Here’s a run down of my top recommendations for planning your trip up (or down, as I did) the East Coast of Australia! Obviously depending on how much time you have, you can add or remove destinations. I did it in just over 5 weeks so it was a whistle-stop tour, but we packed a LOT in!
- Cairns – our starting point. Take my word for it and stay at Gilligans. We ended up extending our stay because we were having so much fun. Probably not the place to stay if you want a good night’s sleep. Also recommend a trip to the rainforest, swimming in waterfalls, and a snorkelling trip on the great barrier reef.
- Mission Beach. A tiny lazy not-quite-town with not much going on but a few hostels, beautiful weather, long sandy beaches, oh and skydiving – just do it (and get the video, it’s hilarious and worth the money). We liked Absolute Backpackers the most for accomodation.
- Magnetic Island. A short ferry from Townsville, a gorgeous island with some awesome hostels (Base was a LOT of fun). Hire a mini-moke and drive yourself around the island and to some of the deserted beaches.
- Townsville. A pretty standard town with a nice stretch of sand – we only stayed one night having come back from Magnetic Island, and that was enough.
- Airlie Beach. Airlie beach is a party town and you’ll have no choice but to go with it! We stayed at Nomads (thumbs up). Go to Magnums, Beaches, and Mama Africa at night, and swim in the lagoon by day.
- The Whitsundays. A group of islands off the coast of Airlie, book a boat trip to see it properly. We did a 2 day, 2 night Atlantic Clipper tour which was amazing. Warning, this boat isn’t for the fainthearted or prudish among you – there will be a lot of alcohol and a fair bit of nudity.
- Rainbow Beach. The gateway to Fraser island, a sleepy little place with a few backpackers. Nice beaches but watch out for jellyfish! We stayed at Dingo’s.
- Fraser Island. Spend the money and book a tag-along 4WD camping tour – we booked through our hostel in Rainbow beach – Dingo’s, and went for the 3 day tour. BEST WEEKEND EVER. You get put in a team (we lucked out with ours), get assigned your own rusty 4×4 to drive yourselves, they provide a campsite and food (you cook yourself), and you basically drive around the sights of the island all day and party by night. Highly recommend!
- Noosa. I loved it then and I still love it now. Noosa is a gorgeous upmarket coastal town. Probably not the place for a crazy night out, unless you stay in your hostel. We stayed at Nomads and it was good but not very central.
- Brisbane. Clearly I’m biased on this one, but Brissy is a beautiful sun-drenched city. We stayed at Base downtown. I recommend getting on the free ferry and just cruising up and down the river to see the sights, and going to Streets Beach at south bank to soak up the sun.
- Gold Coast (Surfer’s Paradise). A strange old place to be sure, but worth a visit. Go to the beach and pose by the famous sign, go to the theme parks (Wet n Wild is so much fun), and have an epic night out. Think Vegas, but nowhere near as good!
- Byron Bay. A hippy dippy town on the NSW coast, we stayed at Holiday Village Backpackers which I would recommend. We went to surf school, took a HIGH-ly enjoyable trip to Nimbin (google it), and enjoyed the Byron nightlife. Go for drinks at the iconic Beach Hotel and please get a kebab from Bay Kebabs.
- Sydney. We stayed at Wake Up! which was awesome and I recommend. Go to Bondi, go to the Opera House, get a helicopter over the harbour (much cheaper than climbing it), do the spit to Manly walk then get the ferry back to Circular Quay, go to darling harbour for dinner, and have one final crazy night out at Scary Canary.
The best thing is that whichever end you start at, you’re guaranteed to meet a load of people doing exactly the same thing, so you will bump into the same people along your way! We made some great friends on our trip.
We only booked our first hostel before we went, then we went to Peter Pan’s in Cairns (a specialist backpacker travel agent) and booked the entire rest of our trip through them. We travelled via Greyhound, you can get a pass online, and then log on to book each journey as and when you need to – but beware, the buses can get very full so don’t leave it until the last minute.
It was probably the best trip of my life, so I hope it inspires some of you to get out there!