Travel tips for Down Under

Australia had never been one of our dream destinations, but put simply, it was in the way of us getting to New Zealand. When we heard about Australia the image that was conjured in our minds was a red dusty land of emptiness with scorching sun and kangaroos. The planning stages revealed that there was a lot more to see, and we began to get excited about hiking through canyons, exploring rainforest and meeting marsupials.

While travelling in Australia, we spent 2 weeks volunteering and another 2 weeks staying with friends, which significantly reduced our costs (thanks friends!) Over 89 days, we spent £4700. Of that sum, we spent 24% on accommodation, 24% on food, 32% on transport and 20% on activities.

Visas
Luckily for us, a 3 month tourist visa is free for most Europeans and after 10 minutes of form filling online, we were both approved. There’s no need to print the confirmation but it’s worth keeping somewhere safe.

Money

Australia’s currency is the Australian dollar which was hovering around AU$1.75 to £1 when we visited. We found that many banks charged fees from $2-6 for withdrawing cash but Nab bank did not so we tended to use them.

Getting Around

Many people underestimate the size of Australia and just how long it takes to get about. At the same size as continental Europe, it can take days rather than hours to get somewhere. We opted for a mixture of bus travel and car hire as this allowed us the flexibility that buses alone did not.

On the west coast, campervan hire was our best option for a 3500 km drive, and even around Perth there was not much public transport to visit the region. We managed to get to Fremantle by train but visiting the wine region of Margaret river proved too complicated by public transport. So really your options are organised tours or car hire.

On the east coast we could depend upon the well established backpacker network of Greyhound buses. They aren’t the only bus company running routes along the east coast but they do have the most services per day even in winter. We opted for discounted Whimit 45 day passes (20% off; a special offer on the Greyhound website), which did pay off and gave us the flexibility we needed. It is well worth checking if you will be travelling enough to make a pass worth it.

Accommodation

Accommodation in Australia was a little shocking after our months in Asia. We stayed in a lot of hostels since double rooms often started at AU$120 and hostel beds averaged $28 per night. The hostels varied in standards, but the better ones were worth a couple of extra dollars a night for the free food, board hire and other activities. We got Hostels Australia cards for free and this gave us a $3 per night for hostels belonging to the group. We booked these hostels through their own website. Going through agents like booking.com makes it difficult to apply the discount.

Food

Food in Australia is tasty and good value for money. We ate out a lot less than in Asia, but when we did we were always content and stuffed. There is a great food and coffee scene with Asian cuisine generally being at the cheaper end and fish and chips being reasonable. An average coffee AU$4 and a main was AU$25. We mostly cooked for ourselves and found most of the groceries comparable to at home. Australia imports some fruit and vegetables but mainly produces its own so certain foods like cucumbers or berries were extortionate.

Australians love craft beer which means hoppy brews are always quite expensive. International lagers are sometimes cheaper. Most off the time wine gets you more booze for the buck. We found mid-range goons (wine cartons) to be best value. Travellers like to complain about the quality, but go one price step up and it is definitely drinkable

Activities

There are so many things to do in Australia, and it is very easy to be drawn towards the ‘must see’ places and do the ‘must do’ activities, but these often come with a hefty price tag. It is easy to fritter away AU$750 sailing the Whitsundays and visiting K’gari (Fraser Island, AU$500), but it is probably better to decide what you really want to do. We missed out on the great barrier reef and Whitsundays but we have no regrets about not spending days on buses as we did other things which we loved. Our highlights were:

  • Hiking in Lamington National Park
  • Camping and exploring K’gari
  • Snorkelling on the Ningaloo reef
  • Learning to surf in Byron Bay

Our Verdict

Australia is an awesome country with laid back lifestyle, and you could spend years exploring every corner of this huge land mass (many retired Australians do that). We recommend choosing two or three regions and exploring them in depth unless yiu have a working holiday visa. This way you get to see more, do more and avoid travelling large distances regularly. The only thing we missed was a real sense of culture and history, but we suspect Australia does have this if you travel into the Northern Territory and experience the traditional aboriginal culture.

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