Tick off your backpacker bucket list as you surf the waves of Bondi, swim beneath a waterfall and explore the Aussie outback.
By Leah Dobihal
Australia is one big adventure. From hidden waterholes to winding coastal walks, you don’t have to travel far to find an epic experience. Here’s what to check off your backpacker bucket list.
Watch the sunset at Uluru
The stunning - and sacred - site of Uluru should be on every backpacker’s bucket list. One of Australia’s most impressive natural wonders, the 348-metre (380-yard) high monolith is a powerful sight during the day as it rises dramatically from the red dirt of the outback. But at sunset, Uluru puts on a spectacular light show as it turns from deep orange to intense red. Witness the descent of the sun before staying nearby at the Outback Pioneer Lodge.
Snap a selfie with a quokka
Australia is known for its amazing native wildlife, but there’s only one animal that will smile for a selfie. On Rottnest Island, a 25-minute ferry ride from Fremantle, near Perth, you’ll find a colony of quokkas - some of the cutest and most photogenic creatures on the planet. Related to the wallaby, quokkas are known for their friendly nature and often come up close to visitors, giving you the perfect chance to snap your own shot of these cuties. Just be sure to respect the rules and don’t feed or touch Australian wildlife. Grab the ferry - and your camera - to tick this amazing animal experience off your bucket list.
Hike to Cradle Mountain
Tasmania is full of wildlife and wilderness, and there’s no better place to reconnect with nature than Cradle Mountain. Cradle Mountain is the most famous of Tasmania’s many peaks, and it’s not hard to see why. The summit and its neighbouring cliffs rise from the shores of Dove Lake, creating an incredible reflection on the water. You can view the picturesque scene from the 6-kilometre (3.7-mile) Dove Lake Circuit, which leads you below the towering spires of Cradle Mountain. If you’re feeling ambitious, wake up early and take the short walk from the Dove Lake carpark to witness the sunrise over the jagged horizon.
Spot little penguins on Phillip Island
Home to remarkable road trips and dramatic landscapes, Victoria belongs on your bucket list. Take a trip down the Great Ocean Road, which runs along the south coast of Victoria and South Australia, for one wildlife experience you won’t want to miss. Just a 90-minute drive south from Melbourne you’ll find Phillip Island and it’s adorable fairy penguin residents. The penguins even star in one of the island’s most popular attractions - the daily penguin parade, where visitors watch the animals waddle ashore after a day of fishing. Head to the viewing area on Summerland Beach for 180-degree views, or choose one of the many guided tours for a closer look. And if you haven't had enough cuteness, the island is also home to a koala reserve.
Snorkel above colourful coral
From red dirt desert to lush green rainforest, Australia is spoilt with countless beautiful environments. One of the most impressive is the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system on the planet. There are several ways to explore the reef, and you’ll find options for every budget. Cruise with Frankland Island Reef Cruises to snorkel over colourful coral ecosystems and float with sea turtles. For a multi-day adventure, choose one of several tours that sail through the Whitsunday Islands. You can also take in some spectacular scenery from above, including the breathtaking Whitehaven Beach and aptly-named Heart Reef. While Whitehaven Beach is accessible by boat, you’ll need to arrive at Heart Reef by helicopter or seaplane.
Find a waterhole in an ancient rainforest
There’s nothing more refreshing than diving into a cool waterhole after exploring a breathtaking forest. You can find plunge pools fit for swimming in every corner of Australia, but one of the most beautiful is Mossman Gorge in Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest. Located less than an hour and a half from Cairns within the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, Mossman Gorge invites you to immerse yourself in ancient nature. Witness the water rolling over large granite boulders before taking a dip - just check that conditions are safe at the Mossman Gorge Centre. For an even more meaningful experience, consider an Aboriginal cultural experience where you’ll learn about traditional plant use, identify bush food sources and spot wildlife.
Lose yourself in an outback frontier
As the sixth biggest country in the world, Australia has a lot of open spaces to explore. One of the most secluded - and stunning - is the Kimberley, located in the north of Western Australia. The Kimberley is three times the size of England and exceptionally remote, making it the perfect destination to leave the daily grind behind. Seek out incredible waterfalls, gorges and rock formations. The region’s weather can be unpredictable, so the best time to visit is during the dry season (May to October). Embark on a road trip from Darwin or Broome to watch the landscape transform from white sand to red desert. Stay at Lake Argyle Resort and Caravan Park to take a dip in the Kimberley’s most famous infinity pool. It may be an adventurous trip, but you’ll return not only with once-in-a-lifetime memories, but one-of-a-kind stories to tell your friends, too.
Learn to surf at Bondi Beach
With its golden sand and white-capped waves, Sydney’s Bondi Beach is a backpacker must-do. If you want to make your visit extra Aussie, take a surf lesson with Let’s Go Surfing. Let’s Go Surfing caters to every skill level, so beginners are in safe hands. In just one lesson you’ll learn to paddle, stand and surf the wave. After you’ve ignited the surfer within, head to Bondi Icebergs, where you can grab a bite to eat or take a dip in the Instagrammable Icebergs swimming pool. Alternatively, stroll along the rocky coast on the breathtaking Bondi to Coogee coastal walk.
Explore Australia’s capital city
It may be small, but Australia’s capital city of Canberra is buzzing with activity. Visit the Parliament House to see the workings of government and enter the heritage chambers. Free guided tours depart at 9:30am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3:30pm. The National Gallery of Australia is well worth a visit, home to world-class art exhibitions and the most extensive collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in the world. Don’t miss Lake Burley Griffin, the city’s hot spot for kayaking, paddle boarding, and windsurfing. Head to Canberra’s Enlighten Festival, where you can wake up to the sight of hot air balloons floating into the sky.
Swim with sea lions
South Australia is home to some of the country’s most incredible wildlife encounters. If you’re not ready to cage dive with great white sharks, you can still swim with a friendly underwater resident. In the Eyre Peninsula, you can dive into the water with playful sea lions, watching them twist and turn under the surface. Sea lions are inquisitive creatures, so don’t be surprised if they come up close. Don’t forget to bring an underwater camera to catch the magic, and make a booking so you don’t miss out.