East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary and Ultimate Guide

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Show stopping beaches, charismatic little towns, eden-like national parks and unforgettable adrenalin filled activities mean it’s no wonder why the east coast of Australia is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. And it’s all relatively easy to explore; you just need a vehicle or a coach pass, a chunk of time (I’d recommend 6-8 weeks if you really want to see everything, or 4 weeks if you’re just after the highlights), sufficient funds and a sense of adventure!

This east coast Australia road trip itinerary will take you from just above the tropical city of Cairns, to hidden gems such as Mission Beach and Innisfail, through world famous sites like Magnetic Island and the Whitsundays, down through little surf towns and some of the best diving sites on the east coast to the bucket-list destination of Fraser Island, through south Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and its capital, Brisbane.

It will then traverse the Brisbane to Sydney drive, through the backpacker haven of the Gold Coast, then to northern New South Wales, an area which includes Byron Bay (one of my favourite places in the world) and its surrounding quirky towns and beautiful hinterland. The route then follows the Pacific Coast Highway and travels through various beautiful New South Wales coastal towns before arriving at Sydney.

From Sydney, the east coast Australia road trip is directed to Melbourne via the coastal route, where the road calls at various other New South Wales and Victorian towns, national parks and even an island before finishing in the state capital of Victoria; the cosmopolitan city of Melbourne.

It’s a long way, it will take you through a range of different climates and cultures, through tiny in-the-middle of nowhere towns to backpacker hubs and bustling cities, and will span some of the most gorgeous beaches on the planet as well as breath-taking inland natural scenery nearly every step of the way.

Are you ready for the ultimate east coast Australia road trip itinerary?

This route is completely customisable to your wishes and needs. It could be done in reverse, or in chunks – if you’re flying into a different city, you might want to start elsewhere. There are international airports in Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and the Gold Coast on this route – check out this Gold Coast airport review to learn about this point of entry to the east coast of Australia.

If you’re not doing the whole Cairns to Melbourne drive, use this nifty table of contents to take you to just the part of the road trip that you want to go on.

Organise your vehicle for your East Coast Australia Road Trip

I travelled all over Australia in my trusty Subaru forester, and I’d highly recommend to anyone to make this odyssey in your own (or rented) vehicle. Not only does your own car or van give you the freedom to travel at your own pace, editing your itinerary if you want to stay longer or shorter somewhere, it often works out cheaper, because you can split fuel costs with friends and stay at free campsites.

I had my own car for this trip and all of my Aussie road trips, and if you are planning on travelling more than just the east coast (which you should, as the rest of the country is spectacular) then I’d recommend you buy a car of your own. But if this road trip is a one-off or you don’t want the hassle and commitment of buying a car, renting is also an option. I haven’t used any of these myself, but some popular companies are:

  • Jucy campers
  • Britz
  • Wicked Campers

If you’re planning on drinking 24/7 or just don’t fancy driving all of that way then taking the coach is probably the best bet for you.

Greyhound and Premier both plough the east coast daily – Greyhound is known for having better facilities, offering free (tempremental) wifi, power sockets and comfier seats – but Premier is slightly cheaper.

Greyhound’s southern service from Sydney goes inland and pretty much straight to Melbourne via Canberra, but Premier follows closely to the Sydney to Melbourne coastal drive I have suggested. Once you get to Eden, which is right near the New South Wales/ Victoria border, V Line will get you through eastern Victoria and into Melbourne.

Once you’ve sorted your car, van or coach pass out, you’re ready to hit the road!

Do you want some more information about transport in Australia, where to stay, and what to eat in the land down under? Check out this Australia travel guide for some really helpful information.

When to Go On the East Coast Australia Road Trip

This east coast Australia road trip itinerary begins in Cairns and travels south to Melbourne. This is a great way to do your trip if you’re travelling in Australia’s autumn, as Victoria takes a while to heat up! The reverse is true if you’re journeying in the spring.

If you’re road tripping in winter, brace yourself for cold temperatures in Victoria, New South Wales and South Queensland but look forward to near perfect weather in Central and North Queensland.

In the summer, you’ll be sweltering everywhere – but watch out for tropical storms and seriously hot temperatures in the North, and make sure you wear stinger suits everywhere that they’re recommended.

Where to stay on the East Coast of Australia – hostels or camping?

Nowhere quite does hostels like the East Coast of Australia – and I’m pretty sure that no hostels are is quite as expensive as the East Coast of Australia. You’ll make some great friends in the East Coast’s hostels and it would be a shame to miss them out completely, as they are a part of the coast’s backpacking experience.

