Woohoo, part iii! So, you now know whether you will be studying or working (or do you?). Perhaps you even know where you will be studying, in which case this section will be more about familiarising yourself with Australia rather than choosing a place to live. Read on for an overview of every state, tips on renting a room or leasing an apartment, and a guide to the best suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney.
State by state
I will just give a brief geography lesson to start us out. So, this is Australia. We have 6 states and 2 territories. Like the US, we have a capital that is not a state (Australian Capital Territory, or ACT) and it kind of nestles into NSW. Contrary to popular belief, the capital of Australia is not Melbourne or Sydney, but Canberra, a city that is far more exciting than anyone gives it credit for.
(source: Lonely Planet Australia)
You can’t tell on this map, but New Zealand is quite close to us on the southeast coast and Indonesia is not too far north of us. West, there is not a lot happening for a while. This is a country of 23 million people, but nearly everyone lives on the coast. You can drive an hour from Sydney and be more rural than you knew was possible. It’s a magical place.
1. ACT/ Canberra: Everyone, and I mean everyone, bags Canberra hard for being painfully far from the coast (1.5 hrs), experiencing awful weather on both ends of the extreme, and just generally being a boring place. Talk to a lot of people in Canberra, however, and you’ll hear a totally different story. Actually, I split time between Wollongong and Canberra because of my research with the Australian Institute of Sport, and I actually love it. It’s a very compact and well-organised city, with all the bustle of a big metropolis without any of the traffic or parking issues. There are always a million things going on, from food festivals to film festivals to wine festivals, and there is no shortage of incredible restaurants or bars.
2. New South Wales/ Sydney: A truly magnificent state, home to many amazing places and National Parks. Wollongong for instance. And also Sydney, gorgeous Byron Bay, snowy (who knew) Jindabyne, sunny Newcastle, enchanting Jervis Bay, and I’ve run out of adjectives. The weather is also excellent here, not overly humid but very sunny. Sydney is a mess of a city in terms of getting around in either a car or via public transport, but it does make up for it with the Circular Quay (Harbour Bridge, Opera House, pure joy). On the other hand, rental prices are the highest in the country. Newcastle and Wollongong are beach uni towns. Jervis is a snorkelling paradise, Byron and all the various “Heads” (Broken Head, Lennox Head, Tweed Heads…) up the coast are fabulous, but perhaps more as holiday destinations than for living. Unless you are interested in working in tourism or something crafty, in which case Byron Bay is a great spot for you!
3. Victoria/ Melbourne: Little Victoria, the garden state. It is small, but has its own snow mountains (I know, still surprised), wonderful coastline, and the greatest city of all time, Melbourne. I lived there for about 10 months between my undergrad and Masters, during which time I worked for a bank and just basked in the city life. Repeatedly rated #1 World’s Most Liveable City. Public transport beyond compare, a nightlife that actually makes Sydney look like a pile of crap, a ridiculous melting pot of people and ethnicities that makes for some great food, and actually reasonable rent prices. The only downside is that Melbourne receives some chillier weather in the winter (10C, so that’s like a warm spring day in Seattle). Geelong is about 45 min away from the city, and is like a fabulous Victorian
Wollongong, full of students and surfers. Except better, because it’s near Melbourne rather than Sydney. (is not doing a good job of remaining impartial and presenting unbiased commentary.)
4. Queensland/ Brisbane: Home of the Great Barrier Reef, beaches so beautiful that they ship sand to Hawaii (true story), and a lot of swampy shit up north that you’ll want to avoid. Unfortunately, also home to a much greater concentration of things that will kill you than anywhere else. Brisbane is a nice city set on a river, but it has a slower pace than Sydney and Melbourne. Cairns is so humid you’ll feel like you’re living inside a shower cubicle, but it’s a great opportunity to work in tourism since it’s in close proximity to one of the country’s most magnificent natural wonders. Port Douglas is also a nice little city near the Reef, but neither of these cities are really city-like, more of a large (swampy) town feel. And then there’s the famed Gold Coast, with skyscrapers on the beach. A great place if you want to party with youths (no thank you) or lay on the beach (yes please).
5. Tasmania/ Hobart: A delightful little island south of Melbourne, but expect great quiet down there. Also, you will be the recipient of artic breezes coming off our great white neighbour to the south. In return, you get some of the best hiking in all of Australia, plus biking and kayaking and all sorts of outdoor activities. It’s a small island, so you could easily explore every nook. The other main city is Launceston, more northern, and both this city and Hobart are good options if you fancy a lot of peace and time with nature.
6. South Australia/ Adelaide: Another fairly boring city, just due to the quietness. However, gorgeous, world-class wine country to be found near by. Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale are stunning and may offer some good work opportunities. South Australia experiences pretty hot summers, but they are fortunately on the dry side, so it’s manageable. This is a very popular fruit-picking area, if you want to subject yourself to that.
