Until you spend some time driving from A to B, it’s hard to understand just how big the “Land Down Under” really is, let alone appreciate the difficulties you might face getting around while house sitting in Australia.
My first trip to the land that was to eventually become my home was over the northern winter of 1998/99. Of course, this time of year is the middle of summer in Australia, and Sydney was basking under bright blue skies when we arrived.
We planned to buy a car and drive up the east coast from Sydney to Cairns. On the map it doesn’t look too far. We had six weeks and no schedule to keep, and loved the open welcome we received in this wonderfully friendly country. The open road beckoned, and once we made our $600 investment in an old Nissan we headed north.
Australia’s east coast is a beautiful place, and we spent long days driving, staying in caravan parks along the way. Each time we looked at the map we marveled at the tiny distance two or three hours of driving had taken us. We were beginning to get a real idea of how far it is from Sydney to Cairns.
We eventually arrived in Cairns with time to spare, and sold our car for $800 – a $200 profit. We spent our windfall on diving trips out to the Great Barrier Reef.
The following year, after working hard back in the UK to save some more money, we returned to Australia. We bought a car again, this time in Adelaide, for just $200. We spent a fantastic eight weeks exploring the south east of the country, eventually selling the car in Sydney before flying home.
And again the distances amazed us.
Since those early holidays I have spent seven years living in Perth (2001 to 2008), on the west coast, and have enjoyed several other long distance road trips. Driving up the west coast from Perth to Exmouth takes about two days, driving six hours each day.
The world’s longest straight road
And crossing the infamous Nullabor Plain from west to east, where you can find the world’s longest straight stretch of road (146.6 km / just over 90 miles), took me almost two weeks – although I wasn’t in a hurry.
Perth to Sydney is around 4,000 km (2,485 miles) by road, so at a steady 100kph you would need to drive for a solid 40 hours – that’s five days, if you drive 8 hours each day!
Australia is BIG
So, if you are planning a few house sits in Australia you really do need to consider distances seriously, and plan accordingly. Two sits in Sydney, with a week in between in Perth really is going to involve some logistical challenges
A direct flight between the two cities takes around four and a half hours. When you factor in travel to and from the airports, check-in time, baggage handling, etc. the trip will probably take around ten hours.
You will also cross two time zones, as Sydney is three hours ahead of Perth.
If you want to know more about house sitting in Australia, then take a look at our comprehensive getting started guide “House Sitting in Australia” – it’s full of useful information that will help you decide if house sitting Down Under really is for you.
What are my options for getting around Australia?
There are a number of choices you can make for traversing the vastness of Australia:
- rental cars
- buying a car
- hiring a campervan
- car or campervan repositioning
Let’s look at these in more detail:
1. Take the plane
There are five main airlines that offer flights within Australia:
- Virgin Australia
- Scoot Tigerair
- Rex (Regional Express Airlines)
Internal flights are not cheap in Australia, or at least not in the way they are within Europe, for example.
Jetstar and Scoot usually offer the cheapest flights, whereas Virgin and Qantas tend to offer higher levels of service. Rex offer a wide variety of regional routes not covered by other airlines, but tend to cost a little more.
As a rough guide, the two cheaper carriers might charge around $130 (AUD) for a one-way flight Perth to Sydney in the middle of the night. Virgin and Qantas may cost around $200 (AUD) for the same route during the day. Rex don’t fly the east/west coast to coast route.
2. Take the train
Unless you are loaded and have plenty of time, cross-country trains in Australia will probably not be worth considering. However, with both time and money, Australia’s Great Southern Rail offers some iconic railway journeys.
As a rough guide, Perth to Sydney takes about 4 days, at an approximate cost of $2,500 to $4,000 (AUD), depending on your sleeper car choice.
See our favorite world rail resource The Man in Seat 61 and Great Southern Rail for further details.
3. Self-drive – using your own car
If you have your own car then driving is an option, but make sure you factor in enough time to cover sight-seeing, breakdowns, weather issues and other unforeseen circumstances.
