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Road tripping Down Under: unveiling the charms of Australia’s East Coast

surfers in Byron Bay, Australia

So, you’re ready to hit the road in search of the most unforgettable stops along Australia’s east coast? Stretching from the lively streets of Sydney to the tropical paradise of Cairns, this iconic route is dotted with bright blue beaches, lush rainforests, and charming coastal towns. Whether you plan to hire your own vehicle or take on the extra adventure of tackling the public transport system, strap in and get ready to explore the wonders of the Land Down Under!

How to get around Australia’s East Coast?

First things first – how are you going to get from A to B? Exploring Australia’s east coast is pretty easy breezy, with quite a few travel options at your fingertips.

For those looking to maximise time, catching flights from Sydney and then onwards to coastal hotspots like Byron Bay, the Gold Coast and Cairns, is the ultimate time-savvy move. But if you’re prepared to do a bit of penny-pinching, hopping on public transport or hitting the road yourself offers a cheaper and more customisable experience. With each stop entirely up to you, you’ll have the freedom to linger longer wherever the coastal vibes call your name.

Just remember, Australia’s east coast is loooooooong (we’re talking over 2,400 kilometres between Sydney and Cairns), so there will often be lengthy drives between major tourist stops. It’s important to Stop, Revive, Survive and fill up your fuel frequently to avoid any roadside dramas.

If you’re short on time, the road trip planning feels overwhelming, or if you are a lil’ nervous about travelling solo, tours of Australia’s east coast are also a great way to see all the most popular spots – with the added bonus of new friends to make the memories with too.

great ocean road, Australia

Image source:Contiki

How much time will you need to travel the East Coast?

Alright, let’s break it down! If you need to cram in the must-sees and tick off the biggies, 2 to 3 weeks will do the trick for hitting the highlights from Sydney to Cairns. But just know, this timeframe will leave little room to truly soak up each destination. Got a bit more time to spare? For the ultimate East Coast road trip we’re talking 4 to 6 weeks – giving you all the time you need to dive deep into each cute coastal town and unearth hidden gems along the way. So, how long you stay is up to you, but trust us, the longer, the merrier!

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So, what are the key stops along Australia’s East Coast?

Start in Sydney (Warrane)

Kickstart your journey in the vibrant city of Sydney, where iconic landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge await. Explore the bustling streets of The Rocks, indulge in world-class dining at Darling Harbour, or simply soak up the sun at Bondi Beach.

You could even fit in a day trip to the Blue Mountains, which is less than a 2-hour drive from the Sydney CBD (with absolutely stunning scenery along the way no less).

view of Sydney opera house in Australia

Image source:Contiki

Coffs Harbour

As you make your way north, be sure to stop at Coffs Harbour, a coastal gem known for its stunning beaches and lush hinterland. Take a stroll along the famous Jetty Beach or explore the nearby Dorrigo National Park for a taste of Australia’s natural beauty. A snap in front of the iconic Big Banana is a must for the Insta photo-dump.

Byron Bay (Cavanbah)

Next up is Byron Bay, a paradise for the free-spirited, beloved for its laid-back vibe and pristine beaches. Start your day by watching the sunrise from the Cape Byron Lighthouse, the easternmost point of the mainland of Australia. Smash some avo toast at a colourful café, browse the eclectic shops and markets in town, or catch some waves at one of the region’s renowned surf breaks for the perfect day in this must-visit town.

Surfers Paradise

Continue your journey to Surfers Paradise, the bustling area of the world-famous Gold Coast, renowned for its high-rise skyline and golden beaches. Indulge in thrilling water sports, spend a day at the theme parks, explore the vibrant nightlife scene, or simply relax and soak up the sun on Surfers Paradise Beach.

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Noosa Everglades

Escape the crowds and venture inland to the tranquil Noosa Everglades (one of only two Everglades in the world!!), a pristine wilderness area teeming with diverse Aussie flora and fauna. Discover the beauty of this unique ecosystem on a guided kayak tour or cruise along the tranquil waters of the Noosa River. On the Beaches and Reefs trip, Contiki travellers call a Special Stay Eco Lodge home for a few nights – and so do a mob of local kangaroos! Waking up to these guys on your doorstep is something truly special.

K’Gari

Hop aboard a ferry and make your way to K’Gari, previously known as Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. Explore towering sand dunes, crystal-clear lakes, and lush rainforests, and don’t miss the chance to spot dingoes roaming free along the beaches.

The Whitsundays

No road trip along Australia’s east coast would be complete without a visit to the Whitsunday Islands, a tropical paradise famed for its pristine beaches and vibrant coral reefs. Sail the azure waters, snorkel amongst colourful marine life, or simply unwind on the white sands of Whitehaven Beach.

Magnetic Island (Yunbenun)

Ahh Magnetic Island, where rugged landscapes meet pristine beaches and abundant wildlife. A truly magical place. Explore the island’s network of hiking trails, encounter koalas in their natural habitat at the Bungalow Bay Koala Village, or simply relax and enjoy the laid-back island vibe.

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Cairns (Gimuy)

For most travellers, your east coast journey will culminate in Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the lush rainforests of Far North Queensland. Search for Nemo while snorkelling or scuba diving amongst the underwater wonderland of the reef, and don’t miss the opportunity to see “the most extraordinary place on earth”, as quoted by the legendary Sir David Attenborough – the Daintree Rainforest.

While you’re there, meet the local Kuku Yalanji people and learn about their rich Aboriginal culture and history. And if you’re interested in checking out more ways to connect with Australia’s First Nations we have an article for you!

waterfall in Cairns, Australia

Image source:Contiki

Bonus stops – Melbourne (Naarm) and the Great Ocean Road

For travellers with a bit of extra time, a detour to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road is highly recommended. Catch a flight or hop on a scenic train ride from Sydney down to Melbourne, where you can embark on a mini-road trip along one of Australia’s most iconic coastal routes.

The Great Ocean Road stretches for over 240 kilometres, offering breathtaking views of rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and the famous Twelve Apostles rock formations. Explore charming seaside towns like Lorne and Apollo Bay, marvel at the natural beauty of the Otway Ranges, and don’t forget to snap a photo at the stunning Loch Ard Gorge. Whether you choose to drive the entire length of the Great Ocean Road or simply explore a portion of it, this magical journey is sure to leave you in awe of Australia’s east coast beauty.

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