Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Airlie Beach, Cairns, Tasmania
If you're planning a trip to Australia right now, you're probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by the options. It's a country the same size as the contiguous U.S., so it's a lot to cram in! Aside from a quick visit to Alice Springs & Uluru (Ayer's Rock) in the center, you'll likely stick to the coasts or even pop down to Tasmania (definitely worth the detour!). Before I get into my favorite spots to stay and explore around Australia, here's a bit about my experience there...
I lived in Australia for one year on the working holiday visa. It was one of the BEST decisions of my life (read How to Get a Working Holiday Visa and Why I Decided to Become an Expat Forever). I lived in Melbourne for seven months working a few pretty random jobs, but they taught me a lot of cool skills and life lessons. During that period, I explored Victoria, Sydney and Tasmania -- all brilliant in their own ways!
When I felt my time was up in Melbourne, I traveled up the coast on a wild camper van adventure with a cool Californian chick and a funny French man. I landed in Cairns where I worked on a boat in exchange for accommodation and food for two weeks with a lovely man named Wayne. We shared crazy stories, he taught me how to fish (pre-vegan times), we drank beer and played cards. It was two of the best weeks I've ever had. After that, I went south to Airlie Beach -- one of the greatest places in the world -- to find work and explore the Whitsunday Islands. I landed a job at a travel agency and learned a lot about Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji activity/accommodation/tour/transport options. Since my year in Australia, I have been back to explore Perth and Brisbane and find myself
I'm going to share with you what I learned so when you make your way to Australasia and the South Pacific, you know exactly what to do and not do!
Tucked in the Queensland coast, Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. It's one of the coolest places I have ever lived. If you are considering a trip there, here's my advice: DO IT! Not only do you have access to the Great Barrier Reef, but there are also 72 islands to choose from to add to your experience. Picture this: sail boats line the palm tree-lined harbors, underwater life teems with color and energy, and the white sands of Whitehaven Beach make for any incredible profile picture. The island reefs are home to turtles, coral, sea cucumbers, fish of every color, sand sharks, and more! The outer reef is best explored by scuba dive, snorkel mask, or scenic flight. You need to check out the heart reef (captured in the photo on the right) as it's a natural coral formation you will never believe you're seeing in real life!
You can stay in Airlie Beach and take day trips out to the islands or reef spots OR you can snag a room on an island resort and use that as your jump-off point. If you need to fly to Airlie Beach or the Whitsundays, fly to Proserpine Airport (just outside Airlie) or Hamilton Island.
My Top 10 Accommodation Picks in Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays:
1. Marina View Apartments: Located in the heart of Airlie Beach, you can't go wrong with this beautiful spot fit for royalty!
2. Airlie Beach Hotel: Pool and beach access included in this gem of a hotel. Expect incredible views of Airlie Beach from all angles.
3. Heart Hotel & Gallery Whitsundays: Worth the splurge! Free wifi, airport transportation, and palm trees right outside your window!
4. Colonial Palms Motor Inn: Budget price doesn't mean budget experience! Incredible pool oasis, free wifi, and free parking.
5. Peppers Airlie Beach: Would you like an infinity pool with that? Yes, please! Restaurant, bar, spa, gym, and views to die for!
6. Backpackers by the Bay: For my travelers exploring Oz on a shoestring, you won't beat this gorgeous hostel during your stay.
WhitSunday Islands (Hamilton Island):
7. Whitsunday Apartments: Located on stunning Hamilton Island, your stay here will leave you speechless and full of Instagram hits!
8. Reef View Hotel: Seeing the reef is why you came, isn't it!? Beach access, poolside cocktails, and clean suites to make you happy!
9. Beach Club: A bit pricier, but worth every last penny. Ranked #2 on Trip Advisor, this spot is ideal for the honeymooners!
10. Palm Bungalows: You can't beat easy access to buggies you can drive around the island and a hammock on your balcony!
Note: Explore options on Daydream Island and Hayman Island. Prices vary.
