The Complete Australia Travel Guide - First Time Travelers Skip to content

Australia

A country with multiple secrets

The complete Australia travel guide

Every year, approximately eight million people around the world plan an Australia travel trip.

Australia is one of my top destinations around the world. From reef diving to mountain climbing and even visiting fancy restaurants, there are things to see and do for all tastes, budgets, and ages. For those who love the sunshine, there are beaches and deserts aplenty. You can visit the world-famous Bondi Beach or the deserts of Uluru for a trip into the dunes. I personally like to climb and explore fauna, and I have explored the Blue Mountains and gone diving into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

Shangri-La Hotel and the Lync-Haven Rainforest Accommodation are some of my favorite hotels, and I have definitely enjoyed a few great meals at Baskin-Robbins Australia and 85C Bakery Cafe. However, visiting Australia, as with any part of the world, is not so simple if you are going there for the first time. There will be many questions you might not know you need to ask, and mistakes you would like to avoid. For this reason, this extensive guide was put together. If you are a first-time traveler you will learn everything you need to know about traveling to Australia.

If you want to get your info quicker, just click a topic below:

Where is Australia on the map?

australian map

Australia sits in the middle of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean.

It is a member of the Oceania countries, along with Fiji, Tonga, Indonesia. Although a sovereign country, Australia is also an island, having no land borders, and a continent. It is the sixth-largest country, it covers a total area of about 7, 741, 220 sq. km and it’s one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Australia is divided from Asia by the Timor and Arafura Seas and is also divided from New Zealand by the Tasman Sea. Tasmania Island, along with some other smaller islands dotted along the Pacific Ocean, are all Australian territory, in addition to its actual mainland.

The country is bounded by its neighbors, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor to the north, New Zealand to the southeast, and the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the northeast.

1770 - 1927: A Quick Overview of Australia’s History

australia travel guide quick history of the country

Fondly referred to as “the land down under”, Australia was (about 40,000 years ago) originally inhabited by aboriginal people.

In the Age of Expansion experienced by Europeans, many Spanish, English, and Dutch explorers discovered and mapped the continent. However, it was in 1770 that the British captain, James Cook, explored the east coast of Australia, named it New South Wales, and claimed it as a territory under Great Britain.

Eighteen years after this claiming of territory, Captain Arthur Phillip – on January 26 – established the first colony in Sydney. Many of the members of this colony were brought by force, having been convicted criminals who Great Britain preferred to send away instead of jailing them on British soil. Some of the people who were sent to the colony were not even criminals but were exiled there because the government wanted to get rid of them. Regardless, this history of enforced migration still stands and Australia is still referred to sometimes as having been a penal colony at its roots.

In total, Australia was formed with six colonies. They were, in a specific order; New South Wales in 1788, Tasmania in 1825, Western Australia in 1829, South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. All these colonies formed the basis for the Australian Commonwealth states.

The Australian Commonwealth was created on January 1, 1901, in an act passed by the British Government. The Commonwealth was expanded in 1911 when the Northern Territory was added to it.

After the creation of the Commonwealth in January 1901, the Duke of York opened the first federal parliament at Melbourne in May 1901. It sat there for twenty-six years and then moved, along with the center of government, to the city of Canberra in 1927. Australia has been a free state since that time and has stayed out of major conflict, other than the two world wars where it took the side of the Allied Forces. Find out more about Australie here.

What is the main religion in Australia?

The religious landscape in Australia is pretty diverse and free.

This is because the Australian Constitution does not permit the government to interfere with freedom of religion. While there are a lot of different religions practiced in the country like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikh, and other religions, the main religion practiced in Australia is Christianity and about half of the country’s population professes to be Christian.

However, as of the last 2016 census, about 30% of the Australian population does not practice religion.

What's the currency and cost of living?

The currency in Australia is the Australian Dollar (AUD). The conversion rate of AUD – USD is about 1.40 AUD to 1 USD.

