Our Experience of Backpacking in Australia

The second stop on our travel itinerary was a country we’d both been longing to visit for years – Australia. We were expecting a land of sunshine, beaches, chilled-out people and wonders as incredible as the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru. So, did it turn out to be everything we thought it would be?

Places to Visit in Australia – Our Top 5

1) Melbournewe fell instantly in love with Melbourne, a bustling city with laneways to explore, trams to ride, museums and parks to visit and thousands of quirky restaurants and bars.  We had the best day on the Official Neighbours Tour; we’ve both been watching this soap since we were kids so we were ecstatic to visit the set, check out Ramsay Street, meet members of the cast and win the trivia night.

Laneways in Melbourne

View from Melbourne SouthBank

2) Hervey Bay – we loved the rustic, almost old-fashioned charm of the bay and the fact that it wasn’t choked with tourists. We enjoyed the sandy, sparsely-populated beaches and spent an afternoon cycling around the harbour and alongside the sea; I never thought I’d say this about cycling, but it was such fun – even in the rain.

Sunset over Hervey Bay

Cycling in Hervey Bay

3) Sydney – the city didn’t excite us as much as Melbourne but we had a brilliant time staying with Andrew’s relatives just outside of Sydney; it felt like a home-from-home. We encountered the most spectacular scenery when we visited the Blue Mountains and gradually grew to love Sydney’s bustling, iconic harbour.

Darling Harbour, Sydney

Sydney Harbour Bridge

4) Townsville – we stayed in a lovely hostel within walking distance to the beach; although it’s dangerous to swim in the sea during stinger season (October-May), there’s a swimming lagoon and a nice esplanade to stroll along. We also took the long, hot climb up Castle Rock to watch the pink and orange sunset – which was well-worth the effort.

Beach in Townsville, Australia

Sunset on Castle Rock, Townsville Australia

5) Cape Tribulation – while we were up in Port Douglas staying with fellow travel blogger Alyson, she advised us to head up to Cape Tribulation and we’re so glad we did. This is one of the spots in Australia where you see the real diversity of the landscape – you can stand in the midst of the rainforest overlooking a beautiful sandy beach.

Mossman Gorge

Deserted Beach at Cape Tribulation

Our Impressions of Travelling in Australia

We spent five weeks exploring Australia, here’s what we thought of our time in the land down-under.

Bright Lights and Bustling Cities

One of my favourite things about Australia was its large, vibrant cities. We both fell in love with Melbourne, a place so alive with people and music, museums and parks, laneways and trams – we even started to fantasise about living there. Although we felt Sydney lacked character compared to Melbourne, you can’t deny that its harbour is absolutely stunning. If you love cities, Australia has some great ones; the only thing missing was, understandably, the history. There are no ancient cathedrals or cobbled streets to rival my beloved London or Bristol.

Brisbane Skyline

Awesome Animals…

One of my other favourite things about Australia was its animals; the only other country we’ve encountered such weird and incredible creatures is Kenya.  We saw plenty of colourful, exotic birds and wild kangaroos as we drove down the East Coast of Australia. However we had to visit wildlife parks to catch a glimpse of wombats, echidnas, cassowaries, crocodiles and our favourites – the platypuses and koalas.

Kangaroo at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

And Dangerous Beasts

You can’t talk about Australia’s animals without mentioning the dangerous spiders, sharks and other beasts that can be found there. Out of the top ten most deadly snakes in the world, eight come from Australia. While we didn’t come across any deadly creatures in the wild, we often couldn’t swim in the sea because of crocodiles and jellyfish; we also got bitten to pieces by the less dangerous, but incredibly annoying mosquitoes.

Jellyfish Warning in Australia

The Land of Sunshine?

One thing that both surprised and slightly irritated us was the weather during our trip to Australia. Even though it was autumn when we visited we expected better weather than we’d get in the UK, but instead we were often greeted by cool temperatures, leaden skies and days of full-on, soaked-to-the-skin rain along the east coast. In actual fact, we had much better weather during our month in notoriously wet New Zealand than we did in Australia; next time we visit, we’ll do so in the warmer months!

