Our itinerary for backpacking Australia takes in six states, all the main cities, the best beaches, idyllic islands and loads of nature. It’s one of the safest destinations for first time backpackers with high class facilities and English as the main language. There’s a fairly well established Oz backpacker trail although more adventurous types won’t struggle to get off the beaten track given the size of the place. Read on for our suggested three month Australia backpacking route which you can easily shorten and pick sections of if you have less time.
Table of Contents
- Backpacking Australia – A 2-3 Month Itinerary
- 1. Cairns
- 2. Townsville & Magnetic Island
- 3. Airlie Beach (gateway to the Whitsundays)
- 4. Agnes Water
- 5. Hervey Bay (for Fraser Island)
- 6. Noosa (Sunshine coast)
- 7. Brisbane
- 8. Gold Coast (Surfers Paradise)
- 9. Byron Bay
- 10. Nimbin
- 11. Sydney
- 12. Melbourne
- 13. Great Ocean Road
- 14. Kangaroo Island
- 15. Adelaide
- 16. Uluru (Ayers Rock)
- 17. Alice Springs
- 18. Perth
- Australia Map & Itinerary Overview
Backpacking Australia – Route Info
TIME NEEDED – 2-3 MONTHS
The typical time for a backpacking trip around Australia might be in the region of 2 to 3 months. The route outlined below should fit that time-frame, although many travellers also turn a backpacking trip to Australia into a working holiday and stay for much longer.
POSSIBLE BUDGET: £5400 €6100 $6000
This is based on prices and exchange rates at the time of writing and works out at just over 9000 Australian Dollars but doesn’t include flights to Australia which can obviously be very expensive. It will obviously depend on your style of travel but Australia is an expensive country and even by staying in the largest dorms and taking the cheapest transport options, you will struggle to get by on much less than this.
Read more on the cost of travel in Australia for a look at sample prices and typical backpacking budgets in the country.
TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR BACKPACKERS IN AUSTRALIA
The cost of travel insurance isn’t included in the budget figures above. You can get a quote in less than a minute from Heymondo who provide well reviewed travel insurance for backpacking Australia.
Note that you will want to consider which “high risk” adventure sports and activities are covered as these are popular in Oz. If you think you may require more extensive coverage, this rundown of the best travel insurance companies for backpackers may help.
AUSTRALIA BACKPACKING JOBS & WORK EXCHANGES
One way to save money and potentially learn a few new skills whilst travelling in Oz is to look for work exchanges or short-term jobs. Sign up to Worldpackers to get access to work exchanges in Australia. You can get $10 off the annual membership fee by using the Worldpackers promo code “MYFUNKYTRAVELWP”.
We also have a section on work and travel which you may find useful.
Backpacking Australia – A 2-3 Month Itinerary
It may be a city and quite a decent one at that but Cairns is primarily a base for exploring some of nature’s great wonders. This is the best spot to check out the Great Barrier Reef, one of our ten once in a lifetime trips with plenty of scuba-diving options available for you to get close up to the coral. Thrill seekers will enjoy the opportunity to bungee-jump or sky-dive while the Wet Tropics Rainforest is another essential visit.
2. Townsville & Magnetic Island
Sparsely populated Magnetic Island is reachable from Townsville. It’s good for jet skiing, bush walks and boozy nights and is Australia’s best destination for full moon parties. A very popular stop for party-loving independent travellers or those on an Australia backpacking tour. Things have been a lot quieter here in recent years due to the pandemic but should liven up in 2023 and beyond as backpackers return to Australia in larger numbers once more.
3. Airlie Beach (gateway to the Whitsundays)
Airlie Beach is another of the best places to backpack in Australia with a very chilled out vibe in the day but also plenty of nightlife options with parties going on well into the small hours. The Whitsundays are gorgeous and are made up of 74 stunning islands. Don’t be surprised if you end up spending longer than you planned here!
