Where I’ve been in Oceania
When I first started this blog I was intending to build a resource for people planning long-distance overland backpacking trips, where I’d share & pool information for people to easily check and where readers could also share information and updates.
To that end, I made a separate page for every country I’d been to, with tips for including it on a regional overland itinerary, what to see & do, etc
It never really took off in that regard though and many of those pages hardly ever got any traffic, so I’ve replaced most of them with regional summary pages instead. This page covers Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
Where I’ve Been in Oceania
Getting to Oceania Overland
You can’t get there by land of course, but by the same token going by ship is possible – but not on regular passenger ferries, as there aren’t any.
If you want to travel to Australia or the Pacific islands by sea, there are basically three options – cruise ship, cargo ship, or private yacht. Cruise ships are the most expensive, but by far the easiest to arrange if you have the budget; I’m sure it’s a nice way to travel, though I’m yet to experience it.
The other two are a bit harder to set up, requiring significant planning (and funds) to land a berth on a cargo ship, and good timing or good luck to score a spot (as a paying passenger or as a crew member) on a yacht. In the case of cargo ships, while some do have berths for paying passengers, it doesn’t seem to be all that common and most ships don’t take passengers. For those that do, you can contact them directly through their company websites (like here and here) or book through specialist cargo cruise travel agents (like this) – you need to do this months ahead of your desired travel time, as available berths and departures are limited. The going rate seems to be around 100 to 150 US dollars per day, and obviously with passage from Asia or America taking weeks this isn’t exactly a cheap option – but then, considering that it essentially covers all food and accommodation costs, it doesn’t seem too bad as long as you find the time on board to be a good travel experience and time well spent rather than wasted.
Personally, I would love to travel by cargo vessel at least once – those enormous hulks are incredible and it would be pretty cool to be onboard, to see how they look and work inside, to see the daily lives of the crew, and to experience the pace of life aboard ship. Even more than that, I find the workings of global freighter trade fascinating – all those ships, all those containers, all filled with so much stuff, all going here, there, and everywhere… all those ports and docks and their workers running to and fro every day, loading and unloading all that stuff to send it on further, here, there, and everywhere by rail and road… first seeing new lands not as a miniature patchwork out of a plane window, but as the cliffs and towns of a rugged coastline; and first arriving in new lands not in the sterile confines of an international airport, but in the nitty and hustle and gritty and bustle of a container port.
I did actually once attempt to arrange passage on a cargo ship sailing from Australia to Indonesia (to pick up a few containers of shrimp); myself and two friends went to the docks in Cairns and asked around, and eventually met a heavily tattooed, wild-eyed, foul-mouthed seaman from New Zealand who I can only describe as a complete character – one of the most louder-than-life individuals I’ve ever encountered – who thought his ship might be able to take us. He took us to meet his captain, who explained they couldn’t legally take us unless we were crew – but that as it happened he was looking for a chef for their next sailing. My Irish friend almost took that position, until it was made clear that he wouldn’t be allowed ashore in Indonesia and would also be required to sail back on the return leg. So that didn’t work out, but it was pretty cool getting a tour around their ship (just a small one by container ship standards though, not one of the behemoths) and listening to this madman’s stories… we then went for a few beers with him, but as he was getting louder and scarier with every beer we said our goodbyes before he could combust into a 1-man bar fight, went and bought a load of fresh fish from the dockside wholesale market, and took it back to the hostel for a barbecue. It was a pretty cool day out in Cairns in the end, but I reckon that any attempt to randomly find cargo ship passage like that will end in similar failure – you do need to get it all arranged well in advance.
It seems that the departure points for a cargo ship journey to Australia etc are not the nearby islands of Indonesia, but the major Asian ports like Hong Kong and Singapore, or from California for the full trans-Pacific crossing.
Finally, there’s the yacht option. Some yachts will take paying passengers, but it’s more common to pay your way by working as a deckhand. For yachts to Australia, it seems the best bet is to travel to Indonesia and look for a yacht sailing from Bali; the main yachting routes around the world are generally done in specific directions at specific times of year, so your timing needs to be right.
