Backpacking Australia: The Definitive Guide
I’d always had a fascination with the country. The beaches, the outback, the lifestyle, it had all entranced me at one point or another!
The country is beautiful and has plenty of sights to rival places like Thailand and Vietnam, add into this the infrastructure of a developed country and you have a great backpacking destination.
This Australia backpacking guide will tell which places to go, those that are overrated and how you can save money while travelling Australia for a year or more.
- Capital – Canberra
- Population – 23,000,000 (estimate)
- Currency – Australian Dollar
- Plug: Type I Get a worldwide travel adapter here!
- Main languages – English
- International dialling code – +61
Australia Travel Visa Details
If you want to travel to Australia, then you’re going to need a visa! Luckily, for most countries, the process of getting one is quite straightforward.
Australia’s visa policy is universal which means everyone entering the country needs a visa. The exception is citizens from New Zealand, who are free to enter the country under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement.
Citizens of most countries are eligible for a 3-month visitor visa. This allows the holder to stay in the country for 3 months at a time during a 12 month period. A page detailing which type of visas countries are eligible for is detailed here.
There is also the opportunity for 18 to 30-year-olds to work in the country for a year on the Working Holiday scheme, which I recommend doing, as it allows you to work and travel in Australia.
The working holiday visa allows you to go backpacking Australia for a year. However, if you do work that is classified as regional for three months you can extend it for another year!
Travelling around Australia
Australia is huge! It doesn’t hit home just how huge until you actually travel around the country. I first realised how big it was when my flight to Australia approached Darwin. I assumed it would be another hour or so till we landed at Sydney. Three hours later, I realised just how wrong I was! So, be prepared for some longish flights!
Flying is certainly the easiest way to get around and with lots of low-cost carriers such as Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tiger Airways, you can fly reasonably cheap. Qantas also offer regional services, but they are a bit more expensive than the previous carriers.
Travelling Australia by car can be cheaper and always takes longer than flying. Greyhound is the primary operator for coach travel and is definitely the best and most reliable. It can be a little expensive at times and 10 to 12-hour coach rides are not fun, but they do offer the most comprehensive service in the country.
An alternative to travelling on Greyhound is to rent a campervan. Companies such as Jucy and Wicked are among the more popular options. You can also go to travel shops such as Peterpans and arrange a camper this way. This is a great alternative to travelling by coach and gives you the freedom to stop and see what you want!
What is Australia like?
When I envisioned visiting Australia, I imagined it to be very similar to England, here’s why:
Australia and England share many cultural traits, from our love of sports to our mutual fondness for alcohol. So, I had a vision of a country like England, but just a lot hotter!
That perception was quickly shattered about half an hour after stepping off the plane in the Gold Coast. Driving from the airport to my hostel, I quickly realised that Australia bore little resemblance to England and more to the USA!
There are certainly a few things to know before moving to Australia!
The reality is that Australia is a mix between the two. I felt that Australians aspired to be like Americans, yet they retain many of the traits left over from the English. Aussies are very friendly and helpful and up for a joke. That said, Australians can be quite materialistic and most people have the latest gadgets and eat in the coolest restaurants.
Travelling Australia, I never once felt like I was in any danger during my time there. I would say the country is safe. If you go out at night in one of the big cities, there is a risk of getting into trouble, but compared to England, for example, that risk is very slim.
A trip to Australia by yourself is not something to worry about, as you will meet lots of like-minded people and potentially friends for life.
One thing that you should prepare for is hot weather, it gets hot in Australia, really hot. Temperatures reaching 40 degrees are not uncommon and although the weather is one of the best things about the country when it reaches that heat, it can be one of the worst.
Make sure you either pack sun protection, such as suncream, sunglasses and hats or buy them when you arrive, as you will definitely need them! If you’re looking for reasons for why you should visit Australia, then the weather is top of the list, even if it does get quite hot!
Backpacker Accommodation in Australia
The good thing about backpacking Australia is that there are a wealth of options to choose from accommodation wise. There are a number of big chains, such as YHA, Base and Nomads and a lot of small independent hostels in all locations.
I tended to stay in YHA hostels, you can buy a membership for a year. This allows you to get money off every night you spend in their hostels and entitles you to various discounts as well. The only issue is that some of the YHA hostels can be a bit pricey, so if you’re looking to save money, it’s maybe best to look at different hostels.
