When I was researching my trip to Australia I came across so much information about how to budget,  what great experiences others had while there and gorgeous imagery from dreamy looking locations, however when it came to deciding a route, roughly how long to spend in each place and what to do while I was there I struggled to find much information in one place and only learnt this from either my own experience or speaking to other backpackers while there. I often found that names of places where thrown around without much geographic explanation and on a couple of occasions had booked things to later find out better alternatives were available down the line. 

With that in mind this blog post is my attempt at sharing with you the answers to all the questions I had before I went and some insight into the different options that are available while in Australia. Until I decided I wanted to go travelling I didn't really see what all the fuss was about when it came to the land down under, however after spending six weeks there I left head over heels in love with the place.  


Being an exceptionally large country, how much time you spend travelling Australia is going to directly correlate with how much you get to see and do. If you're planning on backpacking the East Coast my first piece of advice would be to start in the most Northern place you want to visit and work your way down the East Coast and not the other way around. I flew into Cairns and out of Melbourne and would say around 80% of the other backpackers I met were doing exactly the same thing, with only 20% working their way up the coast. Going with the flow was the best way for me as this meant that I got to see the people I'd made friends with along the way more than once and do lots of things together. 

When it comes to deciding how long to spend travelling the East Coast of Australia the average time is between 4-6 weeks. I spent longer than most people in Byron Bay as I was there for Christmas and Falls Festival over New Year, and less time in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to make sure I could still squeeze everything into my six week timeframe. Even so my time in Australia absolutely flew by, while I made sure to include some rest days it felt like I was either doing something every day or travelling somewhere new, which while super exciting also completely exhausted me by the time I got to Sydney and Melbourne. 

With that in mind it's a good idea to make sure you are aware of exactly how long your bus journeys are if travelling via Greyhound. Following my route below the first couple of buses are around 4 hours, which you'll soon learn will pass in a flash in comparison to several of the other 12 hour overnight bus trips. I'd also suggest leaving the day after a long bus journey free as while you may have cat napped on the bus, you're not exactly going to be feeling up to doing much the following day. Having injured my knee in Byron Bay quite badly I decided to sack off a 12 hour bus to Sydney for a couple of hours flight, and had already decided the 15 hour bus between Sydney and Melbourne was a step too far for me so skipped that in favour of the ever infamous Jetstar instead. 


When it comes to deciding where to stay in Australia the options are endless. Whether you are backpacking or looking for luxury there is something for every budget. While backpacking I spent the majority of my time in hostels apart from when I first arrived and checked into a motel to get over my jet lag, and an overnight stay in Brisbane where I had gotten an apartment on a Black Friday deal before I left and wanted some much needed personal time.

Speaking of hostels there are a few main chains who have hostels up and down the East Coast of Australia, they are: Base, Nomad and YHA. There are also several other smaller chain and one off hostels in certain locations that will meet most backpacker needs. That said, the quality of the chain hostels really varies from place to place, some are amazing, some are ok, some will make you miss the last place you stayed at. Here is what I hope is an easy to follow list of which are good, ok and bad based on the places I stayed and reviews I head from others while travelling, I have only linked the ones I would recommend.  

* - Poor (wouldn't recommend)
** - Good (would recommend)
*** - Amazing (loved it!)

Cairns: Gilligan's **
Townsville: Rambutan ***
Magnetic Island: Base **
Airlie Beach: Magnums **, YHA *, Base *
Brisbane: N/A
Hervey Bay (for Fraser Island): YHA *
Byron Bay: Wake Up *** (the best hostel I stayed at in Australia, a little more pricey but SO worth it)
Sydney: Base **
Melbourne: Nomad * (City Centre), Nomad ** (St Kilda), Base ** (St Kilda) 

Average hostel price: $25/night. You can also pre-pay for Base and Nomad hostels and get a selected discount with their bed hopper pass via their website. 


Things To Do: Great Barrier Reef, Rainforest Tours, Cape Tribulation, Fitzroy Island, Green Island, Night Markets
Stay For: 4-5 days

My first stop in Australia was Cairns! A place which I felt had a reputation for not being a great location except for the various things to do there, I found it quite the opposite and thought it was a lovely little town with lots of places to eat and drink. The main reason backpackers come to Cairns is the go snorkelling or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, followed by a bit of trecking around the nearby rainforests, day trips to either Fitzroy or Green Island and food from the night market.

