How to Get Around OZ Cheaply

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 21st, 2010

With Australia being over 7 million square kilometers, it takes a long time to get around the country. With such large distances to cover, it’s no wonder that few people end up traveling the whole country- there’s just too much ground to cover on a short trip here. These large distances can lead to large transportation costs and it can often be hard to travel around the country cheaply. Here’s a look at how to travel around Australia and which way can be the cheapest:

Flying
qantas airplane
By far, this is the most expensive but easiest way to get around Australia. Limited competition among airlines means that flights stay very expensive. While there are some minor airlines that serve out of the way destinations, Qantas (and its subsidiary Jetstar) and Virgin are the big airlines that service most of the country’s destinations. With so few carriers servicing the major cities, the high ticket prices come as no surprise. If you book early, you can save on fares and Virgin often offers some good promotions.

Backpacker Buses
oz backpacker buses
There are two big backpacker buses in Australia: Oz Experience and Easyrider Tours. Oz Experience mostly operates along the east coast and the center of the country. Easyrider Tours operates on the west coast. I like Easyrider Tours. They are very cost competitive with the bus system, they have cool drivers, and provide a lot of activities. It’s good value for your money. The Oz Experience is a different story. Unlike the Kiwi Experience, I didn’t really like them, despite both companies trying to do the same thing. While the Kiwi Experience took a lot of time to introduce people to each other and offer free activities, the OZ experience didn’t do that. Granted, Australia is a lot bigger than New Zealand but if the Oz Experience is just a more expensive Greyhound (and a few drivers told me this too!) then what’s the point of taking them? Not once on my journey did any driver make an attempt to get people to talk to each other. We didn’t have any free stops or walks. I didn’t like the Oz experience. Just as many, if not more, travelers take the Greyhound Bus. I say take the Greyhound, save some money, and learn to say hi to strangers on buses.

Public Buses
greyhound bus in australia
On the east coast, this will be your cheapest option. On the west coast, buses are surprisingly expensive. There’s not many people moving up and down that coast and there’s limited competition. It’s often easier and cheaper to fly out in Western Australia. However, on the east coast, you can find really cheap bus tickets, especially if you book in advance. Greyhound Australia is the biggest company in Australia though there is also Premier and McCafferty. All three companies sometimes offer $1 fares but, for the most part, the buses ticket prices are around $30 dollars (Night buses are usually around $60-70 dollars). From Melbourne to Cairns, a Greyhound pass will cost you $500 AUD.

Trains
train travel in australia
Trains cover much of Australia but their use isn’t that widespread. In fact, most of the trains are very expensive to travel on. There are very scenic routes through Queensland and the Outback though that make for a beautiful ride. But train travel is really expensive and outside the very scenic Ghan train ride through the outback (I highly recommend taking this trip!), it’s really not worth the cost. There are cheaper ways to get around Australia.

Car Share
car sharing in australia
If you really want to save money and travel cheap, find some other friends, rent a car or campervan, and drive around the country. This will allow you to share the costs with others (and if you rent a campervan, give you a place to sleep). It will be much, much cheaper than any other travel option. You can look on hostel bulletin boards to see who is looking for people to join their roadtrip. You’ll always find someone and it’s a great way to make new friends.

When you plan to travel Australia, make sure you budget for transportation wisely. Outside the busy eastern corridor between Melbourne and Brisbane, travel is expensive. You will pay a lot more than you think you will. In sum, if you want to save a lot of money, car share. Otherwise, your best bet is bus travel on the east coast and backpacker or flying in the middle or west coast.

For more information on Australia, visit my country and city guide to Australia travel.

Disclaimer: OzExperience gave me 50% off my Brisbane to Cairns bus pass.

comments 17 Comments

Timely post, I’ll be leaving for Melbourne, Australia next week so this comes in handy. When the time comes to travel the country, I’ll probably use public transport to get around the east coast and possible middle Australia too, depending on how much time I have.

Becs

Something to add to the bus portion is frequency and ease in moving on from place to place.

