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Gap Year Australia :: destination guide

Australia the Destination

Australia is HUGE. About 7.6 million square kilometres huge! However, as the country is so big, there is a wealth of variety to be found, from the cooler beauty of Tasmania, right up to the searing heat of the Northern Territory, from the packed beaches of Sydney in the East, to the deserted coast of Western Australia.

In this section we will highlight a few places that you should consider visiting. Travelling the country is easy, relatively cheap and very rewarding. Our number one piece of advice to all gappers is to make sure you don’t get stuck in one place in Australia. I know that Sydney is great, but there is sooo much more to see and do. The whole country is magnificent, so get out there and start making memories to last a lifetime!

New South Wales – NSW

Located on the lower-mid East Coast, New South Wales will probably be where you touch down in Australia as its capital is Sydney. Certainly one of the great cities of the world, Sydney is an awesome place. The natural harbour is totally stunning, complete with the twin Aussie icons of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. As befits the largest city in the country, there’s heaps to do, buy, eat, drink and see. The beaches in the suburbs of Sydney are pretty lively too and the best spots to hang out, sipping a cold one, having a splash and checking out the talent. Unmissable.

Sydney is a great place to start your travels and it will certainly help you get into the swing of Australia life. With the rest of New South Wales on your doorstep, make sure that you take time to get out of the city and into nature. Popular destinations include the unique beauty of the Blue Mountains, a perfect location for camping, bush walking, abseiling and rock climbing. Or maybe the world renowned wines of the Hunter Valley could do with a tasting? There are also more than a couple of fine national parks to get your hike on, Dorrigo being one of our faves. Right at the top of NSW you simply must visit Byron Bay, a chilled, hippy paradise on Australia’s most Eastern tip.

Australian Capital Territory – ACT

More commonly known as Canberra, the ACT is unlike anywhere else in Australia. When deciding on where to put the capital, Sydneysiders and Melbournites couldn’t agree, so they built the capital between them, with the distance from each city based on their populations at the time. Therefore Canberra is an entirely planned city, rather than growing organically, like nearly all other towns and cities. They made a good job of it too. It’s a surprisingly pretty place, with great gardens and a huge lake. The nightlife is good too, thanks to the large student population, and if you like museums this is the city for you. Certainly worth a trip.

Queensland - QLD

Occupying the top right hand chunk of the country, sub-tropical Queensland is full of all you would expect from Australia – miles of gorgeous coast, blue skies all year round, palm trees, surfers, partying and uninterrupted fun!

The capital is Brisbane (‘Brissie’) where half of the state’s 3.6 million live. While it is not comparable with the cosmopolitan delights of Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane is still a great place. The city has all your required mod cons, but it is soooo relaxed, with the essential change of pace that the heat demands. Here you will find the best of small town Australia and the characters it produces.

Just inside the Sunshine State, over the Northern boarder of New South Wales, is the tourist heaven known as The Gold Coast. The 42 kilometres of sand attracts visitors the whole year round. All budding surfers will know that this is also the home of some of the world’s best surf carnivals and riders. The centre of The Gold Coast is Surfers Paradise, a party mecca like no other. If you like a wild night out followed by recovering in the sun whilst checking the latest designs in skimpy swimsuits, then welcome home, baby!

Heading north, the coast features an array of delightful islands including Fraser Island, the planet’s largest sand island and World Heritage listed too, and the Whitsunday Islands, a fantasy location for anyone who likes the sound of cruising on a yacht between rainforest encrusted isles.

Further north again is the Great Barrier Reef and the towns of Cairns and Townsville. All of us here agree that the reef is an essential site on your Australian tour. Where better to take up scuba diving than at the world’s largest coral reef? Further north still, more rainforest and adventure awaits……..

The Northern Territory - NT

The Northern Territory is the top middle third of the country. It’s like nowhere else on Earth. Just a fifth of a million people live here, largely in the capital, Darwin, which is a remote city at the top end of the territory. The region extends down through the outback to the red centre, the home of the world famous Uluru (Ayers Rock).

Here there are two seasons per year, the dry (May – October) and the wet (November – April). The wet can make trips out to the major sightseeing attractions perilous or impossible, so plan your visit! Darwin is nice enough in its ‘get away from it all and then some’ isolation, but tourists visit here largely on the way to one of the other attractions, especially Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks and the iconic Red Centre. The parks offer access to some stunning scenery, amazing waterfalls and thick rainforest. With the help of a good guide, this can be an unforgettable journey into aboriginal life and the staggering, unforgiving beauty of the countryside.

For many, the highlight of their trip is a visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock). This 300 metre high, 9 kilometer round icon of Australia is a magnificent sight, one which can only be experienced in person. Photography just doesn’t capture the magnificence of the rock. Just a short trip away is Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), an equally divine, though largely unknown, set of weathered red rocks. Do not miss out on these babies!!!