7. Western Australia/ Perth: Perth is so clean and marvellous, but calm and tiny. In that same southern region, Fremantle, Busselton, and Mandurah are all lovely beach towns. Margaret River offers world famous wine, as well. Plus, the weather just can’t be beat. More sunny days and less rain than the tropical east coast, it has lovely dry heat that doesn’t fluctuate wildly like some other cities (looking at you, Canberra). But, as you may have noticed, WA is HUGE and it is v v hot up north. And the flies. You’ll never understand cork hats until you visit northern WA. You know, those silly bucket hats with corks dangling all around them on strings? Yes, they actually serve a purpose, and it’s not just to look stupid.
8. Northern Territory/ Darwin: Home to the constantly 30C Darwin, Uluru, and a lot of swamp life. Probably a better place to visit than for your first home in Australia, unless of course you are aiming for the ultimate outback experience, in which case: this is an excellent spot to base yourself.
Some generic house/apartment/room rental tips
- Rent is almost always paid weekly in Australia
- Looking to rent a room from someone: gumtree.com.au, flatmates.com.au, search Facebook for groups like “UOW Students Buy and Sell” that people post cheap rooms on.
- Looking for a place to rent yourself: realestate.com.au, domain.com.au
- Most real estates will require you (because state law requires them to require you) to physically walk through the place before you are able to apply. But, if you have a friend in the city you are moving to, you can sometimes speak to the realestate and they will let someone else do the inspection on your behalf.
- Applications are usually really extensive and will require printouts of your bank balance for proof of funds, payslips from a job for proof of income, references from not only other landlords/real estates, but also personal and professional contacts, and a ridiculous amount of ID (that you may not have yet, if you’re still using an overseas licence or bank card.
- Rentals can be incredibly competitive in uni towns around session times. I was beat out several times in Wollongong one year for a house before I got one, but was offered every apartment I applied to in Melbourne and even had the rent dropped $80/month to sweeten the deal.
- This is not very generic, but you should have deep pockets if you’re looking in Sydney. It’s not unusual to pay $400 a week for a room in a share house, whereas you might pay $150 for something similar in a smaller city.
I really like this meme and show it to basically everyone. It’s funny because it’s true.
8 Best Melbourne suburbs
Melbourne has amazing public transport, so expect to use it all the time and place yourself accordingly, near to trams and trains (though, they are everywhere!). I have a personal preference for the east side of the city, so the first 5 places on this list are eastern suburbs that are not too far from one another. As far as the east goes, Toorak is probably the most expensive and ritziest area, so I’ve not included it, though it’s right next to the next-most-expensive suburb, the posh and polished South Yarra. After that, I would say probably hip Prahran/Windsor, and then a tie between very grungy hipster Richmond and student-filled, more residential Hawthorn. St. Kilda is its own beachy category. For instance, you could go to the supermarket barefoot in St. Kilda and it wouldn’t be weird, but you’ll look underdressed in South Yarra if you’re in anything other than stilettos and a power suit or designer exercise gear. My other 2 picks are in northern Melbourne and also pretty close to one another. Fitzroy is the most hipster, while Carlton is full of students and restaurants (seriously, food everywhere).
1. South Yarra: My favourite spot in the whole city. It’s unbelievably cool in every way. South Yarra is joined to heaps of other central eastern suburbs like Windsor, Prahran, and eventually St. Kilda by Chapel St, Melbourne’s most famous shopping street and the all-around best place for everything. There’s a cinema, a million shops, more food than
you can ever eat, non-stop pubs, bars, and cool clubs, and great cafés for brunch. I lived on the corner of Toorak and Chapel and I would live there again in a heartbeat. There’s a tram on that corner, plus a train station 2 blocks away and only 2 stops into the CBD (main downtown area). Living in this suburb would be the best. However, South Yarra is fairly upscale, so expect to pay about $2000-3000/month for a 2 bedroom apartment.
2. Richmond: Not as upscale, a bit grungier, but every bit as hip and well located. Try to situated yourself near the train station and you will be only 1 stop away from the CBD. Richmond is just across the river from South Yarra, and has plenty of places to shop, eat, and drink. Rent should be a bit cheaper, but there are fewer brand new high-rise apartments here. Also look in Cremorne, which is a tiny suburb just between Richmond and the Yarra River. Both Richmond and Prahran are fairly “hipster”.
3. Prahran: Chapel St. also runs through Prahran to the south of South Yarra, and it’s a super cool place to hang out. A lot of the places I would go out or go shopping are actually in Prahran and I would just walk from South Yarra. It has a train station and a bunch of tram stops, it’s just one stop further from the CBD than South Yarra. There are a handful of suburbs all fairly near together in this area, so any of them would be good places to look: Windsor, Prahran, Balaclava, etc. Don’t expect to see many high-rises in the area, there’s a lot of small apartment blocks, but they are still on the newer side. There are also some town houses and such tucked off the main drag.
4. St. Kilda: So, continuing even further south, you could actually walk along Chapel St. all way to St. Kilda. (Are you noticing that I like Chapel St?) But the vibe here is distinctly different, it’s more beachy and relaxed. That’s right, St. Kilda is the beach (!!). While South Yarra is the most upscale on this list, then Prahran, then Richmond, I would say that St. Kilda is definitely the least fancy, but in a really great, hip, chilled out sort of way. There’s plenty happening down on this end, even a few new high-rises, but lots of smaller blocks of units and they tend to be a bit older. That’s the price you pay for living near the beach, I suppose! This area is also super popular with young backpackers and working-holiday-ers.
