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Backpacking in Australasia

Advice and inspiration for travelling in Australia

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A gap year in Australasia

If you had no knowledge of the planet and you looked at a world map for the first time, you’d barely notice Australasia, hiding quietly in the bottom corner. You could be forgiven for assuming this was a place of quiet insignificance.

But you’d be so wrong. Australasia is the ultimate gap year destination. Most start with travelling the east coast of Australia, usually south to north. This is where you find the parties, the fun, the craziness. You’ll also find the glorious Sydney Harbour, the amazing Fraser Island, the paradisiacal Whitsunday Islands and the other-worldly Great Barrier Reef.

Most then head to New Zealand for the spell-binding scenery and adventure activities, and then it’s on to the tropical islands of Fiji, famous for their pristine beaches and thriving marine life. The really adventurous might then keep on travelling all the way to the Cook Islands, which look much the same as they did when Captain James Cook, their namesake, sailed past 300 years ago. Fiji and the Cook Islands form part of Australasia and Polynesia respectively; the other island group in the region is Micronesia.

Australasia is the perfect training ground for new backpackers. The scenery and climate are wildly different to anything you’ll be used to, but the general culture is much the same, the popular places like New Zealand and Australia are very safe, and there’s no language barrier to worry about.

Tours in Australasia

Australasia tours

Australasia is a popular destination with first-time travellers, particularly first-time backpackers visiting Australia. This, coupled with the sheer size of the region and some of its countries (looking at you again, Australia), makes guided tours one of the best way to experience Australasia.

You can take a tour within a single country, or find one that will take you all over the region. Whatever you choose, you’ll get all your transport, accommodation, and other considerations all sorted out for you, have an expert guide to take you to all the unmissable destinations, and travel with like-minded people to experience it all with.

Working in Australasia

Jobs in Australasia

Australia and New Zealand are the best places to work in Australasia. Australia in particular pays very well, even for minimum wage jobs, so many backpackers settle down for a couple of months to reinvigorate the budget. The most commons types of backpacker jobs are menial, like bar work or farming, though if you have a professional qualification you can get white collar jobs which pay much better.

It will be extremely difficult to find work anywhere else in Australasia due to the small populations – there isn’t much call for backpackers when there are more than enough locals to fill positions. If you do find employment on one of the islands it will most likely be unofficial – i.e. cash in hand – but don’t bank on it – literally.

Volunteer placements in Australasia

Volunteering in Australasia

Due to its main areas being quite affluent, Australasia isn’t a classic volunteering destination, though there are opportunities to do so in Australia and New Zealand, particularly with animals and the environment.

Australia in particular is home to some incredible, unique wildlife, living in some of the world’s harshest conditions. You might volunteer with the likes of kangaroos and wallabies that have been injured in bush fires or on the road, helping to rehabilitate and return them to the wild, or work to protect the fragile ecosystem here.

Budget accommodation in Australasia

Accommodation in Australasia

Backpacker accommodation in Australasia varies depending on what region you are in. Australia and New Zealand are full to the brim with budget hostels and camping grounds, whereas the outlying islands are more likely to have beach bungalows and guest houses.

Australia & New Zealand

Backpacker accommodation in Australia and New Zealand falls into two main categories: hostels and camping grounds. Hostels are best if you don’t have your own transport and are staying in an urban area, whereas camping grounds are best for those travelling around independently in camper vans, or staying overnight in the national parks during hikes.

Hostels usually have shared kitchens, dorms and bathrooms, and more often than not a communal area with a TV and seating. Most hostels will be able to organise tours and other travel essentials. The main hostel chains in Australia are Nomads and Base Backpackers, and BBHNZ in New Zealand, so if you’re planning on using this type of accommodation on a regular basis it would be a good idea to invest in loyalty cards to save money. You can expect to pay between £10-15 per night in hostels, though prices may rise steeply in certain areas at certain times of the year – i.e. Sydney on New Year’s Eve.

Camping grounds are slightly cheaper – about £5 for a pitch with electricity – but obviously more basic. Many of the lesser-visited national parks don’t charge for camping, but you may have to pay an admission fee to the park. The facilities will really depend on how far off the beaten track you are: campgrounds close to settlements will have showers and sometimes a kitchen, whereas in the central deserts of Australia they are little more than patches of earth.

Fiji & the Cook Islands

Out of all the thousands of islands scattered throughout Australasia, Fiji is easily the most developed and backpacker-friendly. Backpacker accommodation usually comes in the form of hostels and guest houses, most of which are very affordable. The vast majority of travellers fly into Nadi, where the cheapest accommodation can be found (about £5 per night), and then go off in search for the beaches on either the Coral Coast, the Yasawa Islands or Mana Island, where backpacker accommodation starts at around £10 per night.

The vast majority of backpacker accommodation in the Cook Islands can be found on Rarotonga, the largest and most populated of the 16 islands in the group. The accommodation is a mix of hostels, bungalows and guest houses, with rates ranging from about £10-25 per night.

