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With everything from sunny beaches, rumbling waterfalls, endless valleys of rainforest and untouched aboriginal land as far as the eye can see, no wonder a road trip along the east coast of Australia is one of the most bucket list experiences out there.
I spent around five weeks traveling from Sydney to Cairns. Not to sound super cliche, but it was a movie worthy, story book plot twisting ‘find me trip’. It involved so much personal growth and I found a connection to the world from a perspective I’d never had before.
From camping in the middle of heavy rains, to building campfires by the highway and cooking dinner for 10 over a single portable gas stove. Swimming in crisp, crystal clear waters and the saltiest oceans, and running around barefoot in fields dotted with morning dew and iridescent spider webs.
Meeting so many different humans, from transient encounters with liberated travellers, to cementing friendships that will come with me through the rest of my life. This trip had it all.
On that note, here is the Part 1 of my east coast road trip. Evidence that you absolutely need to visit the eastern coast of Australia. Check out Part 2 here.
Ultimate Australia East Coast Road-trip Itinerary
- Byron Bay
- Sunshine Coast
- Fraser Island
- Agnes Waters/1770
- Mackay (we built a circus!)
- Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays
- Townsville & Magnetic Island
- Mission Beach
- Wooroonooran National Park
- Daintree Rainforest
- Danburra National Forest
- Atherton Tablelands
Update: The bushfires which began in 2019 continue to ravage much of this beautiful land. To date, over 7.3 million hectares have been burned, with around 3000 people losing their homes, an estimated half a billion animals have been lost and the koala population has been declared functionally extinct. Scientists say that it will take a century for the earth to soak up all the carbon dioxide emitted from these fires alone.
As many people continue to travel to Australia and the international community are pulling together to help where we can, I wanted to still share this post of my Australian adventures to showcase the beauty of Australia and the highlights of a trip that changed my life. That being said, whether you use this post to help you plan your next trip or are looking for some travel inspiration, please take a minute to have a look at these this post by MissKyreLoves, with heaps of Donations for Bushfire Relief links and ways we can all help.
If you are travelling to Australia, take some time to look into where you can help in the various affected areas. And stay safe friends.
An Australian road trip has to start in Sydney, even if just to say you’ve ticked this iconic city off your bucket list. A thriving metropolis, Sydney is home to the world renown Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the famous Bondi Beach and Bondi Icebergs swimming pool.
Personally, I didn’t feel the need to stay in Sydney more than two days. My goal for this road trip was to visit the outback, to immerse myself in nature and to experience all of what the east coast had to offer. My best friend and I intended to rent a campervan further up the coast, so we didn’t want to spent too much time in the cities.
That being said, we did make the most of our time, having lunch at a few funky cafes, meeting up with friends and family and getting ready for our trip north.
- Sydney Opera House
- Sydney Habour Bridge
- Bondi Beach
- Bondi Icebergs
- Sydney Fish Market
- Day out in the Blue Mountains
- The Sydney Tower
- Dinner in Circular Quay
- Royal Botanical Gardens
Where to stay in Sydney
Although we stayed with a friend in Sydney, here are some of the best hostels in the area for backpackers on the go.
- Wake up! Bondi Beach
- ChiliBlue backpackers
- Noah’s Bondi Beach
- Sydney Harbour YHA
- The Original Backpackers Hostel
- Base Sydney
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A quick one hour flight from Sydney and we were in the coastal town of Byron Bay. Byron Bay used to be (and still is) a very up market area, with celebrities like Chris Hemsworth owing beautiful beachside mansions in the area. But the town has recently blown up in popularity with the growth of Australian instagram personalities and the spiritual attraction of the area.
I can absolutely say that this was the first place on my road trip where I began to feel some of the rich history and spirituality that the lands in Australia are known to have.
Where to stay in Byron Bay
We stayed at the Arts Factory Lodge which was an incredible laid back hostel that has dorms in lakeside cabins, teepees and a whole forest area reserved for long term camping. We did yoga in the mornings and ate açai bows for breakfast.
