Upon arrival in Australia at the start of my working holiday, I had no idea where I was going to go first. But after a few days of planning and networking, I ultimately did a road trip up the east coast with some new friends all the way from Sydney to Cairns. “Doing the east coast” is on almost every backpacker’s bucket list when they come to Australia. The 1800 mile (2900 km) route took us three weeks to complete and took us from big cities, beautiful remote beaches, and everything in between. Here are some of the highlights from the trip:
If you’ve read my blog post from my first visit to Sydney, you’d know that Sydney is one of my favorite cities in the world. Despite being a major cosmopolitan city, there are plenty of natural areas around making it a perfect blend of city and nature. It’s an active city and there are always people out doing something, whether it be taking a run through the Royal Botanic Gardens, swimming or surfing at Bondi, boating or paddleboarding around the city’s many little inlets and coves…people in Sydney like to get out! One of my favorite activities was taking the ferry to Manly beach, which is basically a short cruise through the famous harbour with the best views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. There’s a lot to do here so it’s worth staying a while in this beautiful city!
Byron Bay is the epitome Australian surf and beach culture. Located at the easternmost point on the continent, it’s the first place in Australia to welcome the rising sun. The huge beach that the town sits on is big and beautiful, but the best thing about Byron was the vibe and energy there. Between the surf and hippie culture that is prevalent there, the atmosphere is relaxed and care-free. It’s a no shirt, no shoes, no worries kind of place. The town streets are filled with surf shops, funky little cafes, and a night scene that is also pretty decent. Outside of town are plenty of national parks that offer some great day or overnight hikes. A popular activity is to wake up early and watch the sunrise at the lighthouse. If you’re there between June-November you might be lucky and spot some whales on their annual migration!
We decided to settle in Noosa for a few days as an alternative to Brisbane and the over-hyped Surfer’s Paradise. Noosa is a relaxed little beach town with some nice beaches and a big national park where you can see some Australian wildlife, like koalas and giant lizards called goannas. The hostel we stayed at (Noosa Backpacker’s Resort) offered free kayak rentals so we spent an afternoon paddling around the Noosa River. A nice spot to relax for a few days!
The Whitsunday Islands are an island archipelago off Queensland’s central coast. A multi-day sailing trip around the Whitsundays is usually part of every backpacker’s east coast itinerary, but since I was short on time I opted for a one day trip. I went with Ocean Rafting which offers a day tour to the famous Whitehaven Beach along with a few opportunities for snorkeling around some coral reefs. It’s the only tour that has access to Hill Inlet Beach on Whitsunday Island, so you can actually walk on the pure white silica sand. The buffet style lunch on the beach was a nice touch as well!
This little island paradise is often overlooked by travelers going up and down the coast, which is a same because it’s a great little getaway and definitely worth spending a few days. It was one of my favorite places on the east coast. Located about 8 km off the coast, the island is easily accessible by ferry from Townsville. Getting around the island can be done by bus or you can rent a moped or one of the open-air “moke” cars which kind of resemble those little battery-powered jeeps for kids. There are plenty of hiking opportunities with a big network of trails to explore. The most famous walk is the Forts Walk, which ascends to a lookout where you can see the ruins of old military used in WWII. It’s also the best place on the island to spot a koala in the wild. During my stay on the island, I saw a total of 6 wild koalas. If you don’t see any in the wild, you can always check out the Bungalow Bay Koala Village, which is both a hostel and a koala sanctuary. You can even get a chance to hold one!
The island is also a great place to just spend the day lounging on the beach, or snorkeling around some of the coral reefs dotted around Magnetic’s many bays and coves. Around dusk, head out to the tiny community of Arcadia where you can see some of the island’s resident rock wallabies. The cute little marsupials come out to feed right near the old pier. Being rather tame and curious, they sometimes hop right up to you!
Another underrated and often missed locale on the east coast traveler’s itinerary. My only regret is we didn’t stay longer! The town itself isn’t much but it’s one of the few places in the world where a World Heritage rainforest and the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef meet. It’s also a place where you can spot the elusive cassowary, a shy man-sized bird with a blue neck and a big intimidating crown on its head. Unfortunately we didn’t see any during our visit. If you decide to come here, stay at the Jackaroo Hostel–it’s one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at in Australia.
No trip to Australia is complete without seeing the Great Barrier Reef. The reef isn’t actually one entire mass of coral, but rather several thousand individual reefs and islands stretching along the east coast for over 2,300 km (1430 mi). I took a day trip out to Green Island from Cairns with some friends and we spent the day exploring the reefs. The island is actually a tiny little coral cay with lush green rainforest, sandy white beaches, and clear blue waters full of life. Aside from tons of fish, we swam with several sea turtles! This is a good place to see them as they come here to feed on the sea grass beds off shore. Although you see much bigger fish and more colorful coral further away from the coast on the outer reef, Green Island was actually pretty impressive and worth going to if you’re on a budget.
While I wasn’t too impressed with Australia’s tropical city of Cairns, the areas around it are really worth checking out. Just a few hours to the north is the Daintree Rainforest, considered to be the oldest rainforest on the planet. Here you can see an abundance of Australia’s most unique flora and fauna, including cassowaries, saltwater crocodiles, Bennet’s tree kangaroo, and the electric blue Ulysses butterfly. Cape Tribulation is a beautiful spot where coastal mountains covered in lush green rainforest meet a sandy white beach and fringing reefs. Another good spot in the Daintree is Mossman Gorge, which has some nice walking tracks that take you into the heart of the rainforest. The natural pools here (they’re croc free!) are a great place to have a picnic and cool off in the tropical heat.