What to see in Australia in three weeks while on a student's budget??
May 8, 2008 5:32 PM   Subscribe

What to see in Australia in three weeks while on a student's budget??

I am in Sydney right now and am about to book a trip to see more of Australia. I have three weeks and am on a relatively tight (student) traveller's budget. I am also travelling by myself, so huge drives are a little out of my capacity.

I'm set on spending a fair amount of time in Port Douglas/Cape Tribulation/Daintree National Park, but am still deciding whether to do all/some/none of: sailing the Whitsundays, visiting Frazer Island, going to Magnetic Island.

Also, any ideas on how to cheaply see other parts of the country? (Uluru, Darwin, Melbourne, etc.)

posted by WhaleRider to Travel & Transportation around Australia (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
sailing the whitsundays is nice. i found frazer a bit uninspiring. magnetic island is quite pleasant.

i recommend getting off the east coast. can you afford one of the rail passes? if so, you can get anywhere, it just takes time. also, consider trying to hitch by hanging out in youth hostels and finding people who are driving around and want passengers for some help with petrol costs. that's more fun if you find the right people.

melbourne is great, but it's winter here now and a bit dreary.
posted by xz at 5:57 PM on May 8, 2008

You will find that Cape Trib/Daintree easily absorbs three weeks, and you should let it do so without worrying that you're missing out on other stuff elsewhere. This country is way too big to let you get around much in three weeks; you'd just find yourself spending days on the road, only to get somewhere, check it off the "been there" list and head off for the next place.

If you only have three weeks, spend 95% it somewhere gorgeous, not inside a motor vehicle.
posted by flabdablet at 5:59 PM on May 8, 2008

Back in the day I biked Sydney to Brisbane and then bussed it up to Cairns. Buses are relatively cheap and the tourist traps like Brisbane and Cairns offset their occasional tackiness with a lot of cheap hostels and restaurants. Once you're up at Cairns or even points south of there you can find pretty reasonable diving expeditions - there is an entire industry set up to serve broke backpackers.
posted by GuyZero at 6:06 PM on May 8, 2008

Maggie Island ain't bad, and though I haven't been back there for ages, apparently Townsville has come along quite nicely, and it's a good "gateway" to a lot of the other attractions up there (reef, beaches, rainforest, outback, etc.). It's quite reasonably-priced (definitely cheaper than Cairns, which is a notorious tourist trap) and has a big backpacker culture so there's plenty of affordable food, accommodation and transport.

I think Darwin can safely be avoided as it doesn't have a lot going for it, unless you know people there. Never actually been to Ayers Rock/Uluru but the few people I've spoken to who have described it as underwhelming.

Melbourne is brilliant but very expensive. While you're there, however, I definitely recommend jumping on the ferry and spending a few days in Tasmania. Pack your thick socks.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:09 PM on May 8, 2008

Hi! I just got back from three weeks by myself in Australia.

I had a bit of money saved up to go wild with trips and excursions, but I'm youngish (24), and just about everyone I met was on a budget and told me all about their travels.

I did four locations in three weeks (Sydney -> Brisbane -> Cairns -> Melbourne), and while spending 5-6 days in most places was plenty of time to relax and look around, I only spent two days in Brisbane, which was not enough time to explore. I was flying from city to city, which is the quickest way to get around (If it's within your budget I'd advise you to fly), and I STILL think that I spent too much of my precious vacation in transit.

If you're young and have time to return later, go for quality of locations, not quantity. Most of the backpackers I met who had done the entire coast were spending at least a week in most of the fun towns.

I met some people who loved sailing the Whitsundays, but most people warned of getting incredibly seasick. If you're short on time and don't know for a fact that you want to go sailing, then it seems like an easy one to cut... sick + vacation = no fun. Some friends I met in Cairns just got back from Magnetic and told me via Facebook that it was rather blah. I'm not sure what they didn't like about it.

Cairns was fun. Not sure if your budget allows, but diving the Great Barrier Reef was great... you can always snorkel if you're not certified. Bungy jumping at AJ Hackett was great fun. And Calypso Backpackers in Cairns was by far the favorite of the 4 hostels I stayed in.

Melbourne is also good. I was very impressed with the artsy vibe, and you can keep yourself busy for days without needing to do too much traveling around. I didn't mind the cooler weather (it made the coffee more enjoyable), and the sun managed to shine most days I was there. A good followup to the tropical North.

Good luck!
posted by adamk at 6:10 PM on May 8, 2008

Pushing Melbourne like everyone else. It's my favorite city in the world, so must culture and absolutely beautiful. Get down to St. Kilda (it's suburb- the end of one of the tram lines) if you can.
If you figure out a way to get to Melbourne I highly recommend somehow getting to Phillip island to see the Penguin Parade and the Koala Conservatory. The Penguin Parade is probably the coolest thing I've ever done in my life. You sit on the shore at sunset and watch as the little penguins (once known as the ferry penguin) come in from swimming all day and march from the shore to their burrows. Then you stand around their burrows and hear them calling to each other. It doesn't sound as massively cool as it is. There are plenty of not terribly expensive coach trips from Melbourne that you can find to take you to these places. The aquarium in Melbourne also has the largest tank in the southern hemisphere with gray sharks and the largest stingrays in the world. Massively cool.

