Backpacking Australia? Here’s Everything You’ll Need to Know
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G’day mate! Are you backpacking Australia sometime soon? Fantastic life choice- the land down under is a wonderful place to visit. I spent a year and a half there, driving around near enough the whole country, and I’d return in a heartbeat if I could.
Australia is a great country for first time backpackers to visit. But you might still have a few questions about travelling the great southern land. Hopefully this guide will help to answer all of these queries and help you get to Australia feeling prepped!
My time in Australia
Before we begin, here’s a tiny bit about my Australia experience. If it’s your first time here, my name’s Claire, I’m a 25 year old girl from Britain. I spent last year and some of 2016 in Australia. After living in a tent in Byron Bay for five months, in a friend’s car I travelled down to Sydney, then to Melbourne and across to Tasmania. From Tasmania, I took the ferry back over to Melbourne, bought my own car and journeyed over to the west coast – a 5000 km trip. I stayed in Perth and Fremantle for a while, and then travelled up the west coast, and once again stayed still for a period when I reached Broome.
From Broome, I ventured down the Gibb River Road which was probably my trip highlight, then drove up to Darwin. From Darwin, I travelled down the middle of the country and saw the iconic Uluru, amongst other sights. When I reached Adelaide I travelled north once again (on my own!) to Cairns on the east coast and then did the iconic Aussie road trip – Cairns to Melbourne. But my adventure didn’t quite stop in Melbourne – I finished my time in Australia by seeing some of the best that the state of Victoria has to offer.
It’s been crazy, and I can’t believe I actually drove that distance, but I completely fell head over heels in love with Australia. I know most that there is to know about backpacking Australia, and here is where I share my secrets with you!
Practical information for backpacking Australia
Currency – Australian Dollars (AUD) – 1AUD = 0.57 GBP = 0.78 USD = 0.64 EUR
Capital – Canberra
Other major cities – Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart
Time zone – (it has a few!) – UTC + 7 hours – 11 hours, depending on the state and time of year
Language – English and 150 Aboriginal languages. Australia is an incredibly diverse country and, especially in the cities, there are people from almost any nationality.
How much time will I need to travel around Australia?
How long is a piece of string? If you’re wanting to explore just Sydney and Melbourne – Australia’s two biggest cities – and the surrounding areas (top tip: don’t do this, the rest of the country is awesome), I’d say a minimum of 2 weeks.
If you want to travel down the east coast of Australia, 3 weeks is a minimum to see it all.
The Darwin-Adelaide road trip through the red centre can be done in 2 weeks. As can the west coast (although watch out, this is a lot of driving).
Basically, Australia is a huge country and if you leave yourself too short of time you’re best to focus on one area.
Of course, flights are another option – but this is an overland adventure travel blog so I can’t recommend them here ;).
For some itinerary ideas, check out my posts below. These can be adapted for your wishes and requirements.
Decide your Route
Your route while backpacking Australia largely depends on how you want to travel. If you’re keen to just see the backpacker hotspots and don’t want to buy a car, you’ll be fine doing the east coast on hop on hop off buses.
If you’re wanting to see a little more, but don’t want to do the whole road trip thing, you could take organized tours up the west coast and through the middle.
If you’re preparing to rent a car, you can do pretty much any road trip – apart from ones that involve dirt roads (unless you are renting a 4WD for this purpose).
If you decide to buy your own car, and get something suitable for gravel – a 4WD or AWD vehicle – Australia is your oyster!
East Coast Australia – Cairns to Melbourne or reverse
Transport options – hop on hop off bus, organised tour, self drive
Most travelers flock to the east coast first, travelling from Cape Tribulation down to Sydney or Cairns. This is a great place to get orientated with Australia, meet some travelling friends and see some spectacular scenes on the way! The east coast also has the best public transport network, so you could do a trip on the greyhound or premier coaches to see how you like it before committing to buying a car (I’ll get into this soon!)
