When travelling in Australia, going down (or up) the East Coast is considered a ‘must’ thing to do. Australia is a massive country and most of it very sparsely populated so to travel the whole of it in a limited time is completely impossible. However, most of the popular and interesting places are concentrated along this side of the coast. Which are those? How long should you spend in each of them? And what are the best things to do there? That’s what you’re gonna find out from this post.
Weather and time of the year is a crucial thing to consider when planning your travels. Since a lot of these places are ‘beach’ spots, you don’t want to visit them during the winter, because, particularly in the south of Australia, it gets really cold and swimming would be impossible. At the same time, the further North you go, the hotter and more humid it gets, that’s why you don’t really want to go there in the middle of summer.
That’s why I would say that autumn (Feb-June) /spring (Oct-Dec) is the best time to go. And if you want to go from North to South, I would pick spring and the other way around.
From where to where?
Depending on how much time (and money!) you have and how much you want to see, the most typical route is Cains-Sydney or Cairns-Melbourne or vice versa. Alternatively, you could go further up to Darwin and further down to Adelaide. Since we were starting in Whitsundays, we decided to only go down (skip Cairns) and finish in Sydney, since we’ve both lived in Melbourne before already.
How long for?
Again, depending on your route, finances and how chilled you want to make it, I’d say around 3 weeks minimum, you could push it and make it two.
You could hire a camper van or a car which gives you so much freedom. Or the other easy option is by Greyhound bus which conveniently stops at all of these popular places. You can purchase a hop on-hop off pass along the East Coast or a 15 or 30-day unlimited day pass, which we did. (15-day Greyhound bus pass – 330 AUD)
How much money do you need?
Again, this depends on so many different factors but I would suggest to have around 80-100AUD as your daily budget (including hostel accommodation).
How long: 3-4 days minimum
What to expect: to see the Whitsunday islands, you need to stay in Airlie beach, which is known to be a small backpacker’s party town. It’s hard for me to give you an unbiased opinion because I’ve stayed there for 5 months, which is a lot for such a small town. But for a few days, you’ll definitely love it.
Remember, all the interesting stuff there is, you have to get there by a boat. There are so many things to do and see depending on what you want to see and what budget you have but I think the essentials are Whitehaven beach (the 7km of 99.8% white silica sand, literally the purest in the world), Hill Inlet lookout (for that postcard view) and snorkelling along the way to the islands, the tours that offer all three in one day are Ocean Rafting and Red Cat Adventures.
Things to do: Whitehaven beach and Hill Inlet lookout, Great Barrier reef (if you haven’t done it from Cairns), overnight sailing, skydive, scenic flights, boardwalk to Cannonvale, Honeyeater lookout hike, Cedar creek falls (depending on the rain, there might be no water, lol), party, Hamilton island.
Where to (and where not to) to stay: YHA and Nomads are good
Food and drink: Not that much choice but I’ve been there for five months so I know the best of. Which is Wisdom cafe for coffee; The Deck for food, Little Vegas for burgers, La Marina for pizza, Fat Frog for brunch (in Cannonvale not in Airlie beach) and coffee.
Extra tips: good companies to do tours with – Ocean Rafting, Red Cat Adventures, Cruise Whitsundays, Explore.
Fly to Prosepine instead of Hamilton island, the transfers to Airlie beach are cheaper remember that Oct-May is a stinger season in North Queensland, which means you’ll need to wear a stinger suit when going into the water
Note that there is no nice beach in Airlie beach (the New Beach is the nicest one but still not great), it’s more like a port, there is a lagoon in the middle of the town which is nicknamed by locals as a ‘backpackers’ bathtub’ lol.
If you’re getting an airbnb, get one on the hill with the beautiful view .
Rainbow beach/Hervey bay
(for Fraser Island)
How long: 1-3 days minimum
What to expect: both Rainbow beach and Hervey bay are very small towns that people visit mostly just to go to Fraser island, so there’s not much to do there, there is a nice beach in Rainbow beach, Carlo sand blow but nothing too exciting.
Things to do: Fraser island – the largest sand island in the world, can be only accessed by a 4WD. You’ll need to go on a tour to see it, a lot of people camp there for the experience but we decided to skip that.
The main attraction is Lake MacKenzie, Mahino shipwreck and Champagne pools, further there is a rainforest walk, a lot of dingoes (wild dog/wolf) diverse wildlife and fauna and interesting aboriginal sacred spots.
If you decide to camp, beware that those trips can be very pricey, I don’t think that’s necessary though (similarly to overnight sailing in Whitsundays), just pick a tour that will manage to show you the most from the island in a day. But if you want to do it for the experience and you have 400AUD to spare, by all means, go for it.
Where to (and where not to) to stay: Pippies at Rainbow beach was below average, not terrible though.
Food and drink: Nada
Extra tips: book the tour in advance, they sell out fast, there’s not as many as in Whitsundays
Fraser island is amazing and beautiful but remember that it’s more like an organised educational/exploring tour than a beach time. The most of the coast on Fraser is actually a Queensland registered highway and you cannot swim there.
How long: 2-3 days minimim
What to expect: Warm beach town with beautiful beaches and chilled vibes, with more options and more lively that the previous two, full of cool shops and food and coffee spots, great for surfing.
Things to do: explore the beaches, Noosa national park, walk to the fairy pools, walk to the laguna lookout at sunset.
