Australia: West or East?
8 tested tips
to choose where to start

Written by Ophelie
Published 28th Dec 20
Will take 6mn to read

Australia’s West and East coasts are two worlds on their own. Both have their highlights and will appeal to you for different reasons. Not easy to choose between the Wild West and the crazy East coast! So, where to start your travels? A little tour and 8 advices to choose based on practical tips and your own preferences as traveller.

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  1. Where to start backpacking Australia: practical tips
    1. Climate
    2. Where you leave from
    3. Job hunting
    4. Based on budget
    5. Ease of moving around
  2. How to choose between West and East: based on what you’re looking for
    1. What to see from Australia
    2. Locals vs tourists
  3. Extra: must-do activities on Australia’s West and east coast

This travel post is for:

  1. Backpackers on a working holiday visa
  2. Travelers and solo travelers

My extra tip: find in the article a list of 37 essentials I took with me in the campervan on road trips! Download the checklist for free. 

Where to start backpacking Australia? Be practical

Australia’s West or East coast: how to choose based on the climate

When I had to choose where to start my backpacking year in Australia, climate was an important point. I made a point of not wearing winter clothes in Australia… so, I looked first at seasons and weather. Western and Eastern Australia come with quite different climate zones. According to what you want, an overview of Australia’s West and east coasts might help you to decide where to travel first.

Western Australia, or the King of Extremes: from desertic heat to temperate coastal climate

On Australia’s West coast, climate can get kind of extreme. Let’s distinguish South and North. To those who want to start with very hot temperatures, head to Darwin. And to start your travels with a more European-like climate, Perth is your destination. The climate there is similar to our European summers and winters, but reverse.

Australia's west coast weather all year

Eastern Australia: climates for all tastes.

Roughly, you’ll find three climate zones: the North (Cairns and northern peninsula), the middle (Brissie region, Queensland), the south (Sydney, NSW) and very south (Melb, Victoria, Tasmania). Cairns’ climate is similar to Darwin’s: tropical temperatures with heavy rains between December and March. While the South down Sydney is more like our European seasons, Brisbane and Queensland’s state are probbaly the best spot to be all year round, without drastic changes of climate.

Australia East coast weather all year round

To retain! Australia’s West or East coast: how to choose based on the weather? Australia is so huge that you can always find a climate you’ll like. I personally started backpacking Australia on the East coast, in Brisbane. Bearable temperatures were important to me, coming right from European winter. Western Australia is divided into tropical weather in the north and mediterranean climate in the southern half. On Australia’s east coast, it’s a patchwork – tropical in Cairns, dry in Brisbane, temperate (cold and rainy winters) weather in Sydney, Melbourne areas and Tasmania. Weather is also synonym of harvest calendar and work seasons. If you’re looking for backpacker jobs, take it into account!

Where you will leave from: flights and time difference

How to choose between Western and Eastern Australia? Your country of origin might help to decide! Once again, Australia is a big country (a continent, even). Look at time differences between your starting point and main cities in West and East of Australia. Flight rates also vary according to the starting and ending points. As example, if you come from Europe: Perth on the West coast has cheaper flight connections and time difference less important (think jet lag and calling relatives) than with Sdyney. If you are currently backpacking South East Asia, Australia’s West coast is also a better bet in terms of flights. 

Hot travel tip! How to find cheap flights to Australia? I use to run a search on flight comparators, to get redirected to deals! Jetradar is one of my regulars.

Start backpacking based on job hunting: follow the harvest seasons

If your first goal is to get your second (third?) year visa, you might want to base your decision on harvest seasons. That’s to say, on the employment peaks for regional work in Australia. Without big surprise, the harvest calendar in Australia follows the rhythm of seasons. My little tip: avoid big cities in summer and go directly for farms and pubs in the countryside. You might find a backpacker job quicker.