Being my first backpacking stop I was really worried about making friends so checked myself into Gilligans, a party hostel with quite the reputation for all sorts of antics. My line of thinking was to throw myself in the deep end and hopefully there would be so many people around I would easily make friends, and I was right! I walked into my first hostel room and as soon as I entered an English girl sitting on her bed said "Hi, my name's Emma, what's yours?" and we spent the next five days doing everything together and even met up a few months later in Bali. The rest of the people in my room were just as friendly and I ended up making friends with three more Brits who I met up with loads the rest of the way down the coast and even spent Christmas with two of the girls in Byron Bay. With that in mind, some of my most 'backpacker stories' also came from that hostel room and the people I met in it so would say this hostel isn't for those looking for a good night sleep or worried about their personal space, if you know what I mean. 

Activity wise snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef was my absolute favourite thing I did while travelling in Australia and is probably in the top five from my entire trip. I booked all my Australian activities via STA which meant my tour was with Reef Free. The snorkelling itself was great and they made us feel totally safe, however going on the trip alone surrounded by families and regular tourists made it hard to make friends, I felt a little jealous of those who had beers on their boats and more of a fun party atmosphere. The following day myself and Emma had signed up to Uncle Brian's RainForest Tour as we wanted to treck around the rainforest and waterfalls that surround Cairns. Uncle Brian's tours have a reputation for being super fun and informative which is the exact experience I had and couldn't recommend it enough while in Cairns. We had a stupidly fun day and met lots of new people on our bus, who again I bumped into on the rest of my trip around Australia. 

Townsville - Magnetic Island

Things To Do: Magnetic Island
Stay For: 2-3 Days
Bus Time from Cairns: 5-6 hours

Townsville is the town (duh) that most backpackers use as a gateway to head over to Magnetic Island. Depending on the time you arrive into Townsville from Cairns will effect if you stay over a night before going onto Magnetic Island or head straight there, in my case I remember it was late and dark when I arrived and so had booked to stay at the nearest, and also nicest, hostel in Townsville to the bus and ferry port. Called The Rambutan it was less like a hostel and more an absolutely gorgeous pool bar which just so happened to have rooms lining each side. It was also an absolute bargain at £12/night and had the best wifi I came across in Australia! 

The next day I woke up early and headed to the ferry terminal to catch the first boat over to Magnetic Island, a cute little island which you can walk the length of in a few hours if you like, or hire one of these tiny and ever so cute retro cars to drive around in! I stayed at Base on Magnetic Island and was lucky enough to get one of the cliff facing dorms. There are lots of walks to do on Magnetic Island, each of them leads you throw the habitats of wild Koala's and Wallaby's both of which I was lucky enough to see! If you do want to rent one of the cars I would recommend booking in advance, the group I was with rang at midday having arrived in the morning and got the last one. As well as Base, there is also YHA hostel on Magnetic Island both of which host a nightly party which was a lot of fun, especially as I ended up hanging out the people from my room in Gilligan's and some of the boys from our Uncle Brian's Rainforest tour (when I said you bump into people everywhere I really meant everywhere). 

My time in Townsville and Magnetic Island was somewhat blighted however by a very poorly timed cyclone which ruined the last day there and made for ferry ride back from Magnetic Island to mainland Australia which had us betting who would be the first to vomit and wondering if getting on a boat when the weather was that bad had been a terrible idea, thankfully we survived to tell the tale. It did mean I left Magnetic Island a day earlier than planned, and had to cancel horse riding on the beach which has been a dream of mine since I was little. 

Airlie Beach - Whitsunday's

Things To Do: Whitsunday's Boat Tour
Stay For: 2-5 Days (including boat trip time)
Bus Time from Townsville: 4-5 hours

Airlie Beach is the small port side town that most backpackers arrive at before going to on a boat trip to the Whitsunday's. A sweet but very sleepy little town you could probably see everything it has to offer in a day and so would recommend not booking any extra time other than whats needed depending on what time your bus arrives, and an obligatory additional day after your boat trip ends so you can tend to the raging hangover and sleep deprivation you will likely be suffering from.

And why might you be suffering from a hangover and sleep deprevation I hear you ask? Because you've just spent 2-3 nights on a boat with around twenty other backpackers hammering goon (box wine), sleeping in a tiny hammock and being woken up at 7am by the boat crew each day. You've then followed up this outrageously great time by a 'land party' the evening you get back to say farewell to your newly found boat mates. The Whitsunday's boat trip was another of my favourite things I did while in Australia and I couldn't recommend it more. I have to admit waiting at the port to board the boat and looking around at the group of other travellers clearly waiting to do the same thing not knowing a single other soul was daunting. That was until we got called to our boat and a girl who I later found out was called Cat told me she liked my t-shirt and we had a very British conversation that went a little something like "Oh thank you it's from Cotton On", "OMG I love Cotton On", "Me too! Every time I go in there I come out with so much stuff I don't need, it's like Primark but cheaper!", and the rest was history. We later met up in Byron Bay where she joined our gang for Christmas and again in Melbourne and was one of my favourite people I met travelling. 