Down the red centre – Darwin to Adelaide or reverse
Transport options: hop on hop off bus, organized tour, train, self drive
A Darwin to Adelaide road trip is another popular backpacker option. This route leaves from the tropics of the top end of the Northern Territory and traverses through climates, into the scorching red centre. This journey sees some of the most spectacular sceneries in all of Australia and it’s a great voyage to get to know Aboriginal culture and experience the outback.
The wild west coast of Australia
Transport options: organized tour, self drive
My heart does lie with the west coast of Australia. It feels like you’ve stumbled upon some hidden secret – or that you’ve walked right into an Instagram photo with the saturation turned on. The natural beauty of this part of the world is so raw and untouched that it literally leaves you lost for words. There’s national parks, outback towns and a reef straight from the shore to explore, plus the capital of Perth which I loved. There are no coaches on the west coast, so you’ll need to rent or buy a car, or take part in an organized tour.
The magical Kimberley region of north Western Australia
Transport options: organized tour, self drive
Speaking of spectacular sceneries, check out the Kimberley region for breathtaking gorges, spectacular waterfalls and magical swimming spots. The Kimberley is renowned for its red rock, boab trees and (in the dry season, at least!) and blue skies, making it one of the best places to head to for adventure and to enjoy Australia’s beautiful natural scenery at its finest. I did the Broome to Darwin drive which went via the Gibb River Road.
The bottom of the continent: traversing the Nullarbor from Melbourne or Adelaide to Perth
Transport options: organized tour (limited), train, self drive
To get from east to west, take the Melbourne to Perth road trip which traverses the mighty Nullarbor. This road trip is often thought to be pretty dull, but I found the solitude of the Nullarbor to be mesmerizing. Plus, it encompasses two amazing ocean drives (Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and the stunning beaches in Esperance), transitions from scorching desert to charming beach towns, and traverses three state capitals.
The island state – explore Tasmania
Transport options: organized tour (limited), self drive
And don’t forget about the island state! Tasmania is a spectacular part of Australia that is often forgotten by those backpacking Australia. It’s well worth a visit; because of its temperate climate, it reminded me of the UK in some aspects, but its epic-ness was multiplied by about 100. Some people call Tassie ‘the love child of Australia and New Zealand’. It’s one of those places that you have to be there to believe, but it really is a one-of-a-kind place.
The rest of the outback
Transport options: self drive, very limited trains
And then there’s…. the rest of the middle. These aren’t popular backpacker routes but it doesn’t mean that you can’t drive them! I drove from Adelaide to Cairns through the New South Wales and Queensland outback completely alone and loved the experience.
I saw some spectacular places that made me feel like I was the only person in the world, went through quirky little towns and really learnt about how people live their lives in some of the most foreboding conditions on the planet. And that’s what travelling is all about, right?
If you have your own (preferably 4WD) car, the possibilities are endless. You could drive diagonally from Perth to Cairns through ‘Australia’s longest shortcut’, through the Oodnatta Track and the basin of Lake Eyre in South Australia, or take a shortcut from the red centre to the Kimberley region along rough gravel roads.
These trips aren’t for the faint hearted, but they without a doubt will be some of your best-ever travel memories.
The Big Lap
Many visitors and locals alike take on ‘The Big Lap’ – a road trip around the whole of Australia. I kind of did this (I didn’t do the Cairns – Darwin bit or Cape York, but I did do the extra Adelaide to Cairns trip) and it’s an experience like no other. It will take you at least 6 months, but it will probably be the best 6 months of your life. See my suggested itinerary for a 6 month road trip in Australia for more details.
How to get around
There’s a few ways you can get around Australia. I travelled in my car, and loved the freedom that it gave me. Many people stick to the hop on hop off buses or take an organized tour if they want to visit somewhere that’s not serviced by the coaches. There are a few train options in Australia, but it is not feasible to explore the whole countries by these and they are expensive.
Buying a Car or Van
Pros: complete freedom, can save on accommodation costs by free camping, can resell the car and get money back, can split fuel costs with travel mates.
Cons: it’s expensive to buy straight up, have to pay for extras like rego and roadworthy, anything that goes wrong is your responsibility to fix, have to be a confident driver.
