Backpacker Bucket List Guide to the East Coast Of Australia

Melbourne to Cairns East Coast
Whitsunday Islands

“Your ultimate guide to the East Coast of Australia!”

Backpacker Bucket List Guide to the East Coast Of Australia

Planning your trip of Australia’s Mighty East Coast but don’t know where to start? Have a read of our handy guide and start planning your ultimate trip! If you want in depth guides on cities and locations you can visit our guide’s page.

Transport

The East Coast is where most of Australia’s Population live so getting up and down it is a breeze and there’s a few different ways to do it.

Bus

Loka, Premier and Greyhound all offer passes up the East Coast of Australia, click here to read our blog about the differences and decide which one is right for you!

Buying/Renting a car or campervan

Travelling by Car is a great way to see as much of Australia as you can but there are a few things to consider when going for this option. Generally, a good rule of thumb is if you want the Car/Camper for less than 3 months you should Rent, more than 3 months you should buy.

If you want to buy then make sure you factor in the fact you’ll need insurance, roadside assistance and registration as well as the cost of the Vehicle. Never buy a vehicle that doesn’t have a current, valid roadworthy certificate and sometimes it’s a good idea to pay a mechanic to do a mechanical check. Also make sure you give yourself plenty of time to sell the vehicle at the end of the trip, it can take a month or more to find someone willing to purchase your vehicle. I’ve known plenty of Backpackers who’ve given their car away super cheap as they have no time or have left the car sitting at the airport with the key on the tyre.

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Bussing it is the cheapest option with Car Rental/Purchase providing more freedom

Greyhound Bus

Melbourne

Sitting at the very bottom of the coast is the cultural sporting and music hub of Melbourne. There’s heaps to do in the city and around so 3 -5 days or more is recommended. The city is home to Federation square, Famous Graffiti and coffee and food laneways, the oldest China Town outside of China, Art Galleries, Queen Victoria Market and the Royal Botanical Gardens just to name a few things. South of the city is Albert Park where the Grand Prix is held in March and the famous beachside suburb of St Kilda. Chapel Street and Fitzroy as well as St Kilda are good options for night life. Don’t forget the number 2 reason people visit Melbourne is food, so eat your full while you’re here!

Outside of Melbourne there’s plenty of amazing places to visit including the number 1 reason to come to Melbourne – The Great Ocean Road. Built by Australian War Veterans after World War One this Road is one of the top ten drives in the world and it is a beauty. There’s 1, 2 or 3 day tours and if you do it on your own with a car or camper 2 to 3 days is the minimum I would recommend and campers have a 5 day minimum. (Trust me I used to be a Tour Guide.)

Phillip island is the second most popular destination to visit around Melbourne. 70,000 penguins live here with 6000 of them living at the penguin parade. Every night between 200 – 2000 penguins waddle up the beach after their day of fishing at sunset. Just be aware that sunset can be as late as 9:30pm in Summer so a day tour is recommended or if driving yourself, stay out on the island as its 1 hour and 45 minutes from Melbourne (if you know where you’re going).

There’s Also a few national parks such as Wilsons Promontory and the Grampians National park on opposite sides of Port Phillip Bay. Wilsons Prom is the southernmost point of mainland Australia and has 50% of Australia’s Bird Species, Wombats, Emu’s and Kangaroos, A squeaky beach and Awesome Hiking. The Grampians Has the Balconies (formerly the Jaws of Death) Mackenzie falls, Aboriginal Culture and some lovely hiking and gorgeous views.

Then you’ve also got Winery and Brewery Tours for those that want to indulge. Visit the Mornington Peninsula or Yarra Valley to try some amazing wines and experience these gorgeous areas or if you want to try out Melbourne’s thriving Craft Beer scene you can hop on a brewery tour.

Also worth a visit is Sovereign Hill which is a recreation of what Ballarat was like after the Gold Boom in the 1800’s. Explore this historic town with actors walking around recreating the atmosphere and check out how things were done back in the day!

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Melbourne can keep you busy no matter how long you stay

Yarra Valley Wine and Cheese
Wine and Cheese tasting in the yarra valley

Canberra

Being the Capital of Australia you’d be forgiven if you thought that Canberra was a place that you have to visit. The truth is most people will skip over it with an overnight bus from Melbourne to Sydney. If you do find yourself in the home of the politicians, you can visit parliament house which is actually more interesting than it sounds and the War Museum. If you’re driving Canberra has a lot of embassies and the buildings are all designed in the style of the Country that the embassy is from. Pretty cool!

Also if you’re driving you can click here to check out my blog on what else you can see between Melbourne and Sydney.

Sydney

Plenty to do and see in Sydney! Visit the Opera house, Darling Harbour, Sydney Harbour Bridge which you can climb if that’s something you’re into. There’s also a fair few beachside areas to visit including the infamous Bondi Beach as well as Manly and Coogee. You can also visit Summer Bay if you’re a fan of Home and away or visit areas around Sydney.

The blue mountains is the most popular day tour out of Sydney and it’s visited by loads and loads of travellers every year. If you fancy exploring it yourself but don’t want to drive a car you can catch the train to Katoomba and then hop on the double decker Sightseeing bus that takes you around the National Park, something you won’t find in any other parts of Australia.

