10 Incredible Destinations to Work and Play in Australia
For those of you who want to do a gap year or working holiday in Australia, it's a huge country. Where are the best places in Australia to work? Where are the best places in Australia to travel as a gapper?
In this article, we discuss ten incredible destinations in Australia to work on a working holiday, and to travel, explore, and play in on your time off.
1. Adelaide, South Australia
- Suggested Jobs: Regional Work, Office, Tour Guide
- Travel Highlights: Barossa Valley, Kangaroo Island, and Port Lincoln.
- Ideal Season: December-February
When you’re trying to decide where to settle down first, your mind will inevitably jump to Sydney or Melbourne first. You might even go to Perth. But if you’re looking for the quintessence of Australia, you should expand your search beyond the Opera House. Head to South Australia and spend the summer living and working in Adelaide. People call it "Radelaide" for a reason.
Adelaide manages to balance itself very well between the hustle of city life and the charms of country living. The surrounding hills, known as the Barossa Valley, is one of the biggest wine producing regions on the planet, and WWOOFing on any one of them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (though one that may be a hazy memory by the end of it).
To the south is Kangaroo Island, featuring landscapes that seem right out of the wilds of Africa. To the north is the road to Uluru and the Red Center (via Coober Pedy, a great mining town). And if you’re brave and a little bit crazy, there’s Port Lincoln right across the Spencer Gulf, one of the best places in the world for getting in the water with Great White Sharks. And sure, you could find a job in an office in the city too. But with so many other unique and adventurous job opportunities, why would you?
2. St. Kilda, Melbourne
- Suggested Jobs: Retail, Tour Office
- Travel Highlights: St. Kilda Beach
- Ideal Season: December-March
Oh, St. Kilda. How I love you. No part of Australia better encapsulates the concept of “Work Hard, Play Hard,” than the little stretch of beach down south of the Melbourne Central Business District. The population is heavily weighted towards the foreign traveler, which makes it a great place to ease yourself into the country and culture.
Because there are so many tourists going in and out, there are also lots of working holiday and short-term jobs available. Acland Street, the unofficial center of the neighborhood, is lined with shops and restaurants filled from dawn till, well, dawn, and most are staffed entirely by people on working holiday visas.
The hostels in the area also promote tours – to, say, the Great Ocean Road or the Mornington Peninsula – so you can find fulfilling work helping others on their journey (not to mention get some ideas for your own).
And when those travelers aren’t working, they’re having the time of their lives. St. Kilda Beach isn’t some fluke of convergence: it’s earned its crowds. During the summer, it features some of the best weather in the country, and you can always find the beach packed with people tossing around a rugby ball while their box of beers gets steadily warmer in the sun.
There’s a hippy-powered night market every week, featuring food stalls and fire shows. And if you do get tired of the neighborhood, well... there’s a tram stop every few hundred meters to take you where you want to go.
3. Fitzroy, Melbourne
- Suggested Jobs: Café/Bar
- Travel Highlights: Queen Victoria Market and Flemington Racecourse
- Ideal Season: November-January, March-April
And there’s a good chance that where you’ll want to go is Fitzroy, the neighborhood to the northeast of the Melbourne CBD (central business district), and one of the top backpacker areas in Australia.
Where St. Kilda feels like a traveler’s heaven, filled with sun-soaked beach days and like-minded foreigners, Fitzroy is the calmer older brother for people who want to embed themselves more into the local scene – stroll through the shady streets, grab some of the city’s world famous coffee, and watch the sunset from a rooftop bar. It’s the perfect place to go on the far side of Summer, when the weather hasn’t quite hit perfect enough for the beach.
Fitzroy isn’t really a traveler’s neighborhood – the demographic is primarily students attending Melbourne University. If you’ve had the good fortune to study abroad in the city, there’s a good chance you lived here.
There are fewer jobs for travelers here for this reason, but that shouldn’t turn you off of trying. The relaxed, hip atmosphere is worth it. There are still bars – Naked For Satan and Nightcat are two of the most trafficked (deservedly so) places in the city – but there are far more boutique shops and independent cafes as well.
Moving from St. Kilda to Fitzroy feels a bit like moving from Venice Beach to Brooklyn. While St. Kilda is often a bit one-note in its entertainment (spoiler: you’ll be spending a lot of time at the beach), Fitzroy is a lot more varied.
It’s closer to the CBD, which gives you greater access to places like the Queen Victoria Market and Flemington Racecourse, where most of the music festivals that hit the city are held. It’s the kind of place you’ll never want to leave, which makes it a dangerous place to visit first on your working holiday trip.