Although Brisbane doesn't have as many activities and sightseeing spots as other places in Australia, it's still a great place to stop for a night or two en route to the beaches of Byron Bay, Gold Coast, or Sunshine Coast. If you find cheaper flights here than Sydney, book on up! There's tons to do in the region, so rent a car and get exploring!
My Top 10 Accommodation Picks for Brisbane, Byron Bay, Gold Coast, & Sunshine Coast
2. Hotel Urban: Looking for a good deal and a great location? Hotel Urban is situated right next to the Roma Street Parklands where you'll see impeccable gardens and a beautiful fountain backdrop. They always have a good deal going on, so consider this spot!
3. Brisbane Marriot Hotel: You know exactly what to expect with a Marriot Hotel stay: clean rooms, excellent customer service, full array of amenities, and affordable suites.
4. Cape Byron Retreat: If it has "retreat" in it, you know it's good. For an affordable price, this oasis getaway is a four-start stunner. Located just outside downtown Byron Bay, Cape Byron Retreat offers an incredible pool & hot tub area available for your stay.
5. Nomads Byron Bay Backpackers: Doing Byron Bay on a budget, but still want to feel like you're on an exotic holiday? This hostel doesn't take all your money and gives you a dream vacation spot to stay. Situated in the heart of town, you can't beat the hammocks under the tiki hut as well as the hot tubs perfect for meeting fellow travelers!
Gold Coast & Surfers Paradise
6. QT Gold Coast: This beachfront, five-start hotel will make you giddy like a little kid. Spoil yourself to this Surfers Paradise beauty. It's not always you get to stay somewhere with paradise in the name of the town. Do it up right.
7. Surfers Paradise Backpackers Resort: For those of you not made of money, don't worry, you get to have a gorgeous spot to stay, too! This backpackers isn't short of amenities with a pool, sauna, free wifi, access to body boards, table tennis, volleyball, basketball and normal non-table tennis, as well as passes to the local night club with a free drink included. It's a backpacker's dream!
Sunshine CoasT & NOOSA
8. Peppers Noosa Resort & Villas: This may be a five-star hotel, but it's not going to break the bank to stay there. This beautifully designed hotel will make your holiday feel magical as hell and send you off feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
9. Noosa Nomads Backpackers: If you're traveling on your own or looking for like-minded travelers, this backpacker spot will show you a good time with a really cool atmosphere. Save yourself a few dollars and stay in this hostel located only 800 meters to Noosa main beach.
10. Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort: A midrange coastal accommodation that has a warm, friendly environment making you feel like you'll want to stay forever. You have access to dozens of restaurants & bars as well as the Sofitel AQUA Day Spa for those looking to pamper themselves.
Cairns & Port Douglas
Most people venture to far north Queensland to get a good look at the Great Barrier Reef, the Atherton Tablelands, the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, and to see real crocodiles in real life! Whether you've been backpacking, honeymooning, vacationing withe the family, or solo adventuring, this list of accommodation spots will have something for you. Port Douglas, just north of Cairns, is a bit less travelled, so I recommend taking a bit of extra time and transport to get there. If you want to stick around Cairns, no worries, mate! You'll have a blast regardless.
Six Best Accommodation Spots in Cairns & Port Douglas
1. For the families out there, head to Fitzroy Island Resort. This incredible resort is only a 45-minute boat ride away from Cairns and it is worth the effort! Keep your kids busy with incredible snorkel spots, glass bottom boat rides, and a cinema for the odd rainy day. If the self-contained apartments aren't enough for your stay, you can head down to the beachside bar & bistro. This place won't let you down.
2. For the lucky honeymooners, check yourself into Cairns Luxury Apartments. You will be elated with the pool, continental breakfast, and fantastic views of the Great Barrier Reef & Green Island. I mean, it is your honeymoon after all. Treat yourselves!
3. For the solo traveler or explorer on a shoe string, fear not -- luxury awaits you, too! Grab a room at Comfort Inn Cairns City. At only $96 per night, you get a pool, free wifi, and continental breakfast.
1. For the ballers The Garrick House is where it's at! The private pool & veranda, beach access, clean and aesthetic rooms, and palm-tree lined walkways is a sure fire combination for you to enjoy your holiday.