Rainbow in Townsville, Australia

Cost of Living

There’s no getting around it – Australia is one of the most expensive places you can travel in. You can find out exactly how much we spent in our Australia cost post, but most of our money went on accommodation, which averaged at around £40 a night per room for two people with a shared bathroom. Car hire was pretty expensive too, costing £576; food was also another big expense and we barely ate out and almost never drank – a pint cost around £8.50 in Melbourne!

Sheer Scale

Everyone warned me about this, but I didn’t fully realise how enormous Australia was until we started travelling around. To save time we flew between Melbourne and Sydney and Sydney and Cairns and then spent three weeks driving the 750 miles down the East Coast; overall we probably only saw less than five percent of the whole country. We’d love to go back and check out the west coast, Uluru and revisit Melbourne and Andrew’s relatives.

Blue Mountains, Sydney

Natural Wonders

We saw plenty of incredible sights in Australia; the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands, the Blue Mountains and many beautiful beaches. However, overall we found the scenery wasn’t as inspiring as we’d hoped, especially compared to what we’d just experienced driving around New Zealand, which must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Aside from the roads between Cairns and Cape Tribulation, our drives along the East Coast were often long and boring, down miles of motorway and through barren scrubland; we also found the Great Ocean Road a bit of a letdown.

The Twelve Apostles, Australia

A Well-Travelled Path

Despite its size, it seemed that every other tourist was travelling the same route as us around Australia, stopping at exactly the same spots. In particular there were a lot of young, gap-year backpackers on the East Coast trail, which made places like Cairns party destinations full of noisy, overpriced, dirty hostels. We might have loved this when we were 17, but now it just isn’t our thing; next time we visit we’d like to try and step off the tourist paths.

Culture

Like New Zealand, we felt pretty at home in Australia, largely because European colonisation and immigration have created a culture which isn’t wildly different to ours. Saying that, the Australians do live much more of their lives outdoors than we do, on the beach and in the parks, playing sports, barbequing and drinking outdoors. Everything feels pretty new; the buildings are shiny and glassy – there’s obviously none of the history you’d get in Europe. There’s a definite difference in the way Australian people approach life too, which can be best illustrated by what Erick, an Indonesian shop-owner told us in Bali: “The Australians are very easy people; I can bring them in my shop and they’ll buy whatever – the British though, if they don’t need it, they don’t buy it.”

Surf's up! for the students on Manly Beach

Backpacking in Australia Tips

  • Given the size of Australia, we found it was often cheaper to fly between places then it was to get the bus, train or drive, it’s also quicker. Check out budget airlines like Tiger and Jetstar for cheap flights.
  • If you choose to rent a campervan, there are plenty of free campsites around which will help you keep costs down; tourist offices often have full lists of sites nearby.
  • Eating out and drinking in Australia is expensive. If you want to save money, cook for yourself and buy beers from a supermarket.
  • Rather than booking car hire in branch, look online for a better deal. Andrew also saved money by finding independent car hire insurance online rather than through the hire company.
  • See if hostels have preferential rates for any trips or tours you want to take. Our hostel in Cairns offered ten percent off our day snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Don’t visit Northern Australia in stinger season (May to October) if you want to swim in the sea.
  • Watch out for mosquitoes, especially around dawn and dusk, we had a horrific time with them along the East Coast.
  • Don’t skimp on the cost of boat trips; often the cheaper trips will cram boats full with people and have sub-standard snorkelling equipment.

Our Top 5 Travel Experiences in Australia

1) The Neighbours Tour and Trivia Night
2) Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef
3) Meeting Australian Animals
4) Sailing the Whitsunday Islands
5) Visiting the Blue Mountains

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19 thoughts on “Our Experience of Backpacking in Australia

  1. I love Melbourne! I could serious live there for a while, it’s a great city. You mentioned the lack of history in Australian cities though. This is actually one of the reasons I couldn’t live in Oz long-term. Like you said; amazing animals, amazing scenery, beautiful weather (well, most of the time), great people, it should be the perfect place to live but the culture feels so young, there always felt like something was missing to me when I lived there and I think that was a real sense of history.
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    • Hi Charlie, I think the lack of history in Australia is probably all the more apparent to Brits like us. Like you, it was the only thing I could fault Melbourne for.

