Backpacking Australia is a right of passage for backpackers – the Sydney to Cairns route is one of the most popular travel trails in the world – and with over 2,400km to cover there’s a lot of things to take into account when planning a trip there!
So if you’re busy planning your backpacking Australia trip here’s everything you need to know – click on the links for more in depth posts and to check out some of the trips and tours I recommend!
Backpacking Australia – Everything You Need To Know
Sydney to Cairns or Cairns to Sydney?
One of the most common questions I get asked about the East Coast of Australia is which way around should you travel – Sydney to Cairns or Cairns to Sydney?
Well to be honest there are a few main things you should keep in mind when planning which way around to travel the East Coast of Australia;
- Time of year
- Travel time
- Onward travels
- Key dates/events
1. Time of Year
I’m guessing you’re heading to Australia to make the best of the sunshine and beaches, so you’ll want to be following the best of the weather!
Despite what you think that Aussie winter (May > August) can get quite cold down in spots like Sydney and Melbourne, so ideally you’ll want to hit those up in the warmest months you’re there.
So if you land in March I’d say start at the bottom and work up, whereas if you land in August you’ll be best off starting in Cairns and working your way down as the southern parts of the country warm up
2. Travel Time
Along with the time of year you’re travelling the amount of time you’re spending on the East Coast will play a part too.
If you’ve only got 3 weeks then it’s not going to make a huge difference which way around you go weather wise.
One the other hand if you have 3-4 months then it’s going to play a big part as the weather will definitely be changing a lot, so keep that in mind alongside your time of year.
3. Onward Travel
I know you’re planning Australia at the moment, but where are you heading next? It’s worth looking into onward flights as Cairns and Sydney offer different options, airlines and routes.
If you’re flying into Australia on a return ticket you can also do what’s call and open jaw flight – where you fly into one destination and out of another on the same ticket. It’s worth comparing that with a standard return to see if it saves you any money (both ways around) and that might decide your trip for you.
With this its worth keeping in mind low cost airlines like JetStar and Virgin Australia offer cheap flight between Sydney and Cairns so it may also be worth flying between the two for your onward flight as well depending on the prices.
4. Key Dates/Events
Big dates like NYE in Sydney, festivals like Bluesfest in Byron Bay or a birthday might also impact where you start your trip. There’s no point starting in Cairns on Dec 20th if you want to be in Sydney for New Year is there?
Grab a calendar and mark in key dates you want to be places and you could quickly find it decides where you should start your Aussie adventure.
The Best Places To Visit
So what are the best places to visit in Australia along the Sydney to Cairns route? Well here are some of my favourites that you should definitely fit into your plans:
- Byron Bay
- Gold Coast
- Rainbow Beach
- Fraser Island
- Agnes Water/1770
- Airlie Beach
- Magnetic Island
- Mission Beach
- Cape Tribulation
…oh and Melbourne if you’re extending your trip to include that as well, which is well worth it!
Check out my full East Coast destination guide here for more info
The Best Way To Travel When Backpacking Australia?
With such a huge distance to cover figuring out the best way to travel in Australia for your style and of course budget can be tricky.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular options for those backpacking Australia;
1. Greyhound Bus – this is the most popular option, with their hop on and hop off passes ideal for those on a set route. If you need more flexibility the Greyhound WHIMit Passes are only limited by time frame, not direction or route.
2. Premier Bus – the cheaper alternative to the Greyhound the main difference is the fact Premier only have one departure per day.
3. Stray Australia – perfect for nervous solo travellers or those looking for a mid ground between a tour and a simple bus pass. Check out my full review here.
4. Campervan Hire – I loved campervanning around Australia and there are a huge range of campervan hire option to choose from. This can get pricey if you’re travelling for a long time though or in peak season.
5. Buy a car/campervan – for those with a bit more cash or staying in Australia for longer buying a car or campervan is also something worth considering.
Check out my full rundown of the best ways to travel Australia here for more info
Where to Stay?
Australia has the full array of accommodation options and you’re pretty spoilt for choice for where to stay when you’re backpacking Australia, but here are 3 of the most popular options;
The mainstay of backpackers and budget travellers there’s everything from huge 16 bed dorm rooms to more flashpacker style hostels, certainly the most popular option for most people backpacking Australia.
Some of my top Australia hostel picks include;
- WakeUp! Sydney
- Yamba YHA
- Aquarius Byron Bay
- Byron Bay YHA
- Halse Lodge, Noosa
- Nomads Airlie Beach
- Bungalow Bay YHA, Magnetic Island
- Absolute Backpackers, Mission Beach
- Gilligans, Cairns
With such a huge tourism industry there’s also a huge array of hotels to choose from all over Australia – again for every style and budget.
Air B n B
If you’re looking for something a little bit different or to meet some locals along the way there’s thousands of Air B n B properties across Australia to choose from as well.
Whether you want a to rent a whole house for a few days or stay with a local family Air B n B is a great shout for travelling Australia.
How Long Should It Take Backpacking Australia?
Another one of the big questions I get asked is how long should you take to backpacking Australia?
My honest answer is as long as you can afford!
There are over 2,400kms between the two so you dont want to rush it – you’ll spend more time looking out of the window from a bus than enjoying Australia!
You can do it in 2 weeks if you really wanted, but personally 4 weeks is the minimum I’d recommend if you want to hit up all the main destinations and do overnight trips at both Fraser Island and Whitsundays.
Even then you’ll need to have a pretty fixed itinerary.
6 weeks is perfect as it gives you some extra time to play around with and relax. Anything more than that…well happy days you can be a bit more flexible with your plans.
Check out my full guide to How Long To Spend On The East Coast of Australia for more info and some sample itineraries.
How Much Will It Cost?
Along with when, how, and how long is how much will it all cost you?
This will vary heaps from person to person depending on all the other factors as well as what activities you want to fit in.
But as an estimate for a 4 week trip from Sydney to Cairns you’ll need around $3270AUD – this would then include all your hostels, meals, main activities and bus pass
If you stay for longer obviously your main cost will spread out, reducing your daily spend quite a lot.
Check out my How Much To Budget For Australia post for a more detailed breakdown of all the costs so you can figure out your own personal budget.
What’s There To Do?
Why should you travel from Sydney to Cairns? What is there to do? Well the East Coast trail has some of the best things to do in Australia – here are some of the main activities you’ll want to add to your bucket list;
- Sydney Opera House
- Bondi Beach
- Blue Mountains
- Learn to surf (Byron Bay is my top pick!)
- Kayaking with dolphins (again, Byron Bay!)
- Skydiving (go for Mission Beach)
- Noosa Everglades
- Fraser Island (check out the best Fraser Island tours here)
- Whitsunday Islands (check out the best Whitsundays tours here)
- White water rafting
- Cape Tribulation
- Cairns waterfalls
- Learn to scuba dive (Divers Den in Cairns or Byron Dive Centre)
- The Great Barrier Reef (again Divers Den is an epic day trip for snorkelling or intro dives)
So When Are You Going?!
Phew, that’s a lot of info to take in hey? Hopefully it’s helped you get started on your trip backpacking Australia and pointed you in the right direction for some extra info to make things even easier!
And if you’d like me to personally help you plan your Australia adventure check out my Custom East Coast Trip Planner – where I’ll put together a custom itinerary for you and hook you up with some exclusive travel discounts too!
Either way, I know you’ll have an epic time travelling in Australia and whether you head there for a year long working holiday visa or a quick trip on a bigger trip I know it’ll leave you stoked for more.
So enjoy it!
Are you planning on backpacking Australia?
Anything else you’d like to know?