Renting a car or van
Pros: freedom to go where you want on the designated route, can save on accommodation costs by free camping, breakdowns are often covered by the rental company (although check the small print!).
Cons: it can work out more expensive than buying depending on the trip length, some rental companies have restrictions, can’t go on gravel roads unless you rent a 4WD for that purpose.
Taking the hop on hop off bus
Pros: fairly affordable, flexibility to travel on the dates you want, can sleep or read while travelling, don’t need to make a huge investment.
Cons: the buses only go to certain places, restricted to certain departure times, can have long journeys with little stops, this option is only really feasible for travelling down the centre and the east coast.
Taking the train
Pros: a unique way to see the country, fairly comfortable, can rest while travelling.
Cons: generally expensive, only goes to limited places, only stops only at certain locations.
Pros: different tours cover most of the country’s tourist destinations, they are often all inclusive (or nearly), an easy way to make friends.
Cons: restricted to what the tour plans to see, expensive, could be stuck with an itinerary that you don’t like.
As you can see, there are a lot of transport options when backpacking Australia, and which option you go for depends on you. Ask yourself these questions:
Do I want to do the driving myself?
Do I have the money to invest in a vehicle and enough saved for potential repairs?
Where in Australia do I want to travel?
Do I want to plan my own route or am I happy doing as a group tour wants?
The weather and seasons in Australia
Ahhh, the Australian weather. The country is somewhat legendary for its heat, and in a lot of instances, the legend is true.
However, one myth needs to be debunked – Australia isn’t always hot. But it’s entirely possible to chase the sun while backpacking Australia, and it’s always high season somewhere. The trick is knowing when to go where.
Australia has the opposite seasons to the northern hemisphere, so its summer is December, January and February. This is a great time to visit the south of the country. Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Tasmania all bask in glorious summer weather, making it the perfect time to laze by the beach or enjoy the long days on a road trip.
Even in the summer, Tasmanian seasons can be very temperamental and outside of December-February it can get cold. Similarly, although Melbourne generally enjoys good summer weather, just outside of the hot season it can suddenly get very cold. Sydney and Perth have a good climate most of the year – with just a few months of cold weather from June-August.
During the summer, the tropics – so Cairns, Darwin and Broome – are wet. Their dry season runs from roughly May – November. The best time to visit these areas of Australia (especially north Western Australia and the Northern Territory) are May – September; October and November can be unbearably hot as it’s the build up to the wet.
The east coast can be road tripped at any time of the year, but is a great journey in spring or autumn. I travelled the west coast (going north) at the start of winter and had cold nights but near-perfect days. If you’re travelling the west coast southwards, doing the journey in September or October escapes the building humidity of the north into cooler temperatures down south.
The middle of Australia ranges from being scorching in the day and mild at night, to mild in the day and freezing at night. The most popular time to see the red centre is winter, although beware if you’re camping – this could mean night temperatures of around zero degrees! I visited the red centre at the start of October and although the temperatures were a lot cooler than tropical Darwin, where I’d come from, the nights weren’t unbearable.
How much money do I need to save?
How long is a piece of string? No, seriously.
If you’re planning on backpacking Australia as soon as you reach the country, then you’ll need the money for whatever adventures you want to go on (obviously). A popular option is to get to Australia, travel the east coast, and then settle somewhere to work for a little bit.
The east coast can be done on all sorts of budgets, and it depends on how you travel, where you stay, what activities you do, whether you eat out or cook yourself, and how much you drink.
Say if you purchased a Greyhound bus pass for $558 (at time of booking, may change), that covers the bulk of your transport down the east coast. The Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays boat trip and Fraser Island, which are must-dos, will set you back another $1000. If you stay in hostels every night, which cost an average of $25, it would cost $950 (minus 4 nights of accommodation on the Whitsundays boat and Fraser Island). Spending $20 daily on food would cost $840, and another $10 a day on booze another $420. Including extras such as the ferry to Magnetic Island and the Daintree River crossing in the National Park, and your total easily adds up to $4000. This doesn’t include a skydive, surf lessons or a scooteroo tour – and it’s very easy to go over the $20 a day budget for food and drink. $6000 plus is more realistic if you want to do everything and have a few boozy nights.