Western Australia – WA

Fully the whole left third of this nation, Western Australia is a natural paradise. Just two million people live here, with 80% of those staying the capital, Perth. So that leaves a whole lotta empty space on this side of the country! And a lot of that space is desert; dry, arid, nothing land. Making a car journey across this land is a strange experience but rewarding too, in a ‘man against the elements’ way. However, preparation is key to success, so plan ahead. Breaking down in the middle of nowhere can be fatal.

Apart from the desert, there is some of the best that Australia has to offer, and with the added bonus of very few other people around spoiling the view. The South West of the state has many small towns, but Perth is definitely the big boy around here. Miles from anywhere else of any size in the world, Perth is a surprisingly modern, cosmopolitan city, not unlike a mini Sydney. It’s pretty chilled but there is still lots to do, as well as magical sunsets every evening.

So once you are out of the city, what next? Well, entertainment from here on in centres on the great outdoors. The coastline holds most of the hotspots. Monkey Mia is famous for the chance to meet with dolphins. Exmouth is a charming little town which provides easy access to Ningaloo Reef, which, although smaller than the East Coast’s Great Barrier Reef, is a much healthier reef system, teeming with life. They even have the massive, placid whale sharks here if you fancy seeing a sea giant. Broome is a big stopover from Perth to Darwin, with camel rides and excellent food. Taking some time out on the West coast is all about going slow and enjoying nature, so save up, book that time off and come and see unspoiled Australia.


South Australia – SA

South Australia encompasses the lower middle chunk of the nation. The capital city of Adelaide is super relaxing, with the entertainment emphasis on great food and wine, and lots of galleries and museums for the cultural amongst us. South Australia produces the majority of wine in Australia, including the ubiquitous Jacob’s Creek brand. The Barossa Valley is a major attraction in these parts, so go find yourself a tee-total driver and get tasting / drunk!

Also on the hit list is the Flinders Ranges, 500km by 250km of some of the world’s oldest mountains, all surrounded by photo friendly salt lakes. Kangaroo Island is a hidden gem, stuffed full of wildlife including koalas, penguins, seals and kangaroos. Diving is also excellent around here due to the unusually high number of shipwrecks.

One of the great road trips of Australia is the crossing of the Nullarbor Plain. It’s just one long, flat, barren road into Western Australia. Along the way there is some stunning scenery and you can even catch seal colonies basking here and calving whales between June and October.


Right down in the bottom right corner of Australia is Victoria, with its cooler climate creating lush green lands and easier living conditions. Victoria has a long history of European settlement, so the culture vultures have lots to see. For the rest of us there is a great variety to be found in this small state, from mountain ranges to farmland to rugged wilderness.

The state capital of Melbourne is a wonderful city, often featured at the top of ‘best places to live in the world’ lists. Whilst not as hot as the rest of Australia, Melbourne is still warmer than the UK and has more of a cultural melting pot vibe than the rest of the country put together. The city has a hefty and varied immigrant population, with particularly large Greek, Vietnamese and Italian communities, so you can be assured of the best and widest range of cuisine in the land. The shopping here is also the best to be had, with a larger selection of independent and unfeasibly cool shops than even Sydney can boast of. If you want clothes then Melbourne is the place. The large student population keeps the music and arts scenes tumultuous and means that the city has options for all budgets. That’s Melbourne covered and I haven’t even mentioned Neighbours!

Away from the big city, Victoria has plenty to offer the gapper. Philip Island is very close by and offers you the chance to see hundreds of penguins as well as some cute koalas and seals. The drive along the Great Ocean Road is the number one attraction in our eyes. On the drive you will see crazy rock formations, shipwrecks, geysers, rainforest and some amazing beaches too. Take the pace slow and stop often. If hanging off impossibly high rocks with just a bit of rope for safety is your thing, then Victoria is the place to be. World famous ranges such as the Grampians and Mount Arapiles should keep you entertained, though I will be keeping my feet firmly on the ground!

Tasmania – TAS

Tassie doesn’t get as much press as the rest of Australia, and it is different to the mainland, but we think that no trip to Oz is complete without a visit. The cooler climate right at the south of the continent means that the countryside is really different to the dry lands up north. Here you can find untamed forests covered in moss with unique flora and fauna. So get your boots on and explore.

The state capital of Hobart is an elegant little city with some Georgian architectural treats and a super harbour complete with Antarctic ice breakers. It is the second oldest city in the country and has the best preserve heritage too. Fancy a beer at the nation’s oldest pub, anyone? Any excuse….

With a fifth of the island designated as World Heritage sites, there is no end of natural beauty. The South West is the most rugged and is recommended for the experienced adventurer only. The rest of us should head to the less remote destinations such as Cradle Mountain and the Freycinet Peninsula. For the adrenalin fuelled, Tassie is an ace place to go whitewater rafting, but the Cadbury chocolate factory in Claremont is better suited to some!







    © Gap Year Travel Guide 2011