2. The mid-range stayers should consider a few nights at the Meridian Port Douglas. This 4.5 star hotel has an incredible pool available for use day and night, a concierge happy to book you on any of the local tour groups, and beach access for those looking to get some sand between their toes.
3. The humble travelers may enjoy a couple of nights at Dougies Backpackers Resort, which is just as quality as any of the places listed above, but you get to spend less! Dougies has clean and well decorated rooms, a tropical environment, washing machines available, and a communal kitchen to whip up a delicious fresh fruit salad.
CBD, THe Great Ocean Road, & yarra Valley
After spending seven months exploring Melbourne and it's stunning surrounding areas, I have a few places that really tickled my fancy. If you don't know, Melbourne is all about the lane ways. Coffee joints, night clubs, street art, and craft beer bars line the lane ways of Melbourne's unique scene. Staying in CBD is a must for at least one night, but venturing out of the city is vital, too! There are lots of unique spots to plant yourself during your visit to Melbourne, so chose the price range and location that suits you and get that itinerary underway!
1. Ovolo Laneways is possibly one of the coolest, most "Melbourney" places you could stay. With lots of artistic flare, stunning views of Melbourne's downtown by day and night, outdoor lounges, and chic rooms, Ovolo Laneways will fuel your creative side and leave you wanting to overstay your welcome.
2. InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto sits in a perfect downtown location. The façade of the building is photographed by almost every passerby due to its glorious European influenced architecture. A breakfast buffet, parking, a pool, and club lounge are all included in your stay, which all comes in handy in a city like Melbourne.
3. Home at the Mansion: Did you ever think hostel and mansion would be in the same sentence? Home at the Mansion is a simple place for the backpacker on a budget to rest you head and spend the day exploring. It's nothing fancy, but it works well locationally for those keen to be close to the party scene.
4. Nomads St. Kilda Beach is exactly where you want to stay if you are in your early to mid twenties and looking for some hearty fun. Close to the beach, bars, and beats, Nomads St. Kilda will deliver!
5. Rydges St. Kilda is a great place to stay for those looking to base themselves in St. Kilda, but enjoy the next step up in quality accommodation. Close to all the action the area has to offer, the Rydges is an immaculate place to rest your head after a long day in the Australian sun.
The Great Ocean Road
6. Located in Apollo Bay, Motel Marengo is the perfect place to stop after a long day of driving along the Great Ocean Road. Fully equipped with a pool, hot tub, clean rooms, and outdoor "barbies", your stay at Motel Marengo will be a very Australian one.
7. How have I not listed this place first? The CHIANTI COTTAGES may be the cutest place you could ever stay! These self-contained rooms, located five minutes from Bells Beach and Bird Rock in Torquay, look like they were just cut out of your childhood storybook. You won't be let down spending a night in this magical accommodation.
8. If you're a traveler with a tight budget, but still want to explore the Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay Eco YHA is the place for you! Clean bunks or private suites, an outdoor room to meet fellow explorers, a seven minute walk to the beach, and a tremendously helpful receptionist, you can't beat the price for this easy going hostel.
9. If you're in Yarra Valley, you're my kind of person! You need to stay at Graceburn Gardens to make your trip a complete dream of an experience in one of Australia's best wine countries.
10. Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort & Spa is somewhere I'd LOVE to stay one day when I go back to Yarra Valley. Friends have recommended it to me and they gave it a 10 out of 10 rating, which is über impressive. When you get to drink wine in a robe overlooking the vineyards on your own private balcony, it seems like absolute heaven to me!
Perth & Margaret River
Oh, Perth, you beautifully isolated city by the sea. I didn't actually expect to like Western Australia's largest city as much as I did when I visited, but I can totally see myself living there one day. I recommend a few days in Perth to visit the quokkas on Rottnest Island, wander the immaculately kept gardens, and explore the funky downtown scene before heading to the incredible wine region of Margaret River. Woo hoo, more wine! Don't forget to stop at a few caves and do a tour of the underground wonders that lie beneath -- it's worth it!
I've listed the places either I stayed at, friends have recommended or that I hope to stay at one day. Please let me know if you stay at any of these spots!
