The Bare Traveller

The Ultimate Australia East Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Doing a road trip is the dream of many travelers, but experiencing it in Australia is the ultimate dream. Australia is not a simple country but a continent with breathtaking landscapes. 

Additionally, doing a road trip in Australia is pretty safe as the country is relatively full of backpackers from all around the world.

Road Trip East Coast Australia

Taking a road trip to the land of the kangaroos is undoubtedly the best way to discover it. But which coast to start with? I suggest you start with the East Coast, Australia’s most popular part. 

A road trip on the east coast will take you through the famous cities of Sydney and Byron Bay, Townsville, Rockhampton, Airlie Beach, Brisbane, etc.

I don’t think there is a perfect East Coast Road Trip Australia itinerary. It all depends on all your desires, seasons, and your budget. Of course, the possibilities are endless, but some spots on the East Coast of Australia are unmissable while others are worth a look. 

That’s why I thought of an itinerary that will allow you to see the best of the East Coast. Just like me, you will start your journey from Cairns to Sydney via several stops. 

My itinerary will allow you to enjoy the beach, explore botanical gardens, see koalas, and meet numerous friends.

What do you need for an East Coast Road Trip in Australia?

● Rent a Car

Before talking about the itinerary, the first step in organizing the East Coast Road Trip in Australia is to rent a car or a van. Be aware that vehicle rental in Australia represents a significant budget. Before renting your vehicle, you should ask yourself a few questions such as: 

● Is it better to book online or is it better to rent it on-site? 

● Is it better to book directly with the car rental agency or go through a comparator? 

● What type of vehicle to choose for the road trip? 

● How much should I save for renting a car in Australia?

Rent a car in Australia

Additionally, you should know that all drivers must carry a driver’s license from their country of residence. Furthermore, the driver’s license must be in English. If not, you must also present an international driving license or translate it into English. 

Concerning the rental price, be aware that it is much more expensive during school holidays and long weekends.

Car rental rates in Australia also vary depending on the length of your stay and whether you book in advance or not. 

Concerning car insurance, you will only pay for the first 50 days and the average price is $ 25 / day. Another variable to consider on a road trip in Australia is the price of gasoline. 

It is generally lower in Australia than in Europe. One liter of fuel price varies between 1.10 AUD and 1.60 AUD. Lastly, you should rent a car that you can pick up from Cairns and drop in Sydney. Additionally, you need a car with a GPS Navigation system to not get lost.

● Accommodation

Like a fly attracted by an allogenic lamp, backpackers on a road trip tend to think about hostels as their first accommodation choice. It is a good way to meet other backpackers and have fun with them. I stayed in hostels during all my stops except Townsville and Newcastle.

Couchsurfing Townsville Queensland Australia

I must admit I like hostels in Australia, however, in a short time you’ll notice that the overnight stay costs are extremely high. 

For a better understanding of the hostel accommodation expenses, they cost 28 $ / night on average. Thankfully, there is Couchsurfing. It is a great way to find free accommodation in Australia, have fun, discover the local culture and meet new people. 

When you choose Couchsurfing, the outlook is slightly different. Your wallet is emptied much less quickly and you also benefit from significant support (the experience of the people who host you).

The East Coast Road Trip Australia Highlights

1. Cairns

I started my East Coast Road Trip in Australia from Cairns. Even if the town seems like an isolated place in the North East of Australia, it is an important stop for all backpackers. 

Mostly visited and known for its lagoon and nightlife, Cairns is also the unique meeting point between the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

Cairns Lagoon

You will see that there are so many activities and things to do around Cairns. Concerning the weather, it is tropical, so I do not recommend going there during the Australian summer. Concerning the Lagoon, it is the ideal place to swim and end the day with a barbecue.

Road Trip start from Cairns Australia

Additionally, access to this giant open-air swimming pool is completely free. However, if the lagoon was built in Cairns, it was precisely to deal with one of the disadvantages of northern Australia. In fact, the beaches are present along the coasts, but the mangroves replace the shells and the white sand. 

But even if you can’t swim on the beach, Cairns’ lagoon is worth it, making it a great starting point for your road trip in Australia. 

Additionally, don’t miss out on Flecker botanical gardens with its 4000 different plants and the Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site wonder.

2. Townsville

After crossing 350 km from Cairns on the Bruce Hwy / A1 and Bruce Hwy, I arrived at the beautiful city of Townsville. It is a charming seaside town located in the north of Queensland state. 

I chose Townsville as my first stop because it is an excellent scuba diving spot due to its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. 

Townsville Australia

I also chose it because it is a starting point for exploring beautiful Magnetic Island and the Australian outback. Additionally, Townsville is the main gateway to the Yongala. 

This tourist place is considered one of the best diving sites in the world and possibly the best wreck in the world. As for Townsville’s vibes, I believe it is a relaxed and cozy town. It offers cool bars, restaurants, and a lively night scene that won’t leave you indifferent.

