Australia: East Coast Road Trip Highlights!

The east coast of Australia is one of the most popular places for first time backpackers. Probably because it is so easy to travel and because there is so much to do! We did our trip in 6 weeks which was long enough (although we totally could have stayed longer!).

When we arrived in Sydney we still had no idea how we were going to travel along the east coast. The dream was to travel by camper van but we weren’t sure if the budget would stretch to leave us enough money to do everything we wanted to do. Our other option was to travel via the Greyhound bus.

On a cold September day in Sydney I was hoking through all the travel brochures in our hostel Sydney Star Backpackers and happened to come across a brochure for Hippie Campers – one of the few companies I hadn’t already priced. I looked them up and couldn’t believe it when the quote was working out cheaper than the price of two bus tickets! I saved the quote and a couple of days later booked via our hostel in Cairns who were able to get us discount off the already super cheap quote!

I 100% recommend seeing the east coast in a camper van if you are travelling as a couple or a group of friends. It is by far one of the best things we did on our RTW trip!

So, here’s what we packed in to 6 weeks on the east coast:

Sydney

How long: 2 nights. A short stopover in freezing cold Sydney before flying up north to Cairns was all we needed to get over the Bangkok jetlag.

Where we stayed: Sydney Star Backpackers. This was an okay hostel in a pretty good location. The staff were friendly but the room was so cold and the kitchen wasn’t too inviting so we didn’t even make use of the free breakfast!

Highlights: Sydney Sights Free tour is a great way to get your bearings in beautiful Sydney. And multiple $5 Domino’s pizzas are a great way to ease yourself into the expensive Aussie life (especially if you’ve just come from cheap and cheerful SE Asia!)

The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge
The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

Cairns

How long: 5 nights. Tropical north Queensland allowed for us to ditch our trousers & hoodies; and the bikini’s & shorts returned!

Where we stayed: 3 nights at Caravella Backpackers which I highly recommend. Our double room was really clean and their was a good atmosphere in the communal area. There’s free WiFi until a certain time and they offer a $7 meal voucher for PJ O’Brien’s which does pretty decent food!

We moved on to Cairns Holiday Park for our final two nights which was a lovely introduction to the camper van lifestyle.

Highlights: We had a great day out at Uncle Brian’s Fun, Falls & Forest tour with cousin Linzi exploring the beautiful Atherton Tablelands. Chilling at the Cairns Lagoon is another must do; and you can’t pass through Cairns without at least one night out!

Uncle Brian's Tour - Milla Milla Falls!
Uncle Brian’s Tour – Milla Milla Falls!

Port Douglas

How long: 1 night. We headed 60kms north of Cairns in search of better diving.

Where we stayed: Tropic Breeze Caravan Park – a lovely park basically right on the beach!

Highlights: Scuba diving on the outer Great Barrier Reef with Silversonic. It’s well worth the trip to Port Douglas to dive – reviews of many of the dive sites from Cairns aren’t the best so make sure you do your research before you go diving/ snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef.

Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef
Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Also, don’t miss Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures on your way to/ from Port Douglas. It’s a great way to spend a morning learning about the toothy reptile tropical north Queensland is infamous for!

Hartley's Crocodile farm
Hartley’s Crocodile farm

Palm Cove

How long: 1 night. Just a quick stopover here on our way to Mission Beach.

Where we stayed: Palm Cove Holiday Park – a nice park for a short stay. The night of our stay there was a man performing some country & western music to a bunch of old people… not quite sure if that was supposed to be happening but it provided some amusement!

Highlights: we did absolutely nothing in Palm Cove as we only arrived late in the evening after our day diving.

Mission Beach

How long: 1 night

Where we stayed: Cassowary Council Mission Beach Caravan Park – a pretty basic camp site. If you’re lucky you might get a space near the beach front; we weren’t so lucky!

Highlights: We only managed a picnic on the beach before the weather took a turn for the worse so we had to spend our day in a random sports bar across the road from the camp site. Skydiving is a big thing in the area if you’re feeling daring enough…

Townsville

How long: 2 nights (one before Magnetic Island and one after)

Where we stayed: Rambutan Hostel on the first night – this is a boutique “backpackers hostel” that offered spaces for campers (I’m not sure if it still does). The facilities here are amazing but the “site” was basically just a parking space in an undercover car park. This was not pleasant. The facilities would have made up for it if the manager hadn’t treated us like third class citizens! We stayed at Rowes Bay Beachfront Holiday Park on our second night and it was so much more pleasant!

