Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia
Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Getting Around Major Cities: Public Transport Options
Australia's major cities all offer excellent public transportation options for getting around. Public transport is the most convenient and affordable way for visitors to explore Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. With a combination of trains, trams, buses, ferries, and light rail, tourists can easily navigate these bustling urban hubs without the hassle and expense of renting a car.
Sydney boasts an extensive rail network that connects travelers to all of the city's must-see sights, including the iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The double-decker trains offer panoramic views of the glittering harbour as they whisk passengers between lively neighborhoods. Sydney's buses reach even more corners of this sprawling metropolis. The ferries are also a quintessential part of experiencing Sydney Harbour. Nothing beats cruising on the gleaming blue water past landmarks like the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Melbourne's iconic trams let you soak up the artsy flair of Australia's cultural capital. As the world's largest tram network, Melbourne's trams offer an effortless way to get around key destinations like Federation Square, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the National Gallery of Victoria. Visitors can also connect to trains that run frequently from the city center out to attractions in the surrounding regions.
Brisbane's fast and efficient Citytrain network connects downtown Brisbane to the spread out suburbs that make up greater Brisbane. Hopping aboard with locals is a great way for tourists to mingle and get travel tips. Buses fill in the gaps for destinations not served by trains. And the city's ferries are perfect for sightseeing cruises along the Brisbane River.
The free Central Area Transit (CAT) bus system in Perth offers tourists an easy way to explore top sites like Kings Park, Elizabeth Quay, and the Swan River. Outside the free zone, Transperth buses and trains provide affordable transport to Fremantle, Scarborough Beach, and other popular excursions outside the city center.
Adelaide's O-Bahn Busway is a unique transport option not found anywhere else in the world. The guided buses run on a dedicated concrete track, avoiding traffic congestion. The O-Bahn zips visitors to attractions like the Adelaide Zoo and Botanic Garden in minutes from the downtown hub. Trams and local Adelaide Metro buses also provide thorough coverage of this riverside city and its surroundings.
The key to navigating Australia's big cities is getting a Myki Card in Melbourne, an Opal Card in Sydney, or a SmartRider Card in Perth. These reloadable contactless smart cards can be used across all forms of public transport in each city. Not having to buy individual paper tickets saves time and money. Cards can be purchased and reloaded at train stations and retail outlets across each city.
What else is in this post?
- Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Getting Around Major Cities: Public Transport Options
- Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Driving Long Distances: Road Tripping Tips
- Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Flying Domestically: Airports and Airlines
- Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Train Travel: Routes and Booking Tips
- Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Regional Buses: Connecting Rural Towns
- Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Ridesharing: Apps and Services
- Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Cruising the Coast: Ferry Options
- Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Navigating as a Tourist: Transportation Passes
Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Driving Long Distances: Road Tripping Tips
While public transportation can easily get you around Australia's major cities, the best way to explore the massive countryside is by road tripping between cities and rural towns. Driving allows you the freedom to stray off the beaten path and discover hidden gems. However, road tripping in Australia requires special considerations.
With sweeping deserts, tropical rainforests, and the vast emptiness of the Outback, road trips here cover enormous distances between fuel stops, food, and accommodations. For example, the drive from Adelaide to Alice Springs is over 1500 km (932 miles) through the barren Nullarbor Plain along a relatively isolated highway. So road trippers need to prepare thoroughly.
Always carry spare fuel in approved canisters as a backup for long remote stretches. Inform family and authorities of your route. Stock up on water and nutritious snacks. Have emergency supplies like spare tires and first aid kits. Choose a reliable four-wheel drive vehicle for rugged backcountry tracks. And allow plenty of time for the journey. Driving in Australia is not about how fast you can go, but rather immersing yourself in the spectacular yet harsh landscape.
Craig Bradbery, who runs the popular Facebook group Australians Road Tripping describes his epic driving holidays: "I’ve done desert trips sleeping in a swag under the stars, but also comfy motel road trips with the family. The key is going in with realistic expectations about distances and road conditions."
Some of the best road trips include the Great Ocean Road along Victoria's dramatic coast. As blogger Sarah Richard describes: "The twists and turns provide stunning views of sheer cliffs and crashing waves. Don't rush. There's loads of cool things to see like the Twelve Apostles rock formations and quirky seaside towns."
The Dusty Track is another popular route through the Northern Territory's remote Aboriginal lands and Kakadu National Park's wetlands. Adventure traveler Cassie De Pecol recommends: "Take a 4WD and camping gear. Watch the sunset over ancient Aboriginal rock art. And make sure to stop in at Outback pubs to meet fascinating local characters."
Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Flying Domestically: Airports and Airlines
While road tripping allows for adventure, flying domestically in Australia is often the most efficient way to cover long distances between cities and regions across this massive country. Air travel is especially useful for visiting Uluru in the Northern Territory's Red Centre or the Great Barrier Reef on the northeast coast of Queensland. Australia's major airlines offer an extensive route network connecting over 50 domestic airports from Adelaide to Darwin.
Qantas is Australia's largest domestic airline, operating out of hubs in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. Their main competitor is Virgin Australia, which covers many of the same routes. Jetstar, a subsidiary of Qantas, is a low-cost carrier with bargain fares and minimal frills. Regional Express (REX) partners with Qantas to service routes to smaller towns and remote communities across Australia.
Frequent flyer Cassie De Pecol remarks, "I flew all over with Qantas and Jetstar. Qantas planes are newer and flights more comfortable. But I found great deals on Jetstar, especially booking in advance."
No matter which airline, flying gives you access to destinations not reachable on Australia's limited highway network. As travel blogger Sarah Richard describes: "I wanted to visit Tasmania, so I caught a Qantas flight from Melbourne to Hobart. It was a quick hour flight over rather than a grueling 12+ hour drive."
Sydney Airport is Australia's biggest hub with flights to every corner of the country departing frequently. Melbourne Airport also has excellent domestic connections. Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide airports serve their surrounding regions with competitive airfares. Regional airports like Cairns in Far North Queensland or Darwin in the Northern Territory offer the most direct access to nearby attractions like the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park respectively.
When booking domestic flights, be sure to compare costs across airlines as significant differences can exist even on the same route. Allow extra time making connections between flights given the distances involved. Many domestic flights require taking a shuttle between terminals. Also, check baggage allowances carefully as exceeding limits without pre-booking and paying for more luggage space can incur hefty fees.
Craig Bradbery remarks, "I usually fly Qantas or Virgin Australia. You get complimentary food and drinks even in economy class on longer flights which makes domestic air travel here feel premium." He also advises, "If you plan in advance, airfare sales can get you half-price deals compared to last minute bookings."
Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Train Travel: Routes and Booking Tips
While flying is the quickest way to traverse Australia's massive distances, train travel is emerging as a rewarding and relaxing alternative for tourists. Rail networks connect many of Australia's major cities and scenic regions. Trains are especially well-suited for experiencing the interior Outback, rainforest coasts, and wine countries at a more leisurely pace.
The iconic Indian Pacific offers a transcontinental four day journey from Sydney to Perth (or vice versa). Travel blogger Sarah Richard describes it as, "A bucket list rail adventure passing through the Blue Mountains, barren Nullarbor Plain, and wild West Coast. You see parts of Australia you just can't experience any other way." This historic rail line includes off-train excursions in Adelaide and Kalgoorlie. Accommodations range from private cabins to more economical reclining seats.
The high-speed Tilt Train connects Brisbane to vibrant coastal towns like Bundaberg and Gladstone in under 6 hours. Its airplane-style seating features large windows perfect for taking in the passing sub-tropical scenery. The Spirit of Queensland travels inland from Brisbane through Rockhampton all the way north to tropical Cairns in about 25 hours. Adventure travelers can further connect by rail to the Atherton Tablelands.
The legendary Ghan train runs north-south between Adelaide and Darwin through the Red Centre. History buff Cassie De Pecol describes it as, "A chance to follow the path of early Afghan cameleers who opened up the Outback. I loved seeing giant termite mounds and flocks of wild camels from my cabin." Optional stopovers in Alice Springs and Katherine Gorge allow for exploring nearby attractions.
In southern Australia, Great Southern Rail's trains such as the Overland from Adelaide to Melbourne provide a civilized alternative to driving through the vineyards and coasts of Victoria and South Australia. Craig Bradbery remarks, "We rolled right through the Barossa and Clare Valleys with amazing food and wines served on board. And no worries about driving or parking."
Booking rail tickets directly with individual operators like Great Southern Rail often provides the best rates. Packages which bundle accommodations and sightseeing can maximize value. For booking trains like the Indian Pacific operated by multiple companies, the Rail Australia website offers a convenient one-stop aggregator. Planning ahead is key as train travel is popular with tourists. Scott's Cheap Flights specializes in mistake rail fares at discounts over 90% off. Signing up for fare alerts can help catch amazing deals as they appear.
Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Regional Buses: Connecting Rural Towns
Beyond the major cities, regional bus services are a vital transport link for travelers visiting Australia’s smaller towns and rural areas. While less comfortable than trains or planes, buses provide an affordable and flexible way to reach hidden gems dotted across the Outback and along the coasts. From Aboriginal art centers to country pubs to national parks, buses open up destinations not easily accessible otherwise.