Where to (and where not to) to stay: Nomads was excellent
Food and drink: Padre coffee, Coconut head, Hard Coffee beach, The drop, Vanilla Food Organic cafe
Extra tips: It really is beautiful and you don’t need to go on a boat/trip to get to amazing spots, very chilled, the only place we wished we stayed for longer.
Go to the fairy pools in the morning to avoid crowds.
Walk along the coast for a few minutes and get to a much more beautiful and empty beach that the ‘Main beach’. I liked the Tea Tree bay,
How long: 1 day
What to expect: Note that Brisbane doesn’t have a beach, only a artificial one in the middle of the city.
It’s quite boring and more like a chilled family city to live in not an exciting travelling spot.
But it depends where you’re coming from, it’s still a city and can offer great ‘city things’ to do like shopping, markets, food and coffee scene, nightlife and so on.
Things to do: Walk around the city, across the bridges, go to the contemporary museum of art, go for a drink at a rooftop bar.
Where to (and where not to) to stay: Nomads was rubbish
Food and drink: Coffee Anthology, The Single Guys Coffee, Botero, Pablo & Rusty’s, French twist, Flour and chocolate, Vietnam house.
Extra tips: Ann Street for nightlife, Eleven Rooftop bar was amazing
How long: 2-3 days
What to expect: Okay, Gold Coast is a tough one because some people love it while others hate it. I wasn’t a fan.
First of all, Surfer’s Paradise, now I finally get while people say you should avoid this touristy centre and can fully confirm, the further south you go, the better it gets. We ended up 26km south in Coolanghatta, that says a lot about how much we hated it.
The city seems very fake and put on. A lot of people compare it to Miami. A lot of skyscrapers, long big stretches of busy beaches and the water was not the Australian colour. Simply, it’s more like a parody of the most touristy beach in Spain.
In the city, there’s not much to see, apart from beaches, shopping and theme parks (for some reason). The Surfer’s paradise nightlife is so trashy as well. However, the food and coffee scene was excellent.
Things to do: Explore the beaches, Surfer’s paradise, nightlife, beach time, shopping, theme parks
Where to (and where not to) to stay: Bunk was amazing
Food and drink: Elk espresso, Paradox coffee, Paddock bakery, Cardamom pod, Barefoot barista, Blendlove, The milkman’s daughter, Lot 1 Coffee, Noname lane, Daymaker espresso.
Extra tips: There is a tram that runs from Broadbeach to Helensvale but this is a very short route and other transport isn’t that great.
However, it’s quite easy to get further south to Burleigh heads or Coolanghatta, but it takes a while. If you want to go somewhere else rather than along the coast, it actually gets ridiculous (when I went to the Crossfit box, walking took as long as the buses would).
Apart from Coolanghatta, I also really liked Palm beach.
You can buy a day pass ‘Gold Coast explorer’ for 10AUD that’s valid on all public transport for a day.
How long: 3-4 days minimum
What to expect: It’s so over-hyped by everyone as the most amazing place on Earth that your expectations need to be really high. It is known for its bohemian vibe,everything here is organic, plastic-free, vegan, vintage, handmade, locally sourced and also full of cool cafes and food spots.
Everyone is very hippie and open-minded, people either surf, skate or play music on the street
It’s so cool in every aspect, people are relaxed and friendly and it’s so chilled that it seems a bit ridiculous like it’s hard to believe it’s a real place, but that’s Byron, a bit of a bubble where the outside world doesn’t seem to exist.
Things to do: Main Beach, Watego’s Beach, The Pass, Walk to the lighthouse, Sunday markets at the foreshore, try out surfing, browse the vintage and beach vibes shops, chill out.
Where to (and where not to) to stay: YHA was great, Wake up is supposed to be the best one but is pricey and not so central
Food and drink: Barefoot brewer’s, Espressohead, Bayleaf cafe, Combi, Folk, The Byron General Store, Kinoko for sushi
Extra tips: when visiting Byron bay, I would consider weather a lot, because it seems to me that without the proper beach time in the sun, your Byron bay experience wouldn’t be the same.
It’s not really a party town, there are bars but nightlife isn’t amazing.
Absorb the unique Byron bay lifestyle, chill at cafes, have some delicious food, browse local shops and smile at strangers. You’ll probably not want to leave.
How long: 3-4 days
What to expect: If you want to read my full opinion on Sydney, read this article. Depending on what time you’re visiting and what you’re looking for, Sydney still has a lot to offer. Beaches, nightlife, music, hisper spots, hikes, nature, food and drink or coastal walks.
Things to do: explore the beaches (Bondi, Bronte, Diamond bay, Watson’s bay, Manly etc.), walk around the Rocks, see Sydney opera and Harbour bridge, walk around the Newtown (hipster area), go to the farmer’s market at the weekend, Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, Spit to Manly coastal walk, take a sunset ferry from Manly for an epic view of the harbour .
Where to (and where not to) to stay: Noah’s Bondi was absolutely disgusting, avoid; Wake up Bondi is great but expensive
Food and drink: Single O, Paramount coffee, Reuben Hils, Skittle lane for coffee Speedos cafe, Ground of Alexandria, Messina ice cream, Chin chin, Mr. Wong and many many others.
Extra tips: Book in advance and remember, Sydney is a lot more expensive, especially in summer.
Get an Opal card for public transport in the city.
If you’re staying there on a Sunday, do your biggest public transport journeys on that day because it’s a lot cheaper on Sundays.
Overall: I’m biased, I love Sydney
Have you been in Australia or done the East Coast?
What’s your favourite place?
Or which one do you want to visit the most?
Leave me a comment.