This is probably not a possibility, but also if you get to Melbourne you can take the V-line train to Warrnambool (about a 4 hour train ride) on the great ocean road and see the 12 apostles and all the other rock formations along the coast. They are absolutely beautiful- you see them in calendars all the time. There is also a nature preserve on a long since dormant volcano in Warrnambool (it's called "Tower Hill") that's worthwhile. Otway treewalk is also near-ish Warrnambool. It's a walk in the canopy of a eucalyptus rainforest- absolutely beautiful.
posted by bobdylanforever at 6:27 PM on May 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Um... those are fairy penguins, not ferry penguins.
posted by flabdablet at 6:50 PM on May 8, 2008

90+% of Australians live very close to Australia's coastline. The reason for that it that 1) it's stunningly beautiful and 2) it's much more habitable than most of the rest of Australia.

The coastline they inhabit is the whole east coast of Australia and then round on to the south coast as far as Adelaide. Also a patch of the south-west coast around Perth. This is a *lot* of coastline - approx 10,000 km. So while parts of it are built up, there are stretches where you can have a very beautiful beach completely to yourself.

The trick is to have your own transport. Second-hand cars are cheap in Australia and fairly easy to resell. I would recommend choosing a stretch of coast and then just spending leisurely time exploring along it with various trips in from the coast to explore the mountains or hills that usually lie behind. There are often national parks directly behind the coast with basic camping facilities and small towns nearby to get provisions.

And if you want to 'do' a city as well the obvious choice is Melbourne. I suspect some of the recommendations for Melbourne upthread are from Melbournians - they are famously one-eyed about their city - but I am not from Melbourne and do still agree that it is Australia's most grouse city.
posted by Sitegeist at 8:46 PM on May 8, 2008

Flabdablet- Thanks! I wasn't sure which one it was at decided that Ferry seemed less ridiculous than Fairy... Oops. haha.
posted by bobdylanforever at 11:51 PM on May 8, 2008

I can't believe GuyZero would call my beloved Brisbane a "tourist trap". Brisbane is a relaxed city that has interesting things to go, lovely parks and buildings and just a nice, easy vibe. And I love it so everyone else should!

Also - we just had our first Krispy Kreme open... if that tempts you at all?

Anyway, travelling in Australia, like everyone has said, takes time. You really need to weigh that up against seeing lots of different places. I would recommend the following:

1. 4 - 5 days in Victoria/Melbourne: Go get pastry from St Kilda, see the fairy penguins and 12 apostles and go to Lygon street and have fun picking an italian restaurant to eat at. You can stay at hostels and there are tours to the penguins & apostles

Side note: I lived in Melbourne as a child for about 5 years and every single time we had interstate / overseas visitors we went and saw the fairy penguins. They're just so fascinating and everyone loved the experience (I recommend you take lots of warm things to wear if you go - it gets chilly down by the water after dark)

2. Fly up to Brisbane and spend a couple of days enjoying the city and then fly to the Great Barrier Reef / Tropical Goodness that is North Queensland and laze around in the sunshine, go snorkelling (or diving), visit the Daintree, drinks lots, eat lots and meet fun people at the hostels for the remainder of the trip...

I think you should give yourself an opportunity to RELAX and enjoy your time here rather than rushing all over the place.

However, whatever you decide to do, I hope you have a wonderful time.
posted by latch24 at 1:17 AM on May 9, 2008

I'm a bit surprised at earlier commenters describing Uluru and Fraser Island as underwhelming... they are amazing! Uluru is really quite stunning and moving, though it's quite a trip to get there and afaik it's difficult to do cheaply without going on a backpackers' bus trip.

I am also a big fan of both Melbourne and Brisbane, but I don't see the point of hanging out in cities unless you have friends there and a bit of time to kill getting a feel for the place - especially as Melbourne is so far away from where you already planning to go. Australia's cities are mostly pleasant but I suspect to the non-Australian they are nowhere near as interesting as the natural features.

Agree w/ flabdablet that you should minimise your time spent on transport.

Also, I'd advise against hanging out in Townsville - it is notoriously racist, small-minded garrison town (I grew up in a Queensland town boasting some similar characteristics). Perhaps it has a kickin' backpacker scene though - in fact, a lot of the answer to your question depends on how much you're into the backpacker scene, and how much you're into nature (I'm assuming you're reasonably interested in the latter as you're going to FNQ).
posted by 8k at 7:51 AM on May 9, 2008

I can't believe GuyZero would call my beloved Brisbane a "tourist trap".

Did I? Sorry. Cairns was really what was on my mind and as a backpacker one tends to stay in the backpacker ghettos which are tourist traps. Brisbane was indeed very nice but I honestly didn't stay too long. I seem to recall regretting not spending more time in Brisbane as it was a lot more tropical than Sydney but nice as a city than Cairns was.
posted by GuyZero at 8:17 AM on May 9, 2008

Seconding Tazzie! Tasmania is a great place if you're into hiking trips (about 50+% of the island is a national park). Hobart is a great city (I'd move there in a second if I had the means and I wasnt a Yank) and the Overland and South Coast Tracks are magnificent multi-day trips. I also did a kayak trip around the north coast and around Wine Cup Bay (I think thats what it was called). Just splendid.

I was staying with friends most of the time but the hostels in Launceston, Hobart , and around Port Arthur were very nice too.
posted by elendil71 at 8:58 AM on May 9, 2008

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