But you may have to declare bankruptcy if you stay at all of them.

That’s why I’ve recommended selected hostels in some of the tourist hotspots, that I’ve either stayed at personally or that have come highly recommended by fellow travellers. In all the gaps where hostels haven’t been mentioned, there are plenty of free camping options – which are perfect if you have your own vehicle.

If you’re intrigued about free camping in Australia and want to find out more, click on the below link. If not, there are plenty of hostels, airbnbs and hotels in most of the tourist spots on your east coast Australia road trip.

Cairns to Brisbane Drive Itinerary


Perhaps the most iconic road trip in all of Australia, the Cairns to Brisbane drive odyssey spans over 1700 kilometres, through countless national parks, beside hundreds of postcard-perfect beaches and a huge reef and takes you from the tropics to subtropics. There’s so many reasons why the Cairns to Brisbane road trip is a world-famous travel journey; and this itinerary takes you through all of the best!

Cairns

Suggested time frame – 3-4 days

Cairns is a backpacker hotspot, with many travellers to Australia beginning their trips here – which makes it the perfect place to start your Cairns to Brisbane drive. The tropical city is a great place to accustom to Australian lifestyle and a few days can easily be passed chilling by the lagoon, dining at the many cafes and restaurants of the city and enjoying its nightlife scene. However, amidst all of this hardcore relaxing, do save some time to venture to the outstandingly beautiful areas around the city.

Things to do in Cairns

  • Cool down with a dip in the lagoon
  • Dine and drink at the many establishments in the city
  • Do a free fitness class on the esplanade
  • Go on a tour of the Atherton Tablelands
    This area is a fantastic day trip from Cairns (although longer can be easily spent in the region) and includes gorgeous waterfalls, scenic lakes, outstanding lookouts and quirky towns.
    Take a self-drive trip or book a day tour.
  • Do a Great Barrier Reef tour
    I went with Ocean Freedom, who are fantastic for first time divers. People who are not certified (I was one of the only two on my boat who were!) have the chance to dive with an instructor after a safety briefing.
    It’s a great chance for anyone who’s thinking about learning to dive but is unsure if it’s for them.
    If you are certified, you’ll likely get the chance to go an a semi-private dive – I got whisked away on a speedboat for my second dive which was just me and the instructor.

Great Barrier Reef Tours

Where to stay in Cairns

Which hostel to pick in Cairns largely depends on how much you want to party. Cairns City Backpackers is pretty chilled out, with a BYO alcohol policy and quiet time late at night. It’s set in tranquil, rainforest-like setting and is a bargain price for a smaller dorm room. Click here for more information and to book.

If you do want to party, then there’s only one real option; the infamous Gilligans. Some people love it, some people hate it, but it’s without a doubt one of the busiest, loudest and most raucous hostel in Cairns. It’s spread out over four levels, with amazing facilities such as free airport pick up, free WiFi and a lagoon swimming pool, and has an entertainment venue with bars and clubs within the hostel. They also offer cheap dorm rates and $5 dinners with free drinks. Click here for more information and to book.

There aren’t any free camping options within the city itself, but some in the local area. There are also a few paid campsites in and around the city.

Drive north to Daintree National Park – 1 hour OR take a tour from Cairns

The Daintree Rainforest

Suggested time – 1-2 days

The Daintree can be done in a day trip from Cairns, but I think it’s worthy of a section all of its own. It’s a huge national park north of the city, with a tarmac road driving straight through the thick of the rainforest; and every so often, you’ll get a glimpse of the sea, which the road runs directly parallel to. This is exactly why the ‘rainforest meets reef’ slogan of Far North Queensland was invented. There are short walks, cultural experiences, croc spotting cruises and four wheel drive tracks to be enjoyed within the breathtaking national park.

Things to do in the Daintree National Park

  • Hike through the rainforest and around the beautiful Mossman Gorge
  • Explore the Daintree tea plantation
  • Have a picnic overlooking the beautiful Cow Bay
  • Walk through the jungle at the Jindalba Boardwalk, Dubuji Boardwalk and Kulki Boardwalk
  • Take on the challenging Mount Sorrow hike
  • Enjoy the ‘reef meets rainforest’ vistas of Cape Tribulation beach
  • Go croc spotting at Daintree River
  • Check out the gorgeous Emmagen Creek at the start of the Bloomfield Track
  • If you have a 4WD vehicle, drive the Bloomfield Track; an unsealed road heading north to Cooktown

Daintree National Park Tours

Don’t have your own vehicle? There’s plenty of tours from Cairns to the Daintree National Park.