We learnt how to make bracelets from water reeds and fire with two sticks from a wonderfully typical Australian who went by the name of Cockatoo. Naturally, he did also own a cockatoo.
In the evening the whole hostel came to life as everyone gathered round the kitchen and an impromptu karaoke began, with guitars, pots and table tops as instruments and proud voices carrying into the night some classic tines. What a place!
Byron Bay highlights:
- Sunrise at Cape Byron lighthouse
- Byron Bay Main Beach
- Tallow Beach & Whale Watching
- Arakwal National Park
- Killen Falls
- The Farmer’s Market on Thursdays
- Swimming in the tea tree lakes
- Soul Life Byron Bay for metaphysical supplies
- Vegan dinner at Elixiba Byron Bay
- Nimbin day trip
One morning, we went to watch the sunrise at the Byron Bay lighthouse, an experience that brought tears to my eyes. We arrived as it was still pitch black and as the sun came up, we could see whales playing in the ocean below and a handsome little kookaburra perched itself on the rocky outcrop in front of us, almost as if to watch the sunrise with us.
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We also made a day trip to the little town of Nimbin, which if you have time, is an experience and a half. Nimbin is the hemp capital of the east coast, a little town that sits almost in a little bubble, oblivious to the outside world. It’s incense and marijuana and dreadlocks everywhere and it’s fabulous.
We had lunch at a cosy little cafe run by a wonderful man who asked me to explain to him the meaning of my name. Unfortunately for him, ‘Vadz is just a nickname’ is the only answer I could offer, but he was very keen to share with us some spiritual history about the area none the less.
Although a bustling city with plenty to do, Brisbane was just a pit stop on our itinerary. It was the pickup location for our campervan that we would be renting for the next four weeks, for our trip up to Cairns. My best friend and I picked up the van, which we named Anton, and finally met up with the two other travellers that would be joining our little van family.
We had a few issues with the rental company that we used but some of the most reputable rental company’s in Australia include Campermate, Apollo and Jucy.
We spent only a night on the outskirts of Brisbane, at a friend of Melissa’s who was kind enough to let us park Anton outside. We made use of this time to stock up on food, buy blankets and have a cheeky family Nando’s dinner to baptise our little travel crew.
If you’re planning on road tripping in a van it’s handy to note that most city areas don’t have free (if any) campsites within a reasonable distance from the city itself. We hadn’t quite figured out the whole thing yet but if we had to we would have had to drive at least two hours out of Brisbane for a campsite to spend the night.
- Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
- Kangaroo Point Lookout
- Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha
- Explore South Bank
- Museum of Brisbane
Sunshine Coast: Mooloolaba, Caloundra & Maroochydore
This was the first official stop on our van life road trip. We were again very lucky to have a friend in the area near Mooloolaba who was able to let us park the van outside his house and who took us in for a few days. The Sunshine Coast is appropriately named, with the brightest blue sky you’ve ever seen, stunning white beaches with azure waters and just the most vacation worthy atmosphere you can imagine.
We got to explore a bit of the area, spending time on the beach at Mooloolaba, eating fresh fish and chips and taking nature walks and bike rides through beautiful dense coastal forest and beachside landscapes.
Even though it was Australia’s winter, temperatures were still well in the mid 20s so the weather was perfect for taking in everything the area had to offer.
Sunshine Coast highlights
- Sun bathe on Mooloolaba beach
- Go Swimming with humpback whales
- Enjoy the fresh local seafood
- Visit Point Cartwright / The Spit
- Stroll down Mooloolaba Esplanade
- Visit Maroochydore Beach
- Day trip to the Queensland Air Museum
- Hike up Mt Coolum
Technically still on the Sunshine Coast, Noosa Heads National Park and Sunshine Beach is a surfer friendly area with stunning coastal landscapes and plenty of quirky cafes and restaurants. It’s a bit on the expensive side (for a backpacker) but we spent most of our days lounging on the beach, walking around the trails in the parks and looking out for adorable wild koalas and dolphins in the water.
