Ultimate guide to travel the East Coast of Australia
Travel the East Coast of Australia
The East Coast of Australia, such a classic and awesome backpack route to get lost into nature, meet exotic animals and fall in love with vibrant cities next to the beach. The East Coast of Australia is a perfect route for solo travelers as you will meet many backpackers on the way ánd you will either go north or south. This itinerary will cover every spot of the East Coast so sit back, relax and let the guide guide you…!
Recommend time to travel the East Coast of Australia
If you don’t have all the time in the world, 4-5 weeks should be enough to see everything. Personally, I did this trip in exactly 2 months which gave me all the time in the world to discover the East Coast. If you want to travel more relaxed and visit more places in between, than I would recommend to take 6-8 weeks into account.
Best time of the year to travel the East Coast of Australia
- December – February: At this time of the year the north of the East Coast of Australia is hot and humid and the south warm and dry. The prices in big cities rise 25% for accommodation and in the tropical North (from Agnes Water) it is unsafe to swim because of dangerous jellyfish.
- September – November & March – May: This month’s exist of warm days, clear skies and shorter queues. From November to May it is unsafe to swim north of Agnes Water.
- June – August: In this winter months you can expect cool rainy days and off-season accommodation prices down south. As you travel further up the coast, the temperatures will rise again but will not get too high or humid. You could say that this months are perfect to travel from Brisbane to Cairns but can be a little bit cold down south. If you want to dive in the great barrier reef (Cairns) and swim with whales (Hervey Bay), this months are the best option for you!
Melbourne has enough to entertain you for months as Australia’s sporting and cultural capital. Melbourne is also home of some of the best street art in the world, which you will find for example at Hosier Lane. Wonder around the CBD and visit Port Philip to see penguins. Discover the city by night and grab some food along the Yarra river or Queen Victoria Market. Relax at St Kilda beach or the botanical gardens before ending the day on a rooftop bar. To get a nice view of the city by night, try to find the viewpoint called SkyHigh Mount Dandenong.
Day trips from Melbourne:
- Great Ocean Road: If you have any time to do a daytrip from Melbourne, this should be your number one.
- Sorrento: Explore the beautiful beaches and enjoy the hot springs of Peninsula.
- Philip Island: Perfect place to spot tiny penguins.
- Healesville sanctuary: If you want to feed kangaroos and hold koala’s you could visit this sanctuary. If you will visit Brisbane I would not recommend to go to Healesville as you will get a better opportunity to cuddle kangaroos and koalas there.
Sydney, my favorite city from the entire East Coast of Australia! Start your day by joining a free walking tour and explore the CBD. After lunch, hike to the Harbour Bridge and enjoy the sunset at the Opera House. Grab some food and spend the night exploring China town, Darlinghurst or Darling harbour. The next day, soak up some sun at Bondi beach and take the cliff-top walk to Coogee. If you can’t get enough of beaches, catch a ferry to Manly beach where you can swim or follow the Manly Scenic Walkway. If you visit Sydney in the months of may and June, you can be lucky to see the Vivid lightshows!
Day trips from Sydney:
- Blue Mountains: The World Heritage region of the Blue Mountains is by far the most beautiful day trip you can take from Sydney. Take a 2 hour train from Sydney to the Blue Mountains and explore the different hiking paths and stunning views.
- Hunter valley: Fine wine, gourmet restaurants and a pleasant country drive.
- Royal national park: Escape the city for a while and enjoy barbecues, fishing, bushwalks and whale watching at the Royal national park. Check out the figure eight pools for the best Instagram pictures.
Looking for a chilled-out beach town to catch your first waves and take in the hippie vibes? Welcome to Byron Bay! Besides yoga, surfing and shopping you can enjoy hiking to the Captain Cook Lookout and Cape Byron lighthouse to spot some whales and dolphins!
Day trips from Byron Bay:
- Nimbin: A small hippie town stuck in the 60s and known for its “special” treats. Many tours also include waterfall and cliff jumping.
- Surfcamp: If you want to learn surfing and you can effort to stay some days in Byron bay, it can be nice to do a surf camp here for multiple days!
The Gold Coast is a paradise for party seekers and attracts 20.000 visitors per day at peak. The ultimate highlight of this place is the Skypoint Observation Deck to get a beautiful 360 view of the city. I would personally not recommend to stay long in this place if you are short in time but it is definitely worth seeing!
Compared to Melbourne and Sydney, you can describe Brisbane as less interesting but it’s still a nice city to visit. Spend a day exploring the CBD and make your way over the Southbank to find the famous Brisbane sign along the river. If you want to cuddle kangaroos for hours and hold a Koala (for just a few seconds), I would recommend a day trip to Lone pine koala sanctuary: The world’s first and largest koala sanctuary with over 130 koalas! If you want to see baby koala’s hopping around, this is probably the best place!