      • Lack of history?,.. fault Melbourne for it?.., Australian Aborigines are the oldest people of the world.. If u want British history,, visit Britain , otherwise embrace the culture that was originally here for thousands of years before British colonisation/invasion. May I ask if you found out what tribes first lived on what is now Melbourne and how they lived and where they went to/ or were taken to so the city of Melbourne can now stand where it is. I thought travel broadend the mind. .

  2. Great caption of your visit. We also fell in love with Melbourne, there is just something about the city – maybe it’s the European feel, not sure but we loved our time there. We also really enjoyed Sydney and totally agree that it has a very different vibe than Melbourne. Where Melbourne is more relaxed Sydney is hustle and bustle but we actually really enjoyed the city. We went to see a play in the Sydney Opera House because, well, it’s the Sydney Opera House! The thing is, the 3 of us were so exhausted and I think the play was in French, which we do not understand, we all fell asleep but we can say we saw a play in the world famous Sydney Opera House!
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    • I bet seeing a play in the Opera House would have been pretty amazing; we’re already looking back a more fondly at Sydney now that we’ve visited some cities in Indonesia. In the future would love to go back to Australia and see some of the parts we’ve yet to discover.

  3. Love reading your travel experiences and commend you on your courage to quit jobs to travel!.. May i just correct you on 2 things for your Australian experience,, firstly Ayers rock (as it was formerly named) is known by its indigenous name Uluru!!…. and you mentioned our capital cities have no history – as in no cobbled streets or ancient architecture as your beloved London,, we have a young’ westernized’ history as the beauty of Australias ancientness lies in its Indigenous owners and their mark on the land more than just what British colonization imparted on this land… history is more than a westernized british view of things.

    • Hi Jo, thanks so much for reading and commenting, I appreciate your thoughts and am sorry we’ve incorrectly named Ayers Rock – I will correct that. I agree that history is more than just a ‘westernised view of things’; travelling in Asia most certainly taught me the truth of that statement as I mention in posts about the Vietnam war, bombing in Laos, colonisation in Burma and genocide in Cambodia. I’m sorry it came across that we didn’t explore Australia’s history; while we visited the museum in Melbourne we could have learnt more about Aboriginal culture and I wish we’d visited places off the main tourist trails which would have more easily allowed us to do this. If we’d had more time in Australia we’d have loved to explore further.

      I do however, maintain that while I absolutely loved Melbourne, it didn’t have the same historical feel as London or England in general. The buildings in Melbourne (and Australia as a whole) are relatively new for a start; I love the fact that the UK has Roman ruins and ancient cities, landmarks like Stonehenge and old cathedrals. That’s my personal preference and I’m sorry you find it so offensive!

  4. It is a shame that you say the drive down theveast coast of Australia is boring and our scenery is not impressive enough.I have been to some places in Australia which are absolutely georgious .If you have an 4WD car,drive down dirt track roads through our national parks.You will find rivers ,lakes waterfalls,etc.I have documentarys on Australia,which shows you places not even on the tourist mapp,with land formations that make your eyes pop out of your head.I was born in England and been back twice .We drove from London to leicester,then from Leicester to Blackpool and most of the country side were rolling green hills.Maybe i should say that this drive was not impressive enough.Take the roads that are off the beaten track and then you will be impressed eg;Go see Kanangra walls at Kanangra Boyd National park,then on the way back follow the sighns that say Jenolan caves and not the sighns to Oberon.You will see steep gorges ,disected plateaus ,the roads are narrow and not many people know it is there.This is part of NSW adjacent to the Blue Mountains national park.Australia is much more breathtaking han you think

    • Hi Louisa, thanks for commenting. As you suggest, I wish we had gotten off the beaten path a bit more in Australia and seen some more of the country. I did think some parts of the country we visited (Townsville, Blue mountains) were incredibly beautiful and I’m sure there was so much more to see that we missed. I think looking back on it the problem is that we were comparing Australia so much with New Zealand, which we have found to be the most spectacular in the world. Don’t get me wrong, we loved our time in Australia and Melbourne is one of our favourite places we’ve ever been to. Thanks for the suggestions of places to see; we hope to go back to Australia one day so hopefully we can check them out.

  5. Definitely need an Adelaide mention. I highly recommend. Like a smaller Melbourne surrounded by hills and wine regions. What more could you want?

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