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A Travel Guide to the East Coast Australia

Travel Distances of the East Coast

The Australia East Coast refers to the long and beautiful stretch of road running between Sydney and Cairns. It is peppered with some of the most popular backpacking trails in the world. The spectacular East Coast of Australia trail is jam-packed with tourist destinations and iconic sights that you can’t get enough of. On the Australia East Coast Map, you will see that the coastal stretch spans over 4000km. It would take you four weeks to cover the entire route from Melbourne to Cairns.

Check out our Australia’s South East Coast Guide, which runs from Sydney to Melbourne for 1000 km. You could spend 3-7 days on this journey visiting the pristine beaches, ancient national parks, and covering the route well.

East Coast Australia Road Trip From Sydney to Cairns
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Tips for Travelling the East Coast

Drive A Car Or A Campervan

Driving up the East Coast is best done by renting a motorhome or campervan. There are many places to see between Sydney and Brisbane and between Brisbane and Cairns. You can start at Sydney and spend a few days at its free campsites. When you reach Byron Bay, you will find the Yelgun Rest Area, which is excellent for campervan-parking. In Brisbane, you will have an easier time finding camping spots on its outskirts.

The Capricorn Caves of Rockhampton and Townsville have camping spots that you can make the best of. At Arlie Beach, Whitsundays, and Magnetic Island, you will have to look out for paid campsites. Whether you start your journey from Sydney or in reverse order, there are many drives stops you can make along your East Coast route.

Fly On Down To The East Coast

Taking one or more flights will save you a lot of time and allow you to see more sights of the coast. My tip is to fly and drive to cover long distances. The main airports along the East Coast include Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Coffs Harbour, Airlie Beach, Rockhampton, Townsville, and Cairns.

From Sydney take a flight to any of the destinations on the East Coast. There are many airports, and flights are plentiful. You can take a trip from to Brisbane or another major airport and drive the rest of the way as well.

Hop-On And Off A Greyhound Bus

If you want to travel by bus, then try the Hop On Hop Off Passes. They are handy for travellers who wish to spend less time planning and more time enjoying their holiday on the East Coast. You can pick the Sydney to Cairns trip pass and travel on any of the Greyhound Coaches between the two cities. This pass can be purchased for 90-days and allows you to go one way between the destinations. If you want to explore specific areas for longer many pass-upgrades are available.

Journey By Train

There is no direct train running from Sydney station to Cairns. Journey by train will take you approximately 40 hours. Your train journey will start in the afternoon at Sydney Central Station and end at Brisbane station early next morning. From Brisbane, you have to switch coaches on your way to Cairns. The Brisbane-Cairns train operates on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. More info about all trains in Queensland.

Enjoy The Adventure Of A Guided Trip

The East Coast of Australia has too many breath-taking destinations that it is tough to see each of them in a short time. For that reason, many action-packed organised East Coast Tours of Australia will help you thoroughly explore it.

Best Places To Visit on Australia’s East Coast + Things To Do

The gorgeous East Coast has a vast array of spectacular things to do and to see. You will have your pick of beaches, national parks, shopping centres, and art galleries. Here are my picks with some of the best places to visit along the east coast of Australia.

East Coast Australia Whitsunday Islands
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  1.  Sydney And The Blue Mountains

    When visiting the East Coast, you must make a trip to the scenic Blue Mountains which gets its name from the blue haze created by the vast eucalypts forests inside it. When you go there, do not miss out on a walk to the Echo Point Lookout from where you can view the Three Sister Rock Formations. You will also get a chance to travel in a glass-floored cable car suspended above a steep gorge. It is a must-see place in Sydney’s surrounds.

  2.  Brisbane And the Gold Coast

    Brisbane is the hub of artistic centres, creative spaces, and hip new restaurants. Located just 71 kilometres from Brisbane is the Gold Coast. The best thing about the Gold Coast is its incredible array of beaches. There you will also find a booming culinary scene and theme parks like you have never seen before.

