One of the most popular trips to take in Australia is a road trip along the East Coast and in December last year, it was finally my turn to drive the 2000 kilometres from Cairns to Byron with three of my best friends.
Before this trip, I had seen a fair part of Australia. I had been to Darwin, Uluru, Adelaide, Barossa Valley, Kangaroo Island, the Great Ocean Road and Melbourne. The only places I had seen on the East Coast were Cairns and Sydney. Thus, prior to the road trip, I was very excited and had high expectations. However, the East Coast proved to be absolutely amazing and in this travel guide to Australia’s East Coast, I’ve gathered everything you need to know for planning an incredible trip!
About Australia and the East Coast
Australia is located in the South Pacific Ocean with Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand as its closest neighbours. Australia is the sixth largest country in the world and offers very diverse sceneries and climates – from the humid rainforest to the dry desert, from the vibrant big cities to the remote areas, from the multicultural melting pots to the sacred Indigenous lands. There is something for everyone in Australia!
Australia’s East Coast covers the area along the coast between Cape York at north and Melbourne at south. However, most people that travel the East Coast go from Cairns to either Byron Bay, Sydney or Melbourne or vice versa. There are approximately 2000 kilometres between Cairns and Byron Bay, 3000 kilometres between Cairns and Sydney and 3500 kilometres between Cairns and Melbourne.
Where to go
Cairns is located in Northern Queensland and is the gateway to the amazing Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest that should be the main reasons for you to visit this East Coast city. Experience colourful corals and underwater wildlife on a snorkel or diving trip at the biggest reef in the world. And head north towards the rainforest and see amazing nature experiences at among others Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation. Don’t forget to stop at the little fashionable town Port Douglas that is located one hour drive north of Cairns.
This little paradise island is located outside Townsville and offers fantastic coastal sceneries, amazing wildlife and a laid-back and relaxing vibe. Magnetic Island is the ideal holiday destination, and both locals and tourists enjoy spending time there.
Despite its small size, there are many things to do on Maggie, as the locals tend to call it. Take the Forts Walk where you most likely will spot dozing koalas, feed rock-wallabies and experience the most incredible sunsets from some of the many bays around Magnetic Island.
Experiencing the Whitsundays is a must do in Australia. You’ve probably seen lots of incredible photos of Hill Inlet with the chalky white sand and bright blue water twisting together and of Whitehaven Beach. However, the photos can’t capture the beauty of the natural attractions at all.
The best way to explore the Whitsundays is by boat, and I can highly recommend spending two days and two nights on one of the many sailboats or catamarans that sail around the islands for the ultimate experience.
Most people probably haven’t heard about Cape Hillsborough, even though it has lately become a more and more popular tourist destination. And there is one particular reason for this. During sunrise, lots of kangaroos and wallabies come to Cape Hillsborough Beach to eat seaweed and mangrove seed pods, which gives you an amazing opportunity to experience the characteristic Australian animals up close and an opportunity to see the sunrise from a stunning spot at the same time.
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and is a must visit. Giant sand dunes, stunning lakes, clear blue creeks, lush rainforest (surprisingly), amazing views and wildlife are some of the things you can experience on Fraser Island. Don’t miss Lake McKenzie, Lake Wabby, Eli Creek, the Champagne Pools and not least a scenic flight over the island!
On Fraser Island, you can either drive yourself, go on a tag-along tour or go with a bus company. We did the latter, and it was great.
I can highly recommend spending a few relaxing days in lovely Noosa. Noosa is located less than two hours drive from Brisbane and is a popular destination for both national and international tourists – and with good reason. Noosa offers amazing beaches, tropical rainforest and a nice and vibrant town centre. There are plenty of great places to eat, drink and shop in all three main zones; Noosa Heads, Noosaville and Noosa Junction. An hour’s drive away is the Glasshouse Mountains that you should make sure to visit too.
Brisbane is the largest city in Queensland and is a nice place to stay for a few days. It’s a vibrant city that among others is known for its arts. In addition, Brisbane also offers great places to eat, drink and shop. Make sure to go to the cultural South Bank and the bohemian and quirky Westend.
One of my favourite places in Australia is Byron Bay. The little beach town located at the most easterly point in the country is a vibrant place that is full of hippies and surfers. The Byron Bay lifestyle is very relaxed and laid back. However, the town centre can get very crowded during high season where both national and international tourists want to experience the unique atmosphere.