4. Agnes Water
This was the site of the original landing spot of Captain Cook in 1770 which was effectively year 0 for Australia as we know it today. It’s a nice spot to relax on the beach and read up on a bit of history at the Agnes Water Museum which documents the life of Cook and his voyages.
5. Hervey Bay (for Fraser Island)
From late July to early November, Hervey Bay is a fantastic place to spot some whales. The other main reason to visit is to access Fraser Island and the southern Great Barrier Reef. Fraser Island is 120 km long and with a mild year-round climate and lots of beautiful scenery including crystal lakes and endless beaches, it’s a great place for camping out for a few days. Swimming isn’t recommended though due to dangerous tides and lots of hungry sharks.
6. Noosa (Sunshine coast)
Yet more glorious long sandy beaches and nearby national parks make Noosa another popular stop with backpackers in Australia. Make it to the Glasshouse Mountains and you will get a terrific panoramic view of the whole Sunshine Coast.
City lovers rejoice as this is the capital of Australia’s sunshine state and a good chance to stock up on anything you need at the 700+ stores in the city’s central shopping mall. It’s a lively city famed for its live music and large numbers of bars and clubs. With a relaxed riverside location, Australia’s third largest and fastest growing city generally leaves a positive impression on visitors and it has been chosen as the host of the 2032 Olympic Games.
8. Gold Coast (Surfers Paradise)
Just south of Brisbane is Gold Coast, a city of around 500,000 people based as the name would suggest on the coast. Surfers Paradise is its touristy hub with an array of high rise structures, late night venues (some very seedy) and lots of drunk people. It’s a popular destination with Australian teens celebrating the end of high school. You’ll either love it or hate it.
9. Byron Bay
A relaxing beach setting and another essential stop for anyone solo backpacking Australia. Byron Bay is a popular place to learn to surf while you can also kayak alongside dolphins and even do a bit of skydiving if that’s your thing. Note that doing lots of these kinds of extra activities will quickly eat into your budget. Consider allowing a bit more than the suggested figures at the top of the page if that’s your plan.
The next stop on our Australia backpacking route is Nimbin which has gained a reputation as a bit of a hippy town and it’s a nice inland spot if you’re getting a bit sick of the whole beach thing. It can be visited on its own or on a day-trip from Byron Bay. The nearby Nightcap national park is home to an array of peaks, waterfalls and wildlife.
One of the most easily recognisable cities in the world thanks to the iconic Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Its setting is one of the best of any major city in the world and a boat trip or water-taxi in and around the Darling Harbour area is a must.
You could easily spend up to a week in Sydney exploring its different districts and just getting a feel for what life is like for locals and the thousands of foreigners who have made this their home. There are ways to experience culture in Sydney on a budget too, although prices are certainly high here.
With a distinctly different vibe from Sydney, Melbourne is less brash and maintains a European cultural vibe with plenty of quaint remnants of Britain. Melbourne is viewed by some as the sports capital of the world, with sports mad residents and major international events such as the Australian Open Tennis and Formula 1 taking place in the city as well as numerous teams in Australia’s sports leagues. There are also enough museums, galleries and theatres to entertain culture vultures while the multicultural population serves up a range of different cuisines.
Some of the best hostels in Melbourne are also good places to meet other travellers and perhaps make plans for a longer venture west. Options for trips out of town include a visit to Phillip Island where you can see the nightly penguin parade.
13. Great Ocean Road
This 150 mile stretch of road that runs west from Melbourne features numerous points that are worth short visits but perhaps not overnight stays. These include traditional fishing villages, surfer beaches, lush rainforests and the bizarre cliff formation of the 12 Apostles.
For those backpacking Australia on a tighter budget or heading on to a New Zealand backpacking route, this may be a logical point to end your trip having seen the main cities and more than enough of Australia’s golden coastline. However for travellers who want the full Australian experience, the route continues through South Australia into the wilderness of Northern Territory before finishing in the Western Australian city of Perth. Get ready for some long (and expensive) journeys.
14. Kangaroo Island
A large island off the coast of Southern Australia home to an abundance of wildlife including – you guessed it – kangaroos! It’s a very scenic place and has a few different settlements so pick one and base yourself there for a few days whilst getting out and exploring the many nature reserves.
