Australia is full of sights- there’s beaches, rainforests, cities, desert’s, incredible coastlines, islands, mountains and so much more!
However one travel itinerary that you’ll hear all backpackers talking about is the ‘East Coast’. I travelled the East Coast in October 2012 after being in Australia for one year and it was the perfect end to my first year there.
(Afterwards check out here why you should also consider doing a working holiday visa in Australia for 1-2 years!)
The East Coast can typically be done North to South or South to North and can be booked as you go along or pre-booked by a travel agent like Peter Pans. I decided to pre-book my trip as i only had 4 weeks to travel (which was a good amount of time) and i wanted to make sure most of it was prepaid so i could budget better.
If you do book through a travel agent they may add some extras in (the more you pay the more commission they get) so watch out for this but here is the typical East Coast Itinerary that i recommend doing:
Cairn’s will either be your start or finish point but it is a great starting point! It’s located in the North Eastern part of Australia and benefits from an all year round warm climate. The best hostel to stay in without a doubt is Gilligan’s, on check in it feels more like a hotel than your typical backpacker hostel, they offer free and discounted meals and the hostel has its own club which is the main club in Cairns so you’re in for a good night and the opportunity to meet lots of people.
Cairn’s also has a great lagoon to spend those hungover days at and once you’re feeling better then you can go diving on the Great Barrier Reef which isn’t called Great for nothing!
From Cairns you should get the bus to Townsville and hop straight on the ferry to Magnetic Island. The island is easy to get around using the public bus so you can visit lots of different beaches, there’s a koala sanctuary and activities including horse riding, diving and hiking and of course there’s always parties to be found, especially if you stay at Base hostel which benefits from having a pool, being right on the beach, bungalow accommodation, a bar and you can get great offers there which include meals, accommodation and the ferry over.
Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands.
A 3-4 hour bus journey south of Townsville is Airlie Beach. This is the ultimate backpacker town, there’s lots of accommodation, bars, restaurants, shops and its the leaving point for your Sailing trip to the Whitsunday Islands which is one of the main things on this East Coast trip!
You can visit the Whitsundays on a day trip but i would 100% recommend doing the typical 3 day, 2 night trip. There’s lots of different options depending on what type of boat you want, what type of group you want.. a young party crowd or a more chilled group, so make sure you do some research before booking with a certain company.
You’ll leave Airlie Beach port at lunchtime, this will give you the afternoon and evening to get to know your group and get used to living on a boat.
The next day you’ll get off the boat in search of Whitehaven Beach, first you’ll get to see the area from a view point and see just how blue the ocean is, and then you’ll head to the beach which is indeed a White Haven! The beach will be full of other tour groups unfortunately but you’ll still be able to find a quiet spot and take some great photos.
The rest of the day and the following day will be spent sailing and stopping for some awesome snorkelling and diving opportunities.
This trip was an amazing experience, i was travelling alone but met lots of people on my boat who i then met up with back in Airlie beach and later on on my trip.
Rainbow Beach & Fraser Island.
The next stretch of the journey will involve an overnight bus as it takes 10-12 hours to get from Airlie beach to Rainbow beach but at least you save on a nights accommodation!
I didn’t find Rainbow Beach that interesting however its the leaving point for Fraser Island and you do need to get there the day before you’re due to depart for the trip so you can take part in the safety briefing. This will give you chance to head to the beach, do some surfing and make friends with people in the hostel who are about to do the trip too or have just returned.
Now, Fraser Island is without doubt the best trip i’ve done to date (and i’ve been lucky enough to do a fair bit since then!). The tour company you’ve booked with will arrange everything for you including the groups you’re in. Generally your group is split down into 4 groups with 6-8 people in each and this will be the group you spend the next 3 days with in your jeep exploring the island.
The 3 day trip includes 2 nights camping, driving along endless, empty stretches of beach, stopping at lagoons and lakes with pure blue water, spotting dingoes (wild Australian dogs), visiting view points, seeing the shipwreck and making friends! It truly is great fun and if you have a driving license you’ll get chance to drive the jeep at some point which you should definitely take up as its great fun!
After returning back to Rainbow beach the next stop will be Noosa which is just a short 2 hour journey. Noosa is a really pretty area, there’s lots of different beaches and a cute town centre. One of the main attractions is Australia Zoo which is owned by Steve Irwin’s family.
Time for some city action next in Brisbane which is just a short journey from Noosa. The city itself isn’t as big as the likes of Sydney and Melbourne but its got a great river location, there’s a city lagoon for more tanning time and the nightlife is great for backpackers!
I was really excited to get to Surfers Paradise. Apart from the main Australian cities i feel its one of the most famous places in Australia. Its home to the only waterparks and theme parks in the Country, a beach with sky scrapper views, all year round good weather and a great nightlife.
It’s extremely commercialised and busy as its a popular holiday destination for Australians too but thats part of its character!
The next stop is the hippy and chilled out town of Byron Bay and the polar opposite to Surfers Paradise!
Byron Bay has a great feel to it. It’s popular for its surfing, it has a huge open beach, lots of independent shops, a good nightlife and a popular day trip is to visit the really hippy town of Nimbin where you can purchase some (special) cookies, check out the cool shops and head to some waterfalls. While in Byron Bay you can also walk or cycle to the most Eastern point of Australia!
All along the East Coast there are sky diving opportunities but I heard Byron Bay is the best place to do it. I had my skydive booked but unfortunately it started raining the night before and just didn’t stop so it got cancelled and i got my money back. I would recommend planning to do it in Byron Bay though!
After a 12 hour overnight journey you’ll end up in Sydney.. one of the best cities in the world!
Whether you were in Sydney before flying to Cairns or this is your first time there, take a few days to stay in traveller mode as there’s so much to see and do. Of course there’s the iconic bridge, opera house and Bondi Beach but it’s also worth checking out Bronte Beach, Manly beach, the Botanic Gardens, Darling Harbour and taking a day trip to the Blue Mountains.
If you’re keen to keep on travelling after completing the East Coast then consider carrying on down south and heading to Melbourne (my favourite city in Australia!) and then over to Adelaide!
I hope this guide gives you a good idea of what to not miss while doing your East Coast trip in Australia and gets you excited to do it if it’s on your bucket list.
As i mentioned i had all my buses, accommodation and most tours pre-booked over the course of 4 weeks by the agency Peter Pans (although i would recommend shopping around at a few different agencies to compare prices first) which worked really well for me especially as i was travelling solo. Doing it this way gives you the opportunity to pay off the trip in advance and budget for how much you’ll need to take with you.
However if you are in a group a really popular and fun way of doing the East Coast is to hire a camper van and drive yourself, this will give you more flexibility and the option to stop more often!
*If you have questions on any of the places i visited or want some more information just contact me!*