The east coast of Australia is one of the most famous travel trails in the world! With so many things to see and do along the 4000km stretch of coastline, it makes it difficult to fit it all in. The traditional route is Melbourne to Cairns or Vice Versa, however we started our Australian adventure in Sydney – we spent three days exploring the city before embarking on our road trip up the east coast to Cairns. You can read more about what we got up to in Sydney here.
After toying with the idea of renting a car and driving the east coast of Australia, we decided to opt for the bus instead. It was much cheaper and saved us a lot of hassle planning routes and looking for parking! There are two bus companies that offer a hop on hop off service. These are greyhound and Premier Motor Services. We chose to go with a Premier as it was cheaper and we had heard that the greyhound buses tend to get fairly busy. We were lucky and on most of the buses we took we had a row each to sprawl across. The only downside – no wifi or plugs for charging phones.
The route we took was as follows:
Sydney – Port Macquarie – Byron Bay – Surfers Paradise – Brisbane – Noosa Heads – Rainbow Beach – Airlie Beach – Cairns. In total it took us 18 days not including the time we spent in Sydney. It was pretty packed but definitely doable! Ideally 3 weeks would have been perfect to fit everything in as we had to leave out Magnetic island but you live and learn!
I hadn’t really heard much about Port Macquarie before this trip, and if I’m honest, the only reason we decided to go was because we felt the bus trip to Byron bay would be too long in one go! However, I was so pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this place.
We spent one night here at Beachside Backpackers hostel. As we arrived really early in the morning and our bus wasn’t until 1.30am the following day, we basically had a full day to explore.
First on our list was the Koala Hospital. Here the team rescue hurt or sick Koalas from the wild, and nurse them back to health. If their injuries are not too bad, and don’t prevent them from being safe in the wild, they will then release them. The work they do is incredible and I would definitely recommend paying this place a visit.
After having something to eat in The Burger Rebellion, we headed towards the sea to do the coastal walk. Wow doesn’t even do it justice! It took us about 3 hours to complete the 10km walk with stops along the way at various beaches and viewpoints, finishing at Tacking Point Lighthouse.
We took the night bus from Port Macquarie to Byron Bay arriving at 8.30am. The hostel we stayed at Backpackers Holiday Village picked us up and we were able to head straight to our room – which was amazing! Here they provide free surf boards and bikes for guests by just leaving a deposit which is really cool!
After showering (because we felt super gross), we headed to the beach for a while to enjoy the sunshine. We got lucky as the previous days had apparently been very rainy! The beach was glorious and it was so cool watching all of the basically pro surfers in the water.
We had some really good food for lunch in Bayleaf Cafe and also went to The Mez Club for some cheeky happy hour drinks later in the evening. Byron Bay is full of good food, and with so many places to choose from, cafe hopping could be a good shout!
With some fairly woozy heads, we checked out and headed on our bus ride to Surfers Paradise. Accommodation here was really expensive. It may have been that we left it too late, but to be on the safe side definitely book this one in advance. We chose the Mantra Legends Hotel which was close by to our bus stop. It was really nice, however you had to pay for wifi which I found a tad bit insane!
It was really rainy when we got here so we turned the tv on and stumbled upon a show called The Block (an interior / home renovation competition). We were instantly hooked! So we watched that while we waited for the weather to improve. It didn’t happen, so we decided to venture out and head to Miami Marketta. This was a food stall and boutique shop haven with live music and cheap wine!
The following morning we woke up early and headed to a nearby cafe called Gelato. We got two açai bowls and headed straight to the beach to enjoy it while soaking up the Gold Coast rays. Thankfully the sun came out and stayed for the day!
Well…Brisbane was pretty boring for me if I’m honest. If I had have known I probably would have skipped it and spent longer in Byron Bay or Noosa Heads. We didn’t really see much in our 24 hours here and as there was a lot of construction happening, it kind of put a dampener on it. We managed to fit in a walk along the south bank grand arbour and a spot of shopping before dinner in a nice Vietnamese restaurant called Hello Please.
I absolutely loved Noosa Heads. The little whimsical town is scattered with delicious cafes, amazing food and stunning boutiques. Along with that, it has some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Overall a really beautiful place and I wish we had spent some more time here.
Rainbow Beach & Fraser Island
After Noosa Heads, we took our bus to Rainbow Beach. Here we stayed at Backpackers resort called Dingos. This place is full of young backpackers and offers the most popular tour to Fraser Island. Although we thought we had booked this, we had actually opted for a different company. Instead, we did a two day, one night tour. If I am honest, I am so happy about that decision. The one we chose was the Fraser Explorer Tours, and you can read all about our time there here.
Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays
After returning from our Fraser Island tour it was back to the bus for another overnight journey – this one being 14 hours to bring us to Airlie Beach. We spent one night here before heading on our Whitsundays boat tour. We decided to just chill at Airlie Beach. As we were exhausted from our Fraser Island tour, we decided to just relax at Airlie Beach.
We booked the Powerplay boat for our Whitsundays tour with Sailing Whitsundays. It was approximately €700 in total and it was worth every penny! We spent two nights, three days on board our boat with such a fun group of people. We visited Whitehaven beach went snorkelling, paddle boarding and kayaking and sailed around the island taking in the breathtaking views. Our boat was pretty chilled, but very sociable. At night, we played drinking games but it wasn’t as wild as some of the other boats we heard of! We had an amazing time. This trip would be perfect trip for young professionals or couples who want to enjoy themselves but don’t fancy going on a mad one!
We had to spend one more night in Airlie Beach as our bus departed in the morning, so that meant we didn’t have enough time to go to Townsville and Magnetic Island. I would definitely encourage you to fit it into your plans – don’t bother staying in Townsville though apparently there is not much to do there at all.
For us, it was straight to Cairns on a ten hour bus ride during the day. Although it felt so like a waste of a day, it was probably good for us to get out of the sun for a while and do some life admin!
We stayed at the Abbott Boutique Hotel in Cairns. It cost more or less the same price as Gilligan’s backpacker hostel and it meant we had our own room and a bit of privacy. It also has wifi which is something that tends to be rare when travelling the east coast!
Great Barrier Reef
We booked our Great Barrier Reef dive on the Poseidon. This full day trip took us to Port Douglas, before heading out to the outer Great Barrier Reef. We did three dives here and it was pretty AMAZING to be there. Although I had envisioned scenes from Finding Nemo and all of the beautiful colours under the sea it was a little bit disappointing as a lot of the coral has started bleaching. This is mainly due to cyclone Debbie that bashed the coast of Australia earlier in the year. We still had an amazing trip and got to see white tip sharks, trigger fish, parrot fish, trumpet fish, flute fish, anemone fish (Nemo), giant clams, Maori wrasse and so many more little fish!
All in all, our east coast trip cost about €5,000 for the two of us. We didn’t have much time in Australia, so we did a lot of quick moving around. Most of the time we stayed in hotels and we also ate in a lot of restaurants. You can definitely do this a lot cheaper staying hostels and cooking in. I would advise that you give yourself 3 weeks to do this trip minimum so that you don’t need to compromise on anything!