Everything you need to know for the perfect East Coast Australia road tripThe East Coast of Australia is the most popular route for backpacking and traveling Oz and for good reason – it offers so much to see and do! This route will give you a great taste of everything Australia has to offer from cosmopolitan cities, iconic sites, and world class natural wonders, pristine beaches and ancient rainforests.
Planning your East Coast Australia Adventure.
When's the best time to travel the East Coast of AustraliaTraveling the East Coast is a must do when in Australia. You could do this route in either direction but think about the time of year that you plan to visit Australia – if it’s winter (June – August) then start off in tropical north Queensland and work your way down to the colder South. If it's Summer then either Melbourne or Sydney are popular starting points.
Visas for AustraliaExpect for New Zealanders, all visitors to Australia need to obtain a visa before travelling but don't worry, this is an easy process. Tourist visas for Australia are known as Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visa cover visits of up to 90 day and are quick to process and are electronically linked to your passport so there's no need to send your passport away. The visa costs $20, apply online through the government website or make the process even quicker and easier by using iVisa. If you want to stay longer and work and travel in Australia for a year or more then download my free backpacker's guide to see if you are eligible for a working holiday visa
The best way to travel Australia's East CoastThe best way to travel the East Coast of Australia is undoubtedly by campervan. There are loads of campervan hire companies in Australia and if your planning on doing an epic road trip like this its handy to rent the campervan in one city and arrange to drop it off in a different city (usually for extra cost). Compare campervan rental prices on VroomVroomVroom or check out how you can rent a campervan for only $1 per day by scoring a relocation deal. If you plan on traveling Australia for longer (perhaps on a working holiday visa) then buying a campervan offers the ultimate freedom and flexibility and can be a really cost effective way to explore Oz. If driving isn’t an option then don’t worry, you can also take the Greyhound bus. Purchase a pass instead of point to point tickets for the best deals.
For all the tips you need see my Ultimate Backpacker Guide on Buying a Campervan in Australia.
How long does it take to travel the East Coast of Australia?Many people don't realise just how huge Australia is. The distance between Cairns and Melbourne on the coastal route is over 3,500km which is about 40 hours of solid driving time, you could drive it in a week but that wouldn't leave hardly any time at all to see or do anything on the way. I would recommend a minimum of 2 weeks but a month is better. You could tick off the main sights in 2 weeks but traveling slow and taking the time to discover those off the beaten track surprises, meet people and really soak up the place always leads to be better travel experience. If you have more time a month or even more is much better.
Where to stay on Australia's East CoastMany people are worried about the cost of traveling in Australia but there are many ways that you can make this trip of a lifetime more affordable. A campervan is the best way as it can save you money on accommodation. There are many free or low cost campsites all across Australia ranging from all signing all dancing resorts with more facilities that you could ever need to a basic spot in the woods with a compost toilet. However, contrary to popular belief you can’t just camp up and sleep anywhere. Use the Camps Australia Wide book or Wiki Camps App to find places where free camping is permitted. If you've only got a station wagon - chuck a mattress in the back. Only have a small car - get a cheap tent. There are also heaps of funky, modern backpacker hostels all up and down the east coast that are affordable places to stay and great places to meet other travellers. Many of Australia's hostels have facilities more akin to a resort with facilities like swimming pools, bars, kitchens and many hostels can also help you with things like looking for work and with onward travel plans. Many offer camping spots as well. Expect to pay $25 - $40 per person per night for a bed in a dorm. You can search for hostels and compare prices from all the major booking websites on Hostelz.com to make sure that you are getting the best deal or look for deals on hotels at Booking.com.
Read More: 101 Money Saving Tips for Backpacking Australia
Where to go:The Perfect Cairns to Melbourne ItineraryFrom Cairns to Melbourne - here's all the best places to see and the perfect itinerary for an East Coast Australia road trip. So starting from the North of Australia in Cairns, here are some essential stops and things to see on the perfect East Coast Australia road trip. I've listed the minimum amount of days to spend here, what to do and approximate driving times between the major stops, but if you can also allow time for extra stops, to venture of the beaten track and just explore – take a road that looks interesting and just see what surprises you discover. Spontaneity is part of what makes a road trip so much fun.
Cairns - 3 daysCairns is most famous for being the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and is a must do when in Oz. Cairns has become a bit of a party town and most backpackers start or finish their trip here and there are many good day trips in the beautiful scenery around Cairns too. For more info see my Backpacker’s Guide to Cairns. Stay: If your looking to party then Gilligans Backpacker Hostel is the place to go, or try something more chilled out but still with a friendly vibe check out Travellers Oasis. There are many campsites but it's not easy to find free camping around Cairns. Extra: If you have the time head North from Cairns to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation and see where two world heritage sites meet and head inland to explore Kuranda Rainforest or the Atherton Tablelands with its amazing waterfalls. You can also do these as tours or day trips from Cairns. Cairns to Mission Beach - 2 hours drive
The Cassowary Coast: Mission Beach, Tully and Innisfail - 1/2 daysA big Cassowary welcomes you to Mission Beach, these huge, unique birds are only found in this area, around the Daintree Rainforest and parts of Papua New Guinea although it is not common to spot them this area is still worth a stop. Chilled out Mission Beach is quite an underrated spot with a nice beach and loads of activities like skydiving and white water rafting nearby in Tully. Stay: Jackaroo Treehouse is a super cool hostel in Mission Beach. Mission Beach to Townsville - 3 hours drive On the way to Townsville, known as the Great Green Way, you pass through national parks, rainforest and miles of fields of sugar cane and tropical fruits while tropical islands lie just out to sea. It's a nice trip and if you have more time you could take a side trip from Cardwell and visit Wallaman Falls, Australia's highest single drop waterfall or drive through the living museum of gold rush town Charters Towers.
