Uluru, Northern Territory © Tourism NT/Lola Hubner
Australian backpacker bucket list
City secrets, quirky landmarks, bizarre wildlife and wild adventures – here are 23 uniquely Aussie ideas to tick off your 2023 Australian travel bucket list.
By Carly Spek
From sliding down giant sand dunes to partying on Sydney Harbour, there’s an endless list of unmatched experiences on offer Down Under. We’ve summed up just a few of the best ideas for your Aussie travel bucket list to make sure that you don’t miss a thing when you come and say g’day.
1. Get lost in other-worldly landscapes
Vast, dusty pink lakes, untouched ancient rainforests and wobbly limestone monoliths rising from the desert – there’s no shortage of spectacular natural attractions to visit throughout Australia. Step away from the realities of day-to-day life and lose yourself in the beauty of these other-worldly landscapes. Be sure to pack a camera to capture every moment.
2. Meet the weird wildlife
A trip to Australia would be incomplete without paying a visit to some of the country’s weird and wonderful creatures. Head to Rottnest Island to hang out with the cheery local quokkas – their infectious smiles will have you grinning ear to ear. You can meet cute koalas and Tasmanian devils at many zoos and wildlife parks, or embark on an exhilarating cruise near Darwin to see huge saltwater crocodiles in the wild.
3. Find an adrenaline fix
Shake up your trip with a rush of adrenaline! Thrilling adventures Down Under are more than just a moment of exhilaration – they offer a chance to see breathtaking landscapes from a brilliantly terrifying point of view. Launch yourself from a plane on the edge of endless coastlines, bungy jump into a lush rainforest lagoon or scale your way down the world's highest commercial abseil.
4. Unwind on the water
Australia is famous for its unreal swimming and surfing beaches, but there are so many other ways that Aussies take to the water – giving them a go is sure to be a highlight of your trip. Take a dip in one of the East Coast’s most famous ocean pools at Bondi Icebergs, captain your very own picnic boat for a feast on Lake Burley Griffin, or calmly drift through the rainforest, soaking up the natural sights and sounds on an inflatable board.
5. Soak up city life
From tips to avoid the crowds to insider knowledge on the best spots to eat, locals really do know best – which is why exploring Australia’s cities with a bit of local finesse belongs on your bucket list. Skip the harbour cruise and hop on a commuter ferry from Circular Quay to Manly for exceptional (and affordable) views of Sydney Harbour, explore Melbourne’s laneways for hidden gems, or find the perfect picnic spot along the Brisbane River.
6. Learn from ancient cultures
While in Australia, take the chance to experience the world’s oldest living cultures. Join Anangu artists beside sacred Uluru and learn to share stories through traditional dot painting techniques, or paddle out into World Heritage-listed Shark Bay as you hear the Dreaming of the region. There’s plenty to choose from in the cities too – a walking tour will deepen your appreciation for the culture and history that came long before the skyscrapers in places such as Narrm (Melbourne).
7. Get active
Get your heart racing with an active adventure that’s equal parts challenging and rewarding. Grab a board and soar down from the peaks of the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest sand dunes, or visit one of Australia’s best ski resorts for some action on the slopes (and a touch of après). If you dare to give mountain biking a go, Tasmania has incredible trails where riders of all abilities can weave their way down winding mountains.
8. Attend a festival
No matter what time of year it is, there’s always a host of festivals and events happening right around the country. Sydney’s city streets become a free, public gallery on winter nights when the cityscape transforms for the mesmerising VIVID lights showcase. Crowds flock south for a combination of free and ticketed groovy live music, comedy and theatre during the Adelaide Fringe Festival, while further north, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair celebrates a wide diversity of Aboriginal art over four unmissable days.
9. Soar above the clouds
Some experiences are simply worth the splurge. So strap in and get ready to fly high over Australia’s land, sea and sky. Pop in for a schooner at some of Darwin's best regional pubs on an extravagant helicopter pub crawl. Experience the Great Barrier Reef from above, spotting spectacular coral formations like Heart Reef, or for something a little more relaxing, float above Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin in a picturesque hot air balloon.
10. Swim with friendly sea life
Diving into the ocean to swim with wild marine life is a truly unforgettable experience, and Australia’s coastline is brimming with ways to tick it off your bucket list. Kangaroo Island is a haven for wildlife encounters, where you can venture beyond the shores to swim with playful resident dolphins. While the thought of swimming with whale sharks may be a little nerve-racking, these giant creatures are actually super peaceful, and you can paddle beside them on Ningaloo Reef. If you visit the incredible Great Barrier Reef, take the chance to glide alongside majestic manta rays.
11. Embark on unforgettable hikes
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of reaching a trail’s summit and being rewarded with literally breathtaking views. Whether it’s a day hike or a multi-day challenge, exploring Australia’s wilderness on foot is magical. Take an easy three-hour stroll through the wildflowers of the Blue Mountains on the Pulpit Rock Walking Track, spend three days trekking Tasmania’s jagged coast along the Three Capes Track, or navigate a diverse stretch of landscapes on the Larapinta Trail.
12. Sip local brews
The ultra-fresh taste of a drink brewed in-house really does hit different. At Australia’s many breweries, wineries and distilleries, the joy of indulging in a crisp local beverage is rivalled only by the passionate people you’ll meet behind the scenes. Savour reds and whites at funky urban wineries, get amongst the fun at laid-back breweries, or have a yarn (chat) over a cocktail at a classy distillery.