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Plenty to do in Sydney!

Topdeck Sydney Discovery
Opera House, Sydney

Travelling north to Byron Bay

Travelling further north there’s a few Beachside towns to visit. Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour to name a few. All have nice beaches and a few hostel accommodations though they are mostly a domestic tourism drawcard. If you’ve got the time definitely pay at least one of them a visit. Port Macquarie has a Koala Hospital and Coffs Harbour has the Big Banana, which is literally a big banana. Have a coffee and snap a photo.

Spot X

Above Coffs Harbour you’ll come to Spot X Surf Camp run by Mojo Surf. This is a property right on the beach with camping, dorm and private room options as well as staying in your campervan. This is definitely a great place to learn to surf in Australia, there are plenty of options all the way from a 2-day surf camp to a 3 month become an instructor option. Being in a surf camp means you’re surrounded by surfing and by people learning about surfing which helps you soak in everything you need to know faster and get on the board in no time! Then you can continue your surfing legacy up the coast.

Byron Bay

Byron Bay is a super popular destination especially with Backpackers so it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance! It’s a gorgeous little town with a great vibe that sees many a traveller only planning to stay a couple of nights extend their stay! The walk around the point to the lighthouse is a rewarding one that offers great views of the coast as well as the possibility of seeing turtles, dolphins and manta rays in the waters below the cliffs.

 

Kayaking with Dolphins is one of the most popular activities here as well as learning to surf. If you want a surf camp experience with the added bonus of being in a cool town with the ability to socialise then Byron Bay Surf camp is the place to be and it’s right on the beach! A day trip to the hippie town of Nimbin is a bit of fun, you’ll visit some waterfalls and explore the colourful village and maybe pick up some “special” Cookies to take home.

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Byron Bay is a super popular place so it's wise to book accommodation in advance.

Mojo Surf
Learning to Surf

Surfers Paradise and the Gold Coast

A big contrast to Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise is a sprawl of big high rise buildings all along the coast. It’s known for good night life and also theme parks. Wet n’ Wild, Dreamworld, Movie World and Sea world are all here so if Rollercoasters and Waterslides are your thing then it’s a good place to be. Walking the Strip there are some cool markets on the weekends near the beach and the Hard Rock café. If you fancy a bit of exercise you could also go climb to the top of Mount Warning.

Brisbane

Brisbane is another one of the main ports of entry to Australia thanks to it’s international Airport. The city houses the popular Queen Street mall and from there it’s only a short walk to Southbank and Goma(Gallery of Modern Art). West End has lots of cool cafes and a vibrant art scene and Fortitude valley is the place to be for a night out on the town. Off the coast you can do a day trip to Moreton Island and lone pine Koala Sanctuary is an extremely popular attraction.

Noosa

Noosa is a cool beachside town on the Sunshine Coast with plenty of cool stuff on offer. It’s a great place to surf, chill on the beach and Noosa National Park is super easy to access and boasts plenty of awesome walks.

The Noosa Everglades is an awesome area to explore. It’s got 44% of Australia’s Bird Species and so much tea tree oil extract it perfectly reflects off the water earning itself the name “River of Mirrors”. You can do a day cruise on the River or a kayak Day Trip or a 2 day 1-night self-guided Canoe Trip.

Australia Zoo is easily accessed from Noosa as well with Greyhound providing return transport to this awesome Attraction. There are also a couple of Fraser island tours that depart from here, Day Trips, 2 days 1 night trips and also Tag along Trips. Most people will choose however to head to Rainbow beach for their Fraser Island Departure.

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Fraser Island

Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world and there’s lots to explore. You need to have a 4-wheel drive to explore Fraser island, but not to worry if you don’t! There’s a few different options at your disposal. The two best options are either a fully guided tour or Tag along tour for 3 days 2 nights.

Fully guided tours are in a big Warrior 4X4 bus with a guide up the front on a microphone. You stay at a resort in dorm and there’s a bar at the resort.

Tag along trips are still fully guided, there is a group of 4 wheel drives with the guide in the front car who drives around Fraser island while the rest of the group “Tag’s along”. That means if you’re over 21 and have your driver’s licence you can drive on Fraser island without the price tag of hiring a 4 wheel drive yourself! Tag along tours are camping tours and you can bring your own alcohol making them extremely popular with Backpackers.

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Fraser island is one of the highlights of the East Coast

View out of Fraser Car
Driving on Fraser island

1770/Agnes Waters

The towns of 1770 and Agnes waters are a great place to visit and hang out, it’s set on a beautiful bay, has some nice walks and good surf. You can visit the Memorial for Captain Cook when he landed there in 1770 and there are a few other cool activities available.

Scooteroo is the only legal Bikie Gang in Queensland, this is a bit of fun for the afternoon. Everyone gets kitted up in Fake Tattoos, Flame Jackets and helmets and hops on board a 50cc Harley Davidson or Chopper Replica and explores the town for the afternoon ending on the bay for sunset. In Queensland you only need your driver’s licence to ride 50cc bikes and under and they are just twist and go, no gears so it’s super easy!

