Beaches, the reef, rainforest, and beautiful cities: check out this ultimate East Coast Australia road trip itinerary + a list of the best East Coast road trip stops.
A visit to Australia is a must-do for everyone who’s looking for adventure or even just looking to work on their tan. The land down under is like no other place on earth, with its checkered history, endless island coast lines, extremely welcoming culture and those crazy kangaroos.
This East coast Australia road trip was my first trip outside of Europe at the age of 15, the one that made me fall in love with traveling in the first place. Time for me to go back for another Aussie road trip!
One of the most popular routes is driving the east coast of Australia, from either stunning Sydney to tropical Cairns, or vice versa. You can rent a car for this Australia travel itinerary, check out one of the many East coast Australia tours, or you may consider buying a used car on Gumtree. Sometimes it’s cheaper than a long rental!
Here’s an up close look from north to south into the East Coast Australia itinerary – it’ll definitely help you planning road trip around Australia.
Cairns, Queensland: Corals & Rainforest
Cairns is such a lovely city, and the greatest start for this ultimate east coast road trip! This gateway city to the world-famous Great Barrier Reef is sure to capture your heart and a few photos too. From here you can organize day-trips or overnight excursions to the reef for snorkeling or diving, on your very own sailboat or catamaran.
Other things to do in Cairns include taking the Kuranda Scenic Railway through the Rainforest and then visit the charming Kuranda market, chill by the Cairns lagoon, or take a scenic flight over the great barrier reef.
If nightlife is what you are looking for after a day at sea, head down to the Cairns Esplanade for a fresh from the sea dinner, orr late-night partying in one of the many clubs.
Whitsundays Islands : A Tropical Paradise
If you have ever seen photos of an uninhabited tropical island, kissed by white sand, begging for a little exploration and a picnic, they may have all been taken from here. The Whitsundays are a collection of 74-islands off the coast of Australia that can easily be accessed from the town of Airlie Beach.
You can book yourself in with a group tour, hire a private boat, or look into something romantic for some couples sailing… there’s a lot of things to do in the Whitsundays, the only thing you can’t do is skipping them!
From Cairns you can make your way south, by land, to Airlie Beach in just over 600-kilometers (about 8 hours). It’s quite a long drive, so you might want to split it with a stop in Mission Beach or the Jourama Falls.
Fraser Island: The World’s Largest Sand Island
The world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island is an impressive 120 kilometers long, and has a lot to offer all in one space. To really get out and explore, hire a 4×4 and make your way around the island, or join a tour and let an experienced guide show you around.
Once on the island, you can camp out under the stars and maybe see a dingo or two. If that’s not your thing, book yourself into a room on the island and after a sandy day, rise off and head into their refreshing pool. Make sure not to miss McKenzie Lake: the colors of the water are out of this world!!
Keep heading south from the Whitsundays and Fraser Island is about 1000 kilometres away (about 9 hours drive). You can consider a stop in Town of 1770 for great landscapes (and sunset setting over the water).
A City Stop in Brisbane, Queensland
For one of the coast’s most exciting metropolitan stops, Brisbane is an Australia east coast must see! It’s the capital of Queensland and there is no wonder why Australians love to live there. With year-round temperatures in the mid- to high twenties, and the ocean out your front door, every day can be a beach day.
For some heart-pounding excitement you might look into climbing Brisbane’s Story Bridge that reaches 262-feet above the sea, then abseil 98-feet back down to safety. There are also markets for clothes, food and souvenir shopping. In Brisbane you’ll also find a thriving arts scene, and a number of rooftop bars to dance with a view.
Brisbane’s just 400-kilometers from your Fraser Island stop.
Surf & Adventure in the Gold Coast, Queensland
The Gold Coast is fun, fun and more fun, and one of the places to see on the east coast of Australia.
If you are looking to get surfing, whether you are well experienced or wanting to take lessons, this area has some great surf spots such as Currumbin Alley and Snapper Rocks. You can also hike inland for some hiking in the national park or rainforest.
If you’re backpacking east coast of Australia, you’re sure to find many fellow backpackers here!
