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View heading toward Southbank in Brisbane | Gaby Galvin

Australia: it is both a continent and a country. It is the home of dozens of deadly creatures. It is the land where you can pet a kangaroo at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo one minute and eat a kangaroo burger the next.

Nearly 8 million tourists traveled to Australia this year to enjoy the pristine beaches, vibrant nightlife, and unique sights, like the Outback or the Sydney Opera House.

It takes a fair amount of time – and money – to properly see a country as large as Australia, but not everyone has a month or more to spent traipsing around down under. To help future travelers with planning, here is the Backpacker’s Guide to Traveling Australia.

Melbourne

Brighton Beach | Gaby Galvin

Brighton Beach | Gaby Galvin

Melbourne is a popular landing spot for international flights, making it an easy starting place. It’s been dubbed the world’s most livable city because of its easy public transport, vibrant culture, and diversity. It’s got an artsy, hipster vibe with a blooming bar and coffee scene. Spend two to five days here.

Melbourne Central YHA is a cheap hostel right in the CBD within easy walking distance of public transport and bars. Make sure to pack nice going out clothes and warmer clothes if you’re going between March and September.

Make sure to check out Hosier Lane for street art, St. Kilda and Brighton Beach, Queen Victoria Market for food and music, and Great Ocean Road, which is a must-do road trip that can easily be spread out among a few days.

Pro tip: Melbourne can be expensive, so check out the free events going on while you are there. Don’t overlook the suburbs, either – there is always a lot going on in Fitzroy, Brunswick, and St. Kilda, especially at night.

Sydney

The view from Pylon lookout in Sydney. | Jovana Simonovic

The view from Pylon lookout | Jovana Simonovic

As the country’s capital, Sydney always has a lot going on, whether it’s the annual Mardi Gras celebration or Vivid Sydney, a music and light festival. Sydney is very busy and touristy, and since everything is spread out you’ll be doing a lot of walking, so give it anywhere between three and six days.

Mad Monkeys Backpackers Hostel is located in the city centre and includes breakfast. Make sure to pack hiking clothes, beachwear, and good walking shoes.

While you’re there, tan at the beautiful Manly Beach, do the Bondi Beach coastal walk, get your photo with the Sydney Opera House, and hike the Blue Mountains.

Pro tip: Do not waste money on the Harbour Bridge climb. It is better to go to the Pylon lookout, which has almost the same view and is much cheaper.

Brisbane

Brisbane sign in Southbank | Gaby Galvin

Brisbane sign in Southbank | Gaby Galvin

Brisbane, the third-largest city in Australia, is not to be overlooked on a trip up the east coast. There’s a lot to do, whether you’re interested in the cosmopolitan aspect or the surrounding nature. It’s clean and relaxed, with a lot of young professionals. Most main sights are in walking distance, so two or three days here will be plenty.

Base Hostel is easily accessible from the train station and airport, and make sure to bring warm-weather clothing because Brisbane is hot no matter the season.

The Southbank Parklands features a ferris wheel and a manmade beach, there’s the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, and the Kangaroo Point city walk gives you a great view of the city.

Pro tip: On your way out of Brisbane, check out the Australia Zoo, founded by crocodile hunter Steve Irwin. If you have extra time, spend it surfing and getting some sun on the Sunshine Coast or the Gold Coast.

Fraser Island

Shipwreck on Fraser Island | Avery Meilleur

Shipwreck on Fraser Island | Avery Meilleur

Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, is a great spot to spend a few days away from technology, enjoying nature and the occasional dingo sighting. The vibe is very chilled out and outdoorsy, with lots of tour groups and fishermen. There are several tour companies that will take you onto the island and show you all the main sights as well as their favorite spots; otherwise you can bring a four-wheel-drive over on a ferry.

Plan to spend two to five days here. Bring bug spray, warm clothing for the night, and a tent, as you’ll be staying at campsites.

Lake McKenzie has clear water and white sand, Eli Creek has its own unique wildlife, and the Maheno Wreck and the Champagne Pools are both along the beach.

