Australia is one of the most popular destinations for gap year travelers to head to, so you’ll find loads of like-minded folk on your journey. It’s perfect for the first time traveller who might not be ready for the hefty culture shock that other destinations, such as Asia or South America, offer. Additionally, travelling to an English speaking country for your first trip abroad is a great way to get used to the backpackers’ lifestyle and Australia is tailor made for travellers.
These factors, along with the beautiful weather (and surfers!), beaches and other stunning scenery, makes it easy to see why a gap year in Australia is so attractive!
Australia is a massive country, and despite its size, its still packed to the absolute brim with fun and exciting travel adventures for every type of gap year traveler. Who knows what adventures await (you may even Find Nemo!). Whether you want to chill out, get some work experience, volunteer, or kick it in the outback, these are the spots you shouldn't miss out on! Read on for travel advice for your gap year in Australia.
Southern Australia: World-class Cities
Southern Australia is famous the world over: home to the cosmopolitan cities of Sydney and Melbourne, among others, this corner of this giant island is the most visited by visitors and the most densely populated by locals. Most trips to Australia, and Oceania, are bound to start here - and for good reason!
Start your adventure by flying into Sydney on the South coast; nothing feels better than stepping off that plane and entering the city of the famed Sydney Opera House! The view across Sydney Harbour will take your breath away.
As you explore the city be sure to take some time out and visit the Blue Mountains; with stunning scenery all around you, you’ll begin to appreciate the true beauty that Australia has to offer.
Take a trip to the famous Bondi Beach, but don’t spend all day there! Instead, walk the Pacific Trail, which takes you along the coast and introduces you to some of the best beaches in the world. You will end your walk on Coogee Beach, a stunning and less packed beach than Bondi.
After you've soaked up the sun in Sydney, head further west to Melbourne. Melbourne is the laid back, relaxed city that counteracts with Sydney's fervor. Melbourne perfectly combines sophisticated arts and culture with beatnik charm, all nestled in amazing architecture. Melbourne's streets are sprinkled with art galleries, cafés, farmers markets and specialty shops, and the downtown area is home to a thriving international business community.
As in Sydney, Melbourne offers many work and internship options, so if you need to top up your funds, consider staying for a month or so to earn some cash.
Rent a car in Melbourne and drive along the Great Ocean Road to your next stop: the 12 Apostles. The views along this drive are magnificent, and there is no shortage of stunning rock formations that dot the coast.
Round out your south Australia adventure with a stop in Adelaide. Though arguably not as exciting as your first few stops, it is worth a visit all the same. Home to some of the world's best steak houses (awww yeah!), Adelaide is a nice little city to wander around in, without the hectic pace that Sydney and Melbourne offer. Relax for an afternoon in one of the many green parks that surround the centre or eat locally-grown cherries on the beach.
However, I don’t suggest hanging around in Adelaide too long - Australia has far greater and more magical places to spend your time!
Western Australia: Farms and Natural Beauty
Western Australia is reserved for those who really want to get to know the country. From shark spotting in Shark Bay in Ningaloo Reef, hiking the Bibbulum Track, or ogling at wildlife in Karijini National Park, Western Australia is a hidden gem for a reason.
It’s a known joke that the locals don’t want too many travellers to know the secret of how wonderful this oft-skipped part of the country is. It might be quiet, but to leave this area of Australia off any itinerary would be a big mistake!
Situated along the Swan River, Perth is the pinnacle of a picturesque city. Check out Kings Park to get extraordinary views and relish in the wildlife of the Botanic Garden. Kings Park is even larger than New York's Central Park, so feel free to literally "get lost!"
With it's quaint cobbled streets, small street cafés and creative atmosphere, Perth has a strong European vibe. Another activity unique to Perth can be found at Fremantle Prison. Relive history in this place, originally built as a convict barracks in the 19th century. You can even see the prison cells and the old hanging rope!
Western Australia is the perfect place to check "work as a farmhand in Australia" off your travel bucketlist. Grape picking is very common work among travelers – but be careful and make sure your farm pays by the hour and not by how much you pick! If you do three months of work as a farmer, you'll be eligible to extend your 12 month visa to 24!