4. Bondi Beach, Sydney
- Suggested Jobs: Café/Bar, Retail, Office
- Travel Highlights: Explore Bondi's hipster scene
- Ideal Season: December-March
Melbourne may be the cultural capitol of Australia, but if we’re gonna take a long hard look at the truth, there really is no place in the country like Sydney. It’s big. It’s loud. It’s pockmarked with landmarks and locations you’ve always dreamed of visiting. It’s like a New York City with better weather. And while Sydney proper can be overwhelming for somebody just moving to the country, the outskirt town of Bondi Beach can be the perfect enclave for the working holiday backpacker.
Though it’s not the capitol, Sydney is Australia’s center for business. You’re going to have a lot more opportunities to pick up office jobs here than you would in, say, Melbourne or Brisbane. Office jobs we like, because these are generally the ones that will offer sponsorship opportunities to people looking to stay beyond their initial year.
Fundraising offices, particularly for charities, are probably your best bet, though you should do your research on the company if you truly plan on sticking around. Temp agencies will also help you sort out a job of this nature.
And if you’re just looking for a short spurt of fun, Bondi’s the place to go. It’s full of restaurants and bars where you can pick up a job for a few weeks or months. The population is almost entirely young hipsters (the Bondi Hipsters are practically an institution) who can’t afford to live in the CBD, while still being affluent enough to go drop $20 (Australian dollars, that is) on a cocktail at a rooftop bar.
5. Coffs Harbour, New South Wales
- Suggested Jobs: Regional Work
- Travel Highlights: Mutton-bird Island, the jetty area, and beaches.
- Ideal Season: All Year Round
Unless you’re the type of person who just has to visit every single town on the map for the sake of completion, you’ll probably only go to Coffs Harbour for one thing – regional work to earn your second year’s visa (and again, remember, Americans are not eligible for this).
It’s going to be a tough gig no matter where you go – long hours, hard, physical labor, and the likely outcome of never being able to eat whatever fruit you’re harvesting ever again.
But tough doesn't necessarily mean unpleasant. You’re going to be living in a remote area with the few other backpackers working the farm, spending every waking hour together, playing together like you’re the last people on Earth.
If that doesn’t sound like college all over again, I don’t know how to entice you. Many regional farms try to take advantage of backpackers looking for work, but Coffs Harbour is a prestigious area full of banana farms, and you’ll more than likely find a job pretty quickly due to the sheer amount of crop the area produces.
And unlike most other regional farms you’ll find throughout Victoria or Queensland, Coffs Harbour is surrounded by tons of side trips. As a coastal town, you’ll have easy access north to Byron and Brisbane, and south to Sydney.
The beach is gorgeous, and there are expeditions to make inland as well (if you can stomach the landscape after hacking down bananas for eight hours). And if you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to leave, well, you’ve got an entire farm’s worth of friends ready for a quiet night in on the Netflix.
6. Byron Bay, New South Wales
- Suggested Jobs: Surf Instructor, Café, Hostel Staff
- Travel Highlights: Bluesfest and Splendour music festivals
- Ideal Season: February - April
When the weather starts to cool and the rains start to pelt Melbourne and Sydney, there’s a seasonal migration of backpackers heading to the tropical north to wait out the winter in comfort.
Many will treat this time as their East Coast tour, hitting all the must-see spots over the course of one or two months before settling down in Cairns. However, if you really want to get the feel for Australia’s East Coast, you can settle down in Byron Bay – the ultimate hippie town.
Its popularity and reputation belies its size. Byron Bay is tiny. You can walk across the entire town in just about half an hour. The population is a sedated sort, headed up by the aging surf bums you’ve seen in movies. You can pick up work in any of the juice bars and handicraft shops around town, or you can opt to spend more time on Byron’s legendary beaches: most of the people stopping over are there to learn to surf or scuba dive. If you can do either, then you’ve got a skill worth marketing.
Unless you fit the hippie mold, you probably won’t make a life in this town. But trying out the vegan, wholesome lifestyle for a bit never hurt anybody. Byron is central to the coast, and is a short jaunt from the even more hip village, Nimbin.
Byron is also the location of two of Australia’s biggest and most popular music festivals: Byron Bay Bluesfest every April, and Splendour in the Grass every July. While you may want to move on by the time winter catches up to the coast, you won’t regret the time you spend there.
7. Tenerife, Brisbane
- Suggested Jobs: Tour Guide, Office, Hostel Staff
- Travel Highlights: Close to Byron Bay, Fraser Island, and the Whitsundays
- Ideal Season: June - September
By the time you reach Brisbane, winter will be in full swing. But that’s okay, because you’ll have successfully outrun the temperatures currently locking Melbourne and Sydney in hail and wind. And while Brisbane isn’t quite Cairns when it comes to “ultimate winter hideaways,” it’s status as a developed, business-oriented city means that you’ll have plenty of options for both work and play.
