Australia may be big, expensive, lacking tourist-friendly public transport and a long way from virtually anywhere, but there’s a reason why so many travellers make the trip – it’s beautiful.
With bright blue skies, oceans, beaches, reefs, deserts, rain forests, and thriving cities, it’s hard not to fall in love with the place.
Since most of the country is desert, about 85% of Australians live on the spectacular coastlines surrounding the country. The country is so big that you either have to fly between states and territories, or go on a road trip of epic proportions and prepare to spend hours (if not days) on the open road, but that’s all part of the experience! From the tropics in Cooktown to the vast expanse of red desert in Alice Springs, Australia is a uniquely diverse road-tripper’s paradise.
When To Go
That all depends on where you’re going!
Sydney, New South Wales
You could visit Sydney at any time of the year – generally speaking, it doesn’t get that cold. Winter (June-August) brings a drop in price and a significant reduction in the amount of tourists, but that’s not to say it isn’t crowded – places like Circular Quay and Bondi are busy all the time. Winter is also a great time for visiting the Blue Mountains!
Regional New South Wale
If you’re going to make the trip out to regional NSW, be aware that it can get very cold in winter – especially around the Riverina and the Snowy Mountains. Either make a week of it and go skiing, or take a trip in summer (December-February).
Australia’s capital is located in the middle of regional NSW, and Canberra is a thriving metropolis of government buildings, roundabouts, and general activity. Like the rest of regional NSW, it gets pretty cold in winter (June-August), but stays around the high-20s in summer (December-February).
In summer, Melbourne is lovely. In winter, arctic winds and rain blanket the place and it gets damn cold – not cold enough to snow or anything, just plain cold. On the other hand, prices in winter drop and the city is far less touristy.
Like Sydney, you could visit Brisbane at any time of year. Temperatures generally stay above 15-degrees during the day in winter (June-August), and prices are down. If you prefer the heat, summer (December-February) gets pretty warm with temperatures hovering around 30-degrees with high humidity.
Queensland is a diverse place – the north and the south are so different they could almost be different countries. While the weather in Brisbane is mildly warmer than Sydney, north and rural Qld is a different story. Divided in to dry season (May-October) and wet season (November-April), this part of Australia is usually pretty warm and humid, with temperatures hovering around the mid-20s in June, and 30s in January.
Adelaide, South Australia
Adelaide temperatures are similar to Brisbane, but without the humidity. While it gets warm in summer (around 30-degrees from December-February), temperatures generally stay above 15-degrees during the day from June-August.
With winds blowing off the arctic throughout the year, Hobart can be pretty chilly at all times of year, but it’s a beautiful city. It rains a lot, so it’s surrounded by green hills and fields, but Hobart has a warm coziness to it that I’m yet to find in cities like Melbourne. Technically, summer gets to about 25-degrees, but last time I was there in January it reached a top of 12, so I highly recommend a coat.
Perth, Western Australia
It’s warm and sunny in Perth for most of the year. In winter (June-August), temperatures don’t really drop below 15-degrees, and in summer it stays around 30 with few rainy days.
Regional Western Australia
Western Australia almost takes up half the country, so the climate differs pretty extravagantly. Northern cities like Broome are perennially hot, with temperatures hovering around 30-degrees for about 95-percent of the year. Like north Qld, this part of the country is divided in to wet (December-April) and dry (May-October) seasons. Keep in mind that the wet season is torrential with high temperatures.
Darwin, Northern Territory
Like regional WA, Darwin is a hot place divided in to wet and dry seasons, and temperatures don’t really drop below 30-degrees during the day. January and February are said to be the best months to visit – big storms in the afternoons bring greenery to the city.
Regional Northern Territory
The center of Australia is an expanse of red desert that gets very hot in summer (December-February) and very cold in winter (June-August). Between April, and May is probably the best time to go with temperatures in the low-20s.
How Long For?
Don’t underestimate how big Australia is – if you drove continually around the country without stopping, it would take you around 14-days. Highway 1 is the longest highway on Earth, and you will want to stop more than a few times to marvel at the sights and, you know, sleep and eat or something. If you’re in it for a quick-trip, pick a few cities, fly to each one and see the sights in a week or so. If you’re there for a while, it would be very easy to spend a few months travelling around the different cities and towns with a van.
Always apply for an Australian visa in advance. Australia has a visa deal with Europe, allowing European passport-holders to enter the country for 3-months for free with an e-visitor visa (subclass 651), but if you’re from anywhere else, a regular holiday visa (subclass 600) will cost you more than 100 AUD. The government are pretty weird about who gets in to the country, so make sure you do your research, apply in advance (from your home country, if possible) and unless it’s a working visa, make sure you have a ticket out of the country.
(Check out Nina's experience with the Working Holiday visa!)
Australian Dollar (AUD). Head to XE to convert your currency – the examples below are correct as of September 2018.
1 USD = 1.40 AUD
1 CAD = 1.06 AUD
1 GBP = 1.81 AUD
NOTE: AUD is the only currency accepted in Australia. I only say this because I know some assume USD are accepted as well, and they're not, so just a heads-up.
No matter where you’re from, Australia is pretty expensive. Public transport in local cities might cost around AU$10/day minimum depending on how far you go, a main meal will cost around $20, beer ranges from $6 to $12, and it’s around $50 and above for any single attraction. If you’re on a budget, plan your trip beforehand.