From Daintree National Park, drive 23 minutes/ 23.5 km south to Port Douglas. If you are on a tour, some also stop in Port Douglas.

Port Douglas

Suggested time – 1-2 days

Between Cairns and Daintree National Park is Port Douglas, a hip town which has luxury restaurants, quirky cafes and a busy backpacker scene. It’s a fun place to pop in for an afternoon or spend a couple of days in; depending on how much time you have! I know a few people who have lived and worked in the town as well.

Things to do in Port Douglas

  • Browse the beachside Sunday markets for tasty food and arty souvenirs
  • Drive or hike up to the top of Flagstaff Hill for a spectacular lookout over the town and four mile beach
  • Sample coffee at the various cafes of the town
  • Laze back on the gorgeous four mile beach

Where to stay in Port Douglas

If you’re after a bustling backpacker scene, Dougies is located just 300 metres from the beach and is fully equipped with everything you could want in a hostel in the tropics; an outdoor pool and barbecue, a bar and free parking. Choose from a 4 or 7 bed dorm or a private room and bathroom. For rates and to book, click here.

From Port Douglas, drive south back through Cairns, which takes 1 hour 5 minutes. Or return to Cairns on your tour!

This stretch of road is known as ‘Far North Queensland’s Great Ocean Road’ and the views of vibrant green rainforest bordering onto turquoise blue ocean are nothing short of spectacular. It’s one of my favourite drives in Australia (and I’ve drove around nearly all of it!) so take your time and stop off at as many viewpoints as possible.

Either stay another night in Cairns, or begin your journey south to Innisfail and Mission Beach

Drive or catch a coach from Cairns to Innisfail, which is a distance of 88 kilometres and takes approximately 1 hour 10 minutes. 

Innisfail

Suggested time – 1 day

Known by many to be ‘the place where everyone does farm work’, many road trippers whizz past Innisfail. But there’s lots to do in and around the town to pass a day or more; so if you have time on your east coast Australia itinerary, be sure to check this beautiful town out!

Things to do in Innisfail

  • Check out Josephine Falls, located between Cairns and Innisfail
  • Stroll around the town and enjoy the art deco architecture, which has bene in place since 1918
  • Sunbathe on the gorgeous sands of Etty Bay – and watch out for cassowaries!
  • Explore the rainforest from the Mamu Tropical Skywalk

Drive or take the coach from Innisfail to Mission Beach, which takes 40 minutes and is 52 kilometres in distance.

Mission Beach

Suggested time – 2-3 days

Mission Beach isn’t on every Tropical North Queensland itinerary, but it damn well should be – it’s one of my favourite parts of the east coast. The beaches here are absolutely mesmerising – when I walked down to my first I actually let out a little yelp of joy. There’s a variety of walking trails through the rainforest region, opportunities to spot cassowaries (we didn’t see any, boo), some absolutely delightful cafes and restaurants, and, as the name suggests, kilometre after kilometre of gorgeous beachfront. If I could get an ‘I HEART MISSION BEACH’ t-shirt, I would.

Things to do in Mission Beach

  • Hike up to Bicton Hill for a stunning view
  • Laze on 14 kilometres of beaches – but remember to use the stinger nets from October to May!
  • Eat at the quirky Bingil Bay Café
  • Take a water taxi to Dunk Island and do some of the walk tracks and marvel at the beaches there
  • Go scuba diving – the Great Barrier Reef stretches along most of Tropical North Queensland including all of Mission Beach

Accommodation in Mission Beach

If you’re looking for accomodation to relax and unwind in for a few days, Jackaroo Hostel is just the place. The treehouse-style hostel is set in beautiful grounds with a spectacular view, and just being there basically screams zen. Choose from a 6 bed dorm room or a private double room, all which come with included breakfast. For rates and to book, click here.

Drive south 2 hours 48 minutes, which is 235 kilometres, or take the coach to Townsville.

On the Bruce Highway, I’d recommend taking a pit stop at the Frosty Mango restaurant, an eatery that serves all things mango, including delicious dairy free ice cream. There’s also a huge mango outside (if you don’t know already, Australia loves its huge things) to snap a picture with!

Townsville

Suggested time – 2 days

Townsville, ‘the capital of Northern Queensland’ is the gateway to Magnetic Island. But there’s plenty within Townsville to occupy a day or two too, so before you hop over to the paradise that is Maggie Island, take some time to explore what Tropical North Queensland’s largest city has to offer.