In contrast, you could road trip the distance, the petrol of which costs about $1000. Say there’s four of you travelling, the fuel costs then cost $250 each. You could free camp every night (difficult in towns and cities, but possible if you’re prepared to drive a bit), just enjoy the free attractions, not drink and have a daily budget of $10 on food. This way, you could travel from Melbourne to Cairns for under $1000.
All sorts of budgets are possible: it really depends on what you want to see and do.
I spent a fair amount on the east coast, but considerably less everywhere else in Australia. Here’s how much the other trips cost me:
Tasmania: $400 (4 of us splitting petrol, 3 weeks)
Melbourne to Perth: $600 (3 of us splitting petrol, 2 weeks)
Perth to Broome: $1100 (2 of us splitting petrol, 3 weeks)
Broome to Darwin: $400 (3 of us splitting petrol, 1.5 weeks)
Darwin to Adelaide: $1500 (2 of us splitting petrol, 3 weeks)
Adelaide to Cairns: $700 (just me paying for petrol! 1 week)
As you can see, it varies greatly, but both my road trips that cost over $1000 had reasons behind them: Perth to Broome because I paid $350 for a whale shark tour (which was worth every penny, by the way!) and Darwin to Adelaide because we paid for campsites rather than free camping and drank a lot more (my other road trip costs don’t include alcohol).
This is of course added to the cost of getting a car, paying for its registration etc OR hiring a car or van.
Check out my cost of travel in Australia post for more.
Where to stay in Australia
Hostels in Australia
When you’re backpacking Australia, hostels are a great option! Well, most are at least (coughyouthshackindarwinisnotcough). Many are roomy, clean and have great social areas. Most of them have pools, and they often include breakfast and/ or activities. Here’s some of my favourite hostels in Australia. Click through for information about each hostel, including pictures, full facilities, and rates.
Radeka DownUnder in Coober Pedy (mainly for the fact that the rooms are underground, and also it’s the only hostel in Coober Pedy so you’re not exactly spoilt for choice!)
Dingos in Rainbow Beach
There’s plenty of others, but I’d definitely advise checking some of these out for a fun atmosphere, great facilities and spacious dorms.
The only downside of hostels in Australia is that they’re expensive. They’re anything from $20-$50 (yep, that’s right, FIFTY smackers) for a night, and a lot of people just can’t afford that life. Spending a ridiculous amount of money on hostels is the main reason why a lot of people have to desperately seek work once they’ve finished the east coast!
Camping in Australia
If you’re buying or renting a car, you can camp for a lot less or even for free while backpacking Australia. I stayed in a lot of free campsites all over Australia, and they’re fantastic. They range from patches of grass in the middle of woods with absolutely no facilities to spots with BBQs, toilets and sometimes even showers.
They also range from places where, after it gets dark, every rustle sounds like serial killer – which makes you spend the evening wondering if you can remember anything from the karate class you took 5 years ago – to well-lit campsites with other people in where you actually feel secure.
But they have one thing in common: they’re FREE. If you’re interested in free camping in Australia, check out the below article for some great tips and tricks on finding campsites and staying safe.
Airbnbs in Australia
There are Airbnbs all over the country, ranging from entire houses to single rooms within a family home. They’re are a great option if there’s a few of you sharing – sometimes it can work out cheaper in hostels. They also work well if you’re prepared to stay in a room in someone’s home and share bathroom/ kitchen facilities. After a somewhat traumatizing hostel experience in Darwin’s Youth Shack, and faced with another week in the city, I chose a private Airbnb half an hour from central Darwin rather than stay in a hostel again. It worked out slightly pricier but was well worth it.
Couchsurfing in Australia
There’s plenty of people on couchsurfing as well. I couchsurfed a couple of times in Australia, both which went very well. As with everywhere, do your research, stay with verified people or people with lots of good reviews and make sure you let someone know where you are!