To make a budget for your Australia travel plan, you need to know the cost of accommodation and food, as well as the costs of the activities you might want to engage in while you are there.

Australia Cost
Low Budget
Mid Range
High Range
Accomodation
Hostels/Budget Hotels
Mid-Range Hotels
Luxury Hotels
20-60 AUD/night
65 – 100 AUD/night
100 – 200 AUD/night
Food
Grab & Go/Asian Food Spot
Restaurant: Entree & Main Meal
Restaurant: Full Course Meal
8 – 15 AUD/meal
50 – 65 AUD/meal
65 – 100 AUD/meal
Activities
Walking Tour
Day Trip
Multi-Day Trip
50 AUD – 80
135 – 230 AUD
400 – 540 AUD

How much money do I need to visit Australia?

If you want to save costs and go on a backpacker budget, you can set out to spend between 60 to 80 AUD or 45 to 60 USD per day. As you have read above, this will work if you stay in an affordable hostel or choose to camp out. You will also need to cook the majority of your meals and get around using public transportation. You will also need to look for activities that are free and check out museums or sites that allow free entry.

If you want a little more comfort and can shoot for a mid-range budget, then plan to spend about 270 AUD/200+ USD per day. With this, you can get accommodation in a budget hotel, eat out at least once a day, maybe check out different parts of the city you are in, and be able to pay for day trips and walking tours.

On a luxury budget that would reach as high as 400 AUD/300+ USD per day, you can get a room in an upscale hotel, eat out every day, and go on multi-day tours and trips.

How to get around in Australia?

When making your Australia travel budget, you have to take transportation costs into consideration. Excluding the cost of your plane ticket from whichever country you are visiting from, you will still have to move about.

Some of the transportation options in Australia include:

City Transit

The public transportation system in Australia is reliable, affordable, and my favorite way to get around. All of the cities have public buses and the bigger cities – like Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane – have trams and subway systems. Public transport fares typically cost between 3- to 4 AUD or 2 to 3 USD.

Interstate Air Travel

Australia is large enough to qualify as a continent, so getting around the country can take a while. I have found that the most efficient way to go from one city to the other is by air. Some of the major airlines in Australia are Virgin, Qantas, Jetstar, and Tiger Airways.

The most cost-efficient airline to fly within Australia is Tiger Airways. They typically offer discounts and budget deals and a trip from Melbourne to Sydney might cost between 155 to 180 AUD or 115 to 130 USD. A longer trip that goes across the country, like Perth to Cairns, can cost about 700 AUD/515 USD

Bus Service

The private bus service is the cheapest way of moving about on the east coast but is unexpectedly expensive on the west coast. In fact, I think it might be more beneficial to travel by air in Western Australia. However, getting around the east coast by bus is easy and affordable.

You can even save money if you book your bus tickets in advance. In Australia, the two major bus companies are Premier and Greyhound Australia. Bus tickets typically cost about 35 AUD/25 USD if you are traveling in the daytime, or between 60 to 70 AUD or 45 to 50 USD if you are traveling at night.

Trains

The very best way to see the large Australian continent is definitely by train. You can get on a long-distance train to go from one part of the country to the other, or get on a city tram to take a mini-tour of Sydney. While they are my favorite way to see the country, they are not necessarily found all over the country.

You are most likely to find functional train systems on the east coast. The only other major lines are one that runs from the northern end of Australia (Melbourne) to the southern end (Darwin) and another that functions within the east coast between Perth and Sydney. While traveling by train may be the best, it is in no way the cheapest. A one way trip from Brisbane to Cairns can cost about 536 AUD/369 USD!

Rent A Car

If you are trying to save money on transportation and travel at your own convenience, your best bet is to rent a car to get about in Australia. I have sometimes traveled with friends and rented a campervan for a road trip across the country. If you are willing to rideshare, you can save a lot of money by sharing the cost of the rental with a few co-travelers.

When is the best time to visit Australia?