Highlights: Relaxing at the Rock Pool at The Strand Beach!

The Rock Pool
The Rock Pool

Magnetic Island

How long: 3 nights

Where we stayed: CStay Guest House – we ditched the camper van for one weekend (and accidentally left chicken in our camper fridge the whole time we were away…OOPS!) This was a lovely little guesthouse, however it was in one of the quieter bays on Magnetic Island so there was literally nothing to do after dark!

Highlights: Searching for koala’s on the Forts Walk; and feeding Rainbow Lorikeets at Horseshoe Bay!

The Forts Walk
The Forts Walk

Airlie Beach

How long: 5 nights (we fell in love with Airlie!)

Where we stayed: Island Gateway Holiday Park – one of our favourite camp sites. I made friends with a team of ducks who came marching over to our van every morning for a bread-y feast!

Highlights: Ocean Rafting snorkel tour to the unbelievable Whitsunday’s. This was a really good tour, however we wish we’d opted for the beach tour over the snorkel tour just to get to spend an extra few minutes on the white silica sand of Whitehaven Beach! Airlie Lagoon is another top spot for doing nothing other than chillaxing.

Hill Inlet lookout!
Hill Inlet lookout!

Rockhampton

How long: 1 night. Somewhere to catch up on sleep on the massive drive from Airlie on our way to Rainbow Beach.

Where we stayed: Fardooley’s Bush Camp – probably the most random place we stayed but a lot of fun! The Aussie couple who run this place will invite you into their “bar” for drinks and many funny stories. If you’re there when it’s busy you might be lucky enough to experience a campfire! Watch out for kangaroo’s on the road into it…

Highlights: Hanging out in “Fardooley’s Bar” after a long day on the road.

There is a free zoo in Rockhampton but please take my advice and give it a miss – the enclosures are tiny and the animals (the chimps in particular) look miserable.

The saddest chimp
The saddest chimp

1770

How long: 1 night

Where we stayed: Captain Cook Holiday Village  – this was a nice park but our stay fell right at the start of school holidays so it was crazy busy!

Highlights: We took a walk to a viewpoint but other than that we didn’t do a great deal here.

Hervey Bay

How long: 2 nights

Where we stayed: Fraser Lodge Holiday Park – another favourite for us. The pool and spa area were just amazing!

This is the life...
This is the life…

Highlights: Watching dolphins play in the sea at sunset. Whale watching is a major attraction here but we didn’t do a trip.

Hervey Bay sunset
Hervey Bay sunset

On your way to Rainbow Beach stop off in Tin Can bay to feed wild Australian Humpback dolphins!

Tin Can Bay dolphin
Tin Can Bay dolphin

Rainbow Beach

How long: 1 night

Where we stayed: Pippies Beach house – this hostel offers parking for campers. The facilities are nice enough for a one night stay.

Highlights: Visit the Carlo Sandblow. After a spot of body boarding down the sand, find a spot and watch the migrating whales put on a show for you!

Carlo Sandblow
Carlo Sandblow

Noosa

How long: 4 nights (two before Fraser Island and two after). Noosa was one of our favourite places on the east coast and we could have easily stayed for longer!

Where we stayed: Noosa Caravan Park – another one of our top 3 camp sites. The facilities were amazing!!

Highlights: taking a stroll along the coastline at Noosa National Park and watching the sun set!

Noosa sunset
Noosa sunset

Fraser Island (aka K’gari)

How long: 2 nights

Where we stayed: In a tent on the beach – the only place to stay on K’Gari

Highlights: We did an epic 3 day tour with Dropbear Adventures which you can read all about here!

Brisbane

How long: 3 nights

Where we stayed: Newmarket Gardens Caravan Park – this was a pretty basic park but it was really close to a bus stop to get in and out of Brisbane easily!

Highlights: Australia Zoo is on the way to Brisbane; and you cannot come to Australia and not visit the home of the legendary Steve Irwin.

The legendary Steve Irwin!
The legendary Steve Irwin!