Meeting People While Backpacking Australia
Meeting people is super easy while backpacking Australia! Hostels generally have big common areas, events and activities to join in. You’ll make fast friends on any east coast tours, and if you’re road tripping, you’ll get chatting to people you meet in national parks and in campsites.
If you’ve never stayed in hostels before, the concept of literally chatting to anyone and everyone can be a bit strange. But it’s just the standard thing in hostels all over the world, especially if you’re staying in dorm rooms; everyone loves a chat.
There are also facebook groups where people often find travel mates. I’ve only really used these for information, but I see people talk about road trips etc all the time. Check out Australia Backpackers to get started – there are also groups specific to which city/ region you’re in.
Making friends here is pretty much a given, so don’t worry about meeting people at all, even if you’re backpacking Australia alone!
Australian cuisine isn’t the most exciting: it’s quite similar to British and American foods, although there are some amazing world food dishes, especially Asian foods given it’s proximity to Asia.
A lot of Australian food is meaty, which I’m not going to recommend here (side note: ‘vego’ is Australian for ‘vegetarian’). But some other Aussie classics to try are:
- Tim Tams
- Fairy Bread (bread with hundreds and thousands)
Vegetarian and Vegan eating
In the cities, and in touristy areas, Australia does vegetarian and vegan food pretty well. Woolworths and Coles – the main supermarkets – have great vegetarian sections (the macro burgers at Woolworths will change your life, trust me), and most restaurants have vegetarian options.
If your backpacking Australia trip takes you into the outback, it gets slightly more difficult for vegetarian options, and vegan options can verge on impossible. Of course, as long as you have access to a hostel kitchen and a camp stove, you can always make your own food; most towns in Australia will at least have an IGA (Independent Grocers of Australia), which are a nation-wide grocery store which are fairly widespread but do have a reputation for being rather pricey.
I ate at a couple of outback pubs where there wasn’t anything vegetarian on the menu and I had to be creative. Most of these joints will serve chips and salad, and while they can be very meat orientated most people will happily adapt a menu to your taste.
I’d say that being vegetarian all over Australia is possible as long as you’re not fussy. Being vegan can be a bit of a struggle, but as long as you’re prepared to just eat chips some days, you’ll be all good.
Australia is interesting where alcohol is concerned. There is a huge drinking culture in Australia; but it’s also quite regulated.
When you’re backpacking in Australia, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to drink. Towns like Cairns and Darwin are party places, with heaps of backpacker bars – often with great drinks deals.
In fact, you won’t be too far from somewhere selling ice cold beer or a bag of goon (I’ll get to that later) anywhere down the east coast – but once you cross the border into New South Wales, you’ll be subject to their strict lock out laws.
These entail that you can’t purchase double drinks, no shots after a certain time and most bars and clubs close at one. This means that if you leave you can’t re-enter, as well! Because of this, drinking culture in New South Wales is either much more day-orientated OR in the night it’s taken somewhere other than clubs.
Beach parties are popular all over Australia, with backpackers and Australians alike, and if you haven’t been to a “bush doof” some people will consider you not a true Australia traveler. (I never made it to one, so I’m not sure if I should even be writing this Australia backpacking guide!). Bush doofs are parties in the ‘bush’ (which in Australia is anywhere inland of the sea that’s not the outback) and they’re like mini-festivals.
Like I say, I never made it to one (I had a cleaning job in Byron Bay that meant I had to work every Saturday and Sunday morning which was cruelness beyond belief), but I’ve heard magical stories of face paint, camping in woodland, and lots of music that goes ‘doof’.
Typically, alcohol is quite expensive in Australia. A 6 pack of beers from the bottleo (which means ‘bottle shop’ in Australian!) costs around $20, the cheapest of cheap wines costs about $5 (but it will give you severe heartburn and/or night terrors – be warned) and a half decent bottle costs $10-$20. You’ll have to think about remortgaging your house if you want to drink spirits; a 70cl bottle will set you back around $40.