Cities in the southern part of Australia, like Melbourne and Sydney, usually welcome lots of tourists in December, January, and February,
which are Australia’s summer months and the warmer part of the year.

This is considered the peak season in those destinations and as the number of people there goes up, so do the prices. If you are planning your Australia travel on a backpacker’s budget, you might want to go to these places in March, April, or October, and November. The weather is relatively warm in these months and you will be able to enjoy the cities at a lower cost and with fewer people.

When To Go To Northern Australia

In the northern parts of Australia, for instance, in Queensland, the summer months of December through February are often extremely hot, humid, and wet. It can get very uncomfortable in this period as the weather oscillates between punishing heat and heavy rains. In the desert regions like Uluru, the heat that comes in the summer months is definitely too much for tourism.

If you wish to visit any of these northern regions, I think the best time to plan your trip is during June, July, or August – the winter months.

Traveling Across The Country

Of course, if you are planning a trip to Australia that will involve traveling destinations across the country from north to south, I would say the best time to visit is during the weather transition times when the summer months and winter months intersect like March, April, September, and October.

Do I need a visa to travel to Australia?

Every foreigners need to have a visa in order to visit Australia as a tourist.

However, special consideration is given to citizens of Hong Kong, Brunei, Canada, Singapore, the USA, Malaysia, and South Korea. If you are from any of those countries, you can simply apply for an ETA online which will cost about 20 AUD/18.50 USD.

The process is fairly simple and fast, and within a few days, you should receive a confirmation email. With that email received, you can head on to the airport where you will show up in the database when immigration does a check on you. Unlike a regular visa application, this is totally digital, so there is nothing to print out.

Visitors to Australia using an ETA are permitted to travel within Australia for up to three months within a 12-month duration. Within that time, visitors are not permitted to work and any academic pursuits must be completed in time.

Visitors whose citizenship does not fall in the countries listed above do not have access to ETA applications. Questions of where, how to apply for tourist visas to Australia and the cost of application, vary from country to country, you’ll find all the right info on the official website.

What can you see and do in Australia?

If you are planning a checklist of things to see and do on your Australia travel, here are some attractions I absolutely recommend that you check out!

Visit the Sydney Opera House

sydney opera house in australia

Thanks to prior international marketing campaigns, the Sydney Opera House is one of the most internationally recognized structures in Australia. Located in Sydney at Bennelong Point, the Opera House sits on a breathtaking spot – being surrounded by water and resembling an island-like marvel. It was designed by Jørn Utzon, a Danish architect and is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While many people like to take pictures with the Opera House in their background, there is a lot to be done inside. You can watch amazing performances, eat in one of the world-class restaurants, watch a movie in a theater, or even take a guided tour of the entire building.

Explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

kata tjuta national park in australia

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Area that is collectively cared for by Parks Australia and the Anangu people, the ancestral owners of the land. Within the National Park sits Uluru, a shockingly red hill that stands about 348 meters high from the plain.

Translated to mean “shadowy place”, Uluru is one of Australia’s most photographed naturally occurring attractions. But it is also of significant spiritual importance to the Anangu people. You can take a guided tour of the park, which is often led by a duo of park rangers and Aboriginal guides.

Go Diving in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

heart reef in the national bay australia

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Area and home to the Great Barrier Reef – one of the biggest structures on earth that lives in water. The Marine Park was established in 1975 in order to protect the ecosystem surrounding the Great Reef, which includes thousands of other coral reefs, hundreds of islands, coral cays, and more.

One of the seven wonders of the world, the park is often visited by people who enjoy a good dive and like to swim with the many hundreds of species of fish, dolphins, turtles, giant clams, and sharks.

Explore Blue Mountain National Park

blue mountain three sisters in australia

If you staying in Sydney, Blue Mountains National Park is situated about 81 kilometers to the west of the city and is frequently visited on day trips. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is humongous, with about 664,000 acres of land that includes waterfalls, deserts, gorges, hiking trails, and even some rock paintings by Aboriginals.