Day trips from Brisbane:
- Australia Zoo: The famous Zoo of Steve Irwin, pretty expensive but pretty amazing!
- Lone pine koala sanctuary: For an overdose of cuteness!
Noosa is a small fashionable resort town surrounded by beautiful nature. Noosa was one of my favorite places of the entire East Coast of Australia so I would definitely recommend you to go here. While visiting Noosa make sure you have enough time to walk around Noosa national park. The park’s walking tracks lead to idyllic bays, stunning coastal scenery and great surfing. Make sure to bring enough food and water as you can walk here for hours. From Noosa main beach you can start a 3 hour Coastal walk to the other side of the park. On the way you can stop at the famous fairy pools for a refreshing swim. For a beautiful panoramic sunset view walk or drive up to Laguna Lookout.
Day trips from Noosa:
- Fraser Island: Fraser is not a daytrip but a 2/3 day trip and you can start tours to this beautiful island from either Noosa or Rainbow beach.
- Noosa Everglades: If you love nature and kayaking this is the perfect spot for you.
- Australia Zoo: The zoo is about half way between Brisbane and Noosa so you can also visit this zoo from Noosa!
Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and should definitely be on your bucket list! Fraser is home to ancient rainforests, crystal clear lakes, giant dunes and wild dingoes. This island is also the only known place where rainforest grows on sand! The only way to explore Fraser Island is with a 4WD. There are three transport options: tag-along tours, organized tours and 4WD hire. For backpackers I would recommend to do a tag-along tour which is an organized tour with a tour guide and a group of backpackers who take turns to drive in the vehicles. There are different operators who offer the same tours: Dropbear adventures, Cool Dingo tour and Nomads Fraser Island tour. I would recommend to do a 3 day 2 night tour.
Rainbow beach is a perfect place to start your tour to Fraser Island but Noosa and Hervey Bay are also an option. Besides being the gate to Fraser island, Rainbow beach itself not very spectacular. Worth seeing are the big dunes called Carlo Sand Blow and the beach which thanks it names to all the different sand colors.
Day trips from Rainbow Beach:
- Fraser Island: Actually is Fraser island not a daytrip but a 2/3 day trip but you can book tours to this beautiful island from either Noosa or Rainbow beach.
- Tin Can bay: Feed wild dolphins, more information at the local travel agency called peter pans
If you are an animal lover like me and you would love to see humpback whales and even swim with them. This is the place. Hervey Bay Dive Centre operates dedicated whales swim experiences between July and October. The best months to see whales are July until September. This exclusive experience is an incredibly special opportunity to watch and swim with one of nature’s most majestic mammals.
If you visit Hervey Bay outside the whale season you can decide for yourself to skip this place as there is not much else to do here (in my opinion).
Agnes water & town of 1770
Agnes water is a nice break between the long drive between Hervey Bay and Airlie Beach and is the last place where you can surf (if you travel up north). There are enough things you can do in this tiny tourist town: take some surf lessons, visit the local kangaroo sanctuary, do a Scooteroo tour, explore the beautiful beaches, visit Cook monument and hike to the paperbark forest boardwalk.
Airlie Beach & the Whitsundays
Airlie Beach is the famous departure point for most trips to the magical Whitsunday Islands. Enjoy a day wondering around Airlie Beach, chill out at the lagoon or do a coastal walk to Cannonvale Beach. Before or after sailing to the Whitsundays, I would recommend to do a scenic flight above the Great Barrier Reef to see the beauty of the Outer Reef from above. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and pulling away from it, and viewing it from a greater distance, you can understand why. I know this isn’t a cheap flight but I highly recommend it as it is one of the most beautiful things you will ever see. You will also be able to see the famous Heart Reef!
Trips from Airlie Beach:
- Sailing around the Whitsundays: Sailing around beautiful islands while soaking up the sun and good vibes, welcome to the Whitsundays! You can book tours to the Whitsundays from Airlie beach or in advance. Most sailing trips will be 1 or 2 nights. A 2 night trip will give you more time to enjoy the beautiful islands but an 1 night trip will also be enough to show you all the highlights. Most of the 74 islands are uninhabited and only five of the islands have resorts. Whitehaven Beach is the finest beach in the Whitsundays and as many say may even the finest beach in the world so make sure you will visit that one!
- Note: There will be many tours available to the Whitsundays. If you want to combine sailing and snorkeling with partying, you can book at Atlantic Clipper. If you want to dive you can go for the appolo.
Magnetic Island & Townsville
If you have plenty of time you can spend a day in Townsville before heading to Magnetic Island. One of the most popular things that you can do in Townsville is to hike to the top of Castle Hill. If you are not a fan of snorkeling or diving you can enjoy the underwater world at the Reef HQ Aquarium.