  3. Byron Bay

    Byron Bay is a coastal town located in East Coast NSW. It is full of vibrant beaches, unique shopping opportunities, and a wide array of festivals. Look over the spectacular mountains of Byron Bay in a hot-air balloon or even go sky-diving.

  4. Sunshine Coast

    This Queensland Australian state surely earns its name with several stretches of unbroken beaches as far as the eye can see. It is also the home to more individual national parks than any other region in Queensland. One of the best things to do is take a Sunshine Coast to Sydney road trip and explore both these incredible spots. Noosa is a top place for a stopover on your east coast trip.

  5. Fraser Island

    Queensland’s Fraser Island is one of the world’s largest sand islands spanning 123 kilometres. It is also the only place where breath-taking tall rainforests grow on dunes at elevations of more than 656 feet. Here you will also find dazzling lakes formed in the depressions of dunes.

  6. Whitsunday Islands

    An East Coast trip is not complete without a visit to the stunning Whitsunday Islands. If you want to go for a picnic on the beach, pay a visit to Whitehaven Beach, the most beautiful beach on Whitsunday Islands.

  7. The Capricorn Coast

    The Capricorn Coast of Australia is a diverse and breath-taking place to be at. It sweeps along the beautiful Pacific Ocean, and the Capricorn Coast beach has incredible views of the Great and North Keppel Islands.

  8. Magnetic Island

    Magnetic Island is just a 20-minute ferry away from Townsville and has all of the natural beauty and serenity of an island paradise. It has beautiful Forts Walk where you can witness the WWII history alongside stunning ocean vistas.

  9. Cairns And Port Douglas

    Cairns and Port Douglas are the best holiday destinations along the Australian East Coast. Take the scenic coastal drive from Cairns to the sea-side village of Port Douglas. At Cairns, there are also many tours going to the Great Barrier Reef and overnight live board experiences where you can explore fluorescent corals under the moonlight.

  10. Cape Tribulation And The Daintree Forest

    Cape Tribulation is a beautiful destination situated in North Tropical Queensland. This coastal area is part of the Daintree National Park, and it is full of activities, tours, and fun attractions. It has two fantastic walks: The Madja Botanical Walk and the Dubuji Boardwalk which will take you through the forest and mangroves.

  11. Cooktown

    Cooktown is a site on the East Coast that is rich with history. If you want to take in some incredible history, the James Cook Museum on Helen Street’s corner is the right place. One of the best visiting spots is the Grassy Hill Lookout which gives you a 360-degree view of the countryside and its surrounding beaches.

East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary

Your East Coast travel explorations are not complete without a road trip. Here are some of the fabulous, fun-packed road trip itineraries.

Sydney City
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East Coast Australia Itinerary 2 weeks

Week 1

If you are thinking of spending two weeks on the East Coast, you need to take a trip that takes you through big cities, the best beaches in the world, bushlands, and rainforests. Starting from Sydney, make your way to Nelson’s Bay, a pretty little town and an ideal base to explore New South Wales’s remarkable region.

Go dolphin spotting and make a stop at the Nelson bay heritage lighthouse. Next on your list is Port Macquarie situated just near Hastings River. You can visit the beautiful St. Thomas Church, which is one of the oldest in Australia.

Located nearby is Coffs Harbour where you can spend a day at the beautiful marine conservation park. The surrounding green hills and the rocky Cape Byron will make you feel entirely at home. Next on your list is Queensland’s Gold Coast. Home to the fabulous Surfers Paradise, it is the place where you will have the most fun picnicking and learning how to surf.

Week 2

With so much travelling, you will need some time to unwind and be at peace. Brisbane is a lush city with spectacular gardens and beautiful beaches, an excellent place for a break. After a relaxing day, go to the fabulous Sunshine Coast, which has a lush green rainforest and gorgeous beaches all around. If you are tired of spending your time at the beach, make your way to Fraser Island where you can visit some of its designated camping regions and even go whale watching.