Adelaide is the capital of otherwise sparsely populated South Australia. It’s the fifth largest city in the country and although it might not have as much going for it as some of the other big ones it makes for a nice stop for a couple of days to break up the journey. This is also a big wine producing area so vineyard visits are popular.
The trip from here to Northern territory is also very long but you can break it up by visiting one of the many mining communities for a perspective on a less glamorous side to Australia which isn’t all about sun, sea and surfing.
16. Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Ayers Rock is a giant lump of earth in the middle of the world’s largest island. For some it’s an amazing sight, but non-rock lovers may end up moaning about the distance and time it takes to get here (although it does now have its own airport). It is found in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park which contains a couple of other sites that are considered sacred by Aborigines. You will have to stay outside the park though probably at the nearby resort of Yulara where camping is possible. It is also worth noting that climbing the rock is strongly discouraged by the local community.
17. Alice Springs
There is a sense of achievement for anyone who reaches Alice Springs. Most people have heard the name but given that it is 1200 km from the ocean and 1500 km from the nearest city, relatively few make the long trip here. Alice Springs is a base for exploring the surrounding outback and learning about the extensive indigenous history in these parts.
Unless you have a sadistic love of coach journeys that last days then you will probably need to fly from Alice Springs to Perth but unfortunately there are no direct connections at the time of writing. Therefore it can set you back as much as 500 AUD to reach the city by air and anyone primarily focused on an doing an East Coast Australia backpacking route will need to consider whether it is really worth the cost and effort of heading this far west.
Perth is a large but relaxed place and incredibly isolated from the rest of the county’s urban areas. Days can be spent on the beach, cycling around the city or visiting nearby nature reserves. At night, enjoy a drink in one of the many pubs or delve into the indie or drum and bass music scenes.
On a slightly more positive note, as the westernmost city in Australia, ending in Perth will probably make your onward journey or trip home a fraction shorter and many major international airlines do fly in and out of the city. If you are planning on visiting New Zealand after Australia, it may be more sensible to do this trip in reverse and start in Perth before ending in Cairns.
Australia Map & Itinerary Overview
The map corresponds to the destinations listed above starting in Cairns and travelling south along Australia’s Pacific Coast before darting west across the country to end up in Perth. You can of course do the trip in reverse. If you’re pushed for times or funds, consider just doing Cairns to Melbourne or vice-versa.
Australia Backpacking Route – How long to spend in each place?
|Townsville & Magnetic Island
|Airlie Beach & Whitsundays
|Hervey Bay & Fraser Island
|Noosa & Sunshine Coast
|Great Ocean Road
|Uluru (Ayers Rock)
The above is just a guideline and you can easily tailor it to your own interest levels. For those with a bit less time looking to do a 2 month Australia itinerary without rushing, consider following the route above but ending at the Great Ocean Road just south of Melbourne where you can backtrack to for a flight home.
The entire route may make for a nice 3 month Australia itinerary and would still give you a bit of leeway to stay longer in certain places you really like. If you do make it all the way to Perth, it’s worth noting that several days will be lost to just travelling from A to B so factor that in when planning your travels. Those with more than three months in the country, will be able to get off the beaten path a bit and discover some of the more unusual things to see in Australia.
In terms of combining backpacking in Australia with other countries in the region, New Zealand and Fiji are the most obvious options. The northern part of the country, where this route starts is very close to Indonesia and therefore it’d be easy to combine this with our backpacking route for Indonesia. There are loads of flights to/from Bali from all over Australia so it would link in nicely and would provide a bit of a contrast to your trip.
If you follow this route right through to Perth, you could consider flying on to South Africa or one of the East African countries such as Kenya. This would be a nice option, particularly for anyone who is doing a round-the-world trip and eventually flying home to Europe or North America. Alternatively you could fly back via Southeast Asia or take on our India backpacking route.
This Australia itinerary was last updated in September 2022.