Some of the most popular attractions that are marveled at in the park include the Katoomba Scenic Railway and the Three Sisters – a group of sandstone rock formations. People visit the park not only to sightsee but also to mountain climb, ride horses, hike, or abseil down the face of the mountain.

Visit Bondi Beach

visit bondi beach

Bondi Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world. Only 15 minutes away from the center of Melbourne, the beach is well known for its soft sands, warm water, and surfable waves. Families often head down to the beach for a nice picnic in the sun, or simply to take a walk with the wind rifling through hair and clothes.

In December, locals and tourists come together by the beach to sing Christmas carols and to celebrate with the turning of the new year. If taking a walk with an ocean view is one of your preferred activities, take a nice stroll down the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk – a six-kilometer walking trail that starts on the beach’s southern end.

Visit Broome

Broome is located on the western end of Australia and is a massive tourist town. Once visited by thousands for the pearls it supposedly held, thousands now visit it to chill out on its magnificent Cable Beach – a surf lover’s paradise with its white sands that go on for ages and its water that is the bluest of all blues. Having fun at the beach can be subbed by a ride on a magnificent camel or a visit to the Broome Historical Museum.

One of the most magical things to be seen in Broome is the Staircase to the Moon, an amazing event that happens in Broome between the months of March and October. In this period, at the Staircase, the moonlight tricks people into seeing steps that go upwards to the moon.

Visit The Cape Pillar Sea Cliffs

The Cape Pillar Sea Cliffs are the tallest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere. Standing at more than 900 feet tall, they are fully visible to the denizens of Tasmania, which is located across it from the coast of mainland Australia. A protected national site, the easiest way to visit is to join a boat tour coming from Port Arthur. Alternatively, you can challenge yourself and join a four-day hiking tour that comes from the Cape Pillar Circuit

Prepare your trip to Australia

What to bring in your suitcase in winter?

I think that what you choose to bring in your suitcase really depends on the time of the year that you will be visiting Australia.

If you are traveling to Australia in the winter, here are some of the things I would suggest you pack along:

  1. Thermal Underwear to keep your nether regions warm if you decide to go out camping under the Australian night sky.
  2. A beanie to keep your ears from freezing off should you decide to visit Tasmania or to go hiking in the mountains.
  3. Sneakers to keep your feet warm. Thong slippers are great, but frozen toes might not be your favorite things.
  4. Warm socks are necessary. All-day, every day. You will need them in your shoes when you are sitting around, and definitely when you go to bed and the temperature drops a little lower.
  5. Layers of clothing. Australia may not experience deep negative temperatures, but it can get really chilly. On top of those thermals, be prepared to throw on a few extra t-shirts and jerseys to protect you from the cold.
  6. A warm jacket will go perfectly on top of your t-shirt layers.
  7. A wind/waterproof jacket to keep the wet cold from seeping through to your skin.
  8. Denim pants are great for the rugged outback and keep you warm. They also translate for more serious dress-ups.
  9. A scarf is also great for both men and women. It can function as a neck warmer, or be used to scale up an outfit.

What to bring in your suitcase in summer?

If you are traveling to Australia in the summer, here are some things I would suggest you pack:

  1. Sunscreen tops my list of things you should pack if you are planning to visit Australia in the summer. Look for the highest SPF you can find and make sure it is in your bag.
  2. A bucket hat and sunglasses are necessary because the Australian sun is no joke. If you are going to chill on the beach, go hiking in the outback, or simply be outdoors during the summertime, you must be prepared.
  3. Flip-flops are a great alternative to wearing shoes in the summertime. You can wear them to the beach, to the store, or anywhere else you might want so your toes can breathe freely.
  4. Australia is full of awesome beaches. If you are going to experience them to the fullest, you will need to pack your swimsuit.
  5. The Australian sun gets pretty hot in the summer, but the nights can be pretty nippy. Pack along a light sweater, it might come in handy.
  6. Whatever outfits you like to wear out. Think tee-shirts, denim pants, and shorts for your daytime exploring and then more dressy outfits for evenings spent out on the town.
  7. Summertime in Australia also brings a fair amount of rain with it. Pack a waterproof/windproof jacket to stay dry.

