Well, this is going to be a big post! Somehow, I'm going to attempt to summarize every single fantastic thing I squeezed into the six weeks I backpacked around Australia. I've seen it all: from big cities to small villages, stunning beaches to mountaintop views.
I've taken 9 coaches, 12 ferries and 9 flights, hundreds of buses, trams, shuttles and trains and stayed in 17 hostels. I've gone hiking, biking, swimming, roadtripping, snorkeling, sand-boarding and even tried surfing.
I've seen koalas, parrots, kangaroos, lizards, pelicans, cockatoos, quokkas, wild goats, sting rays, crabs, crocodiles, dolphins, dingoes, eagles, coral, puffer fish, wild horses, sheep, manta rays, turtles, snakes and wallabies and discovered more about this country than I ever knew before.
Plenty of people have visited and explored Australia, but many people I spoke to said that trying to cram the entire country into such a short period of time was an unachievable goal. Well, I'm here to give you my entire detailed itinerary on how I did this life-changing trip so that perhaps you can embark on such an adventure yourself, too.
Before you get started down under, check out my detailed guide on everything to do before you go from visas to vaccinations, insurance to planning and everything in between.
The currency here is the Australian Dollar. Due to the 2.5% Visa charge on every purchase made with your credit card, I highly recommend taking money out of an ATM once or twice per month and paying most everything in cash. Although you have to pay a fee when you withdraw money, in the long run this fee is substantially smaller than the Visa charge. Keep in mind also that Australia is fairly expensive in comparison to other backpacking destinations. Budget about $80-$100 a day to cover your accommodations, food, transport and activities.
In the summer, Australia gets crazy hot. Particularly important, especially with the ozone hole in this part of the world, is to constantly apply sunscreen against the burns that can spring up on you. Wear a hat to protect your head from the sun rays and avoid spending too much time with uncovered skin in direct sunlight. Always remember to reapply after you've been in the water. I highly recommend bringing plenty of thin t-shirts so you can keep your shoulders covered.
Australia is big. Really, really big. Sometimes you can hop on a long bus journey to your next destination but often, it is actually cheaper and quicker to fly. JetStar and Tiger Air are Australia's main low-cost carriers but be wary as they can quickly add extra fees with luggage and seats! Qantas and Virgin Australia are Australia's better quality but often more expensive airlines. Also be aware that from each airport, transferring to the city usually costs $15-$20 each way. Within most cities, transit is great. Sydney especially has a wide-reaching transport system including buses, trains and ferries that allow you to get practically anywhere.
I highly recommend getting yourself a SIM card for while you're traveling in Australia so you can access Google Maps while you're out and not get lost! Just stop by a vendor at the airport and pick up a SIM card. One of the biggest networks is Vodafone and you're very likely to be able to score up to 20GB of data plus some international calling and texting for under $40.
Expect to pay between $25-$50 per night in a decent hostel, which you'll want to book in advance during high season to guarantee a spot (November-March). I have found that the price when booking directly from the hostel's website is always cheaper than even the cheapest HostelWorld or Booking.com rates because those sites charge a separate booking fee!
Food & Water
Australia is expensive, so in order to stretch your money further, avoid going out to eat for your meals. You can pick up cheap groceries in most places - I recommend Woolworth's, Cole's, IGA or Aldi. Almost every hostel I stayed in had a kitchen for guests to use which included big fridges to store your food. Also good to know is that most hostels have a basket for leftover food that other guests have had to leave behind as they move on with their travels! Remember also to always carry a reusable water bottle with you and fill it up at water refill stations as you go to stay hydrated in the heat. Check out my detailed guide about what to eat while traveling here!
Sydney, 6 nights
ARRIVE: fly into Sydney International Airport and catch the AirportLink train into the city.
GET AROUND: purchase an Opal Card at the airport to use on all trains, buses and ferries around Sydney. I spent approximately $40 during the week on public transport.
STAY: I cannot say enough good things about Wake Up! Hostel right across the street from Central Station.
DO: walk around the city to see the Opera House, Royal Botanical Gardens, Harbour Bridge, Sydney Observatory and the State Library. Spend a day on the beach at Bondi and then walk along the coast to Coogee. Tackle the 10km hike from Manly to Spit, one of the most beautiful walks I've done. Watch the fireworks every Saturday at Darling Harbour in the summer.
DAY TRIPS: head out to the Blue Mountains to spot waterfalls and viewpoints. Go bushwalking in Royal National Park.
READ MORE: check out my detailed guide about how to spend a week in Sydney.
Canberra, 1 night
ARRIVE: take a Murray's bus from Sydney Central Station to Jolimont Centre in Canberra.
GET AROUND: the transit system here is called MyWay, but for just a day or two you're better off just paying cash to the bus drivers. It's $5 for a single trip (with 90 minute transfer) or $9.60 for a day pass.
STAY: since it's not as touristy, there aren't many hostel options. Canberra City YHA is a good choice for its central location.
