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Gap year travel: backpacking in Australia

For the average young traveller, somewhere buzzy, young and vibrant is the order of the day. ‘Finding yourself’ and ‘spiritual journeys’ are all very well, but if you want to make the most out of your trip you need somewhere that has plenty to see and do, somewhere that will keep you active and never bored.

Increasingly, the 18 to 25 set are finding themselves drawn to Australia, a country known for having museums, attractions, sports and a varied nightlife in abundance. Best of all, seeing the best of Australia can be achieved on a backpacker’s budget, with hostels starting from just £8ppn.

Here’s our guide to three of best backpacker-friendly cities Australia has to offer: Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns.

Melbourne Museum


Start your trip Down Under as you mean to go on, in Melbourne, the second largest city in Australia. Home to such attractions as the Australian Ballet, Etihad Stadium and the Melbourne Museum (the largest in the southern hemisphere), the city well deserves its title as cultural capital of Australia.

With around 100 art galleries to choose from (including the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art) there are plenty of chances for you to buff up on your artistic knowledge, with many independent galleries and studios popping up each month. If you’re after the ultimate in contemporary art then visit one of the ‘graffiti lanes’; designated and government approved areas where graffiti artists go wild with the spray cans. One of the best is Hosier Lane, around the corner from Flinders Street Station.

Duckboard Place is another popular graffiti area, and has the advantage of being right round the corner from ACDC Lane, where you’ll be able to pay homage to the Rock Gods themselves in the buzzing (and extremely loud!) Cherry Bar.

In terms of places to stay, if you’re looking for a budget hostel Melbourne has some of the best. The St Kilda Beach House offers en-suite rooms for £14ppn, and will chuck in a £1.50 pizza if you check in on a Monday or Tuesday. The Melbourne Oasis on Chapman Street is also a good option, particularly if you enjoy pancake breakfasts!



Brisbane - Driving the Great Ocean Road


When it’s time to move on, take the scenic route up the Great Ocean Road, offering 243 km of the most picturesque coastline around. This will take you to the next stop on your tour: Brisbane. A little smaller than Melbourne, Brisbane is no less exciting, due to its popular and extensive nightlife.

Brisbane was named by Billboard as one of the top five hotspots for music a few years ago, and as a result you’ll find a melting pot of musicians, hipsters and music fans, all eager to discover the next big thing. The Valley is the best area for live music venues; try The Zoo for indie rock or the Tivioli for a more laid-back vibe.

And if all that partying leaves you in needs of sustenance, head to Fat Boys Café on Brunswick Street for one of their infamous breakfasts (just £2.50 for certainly one the largest breakfasts you’ll ever be presented with!).

The city also has a quieter side, with the Botanic Gardens, City Hall and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary all offering a more laid-back experience. There are plenty of hostels in Brisbane for you to choose from such as the Brisbane Backpackers Hostel which has rooms from £12 a night, complete with a free bus ride to and from the city centre every hour.





Cairns - Diving at the Great Barrier Reef


Once Brisbane has well and truly tired you out head a little further north to Cairns. Although it is smaller than the previous two cities, Cairns is much more outdoor-orientated, offering sky-diving, snorkelling and hang-gliding, among activities.

Given its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, diving is an absolute must in Cairns, and beginners should head to the Pro Dive Cairns Company on Spence Street, which offer trips to the Outer Reef and provides special instruction for diving novices.

If you’re feeling really brave, head to the Rex Point Lookout and try out hang-gliding, courtesy of the Airplay Gliding Company, who organises a free shuttle service for their clients.

And after a hard day of flinging yourself from cliffs, Cairn’s famous night markets offer the perfect contrast. Containing everything from souvenirs to independent clothing labels, as well as a delicious selection of wines and food (the crepes need to be tasted to be believed), get ready to haggle with some of Australia’s finest market vendors.

When you need to get some sleep, a Cairns hostel will also be kind on your budget. The Beach House Hostel on Sheridan Street offers the best value for money, with free Wi-Fi, breakfast and dinner from just £8ppn.

With the huge range of attractions, friendly nightlife and fabulous scenery, you’ll never be short of things to do in Australia, making it perfect for the backpacking traveller. While these three cities are each a definite ‘must do’, there’s plenty more to discover should you wish to extend your stay; including Alice Springs, Perth and Sydney. Take a camera, plenty of guidebooks and an open mind, and you’ll be regaling your friends with your Aussie adventures before you know it.

Bon voyage!