How to Backpack in Australia

A very large country, Australia is ideal for backpacking but it can be a little challenging due to its large size, along with the frequent extreme temperatures and a number of challenging, dangerous animals to contend with. Moreover, deciding where to backpack is essential to avoid chewing up your budget and running out of money before you've seen enough. Planning well, in advance, however, you can backpack Australia and have a wonderful time.


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    Be prepared for the sheer size of Australia when travelling through it. Australia is not like Europe or North America where a town pops up every few tens of miles/kilometres. Australia is vast and there are are a great many places that are nowhere near any other places. Most of the population centres hug the seaboard (especially the East). This means that you will need to consider where you want to backpack and how you will do it. Consider the following things:
    • Coastal backpacking is likely to be much easier than inland backpacking. Most Australians are coastal dwellers. Transport, infrastructure, towns and cities are found in much high density in coastal areas. If you want the easier experience, backpack Queensland down to Victoria; or you can divert across to Adelaide in South Australia, or catch the boat down to Tasmania. Tasmania is one neat package in and of itself for visiting, well worth considering.
    • Australia does not have a brilliant train system between many major towns and cities but there are some good passenger services depending on where you're headed. The major cities have train links but unlike Europe and Canada and some parts of the USA, the train system was allowed to run down over the years and more people relied on cars and buses than trains. That said, interested parties are trying to improve rail infrastructure across Australia and the more tourists prefer it, the better. Plan in advance and see what is available - again, coastal routes are likely to be better, and some famous routes such as The Ghan are always worth considering (for a price).
    • Buses in Australia are frequent and reliable and cost-effective. However, they are cramped when you consider that many of the journeys will take 10s and 20s of hours to get anywhere... Most come equipped with movies and other distractions for passengers such as stops for refreshments. Intrepid and strong backpackers won't mind the long rides but if you tire easily and don't sleep well sitting up, long bus rides around Australia are not desirable.
    • Hire a car. This is a fairly good option for a backpacker. Many young backpackers pool resources together to hire a car or even purchase a cheap one and travel together and cover the cost of fuel etc. Great for leaving the heavy backpacks in the trunk (boot) all the time! If you don't have a group to travel with, just check the noticeboards at backpacking hostels and you will likely find others looking to form such a group.
    • Cycling. It is possible to cycle Australia but restrict it to parts unless you are an endurance athlete. Some of the highways are dangerous for cyclists and many of the freeways ban cyclists.
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    Stay in backpacker hostels and other budget accommodation. There are plenty of both, including Formula 1 hotels, etc. The hostel network is good and pretty much everywhere. You will get a lot of information from these places about activities to share with others and about other places to visit. Contact the organizations for details on special deals etc.
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    Take care of yourself. Australia is a relatively safe country to backpack in. Be aware though of a few things:
    • Hitchhiking is generally illegal or frowned upon. There have been some unfortunate cases of tourists not returning from a hitchhike in the middle of nowhere, and several high profile crimes have been committed involving unwitting backpackers, so do it at your own risk.
    • Ask locals about safety after dark. Some areas are typically unsafe due to drunken escapades, so avoid areas that have a lot of pubs and clubs, for example, in urban areas. Australian drinking habits are not pretty. Most places are fairly safe to go to after dark and women can usually travel alone, provided you take the proper and usual precautions.
    • Animal threats. Australian animals are gorgeous as a whole but some are a little unforgiving. There are venomous snakes, venomous spiders, crocodiles, jellyfish, stinging fish, blue ring octopuses, sharks etc. Read up on the hazards and be aware of how to avoid them. Even the apparently cute animals can bite (koalas, wombats) and kangaroos can kill with one swift kick if it is a large and aggressive male. However, common sense should prevail; Australians manage to live there safely on the whole, so ask the locals for tips and "she'll be right".
    • Drive carefully. Speaking of kangaroos, watch out for them on the roads. They are Australia's equivalent of moose or deer, depending on which species is hanging around. They do the same damage and can kill car occupants if hit too. Always be alert. They are generally dusk to dawn creatures but drought can drive them out into the day as well. Keep your eyes peeled all the time and try not to travel in kangaroo areas at night - get some good rest instead!
    • Drink driving. Australians like their "booze" and drink driving is a problem. There are many breathalyzers around to try to nab the drunk drivers but it pays to be alert to any erratic driving or speeding and give such drivers wide berth. Report them too if you can. Equally, don't drink and drive "or you're a bloody idiot" as Australians are fond of recounting.
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    Take care when hiking. Many backpackers go hiking as much as discovering urban and regional areas. In Australia this presents some special challenges for consideration:
    • Avoid the dangerous animals. See the step above for an overview. In particular, consider your clothing. Sandals are not good hiking gear for the Australian bush. Wear covered boots and, if possible, long pants or gaiters. If you are attacked by a snake (the usual problem is not seeing one and treading on it), then the boots and gaiters/pants give protection. It is also very wise to be an alert hiker who looks ahead on the trail to see any sunbathing snakes. They're not waiting there to attack you; they're enjoying the sun. Glibly avoid them and make vibrations with heavy walking to warn them of your approach. And use insect repellent - flies and mosquitoes can be particularly annoying.
    • Sunburn. Australia is a scorching land with one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Slip, slop, slap is the local vernacular, meaning slip on long-sleeved clothing, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat. And keep out of the sun when it is fiercest between 11 and 3.
    • Water and dehydration. It is easy to die of thirst in Australia if you get lost in the middle of the desert and have no water. Always carry water, no matter how cool it might seem when you venture out and no matter how heavy that water feels carrying it. You will never regret having it and rarely will a hiker return from an Australian hike with a full water bottle.
    • Always know where you are going and take maps. Leave instructions at register booths if trails have them. And take warm clothing for mountain hikes. Not all of Australia has blistering heat and the cold can kill you on Australian mountains just as it can anywhere else in the world if you get caught in an unexpected storm. Also beware of flash flood zones; if it's raining, don't stand around or walk in what seem to be dry creeks, riverbeds, or drainage zones but keep well out of them and up higher. Never camp in creek or river beds. Flash floods can occur without warning, even during what might seem to be a drought.
    • Be careful wherever you hike. Sometimes Australia's weathered down rocks can be deceptive in their "ease of climbing" and people get careless and take silly risks. A fall from a rock can kill no matter how much smaller the rock seems than your rocks back home.
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    Be sun aware. As discussed in the step above, the sun is fierce over Australia. Always wear a hat, prefer long sleeved and long legged clothing if you are walking or travelling in the sun for any length of time and wear approved sunscreen. Avoid sunbathing for hours on end. You will be sun roasted and turn out as red as a lobster. Avoid being out in the sun between 11 and 3 during summer for any extended activity unless you have proper cover.
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    Enjoy. Australia is a land of great and astounding beauty. You won't see landscape, vegetation or fauna like this anywhere else in the world. It is unique and that is what makes it precious. Respect it by sticking to trails and paths that have been made for human access and do not pick wildflowers or remove animals from their locations. Do not litter; Australians are very proud about having a clean country. Take lots of photos and pace yourself. Australia's enormity often requires several visits rather than trying to do too much at once and exhaust yourself in the process!


