Backpacking Australia: An Ultimate Guide
So if the pictures of the stunning beaches keep catching your eye, the cuddly koalas are melting your heart, and the accent has you drooling…now is the perfect time to plan a trip to go backpacking in Australia! Worried about spiders? Concerned about “thongs”? No idea how much to budget? No need to worry, this guide has you covered!
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Australia is truly one of a kind, home to a variety of natural wonders from the Great Barrier Reef to the Outback and Ayers Rock. With a landscape so diverse, and creatures just as unique the country attracts visitors from around the world. The country is famous for being home to over 10,000 beaches, where the majority of the Australian population lies. Whether the destination is inland or coastal, each city and region of the country has unique experiences to offer you. The following segments, divided by city or state, provide more in-depth information on Australia’s gems.
Sydney is the perfect place to start your Australian adventure! Nestled on one of the world’s most beautiful harbours, Sydney is home to some of the country’s most iconic sights like the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens. A city with something for everyone, Sydney is comprised of a series of unique neighbourhoods and locales, including the world famous Bondi Beach and it's surrounding stunning coastal walks. And if you're more into the party scene you can catch a varied nightlife every night of the week, from bustling cocktail bars to cozy pubs. Checkout Time Out's 50 things to do in Sydney at least once in your life.
Located on Australia’s southern coast is the modern city of Melbourne. This city truly offers something for every personality, whether you are keen to see a sporting event at the massive MCG Stadium to watch, Aussie rules, rugby or even a concert or stroll through an exquisite art museum. The city is dotted with laneways, like AC/DC and Hosier, filled with evolving graffiti art with unique speakeasies, prohibition style hidden bars, sprinkled throughout. The buildings that enclose the city are home to some of Australia’s best sport with basketball, rugby, cricket and soccer teams being fan favourites. Every January the city hosts the Australian Open tennis tournament, as well as the Formula 1 Racing Australian Grand Prix in March. The city is commonly identified by the iconic Federation Square, a host to beautifully designed buildings including Flinders Street Station. Just a short trolley ride from the city lies Melbourne’s iconic beach suburbs- St. Kilda, home to a penguin colony, and Brighton, home to the colourful beach boxes. Check out what to do in Melbourne here!
On the middle of Australia’s east coast lies Brisbane, the gateway to beautiful Queensland. The city is fabulous to visit any time of year with its sunny climate. A bit more relaxed than Sydney and Melbourne, the city offers stunning scenic hikes just outside of the city in Somerset, Scenic Rim, and Locklayer Valley. If cuddling up to a koala is a must in your itinerary, the city is home to the famous Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary with the iconic Australia Zoo made famous by Steve Irwin an hour out of the city. Similarly to the other Australian capital cities, Brisbane offers a plethora of museums to enjoy in the South Bank area. While the city is great to visit any time of year, if you are a fan of chicken nuggets, plan your trip in May to attend the Chicken Nugget Festival! Looking for cheap things to do in Brisbane? Check out this article!
The Australian state of New South Wales is nestled on the Southeast Coast of Australia, boasting Sydney as its capital. Sydney is a gateway to wildlife experiences, wine country, national parks and some of the most stunning beaches in the world. NSW boasts an impressive transit system, making travel throughout the state more convenient. For the outdoor-oriented traveller, the Blue Mountains National Park is located in Katoomba, a short train ride from Sydney. Here you can experience the mountainous region of inland Australia. North of the capital you can find the Hunter Valley wine region, home to the cities of Port Stephens and Newcastle. Highlights of this area are wine tours and great surf breaks. Uniquely, Port Stephens is home to the Stockton Sand Dunes, the largest mobile sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere that can provide a wicked sand boarding experience. For those looking to brace laid back Aussie culture, the city of Byron Bay is an absolute delight. Here you can grab a casual drink amongst the likes of the Hemsworth brothers after a day of surfing. Check out Australia Tourism's guide to the best locations in NSW.
Somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne lies the Australian Capital Territory. The location is home to Canberra, the capital city of Australia, exclusively located for easy accessibility from the two larger cities. Canberra is home to Australian Parliament and hosts heaps of historic buildings and museums for those interested in Australian history. In addition, the ACT has a section of land on the east coast of the country for the Australian Navy. This area is home to Jervis Bay, where you'll find Hyams Beach, renowned for having the whitest sand in the world! These areas have lower population densities, perfect for the laid back traveller. Check out the best things to do in Canberra!
A home to penguins and the Twelve Apostles alike is the Aussie state of Victoria, located south of New South Wales. The state is famous for one of Australia’s most epic road trips, the Great Ocean Road. To access this historic stretch of highway most visitors leave from Melbourne, making stops in the coastal cities of Lorne and Apollo Bay. These are charming little surf towns offer breathtaking views of the southern coast of Australia. The Great Ocean Road is a highlight of Victoria, with the Twelve Apostles, Gibson’s Steps, and other unique landforms dotted along the route. The state has a lot to offer whether you want to get off the beaten path or cuddle up in a speakeasy in Melbourne. Find out the top 10 things to do in Victoria!
If you’re looking for the perfect place for Australia to wine and dine you, visit South Australia! With its award-winning vineyards and coastal shark dives, this Australian state is sure to wow you. The capital city is Adelaide, home of stunning architecture and history alike is a great place to start your journey here. Just outside of the city lies Waterfall Gully, a great place to hike and experience some of Australia’s most epic waterfalls. Right off the coast of Adelaide is Kangaroo Island, home to protected lands and diverse animal species including sea lions and koalas. For the real thrill seekers out there, South Australia is home to Port Lincoln, the Australian home to shark diving.
The west coast of Australia leaves a vast land and stunning beaches to be explored. This region is perfect for the traveller looking to get off the beaten path. The most famous city is Perth, the fourth most populous city in Australia that is the gateway to Wave Rock and the Pinnacles. This region of Australia is infamous to the adorable Quokka, an adorable smiley creature. Many people visit these adorable creatures on Rottenest Island, complete with gorgeous white sand beaches and reefs. If you’re interested in getting more remote, Broome is home to the stunning Cable Beach in the northern part of the state. Whether you seek adventure or adorable Quokkas, Western Australia has something to offer you. Check out 50 amazing things to do in Western Australia for a little more inspiration!
Australia’s Northern Territory is home to the outback and the northern coast of Australia alike. This region is remote and home to some of Australia’s most iconic natural wonders. For those seeking a trip to the iconic Aussie outback, Alice Springs is the main hub, home to the Kangaroo Sanctuary and a starting point for many tours to the red centre. With the remoteness of this part of the country, group tours and campsites can be the best way to get an authentic experience. Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a sacred site for the Aboriginal tribes that populate the area. On the northern coast lies Darwin, a quaint city just outside of the stunning Kakadu National Park. The park is famous for its beautiful landscapes and saltwater crocs alike. With a lush region and desert alike, the Northern Territory embodies the diversity of the Australian landscape. Learn more about what to do in the Northern Territory.
Affectionately called the “Sunshine State” of Australia, Queensland is home to stunning beach towns, rainforests, and the Great Barrier Reef. Home to many “must do” experiences for travellers to Australia, Queensland plays a friendly host. Famous for their connection to the reef and rainforest alike are Port Douglas and Cairns. These towns are famous for their ecological diversity, also providing a small town feel compared to Australia's larger cities. Further south are the Whitsunday Islands, home to Airlie Beach and a fine offering of overnight sailboats. Within the Whitsundays, Whitehaven Beach has been voted the best beach in the entire country. Closer to Brisbane are Fraser Island, home to camping and dingos, and the Gold Coast, home to few Australian theme parks. Home to the most famous beaches in the country, Queensland is a beautiful place to stick your toes in the sand. Find out what to do in Queensland.
A sea away but not to be forgotten is the stunning island state of Tasmania! This island is a sea away from Victoria but never forgotten, with its lush landscape and stunning bays and treks. The capital city is Hobart, home to museums and city life while Launceston is more remote and gateway to the Bay of Fires. For the adventurous traveller and outdoor enthusiasts, Tasmania is a remote paradise. Many kangaroos and wombats call Tassie home, in addition to Tasmanian Devils! Check out the best things to do in Tasmania!
