Let me introduce you to one of the most popular backpacking routes in the world – the East Coast of Australia! This incredible stretch of coastline is over 3,500 km’s in distance and sits within 3 of the 6 Aussie states. You can choose to travel either north or south with a large majority of backpackers choosing to travel north from either Sydney or Melbourne. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can take on this beast in a short 7-10 day holiday. The truth is, the East Coast of Australia will take you between 2 weeks to 6 months. Like everything it really depends on your travel style and budget!
Highlights not to miss on the East Coast of Australia
There are a number of ways to travel this well-trampled coastline ranging from hop-on-hop-off busses, campervanning or jumping on an organised group tour. Some of the most popular spots along the way are; Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday, Fraser Island and of course Byron Bay.
By far the most popular way to travel the coast is by hop-on-hop-off bus passes. These buses run daily departures from all the popular destinations. For more freedom to explore you can rent a campervan from almost all of the major cities.
👇🏻 You’ll find some useful information on popular spots and things to do below👇🏻
This bustling city sits right on the edge of the famous East Coast of Australia. Arguably it’s more South than East but due to its super cool hipster vibes and dam good coffee it had to make the list! Melbourne also has a strong art and music scene with festivals almost all year round.
Melbourne is a city with lots to offer, you’ve got the beachside suburb of St Kilda, the free tram zone in the CBD or the more hipster suburbs of Fitzroy and Brunswick in the north. It doesn’t matter where you end up in Melbourne you’ll be sure to find busking musicians, quirky lane-ways and super alternative vibes.
Things to do in Melbourne;
- St Kilda Beach
- Queen Victoria Market
- Laneways (Hosier & De Grave)
- Northern suburbs (Fitzroy, Collingwood & Brunswick East)
- Road trip the Great Ocean Road
- Surfing at Mornington Penisula
- Penguins on Philip Island
TIP: Jump on the free tram when you’re trying to get around the centre of the city. You can find information on public transport in Melbourne here 👈🏻
If you’re looking for sunshine, beach suburbs, avo on toast and a city with tonnes going on – Sydney is for you! This iconic destination is on the map for the world-famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge combo, when you see these 2 landmarks you automatically know it’s Sydney. The truth is Sydney has so much on offer, Coogee, Bondi, Surrey Hills and Manly are just a few of the suburbs you should definitely be checking out on your trip to Sydney.
Things to do in Sydney;
- Visit the Opera House & Harbour Bridge
- Blue Mountains day trip
- Chill on Bondi Beach
- Day drinks in Surrey Hills
- Road trip down to Jervis Bay
- Surf Camp south of Sydney
Transports options in Sydney range from the CBD tram, trains or buses between the suburbs and even ferries if you’re looking to cross the harbour to places like Manly.
Easily overlooked by most but loved by many. Yamba is a small sleepy surfer town home to some of Australia’s best swell. If you’re looking to chill out and escape the ‘typical’ spots then Yamba should definitely be on your list.
Things to do in Yamba;
- Take a surf lesson for approx $20 AUD
- Get into some Wakey Wakey baps at Drift Café
- Yamba River Markets (4th Sunday of the month)
- Whale watching during the season (July – October)
Yamba isn’t for everyone that’s for sure. But if you wanted to stray a little off the beaten track and find yourself amongst a whole heap of locals – Yamba will deliver! Aussies love a good game of lawn bowls & a yarn, head down to the ‘bowls club’ to try your hand against the locals.
For anyone wondering what a ‘yarn’ is… it’s kinda Aussie slang for having a chat and catching up.
Byron captures the hearts of many backpackers that find themselves at Australia’s most easterly point. This place is a surf haven full of super chilled out locals, organic markets, busking musicians, boutique stories and tonnes of coffee shops!
You can easily get caught spending far longer than planned in a place like Bryon – weeks, months or even years. If there’s one thing we know for sure, you’ll leave with a full heart and a lifetime of memories.