  • Vegetarians and vegans will have good choices in urban areas. It can be more difficult, especially for vegans, in country areas but there are generally supermarkets and farmer's markets where you can stock up. Soy milk is fairly staple.
  • If flying to Australia from far away, take a stopover on the way there and the flight won't feel anywhere near as bad. There are many wonderful places to stopover, such as Asia and the South Pacific.
  • Always have travel insurance. Australia has a good medical system with free health services in hospitals for emergencies but doctors visits cost money and rebates are only available to those in the Medicare system, which is for Australians and reciprocal countries such as New Zealand and the UK. Even then, the rules can be complicated. And you should be covered for theft, accidents etc.
  • Many backpackers from Europe take several months to backpack Australia, due to its enormous size and what is perceived by them as "such a long way to travel"!
  • Backpacks, backpacking equipment and other outdoor and travel supplies are sold all over Australia, so you won't have any problems refilling broken, lost, or used-up items at good prices.


  • Beware of wildfires if hiking or driving through hot and dry areas. Wildfires are fierce, fast and merciless. Always read the news before setting out during wildfire season (whenever it is really dry, but especially summer time with the increased heat). Driving through wildfire smoke is disorienting and frightening. If you are caught in the fire, stay with your car, crouch down low and try to cover yourself until the fire passes and then get out. People have died getting caught this way, however, so it is best to avoid such situations by planning ahead.

Things You'll Need

  • Backpack
  • Maps
  • Itinerary (planned in advance)
  • Guidebook(s)

Article Info

Categories: Australia | Backpacking and Hiking