Australia has a well connected and timely public transportation network with bus services, passenger trains and both urban and mainland-to-island ferry services. Using these services as a means of transportation is relatively expensive when you’re traveling in a country as safe as Australia, and hitchhiking seems to be the best – and free – option for travel within the country. If you’re in a rush, however, or just don’t feel comfortable hitchhiking, this is a basic overview of your options.
Taking a bus directly from your current location to your destination will probably be your cheapest option. Tourist bus lines offer bus travel passes for the tourist who “wants the real Aussie experience”, but these passes are cost-prohibitively expensive. When purchasing a ticket, ask about discounts for backpackers or students. It’s possible to book travel as a student at a national university without needing to show a student ID. Also, taking overnight busses will probably be your cheapest option for bus travel.
Firefly offers scheduled services between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with overnight express busses (which play music throughout the night and are difficult to actually sleep on) at about AUD$60.
Greyhound operates busses across Australia. Direct destination and tour passes are available, but unless you find a discount on a bus fare online, expect to pay more than you’d like to.
Premier Stateliner offers bus schedules through rural South Australia, departing from Adelaide.
Australia has a vast network of passenger and freight trains. Interestingly, early construction of independent rail lines in the countries colonies during the middle of the 19th century, coupled with poor communication and little foresight, resulted in a network of differently-gauged rails; narrow, standard and broad. A passenger traveling from Sydney to Cairnes in Queensland will have to change trains in Brisbane as trains north of the city operate on narrow gauge tracks, while between Sydney and Brisbane, operate on standard gauge tracks.
Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) owns and operates the majority of the standard gauge tracks within the country. Freight trains have priority over passenger trains, and both maintain regular schedules which can be found on company websites.
Buying tickets for travel by rail in Australia is expensive. For a map of long distance passenger rail services or to book rail travel, see Rail Maps.
For metro or regional travel, trains offer a relatively cheap and fast way to travel. Metro trains are punctual and have easy-to-understand maps and schedules posted at stations. Regional trains travel sometimes several hours from a city center and have many stops. Tickets can be bought at kiosks at stations, since conductors may often be absent during travel on regional trains. During peak travel hours, transit officers are common on metro trains and may be found checking tickets as passenger stations on regional routes. Being a very tourist-friendly country, transit officers are helpful and forgiving of backpackers who don’t fully understand the ticketing system.
Australia has many ferries; some are urban and offer transportation within a city’s waterways, and others offer long-distance transportation such as the route between Melbourne and Tasmania. For travel to Tasmania, ferry will probably be your cheapest option (but is still quite expensive). Keep in mind that some national flight companies offer cheap flights and discounts from time to time that can be a fraction of the price of travel by train, bus or ferry.
For a complete listing of all ferry services offered within Australia, see Howder Family.
Many folks offering rides expect you to contribute for gas, but the amount is certainly less than the cost of a bus ticket:
Taxis are common throughout the country, but due to the existence of public transportation in Australias cities, taxis are an unnecessary expense.