With a half hour boat ride from Townsville, you will enter a laid-back island called Magnetic Island. There is only one main road across the island which you can use by local bus. A cooler option to use this road is by renting a famous Barbie car and cruise around the island. Hike The Forts Walk to spot wild koalas, enjoy a sunset at Horseshoe and Radical Bay, enjoy the view at Hawkings Point or Arthur Bay Lookout and feed rock wallabies at Arcadia. If you haven’t already hold a koala or crocodile yet, you can get a picture with one at Koalas bungalow Bay which is also a hostel.
North of Townsville, Mission Beach is a laid-back village that ironically attracts thrill seekers who want to skydive over the reef and land on white beaches. There are a lot of different places around the East Coast of Australia where you can fall from the sky but the best place to skydive is Mission Beach! If skydiving isn’t your thing, you can hike through the tropical rainforest or book day trips like white-water rafting along the Tully River. Note: It can be hard to explore Mission Beach without a car but several hostels offer shuttle busses.
Cairns is an unmissable stop on any East Coast travellers’s itinerary. Cairns itself is not a very special place but the daytrips from this city to the rainforest, reef and waterfalls definitely are. Make a daytrip to the Atherton Tablelands to chase jungly waterfalls, fly above the rainforest in Kuranda, find nemo in the Great Barrier Reef, spot crocodiles in the Daintree rainforest and walk on the most beautiful beach at Cape Tribulation . Besides amazing daytrips, Cairns is also a good place to party until the late hours. With a million things to do, I would recommend to take enough time to enjoy this tropical paradise on the East Coast.
Day trips from Cairns:
- Great Barrier Reef: Spend a day or multiple days on a boat and explore the underwater world. Cairns is one of the best places to start your snorkel or dive trip to the amazing Great Barrier Reef.
- Cape Tribulation: Cape trib is home to the only place on earth where two World heritage-Listed areas lie side by side: The oldest rainforest in the world named Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Book a 2 day trip with the company Uncle Brian’s to explore this beautiful place with a nice group or go on an adventure with your own car. Don’t forget to make a cruise at Daintree river to spot wild crocodiles and to ride horses on the beach at Cape tribulation.
- Atherton Tablelands: Volcano craters, green hills, a lot of waterfalls and cute platypus. Don’t skip this beautiful place full of rainforest, spectacular lakes, waterfalls and Queensland’s highest mountains. You can spend more days here but one day is enough to see all the highlights. You can book a nice daytrip at the company Uncle Brian’s.
- Kuranda: Hided in thick rainforest, Kuranda is one of Cairns’ most popular day trips. Take an old train through the jungle to visit Kuranda and stop at amazing waterfalls on the way. For the ultimate experience, take the skyrail from Kuranda and fly above the rainforest back to Cairns.
- Hartley’s crocodile adventures: Get up close with prehistoric predators 45 minutes from Cairns.
- Port Douglas: I personally don’t think this place is very interesting and worth a day trip but the 2 day trip to cape tribulation with the Uncle Brian’s company will make here a short stop so you can still see it.
What are my transport options around the East Coast of Australia?
Basically there are three options to move yourself around the East Coast Australia: Airplane, bus and car. If you want to make the ultimate road trip, buying or renting a car gives you the most freedom.
If you are traveling all by yourself and you don’t want to buy a car, I would recommend to find other people with a spot left in their car or use the coach busses. During my travel around the East Coast I used the Greyhound bus. I bought a travel pass of 550 AUD dollar which took me from Melbourne all the way to Cairns while I could hop on and off along the way whenever I wanted to (note: this travel pass can be used to a limit of 90 days).
When you don’t want a bus ride of 12 hours from Melbourne to Sydney and 13 hours from Sydney to Byron bay, flight tickets can be an option as well.
What is this around trip the East Coast of Australia going to cost me?
In general, Australia is expensive compared to other backpack countries. Your exact budget will of course depend on yourself but I can tell you what I would advise you to do before starting your trip.
During my travel around the East Coast of Australia, I did every tour imaginable because I did not want to mis out on anything. Thoughts like ‘I will never come back’ and ‘this is a once in a lifetime opportunity’ cost me a lot of money but the experiences were worth every dollar. In my 2 months traveling the East Coast of Australia I spent 6.000 Australian dollars (without flights). I would like to mention that my budget was very high and that you don’t need this budget to enjoy the East Coast of Australia. The most important tip I can give you is to make a budget for yourself BEFORE starting your adventure down under. Look at the tours you want to do, calculate how much you will spend on hostels and food per week, decide which type of transport you will take, and always make sure you have more money than your actual budget (+20%)!