Growing up here, the sheer enormity of Australia didn't really sink in until I left my home town to explore Queensland and Western Australia. With two different time zones (three if you count the change for Daylight Savings) and a breadth of almost 4,000 kilometres, trying to see this country on a budget isn't easy. Arguably, the best way to really see a place is to settle in for a while and get to know the locals. But if you've limited time that isn't always easy, so I've compiled your bucket list to whip around the country in style, and still have enough left over for a beer.
In my experience, visitors tend to arrive mainly at either Perth, in the hope of landing a mining job, or Sydney, because they've heard of the Harbour Bridge – or watched Home and Away. Perth is one of the world's most isolated capital cities, but the Western Australian coastline is a seemingly endless stretch of pristine beaches, unsullied by the tourist boom on the other side of the country. If you land in Sydney you've got two choices; head north or head south. There isn't too much in the middle.
If ticking off the tourist list is your thing, here is your (non-definitive) Australia Bucket List – on a budget.
Cuddle a Koala
A Koala - but not a bear. Image from wikimedia commons
I should throw a disclaimer in here that (oh gosh, I can hear hearts breaking already); Koalas aren't actually that cuddly. In fact, they're not even bears. To anyone who has ever set up a tent near a Eucalyptus tree these native mammals are not cuddly attractions but screaming, grunting annoyances – but don't let that stop you. If you're keen on the idea of spotting some koalas au naturale, head to the Grampians in Victoria. This is a natural mountain range with an abundance of native flora and fauna, and there are many accommodation sites to choose from. If glass and staying behind a yellow line is more your thing, try out Melbourne Zoo, Taronga Zoo in Sydney, or Queensland's Australia Zoo. For something in the middle, check out Werribbee Open Range Zoo in regional Victoria.
Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
Up close and personal at the reef. Image from wikimedia commons
Given that this is a huge part of Australia's tourism, competition for custom is high and therefore if you shop around, you can get a decent price for your trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Use Dive The Reef to compare prices on all deals – just enter your trip length and price range. One-day tours leaving from Cairns start at about $80 (try Reef Trip), and a flight from Brisbane to Cairns will set you back between $90 and $150.
Visit the Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest. Image from wikimedia commons
Where the forest meets the reef is the Daintree Forest and Cape Tribulation, and some of Australia's finest scenery. A cheap flight between Brisbane and Cairns will start at around $90, and a day tour of the Daintree (though you'll probably want a lot more time) costs between $100 and $200. Try Jungle Tours or North Trek Tours, or for more information about the area visit the Daintree Local Tourism Network.
Party at the Sydney Opera House
The iconic Sydney Opera House. Image from wikimedia commons
One quick Google search will give you enough bars to keep you up for a week, as Sydney's pride and joy brings in the crowds. For something a little classy try Eau De Vie, or to keep the purse strings tight and your Australian experience high, visit The Australian Heritage Hotel early in the evening for some classic Australian beer and a menu that ranges from Pepper Kangaroo to Tiger Prawns and BBQ steak.
Wind along the Great Ocean Road
Beach view of eroding rock formations along the Great Ocean Road. Image from wikimedia commons.
Surely the best way to see Victoria's coastline is by car. Two hundred and forty three kilometres of winding road through rugged coastline. Hire yourself a car or jump aboard a bus tour and be sure to have your camera handy.
Tour routes usually begin at Geelong, just one hour from Melbourne, though the road itself begins just a little further along in Torquay. Check out the Visitor's Bureau or Great Ocean Road Torquay for more information.
This trip shouldn't cost you much – the cheapest way to go is certainly to drive yourself, rather than joining a tour. The road passes through many coastal towns and scenic lookouts, so if you've got the freedom of your own wheels you can stop to smell the fresh salty air any time you wish.
Sleep under the Southern Cross
That famous constellation. Image from wikimedia commons
That famous constellation immortalised in a gold-rush revolution and countless tattoos is one of Australia's proudest stamps. Given that summer in Perth routinely reaches over 40 degrees Celsius during the day, I'd recommend the west coast as the perfect location for a kip on a clear summer's night. Grab a light tent or swag, watch the sun go down over the Indian Ocean and settle in for an evening of snoozing and star gazing. Don't forget sunscreen, insect repellent and even a mozzie net or you'll be feeling very sorry for yourself by morning.
A flight to Ayers Rock/ Uluru from nearest capital city Darwin will set you back about $400, however from Sydney it's only around $200. Climbing the rock is extremely disrespectful, so to maximise your experience and minimise embarrassment be sure to drop by the Visitor Information Centre first, and absorb all you can about one of Australia's most famous landmarks.
While you're there, take a tour over or through 'The Olgas', a group of rock formations formally called Kata Tjuta (pronounced "Kata Joo-ta"). While smaller than Ayers Rock, this site is no less beautiful and the highest point, at Mount Olga, stretches 198m higher than that of Uluru. Entry free is around $25 per person.
Budget Blowout: King's Canyon
Described as "unbelievable", a trip to the Kimberleys is a must-do far anyone wishing to soak up the pristine wilderness – and though it's worth the cost you won't be able to do it on spare change. Try King's Canyon in Watarrka National Park, a 270m chasm that over 600 species of flora and fauna call home.