5. Hawthorn: This is predominantly a student area, so it’s young and fun, though still residential. I don’t know much more about this area, but a lot of my friends live here and seem to really like the location and the cheaper rent. I’ll also add that Kew is really nice, it’s just above Hawthorn, but even more residential and lots of families live here. My friends that live in Kew live in a perfectly nice home, but it’s still what you’d call a “uni house”, not super modern and not super glamourous. You’re also farther from the CBD here.
6. Carlton: I really like Carlton because I worked full-time here when I was living in the city and got to explore mostly through the medium of food. Almost all our customers at the bank were from businesses up and down this road, so I feel quite attached to some of these places. It’s a cultural melting pot of an area, and you’ll see that reflected in all the restaurants on Lygon St. It is also home to Readings, winner of World’s Best Bookshop, fun fact. Another bonus is that Melbourne Uni is right here, so you’ll enjoy young crowds and can join in on uni activities to meet people even if you aren’t a student yourself. I have a friend from Monash Uni who attends Melbourne Uni balls and banquets all the time even though she doesn’t know anyone at UMelb, so clearly it’s a thing.
7. Fitzroy: This is where I actually first fell in love with Melbourne. I stayed here when I backed Australia in 2012 and loved how much I was reminded of Capital Hill in Seattle, where I was living at the time. The main stretch is Brunswick St and it’s chockablock with small shops and cafes. This is by far the most hipster spot you’ll find in Melbourne, along with farther-north Brunswick, and it is a lot like Sydney’s Newtown, but cheaper. The only downside to Fitzroy is that it doesn’t have a train station, so you’ll have to tram to one and it will be much slower. Brunswick does have a train station, but it’s considerably farther from the CBD, so that’s the trade-off.
8. Geelong: So this is my Wildcard pick, since it’s not even kind of a suburb in Melbourne, it’s actually 75km west of the city along the coast. I want to include it because it’s an awesome place and is a great way to remain close to the city (1hr on a train), but also enjoy a totally different lifestyle. I love Geelong. It’s like Wollongong: super beachy surf town, totally overflowing with uni students (Deakin Uni) and young people, small enough that you can bike around and bump into people, big enough that you have everything right there, and 1hr from a huge city. What Geelong has over Wollongong is that it’s close to Melbourne rather than Sydney, and that’s infinitely better. Oh, and Melbourne’s second airport, Melbourne Avalon (only domestic, but almost always cheaper flights than the main and more central Melbourne Tullamarine) is only 20km from Geelong! You can’t get to any airport that quickly from Melbourne city.
3 Best Sydney suburbs
This is a much shorter list than my Melbourne suburbs above, but that’s because I don’t love very many places in Sydney in terms of living. Well, that’s not true. I love the Northern Beaches, but unless you have a few sneaky millions tucked away somewhere, it’s not even worth mentioning. With that in mind, I can only really recommend about 3 suburbs that I personally like, and even then, expect to be paying near twice what you’d pay in any other city and expect it to take you 3x as long to get anywhere because the public transport is shocking and the city is impossible to drive in unless you like having panic attacks in the car. If I haven’t totally put you off Sydney:
1. Newtown: I love, love, love Newtown. It is without a doubt the hippest place in Sydney and reminds me so much of Capital Hill in Seattle, which is probably why I like it so much. It’s the perfect mix of offbeat hipster, grunge, and culture. It’s mostly terrace houses, which are the cutest things in the entire world, but they are small and more expensive than you can imagine. Your best bet is renting a tiny room from someone. Neighbouring suburbs Erskineville and Enmore are also good places to look for a similar vibe. I have a friend in Erskineville who lives with 8
people in an old warehouse that’s been converted into a house (of sorts). It’s painfully artsy and interesting, but she pays $350/wk for just her room and that’s cheaper than Newtown.
2. Glebe: So this is probably my next favourite artsy sort of area. They have cool secondhand markets on often and sometimes you can score a view of the water. You’re walking distance from Darling Harbour and closer to the city, which is a benefit as well. My friend that lives in Glebe rents a very cool attic room in a 3-bed town house for about $350/wk.
3. Coogee: I’ve had a couple friends live in Coogee and I really like it, it’s definitely my pick in terms of beachside Sydney living. It’s quite a ways to the east, though, so do not expect to get into the city quickly or conveniently. And, like both of these other options, expect to pay quite a bit in terms of rent. My friend paid about $300/wk for a tiny room in a loft about 10 min walk from the beach, so it’s doable, but you may not have many remaining funds for other activities (i.e. cabbing it home from the city after a night out because Sydney’s trains do not run all night—Melbourne’s do, just saying). To be fair, there are buses. In short: this is a gorgeous place to live if you want to be on the beach.
Lastly, here is a very fun map I was recently sent that compares regional Australian climate to cities around the world. Perhaps you will find it informative. I live in Buenos Aires, in case anyone was wondering. Oh, and you may notice Tasmania is missing. Well, it was included in a separate photo and has weather like the UK, so. No thank you.