Heading off to the Land Down Under? Grab your bucket list: Australia has an abundance of one-of-a-kind things to see and experience during your exchange! And if you’re not sure yet of where you want to go, we’ve compiled a list of our 12 favorite must-visit places. Whether you are embarking on a Work and Travel adventure or cozying up with a host family as an au pair, you definitely don’t want to miss the opportunity for a new adventure!
Dive the Great Barrier Reef.
If you’re not scuba certified, now’s the time! The Great Barrier Reef is famous for its colorful and varied coral formations, warm temperatures, and clear visibility. Over half the size of Texas, there is plenty of reef to keep you busy along the upper east coast of the continent. Some of the highest rated dive sites include Challenger Bay (Ribbon Reefs), Cod Hole (Ribbon Reefs), and Around the Bend (Osprey Reef). And there are plenty of dive operators to choose from.
See Uluru - Ayers Rock.
Uluru is considered sacred to the the Aboriginal people of Australia and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aboriginal peoples throughout the country believe that Uluru was formed by their ancestors during “dreamtime” (their cosmological set of beliefs about the creation of the universe and their human relationship to it) and some of the formations surrounding Uluru are thought to be inhabited by ancestral spirits. But there’s more to do than just see the sandstone formation: it’s surrounded by rock caves, water holes, springs, and ancient rock paintings. Find out more about getting to Uluru.
Hang out with kangaroos and koalas in Queensland.
And the unique wildlife doesn’t end with those famous marsupials: You can also see wallabies, penguins, and maybe even the elusive platypus. How can you pass that up? There’s no shortage of places to visit with these native animals, especially in Queensland, whether it be a zoo, sanctuary, or wildlife park. You’ll also learn what the song “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” is actually talking about.
Drive the Great Ocean Road.
Home of the 12 Apostles (the famous limestone stacks in close proximity to each other) and more than 150 miles long, the Great Ocean Road is an excellent day trip from Melbourne. You'll find loads of tours running every day, but you can also rent a car and do the trip on your own schedule. What’s most interesting about this attraction is that it’s been dedicated to the fallen soldiers of World War I, and is the world’s largest war memorial.
Surf up and down the East Coast.
Even if you’ve never surfed before, you will want to start once you arrive in Australia. The East Coast is filled with beaches and coastline and the beach really is part of the culture in Oz. Attend a surf camp (lots of friends, food, and expert instruction) or have one of your new buddies teach you a thing or two. Go out there and catch a wave!
Eat superb and cosmopolitan food in Sydney and Melbourne.
What delicious dishes might you be eating while on your exchange? Luckily, due to its close proximity to a number of other countries with vastly different cultures, the food scene in Australia’s big cities has a lot to offer, from Thai to Japanese to Mexican and more. If you want to try some foods native to Australia, give emu, kangaroo, or even macadamia nuts (did you know that?) a shot. Be sure to drink your coffee, too, as Australians take it very seriously.
Check out some excellent street art in Melbourne.
Street art is prolific here. From large scale murals to stenciling to stickers, there is certainly no lack of talented artists residing in Melbourne. Some that are easy to check out include Hosier Lane (off Flinders Lane) and Union Lane (off Bourke St.), both in the CBD. For entire neighborhoods of art, check out Fitzroy and Collingwood.
Hike in the Blue Mountains.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site, head to Katoomba Falls for the best viewing point of the Three Sisters rock formation. At just a two-hour drive outside of Sydney, this beautiful park is a must-do. Crossing rainforests and waterfalls, the park contains multiple levels and durations of hikes, plus the world’s steepest cable railway.
Watch a cricket or Australian football game.
Cricket is the highest participation sport in Australia. Unlike many other popular sports in Australia that only generate regional interest, cricket is widely adored and followed by fans across the country, referred to as Australia’s national sport. As for Australian football – no, it’s not soccer this time! The sport has its own (albeit confusing) rules and has been around since 1859. It even has a cute nickname: footy.
Drink wine at a vineyard.
If you feel like getting out of town for a little refreshment, head out to wine country where you can take a vineyard tour and tasting. Australians stay true to their roots; imported wine accounts for only 16% of the total wine consumed by Aussies. Winemaking is a large part of Australian culture, being one of their biggest exports and having been in practice since the 1820s. If you happen to be in Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is extremely accessible and tour packages run every day.
Road trip with friends in a camper van.
Typically vans that have been fitted out to include accommodation space, camper vans are perfect for gallivanting around the country with friends. There is no shortage of journeys and adventures to take on in a camper van, whether rented or purchased from another traveler. Some popular routes are the Great Ocean Road, driving the East Coast from Cairns to Melbourne - and stopping at some of the most beautiful beaches Oz has to offer - or driving to the Outback to see Uluru. Travel between jobs or simply for pleasure!
Learn the language.
It’s great that Australia is an English-speaking country, but you might still have some “Huh?” moments when talking with a local. Australian slang (Strine) is often derived by shortening words or adding a little frill at the end. For example:
- brekkie = breakfast
- avro = afternoon
- ta = thank you
- thongs = flip-flops
Not to worry though, Aussies have a great sense of humor and are always happy to help teach you some new words. Here’s a list of 25 to get you started.
You have up to a year to travel throughout the country and soak up all its diverse culture and scenery. While this might seem like plenty of time (and you may have a bucket list far longer than the one here), be sure to make the most of your work abroad experience! Work and Travel Company, our partner organization in Australia, is there to help you structure your exchange with their friendly staff and invaluable resources. You’re sure to hear about other exciting activities and opportunities as you move along, so embrace all there is to do in Oz!
Melissa worked with InterExchange between 2016 and 2019, helping U.S. citizens planning to travel abroad. She traveled to Spain and Ghana before moving to Japan for three years. She now lives in the almost-foreign country of New York City.