The vibrant flowers you'll find on a hike in the upper Meander Valley, Tasmania – one of the best reasons to travel slowly and linger longer © Andrew Peacock / Getty Images
Australia is such an enormous nation that the instinct of both locals and visitors is to fly between its many far-flung attractions.
But in this era of ‘flight-shame’ and increased environmental awareness, it’s possible to reduce your carbon footprint in Oz by traveling by surface transport, seeing more of the country on the way. Here are a number of possibilities.
Tasmania, Australia: thrilling outdoor adventures
Sail to Tasmania
A fine alternative to flying from Melbourne to Tasmania is to set sail from Melbourne aboard Spirit of Tasmania, a sturdy sea-going ferry service that crosses the Bass Strait nightly between Port Melbourne and Devonport in northern Tasmania (though in late 2022 the Victorian terminus will switch to Corio Bay near Geelong). Each of the vessels has a range of accommodation, including recliner chairs, berths in shared cabins and private cabins. There’s a restaurant, bars and a shop on board and the ferry connects with buses to transport you to Launceston and Hobart. At the Melbourne end, there’s a convenient connection to the city’s tram network; which will become more of a walk to North Shore railway station after the change of terminus.
Top 15 beaches in Australia
Find Outback fossils by train and a tour
Though Longreach in Outback Queensland is famous for its role in developing aviation, being the home of Qantas Founders Museum, it’s a place you can easily reach without flying or driving. From Brisbane the Spirit of the Outback sleeper train heads north then west, taking 26 hours to make the transition from coast to grasslands. Longreach has plenty of attractions, including the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and a Thomson River cruise. Tour operators such as Outback Aussie Tours and Red Dirt Tours can take you further west to attractions in and around the quintessentially Outback town of Winton, including the fascinating Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum.
Melbourne or Sydney: which city is the best to start your Australian adventure?
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
A train on the Kuranda Scenic Railway winding past a waterfall © GJQuinlan / Getty
Catch a train to the tropical north
The Far North Queensland tourism hub of Cairns is surprisingly well set up for public transport options. You can reach the tropical city from the state capital Brisbane by rail – a memorable 25-hour journey aboard the Spirit of Queensland, a train equipped with seats that convert to lie-flat beds. Once in Cairns, there are plenty of attractions that don’t require a car, including a Great Barrier Reef tour by boat. A popular day trip involves taking the Kuranda Scenic Railway through the spectacular ranges west of the city, returning by the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. The Savannahlander train also departs Cairns weekly for a four-day return tour to remote Gulf Savannah towns and natural attractions such as the Undara Lava Tubes.
Australia's top 10 places for wild swimming
Reach Margaret River by rail and road
The southwest corner of Western Australia is a pleasant destination, famous for its wineries, tall native trees, caves and great surf. Most people drive there, but an alternative route is to catch the twice-daily Australind train to Bunbury, from where a connecting bus takes you onward to tourism hub Margaret River. In addition to in-town attractions such as the Margaret River Distilling Company, there are plenty of tours of the region on offer, including a day-trip tour that involves wineries, cheese, chocolate and a brewery.
Australia’s Great Ocean Road is one of the world's best drives: here are the best detours
The Ghan train to Darwin, departing Alice Springs with the MacDonnell Ranges in the background © BeyondImages / Getty
See the Red Centre by train and bus
Sadly, there’s no longer economy seating on Australia’s two intercontinental trains, the Indian Pacific (connecting Sydney to Perth) and The Ghan (Adelaide to Darwin). However, if you have the funds for a cabin aboard The Ghan, you can travel from either Adelaide or Darwin to Alice Springs, which has plenty of interesting attractions including the Alice Springs Desert Park and the Royal Flying Doctor Service Base. From Alice, you can join excursions to Uluru and return, for example, this day trip which includes a sunset barbecue dinner.
Why glamping might be the best way to see the Great Barrier Reef
Go the distance on a challenging hike through Charlotte Pass in Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales © Tetra Images / Getty
Walk one of Australia’s long-distance hiking trails
If you’re fit and love hiking, Australia has some trails that are so long they can become a journey in themselves – and walking all the way between distant locations is the ultimate way to limit your carbon emissions. There are plenty of options, including the Great North Walk from Sydney to Newcastle; the Great Ocean Walk along the rugged coast of Victoria; and the Australian Alps Walking Track, an impressive 650-kilometer trek through national parks from Walhalla, Victoria, to the outskirts of Canberra.
Two even longer trails are Western Australia’s Bibbulmun Track, stretching 1000 kilometers from Perth’s suburbs to the south coast Albany; and the 1200-kilometer Heysen Trail in South Australia. The king of them all is the Bicentennial National Trail used by horse-riders, hikers and cyclists, covering 5330 kilometers from Healesville, Victoria, to Cooktown, Queensland. Now that’s a mighty stroll to boast about… while helping the environment.
The best bushwalking and trail running routes in Australia
Cycle through Victoria along a rail trail
Many disused rail corridors have been put to good use as rail trails, ideal for cycling between destinations. The state of Victoria in particular has a wealth of them, including the 134-kilometer Great Victorian Rail Trail from Mansfield to Tallarook. Other Victorian trails linking popular towns (and accessible at one end by train) include the Bellarine Rail Trail from Geelong to Queenscliff, the East Gippsland Rail Trail from Bairnsdale to Orbost and the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail linking Wangaratta, Beechworth and Bright.
Australia's 10 most iconic road trips