I couldn’t have a guide to backpacking Australia without mentioning magical goon. You have to try this drink, which is fundamentally boxed wine, at least once when you’re travelling in Australia; and for many, once is more than enough. The reason so many people drink goon is that it’s ridiculously cheap; $8-$12 for 3 or 4 liters, and the reason why it’s so cheap is because it’s absolutely vile.
Mixed with lemonade or juice, it can be marginally palatable, but it’s definitely only to be drunk in times of emergency (eg. When you’ve spent all your money on a Whitsundays tour but really want to go out in Airlie Beach the night before).
The cost of alcohol in bars really ranges depending on where you are and how many other bars are around; a pint of beer can cost anything from $5-$12 and a glass of wine $7-$14. If you’re after cocktails, be prepared to pay $10- $15.
Top tip: RSLs are present in smaller towns in the eastern states. They’re pretty old-style pubs and aren’t visited very often by backpackers – but drinks there are as cheap as they come.
Is Australia safe?
This is one of the most asked questions about backpacking Australia. In contrast to most places, travelers to Australia aren’t worried about social danger; it’s the wildlife.
I’m not going to tell you that the stories about Australia having dangerous wildlife are lies. There’s so much that can kill you here. But it’s highly unlikely that you will get killed by one, because although many animals can kill you, hardly any of them want to kill you.
I travelled in Australia for a year and a half, and in that time I lived in a tent with a broken zip in the middle of the jungle in an area that is known for snakes, and… I saw loads of them. One even made it into the lining of my tent! But I was never bitten by one because snakes are nearly always non-aggressive; the overwhelming majority of snake bites occur because someone thinks they’re clever enough to pick them up.
If you see a snake in Australia, don’t pick it up, step on it, or get ridiculously close to it, and you’ll be fine. Snakes don’t want to bite humans. It takes a lot of energy for them and they will only do it if they think they need self-defence.
If you’re camping, use a flashlight at night and zip your tent up properly, and you’ll be all good.
I saw tons of snakes in Australia; but I spent hardly any time in the cities, I drove through the outback and I bushwalked and camped all over the country. I know people who spent a year there and didn’t see one snake.
Spiders are commonplace in Australia, and there are some nasty ones. Red back and white tipped spiders can all give a venomous bite, which does have the potential to be fatal.
But these spiders aren’t around everywhere and they also only bite if they feel threatened – and the majority of spiders you see will be non-venomous.
Also, there has only been one death from a spider bite in Australia since 1979 because the anti venom is that good. So if you’re bit, rush to the hospital, and you’ll be ‘ite.
Australia gets a lot of bad rep for its shark attacks – although there isn’t really any more danger here than in other countries with significant coastlines.
Shark attacks do sometimes happen, and they do tend to attack surfers (because they think they are seals), but more often than not, they’ll take a bite, decide they don’t fancy human that day, and move on. Although shark attacks do happen, they’re still rare – an average of 2 people die in shark attacks each year in Australia. Here’s a list of things that you’re more likely to die in, in Australia and worldwide.
Oh also, not all sharks are dangerous. I swam with three types of sharks during my time in Australia: leopard sharks, whale sharks and woebbegong sharks. Leopards and whales don’t have teeth; and even though whales are huge and have colossal mouths. they are filter feeders and their throat is the size of an orange. So don’t worry, they won’t gobble you up. Wobbegong sharks do have teeth, but they are only aggressive if they feel threatened.
This is the Australian animal that I am terrified of. Saltwater crocodiles are clever, strong, and like to eat humans. They can be found in watering holes, lakes, rivers and the sea in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia and Queensland.
Despite crocodiles being a threat in northern Australia, the situation is so effectively managed that if you listen to the signs and advisories, you’ll be safe. There are NO SWIMMING signs everywhere where there are known to be crocs. Obviously to stay safe, don’t swim in these.