3. Airlie Beach & Shute Harbour

My second stop on my East Coast Road Trip in Australia was Airlie Beach & Shute Harbour. I started with Airlie Beach to explore the Whitsundays, islands off this seaside resort. To get to Whitsundays I had to fly with a Cessna plane (GSL AVIATION tour). 

Airlie Beach Queensland Australia

The trip lasts approximately 1 hour and costs 80$ on average. Concerning Whitsundays Islands, they are composed of Australian National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries. 

Whitsundays Islands are also known for their white sand beaches with changing shapes according to the tides. 

Flying over the Whitsundays Islands on a Cesna Plane Australia
Additionally, Whitsundays’ sand is so white that it reflects the light and is therefore never hot. On Shute Harbor Road, the island’s main street, you will find numerous hostels, restaurants, bars, and various souvenir shops. You can also sunbathe on the edge of the city’s artificial lagoon. 
Rest or R.I.P sign Australia

Additionally, when you’re on the road, don’t miss the panels like the Rest or R.I.P sign. They serve as a reminder to the drivers to take a break but the way they are written is very funny. Also watch out for the panels that say “Try to survive this drive after 1km on the left, you’ll find a fatigue zone“, Or “keep playing trivia, it may save your life”.

4. Mackay

If you cross 150 km via Bruce Hwy / A1, you’ll find Mackay city, my fourth stop. The Australian town is known for its strong industrial and mining activity. Mackay is nicknamed “Australia’s sugar capital” because it produces more than a third of the country’s sugar. 

Additionally, Mackay is also known for its art deco, making it the prettiest town in Queensland. Among the buildings to see, I recommend the Historial Bank, with its typical colonial architecture. 

Additionally, I suggest you go for a stroll in the Marina area. It houses a pretty lighthouse and a botanical garden.

5. Rockhampton

Nestled in Fitzroy Basin, Rockhampton is a riverside gem that has much to offer to backpackers on an East Coast Road Trip in Australia. About 500 km via Bruce Hwy/A1 separates Rockhampton from Airlie Beach. I chose Rockhampton because it has plenty of camping sites and other types of accommodation.

Rockhampton Botanical Gardens Australia

From heritage homes where time has stood, to pristine islands bathed by the Great Barrier Reef, Rockhampton town is a perfect stop on an East Coast Road Trip in Australia. Additionally, there are numerous places to discover in Rockhampton including the Capricorn Caves. 

It is a great opportunity for backpackers to wander through the magical passages of this vast limestone complex, formed from an ancient coral reef over 400 million years ago. 

Also don’t miss Rockhampton Heritage Village to learn about the pioneer life of Queensland. Lastly, I invite you to explore the town’s botanical garden. It is one of Queensland’s oldest public gardens and a Rockhampton heritage site.

6. Brisbane

One of the most important stops in an East Coast Road Trip in Australia is Brisbane. It is a cool big city on the east coast and my sixth stop during this trip. To get to Brisbane from Rockhampton, I took Bruce Hwy / A1. The trip lasts more than 7 hours but it is totally worth it.

Christmas Tree Brisbane Town Hall Australia

Brisbane enjoys a generous climate and has all the attractions of a big city. Additionally, if you visit Brisbane around Christmas, don’t miss the big Christmas tree by the city hall. 

You’ll be charmed by the Christmas Tree’s virtual lighting, the Christmas Cinemas, the festive beats at South Bank Parklands, and the elves and Santa Christmas on the City Hall stage.

Brisbane AustraliaBrisbane Australia

As for transportation in Brisbane, you can discover it with your car but the ideal transportation method is the Cityhopper. You can take the CityHopper at six stops between North Quay and Sydney Street. 

Furthermore, the service runs every 30 minutes between 5.30 am and midnight and is free! Concerning the must-sees in Brisbane, you will find the Brisbane River.

In this Australian area, you can enjoy swimming in the artificial lagoon (streets beach). You will also be able to take walks in the lush gardens of the district and enjoy the freshness and exoticism of these places. 

Also don’t miss Brisbane’s Botanical gardens and the Goodwill Bridge, which is reserved only for pedestrians and cyclists. Additionally, you can even have picnics in the equipped areas. So prepare yourself for a unique outing that you will remember for a long time.

7. Surfers Paradise

Like all Australian cities on the coast, the Gold Coast has a huge beach that runs along most of the peninsula. But, it is especially the surfers who have a blast in the waves. 

That’s one of the main reasons why I included Surfers Paradise in my itinerary. The trip from Brisbane to Surfers Paradise lasted one hour via M1.

Surfers Paradise Australia

Surfers Paradise is full of skyscrapers and light that immediately seduced me. This area is very touristy, with numerous shops and activities. 

