The East Coast of Australia is undoubtedly the most visited; And most popular coast for a road trip in Australia. Indeed, many tourists, but also backpackers living in Australia for 1 year on a WHV Australia, decide to go on a road trip along this fantastic coast. Are you one of them? If so, more than 3,600 km of breathtaking landscapes await you. As well as the majority of the country’s emblematic animals: kangaroos, wallabies, casoars, crocodiles, spiders, snakes, koalas, turtles, exotic fish; it’s all there!
But then what are the must-sees during your stay on this fabulous Australian east coast? That’s what we’re going to see right now!
Practical information for visiting the Australian east coast?
Before getting to the heart of the matter, here are some practical information that will help you plan your road trip in Australia. Firstly, what is the best time to travel on the East Coast of Australia? Secondly, how to discover it (van, 4×4 or public transport?)? And, how much time to plan to enjoy it fully? I tell you everything.
When to visit the East Coast of Australia?
The advantage of the East Coast is that its climate is favourable all year round. However, certain periods are to be preferred over others.
This part of Australia has a humid subtropical climate. In fact, temperatures are pleasant all year round. But heavy tropical summer rains can occur especially in the north of the coast between December and March. Indeed, between the north and the south of the east coast, temperatures can be very different. It is best to travel to the northern part of the coast in winter/spring between June and November. As for the south (Sydney and below), winter can be pretty cold. Therefore, it is best to be around during the spring/summer season between September and February.
Spring, best travel season?
With this in mind, and after having lived and explored Australia for 2 years, I would hence recommend you to organise your trip on the East Coast between September to November. It doesn’t matter which direction you choose, as the spring season is ideal both north and south. And the great advantage of this period is that there will be fewer tourists compared to the summer.
To sum up, it is best to visit the east coast in mid-season. Between April and June, or September and November.
How to discover Australia’s east coast?
Passionate about vanlife since my first experience in Australia, I wouldn’t imagine revisiting the east coast of Australia in another way.
For the record: I lived a little more than a year in my van to travel around the whole of Australia. North, South, East, West and even the desert in the centre, Australia no longer holds any secrets for me.
As you will have understood, I certainly recommend to buy or rent a van for your next Australian road trip. If you’re not too keen on van hire, no problem! Opt for a campervan, which is more spacious and comfortable for some. Or if you are looking for adventure and thrills, get yourself a 4×4 with rooftop tent.
A road trip, in a campervan, van or 4×4 (depending on your preference) with the autonomy that goes with it, is THE best way to discover Australia and all that it has to offer.
However, I can understand that some people may not feel comfortable driving for long hours. May simply not have a licence yet or may prefer to use public transport for travel. And that’s fine! You are lucky, the East Coast of Australia is more civilised and developed than the rest of the country.
There are other options available to you:
- Bus – Several bus companies are available and serve the coast between Sydney and Cairns (Greyhound, Stray Australia).
- Organised tours – I am not personally a fan of organised tours. Indeed, I like to be independent and organise my trip on my own. But this option can be handy if you are not driven, if you are travelling alone or if you just don’t like to organise and therefore just prefer to enjoy without organising.
- Lift – well known in Australia, you can find travellers via social networks and share a bit of road or a whole trip with them. This is a great solution if you want to travel at a lower cost.
How much time should I allow to visit this coast?
The question that comes up very often when preparing a road trip in Australia is. How much time should you plan to spend visiting the east coast of Australia?
Based on the most popular route, between Cairns and Sydney, I would suggest a strict minimum of 2 weeks. Three weeks/1 month being preferable if you want to be able to take your time. Enjoy each place to the full and why not stay a few days in your favourite places.
If you are planning to visit the entire coast from Cooktown (in the North) to Eden (in the South), be aware that there are over 3,600 km, so plan on 1 month/1 month and a half.
The must-sees not to be missed on the East Coast of Australia
Now that you know a little more about the general information to prepare your stay on this beautiful coast, I imagine you are wondering what to see/do during this trip. To be completely honest, there are so many amazing things to visit on this coast that you will surely have to make choices at some point. But there are a few must-sees that you wouldn’t want to miss for anything in the world.
The Daintree Rainforest & Cape tribulation -Cairns
Are you looking for adventure and a feeling of being at the end of the world? You’ve come to the right place in the Daintree Rainforest. This forest is the oldest on our planet and is home to one of the world’s most varied flora and fauna.
