If you are likely to use public transport, then buy and charge up an Opal Card. Opal Cards are available at the airports (go here and search on “airport” for International, or “qantas” for Domestic terminal. A pictorial list of locations that sell Opal cards is here or here). Tip: if you tie the card to your credit card, and set a reasonably low refresh limit, everything will happen automagically. Everything Opal can be managed via the website.
There is a big advantage in using public transport: after you reach the weekly cap, the rest of the week is half price. Travel is capped at $2.60 on Sundays, and you could have a really good time: use the Opal card to travel on all the ferries, or take a train to the Blue Mountains, or (for the really train-focused) travel the longest possible distance on the Sydney network, which is 450km from Scone to Goulburn. That will take… a while.
But if you can do it at $2.60, maybe it’s the bargain you’ve been looking for?
Phone call costs
A call from one fixed line phone to another will cost maybe $0.50, or $50 from your hotel room. Mobile phone calls are around $0.18/minute, or $5000/minute from your hotel room. Don’t make a call to a mobile phone from a hotel room unless you know what you’re doing and you have an expense account. There is no charge to receive a call in Australia, regardless of where it originates.
Tip: all Australian mobile phone numbers start 04xx.
Getting a Local Phone number
Even if you arrive in Australia with a phone plan that allows you to make cheap calls in Australia and to back-home, remember that it won’t be cheap for a local to call your international number. Depending on their plan, it might not even be possible. So it’s socially responsible to purchase a local phone number while you’re here, unless you don’t want anyone to call you back. Fortunately, local phones are cheap and really easy.
When you arrive at the airport, there are many stores selling local SIMs, and suitable plans. Australia is served by three major networks: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. That sequence is significant: generally regarded as most to least expensive, and best to worst performing. However all three will be fine around town. Other brands and offerings are all second-tier providers who use one of the three networks, and whose prices will probably be lower – maybe with restrictions.
A good source of research is here at WhistleOut, and one of the clickthrough pages here. If you don’t have time to make a decision, then the current Optus deal of 6GB, unlimited local calls, unlimited international calls to US, CA, UK and another 12 countries is pretty good for $40-50. Remember that you will only really need data when you’re out of WiFi range, which is almost everywhere you’re likely to be on the days of SMPTE. As far as I know, plans allow you to use your phone as a hot-spot.
If you don’t have a suitable phone, or if you don’t mind waiting until you’re out of the airport, mobile phones and SIMs are available widely in the CBD. In particular, many grocery and convenience stores sell both affordably, and a great standby is the Woolworths store opposite Town Hall which is open from very early until midnight.