The Perfect Backpacker East Coast Itinerary for Australia.

September 29, 2015

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Australia is full of sights- there’s Beaches, Rainforests, Cities, Desert’s, incredible Coastlines, iIslands, Mountains and so so much more! However one area of Australia 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!

If you’re considering doing a working holiday visa like me, these posts will help you out!

Getting a Working Holiday Visa for Australia.. All your Questions Answered!

Reasons to Live and Work in Australia for a Year… or Two!

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. 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 beforehand and whilst on the trip. If there is a group of you travelling, a great way to see the East Coast is by hiring a camper van!

Everyone does roughly the same kind of thing on their East Coast trip however it will also depend how much money and time you have, but here is the typical East Coast Itinerary (North to South) that I recommend doing:


Cairns will either be the start or finish point of your trip but let me say that it’s 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!

Cairns Lagoon east coast itinerary australia

Cairns Lagoon

Magnetic Island

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, 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!

east coast itinerary australia

Horse Riding on the beach.

Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands.

A 3-4 hour bus journey South of Townsville brings you to Airlie Beach. This is the ultimate backpacker town, there’s lots of accommodation, bars, restaurants and shops, and its the leaving point for your Sailing trip to the Whitsunday Islands which is one of the main highlights 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 and what type of group you want to join- 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.

east coast itinerary australia

From the view point!

east coast itinerary australia Whitehaven beach

Whitehaven beach!

east coast itinerary australia

Making friends on the boat.

This trip was an amazing experience, I was travelling alone but met lots of people on my boat who I then met back up with later on on my trip.

If you’re worrying about how much the East Coast might cost you, why not work in Australia too – Getting a Working Holiday Visa for Australia.. All your Questions Answered!

Have you remembered to get travel insurance?

Do you have travel insurance to cover you? I am covered by WorldNomad’s and I really recommend them as it has been designed for travellers by travellers and you don’t even need to be in your home Country to start a plan. Why not look into travel insurance now whilst you think of it.

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 money 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.


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 an awesome experience!

east coast itinerary australia

Driving the jeeps.

east coast itinerary australia

The champagne pools.. one of the many stops.

east coast itinerary australia

The iconic shipwreck.


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!

east coast itinerary australia

The city lagoon.

Surfers Paradise

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!

east coast itinerary australia

Where city meets beach.

east coast itinerary australia

The iconic sign!

Byron Bay

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. Whilst in Byron Bay you can walk or cycle to the most Eastern point of Australia which is pretty cool!

east coast itinerary australia Byron Bay

Byron Bay beach at Sunset.

east coast itinerary australia Nimbin


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 (even though I prepaid for it). I would recommend planning to do it in Byron Bay!



After a 12 hour overnight journey you’ll end up in Sydney.. one of the best snd most iconic cities in the world!

Whether you’ve been to Sydney before 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. This Sydney Guide will help you out!

east coast itinerary australia

You’ve got to get a photo with the bridge!

east coast itinerary australia Blue Mountains.

Walking in the Blue Mountains.

If you’re keen to keep on travelling after completing the East Coast consider carrying on down South and heading to Melbourne (my favourite city in Australia!), do the Great Ocean Road, 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.

*If you have questions on any of the places i visited or want some more information let me know in the comments below or by tweeting me!*

For more of my Australia posts see – 

Getting a Working Holiday Visa for Australia.. All your Questions Answered!

Reasons to Live and Work in Australia for a Year… or Two!



2 responses to “The Perfect Backpacker East Coast Itinerary for Australia.”

  1. Amelia says:

    I’m in the process of planning the east coast myself. We travel in January and start in Melbourne, we are pretty much doing this route but backwards with a few extras like the Gold Coast, Canberra, Townsville and rockhampton. We then fly from cairns back to Melbourne then head over to Tasmania. I’m super excited. Did you use greyhound buses? I don’t think we are pre planning any accommodation or anything so we can just travel in our own time.

    • This sounds brilliant! I love Melbourne so i’m glad you’re starting there and then heading back! And you’ll have so much fun on the East Coast! I used the company ‘Premier’ instead of the Greyhound as it was a little cheaper, it has less buses running per day than the greyhound but its worth looking into. I would recommend getting a pass that covers all of your bus travel in one go and then you can still be flexible with the dates you leave on but it will work out cheaper than buying each leg separately. I’ll be following a long on what you do! Have fun! x

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I’m Ellie Quinn!

I’m a travel addict who has been travelling on and off since 2010. In the Summer of 2018 I quit my office job in London, left my flat and I now travel and blog full time! Yes, I’m living that dream!

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