DO: walk around the city to see all the free national institutions. The Capital Exhibition, the Library, the Gallery, the Museum and the International Flag Display all show important and interesting Australian history. Pay $2 to walk around the Old Parliament House before tackling the 1-hour return hike up Mount Ainslie to view Canberra from above.
READ MORE: check out my detailed guide about how to spend a day in Canberra.
Melbourne, 4 nights
ARRIVE: fly from Canberra to Melbourne; TigerAir flights are cheap and take approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes. Take the SkyBus for $19 from the airport to Southern Cross Station and make your way from there.
GET AROUND: trams in inner Melbourne are free, but to head out of the free zone, you'll need to purchase a myki card for trains and buses.
STAY: there's loads of options in this backpacker-friendly city; Flinder's Backpackers has a great central location and daily free breakfast.
DO: spend a day walking around town to visit some of the acclaimed attractions such as the art alleyways, the National Gallery of Victoria and the beautiful Shrine of Remembrance. Head south to see the bright boxes at Brighton Beach.
DAY TRIPS: hop on a tour to see the best part of the area: the Great Ocean Road. Favourite stops included Mait's Rest Rainforest Walk, Gibson Steps, Loch Ard Gorge and the famous 12 Apostles (of which there are not twelve!).
READ MORE: check out my detailed guide about how to spend a week in Melbourne.
Launceston, 2 nights
(add 6 nights if hiking Overland Track)
ARRIVE: fly roundtrip to the island state of Tasmania from Melbourne to Launceston. From Launceston Airport, the shuttle will drop you off in the city for $15 one-way.
GET AROUND: Tasmanian public transport is practically non-existent, with many of the most beautiful places being impossible to visit without a car. If you don't have your own wheels, I suggest picking a few things you really want to see and booking a tour.
STAY: there's plenty of boutique hotels around, but in terms of hostels your options are numbered. Launceston Backpackers offers cheap and central accommodation in the heart of Launceston.
DO: spend a day exploring town, stopping to grab a sweet treat at Charlie's Dessert House before heading off to explore Cataract Gorge. Visit the Japanese monkeys in City Park and, if you're there on a Sunday, enjoy the live music.
DAY TRIPS: Take a tour to some of Tasmania's more famous and more isolated areas such as Bay of Fires and Bridestowe Lavender Estate. Have more time? Head to Hobart to climb Mount Wellington, stopping in Wineglass Bay along the way. Make a pit stop on Bruny Island to climb The Neck. If you've got a week to spare, I highly recommend hiking on the world-famous Overland Track at Cradle Mountain.
READ MORE: check out my detailed guide about how to spend a weekend in Launceston.
Perth, 6 nights
ARRIVE: from Launceston, it's actually cheaper to book a roundtrip Melbourne-Launceston when you visit the island and then to book a one-way to Perth. Flights Launceston-Perth are pricey! From the airport, the #380 Bus goes into town and $4.80 will get you a 2-hour 2-zone pass.
GET AROUND: within Perth, I recommend walking to the local attractions as everything is quite close together. If you're heading down to and Cottesloe Beach, the Fremantle Line train takes about 20 minutes. A day pass for all transport in all zones costs $12.80.
STAY: Perth has plenty of budget accommodation to choose from so pick something that's close to things you want to see. Ensure your choice has a kitchen (aka, not Hostel G - it's not all it's hyped up to be).
DO: spend a day exploring town visiting Yagan Square, Elizabeth Quay and especially the beautiful King's Park. Head down to Cottesloe Beach to relax in the sand. I also spent Australia Day in Perth with beautiful fireworks!
DAY TRIPS: take the 5-minute ferry to Penguin Island to meet penguins and go bird-watching in Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. Spend the day biking around Rottnest Island visiting beautiful beaches and spotting quokkas.
READ MORE: check out my detailed guide about how to spend a week in Perth.
Perth to Exmouth Roadtrip, 7 nights
ARRIVE: your tour guide will likely pick you up and drop you off at a meeting point in downtown Perth. Some tours are one-way only, ending either in Exmouth or further north in Broome.
GET AROUND: there's a reason Western Australia is called the roadtrip state! If you don't have your own wheels, head to the Western Australia Visitor Centre and book a tour that takes you past the most beautiful sights on the west coast up to Exmouth and back. I booked a 7-night, 8-day tour with Red Earth Safaris.
STAY: your tour will arrange all your accommodations for you; this will likely be either camping or hosteling or a combination of both.
DO: see koalas at Yanchep National Park, try sand-boarding in Lancelin, explore Cervantes, watch sunset at the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park, feed rescued kangaroos at Greenough, feel small at the Kalbarri cliffs, wade through Pink Lake, hike the gorges of Kalbarri, float in salty water at Shell Beach, spot dolphins from the beach at Monkey Mia, see Stromatolites, the oldest creatures on the planet, spend the night under the stars at Warroora Farm, go snorkeling on the Ningaloo Reef and take in the panoramic view of the most western point of Australia in Cape Range National Park. Sound convincing? It's fantastic.
