From Horse to Bus — a History of Australian Holiday Tours

It is hard to imagine holiday tours without the huge tour buses that we see today, but there was a time when going on holiday in Australia meant travelling on horseback — and it really wasn’t all that long ago. The following is a look at the evolution of the great Australian holiday tour, from horses through to buses.


Horses are not native to Australia, and so when seven horses were brought over on the First Fleet back in 1788, they were the only seven horses in the continent. While there wasn’t much time for holidays in the early penal colony, horses soon proved their worth, and when there was finally enough land secured for the privileged to take holiday tours, it was with horses — and often buggies — that people did their travelling.


Australia proved too hot for horses on a lot of occasions, and it quickly became apparent that any long overland travelling was going to need creatures better suited to the heat. As such, camels began being used for long-distance travel. Camels were used mostly for bringing in supplies to remote areas, but in some areas became popular for holiday touring.

Self-drive cars through the mountains

In the 1920s, the Pyke family pioneered holiday travel in Australia by establishing Australia’s first car hire or self-drive service, opening up the possibility of travel for thousands of Australians who simply could not afford to own their own car. The option of hiring a car with a driver/tour guide was introduced soon after. Colonel Pyke later introduced seven-seater ‘tour cars’, which offered Blue Mountains Day trips that included guided tours of Katoomba and Jenolan Caves. Pyke’s Blue Mountains tours proved wildly popular — so much so that, in 1935, he came out with the first ‘coaches’, which were able to seat 14 passengers.

Holiday coach tours

Guided coach tours continued to grow in popularity throughout the next few decades, but it wouldn’t be until the ‘60s and ‘70s that holiday touring would become possible for the majority of Australians. At this time, AAT Kings had become Sydney’s leading tour operator, and in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when Australians started to have a little more disposable income, day tours of Sydney and Melbourne began running regularly.

A tour to almost anywhere

As Australia has grown into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, holiday coach tours have flourished across the country, and these days you can take a tour to just about any corner of the country. It is advisable to research into any tour company you are thinking of taking, with one of the best ways to judge a tour company being to read the reviews.

Australia is a massive country, full of stunning beauty and remarkable natural treasures, and over the years Australians and tourists alike have gone to great lengths to see it. Thanks to holiday tour coaches, these days seeing the country is as easy as jumping on a tour, so you no longer need to dedicate months of your life to get to see something really special.

One Reply to “From Horse to Bus — a History of Australian Holiday Tours”

  1. I was a driver for Pykes Coaches for a couple of years from 1967. At that time the depot was mostly Duple bodies on Ford Thames Trader chassis’ and imported by the english millionare, Viv Chalwin. (there were still two Bedford units left in the yard waiting for sale). Some of he “TV” plates that I can still recall at that time are:: TV 002, TV302, TV351 and the one I drove, was the “James Bond” coach TV 007 (two speed elec. diff).
    Pykes at that time was the oldest coach touring business in Australia. They specialised in mostly half & day tours with some weekend work to Canberra, plus quite a bit of charter work. When I left, they had just broken into extended tours and an 8 day Brisbane tour was gaining some success.

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