Up to Airlie Beach

Heading North from here there are a few towns that provide opportunities to complete your farm work or do a farm stay such as Gladstone, Rockhampton or Mackay or maybe if you just want to stop somewhere off the beaten track. Most people will take an overnight bus to Airlie Beach for the Whitsundays.

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The Whitsundays are 74 Gorgeous tropical islands

Whitsundays Powerplay Catamaran
The Powerplay boat on the Whitsundays

The Whitsundays

The Whitsundays are 74 gorgeous tropical islands off the coast of Airlie Beach on the inner Great Barrier Reef. It really is a feast for the senses with so many amazing places to see and explore and there’s lots of different options to get you out there exploring.

I usually recommend two day-two night boats to maximize your time in the area and see as much as possible, this is probably the only time you’re going to be here so make the most of it! Most boats have either single or double bed sleeping arrangements on board and are bring your own alcohol and include all your food and national park fees.

Choose between sailing schooners, tall ships and Catamarans. There’s boats famous for their Social atmosphere and boats that are known for Adventure. Sailing schooners are good for getting involved in the sailing of the ship and Catamarans are nice and smooth on the water thanks to their large flat base.

If you’re short on time there are also a few overnight boat options as well as day trips, you can check out all the options here and let us know if you have any questions via the live chat.

Townsville and Magnetic Island

A lot of people head to Townsville to dive the Yongala shipwreck which is quite the spectacle, those looking for some relaxation time after all the adventuring can head over to Magnetic island -Australia’s Cheapest island getaway.

When Captain Cook was sailing down the Coast his compass wouldn’t stop pointing at Magnetic island – hence the name! Surrounded by nice beaches with sections of reef only a short swim away this island is plenty of fun to check out. Buses go around the island or you can find a couple of people at the hostel and chuck in some money each to rent a topless car (or barbie car) and cruise around.

Accommodation wise you’ve got Base backpackers which is an awesome resort on the south west of the island. They host Full moon parties, have a bit of a party vibe and have the only beach in Australia where you can grab a beer from the bar and drink it on the sand as it’s part of their property! Bungalow Bay is the other option and it’s pretty unique too! It hosts its own wildlife sanctuary which Is home to crocodiles, wallabies and Koalas that they’ve raised in captivity and they love a cuddle! (The Koala’s that is).

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Bungalow Bay on Magnetic island is a great place to get that much sought after Koala Cuddle Photo.

Mission Beach

Mission Beach is also a nice place to relax, It’s the number one spot to go Skydiving in Australia and is also home to White Water Rafting on the Tully River. Skydiving is famous here for the views of the ocean and rainforest and the epic beach landing. Rafting is done on the Tully River where you get guaranteed water levels all year round on grade 3-4 Rapids. You can do the standard Tully Rafting or challenge yourself and do the Xtreme Rafting! Both these activities can be done with pickups from Cairns If you want to be somewhere that’s a bit more social.

Cairns and surrounds

Cairns is a thriving backpacker hub full of Bars, Accommodation and plenty of attractions around it. The most obvious attraction is the Great Barrier Reef of course! Still one of the 7 wonders of the world – the Reef is on every bucket list of travellers on Australia’s East Coast. You can do day trips and multi day trips as well as get your open water dive certificate!

To the Southwest of Cairns, you’ll find the Atherton Tablelands, a gorgeous rainforest area with clear lakes to swim in and waterfalls including Millaa Millaa falls which was featured in Peter Andre’s famous Mysterious Girl film clip. Josephine falls is home to an awesome natural rock slide and there’s plenty of plant life and stunning views of the landscape.

Cape Tribulation is two and a half hours north of Cairns, it’s the oldest living Rainforest in the world and is where the Rainforest meets the beach. It’s a great area to explore and relax especially at the end of your trip up the coast. Cruise on the Daintree River Spotting Crocodiles and local wildlife, go for a swim in Mossman Gorge, learn about local Aboriginal culture and visit the local ice cream company. We recommend staying in Cape Trib at least one night as there’s plenty of activities to keep you entertained such as night walks, Horse Riding, Kayaking, Jungle surfing through the trees on zip lines and an awesome Great Barrier Reef Trip!

For the Adrenaline Junkies you can also do the White Water Rafting from Cairns as well as skydive and enjoy Australias one and only Bungy Jumping location!

That’s the East Coast in a nutshell folks! You can checkout our East Coast Packages here and if you want a custom made packages and want the best price Click here to build your own!

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Ready to Explore the East Coast?

Checkout our different packages or customise your own!

Greyhound bus
Spaceships Campervan
Melbourne City at night
The Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road
Opera House, Sydney
Learning to Surf at spot X
Kayaking with Dolphins in Byron Bay
Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast
The Noosa Everglades
Lake Mackenzie, Fraser island
Tag along Safari on Fraser island
Scooteroo in 1770
The Powerplay boat on the Whitsundays
Base Backpackers, Magnetic island
White Water Rafting
Great Barrier Reef, Cairns
Cape Tribulation Beach