The East Coast of Australia is arguably Australia’s most popular travel path, with the distance between Sydney and Cairns amounting to over 2600km, approximately 31 hours of solid driving! However, there are plenty of options so that you can avoid doing the driving yourself such as on one of the hopper coaches. Companies such as Greyhound and Peter Pans both offer package trips which include transport, accommodation and some excursions. This is the most social way to experience the East Coast as a solo traveller. I booked my trip through Oz Experience who is affiliated with Greyhound. I chose their Cruiser Plus package; I believe that they have now changed the packages available on their website but this particular one cost me $2,199 for 17 nights’ accommodation, 5 excursions and travel.
It can be really tricky deciding where to stop with so many options and limited time so here’s my guide on must see places and what to do there.
I actually began my journey in Sydney, having lived there for a month but some people opt to start in Cairns and work their way down. Sydney hosts some of Australia’s most famous tourist attractions such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as well as the famous Bondi Beach. There is SO MUCH to see and do in Sydney that I’ll have to dedicate a whole actually, a few separate posts to it at some point so please bear with me… that is soon to come!
A 12 hour bus ride from Sydney, Byron Bay is a MUST stop when travelling the East Coast. Byron Bay boasts loads of fantastic cafes and restaurants, and beautiful beaches. These are perfect for chilling out and relaxing on but also for surfing! My package included a 2 night stay and 6 hours of surf lessons across 2 days at Byron Bay Surf School, located in the Backpackers Inn hostel. Whilst 6 hours of surfing wasn’t essential, it was good fun! However, if you are limited for time I would recommend doing a least one surfing lesson during your stay. The surf school package also included a free breakfast and dinner on both days; a great way to socialise with others taking part in the school and also saves spending too much on food whilst there!
During my stay here, I booked an excursion to the hippy town of Nimbin through Grasshopper. The bus driver was an absolute ledge in his wacky, rainbow school bus. He played some crazy tunes from the 60s throughout the journey, was very comical and really set the scene for the trip. We stopped at a pub to pick up some drinks on the way there, spent just over an hour browsing the town, had a BBQ in a cute spot overlooking a lake and then visited a waterfall on the way back. Look out for the magic cookies while you are there…
Unfortunately during my time in Byron Bay, I didn’t get a chance to go on the Byron Bay Lighthouse Walk. It is meant to be stunning and is also free so well worth doing if you have time! You can also go dolphin watching in kayaks, something I’d have loved to have done given time!
Hostel: Backpackers Inn
Recommended Stay: 3 nights
This was one stop that I really didn’t rate at all – very tacky and commercial. However, I often hear mixed reviews from people who say they had a cracking night out here so I thought I ought to include it. There is a beautiful beach here and lots of shops, hotels, bars and restaurants but nothing out of the ordinary and very much the same as your average holiday resort town. This destination seems to be a hotspot for Aussie hen and stag dos. The hostel I stayed in here had no atmosphere. I signed up for a backpackers bar crawl which was really badly organised and took us around lots of very commercial, empty clubs. It was so bad I left before I reached the last one!
Hostel: Budds in Surfers
Recommended Stay: Just don’t…
Brissy is the capital of Queensland and Australia’s third largest city. Brisbane is located in land and based on a river so there are no beaches here. However, there is a man-made lagoon on South Bank to compensate for its lack of beach! It’s your typical city with lots of shops, bars and restaurants, but what sets it apart from the rest is its amazing weather! There are various museums and art galleries as well as parks and gardens. The Australia Zoo, opened by the Irwins, is also easily accessible from Brisbane or Noosa and perfect for photo ops with Koalas and Kangaroos! I spent less than 24 hours in Brisbane but during my time there, I went for a run around the city and the botanic gardens. I visited around Christmas time and they had a great Christmas market on South Bank which is definitely worth checking out if you are there at that time of year!
Hostel: Nomads Brisbane Hostel
Recommended Stay: 1 – 2 nights
Home of one of the most beautiful beaches I experienced on my East Coast trip. Noosa has some stunning scenery which can be viewed on coastal walks, in the Noosa National Parkand through kayaking down the Everglades, one of only 2 Everglades systems in the world! I spent too much time partying in Noosa to experience this unfortunately. The hostel I stayed in here had a great party vibe and a nice pool. The Nomads hostel also provides transport to the main nightclub in Noosa once the on-site bar closes, The Rolling Rock. This place smells of vomit, is expensive and cheesy but worth going to if you are looking for a night out as it is the only place you can go to if you are looking for a night out!
Hostel: Nomads Noosa Hostel
Recommended Stay: 1 – 2 nights
If you plan on visiting the world’s largest sand island on an organised tour, you will need to stay overnight in either Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay, depending on which company you book through. I visited both – there isn’t much going on in either destination so they’re only worth staying at for the excursions.
My tour was included in my package and was through Palace Adventures. This is great for people who want the 4WD experience as some tours are in buses. Over 21s with a full manual driving license can take turns in driving on the beaches and around the island. The tour includes food and accommodation (camping) as well as a tour guide who takes you to all the must see stops.