I advise you to have your own vehicle to discover this incredible place. To get there, you will have to cross the Daintree River on a small cabled ferry. Then a single tarmac road will take you through this lush forest to reach Cape Tribulation beach. There are many small walks and viewpoints to explore the surrounding area and the beauty of the forest. Stay here one night, walk on the beach in search of coconuts and imagine yourself as Robinson Crusoe, lost at the end of the world.
Tip: don’t swim in the area – unless you like crocodiles.
To access this forest, you will have to pass through the city of Cairns, which is the starting point for a visit to the reef. Feel free to stay a few days in the area.
What to see/do in Cairns :
- Visit the Great Barrier Reef. (I personally ‘hated’ my experience on the Great Barrier Reef: damaged corals, incredible crowds walking on the corals thinking they are just rocks, etc. etc.). There are far more beautiful places in Australia – the Whitsundays just below – to discover coral, real, undisturbed coral. However, I still have to mention this activity because other travellers have been very happy with their outing).
- Strolling around the city of Cairns.
- Refresh yourself in the many waterfalls around Atherton Tablelands.
- Escape to Fitzroy Island.
- Discover the quirky and colourful village of Kuranda.
You’ve probably already seen pictures of this incredible place. The Whitsundays is an archipelago of 74 heavenly islands located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef: turquoise water and white sand.
There are several options for admiring this little paradise on earth: from the sky by seaplane or on a cruise. Departure is from the friendly town of Airlie Beach usually in the morning, so be sure to arrive in the area the day before.
If you choose to explore this archipelago from the skies, you can choose to take a scenic flight that will allow you to enjoy the breathtaking view of Heart Reef, or why not decide to take the plunge with a parachute jump. However, with this option, you won’t land on the famous island of Whitehaven beach, but you will see it from the sky, which can be just as fantastic.
If you are like me, rather seafaring, the option of a boat cruise from one day to several days is perfect. It’s the perfect option for discovering life at sea, diving and exploring the main points of interest of the islands. Different boat/ambience options are also available depending on what you are looking for: partying on a sailing boat, partying and discovering the surroundings with some activities or you are a great adventurer and just want to explore everything without the fiesta option.
My boat cruise experience
To tell you about my experience, we decided to take advantage of this beautiful place over several days and therefore book a 2 day/1 night boat cruise. Having just arrived in Australia a few weeks ago, we were also eager to meet new people so we decided to go for the 50/50 fiesta and adventure option on a beautiful sailing boat with 25 other people. The atmosphere was great! The days are punctuated by snorkelling to discover the superb seabed, sunbathing on the sailboat, meals freshly prepared by the chef and a memorable evening at sunset 😉 What more could you ask for? Oh yes, you also have the opportunity to stop at Whitehaven beach and take a half-day break on the island.
I can only recommend this sailing trip because it was magical. I would even recommend that you stay there for 2 days and 2 nights to make the most of it. I’m sure that the discovery by plane is just as fantastic in another way. So if you have the budget, and do both 😉
Like the Whitsundays, Fraser Island is an essential part of any good road trip and itinerary on the East Coast of Australia. If you still haven’t included it in yours, now’s the time.
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world (there are no roads on the island, just sand.) and the only large rainforest that grows on sand. It is about 123 kilometres long. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique forests and natural beauty. As you can already imagine, this island is paradise and you will be amazed. Here you can discover the stunningly blue Lake Mackenzie or the champagne pools and the wreck of the Moheno, and even meet some wild dingoes.
However, going to this completely wild island is getting ready. Indeed, if you wish to get there by your own means, you must validate certain conditions to get there (such as having a 4×4 and a special permit to drive around the island + a camping permit).
If you don’t have a 4×4, if you are not used to driving on sand or simply don’t want to risk going there alone, I recommend you to visit it via an organised tour. I’m not usually a big fan of organised tours, but in this case, it may be safer.
Different tours are available:
By 4×4 bus – which we have done but which I do not recommend. Unless you like to be with 40 other people and don’t have the flexibility to stop wherever you want. Unfortunately, we were too late to book so only this option was available. Also, we did it during our first month in Australia, the little new Frenchies on Australian land, we didn’t know the good plans yet, etc…
In 4×4 – second tour option and surely the best according to other travellers. In this tour, you leave with a small group (+/- 25 people) and therefore with several 4x4s. An experienced guide will also be with you and you will be able to drive the 4×4’s to live this adventure to the fullest.
