A Guide to Backpacking Australia’s East Coast

By Charlotte Connolly

Australia’s East Coast is one of the most prolific backpackers trails in the country and rightly so. The road follows the coastline from Melbourne to Cairns, though typically people start in Sydney. Travelling the route is easy and there is so much to see and plenty of bucket list destinations and activities to tick off along the way. Planning how to travel, where to stop and which activities to do can make for some difficult decisions so here’s a guide to the best of the East Coast and how to travel it.

Getting Around

  • Use the bus services. There are two bus companies-Greyhound & Premier, that are popular choices for backpackers travelling along the East Coast route. Both offer hop on hop off passes and stop at all major destinations. During peak season be sure to book your seat in plenty of time as they can get pretty busy.
  • Hire a campervan. There are plenty of campervan companies in Australia and this is a great way to travel if you have the time. Though this is more expensive than the public bus, it is much more flexible and can also help you save a few $ on your accommodation.  

Must Do’s

Drink coffee and check out the street art in Melbourne

The artistic city is known for its coffee shops which are in plentiful supply. Take your pick then sit back and watch the world go by. When you have had your caffeine fix, head to Hosier Lane to check out the best of the cities street art scene.

Stay: Flinders Backpackers

Visit the iconic Opera House in Sydney

No visit to Sydney would be complete without seeing it! Grab a drink at the Sydney Opera Bar, watch the sunset and enjoy the live music.

Stay: Wake up! Sydney Central

Surf in Byron Bay

Byron is a cool town known for its beaches and surfing, so where better to do like the Aussies and catch a wave. If you dont surf, take a lesson or sign up for surf camp to learn.

Stay: Aquarius Backpackers

Have fun on the Gold Coast

Full of good parties, theme parks, casinos and craziness, the Gold Coast is the place to let your hair down and have some fun.

Stay: Surfers Paradise Backpackers Resort

Explore the Noosa Everglades

One of only two Everglade environments in the world, the Noosa Everglades are a special sight. Hop in a kayak and make your way down the 60km stretch of river and take in the tranquility whilst looking at the landscapes perfectly reflected on the waters surface.

Stay: Halse Lodge Guesthouse YHA

Fraser Island

The biggest sand island in the world, home to endless stretches of beach, pools and freshwater lakes! The best way to explore is to book a 3 day 2 night 4WD camping tour which gives you the chance to not only see the all the hotspots such as Eli Creek, Maheno Shipwreck, Champagne Pools and of course Lake McKenzie but you will get to experience driving the 4WD vehicles (subject to conditions) and make some new friends. You can leave from many surrounding towns but Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay are the most common.

Whale Watching on Hervey Bay

Whale watching season operates from mid-July through to the end of October and during this time people flock to the calm and pristine waters of Hervey Bay in hopes of locking their eyes on the waters gentle giants. Booking a whale watching cruise offers a great chance to sight humpback whales.

Stay: Aussie Woolshed

Chill and party on Magnetic Island

Home to Australia’s Full Moon party, this can be a great place to party long into the night. It is also a nice place to just chill out. Soak up some sun on the beach or go bushwalking and see if you can spot a wild koala.

Stay: Base

Skydive with a beach landing on Mission Beach

Whether its your first sky dive or you are just an adrenaline junkie, you cant beat the experience of getting flown 14,000ft high and then jumping out of a perfectly good plane above some of the most incredible scenery in the world. Soar over the Great Barrier Reef, pristine white beaches, and lush rainforests before an exciting beach landing.

Stay: Scotty’s Mission Beach YHA

Snorkel or dive on the Great Barrier Reef

Iconic, breathtaking and a natural wonder of the world. The Great Carrier Reef is the worlds largest coral reef, a multitude of marine life with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. If you are not a certified diver, this doesn’t mean you should miss out. Instead, consider snorkelling or doing an introductory dive where along with an experienced instructor you can still get up close to the marine life.

Stay: Gilligan’s Backpackers Hotel & Resort

*Note- Gilligan’s is a party hostel so for something a bit quieter try Calypso Inn Backpackers Resort or Njoy! Travellers Resort

Visit Cape Tribulation where rainforest meets reef

Cape Tribulation is where two magnificent World Heritage sites, The Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef meet. As if the sites arent enough there is plenty to keep you occupied such as horse riding, bush walking, fruit tasting, canopy walks and river cruises where, if youre lucky, you can sight crocodiles.

Stay: PK’s Jungle Village

Sail around the Whitsunday Islands

The gateway to the Whitsundays is Airlie Beach, a pretty resort town offering awesome views. To explore the Whitsunday Islands book a boat tour; these vary from day tours to overnight trips. 74 islands make up the Whitsundays, including the most well-known Whitehaven beach where the sand is so pure you can use it to clean your teeth, body, and jewellery. Boat tours allow you to sail around the islands while some also have organised snorkelling and scuba diving. Think about what type of trip you would like and do your research as boats vary from party boats, luxury yachts and those in-between. For a party boat, try the Clipper and for something in between Power Play is a great option.

Stay in Airlie Beach: Nomads Airlie Beach Backpackers Hostel

Have you been backpacking the East Coast of Australia? What are your favourite things to do? Comment below with your favourites!

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