6 Unique Places to Stay in Perth & Margaret River
1. Alex Hotel: This chic, modern, funky, one-of-a-kind boutique hotel has gotten rave reviews from some friends of mine. They said they paid $220 for a night there, but it was worth a bit of a splurge for such a cool night's stay.
2. The Nest on Newcastle: What a catch! This place is an epic hotel at an affordable price that you'll be so glad you chose. There's a good chance you'll get your own balcony, and if you don't, you can head upstairs to the rooftop garden and enjoy the stunning view!
3. The Witch's Hat: This hostel is a standard backpackers, but with a quirky twist. For a cheap rate, you get a clean bed, a building erected with character, friendly staff, and a great outdoor seating lounge for you to mingle with fellow nomads.
1. Heritage Trail Lodge: Picture yourself drinking wine surrounded by birds and palm fronds next to a cottage covered in a supple, green landscape. Sounds good, right? Running at about $215 a night, you can make that dream a reality!
2. Waterfall Cottages: When you go to Margaret River, you want to stay somewhere that makes the experience complete. Wine tastings during the day and a perfectly peaceful place to rest your woozy head is the aim! Just 10 minutes out of town, Waterfall Cottages is a quaint, private spot that welcomes you after your day's touring with sounds of waterfalls rushing to help wind you down.
3. Margaret River Lodge: A top ranked backpacker stop, this hostel-style lodge is all you need going through Margaret River on a budget. Enjoy a glass of Margaret River wine in the pool to cool off on a hot day or walk to the beach and read a book as you watch an incredible Perth sunset. Margaret River Lodge is basic and nothing fancy, but its simple nature will warmly welcome you in regardless.
Sydney & Its Surrounding Beaches
Sydney is one of the most intriguing cities I have ever explored. Its sprawling layout across the fissures of harbors, bays, rivers, and beaches leaves you with an unlimited amount of nooks and crannies to explore. I typically get sick of cities pretty quickly, but Sydney has tons of surrounding beach towns that comprise its incredible character that I just can't get enough of. Every time I have been to Sydney I have stayed somewhere new. Sometimes with friends, other times in hostels, and then there's the one-off fancy hotel stay.
This list isn't tremendously long, but it should help you start building your itinerary. If you don't stay in the CBD, aka downtown Sydney, I highly recommend finding a place in Manly Beach or Bondi Beach. They both have tons to do and are always buzzing with energy.
8 Great Places to Stay in Sydney
1. Staying in downtown Sydney is always unforgettable. Just minutes from the Opera House is Ovolo 1888 in Darling Harbour, an old meets new type of feel greets you in all different quirky ways. If you want to be centrally located and stay somewhere with style, this is your spot.
2. Bounce Hostel in Sydney, rated Australia's #1 hostel, is a backpackers unlike any other. I recommend this place highly as it makes you feel like you're a baller without having to dish out the rest of the money in your piggy bank.
3. Bondi Beach can be a pricey place to stay, but if you like to surf, you'll want to get in no matter what. I recommend Bondi Backpackers so you can stay close to the action and not bankrupt yourself. This coastal hostel has a true beach vibe inside and out. Clean and comfortable dorm rooms are usually available, but book ahead just in case!
4. If you don't feel like sharing a room with eight other backpackers, check yourself into The Savoy Double Bay Hotel for only $152/night. You'll be treated to a staying-at-mom's-house type of ambience and feel comfortable from the moment you walk in.
5. Want to ball out for a night? Stay at Adina Apartment Hotel Bondi Beach for an EPIC experience. This place is sexy as hell and well worth the splurge; plus, you can't beat the location. The clean cut design and pop of colors really stands out in its atmosphere. The pool is delicious and the lounge is perfect for a few cosmopolitans. I mean, look at this place! (See photos below)
If you're headed to Manly Beach, you're guaranteed a good time. The beach, restaurants, street performers, surfers, ice-cream shops, rooftop bars, and even sunsets have such good energy about them. There's no shortage of things to do and places to stay. These hostels are pretty cheap, but don't cut too much quality. You'll barely be in your hostel room anyways with all the action happening outside. Snag a room at one of these places and you'll be on your way to a great holiday!