Additionally, in the middle of the Surfers Paradise Mall, you can find a large center where you can play bowling, put a coin on the slot machines or even try out the city’s gun shop. 

If you’re looking for a great beach in Surfers Paradise, I highly recommend the Spit. It is located at the end of a peninsula near Surfers Paradise. Furthermore, if you’re renting a van, you can park it by the water and sleep there. Also, the Spit is surrounded by the ocean on both sides, so your awakening will undoubtedly look heavenly.

8. Byron Bay

My next destination in my East Coast Road Trip in Australia was Byron Bay. I had to cross 93.4 km via M1 to arrive at Byron Bay from Surfers Paradise. This Australian town has a population of just 5,000 people, it cannot be considered a large city, however, it has a lot to offer.

Byron Bay Beach

The city belongs to New South Wales and is located 200 kilometers south of Brisbane. The small town of Byron Bay sits exactly one meter above sea level. Situated on the oceanfront, the town is particularly famous for surfing. 

Indeed, the many beaches of Byron Bay offer waves of exceptional quality, which makes it a popular spot for surfers and curious people from all over the world. 

Byron Bay Lighthouse

The small town is also renowned for its relaxed atmosphere. Its streets are very poetic and authentic, and they are reminiscent of the 70s. In Byron Bay’s streets, I had the feeling that time seems to stand still. 

They seemed very bohemian, peaceful with a calm atmosphere. It was undoubtedly a refreshment for me during this Road Trip in Australia.

Byron Bay Coast Rocks

Lastly, don’t miss Cape Byron Lighthouse, it sits on Australia’s most easterly point. At night, Cape Byron Lighthouse shines over Cape Byron Marine Park. 

Built in the 19th century, Cape Byron Lighthouse is now an automated light visible from Byron Bay township. Also, don’t miss Little Wategos Track, it’s the most Easterly Point Of Mainland Australia. 

You can find some awesome little rock pools among the rocky headland on low tide. All you’ll have to do to reach this place is to follow the rocks along the southern end of the main beach and turn right.

9. Port Macquarie

After a calm stay in Byron Bay, I decided to head to Port Macquarie. The Trip from Byron Bay to Macquarie lasted 4 hours via Pacific Hwy / A1. Port Macquarie is a very trendy and quiet little seaside resort that is hard to leave. The history of Port Macquarie is unique.

Port Macquarie New South Wales

This Australian town was established in 1821 to house offenders from Sydney to hard labor. Today, it became a seaside resort on the subtropical coast, filled with cute bars, colorful houses, and koalas. 

Talking about the latter, I invite you to visit Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital, it is one of the main ones in Australia. The Australian institution aims to rescue and care for injured and sick koalas. Additionally, you can actively contribute by becoming a volunteer.


Koala Hospital Port Macquarie Australia

Another must-do activity during this East Coast Road Trip in Australia is swimming in the Hastings River. Numerous activities are available there including Dolphin spotting, sunset river cruise, and live music shows.

Painted Rocks Port Macquarie Australia

Additionally, along the Hastings River, you’ll notice a series of painted rocks. The trend began as an art competition in 1995, today, these painted rocks are an outdoor gallery in Port Macquarie. 

Lastly, I suggest you try cycling from the town to Nobby Beach. It is a good physical activity to do while enjoying the sea views.

10. Newcastle Australia

My penultimate stop during this journey was Newcastle. I suggest you start your visit by going to Nobby Beach. Nobby Beach is recognized by its archetypal conglomeration of rocks residing in the center. 

Additionally, the rocky nature of Nobby beach makes it a good fishing destination. I also invite you to visit the iconic Nobby’s Lighthouse.

Newcastle Australia

Established in Newcastle Australia in 1854, Nobby’s Lighthouse is an active one that guides vessels into the Hunter River. Additionally, Nobby’s Lighthouse is surrounded by three cottages that served as a defense mechanism for Newcastle.

11. Sydney

My last stop in this Road Trip was Sydney. A metropole that attracts millions of tourists every year. Only 168 km separate Sydney from Newcastle, and the trip lasts 2 hours via the M1. If you are looking for a beautiful place to stroll in Sydney, head to the city’s Botanical Garden. 

Approaching Sydney

It is possible to cross the whole garden by taking various paths, and the entrance is free, except for certain exhibitions presented each month. I also invite you to visit Sydney’s Opera and Bondi Beach. 

Once you’re done exploring Sydney, drop your car at the airport, cherish all the memories this Road Trip gave you and be ready for your next adventure!

Final Thoughts

An East Coast Road Trip in Australia is an unforgettable experience. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to explore Australia in a unique way. 

Additionally, it is also a good way to make friends, discover the local culture, and do unique activities. I hope you enjoyed this Road Trip in Australia in the guide. 

Please, let me know about your Road Trip experiences and highlights. I look forward to your comments!

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