Back to the boat trip, how does white sand beaches, sailing on an ex race boat thats won every boat race on the planet twice, seeing dolphins swimming in the wild for the first time in your life, amazing sunsets, boat parties and snorkelling in the open ocean in the rain sound? It was amazing, I absolutely loved every minute of it, including a shower that was sea water pumped into a wet room, sleeping in a room with twenty other people and drinking so much goon I got acid reflux. I also got so horrifically sunburnt on my feet and legs I had to go to the pharmacy when I got back and get ointment for minor burns, it helped but you could still see the tan lines weeks later (scroll forward to the picture of me in Melbourne for full evidence). I sailed with Sailing Whitsundays on the Condor boat and would really recommend them, most boat trips have a 2 or 3 night option and I was so glad I went for the longer trip. The most notorious Whitsunday's party boat tour for backpackers is The Clipper, which while it looks an absolute blast it is also nicknamed The Clapper (use your imagination) and I found our boat was instead the perfect balance of boating, exploring and partying, with the most friendly and welcoming crew imaginable. 

Fraser Island

Things To Do: Fraser Island Tour
Stay For: 2-3 days (including time on Fraser Island)
Bus Time from Airlie Beach: 12-13 hours (to Hervey Bay)

Next stop Fraser Island! There are two ways you can visit this little island and three different locations you can access it from so bare with me while I try and explain. Starting with how to get there, you can either go to Hervey Bay, Noosa or Rainbow Beach. I made the mistake of going via Hervey Bay and had the dullest weekend of my entire trip there. Due to all the Fraser Island tours being booked in advanced I had miscalculated my timings and ended with three days to kill in Hervey Bay, a place which I could only describe as in the back end of nowhere with absolutely nothing to do and nobody around to make friends with. It was quite the comedown after all the fun of the Whitsundays. One of the days I was there I decided to rent a bike to keep myself entertained only the heavens to open 10 minutes later and get absolutely drenched. I did bump into a couple of people from my Whitsundays trip but I was honestly counting down the hours until I could go to the port to get over to Fraser Island. While I didn't get the chance to go to Noosa or Rainbow Beach I heard really good things about them and if I'd of had longer would have gone to both for a couple of days each. 

Earlier on I mentioned there were some trips I wish I had of booked differently and Fraser Island was definitely one of them. As I mentioned before I booked everything through STA and really wish I had of done some research first, hence this blog post as an attempt to give anyone else backpacking Australia a low down before they go. My trip to Fraser Island was the 2 days 1 night guided tour with Cool Dingo's which granted included accommodation and a banging buffet at a lovely resort, but also included the worlds most boring tour driver (in the end the entire bus agreed to put on Spotify and we had a singalong instead) and way too much driving and walking through rainforests for my liking. I should also probably add that the pesky cyclone that had half ruined my Magnetic Island experience was back with full vengeance and meant it rained nearly the entire time I was on Fraser Island. The alternative option I wish I had booked was to do one of the guided self drive tours instead, your still in a big group and your still guided around, however instead of the bus I was on, you are in 4x4 cars and have more freedom to stay in each location on the island or move onto the next one. The hotspots for Fraser Island are Eli Creek, Lake Mackenzie, 75 mile beach, Champagne Pools and Maheno Shipwreck and hopefully spotting some dingo's along the way! Despite my whining above I did get to go on a 15 minute scenic flight in a four passenger biplane for $80/£40 which was so much fun and my favourite thing I did while on Fraser Island. It is also one of only two places in the world where planes take off and land on sandy beaches, which I thought was pretty cool. 


Things To Do: Australia Zoo, Enchanted Gardens (Dec only), O'Reilly's National Park and Treetop Tour, Koala Sanctuary, Various Museums, River Cruises, Shopping
Stay For: 2-4 days
Bus Time from Hervey Bay: 5-6 hours

The first city I went to while in Australia I was really gutted to spend such a short amount of time in Brisbane. When talking to other travellers Brisbane seemed to get really mixed reviews, however I was very much on the side of thinking it was a cool little city with lots to see and do. Unforunately because I'd spent longer than I originally planned in Hervey Bay I had less time in Brisbane due to needing to get to Byron Bay afterward for an ill fated surf school (more on that later), however it was the one place I'd booked private accommodation which was such a welcome break after three weeks of non stop dorm rooms and partying. 

