All visitors to Australia require a visa, which needs to be issued before arrival (managed by the Department of Home Affairs). If you are a citizen of the UK or the EU, as well as Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland or Vatican City, you can apply for the free ‘e-visitor’ visa (subclass 651), a multiple-entry visa valid for 12 months, with stays up to three months allowed at any one time. You are free to enter Australia as often as you wish, for up to three months, during the validity period of the visa. You can apply for this online at the department’s website – the visa must be applied for outside Australia and you also must be outside Australia when the government decides on your application.
You do not get a visa stamp in your passport when the visa is granted. Instead, your passport is digitally linked to the department’s system. You will get a grant notice, however, and you should print that and take it with you just in case. Airlines check your Australian visa status at check-in and you will be denied boarding if they cannot find evidence that you have permission to enter Australia.
If you are a citizen of the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia or Hong Kong, you need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visa (subclass 601). This is a multiple-entry visa that allows you to visit Australia in three-month increments over a 12-month period. The cost is A$20 and like the e-visitor, this visa is electronic (though do print the grant and take it with you in case).
Travel to Western Australia
With water on three sides, and an impenetrable desert system on the fourth, the vast majority of travellers arriving in WA do so by flying into Perth Airport.
That being said, advances in aircraft technology in the past decade have greatly increased WA’s connections to the world, and Perth Airport is growing. Qantas made world headlines in 2018 with the introduction of its non-stop Perth to London flight – taking 17 hours, 15 minutes – thus connecting Australia and the UK directly for the first time and ending the fabled ‘Kangaroo Route’ that, at its inception, used to take four days and make seven stops, and cost, in today’s money, around A$44,000.
The Indian Pacific runs from Sydney and Adelaide across the Nullarbor to Perth, and is a holiday experience in itself. The trip from Sydney to Perth takes four days, three nights and starts from A$2,065 per person. Gourmet food and local wines are served, and off-train excursions en route include Adelaide, the Barossa Valley and Rawlinna (on the Nullarbor), among others. Varying service levels and cabin types are also on offer; see journeybeyondrail.com.au for details. You can connect to the Indian Pacific in Adelaide from the Great Southern (Brisbane–Adelaide), the Overland (Melbourne–Adelaide) or the Ghan (Darwin/ Alice Springs–Adelaide).
There are no viable bus options to get from other states to Perth. Greyhound, however, offers services from the Northern Territory to the Kimberley, and from Broome you can connect to other bus options run by operators like Integrity. One-way from Darwin to Broome takes 26 hours and starts from upwards of A$300. If you are going to Perth, it is quicker and cheaper to fly.
There are two roads into WA from other states and territories. The Eyre Highway crosses the Nullarbor from South Australia at the border village of Eucla. It’s a long journey that will take you a minimum of three days – the drive from Adelaide to Perth is 2,700km. The 1,200km section from Ceduna in South Australia to Norseman in WA has no real towns along the way, just a string of roadhouses with motels attached. However, ‘crossing the Nullarbor’ has an iconic place in the Australian psyche and the trip will be just as memorable as your stay in WA. The other road into the state is the Victoria Highway in the far north, connecting Kununurra to Katherine in the Northern Territory, a distance of 515km. It’s a well-maintained scenic road, passing through rolling red hills and bluffs, and there are services at Timber Creek en route.
Getting around Western Australia
The best way to get around is by car, especially if you are going to be travelling outside Perth. Many of the best spots in the regions simply are not viable on public transport.
Car-hire facilities exist at virtually all airports and in many towns, and all the major international companies are represented. Hiring a car at Perth Airport will usually give you unlimited kilometres (double-check when you book) and you can use this to travel the state – when travelling north we will often do this and leave our own car in long-term parking (which has attractive rates – figure on about A$150 for two weeks). If you hire away from the airport (ie, in Perth city or at a regional airport), you will often be slapped with an onerous restriction of 100km or 200km per day – that sounds like a lot if you are in Perth, but it is not in the regions where the kilometre counter can spin wildly from day to day, attracting significant extra charge to you.
You do not need a kitted-out 4×4 to leave Perth, visit the regions or go up north, unless you are planning on travelling to an area that is expressly noted as requiring a 4×4. That being said, there are plenty of 4×4 options available (though often pricey) from hire companies.
Within WA, there is a robust roster of flights from Qantas and Virgin Australia, as well as regional operators Rex, Airnorth and Skippers. Perth is connected to/from Albany, Esperance, Kalgoorlie, Geraldton, Meekatharra, Mt Magnet, Leonora, Laverton, Wiluna, Denham/Monkey Mia, Carnarvon, Exmouth/ Learmonth, Onslow, Paraburdoo, Newman, Karratha, Port Hedland, Broome, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek and Kununurra, as well as Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
However, intra-WA flights are, notoriously, often exorbitantly priced – to the point that it has become a political issue. International fares are sometimes cheaper than those within WA (which the local media often points out), and a parliamentary inquiry was held in 2017, which did play a role in Qantas’s decision to cap airfares on some regional WA routes – but only for residents of those regional communities, not tourists. The state government is also working on a cap plan that has yet to be finalised or implemented – but this will also not apply to visitors. If you are looking to travel within the state, though distances are vast, you will need to consider carefully if flying really is your best option; a multi-day drive from, say, Perth to Broome can be significantly cheaper than air tickets.
The vast distances involved in travelling WA make taking the bus a slow option. If you don’t have your own vehicle and need to get to mid-range-distance destinations from Perth, such as Busselton, Albany or Geraldton, the bus can be a viable option but consider the travel times and costs carefully for longer distances – you may actually find it cheaper and more viable in some cases to hire a car. Major operators include Transwa, South West Coach Lines, Integrity Coach Lines and Greyhound.