This is how most independent visitors elect to travel in Australia. There are two principal long-distance companies McCafferty’s and Greyhound. However, since McCafferty’s now owns Greyhound, there is less competition than might appear. The advantage for the traveller, though, is that now he or she can use the services of both companies with a single bus pass.
There is still some competition, however. Premier operates services up and down the east coast between Melbourne and Cairns
. Unlike its competitors, it travels the coastal route between Melbourne
. Between Sydney and Melbourne and between Melbourne and Adelaide
services are operated by Firefly. In Western Australia
, Integrity offers competition on the Perth
route, including an unlimited-stops ticket for the standard fare. This is appealing, but there is no onward service to Darwin
with Integrity, whereas Greyhound can offer a pass right through from Perth to Darwin.
If one purchases individual tickets, travel with McCafferty’s and Greyhound tends to be expensive. Therefore, most visitors purchase a pass. There are two types of pass - fixed-route passes and distance passes. The period of validity varies according to the distance to be travelled. The shortest period is one month and the longest one year. The most common period is six months. You will have flexibility as to time, but no flexibility as to route. Moreover, in some cases, the bus company requires you to list all your stops in advance and you cannot then put in additional stops without a penalty (and sometimes not even with a penalty).
Although you do not have to decide your dates of travel in advance, you cannot travel without a reservation (theoretically) and if you ask one of the company’s agents to make a reservation for you, you will be charged a fee. Instead, you must either make your reservations in advance, or telephone the company’s reservations service (and be kept waiting for ages) every time you wish to travel.
Certain of the passes include Greyhound tours. It may just mean that transport is provided from the main route of the bus to a nearby place of interest. However, even that is a valuable addition to the pass, of course, as getting from main highways to places of interest is often one of the most difficult parts of travelling.
The second type of bus pass is a distance pass, named by McCafferty’s and Greyhound the Aussie Kilometre Pass. In this case, one purchases a certain number of kilometres of travel and uses those kilometres just as one thinks fit.
The Kilometre Passes are useful to everybody. Even if you decide to purchase a rail pass, if you are staying in Australia for any length of time, you will probably need to supplement your rail travel with a little bus travel. A 2,000 kilometre pass will enable you to make a number of short journeys which would otherwise be expensive.
All of the long-distance bus companies operate comfortable vehicles, air conditioned and with reclining seats and toilets. They make regular meal stops at intervals of three to four hours. However, despite the attempts at comfort, one does tend to feel cramped when confined to these vehicles for long periods - and some of the journeys in Australia can involve very long periods on the same vehicle. Punctuality is variable with the long-distance bus companies, affected mostly by weather and road conditions.
Using a bus pass, one can reach all major places in mainland Australia, but one cannot travel to many of the smaller communities served by the state systems in New South Wales
and Western Australia
. Such communities can, though, be reached with a rail pass. Where the bus pass offers better coverage is in the north-west and in reaching out-of-the-way popular attractions such as Ayers Rock
and Kakadu National Park
It should be noted too that there are restrictions on short-distance travel with the long-distance bus companies. In general, journeys of less than forty kilometres are not permitted, although there are exceptions, and some of the states do not allow competition with their own transport systems. This is particularly so in Victoria
and South Australia
. In some cases, it may be made only as part of a longer journey.
As an example, a fare is quoted with McCafferty’s from Geelong
to Melbourne, but one cannot travel only from Geelong to Melbourne. One may travel from Geelong to Melbourne and there change buses and continue to Albury
or Sydney, or any other place outside Victoria. The rules are relaxed somewhat for those with route passes, but still there may be some restrictions imposed, so check before committing yourself.
has buses too, of course, but they are operated by different companies. TassieLink offers passes which are good value. Because of limited demand, some of the services in Tasmania are operated with smaller and less comfortable vehicles, but the routes served are relatively short, so this does not usually create problems.
Australia Bus Tours
Gaining in popularity in recent years have been bus tours aimed at young travellers. The prime purveyor of this mode of travel is Oz Experience, a company which started in a small way and has grown and grown in popularity.
The system works like this. One purchases a ticket for a fixed route, usually involving several days of travel. At any point along the route, one is free to leave the tour and join a later bus when it comes round. Thus one does not travel with the same group all the way. The tour can be spread over as long as one year in most cases.
The object of these tours is to travel at a more leisurely pace than express bus services, to travel less direct and more interesting routes and to allow the passengers to see more of the countryside by stopping at points of interest, or even on request for photographs or replenishing of supplies.
At the end of the day, the driver will usually suggest places to stay, and those places will try to make sure that they have sufficient space available, since they value the regular custom of the bus.
This seems a good way to see in a simple manner places which one would not easily reach otherwise. On the other hand, one is still part of a group, even if that group is constantly changing, and that does tend to limit one’s freedom to some extent.
The different routes offered are too numerous to show here, but at present they cover only the eastern half of Australia. That is to say that the western boundary of places served is the road between Adelaide
, except that there is a tour to Uluru. There are also options which involve flying one way, or flying certain sectors.
A similar scheme is operated by the Wayward Bus, which has also proved popular enough to expand its routes and now has several options between Adelaide and Alice Springs
, between Alice Springs and Darwin, and between Adelaide and Melbourne.