The East Coast of Australia is the ultimate road trip for your bucket list. Set alongside the Great Barrier Reef, tourists can board yachts, swim with an array of sea life, sky dive over the coral reefs or even camp under the stars amongst Fraser Island’s dingo residents. Where should you go? How long should you spend? A complete guide is outlined in the following post! Prepare for a few weeks of sun, sea and sore butt cheeks from all the long journeys.
Regarding transport options, when I travelled the coast back in 2017, I paid for a hop on/ hop off bus pass with Premier. The 3 main companies are Greyhound, Premier and Stray. Premier is the cheapest option, at $330 AUD from Cairns to Sydney, but Greyhound provides the most frequent amount of trips per day. For more details, see the website ‘One Stop Adventures‘. Alternatively, travellers without their own vehicles can rent camper vans from various websites such as Britz, Juicy, Maui – the list goes on! When exploring the West Coast, (see this post for details) we found Britz to be the cheapest company but this can vary depending on pick-up location and other rental requirements. It is also worth noting that phone apps such as THL and Campermate can be downloaded for free and show available campsites. Anyone parking in an undesignated area will be hit with a hefty fine, this often happens on the East Coast!
Time wise, I’d recommend spending around 3-4 weeks completing the journey. Since the mainland coast stretches as far as 35,000km, there is a lot of ground to cover and you will want to relish the time spent in each wonderful area. Beginning right at the top of the East Coast, (see end of post for a map) we have Port Douglas. This tropical getaway is teeming with luscious greenery and local wildlife. It also offers fantastic snorkelling and diving opportunities, with many coral reefs nestled just off its beaches, much like the rest of this marine rich coast. Port Douglas is a couple of hours south of Cape Tribulation; this eco-tourism destination is within the renowned Daintree rainforest and offers day activities such as croc cruises and jungle surfing. 4WD vehicles are not required in Cape Tribulation unless driving along the ‘Bloomfield track’ and a return car ferry to gain access to the entire Daintree rainforest area will cost $25 AUD.
Just over an hour further South is the small city of Cairns. Here, you can experience a once in a lifetime scuba or snorkelling adventure on the wondrous Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, due to Cyclone Debbie back in 2017, the reef was badly affected and most of the coral beds were destroyed. This devastation is noticeable when swimming in certain parts of the sea. However, this lack of sea vegetation luckily doesn’t spoil the experience entirely, as you will still be able to see your fair share of vibrant sea life. Cairns is home to the local esplanade and man-made beach, where tourists can enjoy a refreshing dip, without the risk of crocodiles or jellyfish (‘stingers’ if you’re trying to get down with the Aussie lingo). Alternatively, an hour bus ride away is the charming ‘Palm Cove’ beach.
The tropical Fitzroy Island is famed for its incredible diving opportunities. With a PADI accredited dive and snorkel centre on land, guests can pay $82 AUD for a return ferry trip from Cairns and enjoy other activities such as hiking, visiting the turtle rehabilitation centre, or simply soaking up the sun. Further down the coast, Mission Beach is another desirable stop on the list and tourists can tick off an item on their bucket list with a sky dive. Basking in the glorious views of the seaside, a beach landing is always guaranteed. Mission Beach is also home to the cassowary. These unusual, dinosaur-like creatures will roam the rainforest surroundings and can be spotted if lucky. Be careful, as they have sharp claws which they’re not afraid to use! A 40 minute drive onward, the heritage listed ‘Paronella Park’ which was originally built in the 1930s, is an entertainment centre which has been gradually restored after several beatings from natural disasters.
Barbie cars at the ready! Magnetic Island is known best for its lush, nature trails within the national park, ship wreck diving at the SS Yongala and topless, 80s style cars in which you can whizz your way around the island. A return ferry from Townsville on the main coast costs $30 AUD and takes around 20 minutes. Why not take a stroll down Forts Walk within the national park? This is an ideal place to view koalas in their natural habitat, as well as a number of WW2 forts situated at the end of the track. Then finish the day off with a colourful sunset at the local Horseshoe Bay! Magnetic Island also offers a variety of events and festivals beginning in September, as the country welcomes in the warmer weather.
When I think of Australia, I think of rainforests littered with koalas, red, sandy deserts dotted with kangaroos and the infamous long, sandy beaches that are associated with the Whitsundays Islands. There are 74 islands in total, with the most popular being Hamilton Island. Firstly, tourists will visit the small town of Airlie Beach, which is usually buzzing with hostels and bars, very suitable for backpackers! A wide selection of multi-day boat trips can be taken out to the islands, with ‘The Atlantic Clipper’ being the most renowned for its “wild” tendencies. This trip certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted as you slip into their provided fancy dress outfits and perform various sex position games. Guests can stay onboard, with food, drink, sleeping cabins and snorkelling/ diving gear all provided within the initial price. Prices vary depending on which company you wish to travel with but tend to settle around the $450 AUD mark for 2 nights, 3 days.
Your captain will undoubtedly set sail for the gorgeous, white shores of Whitehaven Beach, where the sand is 98% silica and so pure, it can be used to brush your teeth. (Although isn’t the most pleasant experience!) Whitehaven Beach is that familiar image that appears in most travel brochures, where the tide shifts the sand and water to create wonderful patterns which alternate every day. It’s a no brainer that tourists should descend into the glittering waters and try their luck searching for turtles and reef sharks! For those who have a bit more cash to flash, scenic flights can also be taken over the Whitsundays and for $259 AUD, you can view the romantic ‘Heart Reef’ from overhead.