Popular swimming holes often have ‘there could be saltwater crocs’ signs. And yep, there could be – enter at your own risk. Most likely there won’t be, in fact there’s probably a 0.001% chance that there won’t be, especially if the swimming hole has lots of people in already – but there are a lot of places where they can’t be sure. I swam in a few of these in northern Australia, but very gingerly.
Some swimming spots will have ‘freshwater crocs’ signs. Freshwater crocodiles are a different breed, and are typically shy and reserved, only attacking if they feel threatened, and will generally hide if they see a human. Their bites can be nasty, but they most likely won’t bother you.
Don’t ignore the warnings about crocodiles – but also, don’t let it ruin your time in Australia.
Probably the most dangerous animal in Australia, box jellyfish can inject a nasty sting into swimmers and are present in the northern waters of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland from October to May. It’s advised not to go in the sea at this time without a stinger suit.
Bet you didn’t think these jumping joys would make the list of Australia’s most dangerous animals? Just for a bit of perspective, if you’re driving through Australia, probably the animal that will put you in most danger is the humble kangaroo. At night, they are attracted to headlights and will jump out in front of cars. A big kangaroo can do a huge amount of damage to a car – and often, to yourself too. My two scariest wildlife incidents in Australia were due to kangaroos – both because I was silly and driving at night and nearly hit one (luckily the car stopped in time in both instances). To minimize these risks, stay off the roads at night!
Other dangers in Australia
While backpacking Australia, you might notice that the sun is harsh. To be honest, the biggest danger you probably face during your whole time backpacking in Australia is long exposure to the sun causing skin cancer. So wear high factor sun cream and spend time in the shade. The heat of Australia can also cause intense dehydration – in the tropics, I was drinking about 6 litres of water a day.
Driving in the Outback
Driving in the outback is often not for the faint-hearted. The roads in these parts of the world are long, often very straight, and barren. This means driver fatigue is common, which can cause nasty accidents. If you’re planning on driving in the outback, take it steady, take breaks often, play ‘I spy’ with your car mates (although this game can get boring when every entry is ‘o’ – ‘outback’) or blast some tunes. Driver fatigue kills, and it’s not something to be taken lightly.
I touched on driving at night before when I mentioned kangaroos, but let me state again – if you want to keep your car in one piece, don’t do it. There’s all sorts of funky animals by the side of the road in the outback; coming out of Canarvon in Western Australia, we saw a huge feral pig, which was about half the size of my car. I’ve also seen cows, horses, goats, kangaroos, koalas and emus just by the side of the road. I almost never drove in rural areas at night, but the two times I did do it, I had a near miss with a kangaroo.
At night, you can see less and animals tend to move about more due to the cooler temperatures. And some animals, like kangaroos are attracted to the lights. Just don’t drive at night – it’s not worth it.
Being Kidnapped, Wolf Creek Style
Just joking… there are some haunting tales about the Australian outback, but they aren’t common dangers.
That being said, keep yer wits about you, don’t stay anywhere you feel unsafe, and don’t get into anyone who looks like a mass-murderers car, and you should be able to avoid this trouble!
Staying Connected while backpacking Australia
WiFi isn’t great in Australia. Sometimes, you’ll check into a hostel where Netflix can be streamed, or you’ll visit a café that’s good enough to use the internet without wanting to throw your soy cappuccino up the wall, but it’s rare.
SO, I’d recommend you get a portable WiFi hotspot or at the very least, a Telstra mobile plan. You can then hotspot your phone to your computer if needed.
Telstra plans start at around $20 per month. I paid $40 for 6 GB of data, unlimited calls to Australia and to international numbers from various countries (including the UK) and unlimited messages. Another option is to use an application like Ievaphone to make free international calls.
If you want to venture to some less explored places, including pretty much the entire west coast, most of the centre, the Nullarbor and some less touristy spots on the east coast, go for Telstra rather than Optus or Vodaphone – it’s the only network provider with semi-decent coverage.
If you’re going really off the beaten track, be prepared to have no signal even with Telstra.
Australia’s got the perception of being a ‘new’ country, but really, it’s been the home of Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years.
