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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 2 of my east coast road trip. Evidence that you absolutely need to visit the eastern coast of Australia. Check out Part One here if you missed it!
Ultimate Australia East Coast Road-trip Itinerary
- Byron Bay
- Sunshine Coast
- Fraser Island
- Agnes Waters/1770
- Mackay (we built a circus!)
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.
Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays
Our next stop was yet another bucket list destination. The Whitsundays are a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, a group of 74 islands with sand as white as snow and softer than cotton. The whole experience is a palette of more blues than you knew existed, dotted with pristine strips of white sand, interrupted only by the grey of friendly stingrays coming to play.
We visited the Whitsundays with Tongara Sailing, and had a four day, three night experience on their sail boat. We got to go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and took rides on the banana boats, all before 9am.
Then we’d sail across the gently rocking ocean and had the most magic show put on for us by a pod of humpback whales. What an absolute treasure of an experience to be able to see those beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
The food onboard was delicious, cooked by our skipper and in the evenings, after dancing till our feet were sore, a tent across the top deck would be pulled out and we’d all pull up our mattresses and pillows, having one big sleepover to the lullabies of the ocean.
On the second day of the trip we visited the world famous Whitsundays beach and got to spent time in the crystalline waters and lounging on the softest sand.
Although you may be on a backpacker budget, there will obviously be once in a lifetime tours and visits that are worth spending a bit extra on. This tour to the Whitsundays was around $400 AUD per person, but it was 100% worth it for everything we got to see.
Townsville & Magentic Island
Magnetic Island, or Maggie as it’s locally known, is an island about 8km offshore from Townsville in Queensland. The stories say that when Captain Cook sailed by it in 1770, he recalls a magnetic effect that the island had on the ship’s compass.
Today, you can take a ferry onto the island and enjoy it’s picture perfect mountain scenes and it’s lush beaches.
Arguably the most popular feature on the island is the little mini mokes (or barbie cars as we called them) that you can rent to drive around the island. The cars are tiny, can barely go 40km/h but you can bet we rented one if only just to drive around while blasting Aqua’s Barbie Girl (yes, even the boys!).
There are certain roads on which the mokes can’t go because they’re quite rough so you’ll get a map when you rent your car of where you can and can’t go. And when they say the roads are 4×4 tracks, they’re not joking, imagine the biggest potholes you’ve ever seen.
We did get to enjoy the island’s natural features too. We spent one night on the island and stayed at the Bungalow Bay Koala Village, where they had a massive property with dorms, private rooms and a campsite for vans and vehicle camping.
We witnessed a stunning sunset at Horseshoe bay and hiked to the remains on the Fort’s Walk.
Highlights on Maggie Island:
- Rent a Barbie car
- The Fort’s walk
- Horseshoe bay
- Florence Bay
- Spot koalas and rock wallabies
- Snorkeling in Geoffrey Bay and Nelly Bay
- Hike up to Hawkings point viewpoint
As you enter Mission beach you’ll experience a dramatic change of landscape. Lush tropical vegetation with dense emerald forests and multicoloured flowers are home to Australia’s tropical ecosystem, one inhabitant being the Cassowary.
I’d never even heard of a Cassowary before but this bird is more like a dinosaur if you ask me. It’s about the size of an ostrich with big beady eyes and a multi coloured head and you’ll probably see one taking it’s sweet time to cross the road.
Mission beach is famous for a few things, one of which is the world class sky diving views. No, I didn’t go sky diving this time lol! Honestly, it just wasn’t planned so a bit out of my budget… and yes ok maybe I was a bit chicken.
But the others went and had the most fabulous time. Flights to up at least every hour and it’s actually quite fun to sit on the beach and just watch them all come down.
There are plenty of other fun things to do in and around Mission beach if, like me, ski diving is not for you just yet, like:
- take a walk along Ulysses Track
- visit Paronella park
- explore Tam O’Shanter National Park
- chill on Mission Beach and watch the skydivers make their beach landings
- go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef
- try white water rafting in Tully Gorge National Park
- spot a cassowary
- go scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef
Wooroonooran National Park
Now, the whole of the East Coast captured my heart, but for some reason, it was this magical place that took the cake.
A windy road leading to the base of a mountain, the Golden Hole, in Wooroonooran National Park is like a little piece of a fairy tale. Maybe it was the nostalgia at the fact that my trip was half way over, or maybe it was the hundreds of butterflies constantly flying around us, that made me feel for the most perfect moments like we were in a different world.
There’s no phone signal in the park, and a single toilet is the only building. There’s a perfect green glen, dotted with boulders that resemble a dragons tail, and every morning, right before the sun dries up the dew, tiny little cobwebs reflect the sunrise and create iridescent holograms on the ground.