Pro tip: If you camp near the shipwreck and watch the sunrise, you may see whales.

The Whitsundays

Clear water and white sand beaches of The Whitsundays | Gaby Galvin

The Whitsundays | Gaby Galvin

The Whitsundays are among the most beautiful white-sand beaches in the world, located on the Coral Sea. These islands are a fantastic area for sailing, and it’s worth it to splurge a little here. It is very relaxed, and one or two days is all you need to see it.

You can spend the night on a catamaran on the water, or stay at nearby Nomad’s Airlie Beach Backpackers. Make sure to bring beachwear, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

Going boating and snorkeling here is great because of the beautiful clear water. Make sure you stop off at the iconic Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet, and Heart Reef.

Pro tip: It’s worth it to pay a jet boat company to take you out for the day to all of the main spots as they know the region well and can tell you anything you want to know about the beautiful landscape.

Cairns

Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef | Lauren Melanson

Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef | Lauren Melanson

Cairns has a tropical climate and is popular for snorkeling, diving, and sailing. Just be careful in the water – stinger suits are necessary during jellyfish season, which is typically November to May. Cairns can be a little worn-down compared with other cities in Australia, but it has a very laid-back feel. Two or three days will be plenty to do all of the must-do’s as well as explore a bit. It’s a good party stop as there are many bars in the area.

Gilligan’s Backpacker Hostel has a huge bar with nightly contests and activities, and the reception is very helpful. Make sure to pack beachwear, bug spray, sunglasses, and casual clothing.

Cairns is where you can go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, bungee jumping at AJ Hackett, skydiving with Skydive Cairns, and go on the Cairns Ultimate Party pub crawl.

Pro tip: If you have extra time, check out Fitzroy Island, a beautiful spot near Cairns with plenty of nature walks and beaches.

The Outback

Lauren Melanson, who traveled Australia in spring 2016, in front of Uluru. | Lauren Melanson

Traeveler Lauren Melanson in front of Uluru. | Lauren Melanson

The Red Centre, Dead Heart, the Outback – whatever you call it, this iconic location is unmistakable. The Outback is what many people think of when they hear about Australia, and although there’s more to it than that, it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s very laid back and calm, with not much going on, so three or four days is enough to get the feel of the place.

YHA hostel at Uluru isn’t too expensive and it’s close to everything you need. Make sure to bring a refillable water bottle, fly net, and warmer clothes for nighttime.

While you’re there, check out Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock), King’s Canyon, and Alice Springs if you have the time and interest.

Pro tip: The Outback is best explored through a tour company, such as Way Outback Tours, which will provide you with any necessary information and supplies you may need. It’s also highly frowned upon to climb Uluru, as it is disrespectful to the Aboriginal people of Australia.

Perth

Scarborough Beach in Perth | Lauren Melanson

Scarborough Beach in Perth | Lauren Melanson

Perth, the biggest city in Western Australia, is extremely isolated from the rest of the country, but makes up for it in the beauty of its beaches and the wealth of the area. It’s also the hometown of Heath Ledger and Hugh Jackman. It’s got a big city feel mixed with a relaxed, quiet side with plenty to do outside of the city if you are willing to spend more time to get there, so two or three days is enough.

Witch’s Hat Backpackers Hostel is packed with events, and has a fun and funky vibe. Perth is hot, so bring warm-weather clothing, beachwear, and plenty of sunscreen.

Perth is known for its beaches (popular ones include Cottesloe, Scarborough, City Beach, and Leight), and Lake Monger.

Pro tip: If you have extra time here, check out Rottnest Island, an underdeveloped spot a short ferry ride from Perth. It’s also worth it to travel in the region around Perth, where you will find the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk Denmark, Margaret River, and the Swan Valley wine region.

Gaby Galvin

Gaby Galvin

A rising senior at the University of Maryland, Gaby has written and edited for numerous on-campus publications as well as interned for a D.C.-area magazine. She spent the spring 2016 semester studying in Melbourne, Australia.
Gaby Galvin
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