Brisbane is a really nice city to just chill out in. The Botanic Gardens are beautiful; South Bank is a cool area to hang out in; the Streets Beach is good to cool down at; and South Bank Cineplex is super cheap! Also, do not miss a liquid nitrogen ice-cream or milkshake from Nitrogenie – YUM!

Byron Bay

How long: 2 nights

Where we stayed: Glen Villa Resort – this was a really nice camp site with good facilities!

Highlights: embracing the hippie vibes of Byron! The walk to the lighthouse is nice and learning to surf is a big attraction here. Try to catch some live music at night as well – look out for Kyle Lionhart as he is amazing!

Hippie mecca: Byron Bay
Hippie mecca: Byron Bay
Everybody gone surfing...surfing Byron Bay!
Everybody gone surfing…surfing Byron Bay!

Arrawarra

How long: 1 night

Where we stayed: Gateway Lifestyle Lorikeet – another one of our faves. You really can’t beat sharing your camp site with a family of Kangaroo’s!

Highlights: the secluded beach at the bottom of the park; and a sunset visit to the hot tub!

Hey Kanga!
Hey Kanga!
Secluded beach
Secluded beach

South West Rocks

How long: 2 nights

Where we stayed: Active Holidays South West Rocks – a nice site located just in front of a lovely creek.

Highlights: diving with Grey Nurse Sharks at Fish Rock with South West Rocks Dive Centre – one of the BEST days EVER!

No biggie - just a grey nurse shark swimming above me...
No biggie – just a grey nurse shark swimming above me…

Heatherbrae

How long: 1 night too long…we were due to go to Newcastle on a quick stopover before getting back to Sydney but the weather had changed to suit our moods (we were very sad that our Aussie road trip was coming to and end!) so we just stopped at a site off the freeway. Bad decision. It was a dump!

Where we stayed: Bellhaven Caravan Park

Highlights: there’s a McDonald’s and a cinema…

Sydney

How long: 5 nights

Where we stayed: We said a very sad goodbye to our camper van and resumed hostel life. Well, we tried to. The hostel I had booked online wasn’t open when we arrived and after a heated phone exchange with the “owner” we tried our luck in Siesta Inn Sydney. They had one room left so we had a very pleasant stay right at the beautiful Darling Harbour!

Highlights: Bondi to Coogee walk; happy hour cocktails on Darling harbour; seeing Matilda at Sydney Lyric Theatre; and Jonny’s free Harley Davidson tour around the city thanks to my McDonald’s Monopoly win!

Bondi to Coogee
Bondi to Coogee

Australia top tips:
+ Download the WikiCamps app for a really good guide of all camp sites in Australia.
+ If you have an Apollo camper van (includes Hippie Campers and more) you will get a 10% discount at all Top Tourist Parks when you show your keys.
+ Always check your Coles and Woolies receipts for fuel vouchers. This is a great way to save money on petrol!
+ Check your oil regularly – we almost wrecked our camper by not topping up soon enough! You don’t want to risk having to pay a massive  fine.
+ Cook as often as you can. Eating out is expensive in Oz.
+ Check when school holidays are – caravan parks & camper vans will increase in price during these times
+ When there’s a sign saying there’s crocs about – DON’T GET IN THE WATER!

ADHERE TO THESE SIGNS!
ADHERE TO THESE SIGNS!

Have you stayed anywhere cool in Australia? Or did I miss anywhere out that I’ll need to visit in the future?! Comment below!

7 Comment

  1. Looks like a fabulous trip!! 🙂

  2. You had a lovely road trip! I love the koala photo, it is so sweet!

  3. 6 weeks in Australia sounds like a dream! Wow you look really deep at Port Douglas! Did you see any wildlife? And why aren’t the reviews on those diving sites the best?

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      It was a dream Danielle! We saw a pregnant white tip reef shark on that dive and a huge humphead Maori wrasse which was cool! I think it’s to do with coral bleaching because of climate change (although a lot of the Great Barrier Reef is affected) – the diving in New South Wales was much better than up in the GBR!

  4. sarh says: Reply

    looks amazing!! I have to get over there soon 🙂

  5. Vyjay says: Reply

    Lovely, so much to do and a whole range of activities from relaxing on the beach to interacting with wildlife to hiking and just admiring the great outdoors.

  6. Thanks for the detailed itinerary. I would love to do an Australian road trip someday. I also appreciate the dive stops. This is definitely something I will include in my itinerary too.

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