My time in Australia was predominantly spent along the East Coast. In fact, I have travelled up the coast twice now. The first time starting in Sydney and making my way up to Cairns on the Greyhound Coach. The second time starting in Brisbane and driving up to Cairns in a campervan. Therefore I feel that I have enough knowledge to share my opinion of the best stops along Australia’s East Coast.
I think Sydney is the perfect starting point for your East Coast trip. Whether you’re flying in from another country or already in Australia you will easily be able to access the largest city. With international flights coming in from all over the World and domestic flights often selling for a really good price Sydney won’t let you down. There are a vast number of hotels, hostels, travel companies and car/campervan rental companies based around the city meaning you will have no trouble booking your entire East Coast trip while you’re here.
What to do?
Once you’ve sorted out the details of your trip it’s time to explore your first destination: Sydney
- Circular Quay – Go and explore the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, The Rocks and the Botanical Gardens from the heart of the World’s largest naturally formed harbour.
- Darling Harbour – walk across Pyrmont Bridge and find the perfect restaurant to sit and watch the boats come and go. Or book a ticket to the Sea Life aquarium, Sydney’s Madame Tussaud’s or the Maritime Museum.
- Blue Mountains – although technically outside of Sydney, this vast mountain range sits just on the edge and is the perfect place for hiking, waterfalls and incredible lookouts.
- Hunter Valley – wine, wine and wine! Also, keep an eye out for wild kangaroos hopping between the vineyards.
- Bondi Beach – meet the famous lifeguards and have a go at surfing.
A 6-hour journey on the Greyhound Coach will bring you to a small beachside town called Port Macquarie. Not only will this break-up a very long journey but also give you a chance to relax after your time in Sydney. Explore the miles of beaches – including the lighthouse beach, meet the Koalas in the Koala Hospital and watch a huge colony of flying foxes migrate every single night. I would recommend staying here at least two nights to fully appreciate this chilled atmosphere.
Spot X, Surf Camp
Just a few hours South of Byron Bay there is a small, little-known beach with consistent waves ideal for beginners. This is Spot X and is home to the Mojo Surf Camp. I stayed for 5 days and enjoyed 20 hours of surfing as well as ocean rafting, sea kayaking, kangaroo golf and beach volleyball. You can get some really good deals on this surfing experience and all accommodation and food are included in the price. Just be aware that there is an extra charge if you wish to participate in afternoon surfing, free board rental and the other activities listed.
Famous amongst hippies and travellers for it’s chilled out vibe and a vast number of hareem pants this beach town is not to be missed. A beautiful lighthouse walk takes you along the beach and up to the most Easterly point of Australia. Arrive at the lighthouse for sunrise or sunset and absorb the views as the sky lights up with colour. On a clear night, you can expect to see an incredible sky of constellations, shooting stars and even planets if you know where to look. When I was in Byron Bay I did dolphin kayaking and ended up inches from a pod of at least 16 dolphins as they played around me.
The most popular stop on the Gold Coast is Surfers Paradise. This long stretch of beach is lined with high-rise buildings and an observation tower. Explore the surf shops, eat at some of the restaurants and maybe attempt to surf with the many rental companies along the front. If commercialised beaches aren’t your style then opt for the lesser known areas such as Burleigh Heads. There is also an array of theme parks and water parks nearby to satisfy all the adrenaline junkies.
Queensland’s Capital city is far from hectic. Take in this up and coming city while it is still young and relaxed. Head to South Bank for a swim in the middle of the city and look around the museums and galleries for a free day out. Or, catch the free Cityhopper ferry into the city along the Brisbane river for some retail therapy and cocktails. If you have time, rent a car or take your campervan/car into the national parks surrounding Brisbane. Mount Coot-Tha is also an ideal spot to take in the view of the city, drive here or use the cities bus service which takes you straight to the top.
Appropriately situated along the Sunshine Coast, this beautiful beach town is like a rich person’s Byron Bay. Hop on a river cruise from Tewantin to see some of the dreamy riverfront houses. Or hire a stand-up paddle board and explore the river for yourself. Noosa is also a great spot for surfing, with loads of bays along the Noosa National Park to test your skills. The National Park is also home to wild koalas which are regularly spotted in the eucalyptus trees.
Experience the World’s largest sand island by driving along the 75mile sand highway. With half the World’s perched lakes, impressive wildlife and ecosystems this island has so much to offer. Go for a dip in the beautiful Lake McKenzie or explore the sub-tropical rainforests and freshwater creeks in this World Heritage listed site.
Escape reality for a while in this tranquil beach town. Offering just a few shops and cafes alongside a beautiful beach this stop really does force you to relax. If relaxing isn’t your idea of fun then book the Scooteroo tour and explore the town of 1770 in full leather biker gear while riding a modified Harley Davidson.
Airlie Beach and The Whitsunday Islands
Airlie beach provides the gateway to heaven. Book a tour to the Whitsunday Islands and experience paradise. With 74 islands you’ll be spoilt for choice. Just make sure you stop at Whitehaven Beach and experience the purest sand you will ever find in the World. This ethereal location is also where the newest Pirates of the Caribbean was recently filmed.
Townsville and Magnetic Island
If you’re looking for a tropical, beachfront location then Townsville is the perfect stop for you. With beaches lined with palm trees, tropical birds flying above you and hot weather all year round you will definitely not be disappointed. Don’t forget about Magnetic Island! Just a short ferry journey away this island is unmissable. Feed wild rock wallabies, go along the Forts Walk to see some history while spotting wild koalas and rent a 4×4 to explore the Western side of the Island. This island may be small but it definitely is not boring!
Where tropical rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. If you’re feeling brave head to the skies for the bet view of this tropical paradise. Mission beach is the only skydive location along the East Coast where you’re guaranteed to land on the beach. So freefall while spotting sea turtles and whales below you. Also, when you’re back on the solid ground keep an eye out for cassowaries – an endangered species commonly found in Mission Beach.
The biggest town in Tropical North Queensland and the most popular place to discover the Great Barrier Reef. Check out the lagoon to escape the humidity. Or, head to the waterfall circuit to practice your hair flicks and be at one with nature. If you’re seeking adventure then book a Bungy jump at AJ Hackett and fling yourself head first off a 50-metre platform.
The final stop on my top East Coast locations and just an hour North of Cairns is Port Douglas. Not only is this an incredible stop but the drive up there is equally stunning with ocean views almost the whole way there. Go crocodile hunting in the Daintree Rainforest or check out the Great Barrier Reef. Port Douglas is also where you will find the four-mile beach. A beautiful stretch of beach where the Daintree rainforest meets the ocean. Experience the tropically heated water, just watch out for crocs, and stingers by staying in the netted area!