Getting to Australasia

Getting there

In case you hadn’t yet noticed, Australasia is rather a long way away – the other side of the planet to be precise. This means that unless you fancy an incredibly long journey overland, or indeed over sea, you’ll have to hop on a plane.

The majority of backpackers fly into Australia first – usually Sydney or Melbourne – and use the land down under as a jump-off point to explore the rest of the region, including New Zealand and Fiji.

If you plan on visiting a few different countries in Australasia, the cheapest option is to buy a round the world ticket, which works out considerably less expensive than organising your travel into individual flights.

A standard multi-stop flight to Australasia would look something like this: London > Sydney > (make your own way to) Cairns > Auckland > Fiji > Sydney > London.

Getting around Australasia

Short haul flights

Australasia is predominantly made up of island nations, some of which are thousands of miles apart, so you’ll almost certainly have to use planes at some point to get around. You should aim to cover as many flights as you can in your initial round the world ticket because this will be cheaper than buying individual tickets. From the major cities of Australia and New Zealand you can fly pretty much anywhere in Australasia that has an international airport.

Also, don’t underestimate the size of Australia: this mammoth island is considerably larger than all the countries in Western Europe combined, and to travel from one side to the other overland takes weeks rather than days. If you are tight on time but want to see as much of the country as possible, you’ll probably have to look into domestic flights.

Busses and trains

The vast majority of backpackers use buses to travel through Australia and New Zealand. Both countries have well-kept roads and many bus companies to choose from – your choice will be determined by the experience you want to have.

In Australia two bus companies dominate the market: Oz Experience and Greyhound. The former is best for first time and or solo travellers who want to meet people and have organised adventures along the way. The latter is better for independent travellers who just want to get from A to B, quietly and quickly.

In New Zealand, too, there is a multitude of bus companies to choose from. The Kiwi Experience and Stray Travel buses are New Zealand’s answer to Oz Experience, best for young and or solo backpackers, while companies like InterCity Coachlines are best for just getting you to where you need to be.

Apart from the standard railways on the east coast, Australia has two epic routes to take by train. The first is the Ghan, which travels from one end of the country to the other, between Adelaide in the south and Darwin in the north, and takes about 54 hours. The second is the Indian Pacific, which travels from one side of the country to the other, between Sydney in the east and Perth in the west, and takes about 65 hours.

In New Zealand, trains are probably the easiest way to travel between the main cities of Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington. There also ‘tourist’ lines, which take you through scenic parts of the country (of which there certainly isn’t a shortage), and for these you can get special passes which last between one and two weeks.

Camper travel

Along with the USA, Australia and New Zealand are the best countries in the world to explore by campervan. Unlike buses, with a camper you’re completely independent and, of course, there’s the small convenience of having a home on wheels, saving you tons of cash on hostels. Both Australia and New Zealand have many, many sites where you can park up for the night, usually costing between £5-15, depending on how good the campsite is.

By boat

It’s almost impossible to travel around Australasia and not hop on a boat at some point – even if it’s only to immerse yourself in that incredible coastal scenery. Boats are rarely used in Australia and New Zealand to get from A to B, rather for special tours to see places like the Whitsundays, the Great Barrier Reef and Milford Sound.

To reach some of the more remote Pacific Islands you’ll have to rely on boats – these are the only things that can get you there. Also, if visiting Fiji, you’ll fly onto the main island where the airport is, but then you’ll probably head to somewhere like the Yasawa Islands and you’ll need to hop on a boat to do this.

What visas do I need for Australasia?

Visa information

This information applies to UK residents. While this information is intended to help, you should always speak to your travel agent to find out exactly what documents you need for where.

Visas for Australia

Everyone needs a visa before they can enter Australia and this visa must be obtained before arrival.

If you want to stay for three months or less you can get something called an ETA – these only cost about £10 and can be extended for another three months once you’re in the country.

If you plan on staying longer (anything up to a year) you’ll need a Visitor Visa, which will allow you to stay for up to a year.

If you want to work when you’re in Australia you’ll need a Working Holiday Visa, which allows you to stay and work in the country for up to a year.

If you want to study in Australia you can get a Student Visa and enrol in Australia’s Overseas Student Programme.

Visas for New Zealand

New Zealand is less strict than Australia when it comes to visas.

If you are just there to visit (as opposed to working) you can pick up your visa when you arrive at the airport in New Zealand free of charge – all you have to do is show your passport and hey presto, you’re in.

If you want to work you’ll need a Working Holiday Visa, and this needs to be applied for in advance to make sure you’re eligible. It can be for as long as 23 months.

You can also apply for a Student Visa if you want to study in New Zealand.

Visas for Fiji & Cook Islands

For everywhere else in Australasia, visas aren’t necessary if you are just going to visit, though if you want to work you will need to look into the individual nation and find out if that’s possible.

And to repeat the top line, although this page is intended as helpful advice, always speak to your travel agent about exactly what you need for where.

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