I recommend staying there for 3 days and 2 nights if you really want to enjoy it. However, 2 days may be enough if you are in a hurry. The tours start mainly from Rainbow Beach, Hervey Bay and Noosa. And don’t forget to book in advance!
Noosa & the Sunshine Coast
Noosa is the main town on the Sunshine Coast, which stretches from north of Brisbane to south of Fraser Island. It’s a great place to live: a welcoming atmosphere, good surfing and a pleasant climate, the perfect combo for a few days. There are also some nice little walks along the coast.
What to see/do in Noosa?
- Learn to surf
- Take a walk in the Noosa National Park.
- Discover the beautiful wild coast of Noosa with the Coastal Track.
I didn’t mention Brisbane as a main point because I’m not much of a city, but it might be worth stopping there for a day or two on the road between the sunshine coast and the gold coast. The town is a nice place to walk around. And if you have the time, Moreton Island is apparently beautiful to explore for a day or more (you can go wreck diving there; for water sports enthusiasts).
Gold Coast & Byron Bay
The Gold Coast and Byron bay: one of my big favourites of Australia. I plan to come back to live in Australia in these surroundings if possible.
The Gold Coast is famous for its white sandy beaches that stretch along 57 kilometres of coastline and is made up of several towns. The best known is Surfers Paradise – very bling-bling and touristy. A young and festive “Town”, it is an ideal place for a trip with friends, where the nightlife is considered one of the best in Australia.
However, the Gold Coast isn’t all buildings and surfers paradise. There are plenty of much more local corners for those in search of authenticity. For example, as soon as you get off a bit after Surfers, life is much more pleasant and peaceful. Southern Gold Coast towns such as Burleighs Head, Coolangatta are very popular for Australians to live in. Less crowded than Surfers Paradise, but still super nice with good waves. Surfing here is often better. Don’t trust its misleading name 😉
What to see/do at the Gold Coast?
- Discover and go out in the sultry town of Surfers Paradise.
- Climb to the top of the SkyPoint Observation Deck.
- Stroll on the esplanade of Coollie (Collangatta for locals).
- Surf the Snapper Rock spot and watch a surfing competition.
- Visit Springbrook and Lamington National Parks.
The Gold Coast also offers plenty of activities for families with 3 theme parks and its famous animal sanctuary.
Byron Bay has a unique atmosphere, with cool, chill and surf. People walk around barefoot, up-and-coming singers play in every little corner of the alleyway (it was there that Tones and I first made its name and I heard it for the first time. Long before his famous Dance Monkey album).
The city is not big, but it is a good place to live. Lovely streets with great shops and street art on the walls, a lighthouse where you can watch whales. Not to mention the perfect beaches to learn to surf.
What to see/do in Byron?
- Visit the lighthouse
- Try your hand at surfing on the main beach
- Discover the small towns around – Lennox heads, Nimbin, …
- Find out more at Crystal Castle
- Enjoy simply relaxing
Sydney & the Blue Mountains
Opera is its emblem, it is Australia’s most populous city, and you can live a hectic life on the beaches embedded in the city. Yes, I’m talking about Sydney. And besides, there is a lot to see and do in this city.
Things to see/do in Sydney:
- Visit the Opera House and the Botanic Garden.
- Walk to Circular Quay, the rocks area to the Harbour bridge.
- Discover Bondi beach and do the famous Bondi to Coogee walk.
- Going surfing on Manly Beach in the north
- Take a surf lesson at Bondi beach
- Visit the Blue Mountains National Park for a few days. I recommend 2/3 days. This park is known for its view of the “Three sisters” and its many small authentic villages like Katoomba. There are also a lot of hiking in the surrounding area. This is the favourite place for Sydney-siders for a weekend.
In addition, if you’re heading south, don’t forget to stop at Jervis Bay. Just 3.5 hours from Sydney, Jervis Bay is home to Hyams Beach, the whitest sandy beach in the world! Incredible, isn’t it?
Others must-sees on the East Coast of Australia?
Now you know what you can’t miss on the East Coast of Australia. Don’t forget to include them in your itinerary. Do you have other must-sees that I would have missed? Let me know as a comment.
And if you’re also planning to explore the West Coast, check out the blog post about the 5 national parks that are a must-see on the West Coast.
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