Unlike Melbourne and Sydney, Brisbane is a compact city, with most of the backpacker-oriented jobs centered in the Central Business District or Southbank. It’ll be easy enough to find jobs in sales or service, but you should also consider finding a job with a touring company.
Brisbane is a good launch pad for visits everywhere from Byron Bay to Fraser Island to the Whitsundays, so working with these companies can help you save money on your own travels as well.
The neighborhood of Tenerife is a great place to settle down, being relatively close to everything while simultaneously distant enough to feel intimate and relaxed. Within Brisbane itself, you’ve got Fortitude Valley, a large neighborhood with a cracking nightlife, as well as Riverstage, the best outdoor live music venue in Australia.
If you’re spending the winter there, you’ll have festivals like Splendour in the Grass coming through, as well as the State of Origin rugby series (don’t forget to wear maroon). And you’ll move on eventually, once winter starts to thaw, but with so many opportunities, you won’t want to.
8. Airlie Beach, Whitsunday
- Suggested Jobs: Scuba Instructor, Tour Guide, Hostel Staff
- Travel Highlights: Whitehaven Beach
- Ideal Season: All Year Round
Airlie Beach may be the smallest town on this list, being comprised of just one main road and the surrounding harbors. And yet, it’s also one of the most trafficked.
From Airlie Beach, dozens of separate sailing companies head out to the Whitsunday Islands for booze cruises and days on Whitehaven Beach, home to the whitest sand on the planet. Just about every single person with a Working Holiday visa will pass through this town at some point of the year.
But what about living there? Since so many people pass through the bottleneck of the town, living in Airlie Beach is a bit like experiencing all of Australia at once.
It’s small – and therefore, often not hiring – but those sailing companies need staff. And if they’re full up when you arrive, then working in the hostels and bars will expose you to every kind of person while letting you build relationships with the tour operators.
Living in a small town is like living in a bubble. Everybody knows everybody. And when you’re looking for a place to work and play, being friends with everybody can come in handy.
9. Cairns, Queensland
- Suggested Jobs: Tour Guide, Scuba Instructor, Regional Work
- Travel Highlights: Cape Tribulation, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree Rainforest
- Ideal Season: May-August
In Australia, you can stop along the coast all you want, but if you really want to find the biggest congregation of travelers come winter, you’re gonna have to make it all the way to tropical North Queensland. You’re going to have to go to Cairns.
Cairns and Melbourne/Sydney have a Ping-Pong relationship, trading travelers every season in huge supply. Cairns is the winter mecca, but it’s also a fraction of the size of the southern cities. If you want to have a chance to settle down there, you’ll need to arrive before the season kicks into high gear.
But if you do, you’ll find a town scrambling to prepare for the influx of people – bars, restaurants, hostels, retail, tour offices, they’ll all be looking for staff. And if you’re looking for your regional work, this is a good chance to knock out some sugar cane farming while still being close enough to feel like you’re in the city.
Cairns is the only large settlement in tropical North Queensland, and from there you can explore some of the best natural landscapes on Earth. Cape Tribulation, just north of the city, is the only place on Earth where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet – in this case, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.
You can go scuba diving in the largest reef system on the planet or spend time with an Aboriginal community in the forest. You can spend the day by the lagoon or dance all night at Gilligan’s massive nightclub. For being such a small city, you can entertain yourself for months when the season is right.
10. Darwin, Northern Territory
- Suggested Jobs: Regional Work, Café/Bar, Hostel Staff
- Travel Highlights: Kakadu National Park
- Ideal Season: May-August
For most people, Cairns will be the ultimate northern destination on their gap year. But if you want to break the mold just a little bit more, then keep on trucking past the rainforests and reefs until you get to the Darwin, right in the middle of the northern coast.
Even smaller than Cairns, Darwin has an environment entirely unlike the rest of Australia. It combines the forests of the northeast with the flat expanses of the Red Center, like a time of steady rain came to Uluru and covered the rock faces with waterfalls and wildlife. The waters are filled with saltwater crocodiles, but exploring this wilderness is one of the most rewarding experiences in the country.
Kakadu National Park is a few hours outside the town, providing plenty of opportunities for day/weekend trips.
And when you return to the city, you’ll find another winter hideaway for backpackers, full of bars, restaurants, and retail to work in. Because the town is so small, it has that distinct Airlie Beach experience where everybody knows everybody.
But because it’s away from the beaten track of the East Coast, the actual turnover rate of tourists is quite small, giving it a very secluded feeling, like being in your own little corner of the world where you can truly discover yourself. And if you’re on a working holiday visa, that’s not a bad feeling to find.