Type of farms on Western and Eastern Australia with seasons:

  • Cairns: March / Dec. Banana plantations in Tully, vegetables farms in Atherton Tablelands
  • Queensland: May /Sep. Strawberries in Caboolture, citrus avocados in Gin Gin
  • NSW: Jul / Nov. Avocados, berries in Byron Bay. Apples blueberries farms in Coffs Harbor.
  • Victoria: Oct / Mar. Grapes, vegetables in Bairnsdale. To avoid: Mildura.
  • Tasmania: Jan / Apr. Grapes, peers, apple farms. Cygnet, Devonport.
  • Albany: Nov / Feb. Strawberries farms.
  • Margaret River: Nov / Feb. Grapes.
  • Donnybrook: Nov / Mar. Apples, peers.
  • Northern territories: any type of work counts for 2nd visa. But climate very hot. Bartending in Darwin, farm jobs on cattle stations in Kathrin and national parks.

Choose according to your first budget.

Eastern Australia is clearly the place to be to party at fancy places (but also in the bush, like in Cairns). It’s the Australian side to spend your money. First, because the East coast is bit more expensive than its West counterpart. There are the most important cities which attract millions of tourists and backpackers. Second, the tourism industry has understood the trick and tours are quite pricey.

Skydive above the White Sundays, diving on the Great Barrier Reef, snorkeling at Port Douglas… Or maybe driving a 4WD on the beach on fraser Island, climbing the harbor bridge in Sydney, doing a 3 days sailing trip in the Whitesundays? So many things to experience on the East Coast. And, even if I am anti-tours, some of the worldwide famous must-sees are not really possible without booking tourist tours.

Western Australia, on the contrary, is more chill-paced. Nature and wild empty spaces expect you. There is basically one ‘big’ city where you’ll be tempted to spend in partying: Perth. The rest of your budget will go towards road trips. I noticed that accommodation was slightly cheaper than on the East coast too. It was in 2018-2019 though.

Australia's west coast, Perth city, Elizabeth Quay. Source: Google images.

Where you start backpacking Australia can indeed depend on your start budget and what you want to see first of the country. I knew that I wanted to visit iconic cities and experiment the crazy backpackers world of Australia. That’s why I started with the East Coast. But for having lived also on Australia’s West side, my advice is to not skip the Western side!

East coast vs west coast: The ease of moving around isn’t quite the same

Let’s give long life to clichés: Australia’s West coast is isolated. Very isolated! With no doubt, the West Coast is my favorite part of the country but be aware. Moving around is more complicated than in Eastern Australia. That might be a point you want to know before deciding where to start traveling. How to move around on West and East Australia? Quick overview.

  • How to move around on Australia’s west coast: 4W4 (rentals or buying), flight connections mainly to Perth and Darwin from the East coast, trains and busses from Perth to WA’s mainland and its coast. Distances are really huge, with often nothing in miles. Sme roads in the northern territories are only accessible by 4W4.
  • Means of transportation on the East coast: flight connections between cities, trains, busses Greyhound on the whole coast, roads accessible by car, more availability of car sharing due to many backpackers and tourists traveling the same itineraries

14 Essentials to have in a campervan on a road trip

  1. Sustainable food (muesli, pasta, cans, porridge…)
  2. Camping stove + spare one
  3. Toilet paper
  4. Emergency road safety kit
  5. Jump starter cables + battery
  6. Extra fuel cans (5/20L)
  7. Music speakers
  8. Hand disinfectant
  9. Wipes (face + body)
  10. Water tanks
  11. Sunscreen
  12. Skin mineral water spray 
  13. First aid kit
  14. Mini mirror                             

Download here the full list of 37 essentials and nice-to-have items in the camper on a trip!

How to choose between Australia’s West and East Coast, based on your personality

What you want to see from Australia

Eastern Australia: the backpacking experience

If you come for experiencing iconic touristic places of Australia: Start with the East Coast. The most iconic places are there. The big cities which are filled with partys, fancy places, European-style architecture are Sydney and Melbourne. Follow the season calendar to be there in summer, when parks are full of Aussies and backpackers, when festivals happen every weekend.