Maybe you’re on a family adventure or want to feel like a kid again, then check out one of the action-packed theme parks, Wet n’ Wild or Dreamworld. Please skip Sea World: we’re all about responsible tourism here, and the park has quite a controversial reputation. Do your own research before heading there.
The Gold Coast region is just a quick 80 kilometers from Brisbane.
Go Trendy in Byron Bay, New South Wales
Oh Byron Bay! With its cute cafès and adorable bed and breakfasts, Byron Bay is Instagrammer’s paradise – it reminds me of Tulum, Mexico, another super instagrammable destination which shares its boho-chic vibe with all those hipster cafès and design beach clubs.
Planning your visit between June to November could treat you to some majestic humpback whale spotting off the coast of Byron Bay. With numerous viewpoints, one like the Captain Cook Lookout, this should get you close enough for a number of great whale photos.
The town itself is a great spot to organize scuba adventures under the sea, take a walk to the lighthouse, or enjoy some of the rowdy nightlife.
A stopover at Byron Bay is a short 100 kilometer drive down from the Gold Coast region.
Sip Wine in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales
It’s always wine o’clock somewhere! And if you are on holidays, it might be wine o’clock all the time. If the taste of perfectly aged, crushed grapes is something you fancy, then the Hunter Valley region will put a smile on your face. An area featuring over 120-wineries, many internationally famous, this is your go to place for all things wine, and a different stop on this Cairns to Sydney roadtrip.
Everything from tours and tastings, to a romantic candlelit dinner in the vineyard or an open air concert. This area is known for its Shiraz and Semillon varieties, but there is no lack of options to try. Book a room, take a tour, and get in touch with your inner sommelier.
The Hunter Valley region rests a bit closer to Sydney, about 600 kms from Byron Bay. You can split the journey at Port Stephens, known as the dolphins capital of Australia, or Port Macquarie, some other places to visit on the East coast.
End the Road Trip in Gorgeous Sydney, New South Wales
Typically the first point of contact most travelers have with Australia, Sydney is often mistaken as the country’s capital due to its sheer size and popularity. In fact, it is the capital of New South Wales, but not the country as a whole.
Sydney captures some of Australia’s great landmarks, like the world-renowned Sydney Opera House, the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens, stunning Darling Harbor and the quirky Kings Cross area. A trip to Eastern Australia would not be complete without some time spent in Sydney just wandering around, shopping, sipping coffee and take in the relaxed vibe that this city offers.
A hop, skip and jump from your wine tour, Sydney is about 160-kilometres from the Hunter Valley region.
The land down under almost seems other-worldly upon arrival, and you might wonder how this island evolved away from the rest of the world.
A road trip down the Australian’s east coast is the best way to travel Australia and to catch some of the country’s most popular destination, and one of the best road trips in Australia. This is the perfect two weeks Australia itinerary, but if you have 3 weeks in Australia, even better! Time for longer stops and more beach time… wink wink!
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Thursday 14th of June 2018
Hi Stefania, what a delightful itinerary! Thank you so much for stressing the fact to engage in responsible tourism and how that should exclude a visit to Sea World - I hate that place. BTW your photos are absolutely mesmerizing. Just a question - the NYT recently published an article about New Zealand (know it's not Australia) and how it's become rather polluted due to the Lord of the Rings effect, which is basically an influx of tourism due to that movie being filmed there. Furthermore, the beaches in LA such as Venice and Santa Monica are filthy. What did you think of the pollution in Australia along its coasts? Thanks!
Saturday 16th of June 2018
Hi Jess, thank you so much! I'm so glad it resonated with you... and yeah, definitely don't like Sea World. So interesting about New Zealand, I had never heard it and just read an article about it. When I went (it was a few years ago), I didn't notice any particular pollution in Australia. Actually, they were some of the most pristine coastlines I've ever seen. I guess probably Byron Bay now might be a more polluted cause it's become so touristy in the past year or so, but I still definitely suggest to visit. Australia is beautiful!
p.s. I wished all the photos in this article were mine! Some of them are stock photos, when I went I wasn't a good photographer... guess I need to go back :D
Sunday 27th of May 2018
Great work , interesting post and fantastic photos , thanx for sharing this enjoyable article