With incomparable natural beauty and a vast network of great hostels, Australia is truly a backpacker's dream destination. The "land down under" is one of the world's most unique countries and has so much to offer to visitors, from the world's greatest barrier reef and scenic vistas to magnificent multicultural cities, very friendly locals and unique animals such as koalas and kangaroos. What's more, Australia enjoys a temperate weather much of the year and the current exchange for the American dollar is very attractive, making it that much more affordable to visit. Although there are endless options for backpacking trips in Australia, here are just five of the best.
Extending 1,003.1 km (623.3 miles) from Kalamunda to Albany, the Bibbulmun Track is often cited as one of the world's greatest long distance hiking trails. Yet, due to its enormous length, visiting backpackers may not have enough time to explore all of this fascinating track in southwestern Australia and instead may opt for one or more sections. One of the most practical sections is The Darling Range, at the northern terminus in Kalamunda about 24 km (14.9 miles) east of Perth. Along this 202 km (125.5 miles) stretch, there are multiple campsites, even more access points and picturesque spots like Golden View Lookout, Mundaring Weir and Boonering Hill. Convenient bus service to the starting point at Kalamunda is available from Perth's public transportation service Transperth.
For someone not familiar with Australia, Cairns might not be an instantly recognizable location. But this coastal city in northeastern Australia is widely known as the gateway to one of the world's greatest wonders – the breathtaking Great Barrier Reef - and a very popular destination for backpackers. Featuring more than 2,900 reefs, 900 islands and extending more than 2,300 km (1,429 miles), the Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef, the world's largest living organism and a World Heritage site. More than 25 hostels can be found in Cairns including top rated spots like Gilligan's Backpacker Hotel, Travellers Oasis and the award-winning Cairns Central YHA. Visitors looking for an even better bargain can also camp on several islands within the Great Barrier Reef. In addition to endless choices for snorkeling, backpackers staying in Cairns can also enjoy such local attractions as the Cairns Boardwalk, the tropical rainforests and a scenic railway trip to Kuranda.
Second to Sydney in population, Melbourne is the capital of the southeastern state of Victoria and the "cultural capital of Australia." Although Melbourne is also second to Sydney in terms of world famous landmarks, it eclipses other Australian cities in the sheer volume of skyscrapers, historical structures, museums and theater companies. Melbourne is also not far behind Sydney with internationally recognized landmarks, such as Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia's most storied and largest sports stadium and Melbourne Museum, largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere. Melbourne has a large collection of hotels, including one of Hostelworld's top hostels – Home at the Mansion. Other strong recommendations for accommodations include Miami Motel Melbourne, Melbourne Metro YHA and United Backpackers. In addition to Melbourne Park, Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Melbourne Museums, other points of interests for backpackers are the Royal Botanic Gardens, the spectacular Great Ocean Road and the very entertaining Penguin Parade on Phillips Island. Because winter is from June through August, the best time to visit Melbourne is during the city's summer, from December through February.
With some of the world's most acclaimed landmarks and beaches, Sydney may be the first destination for backpackers. Along with Melbourne, it's a primary hub for international travelers and likely the most backpacker friendly city on the continent. Much of that distinction can be attributed to an efficient public transportation system and an abundance of outstanding budget accommodations and hostels. Among the best-rated spots to stay are Sydney Harbor YHA – The Rocks, Blue Parrot Backpackers, Jackaroo Hostel, Central YHA and Bounce Sydney, voted among the Top 10 Large Hostels in the World and the best in Australia. Top recommendations for sightseeing include Sydney Harbor with the world famous Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge, The Rocks, Darling Harbor and one of the world's most famous beaches, Bondi Beach. One very popular hike of particular interest to visitors is the 6 km coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee.
Often considered the most popular national park in Australia and a World Heritage site, Uluru-Kta Tjuta is home to one of most beloved natural landmarks on the continent. Located in the heart of the Australian outback, this wondrous region features two massive, red sandstone rock formations – Uluru and Kata Tjuta - both taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Several hiking trails can be explored within the park, such as the Uluru Base Walk, allowing visitors to circle the entire base and the Valley of the Winds Walk, believed to be the best in the park. Although there is no camping within the park, there are affordable accommodations in Yulara 18 km (11.1 miles) away, with the Ayers Rock -Outback Pioneer Lodge YHA hostel and more than 220 campsites at Ayers Rock Resort.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.
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