Planning a Vacation in Australia part 1
Key information for the intending
Australia is the
world's sixth largest country, but most of it is dry desert
and so of little or no interest.
This makes it easy to
see the essential parts of Australia without requiring too
much time or travel.
Part one of a two part introduction to Australia - see also
of a general series on travel to and in Australia -
click the links on the right hand
side for more articles.
Australia offers you an
abundant range of travel experiences, all in one of the
friendliest countries in the world.
Many of the places you'll visit
have an idyllic climate as well as being located in areas of
outstanding natural beauty.
Sydney has to be one of the
world's most beautiful cities. And if you prefer the
outdoors, well - where to start! Australia truly is one of
the most wonderful countries in the world to visit.
Here's what you need to know when
starting to plan an Australian vacation experience.
Australia is closer than you
If you're like most people in Britain, Europe or North America,
your perception of Australia is probably that it is impossibly
While it is true that Australia is indeed a long way from
Britain, there is almost nowhere in the world that is much more
than two flights away from Australia.
A single nonstop flight of about 14 hours takes you from the
east coast of Australia to the west coast of the United States,
and most other cities in the US are typically one or at the most
two flights away from there. Only ten hours separates
Honolulu from Sydney.
A longer flight with a refueling stop en route takes you to most
major airports in Europe.
Getting to Australia
For Americans, nonstop flights operate from Los
Angeles, San Francisco and even Dallas, variously to Sydney
Brisbane and Melbourne. Qantas operates some routes with
the new A380s, other routes are served by 747s and other
Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand are among the other other
major airlines offering service between the US and Australia.
In addition to nonstop travel
there are a range of South Pacific island destinations you could
incorporate into a vacation in Australia, plus Hawaii and New
Generally however we recommend
that these days you do not break your journey on the way. We
feel that simply 'prolongs the agony' of the journey - better to
get it all over and done with, and perhaps treat yourself to a
free day or two relaxing upon arrival.
Many people, if planning a longer
vacation, will choose to combine a
visit to New Zealand with their time in Australia too. The extra
cost of adding a stop in NZ on the way to Australia (or flying
on to NZ if you're coming from Europe) is not much. The
flight across the Tasman Sea is only about three hours when
traveling between an Eastern Australian city (probably
Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane) and a major NZ city (probably
Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch).
Crossing the International
An interesting anomaly occurs
when you fly west (eg from North America) to Australia.
As your journey progresses, you cross the international date
line and, if westbound, you jump ahead a day. One minute
it might be Tuesday, the next minute it is Wednesday.
This means if you leave the
US in the evening on, eg, a Monday, you'll arrive into Australia in the morning, but not on Tuesday; instead, you arrive
on Wednesday morning. You never had a Tuesday.
However, it balances out.
On your return, as you cross the dateline going east, you jump
back a day and repeat the day you've just had. Which makes
for the even more remarkable circumstance that if you leave
Australia in the afternoon on, eg, Monday, you arrive into Los
Angeles on Monday morning - apparently earlier than when you
Cruise ships, once a rarity
in the South Pacific, are becoming more common.
Itineraries are very different to a typical Caribbean or
Mediterranean itinerary though - there is much more time spent
sailing at sea and fewer port stops.
Cruise ships will often include
Australia in their world cruise itineraries, offering a much more
leisurely way to travel for people with lots of free time.
Some cruise lines also offer cruising around Australia and over to
New Zealand and some of the nearby islands, usually during
summer season only.
A very few people choose to
travel by ocean freighter. It is almost a three week journey by ship from Los Angeles to
Australia, typically with a stop or two in New Zealand on the
Contrary to what some people
expect or believe, there is no passenger ferry service between New Zealand
and Australia. It takes merchant ships three days to
travel the almost 1500 mile journey between Auckland and Sydney.
You need a current passport, of
course, to travel to Australia.
You also need to have a visa
prior to traveling (unless you are a New Zealander). Many
people, from many countries, can apply for a visa electronically
over the internet allowing them to stay in Australia for up to
People traveling on a US or
Canadian passport (as well as various other nationalities) can
obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization or ETA (A$20 fee),
people traveling on a UK or EU passport can obtain an eVisitor
approval (free). You apply online and usually get an
approval back within a minute.
More information on the
types of visas and application processes can be found on the
Traveling within Australia
Australia - often referred
to as the 'Island Continent' - is the world's sixth largest
country (the top five, in order, are Russia, Canada, US, China
and Brazil). It measures about 2200 - 2400 miles from west
to east in its broadest parts, and between about 1000 - 2000
miles north to south.