I’ve read reports of travellers rocking up at the Bali marina and finding boats almost immediately, but those seem to be the lucky exceptions; others report knocking around in Bali for weeks with no joy and running out of visa time.
For yachts to New Zealand, it seems the best bet is to travel from Australia or elsewhere in Polynesia, depending on the time of year, and the main route to Fiji and the other Pacific islands is from the US. To get an idea about sailing from the US to the South Pacific, have a look at the Pacific Puddle Jump; if you did that first, you could then attempt to continue on to NZ through the South Pacific. For more ideas, see here for a report on hitching from Tonga to Fiji.
Perhaps the best way to go about this, though, is to set it up through findacrew – this website is for captains to advertise crew positions for upcoming crossings, and through it you can get things set up in advance instead of winging it at the marina.
A word of caution though – two British co-workers of mine in Canada had attempted to travel from England to Vancouver without flying, and having made their way down to southern Spain overland and then by ferry out to the Canary Islands, they sailed all the way across the Atlantic as crew on a yacht arranged on findacrew… only to be promptly arrested upon arrival in Antigua for not having the correct yacht crew visa and deported back to the UK by air and at their own expense! Obviously that’s Antigua and not Australia, but if you manage to secure passage this way make sure you have whatever paperwork you need and don’t find out the hard way.
For more information and ideas for reaching Australia overland and sea (especially if the UK is your starting point), Seat 61 has a good page you should check out.
A continent-sized country with vast distances, wide open spaces, lots of wilderness, good roads, and not so many people; Australia is dream road trip territory. The east coast is by far the most heavily populated part of the country, but for long-distance driving elsewhere you need to make sure you have enough fuel, enough water in your engine, enough water and food to survive a while if you break down, and generally know what you’re doing out there. Two friends of mine bought a car to drive to Alice Springs and Darwin, and had a high speed collision with a kangaroo in the middle of the desert; thankfully they were both fine, but it was curtains for both car and kangaroo. They stood there for hours until they could flag down a bus, and the car had to be left to rust (you see quite a lot of them lying around out there – and quite a lot of dead kangaroos and dingos too).
Various bus companies connect all the major cities, and there’s the famous Oz Experience bus providing hop-on hop-off buses for backpackers. I did a mix of car and bus (plus a couple of domestic flights), the buses were comfortable and worked just fine but obviously the road trips by car were way better. Do the latter if you can! These days you can book online for major bus routes, see here
Trains are also an option, though Australia’s long-distance railroads are pretty underdeveloped and aimed more at scenic railway tourism than regular rail transportation. The most famous routes are the Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin right up through the middle of the country, and the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney. These trains are slower than driving and way more expensive than the bus, but they would surely be a great way to see the Outback.
If you’re heading to Tasmania, you can get there by sea using the Spirit of Tasmania ferries from Melbourne, taking around 10 hours (unfortunately I didn’t get to do this as I went to Tasmania with friends who were on a tight travel schedule, so my overland instinct had to be suppressed and we flew). This can be booked online here, as can various shorter crossings to the islands off Western Australia, Queensland, etc
Do some trekking – we did the Overland Track in Tasmania, and it was awesome.
Experience the dubious joys of hostel life
Scuba diving. The Great Barrier Reef is the big draw, but the best dive I did in Australia (and perhaps the best dive I’ve done full stop) was the incredible SS Yongala wreck dive
Go on a self-drive tour around wild Fraser Island.
Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) – Australia’s most iconic natural feature and of great spiritual importance to the local tribes, Uluru is usually visited on a bus tour or road trip from Alice Springs also including Kata Tjuta.
Go sailing in the Whitsundays and spend three miserable days puking your guts out or watching a boat full of other people puking their guts out. Seriously – most backpackers do this and it is very pretty indeed, but if you get seasick don’t sign up and pay your money unless you know the forecast is for good weather and calm waters.