Townsville and Magnetic Island - 2 daysTownsville is a pleasant town but the real draw is just across the water at Magnetic Island. There are many walks you can do around the island and it’s a great place to get close to the animals – we saw kangaroos, wallabies, and even rode horses on the beach and in the sea. Stay: On Magentic Island, YHA Bungalow Bay has a wildlife park on site where you can cuddle a koala and Base hostel is right on the beach and has full moon parties. Townsville to Airlie Beach - 3 1/2 hours
Airlie Beach and The Whitsunday Islands - 2 daysAirlie Beach is the jumping off point for exploring the beautiful Whitsunday Islands and a bit of a party town and backpacker hangout. Don't miss the Whitsunday Islands, one of the most stunning sights on Australia's East Coast. Seeing the view from the famous Hill Inlet and spending time on Whitehaven Beach is a must – this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Live aboard trips cruising and sailing and diving the Whitsunday Islands are popular (and pricey) but you can also take a day trip with Ocean Rafting for a cheaper option. Stay: Most of the resorts on the Whitsunday Islands are amazing but expensive, but if your on a budget did you know you can camp on some islands for a little as $5.95 per person per night (get a permit first here) There are also many lively backpacker hostels in Airlie Beach, Nomads and Base are popular resort like hostels in the middle of all the action, Base will also let you camp for one night for only $5. Extra offbeat tip: Fancy seeing a platypus in the wild? Just after leaving Airlie Beach, if you head slightly inland to Eungella National Park – one of the best places in the world to see a platypus in the wild. On the way stop at the Pinnacle Pub for an amazing pie! Airlie Beach to Agnes Water - 8 hours drive After Airlie Beach it’s a long stretch of at least 5 hours drive with not that much of interest between the big country towns of Mackay and Rockhampton interspersed with funny signs along the highways to try and keep drivers awake. Extra: If you have time break up the journey and head inland to the Capricorn Caves, spectacular above-ground caves in a limestone ridge. If you're tired of driving, you could stay the night in Rockhampton or its probably better to push on another 2 and a half hours to Agnes Water.
Town of 1770, Agnes Water and Bundaberg - 1 dayThe Town of 1770 was the first western settlement in Australia, named after the year it was discovered by Captain Cook and has some cute surf beaches to break up the journey. Agnes Water nearby is also a nice beach town to take a break and has probably the cheapest surf school in Australia - Reef to Beach Surf School charges only $17 for a 3 hour lesson with all gears included. Or you could detour inland, to explore the lush rainforest of Cania Gorge National Park and marvel at the ancient Mystery Craters in Eurimbula National Park. Stay: 1770 Backpackers has a chilled out, bohemian, home away from home vibe close to the beach. Agnes Water to Bundaberg - 1 1/2 hours driving Along this route you will drive through miles and miles of fields of sugar cane, see how they make it into rum at the famous Bundaberg distillery, home to the famous “Bundaberg (Bundie) Rum” is made. Stop here for a tour of the rum distillery and stock up on discounted bottles for essential Queensland tipple! Bundaberg to Rainbow Beach - 2 1/2 hours drive
Fraser Island - 2 daysHervey Bay and Rainbow Beach are both quaint coastal towns that offer a jumping off point to Fraser Island. In the winter Hervey Bay is also one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales on their migration and Rainbow Beach is a nice place to hang out but don't skip visiting the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island. It's the largest sand island in the world, it's a unique and essential Australian experience with miles of beaches, rainforests and sparkling lakes, rusting shipwrecks and wild dingoes. There are 2 ways to do it – either hire a 4WD and explore yourself or join a tour like Cool Dingo that is especially for backpackers. Most people love camping out on the sand dunes under the stars on Fraser. Rainbow Beach to Sunshine Coast - 2 hours driving Next you will drive through Maryborough, Queensland's oldest provincial city and see a larger-then-life Ned Kelly and some nice historic buildings before hitting the coast again.
Sunshine Coast - 2 daysThe Sunshine Coast is less developed and more sophisticated than the Gold Coast, Spend sun drenched days exploring the long, golden beaches, surf or just chill out in chic and charming Noosa, explore the Noosa everglades, enjoy the watersports and visit famous Australia Zoo. Stay: Nomads is a fun and lively party hostel or try Noosa Flashpackers is a relaxed, chic and friendly hostel resort. Sunshine Coast to Brisbane - 2 hours drive
Brisbane - 2 daysQueensland's capital is no longer just a big country town – it’s increasingly cultured and cool centered around the winding river with a great array of museums and a urban beach on the lovely southbank. For more see my Backpacker's Guide to Brisbane. Stay: Brisbane City YHA is huge and modern with nice views over the river and a good location near to the CBD and nearby Chill Backpackers is also good and has a big roof terrace. You can also use Brisbane as a base to do many day trips and tours around the nearby area. Explore Morten, Stradbroke or Bribie Island or escape into the hinterland of lush rainforests and waterfalls.
Brisbane to the Gold Coast - 1 hour drive
The Gold Coast - 1 daySouth of Brisbane is the Gold Coast. Home to Surfers Paradise, skyscrapers and theme parks. The Gold Coast is a bit tacky but can be fun. Surf, shop, visit the theme parks and sample the lively night life. If you want to do lots of theme parks and attractions save money with a Gold Coast flexi attractions pass. Stay: Surfers Paradise Backpacker's Resort has lots of facilities, freebies and things going on If it sounds a bit like Vegas on the beach then head inland and discover three World Heritage-listed national parks: Tamborine Mountain, Springbrook and Lamington and as you head South a detour to climb Mount Warning is worthwhile for the amazing views.
Gold Coast to Bryon Bay - 1 hour drive