A distinctive feature of
Australia is that most of its inland area comprises relatively
featureless desert, with most of the population living in a
narrow coastal band ranging along the south coast from Adelaide
(in the middle) and then east past Melbourne and then up the
east coast, past Sydney and to Brisbane, beyond which the
population density reduces.
Other places like Perth,
Darwin, and Alice Springs/Ayers Rock are relatively isolated,
surrounded mainly by desert. Indeed, Darwin is so remote
that it is closer to fly to Singapore than it is to Sydney when
you are in Darwin.
Needless to say, most people choose
to fly when traveling between most places in Australia.
Australia has three main
domestic airlines - Qantas, Jetstar (a low cost subsidiary of
Qantas) and Virgin Blue. All three operators have
excellent safety records and provide acceptably good service
similar to that offered by most other airlines in the world
if not all, of the usual tourist destinations have good air
service connecting them to other parts of Australia and its
tourist hot spots.
In addition, there is a
fourth carrier, Tiger Airways which has experienced a bit of an
'on again, off again' record in the market. This is a
Singapore Airlines subsidiary.
There may be ways you can
add some travel within Australia on to your international
flights to/from Australia at discounted rates, and sometimes
there are various types of travel passes also available - these
travel passes tend to offer discounts compared to buying regular
point to point or roundtrip domestic tickets.
Few people travel by bus,
although the journeys between Adelaide - Melbourne - Sydney -
Brisbane are manageable (they vary from about 450 - 550 miles).
Other distances are much longer - eg Brisbane - Cairns, which is
1100 miles, or Adelaide - Alice Springs, which is 900 miles.
While bus travel is definitely
a bargain, there is a hidden cost - the time you are spending
traveling on a bus instead of enjoying your vacation. Bus
travel in Australia makes about as much sense as it does in the
So if you're on a tight budget
and spending three months in Australia, bus travel is great.
But if you're willing to spend a bit more and only spending three
weeks, then probably forget about bus travel.
The major interstate bus
Greyhound. In addition to regular point to point fares,
they also have a variety of passes giving you discounts if you
plan on doing a lot of bus travel.
Think more of an Amtrak
level of regular train service within Australia than a Eurail
type of service. Trains are infrequent and slow, and for
much the same reason as applies with Amtrak - the country is too
big and the population too sparse to support fast regular trains.
operates most of Australia's regular trains in Victoria, NSW and
There are also some luxury
tourist trains that are expensive but wonderful experiences.
Most prominent are two named trains - the Ghan (travels between
Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin) and the Indian Pacific
(travels between Sydney, Adelaide and Perth). Details on
these luxury train journeys can be found
Ferry between Tasmania and
There are two vehicle and
passenger ferries, the
Spirit of Tasmania I & II, that make 11 hour overnight
crossings in both directions between Port Melbourne and
Devonport (a short distance from Launceston) in Tasmania.
During busy periods, they
add a day sailing as well and travel at a faster speed so as to
allow adequate time in the schedule for loading and unloading in
These are large and fast ships, each
capable of carrying up to 1140 passengers and 500 vehicles at 27
Although the weather in Bass Strait (the water between the south
of Australia and Tasmania) can sometimes lead to rough
crossings, both vessels have stabilizers which take the edge off
all but the worst weather.
This can be a great way of
traveling while you sleep, and of course most fares includes
overnight accommodation in a cabin as well, so you're getting
your night of accommodation, a mini cruise ship experience, and
transportation, all for the one price. I've enjoyed ferry
sailings and recommend it as a nice change of pace and variety
of experience as part of your Australian vacation (assuming you
plan to include Tasmania in your itinerary, of course).
Many people choose to take
the ferry one way, either to or from Tasmania, and fly the other
way (perhaps to/from Hobart in the south of Tassie). You
can hire and return cars to the ferry terminals at both ends of
If you are renting a car,
you should check to see if the rental car company allows you to
take your car across Bass Strait to/from Tasmania, and/or if it
allows one way rentals between Tasmania and the mainland.
For more information
This is part one of a two
part introduction to planning your Australian vacation.
Please continue on to part
two for additional information about planning an Australian
Click the links in the top
right of this page for additional helpful information about
travel to and in Australia.
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26 Aug 2011, last update
21 Jul 2020