Whilst in Western Australia, be sure to visit the world's tallest climbing tree: located in Pemberton, this tree stands at a towering 68 metres. When you reach the top, you are treated to a 360 degree view of the Karri Forest (don't forget your camera!).
Northern Australia: The Outback
The beloved outback has more to offer than endless sandy plains and buzzing flies. In this massive territory, you can come face to face with ancient Aboriginal art and practices! Don your best khaki from head to toe as you explore the Northern Territory and learn what "backwoods" can really mean.
Darwin differentiates itself from other Aussie cities due to its stark Asian influences and the legacies of WWII. The compact size of Darwin's downtown business district makes it best explored on foot or bicycle - expect great views over the harbor. Stop for lunch at a restaurant that specializes in local Northern Territory dishes such as mud crabs, barramundi, buffalo, kangaroo and crocodile. Visiting Darwin is incomplete without a trip to the open air Mindil Beach sunset markets.
Consider hopping to Litchfield National Park for a day to find the company of waterfalls and lush waterholes. You can even hit the trails in a 4WD!
Don't spend too much time in Darwin, as it is really a springboard to the rest of the wonders that the Northern Territory has to offer!
Alice Springs and Ayers Rock
Even though Alice Springs is "nothing to write home about," it is an essential stop to ease the planning of a trip to Uluru, or Ayers Rock. This iconic Australian icon is located around 250 miles southwest of Alice Springs in Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, rising mysteriously out of nowhere in the deep center of Australia. As one of the world's best natural wonders, a trip to Australia is incomplete without it!
Many travelers on their gap year opt to book a tour for this excursion. Sleep under the stars, gobble down "bush tucker," and watch the sun rise over this sacred Aboriginal formation.
Leave the popular and highly touristed areas to take a road trip throughout the outback – don’t do it alone – go with an organised group and it will be one of the strangest experiences you have. Travel for three days in the red deserty sands it is so famous for, possibly bumping into the occasional herd of camels but not much else. When you enter your next city destination, you’ll have a shock at seeing civilisation again!
Eastern Australia: The Coast
You’ve arrived on the East Coast and this is really where the fun and adventurous side of Australia lies. If you’ve got time and cash to spare, visit the Gold Coast and check out the theme parks and spectacular beaches – take a surf lesson or just relax.
Cairns is a beautiful city to visit on your gap year in Australia and there are many adventure activities to pack in: go diving in the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef, white water rafting on the Tully River, go bungee jumping, skydive; go horse riding, quad biking - seriously, this list is endless - you will want to spend some quality time here!
No matter if you are a non swimmer, a snorkeling amateur or a dive guru, there are plenty of Cairns activities for all water and landlubbers alike. It's best to visit Cairns in the dry season (May - October) to take full advantage of all it has to offer. Also a great place to consider setting up more permanent shop.
After getting all "fun'd" out in Cairns, head to the Whitsundays and go sailing. A three day boat trip is the best way to explore this region - wake up on swaying waters, snorkel the reef and even have a go at sailing yourself. This is an experience not to be missed.
A visit to Whitsundays is best paired with a trip to nearby Fraser Island. Here, you can see a ship wreckage, cook Aussie BBQ (sausages, no hotdogs!) with your new friends, go swimming and watch for sting rays and reef sharks. A 4x4 drive of the island will leave you wanting more.
Byron Bay is famous for its beaches, its relaxed rainforest atmosphere and its Bohemian lifestyle. As the easternmost point in Australia, Byron Bay is a haven for adventure and eco-travelers, lovingly dubbed "ecotopia" by locals and visitors alike. Take some time out to enjoy the views, have a go at your first surf lesson, and scout out land and marine mammals alike (wallabies and flying foxes known to make frequent appearances!). If you’re lucky, you might spot some whales at Cape Byron.
Australia is a dream destination for any gap year itinerary - no matter where your travels find you, you're bound to have hundreds of stories and awesome photos to match.