If there is an event on in the city, such as the Formula 1 or Australian Open in Melbourne then prices increase. Book in advance, because beds go quick and you could end up sleeping in a car for three nights like me!
Some Hostel recommendations in Australia
I had the pleasure of staying in quite a few hostels during my time in Australia, so I’ve listed a few of my favourites below!
Adelaide Central YHA – A great hostel that I believe is one of the best in Australia! Excellent location, spacious rooms and social common room make it a must stay!
Brisbane Central YHA – Absolutely fantastic hostel near the city centre. A rooftop pool, spacious kitchen, games and TV room make it one of the best hostels in the country!
Dreamtime Travellers Rest – Lovely hostel in the centre of Cairns. Felt very homely and the staff were excellent!
Flashpackers in Hervey Bay – Nice hostel really close to the beach. Spacious kitchen, living area, complete with an outdoor pool!
Urban Central Melbourne – It’s not exactly central, but close enough to the CBD. Spacious rooms, free breakfast and good facilities at this lively hostel!
Reasons to visit Australia
There are so many reasons to visit Australia, that I have written a list detailing 100 reasons to visit the country! I think one of the main reasons for me wanting to visit Australia was the weather and beaches! Life in England was a bit too grey and wet for me!
The great thing about visiting Australia is that it’s very diverse! If you want to relax on a beach you can, if you want to go hiking you can as well! There’s something for all types of travellers! Instead of 100 reasons to go to Australia, I’ve narrowed it down to a small selection of 5 below!
The beaches in Australia are fantastic and the Australian lifestyle is centred around going to the beach. The majority of the beaches are of high quality (especially if you’re used to beaches in England!) and offer great surf!
The beaches are probably one of the main reasons people decide to go travelling to Australia. This is especially true if you are from England like me! There’s plenty of beaches down under and I came up with a list of my best beaches in Australia here.
The weather in Australia is fantastic, especially coming from England where it’s not. Actually getting a sustained period of sunshine during the summer is great.
The weather encourages you to be outdoors and enjoy the amazing scenery and activities in Australia.
The weather during summer was one of the reasons I decided to travel to Australia. Virtually anywhere you go during the summer, the temperatures are over 30-degrees, it’s great!
That said, it can get extremely hot, but it beats an English summer any day!
If you love sports as much as I do then Australia is a must-visit destination. The country lives and breathes sport and is very proud of its success.
Australia has its own national sport, Aussie rules which I didn’t really understand. It’s popular in Victoria and South Australia mainly and is sort of a cross between rugby and Gaelic football.
If you get the chance you should go to a game just for the experience!
There is a lot of diverse wildlife in Australia. Animals such as Kangaroos and koalas are indigenous to the continent. For a lot of people, getting up close with these animals is a highlight of the trip!
I was no different, seeing kangaroos and koalas up close was a big reason to visit Australia!
However, there’s a lot more to the wildlife in Australia, than just these two animals. There’s also dingoes, lots of really colourful birds and of course all the deadly animals everywhere!
If you’re a wildlife lover, visiting Australia is a must!
Just a quick note, for those of you worried about all the poisonous bitey things, you needn’t be! I didn’t see one snake at all the whole time I was there and only a handful of spiders. The threat is vastly overstated!
The scenery might have been better when I was travelling New Zealand, but Australia still has amazing scenery! The Outback has an eerie, apocalyptic feel, while the rainforests in the North are incredible for their sheer size! Given its size, it’s not surprising that Australia has a lot of diversity.
This is one of the best things about visiting Australia, as the scenery doesn’t remain the same. You can see a lot of landscapes just from hopping in a car and travelling around. Even a few hours out of a major city, the scenery can be quite different!
Australia backpacking routes
Doing a road trip in Australia is perhaps the best way to see the country. Travelling around Australia can be difficult because of the size of the country. However, that also means that there’s a lot to see and many different routes to take!
Road trips are for me, the best way to get a feel for a country, its culture and see its diverse landscape. Visiting Australia, you’ll realise just how diverse it actually is! Below are a few routes that I recommend you take while you’re in the country.
The main backpacking route in Australia, most backpackers who enter the country on a tourist visa will go up (or down) the East Coast.