Fraser Island has some beautiful lakes including Lake Boomanjin (a tea tree lake) and Lake McKenzie with its white sand. The Palace Tour also took us to Lake Wabby which was full of Garra rufa, better known as those fish that eat the dead skin from your feet! There are also lots of lookout points with stunning views, a shipwreck (SS Maheno) and natural Champagne Pools to visit too. My favourite part of the trip was Eli Creek – make sure you take an inflatable with you and some drinks (so long as you don’t plan on driving!); it’s basically a natural lazy river!
Due to there being minimal light pollution in the area, make sure you look up to the sky at night as the stars are so beautiful! Also, look out for Dingoes in their natural habitat during your trip.
Hostel: Palace Hostel (Hervey Bay)
Tour: Palace Adventures Tour
Recommended Stay: 3 days and 2 nights on the island. 1 night in the hostel prior to the excursion.
Airlie Beach / Whitsundays
Airlie Beach is the heart of the reef and a must if you want to do a trip to the Whitsundays. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and clubs in the area with one of the best bars being inside the Base and Nomads hostel, The Shed Bar. Airlie Beach also has its own man made lagoon so that you can go for a swim whilst avoiding the jelly fish; you shouldn’t enter the sea around here without a stinger suit on. Remember, safe is sexy!
There are a number of different boat trips you can go on to explore the Whitsundays. Ideally I would have wanted to go on “The Clipper” which is the renowned party boat but this wasn’t part of my package. Instead, my trip was with Explore Whitsundays which included all food and 2 nights on the sailing boat. There were 3 snorkelling stops throughout the trip and a visit to Whitehaven Beach with its silicone sand. Personally, I didn’t enjoy spending 2 nights on a cramped sailing boat and by the end I did start to get a bit sea sick. The crew on the boat were good and the food was nice but I would have preferred either a one night stay on the boat or a day trip to Whitehaven voted the second best beach in the world.
Hostel: Nomads Airlie Beach Hostel
Tour: Explore Whitsundays
Recommended Stay: 2 nights (1 in Airlie Beach and 1 in Whitsundays)
Not so much to see or do here but Townsville is where you can catch a ferry over to Magnetic Island. Townsville is home to a 5* hostel with a beautiful rooftop pool bar. If you are travelling on a budget this is a great place to treat yourself without breaking the bank!
Hostel: Rambutan Townsville
Recommended Stay: 1 night
Magnetic Island is home to lots of wildlife such as rock wallabies and koalas which can be seen in their natural environment on the various hiking trails the island offers. It is also home to the topless Barbie cars – it has been my dream to own a pink car since before I can remember! You can hire pink convertibles to explore the island in from Tropical Topless to get those all important pictures for the gram!
Base Backpackers is located right on the beach and had plenty of activities going on each night as well as a nice pool and a great atmosphere. During my stay it was boozy bingo which was super fun!
Hostel: Base Backpackers Magnetic Island
Recommended Stay: 2 nights
Cairns is the place to go if you plan on snorkelling or diving in the Great Barrier Reef. The excursion included in my package was with Downunder Dive Pty. We went out to sea on their lovely boat where they provided everyone with stinger suits and snorkelling equipment for the day. There was the option to pay an extra $70 to scuba dive at the reef but to be honest I don’t think the divers got to see much more than the snorkelers. If you are travelling to other places in Asia, it’s worth saving your pennies and your dives until then as it is much cheaper! Downunder did put on a lovely lunch spread though and a good selection of snacks throughout the day. They also provided glasses of wine at the end of the day with the option to purchase more at the bargain price of $2 per glass!
As well as the reef, there is so much more to see and do in Cairns! I booked a waterfall excursion with Waterfall Wanderers which was well worth doing. We visited the Babinda Boulders and did some rock jumping, as well as Josephine Falls, the natural rock slide, and Millaa Millaa Falls, the waterfall from the herbal essences advert / where Peter Andre filmed the music video for Mysterious Girl. We also went to a Lake Eacham, a volcanic crater lake, for a swim. There is a freshwater crocodile that lives in the lake and despite being reassured that they don’t attack people and are likely more scared of you than you are of them, I couldn’t get the fact that I was swimming with a croc out of my head. Let’s just say that I didn’t hang around in the water for long! The only downside to this trip was that they despite asking my dietary requirements, they didn’t make any effort to cater for them at all. I was doing Veganuary at the time and very disappointed that I couldn’t eat any of the snacks provided and there was no alternative milk option for me to have a tea or coffee. The only vegan lunch option was a salad wrap! Uncle Brian’s Waterfall Tour was also recommended to me whilst on my travels so look out for that one too!
Gilligans was one of the nicest hostels I stayed in during my travels. It’s huge with a pool, bar and nightclub which hosts different events every night. There’s jelly wrestling, wet t-shirt contests, free “champagne” at times, but there are also other bars and clubs in Cairns which are worth checking out. The Woolshed was a good for a night out as it can become boring when you visit the same place every night.
Due to the saltwater crocodiles, you can’t swim in the sea in Cairns but there is a nice lagoon for those that enjoy a dip! If you have the time / money, the Cape Tribulation tour is also meant to be really good.
Recommended Stay: 3 nights