Arriving quite late in the afternoon I headed to my apartment and literally revelled in having some creature comforts; a double bed, a sofa, a telly, a private bathroom, I thought I was in heaven! That evening I headed down to Roma Street Park to check out the last evening of the Enchanted Garden display. The whole park was lit up with different light installations which was magical to walk around. 

My main reason for wanting to go to Brisbane was to go to the Steve Irwin conservation zoo. While I have visited zoos in the past I don't think I'd ever go to one again unless a true conservation area which this zoo is. However I didn't get to experience it because the accommodation I had booked wouldn't let me keep my bag at their reception while I went to the zoo which I was only told that morning and I ended up booking an earlier bus out of there to go straight to Byron Bay instead, I was gutted and super annoyed as you can imagine. 

Byron Bay

Things To Do: Surfing, Shopping, Light House Sunrise Walk, Falls Festival, Splendour in the Grass, Nimbin
Stay For: 5-6 days
Bus Time from Brisbane: 4 hours 

Byron Bay, a place I had dreamed of visiting for years before I went and lived up to all of my hippie dream land expectations. A beach town slap bang in the middle of the East Coast of Australia, Byron Bay is a very cute and fun backpacker destination that I loved so much I ended up staying for two weeks. I planned to spend double the time here than I had anywhere else for a few reasons, firstly because it was where I was going to be for Christmas and New Year, and secondly because I had a ticket to Falls Music Festival which takes place over NYE and the days surrounding each year. 

If you haven't already guessed I loved my time in Byron Bay, by the time I had arrived there I had been backpacking for three weeks and it had become a running theme amongst so many of the people I met travelling that when asked where they would be for Christmas and what hostel they were staying in the answer was Wake Up in Byron Bay. I arrived a couple of days before the friends I made travelling and spent this time doing a two night surf camp with Mojo Surf, or so that was the plan. Toward the end of my first lesson I fell off the surf board and landed in shallow water on my knee so badly I couldn't bend it for 10 days or really put much weight on it. Thankfully Byron Bay isn't as full on as other places in terms of activities so hobbling around the beach and town centre was just about manageable for me. My knee injury it turns out was so bad I'm still suffering from it now and have an MRI at a hospital at home in a few days to finally find out what I've done nearly eight months later (oops!).

Moving on from knee gate, by the time everyone arrived in Byron Bay and I had made the customary new dorm room friends while there, we were a group of around 15 people. I would say Christmas and the days surrounding it in Byron Bay are amongst my favourite travelling memories, we had a great routine of getting up, having breakfast, going to the beach/ town/ shopping/ BBQ, get dinner, drinks, go out, wake up and have story time from the night before, repeat, for six days. Christmas Day on the beach with drinks and a BBQ (and customary red swimsuits and Santa hats) was an amazing experience and was definitely a Christmas I will never forget! 

As the days went on and everyone begun to go their separate ways to their next destinations for New Years Eve I stayed put and waited for my friend Mirri to travel up from Sydney (pictured below). Mirri and I have known each other since Uni however she moved to Australia about seven years ago. When she heard about Falls Festival we decided to go together and met in Byron Bay before getting the half an hour shuttle bus over to the festival grounds. Falls Festival is one thats been on my radar for years however I never thought I would get the chance to experience until I went travelling. Acts like Catfish and the Bottlemen, First Aid Kit, Chvrches, Hockey Dad and The Vaccines made for an amazing three days of music and the festival grounds were amongst the most beautiful I've ever been to (including Glastonbury and Coachella, yes really!). Instead of buying and then likely discarding a whole load of camping equipment we rented a tent, camp beds and bed sheets for around £120 each which made our lives so much easier, helped the environment and cost us about the same as if we'd gone out and bought everything we needed, a definite winner if you are ever in Byron Bay and thinking of going.


Things To Do: Shopping, Sightseeing, BBQ
Stay For: Day trip from Byron Bay
Bus Time from Byron Bay: 1.5 hours each way

If you thought Byron Bay sounded like a hippy oasis then it is nothing in comparison to Nimbin. While the town has it's own YHA hostel I would recommend it more as a day trip from Byron Bay as you can see it all in just a few hours. With lots of kooky shops, street art and an overall spaced out vibe, a lot of people come here to make psychedelic purchases if you catch my drift, however not being one wanting to break the law in a notoriously strict country I stayed away from this and instead enjoyed mooching around. We booked our trip through our hostel in Byron Bay which cost $60/£35 and included the bus to and from Nimbin and then a BBQ at a nearby park with a really lovely walk while your waiting for the driver to cook your food. 