From relaxing on sandy shores, to revving 4WD trucks along the beach, next stop is Fraser Island. This camping enthusiasts delight is a whopping 12.5 hour drive from Airlie Beach, with a few rural towns in-between. The island is closest to Rainbow Beach on the mainland, around a 50 minute journey away. The two most popular companies for backpackers which provide the 3 day, 2 night camping tours are Pippies and Dingos. Travellers are able to stay in the Rainbow Beach-based hostels prior to their trip and then depart on the local barge, taking their 4WD with them. Alternatively, there are a few tour companies based on the island itself.
Once arriving, your friendly guide who stays with you the entire trip, will allow you to take turns driving across the island to various landmarks. Your base camp will include a makeshift kitchen and selection of sheltered tents to save you from any tropical rains. Spread across 3 days, tourists can indulge in whale spotting from the Indian Head coastal rock, taking a dip in Lake McKenzie, floating in a rubber ring down Eli Creek or getting thwarted by the unpredictable waves at the Champagne Pools. At night, you can enjoy a few beers in the campground’s kitchen and take a stroll to the beach to gaze at the millions of twinkling stars above your heads. Don’t forget to watch out for Dingos!
After sleeping relatively rough in your tents, you can then enjoy a warm bed, a 1.5 hour drive away in the next location; Noosa. This is the perfect place for hitting the surf waves, followed by basking in the Sunshine Coast’s magnificent weather. Other activities for those seeking more adventure include; swimming with the humpback whales from July – October, canoeing amongst the Noosa River Everglades or taking a wobbly shot at stand up paddle boarding. The Noosa National Park is also filled with a mixture of forest and coastal hikes, surrounded by the rustling of koalas nibbling on their lunch. Noosa’s Sunshine Beach is backed by boutique shops, eateries and is an idyllic setting for overlooking the glorious sunset. For a more personal animal encounter, Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s ‘Australia Zoo’ is an hour from Noosa and a delightful chance to claim a Koala cuddle. Prices start from $59 AUD per adult and $35 per child.
From a sunny, seaside stretch to the big city, Brisbane is a more relaxed, sleepy version of Sydney or Melbourne. Locals tend to like the slower paced lifestyle that is associated with ‘Brissy’ (Australian accent necessary) and due to its lack of natural seashores, a man-made beach has been adapted, which sees a flock of tourists each day. Being the capital of Queensland, it hosts a variety of city based attractions such as art galleries, markets and botanic gardens. The city also boasts a cracking cup of coffee! Personally, I’m more of a Sydney girl as I lived there for a couple of years and became accustomed to its hectic streets but Brisbane is best suited to those who enjoy less of the hustle and bustle.
Travelling an hour south and aptly named for its wild waves and golden coastline, Surfer’s Paradise is a commercial holiday destination for Aussies and international tourists alike – often becoming very busy in the summer months. With a range of cafes, bars and restaurants to divulge in, I feel it echoes similarities to a British holiday favourite such as Tenerife, except with better surfing spots. Its high-rise buildings force you to crane your neck as you saunter around the shops in your flip flops. A very fitting attraction is the Sky Point observation deck which allows tourists to overlook the ocean for the ticket price of $19 AUD, all whilst indulging in a cream tea for two. Other activities include the ‘Infinity Attraction’ funhouse and ‘HOTA’ Home of the Arts venue, host to a variety of concerts and theatre productions. For those who missed out on Australia Zoo, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is within this area and guests can become acquainted with the park’s kangaroos. Visitors are even able to feed and take photos with the friendly marsupials.
Just short of 2 hours south and slightly inland, Nimbin is the hippie jewel of Australia’s East Coast. It is best known for its waterfall and cliff jumping tours and its colourful, cannabis-friendly culture. Definitely a go-to for a “relaxing” break from the cities, Nimbin is also home to the 3 day ‘Nimbin Roots Festival’ which celebrates roots, old blues and folk music, amongst many other styles! Byron Bay is the Easterly neighbour of Nimbin, being slightly less rough around the edges but equally as chilled. Byron is notorious amongst the surfer crowds and a collection of dolphin pods tend to hang around in the area. This making it a fantastic place to head out on a sea life spotting, kayak tour! To end the day, Cape Byron Lighthouse is a fairly short, 3.7km hike away and a blissful setting to view the sunset over the town.
Stopping off amid the 8 hour, mega journey to Sydney, Coffs Harbour is famous for its ‘Big Banana’ statue where most tourists will hop out of their car for a humorous photo. For those staying longer, the site is also an amusement park – suitable for any young families. Other local activities include Dorrigo National Park which offers guided waterfall tours, push bike tours along the coast, tandem sky dives and you guessed it…more surfing!
Depending on which direction you’re travelling, Sydney is either the first or final destination on your East Coast trip. Being the infamous, cosmopolitan city that is adored globally, one paragraph just wasn’t enough to fit every main detail in. I will soon be releasing a new post all about this wonderful city and its highlights! A place I was fortunate enough to call my home.