've got prep time on the bus.

The Oz Experience should be called the Half Oz Experience.  Their routes don't cover the entire country.  Western Australia gets omitted.  The Oz Experience's most comprehensive pass, covering their entire route, will set you back over AUD 2,000.  The Experience will not get you from Cairns to Darwin or voice versa.  You'll be out more $$$ on a flight.    You can still see Western Australia.  Just book another expensive tour.  Adventure Tours books trips all over Australia, including a 21-day tour from Perth to Darwin for over AUD 3,000.
Australia's train network
Rental Cars

Rumor has it that you can rent a car in Australia just like you can in most other countries!  That's amazing news.   The five big movers Down Under are:  Thrifty, Europcar, Avis, Hertz, and Budget.   The rates aren't going to make you smile.  Rates started at AUD 57 without the damage insurance waiver.   Throw in another AUD 15 or so for that.  A web site, Carhire, claims to beat any other rental price.  It compares rental price for the big five and Red Spot.  And, indeed, on a sample search we performed, we found a Hyundai manual for AUD 36.10.  Rent New Cars offers a similar search service, but on our search with them, the same AUD 36.10 car we found with Carhire was priced at AUD 47.42.


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The Harry Dandruff Universe

 Rental cars or car hire in Oz is hired by the big five: Hertz, Thrifty, Budget, Avis, and Europcar. Virgin Blue and Qantas the planes. If you're in the mood to take a train consider the Indian Pacific, Southern Spirit, Ghan, CountryLink, or Transwa. An AustRail pass will get you transport all over Australia. For buses, it's Greyhound or the backpacker- friendly Oz Experience