I did Greyhound for the East Coast mainly because they offered multiple depatures times a day in most towns as well as online reservations, so I never had to talk to anyone in reserving my place on each bus. I heard horror stories from people on Oz Exp. who would be stuck in towns for extra days, waiting for the next bus, which adds money and time to a trip that you may not have or need.

I sort of wish I did Premier because it was slightly cheaper, buses come once a day to all the main towns and I was super organized in booking my seat a few days in advance and probably wouldn’t have had an issue in getting a seat. Oh well!!

I agree that trains are mostly not a great option for getting around, especially for longer distances – but there is one exception: the train from Sydney to the Blue Mountains is great, and has some fantastic views

Alternatively you can do what a lot of long time backpackers do and relocate rental cars, which costs $1 a day and they give you fuel allowance on top of that too.

I wrote about it on my site last year: http://www.adventurerob.com/2009/11/cheap-across-australia/

I think this list works well for single people but we noticed that buying bus tickets for 2 people (even on the backpacker buses) was more expensive than renting a car. We talked to several other couples and they had found the same sort of prices. So, we ended up renting a car and drove from Whitsundays to Port Douglas and from Adelaide to Melbourne.

There are some really cheap airlines that backpackers should look into. We found a $48 (including tax) rate from Alice Springs to Adelaide on Tiger Airways and I believe that Tiger had other really good deals.

Thank your, for information.

Matt, here’s hoping I don’t have a horror story experience to share in a month or so! Was a bit hesitant to book with Oz Experience for one of their passes, as I wanted to do it more on my own…eventually gave in and got a pass to cut down on decisions I was having to make while going through my busiest time of year at work (career breaker here & have 2 more weeks at work). I emailed them to ask about the whole getting stuck in a place based on the number of people required for the bus to move on and was satisfied with their responses to my numerous questions. After reading your post, I’m a little worried, but guess I’ll have to make the most of it now! And I think I’ve decided not to use them for another pass I was considering — thanks for sharing!

Katey

There is also the option of buying a vehicle which hasn’t been mentioned. Works out a lot cheaper than renting one and with any luck you can sell it again for at least the price you paid for it if you look after it. There is a massive market of travellers selling/buying vehicles in all of the major cities. Make sure it takes LPG for cheaper fuel. This option is obviously better if you are staying a long time in Australia but I believe many travellers make use of their whole year long working holiday visa or even the extension of two years. This also provides you with ultimate freedom that no buses – public or tour – could even begin to give you. Even better, get a 4WD and go and see what Australia is really all about, don’t just do a tour of Australia’s highways.

NomadicMatt

I mention car sharing, which you need to buy a car to do! You can get many cheap cars throughout OZ.

Katey

Sorry I only saw renting a car being mentioned… Buying works out a lot better if it is for a long time.

Hi Matt, I love your travel site! :D

NomadicMatt

Thanks!

Nic

Booking trains individually can be expensive, but in my planning for an upcoming trip to Oz I found that the Rail Explorer pass was much cheaper than any of the bus passes, and get to see a lot more of the country than by flying. It’s $590 for unlimited travel on the three biggies (ghan, indian pacific and overland) over six months.

Rob

I’m travelling with my wife from Cairns to Sydney over 18days. Is this enough? We plane to hire a car and stay nowhere longer than 2 days. Is this achievable or am I being over ambitious?
Any tips for stopovers would be appreciated as we’re first timers in Oz.

Sophie

Hey, I’m travelling from cairns to Sydney ina few weeks, I’ll have 3 weeks to complete the trip before I fly back to the UK. But I’m struggling on what company to use to make my way down there. I’m on a budget soo looked at oz experience as they include some excursions which I assume will
Save me money unlike greyhound. Im 19 and travelling on my own so need some help! Thanks ????

Mette

Hey. We are 5 people who will like to go from Alice spring to Darwin by renting a car or van. Which company can you suggest?? We just want to make it cheap :)

Britt

My two pieces of advice for getting around Australia:
>Flights have really dropped in price since Jetstar and Tiger hit the market. Tiger is usually cheapest, but Jetstar have a price match guarantee, they will beat anything by 10% and even if this only saves you like $5 its so worth it because Jetstar is 10x better than Tiger.
>Firefly the bus company is also a rather affordable one to look at.

Leave a comment