Getting to the Outback
Article from Travel Outback Australia.
A note from Club 4X4: This article was written pre COVID-19 — it is strongly recommended that you check with your home state and the NT state government to understand COVID travel restrictions. If you are healthy and able to travel, we recommend driving over flying to the NT at this time.
Should you fly? Drive? Take a camel or catch a bus?
If you’re planning a trip to the outback, then you’ve found the right page!
We all know that travel in Australia can be VERY expensive. Because we’ve travelled the outback by all forms of transport, we can help save you money and time whilst planning your trip.
So on this page you’ll find information about the fastest, cheapest and the BEST ways to get to the outback, no matter what your schedule or budget.
What’s more, we’ve made it easy to book flights, hire cars and get bus fares direct from this page – so you’ll be able to start planning your journey straight away.
The most important thing for you to remember is that Australia is HUGE.
Well, Australia is almost as large as the United States and is twice as big as Western Europe.
It takes about 4 days to drive from the east coast of Australia to the west coast.
It takes 3 days to drive from Sydney to Alice Springs.
It takes 5 hours to drive from Alice Springs to Uluru (Ayers Rock).
This means that the biggest expense in seeing Australia (and the outback) is just getting from one place to the next. For this reason, it’s very important to plan your trip carefully so you don’t waste time or money when you get here.
Because Australia is so vast, there’s only two real options for getting to the outback:
- fly direct to places like Alice Springs or Uluru
- travel via road or rail
If you have 5 days or less to see the outback, we recommend that you fly direct to Alice Springs or Ayers Rock.
Otherwise you will spend far too much time driving long distances or sitting on a train or bus.
If you fly to Uluru or Alice Springs, you then have the option of hiring a car and exploring on your own for a few days, or joining a tour.
A very popular option is to fly to Alice Springs, rent a car, drive to Kings Canyon, stay the night, drive to Uluru and then fly back to Sydney or Melbourne.
Learn more about car hire in Alice Springs here.
Some people also like to join one of the many 3 day outback safari tours. These are great value (they start around $300 AUD) and include all transport and accommodation costs.
Be warned however: for families, flying IS much more expensive than driving. A family of four will spend over $2000 in airfares from Sydney to Alice Springs compared to around $700 in petrol costs!
Of course, if you’re an Aussie family, a Grey Nomad or a part of a group of backpackers, then NOTHING beats driving. It’s simply much, much MUCH cheaper than flying – provided you have the time to spare.
In our opinion, flying in and flying out is NOT the best way to see the outback unless you are really short of time.
Our best advice for getting the most value from your outback experience is to set aside two to three weeks and see the outback by road. It really is far superior to spending huge amounts of money to fly here for 3 days and then rush off again.
By Road – The BEST Option
Without doubt, driving is the BEST option for exploring the outback.
We recommend driving over flying because:
- Freedom to stop and see things that interest you rather than someone else
- You can visit out of the way places via little known routes, like the Mayfield Swamp (Andado) track, the Gary Highway, or the Binns Track
- You’ll see exactly just how big Australia is, and see that it’s not just flat, full of red dirt or big red rocks!
Driving opens up the possibility of buying your own car, hiring a car, sharing a ride or even doing a low cost rental car relocation.
And if you’re worried about driving in the outback, remember that many outback highways are straight, wide open bitumen roads that are very easy to drive on.
Even some of our most famous outback tracks like the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks are also fabulously maintained and great to drive on.
Check out our Driving in the Outback page for more information, tips and tricks.
Hiring cars in Australia is relatively easy -but not particularly cheap.
This is especially true if you’re hiring a car to drive to or in the Northern Territory.
There are lots of nasty little charges that you need to be aware of, and of course, we’ve discovered a few clever tricks to avoid these charges. The pages below will give you full details on where to hire cars and what charges and rules you need to be aware of.
To learn more about car hire in Alice Springs, click here.
To read about car hire at Uluru/Ayers Rock, click here.
Keep reading as we’ve got a cheap and easy way to save hundreds of dollars on car rentals below
Cheap and Unconventional
In this section, we’ve gathered our cheap and unusual ways of travelling to the outback (you can use these for anywhere else in Australia, too).
One of the best and little known ways of getting around Australia is with rental car relocations.
This is where a rental car is hired by tourists, driven to one way to a destination and then needs to be returned to another place before a particular date. Rental car companies offer these vehicles to travellers at very low rates.
Some hire car companies offer relocation rentals on cars as low as $1 per day, plus a few hundred dollars for fuel.
To grab these bargains, you need to start planning and searching about 2-3 weeks before you plan to go.
The catch is that you’ll have a very short time to get the car to the place it’s needed in, and you won’t have much time for sightseeing or leisurely stops along the way.
Here’s a few websites to look at:
- Standby Relocations
- Drive Now (has relocations on bottom of page)
- Relocation Car Rental
- Travellers Autobarn
Another cheap option is to join a ride sharing site and find someone who’s going where you’re planning on going.
Share Your Ride is a site where you can find people offering a seat in their car OR you can post you own classified type ad, seeking a lift to a particular destination.
A similar Australian site that seems to be a lot more active for Northern Territory/outback lifts is Gumtree Australia.
We haven’t used either service, so we can’t really comment on how successful you’ll be. As a safety precaution. we recommend that you meet the people offering a ride for a coffee or a drink before you accept a lift -especially if you’re female.
Cheapest Way to Get to the Outback?
There’s a few cheap options for getting to the outback that will still let you see a lot and have some freedom if you don’t want to fly.
One option is for those coming from Sydney or Melbourne, grab a cheap flight to Adelaide with Jetstar or Tiger Airways (could be as low as $59!), then book a Daynighter seat on the Ghan
The second option is via Greyhound bus. We recommend buying a Kilometre Pass (you can select the amount of kilometres you want to pay for). The advantage of the Kilometre Pass is that it allows get-on/get-off, so you can spend a few days exploring various places along the way.
You can also hop on some of the ‘backpacker’ type bus tours like Groovy Grape. If you do this, you’ll often get your accommodation included in the ticket price, and you’ll visit lots of interesting sites along the way.
We haven’t done this ourselves, but we’ve heard pretty good things about these kinds of tours.
Good luck and let us know how you go!