Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip

The iconic Australia road trip – the East Coast. Lined with beaches, you can literally hop from surfing to lakes, bush walks to island hikes, to rainforests and waterfalls.

Here’s the highlights from our two month roady!

Hit the road and head north out of Sydney via the Harbour Bridge – it’s free travelling north but tolled going south!

Central Coast

The Lakes

Camping at the lakes is cheap, just pay the national park fees.

It’s so calm you won’t believe this is the first stop out of Sydney! Enjoy a camp fire and wash in the clear water…

Stockton and Tin City

It’s like you’ve flown to the desert here. Huge sand dunes for miles and yup, there’s people living out there.

Take a tour and see the spooky, and hot, tin city!

Port Stephens

Head to the coast and climb Tomaree lookout for a stunning view of Fingal Bay Spit.

Then it’s back on the road but stick to the coastal route towards Forster, Port Macqarie and Coffs Harbour. This is where you can really start to enjoy the beach swims.

Byron Bay

You have to forgive Byron for it’s the tourist trail vibe and influx of backpackers… it isn’t what it once was, we hear.

But the lighthouse is stunning and worth the hike! The views will have you smiling all day – and this is the first taste of the surfing life to come.

Hastings Point and Kingscliff

Cruising along the coast north was all about soaking up of the most epic sunrise and sunsets and spotting surfers.

Gold Coast

Tweed

Well actually, head off the highway as early as you can for Hastings Point and enjoy the coastal path up to Tweed, the last town in NSW.

There’s a marine rescue and light house built right on the border so you can literally enjoy a view of QLD on your left and NSW on your right.

There’s some of the best surf spots here so dawn and dusk make for perfect coffee and picnic spots.

Burleigh Heads

Welcome to Queensland. Burleigh does it right.

There’s long palm beach and elephant rock, the headlands to ramble and the surf…!

The town has a slightly less upmarket vibe to its NSW neighbours but then again it isn’t quite tacky Surfer’s Paradise. The perfect combo?

Surfers

If it floats your boat, fair. But this place is for cheap thrills, dirty nights and holiday arcades. It’s a far cry from the cosmopoliton impression you expect when you see its shiny highrise skyline from down the coast.

Nice from afar but far from nice? Get in and get out.

Brissy

It’s a city, what can I say? But a quaint one with plush style.

Check out my post for things to do in Brisbane.

The Sunshine Coast

Glass Mountains

Head in land to check out the mountains which sore up from the ground like jagged glass. Australia Zoo is here too if you have the funds and limited time.

Coolum

A slightly cheaper side of the Sunshine Coast with some epic waves to play in.

Noosa

Surf is about to get bigger. You can spend days beach hopping and chasing waves from Coolangatta to Noosa.

Noosa is the popular base – but that means pricey! You can camp at the scouts grounds on weekends and half term for cheap.

There’s plenty of tourists, but they usually come with big wallets which changes the vibe up a bit. its busy but fancy.

Head to the spit for an epic sunset and warm, calm water.

Central Queensland

Hervey Bay

If you have a 4WD you can literally take the beach all the way to Rainbow Beach – gateway to Fraser Island.

We meandered through the bush and lakes up to Hervey Bay instead.

The chilled, but reasonably large by Aussie standards, town is whale watching capital if you pass through at the right time of year.

Forget the big tour boats and book a trip with the Pacific Whale Foundation. Money goes towards research and protecting the whales and the boat is intimate.

Fraser Island

Ferry’s from River Heads land you at Kingfisher Bay – then it’s just you, your 4WD and lots and lots of sand!

Check out my post “How to save money and see Fraser Island without a tour” for more.

We had 4 days and 3 nights on the largest sand island in the world and saved more than $320 each over taking a tour.

Yeppoon

This hidden gem of a town is the perfect retreat for a few days break from driving without breaking the bank.

The holiday resort come village vibe reminds me something of the UK’s Cornish coast. With lagoon to cool off in and no huge influx of international visitors, families on school holidays with a budget means you’ll grab some fish and chips for a bargain here.

There’s also the Great Keppel Islands to explore and some headlands for walking.

Cape Hillsborough

Arrive at 5am and wait on the beach for sunrise – you’ll be joined by a community of roos searching for breakfast.

Unfortunately it has become something of a novelty and you’re sure to find a gaggle of other visitors sharing the moment with you.

Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays

Not to be missed: 74 pristine islands lazing among the Great Barrier Reef. 

Sand so white and sea so blue you’ll wonder if you’ve stepped into a painting… but this kind of dream destination comes at a price.

Check out my post “The only way to see the Whitsundays” for more.

Townsville and Magnetic Island

An island with an interesting war history, creative rocks, abundant wildlife and perfect hikes, Magnetic Island can be soaked up over a few days or ticked off in one go.

We stayed in Townsville enjoying local life on the esplanade and took a “complete one day trip to Magnetic Island.”

Tropical Far North

Mission Beach

The last leg of the East Coast roady begins with relaxing Mission.

Spend a few days under palm trees and sipping iced coffee here.

Atherton Tablelands

Head inland for some waterfall hopping.

A favourite is Millaa Milla waterfall, made famous by Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl and the Herbal Essence shampoo advert…

Though I can’t say the waterfall looked much like either.

The water is freezing but you can take a swim – or like us, walk around and view it from a dry ridge.

Cairns

Cairns is surprisingly small and seemingly loud and full of life.

This is the place for all the bucks parties and sunny holiday seekers. It reminded me of Darwin but bigger.

It’s the gateway to Barrier Reef – which is great for business and those with limited time wanting to snorkel or dive. Compared to other reef access points, it’s also the cheapest, though expect your wallet to still take a hit.

We got in 8 dives for free by volunteering on tourist boats and it felt like the best compromise.

You can read more about host work for the Great Barrier Reef here.

Port Douglas

This is where the families holiday and the retired retreat.

Picturesque Port Douglas is a sort of upper class haven from Cairns, with restaurants and cafes and a safe swimming beach.

On a Wednesday you can head to the local yacht club in hope of being invited out for a sunset sail by a member.

Cape Tribulation

Where two world heritage sites meet, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef…

The realisation you’re about to be cut off from the outside world hits you as you cross the Daintree River.

After this there’s nothing but dense rainforest, no mains power or water supply, and no mobile network for the next few hundred kilometres to the most northern point of the east coast of Australia.

You can read more about our time spent relaxing in this paradise here.

…after a few secluded days doing nothing it’s time to head back to civilisation – but what a way to end a road trip.

Want more Australia road trip inspiration?

Check out my guide to the NT, Outback, Great Ocean Road and South Australia here.

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