Some Australian roads are rougher than others, and careful planning is required. Just some of the considerations:
- Is the vehicle suitable for the journey planned? 4WD is sometimes needed on many outback roads.
- Is your vehicle adequately maintained?
- What weather challenges might you meet? Wet and dry seasons in the tropical northern areas of Australia can add all sorts of extra challenges to a journey.
- Do you know where the roadhouses are? It can be a VERY LONG way between fuel stops.
- Where will you stay? Camping can be incredibly hot in the summer.
- Do you have all the emergency gear you might need? In more remote areas you can go for hours, even days without seeing another vehicle. It is not unknown for people to die in the outback when they abandon their broken-down vehicle to look for help.
Once again, it bears repeating, Australia is a BIG place!
However, despite the challenges, driving really is the best way to see this huge continent.
4. Self-drive – buying a car
Buying a car in Australia varies from state to state. However, if you are planning to spend a few months in Australia and expect to do a few longer trips it can be a very practical and economical proposition.
On several occasions I have bought vehicles from other travelers. You can spend a day going around the backpacker hostels, studying the “for sale” notice boards. There is usually a wide range of vehicles on offer.
Online sales notice board website gumtree.com.au has plenty of possibilities too.
If you find a motivated seller who is flying onward in a day or two you can usually pick up a great bargain.
We bought this estate car for a road trip in February 2018, for $750 USD. We put a mattress in the back and car camped around Margaret River for 2 weeks before arriving at our next house sit in Kendenup.
When we drove this car back to Perth, 6 weeks later, we sold it within a day for a little more than we paid for it! This worked out tremendous value as we got our transport and accommodation for 14 days for no cost. The alternative or renting a car and staying in hostels or Airbnb would have been very expensive during this peak time of the year.
A little bit of mechanical know-how, or a mechanically-minded friend can be a big help when buying second-hand. As always in such situations, buyer beware!
5. Self-drive – renting a car
If you don’t want to buy a car, or your trip is shorter, then you could rent one.
With distances being so great, a one-way rental is common. It is sometimes possible to get a very cheap rate if the rental company wants a vehicle returning to its home base.
On my second journey from Perth up the west coast to Esperance I was given a rental car for free, and only had to pay fuel costs. The downside was that I had a two-day time limit, which didn’t allow for much sight-seeing on the way. I took a flight back down at the end of the trip.
Fuel costs need to be considered too when choosing to drive. Petrol isn’t as cheap in Australia as it is in the States, so you will probably spend more in fuel costs than a single flight would cost.
Also bear in mind that in more remote locations the price of fuel can be a lot higher than in the cities.
However, shared between two or more people the costs are better, and of course you get the bonus of the road trip.
6. Campervan rental
In Australia campervans come in all shapes and sizes, from bargain backpacker minivans to super-size luxury RVs. You will see campers wherever you travel in Australia. I bought this
Costs vary, but none are super-cheap. Here are a few websites to begin your research:
7. Buying a campervan?
Some companies also offer campervans for sale, with a guaranteed buyback when you are ready to sell. This company offers rentals, sales and buyback options:
8. Campervan repositioning
One other interesting possibility, something we would like to try one day, is re-positioning of campervans. Just like the car rental companies, campervan companies often need to move their vehicles around the country to satisfy demand. If you are flexible there are many opportunities to deliver a vehicle across the country.
This is most-likely impractical if you have house sit assignments to get to, as getting the exact date and route you need might be difficult. But for a travel adventure between sits it is a great opportunity.
Rental costs can be as little as $1 per day, and sometimes there is a fuel allowance too.
- Larger campers can be gas-guzzlers.
- You may have to stick to a tight schedule.
Here are a few websites to begin your research:
We have always found Australia to be a great house sit location, with many interesting assignments on offer. This year we used TrustedHousesitters and AussieHouseSitters to secure three months of back-to-back house sits, leaving a short gap for our between sits travel adventure.
Just bear in mind you might need to take the time to do a little planning before accepting back-to-back sits on opposite sides of the country.
You may find that you can’t get to your next assignment on time.
As I said, Australia is BIG!