The most common of the backpacker routes is the east coast. Most people kick off their journey in Sydney and work their way up the East Coast to the Cairns and Port Douglas region in Queensland. In addition, some chose to extend their experience by swinging down to Melbourne to experience the Great Ocean Road. Most of this journey exposes the magical beaches of the east coast of Australia. To make the most of this trip you really need at least 3 weeks, but some take it much slower. While you can commit to purchasing or renting a vehicle, hop on hop off busses make the trip easier to navigate. Plus, you’ll meet “heaps of mates” on your journey up or down the coast together!
Down the Middle
The journey from Darwin to Adelaide will take you through the heart of Australia. Those starting in Darwin will go from experiencing the tropics into the heat of the red centre and back out through wine country. This journey goes a bit quicker, with at least 2 weeks recommended. The most convenient way to experience the Red Center is to book a tour, as travel is often strategic and towns sparse. Using personal transportation is also practical with additional planning.
For the off the beaten path traveller, a west coast road trip can be just the right journey. Many trips extend from Perth to Broome or vice versa, adventuring through the diverse and untouched landscapes of the west coast of Australia. The journey will require at least 2 weeks. Hop on hop off service is not offered on this route, so self-driving or finding a tour to join are the most advisable options.
While Australia might seem like just another “western” country with a unique accent, there is more to Aussie culture than you would assume. The British have a lot of influence and similarities with Australia, as Australia is part of the Commonwealth, but there are key differences to be aware of. There are even more differences for Americans and travellers of other nationalities to keep in mind.
Do’s and Dont’s
Do: Understand Aussie road (and sidewalk) rules
Australia drives, and walks, on the left side of the road. This is critically important on the road and will keep you from bumping into people on the sidewalk.
Don’t: Take offence to Australian language
Australians tend to have more fruitful language than people do in other countries, specifically America. The “C yoU Next Tuesday” word is often used affectionately and not in the derogatory way it is used in other countries.
Do: Slip, slop, slap
Australian sun is POWERFUL. The country boasts some of the highest UV Indexes in the world, meaning the sun is extremely strong. Australia has the highest sun cancer rates of anywhere in the world, so make sure you slap on that sunscreen!
Don’t: Tip at restaurants or pubs
In Australia, wages are set for waiters and waitresses to be paid fairly without a tip. By all means, tip if you feel compelled but there is no need or expectation to. A 10% tip is generally considered very generous.
Do: Swim between the flags
At guarded beaches, lifeguards set out flags to determine the safest places on the beach to avoid rip currents. If you drift out of the flags a lifeguard will likely ask you to move back into the guarded area.
Don’t: Panic about Australian animals
Australia has a handful of animals that can kill you, and the media do their best to make sure you know that. Spiders can be sizable, snakes exist, and sharks live in the ocean. Realistically, it is not uncommon to see these animals but it is very rare to encounter the dangerous varieties let alone be harmed by one.
Do: Drink the coffee
Coffee snobs rejoice! Australian coffee is an art in its own right. Very seldom will you find a Starbucks in the country, as local coffee houses dominate and create Australia’s best brews.
Don’t: Underestimate the size of Australia
Due to the vastness of the country and the distance between major cities, Australia does not look that big on a map. In reality, the country is nearly the size of Europe or the United States. From top to bottom, the country takes over 30 hours to drive with no stops.
Mates are your friends.
Thongs are worn on your feet, and you probably call them flip-flops.
'You reckon?' Is how an Aussie will ask you what you think.
Forget heaps of hay. In Australia heaps is used to say “a lot”.
Bondi is not pronounced Bond-e, its pronounced Bond-eye.
Queues are the worst to wait in, even if you call them lines.
The lift also elevates you, but don’t call it an elevator.
Petrol fills up your car, some countries call it gas.
