Before low airfares became the norm, many backpackers took advantage of cheap bus passes to get around Australia. Due to falling passenger numbers many of the old bus routes were discontinued, but it is still possible to circumnavigate Australia cheaply using an interesting mix of trains and buses.
Most international travellers will start from Sydney, but this route can begin (and end), at any capital city.
1. Sydney to Melbourne Via Firefly Bus. ($65 Adult). Leaves every night at 7pm from Pitt Street, arrives at 7am at Southern Cross Station. Click here for website
This bus continues onto Adelaide, leaving at 8:30 am and arriving at Central Bus station at 7:50 pm ($55 Adult). However I prefer the option below:
2. Melbourne to Adelaide Via Overland Train.(From $79 Adult). Leave 8:05 am every Tuesday and Saturday. Arrives 6pm.
Prices start at $79 for the lowest class, but overseas backpackers can also buy a rail pass which covers this train and others for 2 or 3 months. Website here
Glenelg - Adelaide
3. Adelaide to Perth Via Indian Pacific Train. (from $349 Backpacker rate) Leaves Adelaide Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3:00 pm. Arrives Perth Saturday and Tuesday 3:00 pm (2 nights in train).
There are still buses running between Adelaide and Perth, but they are mostly privately run tours. The train is much more romantic anyways.
There is a special backpacker fare available for travellers with YHA, Nomad cards or a variety of others as per their website. There is no need to be an overseas traveller to get the backpacker rate.
The base fare is for a Red Class with a recliner chair. There are other options available right up to your own private cabin. More on the website.
4. Bus Perth to Broome Via Integrity Coachlines Bus. ($365 Hop on Hop off 12 month pass). Departs from Perth Midland Train Station 8:15pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The Hop on/off pass represents good value for travellers. It is valid for as many stops as you want in one direction. You will need to time your stays to match the two day a week bus schedule though, which means either two days or five days at your chosen stop.
Two days at Monkey Mia and Five days at Exmouth would work well.
If you travel non stop from Perth to Broome the trip takes two nights, arriving at Broome at 7:45 am on Thursday/Saturday. Website here
Kakadu National Park
5. Broome to Darwin Via Greyhound Bus. ($263 Flexi fare) Departs 6pm from Broome, arrives Darwin 9pm next day.
6. Darwin to Alice Springs Via The Ghan Train. (From $279 for Backpacker) Departs Darwin Wednesdays 10am, arrives Thursday 9:10 am, includes a 5 hour stop at Katherine.
If you have the rail pass, this is a no brainer, otherwise the bus may be more convenient, but not as much fun. Website
7. Alice Springs to Cairns Via Greyhound Bus. ($369 Hop on Hop off pass) Departs Tuesday and Fridays only at 9am. Arrives Cairns 5:50 pm next day.
This lines up nicely with the Thursday Ghan Train arrival if one day in Alice is enough for you. If you want to visit Uluru (Ayres Rock) you will need to stay until Tuesday. As Uluru is a good 6 hours away, overnight tours are probably a more comfortable option. Website
Green Island - Cairns
8. Cairns to Sydney Via Greyhound Bus ($419 Hop on Hop off).
This is the traditional backpacker bus route, and represents good value for the traveller that wants to explore the east coast. You can get on and off as many times as you like, as long as you continue to travel in one direction.
There are at least 3 buses daily, depending on which area you are in. You can do the entire trip in 3 days, but it is unlikely you would want to miss amazing places such as Magnetic Island, Mission Beach, The Whitsundays, Fraser Island, Surfers Paradise and Byron Bay. Hop On/Off Passes
Total cost for the 15,000+ Kilometre trip around Australia is $1769. You would want to allow a minimum of 10 weeks to see everything.
As most of the bus fares are Hop on/off you can get on and off at different places as you like.
I’m not sure if you can do this trip in reverse, you will have to contact Integrity Coastlines and see if their Perth/Broome fare can be done backwards. If you want to skip WA, you could start with Sydney – Cairns, and take the Ghan from Darwin or Alice to Adelaide.
One last option is to add Tasmania.
2a. Melbourne to Devonport Via Spirit of Tasmania Ferry. (From $96 for a recliner) Departs Melbourne 7:30 pm arrives Devonport 6:00 am next day. Website
2b. Devonport to Hobart Via Express Link Bus ($59 Adult)
Departs 7:30 am from Spirt of Tasmania dock, arrives Hobart 12 pm Website
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