Things To Do: Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Luna Park, Blue Mountains, Bondi to Coogee Walk, Beaches
Stay For: 4-6 days
Bus Time from Byron Bay: 12-13 hours 
Flight Time from Byron Bay: 1.5 hours

My first few days in Sydney were spent staying with my friend Mirri in her apartment. We did normal life things like go for dinner, to an art museum and binged watched the entire season of You on Netflix in a weekend. Come Monday Mirri had to go back to work and I went to stay at Base Hostel in Sydney City Centre. I'm not sure if it was because I was getting exhausted by this point, because by the time you get to Sydney and Melbourne a lot of your fellow backpackers are looking for work and less inclined to look to make friends, or making friends in hostels is harder in cities but I never really 'clicked' with Sydney. A lot of people had said to me you'll love either Sydney or Melbourne as they are so different and for me it was very much Melbourne, but more on that later.

Don't get me wrong, Sydney is a beautiful city and seeing the Opera House and walking across the Harbour Bridge were amazing things to do that I'll never forget, however apart from that I never really got the hype. I even loved doing the Bondi to Coogee walk and the contrast of city scape with beach life but something about the vibe of Sydney wasn't really very me. I wasn't about to let that get me down though so last minute booked a day trip to the Blue Mountains to get back to the nature I had loved from the start of my trip. This was however somewhat spoiled by a very misty day which meant I could see precisely nothing of the amazing landscape that lay ahead of me. Despite that I really enjoyed that moment of spontaneity and doing something by myself on a whim. 


Things To Do: Street Art Walk, Australia Tennis Open (January), Penguin March, St Kilda, Brighton Beach, 
Stay For: 4-6 days
Bus Time from Sydney: 12-15 hours (depends on the bus booked)
Flight Time from Sydney: 1.5 hours

My last destination in Australia was Melbourne, a city of two halves Melbourne is much smaller than Sydney but still has that mix of city and beach life. I split my time in Melbourne between staying in the city centre before heading down to St Kilda for one last dose of vitamin sea ahead of jetting off to New Zealand for the next part of my trip (blog post coming soon).

The main city of Melbourne has all the street art, independent cafe's, rock bars and boutique shops you could ever hope for and I think it was this which made the city very much more me. I begun my stay there at Nomad's which is one of the very few hostel's I absolutely hated and would urge you not to stay there. On my second night in Melbourne I went to go and see Taking Back Sunday as they just so happened to be playing while I was there and had a great time seeing a band I loved when I was fifteen live again. If tennis is more your thing then Melbourne hosts the Australia open in January every year, there is also a live music schedule that accompanies this but being slow on the uptake I didn't manage to get tickets to any of the shows. 

Then the time came to head down to St Kilda, which is around 20 minutes out of the main city via tram. I also stayed at both the Nomad and Base hostels while there and they were both lovely. A cute beach town, St Kilda has more cute shops and cafe's, as well as a small beach with a pier. If you're a fan of penguins there is the nightly penguin march where these tiny penguins come back to their homes in the rocks of the pier at around 9pm each evening. You have to be very patient and very quiet, and if you're lucky like we were you'll see them just a few feet away chilling out on the rocks before bedtime. While in St Kilda I also took myself down to Brighton Beach for the day, complete with it's own beach huts (pictured above), it's a very small but lovely beach with gorgeous clear warm water and an amazing view of Melbourne's skyline. I got the bus however you can also cycle down there from St Kilda. 

In summary Australia is an amazing country and even in my six weeks there I feel like I only scratched the surface of what it has to offer. I loved my time there and always felt safe making it the perfect destination for first time backpackers like myself. If I could change a couple of things about my trip I probably would, however overall I had an incredible time and totally fell in love with the land down under. I hope this blog post has answered some questions you might have had about backpacking Australia, or given you a taster for what it has to offer and some insight into what activities are where and the huge variety of things on offer. 

If you want to see more of my trip there are plenty of posts over on my Instagram and an 'Australia' highlight with all my stories from while I was there. I love hearing from my readers too so feel free to pop me a DM or email me on robyn@therobyndiaries.com if you have any questions about Australia or anything else!