Australia is an exciting continent with a lot of variety. And the tour offerings are overwhelming. So, if you still have a job at home and only a few weeks to travel, what are the things that are worth doing? I traveled through Australia for 4 weeks and can suggest you an itinerary that I find quite ideal because it involves snorkeling, beaches, rain forest, outback and urban life.
My first stop in Australia was Cairns, the city that is only 30 km away from the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns itself is not particularly nice. It's very touristy and you can't swim in the Ocean because of the jellyfish that can be very dangerous. But it is a good place to deal with your jet lag, especially because it has an international airport, so it's not a long trip to your hotel - and then, go diving or snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef! It was one of the most impressive things I've seen in my life. The corals are very close to the water surface in many areas, so, if you are afraid to dive, snorkeling is a good alternative and for me snorkeling was more than enough. The colours and variety of fish are amazing. You will find all the fish that are mentioned in "Finding nemo" :D. One good advice that I can give you is not to get a stinger suit
since there are no stingers in the area where you snorkel. They cost you an additional 10$ and after the first stop nobody was wearing them anymore.
Cairns is also a good place to go on a rain forest tour, although, for me, the tour felt a little too organised. You walk on steel bridges and on every other tree there is a sign that informs you about what kind of tree it is etc.. So, if you are searching for a hiking rain forest experience, Cairns might be the wrong place toCairns (including jet lag) are more than enough. A hostel I can definitely recommend is the "Dreamtime travellers rest". It is clean, has a lovely staff, a nice and very friendly atmosphere and is located quite central.
From Cairns I booked a Greyhound pass to Alice Springs with a few stops in between. The Greyhound bus is a quite comfortable way to travel because it has aircon, USB sockets and even wifi that works very nicely on many parts of the trip. My next stop was Mission Beach, a tiny village which is good if you are searching for some peace and quiet. It's also a good place if you want to go sky diving or river rafting. Both tours you can book as a package and get a discount. The hostel I was staying in was called "Absolute backpackers". It was so lovely! It has the nicest staff, an own pool and is in a five minute walking distance to the beach and to the supermarket. But you have to walk a while in order to get to the next stinger net in which you can swim. If you book your tours or your next hostel there, you will get a nice discount, although "absolute backpackers" doesn't have any advantage from it. It is only part of their understanding of being a good host and being guest friendly.
My next stop was Townsville which is a lovely city with many opportunities to swim in the ocean.
One thing I would definitely recommend is to take the ferry to Magnetic Island and join a horse riding tour at the beach and through the rain forest. You can even go swimming with the horses. This was one of the nicest experiences during my Australia trip. I'm a little torn about the hostel I was staying at. It has a very cool design with lots of stairs outside and chillout areas at different levels. In terms of design it was one of the nicest hostel I was staying at in Australia (except from the office area which looked awful). But the staff was very unfriendly and moody, especially the owner himself was very grumpy all the time. But, on the bright side, you don't see them very often, so it still is a place I can recommend.
From Townsville it took me a 24h bus ride to get to Alice Springs in order to join an outback tour that only departs from there. About Alice Springs I am a little torn as well. It is important to mention that Alice Springs is a very dangerous city at night, especially for women. At least dangerous enough that the bus driver waited until I got a taxi before he left. Still I think, it is worth a visit in order to see this side of Australia. I can't go into detail about the problems between Aborigines and white people but the core problem is that the western culture usurped the aboriginal culture so that most Aborigines are a little lost and many of them developed some bad drinking habits and aggressive behaviour. I can't really recommend a good hostel for Alice Springs, so my only advice is to make sure that you get a shuttle service to your hotel or hostel.
The outback tour on the other hand was by far the best part of my Australia visit. I chose "The Rock Tours" and I can recommend everything about it. The tour only costs
half the price of all the other tours but you still visit all the places that the other tours visit as well. It was exactly the kind of experience I was looking for. We were sleeping under the open sky around a fire (watch out for dingos, they might steel your shoes!), we went hiking through the amazing landscape of the outback and the tour guide knew so much about all kinds of healing plants and the Aboriginal culture. At one evening we went to see the sunset at Ayers Rock and it felt magical, with the barbecue chicken, a cider and all the friendly people that I met. I have to repeat, the outback tour was by far the best experience in Australia!
From the airport at Ayers Rock I then flew to Melbourne. One good advice for domestic flights in Australia is to wait for the "Freaky Friday" by Jetstar. There the flights are very cheap.
Melbourne is an amazing city. It has a very special flair with a mix of old houses, skyscrapers and an amazing food culture. Even the take aways have a very nice design, are very clean and -of course- they have good quality food. It would take me a year to visit all the cool restaurants but thank goodness eating out is comparably cheap in Melbourne. I guess because there is so much competition. The area I liked the most was Fitzroy. There are hipsters everywhere, it has nice cafes and every Saturday there is this wonderful artists market where I bought two very nice necklaces. I was quite lucky because the Australian Open were just taking place when I was visiting Melbourne. A ground pass is about 45$ and when you go there in the beginning you can visit all the matches that don't take place at the centre court. A famous place to visit in Melbourne is Phillip Island. There are penguins arriving every evening. But this is not really a secret anymore, so, thousands of tourists wait there every night to see the penguins. I didn't go there myself but many people told me that it was great. The hostel I stayed in was the northern YHA hostel. Hostels from YHA always have general high standards of tidiness but also a lack of personality. What was great about the hostel was the location at a 10 minute walking distance to the city centre (which has a free tram network btw).
From Melbourne I took the Greyhound overnight bus to Sydney, where I stayed at
the lovely Eva's Backpackers. It has a great location, a nice staff, a nice rooftop garden with a view over Sydney where they even grow their own herbs and lots of other nice stuff. For me it has been the best hostel in Australia. Sydney is pretty amazing. Every day I went to another nice cafe for breakfast, where I relaxed, wrote for the blog or read a book. I loved the botanical gardens and the fireworks every Friday evening and the nice Sydney nightlife afterwards. In a way, Sydney is the perfect city because it has both the urban life and beautiful beaches. Bondi Beach is the most famous of them but, to
be honest, I never went there. When I first visited, I accidentally left the bus one stop too early. From the distance I could see Bondi Beach crowded with tourists. So, I changed my mind and took the coastal walk that is heading to other beaches. After a few minutes I discovered some cliff rocks that were deserted. What people couldn't see was that there was a little natural pond within the rocks, so it was safe to swim. I spend the whole day in the peace of this rocks with a view to the crowded beach and again it was lovely. Another place that is worth visiting in the area around Sydney are the Blue Mountains. They are an overwhelming combination of rocks and forest. First, I was a little annoyed because I thought it was going to be very touristy but after a 15 minute walk, I was pretty much on my own. I don't recommend to take all the transportation offers like "the steepest cable car in the world". If you are an adult who is not scared of height, it actually is very boring and not worth the money. But if you are with kids, they will probably love it. But Australia was only the beginning of my trip and there are more travelling posts to come soon ;)
For now, this was my quick and yet still very long summary of the things I liked most in Australia. I hope, it was helpful!
All the best!