Whether you’re on a Tourist Visa or a Working Holiday Visa, at some point you are going to want to travel Australia. One of the most popular options is Australia’s East Coast and I can assure you it is 100% worth it. Do not discount the Red Centre, Tasmania or the West Coast, however, because these are also incredible.
The most common starting point is Sydney and working your way up to Cairns, stopping along the way. This could also be reversed, starting from Cairns down to Sydney. Either way, you’re going to see the same things, they aren’t going anywhere.
Australia is possibly the easiest country to navigate, like, ever. It’s literally as easy as jumping on a bus or plane. I’m about to plan your whole trip for you. Aren’t you lucky? Tweak it as you like, add places in or take places out!
How to get around
Ahhh, the beloved Greyhound Bus. This is probably the most popular way to travel Australia’s East Coast. You will most likely purchase a hop on, hop off pass. This will be valid for 12 months and you will be able to travel one-way from Sydney all the way up to Cairns and everywhere in between. Embrace the Greyhounds charm, as you will be on here for a fair few hours. I think our longest stint was 16 hours. Fear not, there are USB chargers in every seat, a toilet and if you’re lucky, functioning wi-fi.
Another option is to get a kilometre pass. These allow you to travel a set amount of kilometres so you don’t always have to travel North. It depends on what you’re after, but these can be handy.
Car or Campervan
I have spoken to so many people who have bought a car or camper to travel Australia’s East Coast and they have absolutely loved it. I would imagine you get such a sense of control and freedom when you can just please yourself.
Just remember, this vehicle is going to be driving a substantial amount of kilometres. When buying a vehicle, make sure its road worthy and I would definitely recommend taking it to a garage and telling a mechanic about your travel plans. Perks of having your own vehicle is that you will most likely be living in it too, so won’t have to be paying for hostels. Remember, you will have to fill up the tank rather a lot.
If you decide to rent a car or camper van then I would suggest doing your research on which company you go with. It might also be worth grouping together with a few friends to cut costs. There is normally a substantial bond to rent a vehicle too, around $1000+.
You will be more restricted travelling the coast by air and would potentially skip out places such as Byron Bay and Fraser Island, as these don’t have domestic airports. However, if you plan well and want to skip some of the long Greyhound journeys, then be my guest!
Australia’s East Coast Route
Byron is a cute seaside town that has a chilled, laid back vibe. It offers a large, beautiful beach perfect for sunbathing and relaxing. There are plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants to satisfy your cravings.
- Cape Byron Lighthouse. Set on Australia’s most easterly point, you can’t get more east coast than this! Follow a picturesque coastal walk that offers incredible coastal views to reach the lighthouse. Time it well and you’ll be in the perfect spot for a bangin’ sunset.
- Dolphin Kayaking. You’ll see signs for this lining the beach. I think there are dolphins in Byron all year round, and what a fantastic opportunity to spot them up close in their natural habitat.
- Go surfing! Byron is famous for its surfing! I couldn’t think of a more beautiful place to learn either. Shop around for the best deal or even go to Surf Camp and surf for a whole week.
- Whale Watching. Depending on the time of year that you’re on the coast, you might be able to spot migrating humpback whales. We were fortunate enough to spot 20+ whales and what an incredible sight it was! You could take a boat trip or just keep your eyes on the water and spot them for free.
- Nimbin. Oh, Nimbin. What a bizarre little part of the world. Let’s just get one thing straight. Marijuana is not legalised in Nimbin, which is a common mistake. It just so happens that it is very readily available. If it’s something that you want to do then I can recommend Happy Coach.
Length of stay: 3 to 4 days
Surfers Paradise lives up to its name. We took a 2-hour surf class here which was so cool! Be prepared to fall off the surfboard a lot, sustain a few injuries and get completely worn out. But it’s worth it for the experience and the photos!
Surfers is also renowned for its nightlife. You probably won’t find better clubs between here and Cairns, so make the most of it! We booked a pub crawl through a street vendor that turned out to be pretty good.
Where I stayed: Backpackers in Paradise
Length of stay: 2 days
If you book your trip through an agency such as Happy Travels or Greyhound Travel, then I’m 90% sure they will throw in a ‘free trip’ to Noosa Gagaju Bush Camp. There are mixed reviews about bush camp but I’ll keep it short.
You’ll be picked up in a van from the coach terminal and they will tell you to go and buy food and alcohol – enough to last you for 3 days. I’d recommend doing this in a group to cut costs. You’ll then be driven into the backs of beyond and arrive at Noosa Bush Camp that is ran by the cast of Hills Have Eyes.
You’ll be left to fend for yourselves in open, mesh style tents. Expect to be camping with the bugs and the reptiles. You’ll also spend 2 days following a map on your own, navigating the waterways of Noosa in a canoe. In the evenings prepare to light your own communal camp fire and drink a lot of goon.
You don’t have to go to Gagaju though. You could just stay in Noosa town, although there’s not much going on really. Perhaps take a waterway tour and see if you can spot any crocs.
Length of stay: 1 or 2 days (unless you’re trapped in Gagaju)
Hervey Bay – Fraser Island
Hervey Bay is your gateway to the amazing Fraser Island. I’m going to do a whole separate blog post on what to do on Fraser Island as there is so much to do there.
Fraser is my absolute favourite thing about Australia’s East Coast. You’ll be off roading around the island, predominantly driving on sand, discovering hidden lakes, giant sand dunes, lazy rivers and rusted shipwrecks. It is such a unique place to visit and I can guarantee that you will enjoy every second.