I would advise including Melbourne in the route as you are missing out on a great city if you don’t! This is the easiest route to navigate with many coach companies operating up and down the coast.
There’s a lot of great places to see on an East Coast road trip such as Brisbane, Cairns and Airlie Beach. The East Coast is massive, so it can take a long time to travel up or down it.
I would recommend renting a vehicle yourself, so you can stop wherever and whenever you want. Take it from me, it’s not much fun, travelling up the East Coast on Greyhound!
The West Coast is a less travelled route for backpackers, but that doesn’t make it inferior to the East Coast. I’ve not been to the West Coast, but I will return to trek this route.
Broome, Monkey Mia and the Ningaloo reef are spots I really want to see!
What makes travelling the West Coast interesting is the size of the state. WA is the biggest state in the country and yet one of the least travelled. This is mainly due to the big cities being located on the East Coast.
A road trip on the West Coast will allow you to see another side to Australia!
Melbourne <-> Adelaide
An Adelaide to Melbourne road trip is great as there’s a lot to see and it’s short trip compared to the other options. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to see!
The Blue Lake, Great Ocean Road and the Grampians are just a few of the standout attractions for a trip in between these two cities.
I really enjoyed this Australian road trip, as the scenery is quite diverse as you pass between Victoria and South Australia. Another great option you have with this road trip is including a trip to Wilson’s Promontory if you’re travelling from Adelaide to Melbourne.
It’s a beautiful national park, that is one of the most underrated places in Australia to visit!
Adelaide <-> Darwin
This is the longest, but perhaps the best route in Australia! You have to experience the outback while travelling Australia. You’ll see a different side to the country in South Australia and the Northern Territory, from the East Coast and experience unique attractions such as Coober Pedy, Uluru and the Devil’s Marbles!
What I liked most about this Australian road trip was that it felt like I was in a completely different country at times. Travelling through the outback is completely different to visiting the East Coast, as you are essentially travelling through a wilderness most of the time!
These are some of the best places in Australia here without a doubt! It may take two weeks to complete, but it is definitely worth it!
Perth <-> Adelaide
Again, this is another less travelled, but one that has a number of attractions. The Nullarbor Plain is a barren landscape that is home to the longest stretch of straight road anywhere in the world!
There is also the opportunity to go to Port Lincoln and see Great White Sharks in a cage, see the Wave Rock and head to the Flinders Ranges!
An honourable mention should go to Darwin <-> Cairns as well, which is a bit more dangerous than the aforementioned routes. As the Far North of Australia is in the tropics, tackling this route during the wet season (November to April) can be treacherous as it is a remote part of the country.
That said, the routes take in the Cape York Peninsula which is spectacular, so outside of the wet season, this is a great road trip!
Places to visit in Australia
In writing my Australia travel blog, it was hard to narrow down the best places to visit in Australia to just 5. I could easily have included ten, and I did just that for places to see in South Australia!
However, there are a number of places in Australia that stood out for me during my time there. Below are a selection of some of them!
Melbourne is in my opinion, the best city in Australia. I fell in love with the place after living there for 5 months. There is always something happening and the excellent tram system means getting around is easy. The weather can be temperamental, but it is a small price to play in such a vibrant city!
There’s plenty of things to do in Melbourne, such as visiting the numerous museums in the city or heading to St Kilda beach! I particularly enjoyed walking around the city and sampling the various pieces of street art. Hosier Lane and Brunswick Street are great places to go for this!
I only visited Darwin for 5 days, but it was a great 5 days! It’s only a small city, but it’s a lively one! The lagoon is one of the best places in Australia, perfect for relaxing in the afternoon sun.
The only downside is the tropical climate, being there during wet season would not be much fun.
Despite its small size, there’s plenty to do in Darwin! As well as the great lagoon, Darwin serves as the gateway to two of Australia’s best national parks, Kakadu and Litchfield!
I highly recommend visiting Darwin while travelling Australia, as you’ll see a different side to the country than you otherwise would!
Uluru is a must-see while in Australia. The rock in the middle of the outback is an incredible sight and an icon of the country. It’s hard to appreciate the scale and beauty of the place until you see it, it’s mind-blowing.
Perhaps the best thing about Uluru is that the national park it’s situated in has other great places to see as well! Kata-Tjuta and King’s Canyon may be less well-known than Uluru, but they are no less spectacular!
