Considering a working holiday in Australia? Just about to start? If you’re like most backpackers, you’re planning to start in either Sydney or Melbourne. As the two largest cities in Australia with the most international flights arriving, those are natural choices, but let’s talk about why Cairns is actually a great strategy if you’re a backpacker starting your year in Oz.
Timing is everything
You have to be aware of the timing for your working holiday. Sure, it would be fun to start your year in Oz with a bang; New Year’s Eve at the Sydney Opera House! But then you’re looking for a job during peak summer time when a lot of hospo places are winding down from the peak of “silly season” in December. October is springtime in Australia; a great time to get in, as things are starting to heat up. It’s sunny and warm up north in North Queensland. Although it could still be a little cold or damp down South, the weather is improving each day.
Australian cities: Try it before you buy it
If you’re planning on a working holiday it’s great to see what your options are before deciding where to settle down for a few months. There are lots of jobs available for backpackers in Australia, but unfortunately, no one is going to hand you one at the airport. You’ll still have to get your CV in order, spend time searching online, and hitting the pavement to interview and ask if there are any jobs around.
After all this effort, it makes the most sense to stick around for 3-6 months in a job once you’ve gone through the trouble to get one. That can be a good chunk of your time in Australia, especially if you’re not planning on doing your farm work and staying for a second year. So, make sure you find the right spot to work before settling in. Rather than landing in Australia and choosing Melbourne or Sydney by default, take a trip on the East Coast and check out your options. Maybe you find that Brisbane is more your style. Perhaps you fall in love with the reef and settle in Cairns. Some fall in love with smalltown Australia and chill out in a place like Agnes Water 1770 or Yamba. Others can’t resist the hippie charm of Byron Bay. You won’t know until you go.
Start small and work your way down
If you’re persuaded that it’d be great to take a little holiday and tour Australia before settling down and finding some work, here’s why it’d be great to start up in Cairns and work your way down, instead of the reverse. Sydney and Melbourne can be overwhelming. If you’re a young backpacker who isn’t the most experienced with being independent, travelling overseas alone, finding work in a new country, the hustle and bustle of the big city can be a bit full on. Instead, why not start small and work your way down?
Cairns is small, but it’s still a proper city. There’s an international airport. You can get sorted with a bank account at any of Australia’s major banks, get your SIM card, your TFN. If you’re covered by Medicare you can get your health cover taken care of. A dozen travel shops will give you all the advice and packages on an East Coast trip. There are some top-notch hostels that will make a great base while you get all set up, and plenty of places to party, meet other backpackers and get excited about your year in Australia. There’s nothing you need to start your year in Oz that little Cairns doesn’t have.
Once you’re established, hit the road with a campervan hire or a greyhound pass and start making your way south. You’ll pass by lots of popular farmwork destinations, so you can start to survey those too. It’ll start to get livelier as you hit Townsville, Brisbane, and eventually Sydney. Once you’ve reached the end of the line in Sydney [or Melbourne if you want (or Perth if you’re really full-on #cantstopwontstop)] you’ll be a seasoned traveller in Australia. You’ve dived the reef, been a bikie for a day, spotted Dingos, become a hippy, and got a sunburn at Bondi. Congratulations, you’re officially a backpacker. Now, what did you like the most? Which town felt the most like home, or the opposite, if that’s what you’re hoping for? Which place did it pain you to leave? You’ve done the coast and you know your options.
In summary, a little strategizing is key for figuring out your year in Australia. A lot of backpackers just book a plane one-way ticket and say, “right, I’ve landed in Sydney. Now what?” That’s all well and good, but a little planning goes a long way. No need to be overly rigid, but Australia isn’t warm and sunny everywhere all the time. Businesses don’t always have jobs available. Even the Greyhound and hostels can fill up (ask anyone who’s ever had to sleep at the bus station in Byron).
It’s great to have a plan, and starting your year in Cairns in October would be a good one. You get to start off in a small city in sunny, tropical Queensland, see a bit of Australia, and then make an informed decision where to live. It’s one of the best times to find a job and summer is getting closer each day. Congratulations, you’ve done well. Good on ya!