Byron Bay has a lot to offer. A must do is to take the Cape Byron Walking Track that ends at the famous Cape Byron Lighthouse from where you’ve got a stunning view of the coast. Another must do is to go surfing. Byron Bay is one of the best surf spots in the country and offers ideal waves for both beginners and professionals. When you’re not out and about, explore great restaurants, cafés, bars and shops in the town centre.
Best time to visit
Australia is a huge country and the East Coast is long. Thus, the weather changes as you move up or down the coast. In the northern part, they have two seasons; wet season and dry season and in the southern part, they have four seasons; summer, winter, spring and autumn.
The best time to travel the East Coast is from December to February where it’s dry season in the northern part and summer in the southern part. During this time of the year, the temperatures are around 25-35 degrees all over the coast, however, the humidity can also be very high. In general, dry season/summer is the most popular time for people to travel the East Coast. The cities and towns are more vibrant and lots of events and festivals are held. Be aware that prices may rise during this time of the year.
Getting there and getting around
For most people, Australia is far away and getting there requires a flight. Momondo (affiliate link) is my preferred site for finding cheap flight tickets. There are international airports in Cairns, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Sydney and various domestic airports along the East Coast. The biggest Australian airlines are Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia.
The most popular way of exploring the Australian East Coast is by car or campervan. All the different cities and towns are connected by highways, making it very easy to get around. However, you should know that the Australians drive on the left side of the road. As an alternative, bus companies like Greyhound, Premier Motor Service and AAT Kings offer bus trips along the coast.
Time: +10/+11 GMT.
Population: 24 million.
Currency: Australian Dollars (AUD) (1 AUD ≈ 0,76 USD). You can pay with credit card pretty much everywhere. There are ATMs in most cities and towns. It’s not common to tip in Australia except for excellent service. In that case, leave a maximum of 10% gratuity.
Visa: All visitors except for New Zealanders need a visa to enter Australia. You can read more about the visa requirements and apply for a visa for up to 90 days on this site. The typical tourist visa (eVisitor subclass 651) is free of charge.
Safety rating: 12/163 on the Global Peace Index.
Accommodation in average hotels cost around 100-200 AUD per night for a double room. Free wifi is common, however, some places only offer free wifi in the main areas.
Accommodation in average hostels cost around 25-50 AUD per night. Most hostels have several room options from private double rooms to big dorm rooms that accommodate several people. Wifi is typically available, but be aware that wifi isn’t always included in the price.
In addition, Airbnb is widely available in Australia, and there are various campgrounds throughout the coast.
Food and drinks
Eating out is typically expensive in Australia. A meal at an average restaurant costs around 25-40 AUD while fast food costs around 10-15 AUD.
Drinks range from around 10 AUD for a glass of wine to 20 AUD for a cocktail.
Not surprisingly, the price for flight tickets varies depending on where you fly from. However, it’s often quite expensive to fly to Australia. Likewise, domestic flight tickets are typically quite pricey.
The price of renting a car or campervan is decent. 20 days with different pickup and drop off locations cost approximately 750-1000 AUD for a compact car and approximately 750-2000 AUD for a campervan.
A bus pass between Cairns and Sydney with Greyhound starts at 445 AUD.
Attractions and activities
The price level on attractions and activities is generally high. However, Australia has so many amazing things to see and do that you can’t miss out on.
Day trips to the Great Barrier Reef cost around 180 AUD for snorkellers and around 250 AUD for divers.
Sailing tours on the Whitsundays cost around 500 AUD for a two days and two nights-tour.
Bus tours on Fraser Island cost around 350 AUD for a two days and one night-tour.
Surf lessons cost around 65 AUD for a two-hour lesson.
Other expenses you should consider are travel insurance and visa (if necessary). Travel insurance for three weeks in Australia costs around 90-160 AUD.
2-week itinerary option
3 days in Cairns
1 day on Magnetic Island
2 days at the Whitsundays
1 day at Cape Hillsborough
2 days on Fraser Island
2 days in Noosa
3 days in Byron Bay
3-week itinerary option
3 days in Cairns
2 days on Magnetic Island
3 days at the Whitsundays
1 day at Cape Hillsborough
2 days on Fraser Island
3 days in Noosa
2 days in Brisbane
5 days in Byron Bay
Read more posts from Australia here.