- Noosa Heads National Park
- Koala spotting
- Hikes and trails
- Dolphin Point Lookout
- Boiling Pot lookout
- Hell’s Gates
- Browse the shops and restaurants on Hastings Street
- Pizza at
- Sunbathe on Sunshine Beach
- Laguna Viewpoint
- Noosa Botanic Gardens
- Australia Zoo
Where to stay in Noosa
- Dolphin’s Beach House
- Noosa Flashpackers
- Nomad’s Backpacker’s Noosa
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After a week of traveling in the van, we had traveled a few kilometres up the coast and as we got closer to Rainbow beach, we knew that we have to plan a trip to Fraser Island. Unfortunately we couldn’t take the van to the island because we needed a 4×4, but thanks to the magic of social media, we made friends with a group of six other travellers who had three 4x4s between them.
What ensued was the most incredible camping adventure on Fraser Island and the beginning of some beautiful friendships!
Fraser Island needed a post all to itself.
After Fraser Island, we ended up traveling all the way up north to Cairns with our new friends, a total of 10 backpackers and 4 cars in total.
Bundaberg is the start of sugar cane country, and one of the popular places that backpackers come on working holiday visas in order to get they 88 days farm work sorted. We stopped by to check it out too, and were pulled right into the pub crawls and rum tasting at the Bundaberg distillery.
We camped in a trailer park, where I’m pretty sure we were the youngest people there, the majority of the residents being lovely retired folks with their trailers and massive campers.
There are a few towns like Bundaberg along the East Coast that were very sweet, but didn’t have much to report on. We would spend a couple of days checking out the sites and our time was made even more fun because we were becoming such a tight knit group. Similar towns were Meraborough, Gladestone and Rockhampton.
Agnes Waters and 1770
The tiny town of 1770 near Agnes Waters has historic relevance because it was the sight of Captain Cook’s second landing in Australia in May 1770. It’s a tiny little place, and you could easy spend 2 or 3 days there and have a blast.
There are a few walks to do, a pretty little beach to spend the day and several little cafes. It’s the perfect place to take surf lessons and to go paddle boarding to see dolphins and turtles, as well as to learn a bit more about Australian history.
We stayed at the Backpackers @ 1770 hostel which was fantastic because they happened to have a 10 dorm room completely free . This meant that our little traveling family of 10 had a whole dorm for ourselves. There was a communal kitchen which was very convenient, they had pool tables in the common area and the atmosphere was really good all round!
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We might have missed this little town had it not been recommended to us by a friend who grew up right here. We weren’t expecting such a picturesque place as we drove through. The beach is stunning, although they do say, once you get past 1770 and Agnes water to start being careful for stingers (jellyfish) in the water.
But don’t even worry about it, because they’ve got a stunning beachside lagoon with an infinity pool, a bar and free showers (perfect for us backpacking budget folk!).
Not to mention there’s a beautiful walking track up Bluff Point, which is actually a trail along an ancient inactive volcano, with the most killer views at the top!
- Bluff Point walking trail
- Yeppoon main beach
- Yeppoon Lagoon
- Wreck Point scenic lookout
- Cooberrie park wildlife sanctuary
Now many people would have skipped this little town on their road trip, and we would have too had we not experienced the most unexpected turn of events. We had some trouble with one of the cars and ended up having to be in Mackay to pick up a spare part. We also needed to kill some time for a few days leading up to a booking we had in place for our next stop up the coast.
My best friend Melissa, happened to be friends with a circus performer who’s touring group was in Mackay and looking for short term staff to help them set up their tent. And that is how ten backpackers joined the Infamous Circus.
Mackay itself doesn’t have much in terms of sights and things to do but I absolutely had to mention it. We spent two full days setting up a circus from top to bottom, getting to pitch up on the showgrounds, play with all the circus doggies and even try out some of their equipment. What an unforgettable experience!
But the adventure’s not done yet!
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