How to holiday across Australia this summer without an exorbitant rental car | Life and style

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Holidayers dreaming of summer road trips have been veered off track by a spike in rental car prices up to double pre-pandemic rates.

The worldwide car shortage hitting new and used car retailers has jacked up rental prices by hundreds of dollars a week. Affordability is at its worst in Tasmania where rental cars cost tourists an average of $169 a day – more than anywhere else in Australia. There have been reports from around Australia of cars costing up to $400 a day. The shortage of rental cars in Tasmania has become so acute that the state government is offering local residents $1,000 to lend their cars out to visitors.

But in place of car rentals, the humble train, bus and bicycle are also making a comeback. And rideshare services are capitalising on the steep prices.

This year could be the perfect chance for interstate travellers to make the most of the silly season with nothing but a suitcase and a Covid vaccination certificate.

Here’s how to get around without a rental:

Train

There may be no better way to get to know the countryside of a foreign place than by train.

If you’re in the mood for adventure, a quintessential Queensland train journey starts in Cairns and drops you in Forsayth via the wet tropics of the Kuranda range and through the epic grassland of savannah country.

From there, it’s an easy bus to Cobbold Gorge. The outback rail experience departs Cairns weekly, with tours included.

Or, if Western Australia opens its borders as planned in January, topping the bucket list is the train from Perth to mining town Kalgoorlie. The original train line, which opened in 1971, cut the 653km journey from 14 hours down to eight, making it the fastest service in Australia at the time.

The modern Prospector train is a little bit more refined – complete with a buffet, on-demand entertainment systems and air conditioning.

Narrawallee Beach in Mollymook on New South Wales’ south coast. Photograph: David Gray/AFP/Getty Images

Bus

The bus can sometimes get a bad rap, and for what? It gets the job done, at its own leisurely pace. Buses have the benefit of covering more routes, and – at their best – can take passengers straight to their destination. They’re also often the cheapest option.

A poorly kept secret for Canberrans without a car is Rixons buses – the only door-to-door service to the beach. If you fancy a trip to the south coast of New South Wales, which is notoriously hard to get to by public transport, Rixons offers a multi-day shuttle service from the Australian Capital Territory to your destination, whether you’re looking to stroll Pretty Beach or shuck down oysters in Mollymook. The best part is stopping at Braidwood for a pie on the way.

Aerial view of Hardy Reef in the Whitsunday Islands area
Hardy Reef, near the Whitsunday Islands. Photograph: Horizon International Images Limited/Alamy

Farther north, if you’re feeling adventurous, take two to three weeks to brave the popular 3,150km bus route from Sydney to Cairns, and discover Australia’s eastern coast. Greyhound buses are a great option for the trip. A hop-on, hop-off pass is valid for up to 90 days, starting in Sydney and meandering through Byron Bay, the Gold Coast, Fraser Island and Rockhampton. You can even stop off and sail the Whitsunday Islands on your way.

Bicycle

There’s nothing like your means of transport doubling as a form of exercise.

Keen cyclists would be hard-pressed to go past Victoria’s high country – Alpine territory of deep ravines, lush vineyards and quaint gold rush towns that boast half of the state’s recognised mountain bike trails.

The high country brewing trail is a great way to discover the region’s craft brewers or, for a more leisurely pace, the Murray to Mountains rail trail winds 116km from Wangaratta to Bright, with an offshoot to Beechworth. Be sure to stop off in Milawa’s gourmet region for wine and cheese.

A view of Victoria’s high country
A view of Victoria’s high country. Photograph: David Wall/Alamy

Travelling by bike is often easier when combined with trains and buses for longer distances – but be sure to check ahead if they will carry your bike and whether you need to book.

Boat

Before cars, before trains, before planes, there were boats. Slow, sure. But scenic? Absolutely.

Unless you’re prone to sea sickness, the water is a magical way to travel and get to know Tasmania. A quarter of the island’s south-west is off-limits to vehicles, with some of its most beautiful features inaccessible unless by boat.

Bruny Island Cruises offer a simple way to reach the island from Hobart, with options for eco-wilderness tours, gourmet sightseeing and day trips.

Also starting in Hobart, it’s worth a quick hour-and-a-half bus to Triabunna to board the ferry to Maria Island, a national park boasting incredible views of the bay.

Rideshare

Rideshare services have been capitalising on eased lockdown restrictions. Uber has received more requests for trips over 30km in traditionally popular summer holiday destinations since August, from Byron Bay to the Mornington Peninsula. Trips over 30km have been up 21% in Cairns and 24% in the Gold Coast, data provided to Guardian Australia showed.

The newly launched Uber Reserve is one alternative to the expensive car rental market. It allows riders to reserve an Uber ride up to 30 days in advance in most major cities, complete with a locked-in upfront price.

For those desperate to drive, the company has also launched Uber Rent, which allows users to compare car hire options in certain areas.

Another notable car-share option includes Coseats, modelled off Europe’s successful BlaBlaCar. The website allows drivers to offer a seat in their car for an agreed price, whether travelling from Lightning Ridge to Lismore or Melbourne to Newcastle.

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