Other honorary mentions for essential packing include aloe vera oil; in case your sunscreen lotion is insufficient and you get sunburned, aloe vera will save you. Also, buy some insect repellant. Out on the Australian outback, you are bound to run into insects. Pack along some repellant if you plan to be outdoors.

Dear Alyne Super Tips

If it is your first time making Australia travel plans, it might be easy to make some mistakes. Here are some lessons and tips I have learned that you might find very helpful:

  • Buy a Sim Card

Being reachable via mobile phone will make your first trip to Australia much easier, so make sure you buy a sim card as soon as you are able to. Sim cards typically sell for about $2 and data plans are pretty affordable. With a data plan, you will be able to communicate with important people and have access to Google Maps.

Get Optus or Amaysim sim cards if you are staying within the urban areas. If you are planning to travel into the outback, you might have to get a Telstra sim card instead.

  • Rent A Car

While Australia does have a functional transportation system, you do not want to spend all your free time trying to catch buses or waiting for taxis. Just rent your own car so that you can explore Australia at your own pace. Rental cars often come with the option to drive manual or automatic so you can choose whichever works best for you.

If you are among friends and you have the time, try renting a van and taking it out on a road trip. It will be a magical experience. Remember that Australians drive on the left side of the road and that animals come out onto the road in the night to look for food – so try to drive during the day, not at night.

  • The Seasons Switch Places

If you are visiting Australia from the Northern Hemisphere of the world, you might be surprised to find that the seasons are totally switched over from what you are used to. In Australia, summer typically happens in December through to February, while winter happens between June through to August. You need to bear that in mind so you pack the right clothes when you are making travel plans.

  • The Plugs are Different Too

Just like the seasons and the side of the road typically driven on, electricity plugs in Australia are different from what most people are used to. The plugs are 230V/50HZ, instead of the American style 120V. This means if you plug in your American style electronics to any outlets in Australia, they might be totally damaged. Your best bet to get around this is to buy a universal adapter that comes with surge protection. These are usable by all your appliances and will keep them safe.

  • Use Sunscreen In Summer

The Australian sun is much stronger than most first time visitors expect. In fact, Australia is one of the countries with the highest rates of skin cancer due to the harshness of its sun. If you are visiting in summer, ensure that you apply sunscreen regularly.

You might also need to take extra measures like wearing sunglasses and clothing that will protect you from the sun’s rays. If you are planning to go into the water while you are in Australia, try to look for reef-safe sunscreen so that you do not poison the aqua-life when you swim.

  • Watch Out for Poisonous Animals

Australia is full of many amazing animals. Some of them can be very dangerous if you come across them unknowingly. For instance, there are lots of snakes and spiders on dry land as well as poisonous jellyfish in the water. Make sure you stay watchful when you go out on hikes to avoid crossing paths with vipers or venomous ants.

  • Do Not Leave Tips at Restaurants

If you are coming from the US, you might be used to leaving tips for servers when you eat out. However, unlike the US, Australia ensures that its workers are paid a minimum wage of $18.93 AUD/Hour (~$13). This is much higher than the standard wage in the US. Because of this, servers in restaurants do not expect to be given tips for serving you. A heartfelt “thank you” is usually gratitude enough.

The first time I planned an Australia travel trip it was pretty daunting. Over the years, I have learned a lot and I have put it all in this travel guide just for you. If you have reached this part, then you know how much to budget, what to pack, and what kinds of activities you would like to get into.

To get the best of this guide, go over it again and then create a checklist of things to remember from this guide. Have the best Australia travel trip you could ever have dreamed of!!!