Things to do in Bryon Bay;
- Take a kayaking trip in search of dolphins
- Grab some surf or take a lesson
- Go scuba diving at Julian Rock
- Head to the lighthouse for sunrise
- Take a day trip to Nimbin
- Explore the local markets
- Heads to the Arts Factory
I’m sure most of you would have seen the Inbetweeners movie when the boys go to Australia and ‘find themselves’. Well, Byron Bay played a huge part in that movie from concept to location. You can’t help but notice when walking around Byron that everyone is a little bit ‘edgy’. Whether it’s the Gypsy dreads or barefoot vibes… Byron Bay is quite the experience!
Gold Coast (or Goldie if you’re a local)
Drive an hour up the coast from Byron and find yourself on the world-famous Surfers Paradise. Here you’ll be met by far more development and a handful of skyscrapers towering over this stretch of coastline. For those of you from the UK, you could almost compare it to Blackpool but with far better weather and a way cooler surfer vibe!
There is no shortage of nightlife in Surfers Paradise. If you’re looking for a wild time then this place will deliver! You can pair those wild nights with a visit to the theme parks for an adrenaline-packed few days!
Things to do in Gold Coast;
- Get pumped at Dreamworld theme park
- Take on the Skypoint observation deck
- Go jetboating to see the place in style!
- Day trip to Stradbroke Island
- Purling Brook Falls & Springbrook National Park
- Beach and surf of course!
You’ll often notice that Aussies shorten pretty much everything, service station – servo, afternoon – arvo and Gold Coast – Goldie… so don’t be confused when you tell someone you’re going to Gold Coast and they start saying you’re going to… ‘Old Goldie!’.
Another 45minutes to an hour north of Goldie is Brisbane. If you’re super short on time and have only a couple of weeks to see the east coast of Australia – Brisbane is a great place to start! If you’re looking for a FREE and easy way to explore the city, take the CityHopper ferry at Southbank and cruise through the Fortitude Valley for some epic views!
For something a little more lively you can visit the Westend for bars, restaurants & nightclubs. Or if shopping is more your thing you can find Op Shops, boutique stores, outdoor beer gardens & night markets.
Things to do in Brisbane;
- Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
- Day trip to Moreton Island
- Take the free CityHopper ferry
- Party in the Westend
- Steve Irwin Zoo
- Sunset hike to Mt Cootha
Noosa has a strong surf culture just like both Gold Coast and Byron bay – but what makes Noosa so special is the coastal walks and the national parks. It’s generally more about the surf and less about the vibe here on the ‘Sunshine Coast’. Noosa’s main beach is popular with local families and many of Australia’s pro surfers call this perfect bit of coastline home.
If you end up here on either a Wednesday or Saturday jump on the bus to the super cool Eumundi Markets (until 1 pm). You’ll be greeted by local crafts, freshly cooked grub and a couple of small little boutiques.
Things to do in Noose;
- Noosa National Park
- Sunrise at Hell’s Gate
- Eumundi Markets
- Fraser Island
- Noosa Everglades
- Surfing and shopping (if you have the budget 😂)
There are a couple of places on the East Coast of Australia that you absolutely CANNOT miss! Fraser Island is one of them, with it being the world’s largest sand island there is only 1 way to get around… 4×4. This incredible island is home to some stunning lakes with white sandy shores, eucalyptus rainforests and freshwater creeks running out to the ocean.
You can get to Fraser Island from either Noosa, Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay. There are a number of trips available if digging your own poop hole while wild camping doesn’t get you excited. The most popular being a 3 day/2 night 4WD adventure. This usually involves a convoy of 4-5 self-drive vehicles loaded with backpackers looking for an awesome time. You have options with camping, glamping or even staying in a backpacker resort.
Things to do on Fraser Island;
- Lake McKenzie
- Eli Creek
- Scenic flight over the island
- Maheno Shipwreck
- Champagne Pools
- Indian Head
If you decide to take on Fraser Island solo I would suggest doing your RESEARCH, with it being extremely remote and covered in sand it’s pretty easy to find yourself in trouble without the experience of being a local. It’s not uncommon to hear of travellers getting stuck with hefty fines for disobeying the rules or worst… totalling their ride.
Pro tip: Jump on an organised backpacker experience. It’s a worry-free awesome time! Slide into the DM’s if you need some help deciding what to do 🙌🏼
Agnes Water / 1770
This small little tourist town is hugely significant as it’s where Captain Cook discovered the shores of Australia. It’s where the surf ends and the Great Barrier Reef begins. Considering you’ve probably just come off a 4×4 adventure on Fraser Island it’s a great place to chill and catch up on some rest.
If you’re feeling like you want to do something super unique you could even jump on the Scooteroo Tour. Don your leather jacket, grab your buddies and hit the road like an outlawed biker gang on choppers (legally of course). The Lonely Planet actually rated this experience as one of the top things to do on the East Coast of Australia.
Airlie Beach / Whitsundays
It’s one of those bucket list things to do once more – you can’t travel the East Coast of Australia without cruising the Whitsundays. The best and easiest way to reach the cluster of 74 islands residing right on the fringe of the Great Barrier Reef is from Airlie Beach. The beach itself is pretty small with a man-made lagoon to chill in during the warmer afternoons, by night it’s pretty lively with crazy parties until the early hours!
If you’re looking at different options for your time on the Whitsundays you should absolutely focus on an overnight experience. Too many times have I heard of people telling me they did the 1-day trip, honestly, if there is 1 thing I wouldn’t cheap out on and that’s this. I’ve personally done the Whitsundays 4 times and each time was very different, but overall I can confidently say there is no better way to do it than by cruising on a Yacht.
Things to do in Airlie Beach;
- Sail the Whitsundays
- Airlie Beach lagoon
- Cedar Creek Falls
- Scenic flight to the heart reef
- Party, party, party! 🍻
Jump on a short half-hour ferry from the coastal city of Townville to the island of ‘Maggie’. What makes this place so cool is the tropical island vibes and unique rock formations. You can find a number of hiking trails with the most popular being ‘The Forts Walk’, you’ll spot Koalas up in the trees and be sure to plan it so you end up at Horseshoe Bay for sunset.
The bars on the island have parties most evenings with the most famous being the ‘Island Life Beach Party’.
Things to do on Magnetic Island;
- Rent pink barbie cars
- Checkout Florence and Radical Bays
- Hike to Arthur Bay Lookout
- Take on The Forts Walk
- Visit the wallabies at Arcadia
You can actually do ferry + hostel + activity package for your stay on Magnetic Island. Slide into the DM’s to find out more! 👍🏼
If you’re dreaming of skydiving and have your heart set on it during your East Coast adventure, this is the place to do it! Located about an hour south of Cairns is Queensland’s best-kept secret. It’s a bit of a hybrid of rainforest and beachside vibes with only a few options for places to stay. I would suggest either checking out Scotty’s Beach House or Jackaroo Treehouse.
There isn’t a massive amount of things to do in Mission Beach other than skydiving or if you fancy a little bit of whitewater rafting you can do that in the nearby town of Tully. For those of you on a budget and looking for free things to do – there are hikes throughout the tropical rainforest but the transport options are quite limited. Best to speak with the hostel staff for tips and insider knowledge!
Almost at the top of the backpacker trail is Cairns, the gateway to the world-famous natural wonder of the world – The Great Barrier Reef. Cait so itself is known as the adventure capital of Australia with pretty much every adrenaline activity known to man – bungy jumping, skydiving, white water rafting, ziplining, scuba diving – the list goes on!
No trip to Cairns would be the same without taking a day out to visit the Atherton Tablelands. Go in search of waterfalls, platypus, hidden rainforest villages or just any cool little spots you find along the way – there are plenty! This waterfall circuit is known for being in the music video of Peter Andre’s “Mysterious Girl”.
Things to do in Cairns;
- Scuba or snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
- Cairns Night Market
- The Esplanade Market
- Cairns Lagoon
- Bungy jumping + white water rafting combo
- Atherton tablelands & Kuranda
- Fitzroy & Green Island
- 5 day Open Water PADI Certification
Something you will notice more up north Vs down south is the vibe – New South Wales (Sydney) folk are a little more fast-paced. Where the Cairns energy is far slower but the temperature is a lot warmer/more humid!
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