The remote location makes New Zealand a pretty hard place to reach without flying, but once you’re there it’s an awesome country for overland travel. The roads are quiet, the views outstanding, the air clean, the people friendly; you can hike and climb, jump off bridges and out of planes, see whales and dolphins, and of course – the main reason I was there – you can ski. I spent a ski season bartending in Queenstown and New Zealand really is one of my favourites, both for travel and for living.
Most overland travel in NZ is by road, and the road network is extensive and well-maintained. The traffic is generally light outside the cities (and not too bad in them), and the scenery spectacular – this is definitely a good country to drive around.
If rail is your thing, NZ only has a few routes available but they’re good ones. The TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth is marketed as one of the world’s greatest scenic rail journeys (check out the video on their site); another route connects Christchurch to Picton, and another runs from Auckland to Wellington. This means you can get all the way from Auckland to Greymouth by rail and ferry. The trains are more expensive than taking the bus and mostly exist for tourism purposes rather than for daily transportation; I never did take the train in NZ, but heard only good things about it.
Ferries cross the Cook Strait between the two main islands several times per day connecting Wellington to Picton, and there are ferries to various smaller islands like Stewart Island (from Invercargill) and the islands off Auckland. You can search and book these online with Direct Ferries.
These days you can book many of the main road & rail routes online on 12go.asia here– they also sell Wellington-Picton ferry tickets so compare prices with Direct Ferries.
New Zealand Highlights
Go skiing! I once spent a ski season in Queenstown; the ski areas there aren’t the biggest or most snow-sure in the world, but it’s still decent and you can ski from June-August.
Do some tramping (trekking). New Zealand has a ton of famous tramping routes featuring spectacular scenery, from one-day hikes like the Tongariro Crossing to epics like the Milford Track and Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and it really is a walker’s dream.
Get stuck in to all the other outdoor activities on offer – in Queenstown alone you can do canyoning, skydiving, bungee jumping, mountain biking, jet boating, rock climbing, white water rafting, river sledging, and skiing.
Go spelunking in the Waitimo glow worm caves, usually done as a day trip from Rotorua.
Rent a car and drive to Milford Sound; taking a cruise through the fjord itself is awesome (a pod of bottlenose dolphins tagged along with our boat), but the spectacular drive there alone would be worth it even if there wasn’t something so good at the end of the road.
Another amazing road – the west coast road of South Island, from Wanaka up to Greymouth, is incredible. The journey is worth doing in its own right, but you can also stop off at Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier and try your hand at ice climbing, or take a helicopter up to the upper glaciers for a guided walk.
Try zorbing – this was invented in New Zealand (as was bungee jumping) and consists of climbing inside a giant inflatable ball and being rolled down a hill; it feels a bit like being in a washing machine. The original zorbing park is in Rotorua.
Go whale watching in Kaikoura. Sperm whale sightings are common, and dolphins are often spotted too – we saw five sperm whales (including the rare sight of two together) and a huge pod of acrobatic dusky dolphins.
Fiji’s a small country consisting of hundreds of islands; there are no railways so local transport is by road, and inter-island transport is by ferry (or air). For ferries to the Mamanuca and Yasawa island chains you can book online with Direct Ferries
Swimming with manta rays was the absolute highlight of my visit to Fiji – I did this at Manta Ray Island in the Yasawa island chain, and it was amazing. The island was pretty nice too! The mantas are there from May to October, and the scuba diving remains good throughout the year.
Take part in a kava ceremony and drink the bitter, mouth-numbing drink around which much of Fijian social life revolves.
Resources and Useful Links for Australia, NZ and Fiji
Search for hotel deals in Australia
Search for hotel deals in New Zealand
Search for hotel deals in Fiji
Airbnb’s also a good option, if you’ve never used it before you can get a 30 dollar discount if you sign up with this link
Search 12go.asia for bus, train, and ferry tickets
Flexible travel insurance from World Nomads, especially useful if you’re already overseas (this can be an important point, as I once found out the hard way in Bangkok). If you’re going scuba diving, make sure your insurance policy includes scuba diving cover; ski bums, check out their snow sports cover
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