GO TO TASMANIA!!! If my CAPS LOCK doesn't emphasize this enough, I'll try to prove my point with a more colorful, less threatening blurb. :)
If you believe in heaven, Tasmania is prettier than what it should look like. If you believe in an after life, Tasmania is better than that. If a place could be a my spirit animal, it would be Tasmania.
Tasmania broke off from mainland Australia because it doesn't need all the rest of the hullabaloo to make it a stunning holiday location. Tasmania is a pristine, eye-popping, jaw-dropping masterpiece of Mother Earth's best artwork. The winding roads that eventually open up to look out points above the most picturesque bays in the world, the turquoise blue waters that crash up against color soaked rock faces, the landscape formations that no one could ever think up on his/her own, even with the wildest imagination one thinks s/he may have...that's Tasmania. Photographs never do it justice, but here are a few from my trip just to tease you a bit.
I recommend spending a minimum of a week to ten days in Tasmania. You may think it looks like a small island, but the amount of beauty that unfolds itself before you will leave you wanting to stay longer and longer. Trust me, you need more than just three days. My best friend and I rented a camper van to explore Tasmania, which I highly recommend. If sleeping in a camper van isn't your thing, not to worry. I've compiled a list of places to stay across the island that will ensure you have the best time.
Note: Make sure you get to the Salamanca Market on Saturdays if you are in Hobart for the weekend!
1. Top notch: Islington Hotel - The cream of the crop for hotels in Hobart. Ranked #2 of all the places to stay in the area. I've never personally stayed there, but it's at the top of my return-to-Tasmania bucket list (as is to go to the Mona). Some of my favorite bloggers have stayed there and their experiences appeared out of this world.
2. Midrange: Quest Savoy - A middle of the road hotel that provides excellent customer service, clean & comfortable rooms, as well as a wonderful spa and hot tub.
3. Budget: The Pickled Frog - One of the best hostels we stayed at in Tasmania. This funky, centrally located hostel has a bar/lounge with regular drink specials, clean bedding and comfortable bunks, laundry service available, and a really fun staff who genuinely want to make sure you have a great experience staying with them.
1. Top notch: Peppers Seaport Hotel - Located on the North Esk River, this 4.5 star hotel won't let you down with sailboats floating right outside your window and a short walk to the center of town. This beautiful accomodation is ranked as the #1 luxury hotel in Launceston.
2. Midrange: Kurrajong House Bed and Breakfast - If you prefer a cute, cozy B&B over a big, fancy hotel, this place is for you. The rooms and suites have a particular character about them that could land them in a magazine.
3. Budget: The Mowbray Hotel - This cheaper choice saves you cash, but gives you a perfectly valuable night's stay. The rooms are better than any hostel in the area, so I recommend grabbing a room here. With your stay, you'll also receive free parking, access to the bar/lounge as well as the hotel restaurant.
Best option: Fox & Hounds Inn - Emily and I stopped here after our tour around Port Arthur's historic site. The atmosphere in the Inn's restaurant is a cross between your favorite English pub and a ski lodge tucked somewhere in the Swiss Alps. The food was hearty, the staff is welcoming, the fireplace is ever-burning and the rooms are well-kept and most have a great view.
1. Top Notch: Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge - This place is unreal. Whether you come by winter or summer, you can enjoy the amenities included in your stay, such as the buffet breakfast, mountain and lake views, and access to the bar & lounge.
2. Midrange: Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village - A bit higher than midrange, actually, this place delivers when you pay a bit more. This chalet village in the middle of the Tasmanian forest has a perfect view of Cradle Mountain, spacious cabins (with heated towel racks!), tame wildlife, and a wonderful staff.
3. Budget: Discovery Parks - While this is a caravan park, it also has cabins available for those who aren't staying in self-contained vehicles. The communal cooking area was perfect for us because we could build our own fire, play cards, and sip on wine as we watched the snow fall outside. Simple and well-kept, you'll be happy with this budget choice when traveling on a shoestring.