SYDNEY, Australia — A new bus service on Australia's east coast caters to backpackers. The Backpackers Express provides one-way travel between Sydney and Cairns with unlimited stops anywhere in between. The cost is about $105 U.S.
Using just two buses, the new service is a joint venture of nationwide Deluxe Coach Lines and Backpackers Headquarters, a company that has hostel-style accommodations in Sydney, Port Macquarie and Magnetic Island, as well as affiliated hostels along the east coast.
The two brightly painted buses, outfitted with movie and rock video viewing equipment, roam continuously up and down the 1,976-mile coastal route. The buses make short pub and swim stops, and passengers are dropped off or picked up at affiliated hostels.
Tickets are valid for six months. Because there are only two buses, when a stop is made it may be as many as five days before the next Backpackers Express arrives. So far, those who have wanted to move on sooner have been able to use their tickets on the regular Deluxe Coach Lines services, which cover this route several times each day. You should, however, reconfirm this at the time of purchase.
In Sydney, Backpackers Headquarters has five budget accommodation locations and one cruise boat. For further details, drop by its hostel at 79 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross.
Australia seems to be experiencing the kind of boom in backpacking that Europe and North America saw in the 1970s. A recent report on this segment of its tourism industry estimated that there are now as many as 60 backpacker accommodation properties in Sydney alone.
That's the good news. Unfortunately, there is also a down side to the number of businesses opening and offering services to budget travelers.
The same tourism report warns that 75% of the hostels in Kings Cross have been established in the past two years and that many are illegal. Court cases are pending to stop individual unlicensed hostels from operating, but because of their large number and the sluggishness of the court system, illegal hostels will continue to proliferate.
Unsuitable buildings turned into hostels have resulted in fires and deaths in both Sydney and Brisbane. It's essential that you check for fire alarms and an adequate number of exits when selecting a place to stay.
Two of the Sydney hostels, at 51 Hereford St. and 262 Glebe Road, affiliated with International Youth Hostel Federation, offer twin rooms for $14 per person a night. Each also offers four-share rooms for under $12 per person. A bus service known as Wonderbus picks up at the airport daily at 8:30 a.m. and provides transportation to these hostels for $4.
Other good bargains are available in Sydney, too. If, for example, you want to buy a cheap used car to travel around the country, you'll find that fellow travelers who are ready to sell their vehicles line them up along Victoria Street in the Kings Cross area.
Lots more than used cars are for sale on the streets of Kings Cross--you may find the area intimidating.
An interesting alternative for accommodations is to catch the harbor ferry for a $3, 30-minute ride to Manly Beach. Halfway along the beach, known for its good surfing, you'll find a tourist information office that can help you with several addresses for budget lodgings. Manly Lodge at 22 Victoria Parade offers clean, bright shared room facilities for $15 a night.
For $10 a day you can have unlimited use of Sydney's Explorer Bus services. The drivers offer a continuous commentary while circling the city. You can get on and off as often as you want. These buses make 20 stops and service is available every 16 minutes.
Try Sydney's new monorail. It's $2 per ride and it serves the Darling Harbour shopping and entertainment complex, where you'll also find Australia's largest museum complex, the Powerhouse Museum, which has free admission.
Head down to the historic "Rocks" area of the city, the site This is the site of Australia's first settlement. The visitor center at 104 George St. offers a free short film about the area plus maps for self-guided walking tours.
Before you leave Sydney, consider dropping into STA Travel (formally Student Travel Australia) at 9 Oxford St., Paddington, or call 360-1822. At any of its 39 locations throughout Australia you can pick up free copies of a pocket-size publication, "Backpackers Guide To Australia." It covers information on where to stay and other services for independent budget travelers.