Top Ten Gap Year Ideas in Australia for Backpackers
You'll never be short of something new to discover in Australia. You could spend years here and still never see it all!
Here we've compiled our top ten things to do in Australia for your gap year!
1. Dive or Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most, if not the most, famous Australian tourist attraction. It's a huge underwater playground for fish, turtles, dolphins and home to all different types of colourful coral. You can dive or snorkel around the reef, whichever you prefer (although, diving will cost more) - it will feel like you’re entering another world!
You can even simply take day trip out to the reef if you don't fancy swimming or even fly over it and see some amazing reef formations, like heart reef.
Getting there: Cairns, Airlie Beach and Port Douglas are some of the most popular destinations to visit the reef from.
When to go: It's best to visit the reef during the dry season (May to September), visibility will be a lot clearer and there will be less jellyfish, so need to wear that stinger suit!
2. Visit Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Uluru is probably the most out-of-the-way attraction for most backpackers, but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular and is a must do for most gap year bucket lists. This amazing geological formation has been attracting visitors for years and it's little wonder. It isn't just a big rock in the middle of desert either, you can also visit the equally impressive Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) while you're here, as well as learn about how important this huge rock is in aboriginal culture at the visitors centre.
Important tip: it is advised that you don't climb Uluru, if you're considering climbing perhaps you should read the "sorry book" in the visitors centre beforehand, it might just change your mind!
Getting there: Tours depart from Alice Springs and usually last for 3 days, some tours also include a trip to nearby Kings Canyon.
When to go: Any time of year is good to visit Uluru, though you may be better visiting during winter months when it's not as hot.
3. See the Blue Mountains
Just under two hours from Sydney are the spectacular Blue Mountains. It’s magnificent gorges and towering eucalyptus trees (which give the mountains their blue hue), not to mention it's proximity to Sydney, makes the Blue Mountains one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations.
Getting there: From Sydney, you can take a day tour out to the Blue Mountains. You could also easily rent a car a drive there within a day or even take the train.
When to go: You can visit the Blue Mountains any time of the year, but during summer months you will get much better weather.
4. Drive the Great Ocean Road
One of the best road trips you can take in Australia is along the Great Ocean Road. Starting quite close to Melbourne, the Great Ocean road begins at Torquay and ends at Warrnambool, winding it's way along Victoria’s coastline, giving you one of the best driving experiences you’ll have in Australia!
Highlights along the Great Ocean Road include: Bells Beach (famous surf spot), The Twelve Apostles, and Teddy’s lookout in Lorne (for amazing views of the coast as it winds along the coast.)
Getting there: The Great Ocean Road can be easily accessed from Melbourne. One of the best ways to see it is to drive from either Melbourne to Adelaide or vice verse. You can also take day tours to see the Twelve Apostles from Melbourne.
When to go: Any time of year is good to see the Great Ocean Road, though southern Antarctic winds do make it a little chilly in winter.
5. Sail Around the Whitsunday Islands
One of the most popular backpacker activities in Australia, no trip downunder is complete without a sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands. You can snorkel or dive the Great Barrier reef, admire the gorgeous beaches, like Whitehaven Beach, and lounge around on a sailing boat while topping up your tan!
There are plenty of different options when it comes to sailing the Whitsundays; you can take trips that last a day or a trip that lasts a whole week. You can takes trips that are more relaxing, ones that are concentrated on diving and being active or you can take a full-on party cruise - the choice is yours!
Getting there: Airlie Beach is the most popular choice for backpackers to sail from, so you will probably find the best deals here.
When to go: During the dry season is the best time to visit the Whitsundays. The weather will be a lot better and visibility in the reef will be a lot clearer.
6. Visit Fraser Island – the World’s Largest Sand Island
Competing with sailing the Whitsunday's for the best trip to take on Australia’s East Coast, is visiting Queensland's beautiful Fraser Island. Fraser Island is unique in that it is the world’s largest sand island. It’s also famous for it's dingos, so if you really want to see a dingo in the wild, Fraser Island is the best place to do just that!
You can take a tour of the island (one, two or three day tours are available) or you could be a bit more adventurous and take a self-drive tour, where you learn to drive on the sand and camp out under the stars
Getting there: Ferries to Fraser Island operate from Hervey Bay and Rainbow Beach.
When to go: During the dry season (in winter) is probably the best time to visit Fraser Island, as they weather will be a lot clearer. Many a backpacker has visited Fraser Island during summer months and been disappointed with just how much it rains there during summer.
7. Go Wine Tasting in the Barossa Valley
Home to Jacobs Creek, South Australia’s Barossa Valley is probably Australia’s most famous wine region. It’s also really beautiful with lush green valleys and cute little towns. There are plenty of cellar doors where you can taster wine for free and then buy your favourite wine at a discounted price.
Getting there: You could rent a car and drive from Adelaide, but if you plan on doing a lot of wine tasting, a day tour would be the better option.
When to go: The best time of year to visit the Barossa Valley is from late January until April when the vineyards are much greener and grapes are coming into harvest. During winter months the vines are bare, which does make the Barossa a bit less photogenic.
8. Visit Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island lies of the coast of South Australia and is Australia's third largest island. It's home to spectacular rock formations such as the Remarkable Rocks, sand dunes (where you can try sand boarding!), Cape Willoughby Lighthouse and, you guessed it, plenty of kangaroos!
But, it's not just home to kangaroos either, Kangaroo Island has some awesome wildlife conservation parks, such as Seal Bay and some great wildlife sanctuaries, like Paul's Place where you can see all sorts of Australian wildlife.
Getting there: You can get to Kangaroo Island by passenger ferry (you can also bring your car over) from Cape Jervis, which is just over an hour and a half from South Australia.
When to go: Kangaroo Island is bets visited during summer months as it can get a little cold in winter.
9. Visit Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks
Kakadu is huge, in fact, it's about the same size as Slovenia! It is also one of Australia’s best known national parks – made famous by the Crocodile Dundee movies. In Kakadu, you can watch exotic wildlife like crocodiles, wallabies and unusual bird life, like the Jabiru, in their natural environment. You can also check out waterfalls like Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. The unusual landscapes of Kakadu also makes it a great place to hike.
Litchfield National Park is the perfect place if you dream of swimming in paradise. In Litchfield, there are enclosed waterfalls and cascading pools surrounded by rainforest where you can take a dip. It is also one of the few places in Australia's top-end where you can go for a swim without the fear of getting eaten by a croc!
Getting there: Tours to both national parks operate from Darwin. With Litchfield being only an hour away, it makes the perfect place to take a day trip from Darwin. Kakadu is 3 hours from Darwin, so most tours to Kakadu are 2 or 3 days. You also rent a car from Darwin and drive to either National Parks.
When to go: You can only really visit Kakadu and Litchfield during the dry season (from April until September) as roads to both national parks can sometimes be closed due to flooding.
10. Ride a Camel Along Cable Beach in Broome
Cable beach is easily up there as one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, and riding a camel along this long stretch of flat white sandy beach at sunset, is one of the best ways to experience it!
Getting there: Once you're in Broome just head to the beach, you'll be able to book your place from where the tours take start.
When to go: Because Broome is in the northern tip of Western Australia, it is has a wet season and dry season just like other parts of northern Australia, so during the dry season (winter) is the ideal time to visit.
Also check out our Top 10 Things to do Before You arrive in Australia