13. Experience the icons
If Australia’s iconic landmarks aren’t already on your bucket list, they should be! With affordable ways to experience them all, there’s really nothing stopping you. Check in at the Ayers Rock Campground and head off to circle the sacred red walls of Uluru. Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge might be a little out of budget, but the views are almost as good for a fraction of the price at the Pylon Lookout. You can also witness the magnificent corals and marine life of the Great Barrier Reef without leaving the mainland from the Cairns Aquarium.
14. Dance the night away
Incredible live music, extravagant costumes and next-level venues – Australians love to celebrate with outrageous events. Sydney’s New Year's Eve is the biggest and best party of them all, with crowds gathering along the harbour shores for an epic fireworks display. For a multi-day affair, Byron Bay’s jam-packed line-up of international artists at Splendour in the Grass is hard to beat, while the vibes are more relaxed at Darwin Festival, with events from theatre shows to awe-inspiring installations hosted throughout the city.
15. Embark on the drive of your life
Fill the boot with all of your essentials and head off on the road trip of a lifetime. Take a few days to explore the beachside towns between Sydney and Melbourne via the Grand Pacific Drive, which will lead you along the edge of towering cliffs. Winding along the country’s southern shores, find spectacular attractions like the 12 Apostles and the bizarre Umpherston Sinkhole along the Great Ocean Road. If you have time for more, the Nullarbor will snake you through small towns with big character between Adelaide and Perth.
16. Learn a locally-loved skill
With warm weather and countless stunning beaches and waterways, it’s no wonder so many Aussie hobbies are centred around the water. Learning a new skill from the people who live and breathe their passions is a brilliant way to mix up your holiday and maybe even find something you’ll continue to love! Venture beyond the flags and learn to ride the waves, chase some zen with stand up paddle yoga on the Gold Coast, or canoe your way through towering gorges in Nitmiluk National Park.
17. Stare up at the stars
Amid the city-hopping and adventure-seeking, be sure to take time out to peer up at the expansive southern sky in jaw-dropping stargazing locations. Visit dark sky parks and regional areas for uninterrupted views of the stars. In Tasmania, find the best locations for spotting the Southern Lights, a natural phenomenon of glowing rainbow ribbons woven through the sky. Take a closer look with telescopes at Perth’s Gravity Discovery Centre, where you can spend the night decoding the sky through an Aboriginal lens.
18. Dine like a local
Whether it’s an iconic pub meal or an elaborate degustation, foodie experiences are not to be overlooked on any Aussie bucket list. And your first priority should be brunch. A social affair for many Australians, this meal is taken very seriously by cafes across the country, many of which have become institutions for signature dishes like smashed avocado or ricotta pancakes. In cities like Adelaide and Brisbane, you can find a wide range of great cheap eats, and don’t miss a stop at the supermarket to try some Vegemite.
19. Visit the 'big things'
From a gigantic sheep to building-sized fruit, Australia has a bit of an obsession with turning the things we love into monuments. These strange creations make for awesome photo opportunities and some, like Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana, have more to explore within. Tick this fun and free activity off your bucket list at Kingston’s Big Lobster, equally famous for the on-site fish and chip shop, or say g’day to the resident koalas at the Big Pineapple, which also has its own zoo and treetop challenge.
20. Venture to stunning islands
Sail away from Australia’s mainland to indulge in the natural luxuries of island paradise. Just off the coast of South Australia, visit Kangaroo Island and say hello to the friendly creatures it’s named after. A popular locale for working holiday makers, Hamilton Island is the perfect base for exploring the Great Barrier Reef. K’Gari (formerly Fraser Island) is another great option, with unreal camping spots placing you in the heart of an abundant biosphere.
21. 4WD on the beach
Kick up some sand along magnificent stretches in a gutsy four wheel drive. Beach driving is an adrenaline-packed way to experience Australia’s gorgeous coastline, and there’s many awesome places to try it. Zoom along the 70km (43mi) Great Beach Drive between the waves and bush, cruise to the perfect swimming spot on Sellicks Beach or explore the national parks surrounding the 4WD accessible Airforce Beach at Evans Head.
22. Wander outdoor galleries
Museums might not be everyone’s idea of a bucket list item, but a visit to one of Australia’s innovative outdoor galleries is guaranteed to leave you buzzing. Head to Lake Ballard in Western Australia to find an expansive salt plain dotted with ghost-like sculptures casting shadows in the sun. Just off the coast of Townsville, you can visit the Museum of Underwater Art, where a sculpture exhibition awaits beneath the surface, while Sydney’s Bondi to Coogee coastal walk becomes an eccentric gallery of quirky sculptures from October to November for Sculpture by the Sea.
23. Sleep beneath the stars
Venture away from the city for nights spent camping beneath the stars. Make friends at popular seaside campgrounds like Sydney Harbour's Cockatoo Island or take your pick between cabins and simple plots of land at nature lover’s Habitat Noosa. If you prefer the creature comforts that come with glamping, you can book a more luxurious pre-pitched tent with companies like Wild Goose Camping who will have you set up without lifting a finger.