From Fraser Island continue with your road trip to Rockhampton, which lies over 500km away and is the capital of beef farming in Australia. You will have a lot of fun visiting some of its rodeos and sitting on the banks of the Fitzroy River. Make your way to the beach once more when you visit Airlie Beach. It has a wide range of aquatic activities for you to pursue, including snorkelling, sailing, and scuba diving.

Your second last stop on your 2-week itinerary is Townsville with its famous Magnetic Island attraction. Townsville has many fantastic places for you to stay at before you make your way through the last stretch of the East Coast on your way to Cairns. There is a lot to see in this bustling town including Mission Beach, Daintree Rainforest, and Cape Tribulation.

East Coast Australia Itinerary 3 weeks

Week 1

Start your three-week trip from Sydney. You can spend days hitting the beaches like Coogee, Narrabeen, and the famous Bondi. Nearby you will find the lovely Blue Mountains. Do visit Coffs Harbour where you must see the lovely Sealy Lookout. It has incredible views of the city that you must see! Don’t forget to stop at Byron Bay which is one of the coolest places to hang out.

Week 2

Take in the East Coast wildlife by cuddling a cute Koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The City Hall’s bell tower is also nearby, and it’s a great place to finish off the day. You can spend a day at Noosa Heads. It is one of the most beautiful places on the east coast, with waterways and beaches everywhere you turn.

Week 3

If you are looking out for an island getaway, do visit the impressive Fraser Island. It is an excellent place to spend a couple of nights and be a part of some of the tours it offers. Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays are two more places where you can spend a couple of days. Here you can take marvellous boat trips and unwind at all the pristine white beaches, lastly on your great East Coast adventure in Cairns. From the Daintree forest to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns has a lot in store for you.

East Coast Australia Itinerary 4 Weeks

If you are deciding to take a 4-week East Coast Trip, then there is a lot for you to explore and enjoy. You can follow the three-week itinerary while giving yourself more time to enjoy different activities and sights. Here are the things you can do:

1. Rainforests

Why not take a trip to the Daintree Forest, which is the home to thousands of rare species. Located nearby is Cape Tribulation where you can end the day by taking a relaxing walk along the rainforest’s boardwalks. When visiting some of the fantastic East Coast rainforests, you must not miss the Kuranda National Park. You can be adventurous and even explore the rainforest on a quad bike.

2. Beaches

Palm Cove is a great place to soak up the sun and enjoy the calming waves. Later in the day head on down to Port Douglas where you will be fascinated by the gorgeous aquatic biodiversity and the colourful coral reefs. When taking up the beautiful East Coast beaches’ sights and sounds, make the most of your time and go on boat tours to the Great Barrier Reef. It has the best range of scuba diving experiences for travellers and adventure enthusiasts.

3. Waterfalls

It would be best if you took the waterfall circuit in the Atherton Tablelands. It has a total of seventeen waterfalls that are dazzling in the wet season. These photogenic waterfalls are magnificent for a refreshing swim and a relaxing day outside. Take a road trip through the Atherton Tablelands to see more of the wetlands and mountain region.

4. Scenic flights

You will also get a chance to take a scenic flight to explore the Great Barrier Reef’s views and the Whitsunday Islands. It is a marvellous unparalleled experience that you won’t get anywhere else.

Visit the East Coast of Australia on Tours

Explore the East Coast of Australia on tour, going from Sydney to Cairns. You can choose from a diverse range of trips that fit your time and your budget. There are 3-day trips that will help you visit all of the most iconic destinations along the coast. You could also select a 10-15 days package to visit more places and stay for a longer time. There are different selections of tours for backpackers, those who want some more luxury and comfort, and those packages where you can customize the places you want to visit.

With the best East Coast Australia tours, you will get a chance to explore the coastal regions, have fun at beaches, see some of the most iconic historical destinations, or even make a stop at some of the more popular spots. Whether you love going on adventures, find new places, or just meeting new people there is something for everyone on these East Coast tours.

You can also check out All Australia Travel Destination Guides.

A Travel Guide to the East Coast of Australia
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First published in Oct 2019, lat updated in Jan 2021

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