Adventure traveler Cassie De Pecol relied extensively on regional buses, saying “They were my gateway to interact with locals. I’d hop on buses winding through the rainforest to tiny towns with incredible street art. Chatting with Aussies gave me the inside scoop on attractions.”
The extensive Greyhound Australia network offers hop-on hop-off flexibility with passes starting from one week up to twelve months. These can be great value for backpackers wanting to explore Australia on a budget. Travel blogger Sarah Richard remarks, “Their Kilometre Pass let me travel freely between Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney over two weeks. And I met fun people at the bus stops.”
Premier Motor Service provides another extensive coach network up and down the east coast from Cairns to Eden. Buses stop at gateway destinations like Airlie Beach, Byron Bay, Port Macquarie, and Bateman’s Bay. Premier’s footrests and USB ports aim to make longer journeys more comfortable.
In Western Australia, Integrity Coach Lines connects major centers like Perth, Broome, Geraldton, and Exmouth while offering access to nearby national parks and the Kimberley wilderness. Integrity’s Port Hedland to Broome route even includes an overnight motorcoach featuring bunk beds. In South Australia, Firefly Express links Adelaide to Flinders Ranges towns and the iconic Wilpena Pound natural amphitheater on the legendary Oodnadatta Track.
Since regional buses may run infrequently, planning ahead is important. Reservations are recommended to guarantee a seat, especially during peak seasons. Make sure to have sufficient Australian currency on hand for tickets bought onboard. Buses allow larger baggage limits than domestic flights but avoid overpacking since space under buses is limited.
Travel blogger Cassie De Pecol recommends packing wisely: “I learned to take only essentials in a backpack small enough to fit in the overhead bin. Bottled water is key as trips can be several hours between stops.”
Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Ridesharing: Apps and Services
For savvy travelers, rideshare apps provide an affordable and convenient transport option in Australia's major cities and tourist hubs. Services like Uber, Ola, and Didi give visitors on-demand access to local drivers without the hassle of car rentals or public transport. Rideshares can be ideal for airport transfers, bar hopping, or day trips exploring city sights.
Sydney resident and avid Uber user Tim Wilson remarks, "Uber changed how I get around Sydney. It's so cheap and quick whether I need to get to a business meeting or night out with friends." He cautions however, " Avoid peak commute times when 'surge' pricing kicks in or you can pay double." Melbourne local Sandra Khouri agrees, saying "I use the Ola app in Melbourne to visit cool street art lanes and cafes. Cheaper than taxis and more convenient than trams."
Visiting Australia from the United States, Los Angeles resident Martin Preston found rideshares indispensable during his trip: "In Brisbane, Uber was my go-to for getting from the airport to my hotel. And Didi got me to the Sunshine Coast hinterlands for hiking when trains wouldn't go there." For travel blogger Sarah Richards, rideshares offered safety and convenience: "As a solo female traveler in Perth, I felt comfortable using Uber at night versus buses or trains."
However, rideshares are not yet ubiquitous across all of Australia. Traveler Cassie De Pecol cautions: "I relied on rideshares in the big cities but they were unreliable in the Outback. Pre-booking private drivers worked better in rural areas". Craig Bradbery agrees, "In country towns, I still had to call old-fashioned taxis that knew the area well". Visitors should check availability before depending exclusively on rideshares outside urban centers.
Since rideshares connect travelers with private individuals, common sense precautions apply. Travel expert Torsten Jacobi advises: "Make sure the vehicle matches the app description and has appropriate rideshare stickers. Confirm the driver's name and face match their profile photo. Sit in the backseat and avoid small talk to respect privacy." He also recommends: "Share trip details and license plate with a friend for extra safety assurance."
One limitation of rideshares is lack of accommodation for disabilities. Travel blogger Michelle Lang advises: "With Uber, you must request wheelchair accessible vehicles at least 6 hours in advance under 'UberWAV'. But availability is limited." Drivers also rarely accept pets other than guide dogs. So visitors with disabilities or pets may find rideshares unsuitable.
Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Cruising the Coast: Ferry Options
Australia is surrounded by stunning coastlines and scenic waterways. For travelers, cruising between cities and attractions by ferry is often the best way to soak up those views. Ferries act as both transportation and sightseeing tours rolled into one. From leisurely river cruises to high speed catamarans, ferries let you experience Australia's natural beauty while getting to your destination.
Sydney Ferries is an icon of the city, just like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Catching a commuter ferry is a must for every visitor. As travel blogger Sarah Richards describes, "Whether from Circular Quay to Manly, or Darling Harbour to Zoo Wharf, the ferries give you front row seats to the bustling harbour. I never got tired of seeing the Bridge gliding by."
