Backpacking in Australia – 5 Top Tips for Getting Around
At a staggering 2.97 million square miles and an almost untraversable center, Backpacking in Australia can seem like and unfathomably difficult country to navigate. The same size comparatively as the entirety of Europe or North America, it’s mammoth! But don’t let a little thing like size put you off. After all, if it’s not break-neck hard to do, it’s not worth doing—right?
And Backpacking in Australia is absolutely worth making the effort for! With a concoction of wild, lush, and barren landscapes, a few of the world’s most beautiful beaches, the chilled out Aussie nation, and abundant wildlife you won’t find in the wild elsewhere, Australia is like nowhere else in the world! Not to mention a few of the world’s “must sees”—Ayers Rock, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), the Sydney Opera House…
Since it’s likely to cost you a heap (in time and money) to get to Aus, you’ll want to see the most and best of it. So here are our 5 top tips on getting around the land down under…
1. Decide your route
It might seem unspontaneous to plan your path in advance, but unless you’ve got oodles of time in Aus (we’re talking a year or so), then you’ll need to think ahead.
Here’s your quick tour: there are six states (Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania). WA is less touristy, less “discovered. SA is famous for its wine regions. Victoria is famous for the Great Ocean Road. Queensland is home to the GBR and the oldest rainforest in the world, NSW is home to Sydney and the famous Gold Coast, Tasmania is wild (often compared to Scotland), and the NT is crazily humid with some famous national parks. So to start, research each state and decide which of these equally awesome places you want to check out.
Major cities include (clockwise) Perth, Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, and are all near the coast, as is 85% of the population. To see the cities, allow a few days (and Sydney a week). For each state, you’ll need a few weeks. For the whole country, think 3 months +.
2. Pick your mode of transport
Planes: Getting across the country involves traveling around the clock face or attempting to cross the red center. Undoubtedly, the easiest and quickest method is via internal flights. Jetstar is the cheapest flight operator but offers tiny baggage allowances (no problems if you’re backpacking!). If you fly to Aus with Quantas, their Air Pass provides reduced internal flight costs.
Trains: An impressive train network joins up the country via the outback, and their routes are often hailed as some of the most incredible train journeys in the world. The famous Great Southern Rail operates between Perth and Adelaide (the magnificent Indian Pacific), Adelaide and Darwin (the renowned Ghan), and Melbourne (the Overland).
These overnight sleeper trains deliver spectacular scenery across the endless Nullabor Plain (an almost unhabitable land double the size of England) and the red center, all from the safety of your train window. There’s some exciting stops en route—ghost town Cook, gold mining town Kalgoorlie, beautiful Katherine Gorge, and Alice Springs for a trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock).
If you can afford Gold Class, it’s well worth it for your own cozy cabin! If you can’t, then pack headphones, an eye mask, a blanket, and a pillow for red class’ 90-degree reclining seat/beds. There are even dining carts on board!
Automobiles: One of the best ways to see the Aussie countryside in all of its glory is via good old fashioned road. There’s an extensive network of Greyhound coaches, but it does limit your freedom. For total independence and road tripping stories for years to come, hire a car or a campervan.
There’s stacks of hire companies, but most of them don’t permit you to drive through the outback, so vehicles picked up in Perth and Darwin must be returned there. There are also one-way rental fees to drop off your vehicle in another city. Take out roadside cover through a website like rentalcover.com or run a price comparison online. Windscreen chips are common and can be pricey on rentals.
If you’re planning to be Backpacking in Australia for a while, consider buying a used van and selling it when you leave (often for sale on hostel notice boards). The benefit is super cheap accommodation and being able to drive literally anywhere. Just ensure you stock up on petrol, food, and plenty of water before attempting to cross the outback!
And watch out for kangaroos jumping out in front of your vehicle, especially as it starts to cool down!
3. Find a place to rest your head
There are countless affordable hostels and campsites in Aus. If you’re camping, download the WikiCamps app for a detailed map of almost every free or paid campsite in Australia. The Aussies love travelers, so there’s an abundance of free “rest stops” at the side of the highway where you can stay a night or two, free seaside showers and BBQs (just make sure you can clean up after).
4. Pack light
Since you might end up using multiple modes of transport, you don’t want to be lugging heavy bags around, and carrying less often costs less on airlines. Grab yourself a comfy rucksack and pack a small capsule wardrobe. The weather is stunningly good most of the time in Aus, but you’ll find the north comes with a rainy season so pack a few layers in case of bad weather and a waterproof. You’ll also need mozzie spray, a mozzie net, a hat, and sunglasses. And as the famous Aussie Baz Luhrmann said, “Wear sunscreen”!
5. Know where you’re going
Take a map. Or an app. Or a compass … Take anything that will help you navigate this epic place because it’s so gigantic that it’s ridiculously easy to get lost. The easiest way to keep an eye on where you’re going is to pay for an internet add-on and use your phone as a GPS. Most hire companies also rent satnavs.
After following these 5 top tips for Backpacking in Australia, you’ll know where you’re going, how you’re getting there, where to stay, and what to take. You’ll be ready to roll in Aus!