Taking a Bite of Australia
Australia is a huge country and offers something for everyone (except those afraid of long plane flights )
Trying to see too much of Australia in a short period, and going there during the peak Christmas/Aussie summer holidays are probably the main mistakes you could possibly make in planning a trip there.
If you are “hipsterish” and you don’t mind unreliable weather, then you’ll likely love Melbourne. Guidebook giants Lonely Planet love it so much that they have their worldwide HQ there, which is saying something. Melbourne has a great cafe scene, restaurants, theatre, culture, and nearby beaches. Pretty much everything you could wish for except good weather! If you like San Francisco, you’ll probably love Melbourne.
Sydney is cosmopolitan, fast paced, and very expensive. It doesn’t have the small walkable big city vibe of places like New York or London. It’s much more like Los Angeles. It makes a great stopover city but will bust your budget if you spend too much time there (that said, Melbourne and the rest of Australia are only slightly less expensive.)
Outside of the two biggest cities, your main choices are whether you want a water or outback themed trip. A tour/visit up to Cairns will give you the opportunity to snorkel or dive the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is the most well known jumping off point for anything GBR related, but you can also access the reef from places like the Whitsundays. The islands off the Queensland coast are the golden jewel of Australia, in our opinion. Sticking to this part of Australia is going to be a huge highlight for most water loving visitors. If you’re travelling mid-year i.e. the Australian winter then the further North you go the warmer the weather. Cairns and points further North are pretty much warm year round. However, bear in mind that Cairns itself does not have anything in the way of good beaches.
The beaches north of Bundaberg have nasty stinging jellyfish between November and May so during the stinger season you have to swim within special netted enclosures at the beach. Reefs and islands off the mainland are less affected.
Winter in Sydney is a bit cooler than winter in Los Angeles but not too bad. We’ve swum at the beach in Sydney until as late as early April. The water temps aren’t super warm so we probably wouldn’t be keen on swimming near Sydney much beyond that. As you go further North, the water temperatures get warmer.
When considering your budget for Australia, prepare for some serious sticker shock. It’s almost as expensive as the most expensive places in Europe. If you’re considering a tour, then factor in that the prices of tours will be higher due to the higher costs of fuel, accommodation, food, and almost everything else “downunder”. The tour prices may be more reasonable than they first appear. You can cut costs a little bit by self catering and staying in camp grounds, but this is also expensive in AU. At least, taxes are included in posted prices, and tipping is not generally expected. Is Australia worth it? Yes, for sure!