Wilson’s Prom is a little-known destination that is full of fantastic scenery and beaches. The beaches resemble those found on tropical islands and visiting the wonderfully named squeaky beach is a must!
There’s also plenty of wildlife here as well, which makes visiting Wilson’s Promontory a must in my eyes.
It’s not the most well-known places in Australia, but it should be in my opinion. The views here were stunning, from virtually everywhere. The beaches and bays were pristine and not too crowded either.
Wilson’s Promontory is only a three-hour drive from Melbourne, so it would make a great weekend getaway if you’re based there!
South Australia is an underrated part of the country, but it has numerous fantastic sights! Adelaide is a great city and a less busy alternative to Melbourne and Sydney while Port Elliot and Port Lincoln are beautiful spots by the ocean.
South Australia is a really diverse state, which makes it all the better for travelling around! Once you get away from the coast, the landscape changes to that of the arid Australian outback.
Coober Pedy is one place, in particular, you should visit, as this surreal mining town in the middle of the outback, has underground homes and even a golf course!
Not so great
Visiting Australia was something that I’d wanted to do for many years. As great as it was there were a few things that were not so great about backpacking Australia.
Everywhere has its flaws and below are a few that I noticed during my time seeing Australia.
Getting around in Australia is not much fun. Flying is the quickest way, but even then from top to bottom, it is about a 3 and a half hour flight. Travelling by coach is worse, with 10/12-hour journeys a regular occurrence.
The weather in Australia is often great, but it can turn bad quickly. The summers can be ridiculously hot, with temperatures in the 40s, while torrential rain can come out of nowhere in the major cities. The wet season in the Far North means you can be stuck inside for a long time.
Australia is an expensive country, eating and drinking can be expensive while accommodation and travelling around is not cheap either! If you’re working it’s not too much of an issue as the pay is great. However, for backpackers, it can result in your budget being stretched!
For a country that sells itself on being laid back and relaxed I was shocked to find this is not necessarily the case. Crossing the street on a red light will often result in a fine and a lot of the laws have the effect of making it feel like a nanny state.
The Aboriginals really have had a raw deal in Australia and it is sad to see so many of them begging on streets. Compared to New Zealand, where Maori culture is part of the fabric of society, Aboriginal culture feels like it’s shunted to one side and ignored.
How much does it cost to travel in Australia?
If you want to travel to Australia, then there’s one important thing you should know:
Simply put, Australia is an expensive country. Everything from accommodation to eating out and tours cost quite a lot of money. If you plan on doing a working holiday in Australia, then this is tempered somewhat by the fact that you’ll be earning money.
However, if you’re not, then visiting Australia can see your budget quickly disappear if you’re not careful. If you’re constantly eating out and partying, then the compound effect of spending money everyday will see your cash reserves dwindle.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a good time during your trip to Australia, just that you should be responsible with your money, or you’ll have none left!
Below are few Australia travel tips to help you save money and keep costs down while visiting the land down under!
- A bed in a hostel dorm generally costs around $25-30 a night. Depending on what city you are in that price range can vary. Toolsoftravel has a good post on how you can save money on accommodation in Australia, which has some great tips!
- Some hostels have rooms with 10+ beds in, which are cheaper to stay in. Personally, I never stay in a room with over eight-beds as the likelihood of getting a decent night’s sleep diminishes. If you’re on a budget, then this may be worth doing. Expect to pay $15-20 a night for beds in these rooms.
- Food can be quite expensive, so I would keep eating out to a minimum. Every hostel will have a kitchen and cooking your own food is the best way to save money. Pasta is really cheap, with a 500g bag costing about 50 cents. If you want to save money eat pasta!
- Alcohol can actually be quite cheap if you buy the right stuff. Beer is a lot more expensive than in Europe, a glass of beer can cost anywhere from $5 to $10! My advice would be to buy alcohol from a shop. A bottle can cost as low as $4 and a box of the infamous goon can be as low as $10!
Need travel insurance? Don’t go to Australia without it! I use World Nomads to keep me protected while I travel, and recommend you do too!
- Australia and The Pacific – Travel Independent Very helpful guide that goes into detail about costs, culture and where to visit.
If you want more something more detailed than my Australia backpacking guide, then click below to get the Lonely Planet guide to travelling Australia: