So many people dream of doing that classic backpacker route up the East Coast of Australia. From pristine beaches, ancient rain forests, cosmopolitan cities, incredible national parks, islands and wildlife- this coastline really does offer a bit of everything. I spent 5 and a half weeks touring the east coast, and could easily have spent longer. Here’s a low down of my route and itinerary up the coast from Sydney to Cairns…
Probably the most famous city in Australia; Sydney is a must visit. I personally adored this city, and could have spent a lot more time here than the five days we had exploring the different boroughs. We stayed in Bondi during our time here, at a hostel called Bondi Backpackers. Bondi Beach was directly across the road from us, so it was perfect for visiting the beach, and also within great distance to shops, bars and restaurants. They also for some reason upgraded Ellie and I to a private room at no extra cost, which we were very grateful for, given our jetlag!
Things to do in Sydney…
- Visit Circular Quay. Circular Quay is the main ferry port in Sydney, and the place you’ll need to go to see the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. A bus went from directly outside our hostel in Bondi to Circular Quay, which was very convenient, and we found Circular Quay to be buzzing and lively, with an abundance of bars, shops and restaurants.
- Royal Botanic Gardens. Located in the heart of Sydney, the Royal Botanic Gardens were really quite lovely. Sydney seemed very clean, unpolluted and uncongested as far as a city goes, but it was still nice to get away from the buzz and sit and enjoy lunch in the gardens.
- Bondi Beach. We were privileged to have Sydney’s most famous beach right on our doorstep. I felt very much like I was officially in Australia when I sat down on the sand at Bondi Beach and watched the surfers in the ocean.
- Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk. This 6km coastal walk starts in Coogee and ends in Bondi (or vice versa), offering stunning cliff top views, 5 beautiful little beaches, quaint cafes and a walk through a strangely scenic graveyard. I very much enjoyed this walk; I got a bus to Coogee and walked my way back to Bondi, which took about 2 and a half hours. My favourite beach I stumbled upon during this walk was probably Bronte Beach, which was lively yet peaceful.
Ah, Byron. Home to maybe my favourite beach I’ve ever visited, Byron Bay was pretty spectacular. We stayed in a hostel called Arts Factory Lodge, which happened to be the very hostel The Inbetweeners 2 was filmed at! It was very social, and offered a shuttle bus into town. The town itself had a strong surfer backpacker vibe, with cheap bars and restaurants along the main strips. But the main attraction was definitely the beach, which stretched for miles and was simply beautiful.
Things to do in Byron Bay…
- Visit Nimbin. You simply must visit Nimbin- the alternative lifestyle capital of Australia. We went on a day trip with a company called Grasshoppers Nimbin Tour, which offers trips to Nimbin “with a difference.” I would highly recommend this company as it was an amazing day out. You can read a full post I’ve written about this tour here.
- Walk to the Lighthouse. The Cape Byron Walking Track takes you on a spectacular hike through stunning coastal views and hinterland, from Byron Bay town to Cape Byron Lighthouse. Ellie and I made it to a viewpoint about 3/4 of the way there called Fisherman’s Lookout. From here, we got distracted by the scenery and ended up walking down to the beach. We never made it to the lighthouse, as we were enjoying walking along the beach too much.
- Take a Surfing Lesson. This is one thing I regret not doing in Byron. The waves here were pretty big (one knocked Ellie’s sunglasses right off her face, never to be seen again) and made for excellent surf conditions. I think the price tag was what put me off, coupled with the fact that I can’t see anything without wearing contacts or glasses (sea water and waves do not agree with either of these)! However, I should have just gone for it.
I’m not sure what to say about Surfers Paradise here. We spent 3 nights in this city- which was way too long. I didn’t like it, as it did not sit well with my backpacker budget, nor did it have any attractions that particularly interested me. However, if you’re mad into shopping and nightlife, uncharacterful beaches or expensive theme parks, this is definitely the place for you.
Things to do in Surfers Paradise…
- Visit a Theme Park. Surfers has plenty of theme parks around its city limits. From water parks to roller coasters, there’s something for everyone, as long as you don’t mind paying for it.
- Experience the Nightlife. We’d heard many good things about the nightlife in Surfers, so were eager to spend a night on the town. On our first night, we went out looking for a club and stumbled into an Irish Bar. We quickly left as we were the youngest people in there by about 20 years and we ended up spending the rest of the night drinking on the beach instead. The following evening, we went out with some friends and went to a club called Melbas on the Park, which played cheesey club songs. It was actually a pretty enjoyable night, so I recommend this club if you enjoy a bit of cheese.
- Go Shopping. There’s A LOT of shopping to be had here.
- Burleigh Heads National Park. Now, this isn’t exactly in Surfers Paradise, but we made a day trip here during our stay. We got to this park by taking a tram and then a bus from the city centre, and walked through the brush for an hour or so, until we stumbled upon a gorgeous creek called Tallebudgera Creek. This definitely lifted our spirits after the mediocre time we had in Surfers Paradise.
Brisbane, or Brissie, as the locals call it, is a pleasant, modern city away from the coast. I really enjoyed Brisbane, and we spent our time hanging out by the lagoon, playing with kangaroos and eating dinner in a fancy restaurant that a couple Ellie knew kindly treated us to.
Things to do in Brisbane…
- Visit South Bank. The South Bank is the place to be; sprawling lawns and gardens, nice restaurants, bars and cafes, the Brisbane Ferris Wheel, and best of all, the lagoon. As Brisbane is not actually on the coast, a man-made lagoon has been placed in the city centre instead! It’s actually really nice, and we spent a couple of days here enjoying the sun and water. Brisbane South Bank reminded me a lot of London South Bank, although a little cleaner, more modern and with a lagoon in the centre of it.
- Recreation and Leisure around Queen Street. Queen Street is the main street in Brisbane, and is home to a mall, plaza and a plethora of restaurants and bars. We went out for dinner here one night (a rare event given our backpacker budget) and could easily have spent more time shopping and exploring around the area.
- Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. A bus will take you from Queen Street directly to Lone Pine. Its the oldest koala sanctuary in the world, and home to 130 of the critters. It also has a huge outdoor space with free-roaming kangaroos, where you can go in and feed them!
For fans of the great outdoors, Noosa is the perfect stop. Noosa is home to the picturesque Everglades and Noosa Heads National Park, which I had a lot of fun hiking in. The town itself is also pretty nice, and there was a surf festival on whilst we were there so the beach was pretty buzzing. Noosa was probably my favourite place along the East Coast, and I wish I spent more time here as I would have loved to have hiked more of the national park.
Things to do in Noosa…
- Hike in the National Park. There are maps scattered everywhere detailing the different walking tracks you can do through the park, of which I did the Tanglewood Track (where I saw some wild koalas!) and the Coastal Track, which is probably the most popular. I definitely recommend the Coastal Track if you like a good hike, but be sure to bring A LOT of water as a lot of the track is unshaded. It starts at Noosa and ends at Sunshine Beach, passing by lots of different bays and wildlife spotting opportunities.
- Kayak in the Noosa Everglades. Noosa is home to one of only two Everglade systems in the world (the other in Florida) and kayaking down them is a popular activity. This was a really enjoyable day out and the river and lakes in this area are simply beautiful. You can read my post about our day out on the Everglades here.
Hmm, Agnes Water… Also known as 1770, I found this place to be pretty dull. Our hostel was nice, but a very far walk from town. We got a shuttle to and from town, but it only had about a dozen stores so we had milkshakes at a local cafe, and did our laundry. Agnes Water is however known for its “Scooteroo tours”, whereby you’re taken on a motorbike tour of the town and its surrounds. This is a pretty popular activity (probably because its the only attraction here) but not being keen on motorbikes, I chose not to do this.
Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world, and home to a myriad of freshwater lakes, a shipwreck, sand dunes and dingoes. Most backpackers choose to do a multi day camping and four wheel drive tour on the island, which is exactly what we did. Fraser Island is up there as one of the highlights from my time in Australia, and if you can only afford one big attraction on your east coast trip, make sure its this! You can read my full post about my time on Fraser Island here.
One of the most popular sailing destinations in the world, The Whitsunday Islands truly are beautiful. There are many companies offering sailing trips around the islands, so make sure to book onto one suited to you- there are mental party boats, chilled out family cruises and everything in between. Most well known is probably The Clipper, a boat renowned for its crazy parties, drinking games and buckets of alcohol. We, however, opted for a more chilled out boat called New Horizons, which was social yet relaxed. Our tour took us to Whitsunday Island, the most well known island in the area, which is home to the beautiful Whitehaven Beach, and also provided snorkelling, paddle boarding and a massive inflatable water slide. You can read about my time on New Horizons here.
Another of my highlights, Magnetic Island, or Maggie, was a beautiful, chilled out little island some 18km off the coast. Most visitors to Maggie hire a car to tour the island (most famously, a tropical topless Barbie car) as the roads are smooth and quiet, and the island is very easy to navigate by road.
Thing to do on Magnetic Island…
- Feed the Rock Wallabies at Geoffrey Bay. As dusk approaches, pull up into Geoffrey Bay and you’ll see dozens of rock wallabies waiting to be fed. They are pretty tame, and enjoy eating carrots, bananas and apples. You can also buy wallaby pellets from the store in Arcadia. This was such a great experience, as the wallabies took the food from our hands and we saw lots of baby wallabies too.
- Go Bay Hopping. Magnetic Island is home to several quaint little bays, and we had a lot of fun driving round to visit as many as we could. My favourite was Horseshoe Bay, as it was probably the most picturesque and was also surprisingly quiet. There was a row of shops and restaurants adjacent to Horseshoe Bay, where we bought some refreshments and sat to enjoy the view.
- The Forts Walk. This 4km walk takes you to the ruins of an old WWII Forts complex, as well as lookouts providing stunning views of Palm Island Group to the north and Bowling Green Bay National Park to the south. Not only this, Magnetic Island has the highest number of wild koalas in Australia and this walking route pretty much guarantees you’ll see one (we saw two!) Other hikers drew arrows in the ground to point out where the koalas were, so it was pretty easy to spot them.
Our last stop on our east coast adventure; Cairns is a major backpacker destination. We stayed at Gilligans, which is easily the most famous hostel Cairns, and is somewhat of a party hostel. As many backpackers are finishing off their trip here, everyone tends to go a bit wild, and the club onsite gets pretty jam-packed. If you are after a good night sleep, I’d recommend you don’t stay here, but if you’re after a good time, its the place to stay! Cairns is also the most popular gateway to The Great Barrier Reef and Cape Tribulation!
Things to do in Cairns…
- Visit the Great Barrier Reef. It simply would not be a trip to Australia without visiting the world-famous Great Barrier Reef. You can opt to go snorkelling or diving, or simply go on a cruise of the reef. We chose to go on a snorkel/dive day trip, which was a lot of fun. The crew provided a plethora of food and drink throughout the day and I tried diving for the first time. However, unfortunately, my ears could not adjust to the water pressure and I had to abort. The company gave me my money back for the dive though, which was very nice of them.
- Visit Cape Tribulation. This is something I really regret not doing. At the time, the price tag turned my gut, but now I wish I had just gone for it. Situated with Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation is a remote headland offering the world’s oldest rainforest and pristine beaches. It looks absolutely stunning in the photos, and everyone I met who went really rated a day trip there.
- Hang out by the Lagoon. When not on one of the various day trips you can take from Cairns, everyone tends to hang out by the man-made lagoon in the heart of the city. This lagoon was gorgeous, with shaded areas to sit, and buzzing with backpackers and locals alike. The stifling heat of tropical north Queensland meant the lagoon was a welcome respite.
- Party at Gilligans. Even if you’re not staying at Gilligans hostel, you should still spend a night or two partying here. The drinks were relatively inexpensive and its a great place to bump into everyone you met on your trip up the coast, as everyone seems to end up here.
If you’re planning on a trip up Australia’s East Coast, I hope this post has helped or inspired you in some way. If you’ve already visited the east coast, what were your highlights?