I would highly recommend camping. Fraser Island is so natural and camping is a perfect way to be at one and up close in personal with nature. Believe me, you’ll see plenty of it. Snakes, toads, spiders and dingos! It’s all part of the experience.
For any princesses, there are hostels available.
Where I stayed: Palace Hostel
Length of stay: 1 night either side of Fraser in Hervey, 3 days on Fraser Island.
Agnes Water & Seventeen Seventy
I loved Agnes Water and Seventeen Seventy! They’re such laid back places that are also full of nature. 1770 Southern Cross Backpackers is such a cool hostel, where dorm rooms are set between the trees. There’s even a pool which is a big bonus!
Southern Cross Backpackers is also the home of Scooteroo Tours. This is a unique experience and I’m pretty sure it’s exclusive to this hostel. You will hire mini Harley Davidson motorbikes to explore the area in a group, featuring leather biker jackets and a helmet with flames on. Fear not, you will have around half hour to practice on the bikes and they will put the less confident at the front of the group.
Expect to spot kangaroo’s, discover a hidden woodland and watch the sunset. It’s such a great way to explore the area as well as doing something out of your comfort zone.
Where I stayed: 1770 Southern Cross Backpackers
Length of stay: 2 days
Airlie Beach & Whitsunday Islands
Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. I would recommend staying a night in a hostel before and after your boat trip if you’re doing a 3 day, 2-night sort of trip.
Airlie Beach itself has a very surfer, beachside feel… regardless of there being no actual beach at Airlie. There is a man-made lagoon which is the perfect place to cool down. It is also lined with a few restaurants and public BBQ’s.
I’ve visited the Whitsunday Islands three times now and each time I forget how beautiful they are. Picture untouched, lush islands which offer a home to a fantastic array of marine life. The first time I went, we swam with 2 sea turtles that we found whilst snorkelling! We also saw Nemo and the rest of cast which reside in a stunning coral reef.
If you’re claustrophobic or not a fan of the ocean, then maybe a Whitsunday day trip would be better for you. However, if you think you’re up for boat life then it is a lot of fun!
At night, the stars are some of the best that I’ve ever seen. I’ve spotted shooting stars and could even see the Milky Way, it’s fantastic! I couldn’t think of a better setting to be lying looking up at the stars with a mug of goon.
Length of stay: 1 night either side of Whitsundays, 3 days Whitsunday Islands
Townsville, Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island also has a special place in my heart and Base Hostel, linked below, is the perfect place to stay. The island is very lush and natural and is homed to koalas, reptiles and many different bird species.
- Rent a topless car to explore the island. Yes, they are a novelty but it’s a fun way to explore the island. Drive to the Fort’s Walk where there are buildings from World War II. The walk offers fantastic views of the island and you can also easily spot wild koalas.
- Drive to Arcadia to find the rock wallabies! They’re so used to humans that they will eat out of your hand and you’ll be able to get a 10/10 Instagram.
- Go to the beach to watch the sunset at Geoffrey Bay. How very romantic.
- Head to Bungalow Bay Koala Village. They also have a hostel if you want to stay here. I think it’s around $30 to go into their animal sanctuary where they have snakes, lizards, parrots and, of course, koalas. They’ll even throw in a photograph of you holding the koala.
Where I stayed: Base Magnetic Island
Length of stay: 3 days
Ahhh, Mission Beach. There’s one thing that everyone comes to Mission Beach for. Skydiving.
I think you can also do a day trip to Tully to go whitewater rafting, but ours got cancelled due to weather. Shame that our skydive didn’t get cancelled too.
Okay, okay, I don’t 100% regret my skydive. Funnily enough, the part that I enjoyed the most was falling out of the plane. From then on, it’s a bit of a blur as I passed out a couple of times ha..ha… I’m not that great with heights alright? Everyone loves it, you get such a buzz!
Where I stayed: Jackaroo Hostel
Length of stay: 2 days
Cairns is a good place to end Australia’s East Coast. It has a Domestic and International Airport meaning you can fly to your next destination. You could also catch a bus up to Port Douglas, a fantastic place to unwind after a busy East Coast adventure.
There’s not that much to do in Cairns itself, other than getting drunk. I’d say the nightlife is average compared to Surfers Paradise and Airlie Beach but it does the job. Use Cairns as a base to stay for day trips.
I’ve done a couple Great Barrier Reef trips from Cairns which have all been really good. You’ll snorkel some of the most beautiful coral reefs that I’ve ever seen. I’ve scuba dived with turtles, spotted dolphins and swam with a couple of sharks! Scary. Some of the boat trips can be a little pricey and are a full day commitment but would definitely 10/10 recommend.
Uncle Brian’s is also a popular trip and from what I’ve heard, it revolves heavily around alcohol! I haven’t done it myself so it’d probably be worth a google, but I think you visit a couple of waterfalls, including where Peter Andre filmed Mysterious Girl.
Cairns is also the perfect location to discover the wonders of Daintree Rainforest. It is allegedly the oldest rainforest in the world and is homed to the rare cassowary bird. I’ve been fortunate enough to see only one of them. A guy who lived there said he hasn’t seen one in 10 years! They’re like giant emus with a huge horn type thing on their heads.
Length of stay: 3 to 5 days
So, there we have one heck of an East Coast trip. Expect to be travelling between 6 and 8 weeks! It will most likely be tiring as hell but by god, it will be worth it!
Let me know your thoughts on this itinerary. Any places that should be added? What are your opinions about different stops along the coast?
Australia has always been a place that I’d wanted to visit and the East Coast offers everything and more. Best of all, you still have the rest of Australia to discover afterwards!