The North of the East Coast has a different taste: Nature is magnificent. Don’t miss the rain forest, the Tabletons and the reefs up in Cairns. Partys happen in the bush also – look for ‘bush party’ if you’re fan of electro music and open air fiestas. Tourist tours, adrenaline activities like skydive or diving are spread out all over between Brisbane and Cairns. It will cost but there really are one life-time experiences. 

South of Brisbane, Coffharbor and Byron Bay are quieter places on the East Coast. They are filled up with a hippy atmosphere mixed with the crazyness of backpacking life. You’ll find the itinerary I followed myself on theEast Coast at the bottom of this article.

Photograph-lake-stones-Australia-Blackdown- Tablelands-park
East Coast, Balckdown Tableland national park

Nature and wilderness: life and road trips on Australia’s west coast

You have probably read it everywhere… the West Coast of Australia is Nature per excellence. And it is very true. The only big city you will find is Perth on the South part of the Coast. From there, you can start the real road trip experience everyone wants to have in Australia.

Australia's West coast - South of Perth, Albany national park

Very different will be the experience when you choose to go North. Starting from Perth, backpackers use to take the road for a long journey… to Darwin, in the mythic Australian Northern territories. 

What's to see on the West Coast?

The break points on this untouched piece of earth are Coral Bay on the way to Exmouth, at the northern limit of Western Australia. Then, you enter Northern territories. Kalgoorlie national park, Monkey Mia to swim with dolphins and turtles, Broome to go to authentic Australian pub and see camels on the beach. Before hitting Darwin, the furthest north town of the coast.

Australia’s West vs East Coast: Locals vs. backpackers

If the West Coast lets you see the most untouched nature gems of Australia, it will also show you the authentic Aussie lifestyle… and the authentic Australians. To get in touch with locals and to avoid the backpackers’ crowd, go to the West. Locals are simpler in their way of life, maybe also keener to welcome backpackers.

Where to start backpacking Australia, based on the traveller you are? You like quiet places, Nature and authenticity: the wild West is for you. You want partys, city life and international backpacking atmosphere: Eastern Australia and its iconic places wait for you.

20 definitely must-do (and not always touristy!) activities on Australia’s West and East sides

West coast and cool stuff to see

What to see on Australia’s West Coast

  • Perth: city beaches, Rottnest island, Powerline 4W4. Find 10 top things to do in Perth in this blog post!
  • Albany: national park and camping on the coast
  • Margaret River and Hamelin Bay: surf and ray mantas
  • Esperance: Lucky Bay, pink lake
  • Jurien Bay: quiet stunning beaches, Sandy Bay, skydive
  • Monkey Mia: swim with turtles and dolphins
  • Karijini National park
  • Broome: camels on the beach, backpacker town
  • Darwin: backpacker city, Kakadu national park

National parks near Darwin
Perth, sunset

East coast and cool stuff to see

Australia’s East Coast: what to see

  • Cairns: great barrier reef, bush partys, Atherton Tablelands, Dundee river, Cape Tribulation (rainforest), snorkeling at Port Douglas, Northern peninsula (York).
  • Magnetic island and Mission beach
  • Airlie Beach: to do party
  • Rockhampton: Blackdown Tableland national park (not touristy, stunning)
  • Whitesundays: sailing, skydiving
  • Fraser island (accessible only by 4W4 or with tours): drive on the beach!
  • Brisbane: city life, islands nearby
  • Noosa: to see for the national park
  • Byron Bay: super chill place, beautiful beach, surfing spot
  • Newcastle, Coffharbour (cliffs, beaches)
  • Sydney, Melbourne (Philipp island and penguins): festivals in summer
Sunset picture - Byron Bay, Australia
Byron Bay beach
Photo of mangroves
Mangrove near Airlie Beach
Curiosity makes the awesome traveler you are.
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Travel destination

Backpacking Perth - is it for you?

Travel destination

The East Coast in 2 weeks

I am made of photography,stories from the road and a good dose of passion. I am Ophélie, French-born traveler always on the go. My travel photography blog is about my travel experiences, tips and my addiction for adventure. To help you explore countries on your own… as an independent and curious traveller.