To put it bluntly: the Aboriginal people had their land cruelly taken from them. In the process, many of them were murdered, children were taken from their families and European settlers attempted to eradicate their culture.
I feel passionate about backpackers in Australia being aware of this. A lot of people think that this was so long ago it doesn’t need to be addressed any more, but attitudes within Australia can still be incredibly racist towards its natives, and this needs to stop.
Additionally, Aboriginal culture is the oldest in the world – they’ve been around for over 60,000 years – and it’s a beautiful culture worth preserving and knowing about.
Visit Australia, enjoy the landscapes, see the cities, and take part in adrenalin boosting activities, by all means, but I think it’s every traveller to Australia’s duty to pay some respect to its original people.
This can be shown by:
- Calling national parks and sacred sites by their Aboriginal names – most people know that the Aboriginal people succeeded in reclaiming the official name Uluru for Ayres Rock, but nearly every westernized name will have an Aboriginal name attached to it. They are sometimes hard to remember, but making an effort to learn some of them shows a lot of respect!
- Not abusing sacred sites – the most common example of this is again, Uluru, which people climb although they really shouldn’t. Read why here.
- Visiting cultural centres and museums to learn about the Indigenous population.
- Going on indigenous tours, which are often led by Aboriginal people.
- Reading literature about the Aboriginal culture and educating yourself on the genocide. Great books to read are: Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence and Survival in Our Own Land.
- Listening to music on the topic, both by Aboriginal people and by white Australians. Some examples of Aboriginal bands or bands that sing about Aboriginal culture are Midnight Oil and Yothu Yindi.
- Talking to Aboriginal people – it’s pretty simple, but so many people don’t do it. Aboriginal people will often greet to groups of travellers, and just by saying hello back, a conversation is often started. On the whole, Aboriginal people are friendly people who are both interested in traveller’s stories and keen to talk about their unique culture.
- Not celebrating Australia day. For Aboriginal people, the day marks the beginning of the genocide and I think it’s wrong that it’s celebrated then. Read more about why the date should be changed here.
Essential Items to Bring When Backpacking Australia
Your Australia packing list varies depending on where in the country you are visiting and when your Australia travel is taking place. Generally, you’ll want summer clothes; but in the south in the winter more layers, and in certain places winter wear will be needed.
I’ll be writing up a full list of things to bring to Australia, but here’s some ideas for essentials:
- Lonely Planet Australia Guidebook
- Water to Go Bottle – the tap water is drinkable in most places in Australia, but in remote locations and in national parks they often recommend water be treated before drinking
- Suncream – lots of it
- A kindle – for all those long journeys around the huge country~
- A GoPro – to capture all the adventure on camera
- An unlocked smartphone like a BLU Vivo – to add your Telstra SIM into
Australia Experiences: My Top 10
After a year and a half, 30,000 kilometres drove, countless national parks explored, about a hundred beaches visited, and dozens of spectacular sunsets seen, it’s near impossible to pick just 10 top experiences. In fact, I’m compiling 100 of my top experiences in an ultimate Australian bucket list (check back for this – it will be live soon!). But, after careful consideration, here are my top 10 Australia experiences:
- Driving up the Gibb River Road
- Exploring the gorges of Karijini National Park
- Swimming with whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef
- Driving through Kakadu National Park – one of the best tours from Darwin
- Being amazed at the almighty Uluru
- Wandering through the rainforest at the Daintree National Park
- Driving through New South Wales’ magical hinterland
- Four-wheel-driving on the Great Barrier Reef
- Snorkelling around the Whitsunday Islands
- Seeing the Great Australian Bight on the Nullarbor Plain
Australia is a fantastic country that’s got heaps to offer backpackers. I hope this backpacking Australia guide satiated some of your wanderlust for the island country while also answering some necessary questions! If there is anything I haven’t covered, please let me know. I want this to be an ultimate resource for anyone planning their Australia travel and will keep updating it as necessary. You can contact me on email or over on facebook.
Please share this guide to backpacking Australia with anyone who might find it useful!
I’ll be pinning ’til the sun goes down…