Beyond the beautiful beaches and spectacular coffee comes a price tag. An essential step to planning any journey is knowing how much it will cost you. Keep reading for money saving tips!
For those who call the United Kingdom home, one pound is equivalent to approximately 1.75 Australian Dollars. One litre of petrol in Australia is about $1.35 AUD so about .77 pounds per litre. Depending on where in the UK you are from, this is quite a bit cheaper. To compare getting a beer at a pub, the average pint will cost you about 4-6 pounds in a city like Sydney, and 3-4 pounds in more rural areas. Food will be comparable, if not a little more expensive. Most meals will cost at least $10 AUD or 5.71 British pounds. Ultimately, when the conversion is considered Australia is fairly consistent with the UK, and a little cheaper on gas.
The United States Dollar is worth about $1.35 Australian Dollars. For Americans, the gas gets a bit tricky, because the US measures gallons and Australia measures litres. One gallon is 3.79 litres so the cost is about $3.79 USD per gallon, which is higher than the American average. Alcohol is significantly different, as alcohol is heavily taxed in Australia. The average beer will run you between $6 to $8 USD a pint. Food runs about $7.50 USD for an inexpensive meal and does not require a tip. As an American, Australia felt expensive to me but you are constantly doing mental currency conversions. In reality, it can be hard to process that seeing $10 advertised is actually $7.50 USD.
Saving to travel Australia
To travel Australia it is important to save and budget, because often travellers take longer trips to make the lengthy flight worth the travel. Once you get past the flight costs (can vary from $500 to $1,600 return depending on where you are from), you must continue to consider accommodation, food, tours, in-country travel, visas, and travel insurance. With about $100-$150 a day, one should realistically be able to find an affordable hostel, food and pay for excursions. A longer trip makes flight and transportation costs more minimal on a day by day breakdown. Travel Insurance is a significantly cheaper expense than paying for an emergency abroad, so check out World Nomads!
To save up you may cut unnecessary things out of your life, like a daily coffee or cigarettes. Beyond altering your habits to save money, you might work an extra job or sell something of value. If you plan to work in Australia for a few months, you can make enough money to keep you travelling the country. In addition, you can be frugal to make your dollar last. For example, a bread roll and a packet of ham from a supermarket can cost as little as $3 AUD for a meal.
International flights into Australia can be a bit of a chunk out of your budget, while flights within the country prove cheaper than domestic flights in other countries. The largest key to savings is keeping flexibility to fly at the cheapest times. Flying mid-week and avoiding holidays can be a huge help in finding savings. The main Australian carriers are Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tigerair with the latter two being more budget conscious airlines. These major carriers service Australia’s largest airports in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Gold Coast, and Cairns. There are many smaller airports beyond the few located in these cities. Most domestic flights hover around $150 AUD return from an airport like Sydney depending on the destination. International flights can cost about $1000 AUD return to reach Europe or the United States. To find the cheapest fares, check out Skyscanner on a private browser.
In Australia, you will find that Airbnb, camping, and hostels are common. With booking an Airbnb it is important to verify that the location is near public transport in a city like Sydney or Melbourne. Being close to a train or bus stop will help connect you to the rest of the city with ease. In more remote locations this is also important, as some areas may not be as assessable to taxi or Uber. Airbnb’s are usually an affordable option but are not as social as backpacker hostels and campsites. Camping is the most affordable option, with the only real costs being a permit (if necessary) and the initial cost of buying a tent. Some campsites can be social, as other backpackers may be staying there to relieve a day of driving. For those who don’t like to get off the beaten path as much, hostels are often conveniently located and tend to be very social due to the accommodation being shared. This can be a great way for solo travellers to meet people on their journey, as backpackers often host social events. When selecting a hostel, make sure to read reviews to verify other travellers experience.
When getting around the country, there are a few options to consider. It is important to consider what travel style suits you and your travel needs. Earlier in the article flights were discussed, with positives being quick transportation and negatives including missing out on the space in-between destinations and flight cost.
Alternatively, buying a car/campervan include finding a reliable vehicle at a reasonable cost and being responsible for reselling the vehicle.