Following a little path off the glen, there’s a river that flows, and yes this is croc territory, but it was far too tempting to resist a swim in the fresh and crispy cool water.
At night, there’s not a drop of light pollution, and so few other people are around, with almost no cars, that if you lie on the road, staring up at the stars, the Milky Way that will greet you is the clearest you’ll ever see.
Within Wooroonooran Park you can also make a trip to the beautiful Josephine Falls and Babina Boulders.
Once you’ve reached the tropical rainforest climate of Cairns and the surrounding lands, you’ll be blown away by the lush green vegetation, the breathtaking mountains, valleys and waterfalls and left windblown by the beauty of the area.
In Cairns, we stayed at the Bounce Hostel, which was very central, and got to spend time at the lagoon and engage in the backpacker life of the area, ie lots of pub crawls! But Cairns is also the perfect place from which to plan day trips to the surrounding area.
Highlights in and around Cairns:
- Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef
- Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
- Visit Barron Gorge National Park
- Visit the Atherton Tablelands
- Take a stroll on the Esplanade
- Visit the Crystal Cascades
- Spend a night in Wooroonaran National Park
- Visit Kuranda’s rainforest markets
- Visit Paronella Park
- Skydive Cairns
- Spend the day in Trinity Beach
Where to stay in Cairns
- Bounce Hostel
- Summer house Backpackers
- Calypso Backpackers
- Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel and Resort
- Cairns City Backpackers
The Daintree rainforest, oh you know, only the oldest rainforest on plant Earth! Home to some of the most diverse species of flora and fauna, many of which are currently sadly critically endangered, the Daintree can only be accessed by a paid ferry and is a jungle of history, beauty and hidden treasures at every turn.
The World Heritage Listed forest, which is both privately and state owned, is Australia’s largest tropical rainforest, at 1,200 square kilometres. It’s teeming with indigenous culture, having been the original home of the Kuku Yalanji people for thousands of years, their sacred lands, and a preserved wildlife that only comes from letting nature run it’s beautiful course with limited human interference.
We rented an Airbnb to spend our time in the Daintree and found ourselves completely surrounded by beautiful forestry, no wifi and the full force of the sounds of nature all around us. It was a chance to connect with each other and reflect on our incredible trip so far.
The landscape is a mix of dense forests, mangroves, beaches and water features, and is filled with unique species of birds, like the Cassowary, tree-kangaroos, reptiles, snakes, frogs and invertebrates.
You can book a tour within the Daintree that will take you to all of the best spots and where you can learn about the history and culture of the lands. Or you can follow the maps and enjoy several paths and walks, the beaches and drives.
Sadly, the Daintree, like many of our world’s forests, are at great risk of being affected by climate change. It’s even more unfortunate that the major propagators of the problems, are never the ones who have stepped foot in the Earth’s lungs and seen for themselves the beauty that they’re destroying. Which is why it’s up to us, those who have the chance to experience the world, to hold others to account, through our votes, donations and voice.
Danbulla National Park
A day trip away from Cairns, located in the centre of the Atherton Tablelands, the Danbulla National Park and State Forest is the perfect place to go to feel like you’ve fallen right off the map into beautiful untouched forests. The perfect place to take a break from technology and camp out by the lakeside.
There are several campsites in the forest, both in the dense forest and by the lakesides. We spent 2 nights by the lake and then came back the following week because we loved it so much! You can spend your time doing the beautiful nature walks and drives in the mountains, visiting some of the wild natural sights and just sitting in the moments, watching the sunset.
The roads can be quite narrow and bumpy to get to the campsites, so lower cars may have a bit of an issue and a 4×4 may be more suitable. But don’t worry, there are signs specifically saying where caravans are not permitted. You will have to book a camping permit beforehand, you can do this online or by calling the government parks website. There’s also limited phone connection in most places so you’ll want to book your camping permit before going in.
There aren’t any shops or facilities in the forest in most campgrounds except for basic toilets. So you’ll need to bring a little food supply and plenty of water because the tap water is not drinkable.
Where to stay in the Daintree Rainforest
- Kauri Creek camping area
- Downfall Creek camping area
- Platypus campus area
- School Point camping area
Highlights of the Daintree Rainforest
- Cathedral Fig Tree
- Lake Tinaroo
- Lake Euramoo
- Take a drive along Kauri Creek road
- Platypus rock lookout
- Wildlife spotting
- Hikes and walks:
- Regeneration walk
- Link track
- Kauri Creek rainforest walk
- Mobo Creek crater
And with that, our road trip up the East Coast came to an end, but that is by no means the last time I’ll visit these breathtaking places. I’d love to hear about your Australian adventures too! Leave a comment below and share your experiences or your plans if you’re going on a roadtrip soon!
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Sit back, grab some Oreos and I can’t wait to see what life has to offer us next.
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