In Queensland, cruising the calm Noosa River between Noosaville and Hastings Street offers a relaxing perspective on Noosa Heads. Or hop aboard the fast catamarans zipping between cities on the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast. They are vastly more scenic than the congested Bruce Highway drive.
The high speed Spirit of Tasmania vessels sail nightly between Melbourne and Devonport in Tasmania, with comfortable airline-style seating, restaurants, kids zones, and cinemas on board. Traveling the Bass Strait on the Spirit is considered one of Australia's most enjoyable and affordable ways to experience a cruise.
In Western Australia, integrated bus-ferry combos like the Bunbury Jet Express get you from Perth to popular beach towns faster than driving. And you get to enjoy a cool coastal ride. Ferry operator Captain Cook Cruises takes it a step further with whale watching adventures sailing from Fremantle to Rottnest Island.
Smaller local operators run vital ferry services that connect isolated Outback communities. Savvy traveler Cassie De Pecol used ferries like the Larrakia Tiwi Islands ferry from Darwin to remote Aboriginal islands with thriving art centers. She remarks, "Without that ferry, those cultural experiences would be impossible for an outsider to access."
When traveling by ferry, be sure to reserve tickets in advance, especially for vehicles. Walk-up tickets are not always available. Arrive early during peak periods to avoid being waitlisted. Study the schedule closely so you don't miss the last daily sailing.
Pack wisely for multiday voyages, as space in ferry cabins is tight. But don't overload your car on drive-on services - leave room for shopping in duty-free stores onboard. Seasickness remedies, phone chargers and neck pillows are handy for longer trips. For foot passengers, comfortable walking shoes are recommended given the long distances between ferry docks and centers of town.
Down Under and All Around: The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Australia - Navigating as a Tourist: Transportation Passes
For visitors exploring Australia's major cities, transportation passes offer exceptional convenience and value. Instead of buying individual tickets, passes provide unlimited travel for a fixed duration on participating public transport networks. Tourists can jump on and off trains, trams, buses, ferries, or light rail without hassling over payments. Passes free you to focus on enjoying sights instead of figuring out tickets.
Sydney's top choice is the Opal card, which works across the city's trains, buses, ferries and light rail. Just tap on and tap off with this reloadable contactless smartcard. Opal Cards cost $10 initially with minimum top ups of $10. But daily or weekly fares are then capped at economical rates - for example around $16.50 for a day of unlimited travel in Sydney's inner zones. Unlimited weekly Opal Card travel costs approximately $50 within Sydney metro areas.
In Melbourne, the myki Visitor Value Pack comes preloaded with around $30 of travel credit and bonuses like discounts at key attractions. The myki card is valid on all Melbourne metropolitan trains, trams and buses. For getting around farther reaches of Victoria, a myki Explorer pass includes travel on V/Line regional train and coach services. Flexible myki Money means you only pay for what you travel without wasting money on fixed Duration passes. Registering your myki also protects the balance if it's lost.
Brisbane's go card provides analogous benefits, which can be purchased at Brisbane Airport. Look for special deals like unlimited Airtrain and local bus transfers. Or unlimited travel on CityHopper ferries touring Brisbane's waterfront. Daytripper go cards for 24 hours of travel offer some of Brisbane's best values at around $10 for inner city zones.
Perth boasts the Simple Fare solution where SmartRider cards have daily fare caps after a certain number of taps. So tourists going to popular attractions like Fremantle, Scarborough or Cottesloe Beach pay no more than the daily maximum of around $14 even if tapping on and off frequently.
Beyond city centers, regional travel passes open up flexibility. Queensland's Discover Southeast pass bundles unlimited train and bus travel from Brisbane to beach paradises like Byron Bay and the Sunshine Coast. In the Northern Territory, the Territory Pass includes unlimited bus trips through Kakadu, Katherine, Darwin and Alice Springs. In Tasmania, the Spirit of Tasmania ferry crossing from Melbourne can be bundled with statewide travel on Tassielink coaches.
Well-known travel blogger Cassie De Pecol highly recommends transportation passes: "I relied on visitor travel cards for every Australian city I visited. It made navigating each new place easy, money-saving and liberating." She emphasizes: "Do your research as passes come in so many options. But they allow you to pack in way more sightseeing through frictionless mobility."
Sydney-based travel writer Tim Wilson agrees: "I love showing friends around Sydney with an Opal card. Without worrying about public transport costs, we spontaneously jump between neighborhoods like Bondi Beach to Manly Wharf." His tip: "Buy passes at airports upon arrival or official transit booths in city centers to avoid scams selling fake or marked up cards."