Guide to backpacker travel in Australia

 

Visas

All visitors except holders of Australian and New Zealand passports require either a visa or an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) before entering Australia. New Zealand citizens are issued with a visa on arrival in Australia.

Passport holders of most European countries can apply online for an eVisitor visa.  These visas are free.  Check your eligibility for an eVisitor visa HERE 

Passport holders from the USA, Canada, Singapore and many other countries can apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA).  These visas have a $20 application fee.  Check your eligibility for an ETA HERE Note that passport holders from a small number of countries including USA, Canada and Singapore can apply for an ETA on line.

Many European passport holders are eligible for either an eVisitor or ETA.  If you apply through a travel agent, you will receive an ETA.  If you apply online, according to the government website you should apply for an eVisitor visa.

To determine what visa you need and to find links to online applications for eVisitor and ETA, use the government's Visa Wizard HERE

For full, detailed and up to date information on visas and visiting Australia see the official web site HERE 

This website also has information on Working Holiday visas.

 

Highlights travelling in Australia

There are so many highlights, it’s difficult to list them all but some of the main sights to make sure you see while you’re travelling in Australia are: Ayres Rock (Uluru), Sydney Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach, Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, Cape Tribulation, Great Ocean Road, Uluru, Ningaloo Reef , Gibb River Road, Kimberleys,  Lady Musgrave Island, Lady Elliott Island  and not to mention a thousand more.  

 

Gap travel you can do in Australia

Australia has so much to offer anyone that decides to travel over there. You can volunteer, get paid work, attend a sports academy, do adventure travel or simply travel and explore on a gap year.

Typical jobs don’t just include fruit picking anymore, there’s a whole range of jobs in Australia available for backpackers to do.

 

Best time of year to travel to Australia

Australia is so vast the temperature not only varies according to the time of year but to the part of the country you’re travelling in. The red centre, including Ayers Rock is hot and dry for most of the year, while it may be best to avoid visiting north Queensland and the Northern Territory between December and February if one does not cope well with higher humidity. The days in southeast Australia (cities such as Melbourne) are much shorter in winter (although still longer than in London Uk in February) so spring, autumn or summer may be a preferable time to visit if one is not a skier (nearest resorts are approximately 150 kilometres from Melbourne.)

 

Where to stay in Australia

A hostel is probably the best place to stay while your travelling in Australia. They’re loads of them, they’re great value and you’re likely to make loads to friends to continue your travels around Australia with. 

Just about every town has a backpacker hostel or two.  Just Google "backpacker" and the town name for results.

The Youth Hostel Association has hostels in may locations. The YHA's on-line magazine Backpacker Essentials is full of useful information for backpackers.

 

Stopping off on the way to Australia

Or on the way back – if you come back! Why not make the most of travelling all that way and break up the journey. You could stop off in Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, Bangkok, USA, Fiji or New Zealand.

 

Saving money at the airport

The first shock of the cost of Australia is the trip from the airport to the hostel. Expect to pay $15 to $20 for a 20 minute bus or train ride, but there are local public transport options available in most cities (such as the bus route 901/ Metro train combination in Melbourne) to reduce the cost of travelling between airports and accommodation.  Greenbus has created a very informative comparison of the various costs and less well known money saving options for the major airports in Australia.  

 

What to take with you to Australia

To give you a rough idea of what to take with you when travelling in Australia, you’ll need to think about the following.

Lightweight clothing – it is hot and sunny in a lot of places for most of the year so shorts and t-shirts will be the staple. Flips flops or thongs are comfortable, cool and versatile.

Waterproofs – just in case you’re up North in the wet season or for when the occasional spot of rain does come down.

Travel adapter – in Australia they don’t use the same plugs so if you’re taking electrical items with you like a hairdryer or phone charger, you’ll need an adapter.

Prepaid Australian SIM card - to be able to make international and local calls, browse the internet and send texts in Australia.  Info on various options here.

Sunblock and insect repellant is an absolute must!

 

Long bus and train trips

All major cities have local bus and rail networks, while there are trams or light rail in Melbourne (the world's most extensive network), Sydney, Adelaide and the Gold Coast with Sydney having an extensive ferry network and Brisbane and Perth with some ferries. Public transport smartcards are now in use in all major cities but fare conditions vary between capital cities.  A day pass, if available, can be economical.

Country towns usually also have a local rail or in some cases bus or road coach connection to the nearest city.

Major rail operators include:

www.nswtrainlink.info (operates the XPT train between Sydney and Melbourne, and Sydney and Brisbane, and XPT and XPlorer trains to a host of NSW provincial cities and rural railway stations);  

www.vline.com.au (has a huge network of frequent trains and road coaches in Victoria but which extends to Canberra, Adelaide, Griffith and Mt Gambier);

www.qr.com.au (long distance trains in Queensland that beat the bus for comfort) and

www.transwa. wa.gov.au (trains in WA to Bunbury and Kalgoorlie as well as extensive road coaches.)

Major interstate bus companies include:

  • Greyhound, which operates throughout Australia, has a hop on/hop off pass system which is useful for backpackers.
  • Premier Bus, which operates mainly on the east coast.
Both have reduced their networks in recent years and are considered by many as a second best alternative to more comfortable trains where the modes compete.

Byron Bay has a daily bus connection from Brisbane operated by Brisbane 2 Byron as well as www.nswtrainlink.info daily coaches that connect to trains along the main north coast line for trips down to Sydney.

Bus and train travel can still be competitive (pricewise) with air travel if you are visiting many smaller destinations. Simply getting to and from most airports can be time consuming and expensive, whereas most trains and buses drop you off in the city centre. If you travel overnight you may not get a fantastic sleep, although trains are easier to sleep on than buses, but you save on accommodation.

No smoking is allowed on trains and buses. If you are caught trying to smoke you will be removed. Coach drivers have been known to detour to the nearest police station to rid the bus of trouble-makers while train conductors may call the police at stations like Cootamundra in NSW.

You can bring your own food for the journey that can save money, as well as ensure you have something light and healthy to eat. Trains will have food and in most cases drinks including alcohol available for purchase on board and road coaches make regular meal stops, but you may find choices are limited.  If you bring your own sandwiches, muesli bars, fruit and water you might find the meal breaks are a good chance to go for a walk to stretch your legs and meet people instead.

Rail and road coach trips between state capitals can take up to 24 hours (or longer to Perth, with the Indian Pacific train operated by www.gsr.com.au now the only regular public transport surface travel option across the Nullabor - it is years since Greyhound operated between Adelaide and Perth.) If you have never been on a long rail or road coach journey before, consider limiting  your first leg to 12 or 24 hours in a row, just to see how you cope. 

 

Campervans

Another way to explore is by campervan. Campervans vary in sizes but usually could take 2-6 people. Generally includes bedding, a mini kitchen and even a toilet and shower. As with car travel, buying a vehicle may be preferable to renting for very long journeys.

  Popular campervan routes are:

  1. Melbourne to Sydney
  2. Adelaide to Darwin
  3. Perth to Adelaide
  4. Sydney to Adelaide
  5. Cairns to Darwin and
  6. Port Hedland to Perth