Another option is renting a car/campervan from a hire company. The pros are similar to buying a car, regarding flexibility and freedom. Cons include that this option can be more costly depending on the length of the trip, and some companies have restrictions on going off-road in rental vehicles.
For trips like the east coast backpacker route, an on and off bus tour may be the most affordable and social option! For about $500 AUD depending on route, your transportation between cities is included. Pros include the ability to sleep and socialize on the bus, while cons include routes only being provided at certain times and only dropping off at certain locations.
Passport: Your key to getting to Australia, and getting home!
Debit/Credit Card: Always have a way to access your money from home.
Backpack: Reliable and comfortable, your bff
Toiletries (Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap): Personal hygiene, just do it!
Toiletry/Shower Bag: Make your trip to shower easier
Compact Microfiber Towel: Avoid wasting backpack space with a small towel
A few outfits: Don’t overdo it, Australia has washers and dryers too
A “going out” outfit: Let it fit your style for a fun city night!
Underwear: You won't want to forget these!
Bathing Suit: You REALLY don't want to forget something for the beach
Laundry Bag: A mesh bag is perfect, keep your clothes separated
Athletic Shoes: For hikes and adventures in comfort
Sandals: For everyday comfort
Sunglasses: Cheap is fine, but you’ve gotta block the rays
Travel Adapter: Don’t forget this so you can use power points!
Reusable Water Bottle: Keep plastic out of the ocean and save money!
Forget something on this list? No worries! Despite the remote location, Australia has all of your favourite conveniences for sale at a similar rate to what you have at home! If you’re travelling light on your trip in, feel free to stop at a convenience store to stock up! This can be especially wise if you are planning an extended trip in Australia.
Any time you can visit Australia is the right time, but some months are more desirable than others. As a country that is in the Southern Hemisphere, seasons are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere. This means that English and American winter is Australian summer, making it the perfect time to visit to beat the cold. The coastal areas of NSW, Victoria, South Australia, and the southern part of Western Australia have more temperate climates that make the summer the perfect time to visit and experience Australia’s warmest weather. Queensland, Northern Australia, and the northern part of Western Australia are home to tropical climates that experience a rainy and dry season. The dry season runs from May to October, during the winter. Don’t let the word “winter” fool you; these climates stay warm all year. The outback of Australia is a desert climate that has warm days and cool nights. To make the most of Aussie weather, consider starting your journey in the area that is in peak season and travelling as the weather changes.
If you are a resident of the United Kingdom with an eligible passport, between 18-30 years old (Canadians and Irish residents are eligible from 18-35), show sufficient funds (at least $5,00 AUD), and display good health and character the Australian Working Holiday Visa subclass 417 is for you! Some important things to note are that you may not work for one employer for more than a year, due to the nature of the visa to promote travel within Australia. The cost of this visa is $450 AUD.
The United States working travel visa falls under the Australian Work and Travel Visa subclass 462. The application criteria are the same but also require the applicant to have a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education or the equivalent. The cost of this visa is also $450 AUD.
To make the most of your time in Australia, it is important to consider the opportunities that working in Australia can provide you! The country seeks regional workers year-round in industries like ranch work, fruit picking, and tourism roles. If you want to spend a year working and travelling in Australia, a working holiday visa is perfect for you! Both visas allow a one-year extension with the proper completion of the first visa and an agreement to do regional work.
Intro Travel has two signature Australia trips to acquaint travellers to Sydney and help with planning future travel.
For travellers looking to start their adventure in Australia and receive assistance in planning travel, Oz Adventure is custom fitted as the perfect group travel tour. For travellers looking to experience Australia AND get started on their working holiday, Oz Intro is the perfect group tour.
Both tours provide access to award-winning experts on Australian travel, connecting travellers to a network of award-winning travel companies throughout Australia. For those who are seeking a job in Australia, the Oz Intro trip provides membership to Oz Jobs, a database of 1,000s of jobs in Australia. Regardless of what you are coming to Australia to find, Intro Travel is ready to help you find all that you are looking for and more!