READ MORE: check out my detailed post about my fantastic Perth to Exmouth Roadtrip.
Uluru, 3 nights
ARRIVE: fly from Perth to Ayers Rock. JetStar and Virgin Australia do the route with a layover in Sydney or Brisbane; Qantas operates via Cairns and Alice Springs. A free AATKings resort shuttle will take you from the airport to all of the 6 accommodations in Ayers Rock.
GET AROUND: a free commuter bus drives the 20-minute loop of Yulara from 5:30am to 12:30am including stopping at Town Square with little shops and a great supermarket. Getting to Uluru and Kata Tjuta requires a 1-, 2- or 3-day pass for the hop-on, hop-off bus.
STAY: the only hostel near Uluru is the Outback Pioneer Lodge in Yulara. There are five other types of accommodations ranging from hotels to apartments to camping. The hostel is big and clean, although there are no lockers. Avoid paying $6.50 for water at reception and pick up a bottle for $1.50 at IGA.
DO: stop in at the Cultural Centre to learn about the incredible Aboriginal history. Watch sunrise at Kata Tjuta before tackling the Valley of the Winds hike. Watch sunrise over Uluru, then circumnavigate the impressive rock around the 10km base before finishing off with sunset.
READ MORE: check out my detailed guide for five things to do at Uluru.
Brisbane, 4 nights
ARRIVE: fly direct from Ayers Rock to Brisbane. From Brisbane Airport, the Brisbane Airtrain will take you into the city for $19 one way.
GET AROUND: the best way to get around Brisbane is to walk and when you wish to cross the river, to take the free City Hopper ferry.
STAY: I spent 2 nights at the Breeze Lodge near Kangaroo Point. The wifi was great, there were lockers and plugs in each room and it was clean. I also spent 2 nights at the Chill Backpackers right across the street from the Roma Street train station. The location was great but there's no free wi-fi, no lockers and it wasn't very clean.
DO: take in the view of Brisbane City from Kangaroo Point before wandering the beautiful South Bank and taking a dip at Streets Beach. Explore Roma Street Parkland. Head out of the downtown core to Mount Coot-tha for great views over the city.
DAY TRIPS: head over to North Stradbroke Island for the day and catch the bus to Point Lookout to do the 1.5km North Gorge Walk along stunning beaches and pristine oceans with the chance to spot manta rays and turtles dancing in the waves! Take a day trip up to Noosa to walk around the national park to Hell's Gate and the Fairy Pools.
READ MORE: check out my detailed guide for how to spend a weekend in Brisbane.
Byron Bay, 4 nights
ARRIVE: take the Greyhound from Brisbane Coach Terminal to Byron Bay. The journey takes just under four hours. From the Greyhound terminal you can either catch a shuttle or walk to your accommodations in Byron Bay.
GET AROUND: the best way to get around Byron Bay town is to walk. A bike will get you a bit further afield to places like Broken Head. Wake Up! lends them out to guests for free.
STAY: after my great experience at Wake Up! in Sydney, I decided to book into Wake Up! Byron Bay. It's in the more secluded part of town, away from the major touristy things, but in bus or walking distance to all the beautiful sights Byron is known for. It's by far one of the best hostels I've ever stayed at with big, clean rooms, personal lockers, strong wi-fi, a warm and welcoming atmosphere and free bikes and surfboards!
DO: spend a day at Broken Head Nature Reserve and walk the Three Sisters Track. Try your hand at surfing at the beach. Walk the stunning Cape Byron Track along Wategos Beach, the Pass, Byron Lighthouse and Tallows Beach.
DAY TRIPS: head out to Newrybar in the hinterland for a day to rummage through delightful shops and dine on exquisite local produce.
READ MORE: check out my detailed guide for how to spend a week in Byron Bay.
Gold Coast, 2 nights
ARRIVE: take the Greyhound from Byron Bay to the part of the Gold Coast you are staying in. There's Southport, Surfer's Paradise, Broadbeach, Currumbin and Coolangatta. In Coolangatta, you can take the bus from the Greyhound Depot to your accommodations.
GET AROUND: I stayed just outside Coolagantta just across the street from the 700 bus which runs frequently all along the towns of the Gold Coast between Tweed Heads and Broadbeach which is a few stops south of Surfer's Paradise on the train.
STAY: I checked into the YHA in Coolangatta on the beach. The wi-fi only works in the kitchen unless you're willing to pay for premium and there's no plugs by the beds, but there's a swimming pool and a free shuttle into town. Guess you win some, lose some.
DO: visit Burleigh Head National Park and then walk all the way along the Gold Coast Oceanway passing beaches and towns before ending up in Surfer's Paradise. Head into Coolangatta to visit Snapper Rocks and see all the surfers.
READ MORE: check out my detailed guide for walking the Gold Coast Oceanway.
Due to bad weather and flooding, I was unable to finish my original itinerary which included going up the Whitsundays as well as to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef. I will return soon to complete these and will update this post at at that time!