A Guide to Planning a Gap Year in Australia

From the buzz and easy-living of the cosmopolitan cities to the mystery, legend and magic of the Outback and rainforests – Australia is a land packed full of diversity, encompassing cultures both ancient and super-modern. Adventures tend to come jumbo-sized here, matching the vastness of the land itself and finding fun is almost compulsory in a nation peopled by such free-spirited and go-to folk.

ayers rock

Incredible flora and iconic fauna, the awe-inspiring landscape or the majestic man-made landmarks – in every aspect this country tends to do things on a scale ranging from the ‘rather lovely’ to ‘blow-your-mind spectacular’. Little wonder then that this chunk of the planet is a popular choice for gap year travellers.

So what’s on your gap year wish list? Fancy strutting your stuff under a glitter-ball perched atop Sydney Harbour Bridge…taking on some voluntary work feeding pelicans…getting up-close-and-personal snorkelling alongside a 10 metre whale shark – the largest fish on the planet? Perhaps cuddling a koala is closer to your ideal or simply camping under a vast twinkling star-lit sky in the Outback while being regaled with Dreamtime stories from your indigenous guide? All this and more than you’d ever imagined is waiting for you in Australia.

One Nation, Many Lands

Australia is made up of six separate states and two mainland territories each of which, with the exception of the Australian State Capital, is enormous. Furthermore, each offers something distinctly different from its neighbours and even shows incredible diversity within one state.

We can’t hope to even scratch the surface but we can tell you that wherever you go you will be wowed by incredibly varied landscapes, cultural nuances and more opportunities for all kinds of fun and adventure than you could fit in a whole lifetime or two but which distinctly vary from place to place. In many cases you’re unlikely to find anything like it anywhere else on the planet.

For example, in the Northern Territory you can explore the fascinating and spell-binding world of the country’s ancient indigenous culture – visiting remote rock-art sites or trying your hand at pitching boomerangs.

alice springs


In South Australia you can spend some time with the inhabitants of a certain opal mining community known as Coober Pedy who actually live underground while in the biggest of all states – Western Australia – there are many places where you could be forgiven for thinking you’re the only person left on earth. Go east and surfing is so much a part of the modern culture, the children of New South Wales and southern Queensland take surf lessons at the beach as part of the school curriculum so you’ve got to at least give it a whirl yourself while you’re here; alternatively you can just laze on one of the rooftop bars of Brisbane soaking up the one of its 300 days of sun or perhaps you can take up the open invitation to any number of international sporting events and  music festivals which call Australia home.

A Run-Down of Some of the Bonuses

The beauty and magnificence of this land are enough on their own to pull multitudes of visitors here but there are some other huge bonuses:

  • There are no language barriers or culture shocks to deal with and with one or two exceptions – kanga bangers anyone? – the food won’t be any great diversion from what you’re used to. All that familiarity and ease WITH the opportunity of other-culture immersion – perfect for anyone travelling for the first time and who is perhaps a little nervous about it all.
  • Only one country geographically speaking but it may as well be several – here you have desert, mountains, lakes, ocean, rainforest, rolling hills, coral reefs teeming with life, gorges, islands and so much more.
  • Cheap flights mean getting to one of the idyllic Polynesian islands such as Tonga, Fiji or Samoa is easily do-able.
  • If you love the ocean and beaches Australia is going to seem like paradise – both with regard to variety and quality. From limpid pool-like waters of turquoise fringed with white sand and palm trees to hard-core surfing wave-thrashed beaches and everything in between. Even the city beaches are hard to beat – you can’t say that of many places around the world – and spotting a passing pod of dolphins or the spout of a cruising whale as you laze or play at the coast are all part of the experience here.
  • You can go skiing at Mt. Buller – yep – you read that right…..skiing in Australia.
  • Australia is peopled by Australians – perhaps its biggest draw of all – down-to-earth, fun-loving, free-spirited, hard-core and proudly egalitarian and just about the friendliest people you’re likely to find.

Working in Australia

As gap years go Australia is certainly not the cheapest option which is one of the many reasons working holidays in Australia are a popular choice. Splitting your gap year time between work and play means the budget stretches further and Australia just happens to be one of the countries which dishes out working holiday permits to UK citizens, along with several other nations.

The Working Holiday Visa (WHV) for Australia is a one year work/tourist visit permit which must be applied for before you arrive in the country and can be extended to two years under certain circumstances. You must fulfil certain requirements, such as showing you have sufficient funds and any work you undertake must be incidental – i.e. the main purpose of your visit is for tourism purposes.

If you’re wondering what kinds of work are possible under the WHV scheme simply dream a dream and go for it. Although roles within the hospitality and tourist sector such as work in hostels, bars, restaurants and resorts are common, as is fruit picking and harvest work, there are also opportunities such as a dive instructor on the Great Barrier Reef or Outback ranch work. Check out http://www.immi.gov.au/ to see exactly what you’d need for a WHV and how to apply.

If you’d prefer to dedicate your time to voluntary work the opportunities here are as diverse as the land itself whether you’d like to work with people or animals and whether you want to commit to half a day or several months.

Budget Considerations

As we’ve already mentioned Australia isn’t the cheapest of destinations but there are a few ways to keep the costs down.

  • Consider hiring or even buying a camper vehicle – loads of folk go down this route because it leaves you free to wander exactly where you will and according entirely to your own schedule. There are some great deals out there and some travellers even make money from buying and selling back a vehicle if they buy low season and sell high. Of course you have to have the money to lay down in the first instance but in the long run you could save a heap of money this way on accommodation and transport. A quick word of warning here though – if you fancy yourself as a bit of a Lewis Hamilton you might want to rein yourself in some or regret it. Australians don’t speed – fact. Why? Because the fines are HUGE.
  • Hostels are ten a penny everywhere you go in Australia and dorm beds are always the best budget choice. But do your homework to make sure you get a hostel which matches what you’re looking for – they are NOT all the same. Additionally opt for a hostel with a kitchen so you can prepare your own meals and save tons.
  • There are some good bus ticket deals around of the hop on/hop off variety with a choice of start and finish points. Simply type ‘hop on hop off Australia’ into a search engine and work through your options. Alternatively, if you book your flights through a company like STA they will talk you through your options for travel and sort out special deals for you.
  • Consider your free accommodation choices such as the wonderful, wonderful Couchsurfing – www.couchsurfing.com – which will hook you up with a local (who of course knows all the best things to see and do and might even act as your personal tour guide) or the Help Exchange and WWOOF.

Checking out What registers as Not-to-be-missed

Australia has far far too many must-see places and can’t-be-missed experiences to do them any sort of justice here. The obvious inclusions – the magnificent Great Barrier Reef, the majestic Uluru and Sydney Opera House and so forth – are enough alone to keep you occupied for some time without even starting to mention the lesser known attractions such as camel trekking in the Outback, Kangaroo Island which manages to represent almost every one of Australia’s most iconic wildlife species, swimming with whale sharks and doing an external bridge climb on Sydney Harbour Bridge.


Because each state is self-legislating, contained and possessed of a fierce spirit of independence you will not typically find any official Australian tourism information which covers the entire country. Instead this is split into states which actually works really well for you to do your gap year research. These division falls into such websites as www.southaustralia.com, www.westernaustralia.com or www.visitmelbourne.com and this is where you’ll find incredibly comprehensive resources for all things visitor related. A great starting point is www.australia.com which will gather it all together a little and then link you up with the more specific. Be warned – you’re going to need a lifetime to do this incredible country justice.