Hiring a car or campervan is hands-down the best way of seeing Australia, but for the more budget-conscious traveller, there are a few other options.
Each capital city (annoyingly) has its own private public transport system with different price lists, but for interstate travel it’s a bit different. Australia is a big place, so aside from flying, all other forms of transport can be long and tedious (the trip from Sydney to Melbourne alone takes 13-hours), but with a range of stops on each journey, travelling by land can be a good way of seeing rural Australia.
Unless you’re staying within the confines of a city, this is the best way to see the country. You’re free to drive along and see what you want, when you want, for as long as you want – it’s a big place, and there’s a lot to explore. If you have a campervan, keep in mind you’re not allowed to park just anywhere, and if you try, you’ll most likely get caught and told to move along (trust me, I’ve tried), but there are quite a few powered and unpowered campsites around the country that cost around $20/night. The same rules apply for tents. Petrol is usually around $1-1.30/litre.
NOTE: I know I keep saying it, but driving through Australia takes a long time, and fatigue is a big issue. Queensland have a range of trivia signs designed to wake you up along their long stretches of highway because fatigue is a major cause of accidents – seeing all the crucifixes along the side of the highway gives you an idea of the magnitude of this problem. I can’t stress how important it is to pull over the moment you feel even slightly drowsy.
With a bit of patience, perseverance and cash, it’s possible to get around Australia by train. Most services stop in a range of towns along the way so you can explore pockets of the country as you go, but not all services run all the time (some only operate a few times per week), so check the websites (linked below) for information. You also have to pre-book long-distance train travel, so don’t leave it to the last minute.
The Indian Pacific travels from Sydney to Perth.
The Ghan travels between Adelaide and Darwin (via Alice Springs).
Overland travels between Melbourne and Adelaide.
The Spirit Of Queensland travels between Brisbane and Cairns.
NSW TrainLink runs services from Sydney to Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra.
V/Line has a range of services for travel within Victoria, with buses linking in to NSW, SA and ACT.
The main bus company is Greyhound, which operates throughout much of the country, but there are a few other services operating between certain states. Tickets are always cheaper online, and it’s always in your best interests to book in advance.
Greyhound Australia runs nationally.
Firefly Expressruns between Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, and Adelaide.
Integrity Coach Lines runs between Perth and Broome.
V/Line connects Victoria with NSW, South Australia and the ACT.
Premier Motor Service travels along the east coast.
There are also a range of backpacker buses on offer, Lonely Planet has a pretty good list.
In low-season (June-August), dorm prices in capital cities can be as low as $25, but in high-season (December-February) you’re lucky to get a dorm under $30. Expect to pay around $100 for a private room in a budget hotel in summer. Rather than rocking up to the nearest hotel, booking accommodation online will usually save you money.
Australia has no tradition when it comes to food, so most capital cities have a huge range of authentic and fantastically perverted international dishes to choose form. Sydney is a foodie’s dream with a broad range of cuisines catering to different taste buds and dietary requirements, and Melbourne is pretty similar. Breakfast and brunch are also big deals in capital cities like Sydney and Melbourne – look at Trip Advisor for info.
On the other hand, regional Australia is a different story. It depends on where you go (some rural places have a great menu!), but in steak-loving Australia, vegetarians may struggle. Vegans may starve. Typical pub meals include steak and chips, chicken parmigiana, beef burgers, fish and chips, surf and turf, wedges, maybe a pizza and, if you’re lucky, a token vegetarian pasta dish. Many places will amend dishes to suit dietary requirements, and sometimes you can supersize some sides.
Meals/Drinks (per person)
Beer (schooner): $6-13
Wine (glass): $7-14 1
350ml bottle water: $3.50-4
Coffee: $4-6 (extra shot, skim, and soy almost always costs 50c extra)
There’s a hefty tax on alcohol in Australia, but it’s worth splashing out to try some excellent local craft beers, whiskeys and wines. Dan Murphy’s probably has the biggest selection for the lowest prices – it’s a lot cheaper than getting the same thing at a bar.
If you’re doing it really cheap and don’t care what you consume as long as it’s fermented, goon is your best option. It costs around $11 for four-litres, comes in a box, gets you drunker than anything and leaves you with a splitting headache.
While alcohol laws are getting pretty tight, if you do it right, they shouldn’t affect you too much. You can’t buy alcohol anywhere except licensed bars and liquor stores, but there’s no limit to how much you can buy at any one time. NSW probably has the strictest rules (bottle shops aren’t open past 10pm, for example), but if you load-up before that, you’ll get kicked out of the pub at 1am or 3am, go home and dig in to your stash.
NOTE: You’re technically not allowed to be drunk in a licensed venue. Ever. Security in popular city pubs and clubs is next-level – I'm talking high-vis vests, walkie talkies, ear pieces and, since the cops seem to show up all the time to survey the 'situation', they probably have the police on speed dial. If security suspects that you might be drunk, they will kick you out of the venue and there’s nothing you can do about it. Whether you’ve been doing shots at home or had a few too many wines with dinner, it pays to put on your best sober face and soldier on.
Other Things To Note
The internet in Australia is slow and expensive, so get a sim card with data.
Work For Accommodation
There are a lot of hostels in touristy places that let you work for your room, so if you’re staying for a while and want to save on accommodation, hit that up!