Where as the countries in South East Asia are relatively small and close together, the beautiful countries of New Zealand and Australia are larger and the destinations are much more spread out. Hopping off the plane in Australia, we weren’t sure what to expect and had a tough time figuring out the best transportation options for each country. You can bus and rent cars in both Australia and New Zealand, and both have pros and cons. If you drive you have more freedom (which was awesome to stop for pictures in NZ) but with a bus you can save time and money on accommodation by taking an overnight bus to your next destination. Here is what we chose to do in each country as well as some helpful tips for Australian local transit.
Hop On/Hop Off Bus Australia
If you plan on sticking to the east coast for part of your trip through Australia, a hop on/hop off bus ticket is really useful. We bought a Cairns to Melbourne ticket from Greyhound for $520 AUS after we arrived from Bali, delirious after 1.5 stress filled days of travel without sleep. We didn’t do much research on it and in the end Premier might have been the better budget choice as it was $295-$315 (even though their website and logo looks like it’s from the 80s.)
The ticket works fairly simply. You buy the pass, and you’re able to take the bus one direction down the coast. You cannot travel south from Cairns to Byron Bay, then decide to go check out Brisbane by taking a bus north. You book your exact bus online before you get on, you can’t just show up without booking as they do fill up. We recommend to book your buses all the way down the coast beforehand to save seats on the ones you want, and if you need to change a booking you can easily go back into the website, cancel the one you want to change and book a different one. We aimed for the overnight buses to save money on hostels and to save some time. Also be aware that some bus routes take much longer than others, so make sure to book ahead to get the quickest ones at the times you want to be travelling.
The Greyhound buses were fairly comfortable. The seats leaned back about 45 degrees and were pretty spacious. Most of them were equipped with USB ports that almost always worked, and wifi that worked well about 50% of the time. If you’re taking one overnight try to snag a seat in the back, as the bus is pretty bright in the front and louder with the driver talking on the radio at times. The bus drivers were mean and grumpy more often than not, and during overnight trips there was always one mandatory stop where we had to get off the bus. Also be aware that when you buy your bus ticket, the Greyhound guys work very hard to sell you tours along the way, and they always try to sell you the most expensive ones no matter what you tell them. We didn’t have the greatest experience with them. If you are planning on taking a tour (such as the Fraser Island Cool Dingo Tour), research it before and see if they have it. At one point we managed to get a discount on the bus ticket if we bought both at the same time, but it fell through after they continued to hassle us.
The major difference we know of between the Greyhound and Premier buses is that the Premier buses do not have wifi or USB chargers. It was convenient being able to charge our phones and use the wifi (when it was working) to locate our next hostel or post some photos, but probably not worth the $200 difference in price.
We (mostly Alex) were obsessed with how great the Sydney Transit System was. It blew our home transit system in Toronto out of the water. First thing to do when you get to Sydney is to buy an Opal Card. This card is free as long as you load it with $10, and you can get it at most convenience stores. It will let you onto any train, bus or ferry, at a discounted rate to just purchasing an individual ticket. For example, going from Central Station to Kings Cross Station costs $4 AUS for a ticket, but $2.10 AUS with Opal. It’s all tiered based on distance as well, so you only pay for the distance you travel.
The coolest thing about the Opal Card is that there are benefits when you use it a lot (which you will as a tourist). If you take eight paid journeys (has to be an hour between trips) the rest of the week is free. You get 30% off at off-peak travel times. On Sunday there is a $2.50 AUS cap, on all other days there is a $15 AUS cap, and the cap for the whole week is $30 AUS (meaning you can travel more after you hit this amount, but you will not be charged). We used the card for our trip to Blue Mountains, even though it was technically $8.30 AUS each way, we only paid $15 for the whole trip. Then we went out later and every trip that night was free. Pretty sweet deal!
Melbourne has a similar card called the Myki but it’s definitely not as cool. First of all it costs $6 AUS which was a let down after the Opal, but the most annoying part is that it’s mandatory. It also offers no benefits at all. One cool thing about Melbourne transit is that there is a “Free Ride Zone”, which, as the name suggests, allows you to hop on and off for free as long as you only get on and off in the specified zone. This small zone encompasses a lot of the main downtown area which is nice, but it’s also small enough to easily walk.
New Zealand doesn’t have a straightforward condensed population along the coast like Australia, making your trip through New Zealand much more complicated and roundabout. It’s possible to take buses from place to place, but they’re expensive and our love for New Zealand came mostly from our journeys through the picturesque landscape. If we had taken a bus we would not have been able to stop every 10 mins to take pictures of the breathtaking views. So if you have the means, rent a car or camper van to experience everything New Zealand has to offer.
We booked a car pretty last minute, but we were able to get it for about $50 CAD/day. You also have to be able to put down a $2000 NZ insurance deposit on a credit card, so make sure you have enough credit limit! We’re from Canada, so we were able to use our Canadian license there. However, make sure you research if you’re from elsewhere, as you might need an international drivers license. We covered a lot of the country even though we only had 9 days, and it costed us about $350 NZ in gas. The ferry between North and South Island can carry your car, a small standard car costs about $143 NZ, a full sized camper van will cost $75 NZ extra (prices based on Interislander). This all adds up, but it was the only feasible way for us to hit all the spots we wanted on our short 9 day tour of New Zealand.
New Zealand is small, and you can drive it fairly easily in 1.5-2 weeks, but be aware that the roads are extremely twisty and even though the speed limit is 100 km/hr, you’ll often have to go slower than that or risk flying off the road. Keep that in mind when estimating driving times, as google maps or MapsMe will often estimate a trip time that is faster than reality. You’ll also want to stop a bunch and take pictures! So allot time for that. Also be aware that kiwis drive on the left side of the road, which was a bit of a transition from our usual right sided driving in Canada.