Things to do in Townsville

  • Learn about wildlife in Tropical North Queensland, the history of scuba diving, ancient shipwrecks and more at the Museum of North Queensland
  • Learn about the region’s history at the Herbert River Museum
  • Visit the historic Old Brandon Church
  • Enjoy the bars and restaurants of the city
  • Walk around the picturesque marina

Accommodation in Townsville

Rambutan YHA is a popular backpacker hangout, located in the centre of the city. It doesn’t cut any corners, with facilties such as a rooftop pool, outdoor bar and restaurant and $10 dinner specials. Choose from a 5, 6 or 8 bed dorm or private rooms in different sizes. Click here for rates and to book.

Take the ferry over to Magnetic Island, which is a 20 minute journey, costing around $19 per person.

Magnetic Island

Suggested time – 2 days

A pure slice of paradise, Magnetic Island is worlds away from the city of Townsville. The entire island seems to run at its own time, with a chilled out pace that it seems you could only find within a certain number of degrees to the equator.

On Magnetic Island, there’s historical walks, climbs to hidden beaches, snorkelling, safe swimming spots, amazing sunset viewing areas… or there’s the chance to get very merry on cocktails and general island life and spend the day lazing in a hammock. The choice is yours.

Things to do on Magnetic Island

  • Take the forts walk to learn about the wartime history of the island and spot koalas
  • Go snorkelling at Geoffery Bay – you can pick up a self guided snorkelling tour from the visitors centre for $5
  • Hike to Balding Bay (which is Maggie’s unofficial nudist beach, FYI) or Radical Bay, both beautiful spots that are much quieter than the main beach!
  • Go for a dip in Nelly Bay’s stinger net
  • Discover more of the island’s history at the Magnetic Island History and Crafts Centre
  • Catch an amazing sunset at one of the many spots around the island

Where to stay on Magnetic Island

The home of Australia’s only full moon party, Base Backpackers is set in stunning surroundings and enjoys a bar, BBQ facilities and a swimming pool. The bar hosts themed nights and activities. For rates and to book, click here.

From Magnetic Island, take the ferry back over to Townsville and start heading south.

Drive from Townsville to Bowen, which is around 2 hour 20 minutes and 202 kilometres, or take a southbound bus.

Bowen

Suggested time – stopover/ half a day

Although some people stop to do their farm work in Bowen, for many it’s not really much more than a quick pit stop. But the laid back town vibes, beautiful beaches and hikes to impressive lookouts do make it a worthwhile stopover on a southern drive!

Things to do in Bowen

  • Check out some of the eight amazing beaches that make up the area around Bowen
  • Learn about the tropical town at the Bowen Historical Musuem
  • Take a ferry over to Stone Island
  • Check out Horseshoe Bay from the Rotary Lookout
  • Snap a photo with yet another big mango!

Drive from Bowen to Airlie Beach, which is about 77 kilometres and takes around 58 minutes, or hop on a coach. 

Airlie Beach

Suggested time – 1 day

Airlie Beach is somewhere you’ll constantly hear about as you’re travelling down the East Coast of Australia – and it is definitely a backpacker hub. The town is catered for tourists, but if you’re looking for somewhere for a cheap dinner, a couple (dozen, maybe) beers and to meet some new travel mates, Airlie is your go to.

Most people who are at Airlie Beach are coming off a Whitsundays tour, or about to get onto a boat. But there are a few things to do in the town itself.

Things to do in Airlie Beach

  • Take a dip in the refreshing Airlie Beach Lagoon
  • Browse the markets, which are held every Saturday
  • Check out the gorgeous Cedar Creek Falls, located en route to Proserpine
  • Visit the rainforest Conway National Park and go hiking

Where to stay in Airlie Beach

Nomads pretty much dominates the backpacker accommodation in Airlie Beach, and it’s easy to see why. The establishment is half hostel half campsite, with options for any type of backpacker. The entire hostel is al-fresco based and as well as the standard amenities (kitchen, laundry, chill out area etc), it enjoys two bars, a swimming pool and free wifi. For rates and to book, click here.

The Whitsunday Islands

Suggested time – 3 days

The Whitsunday Islands are one of the ‘must see’ Australian odysseys that make the east coast famous. It’s vital to include visiting the islands in your east coast Australia road trip itinerary, and I’d advise doing the full 3 day 2 night tour to get the full experience.

I went with Wings, who offer a chilled out, sociable atmosphere with stop offs to all of the most beautiful spots of the islands. Also included was:

  • SO MUCH FOOD including buffet-style meals, snacks every time any of us got a twinge of hunger, and tea and coffee. They catered for dietary preferences really well and even let the special diets have first choice, which gave me yet another reason to love vegetarianism!
  • A shared cabin-style dorm – I slept in a little cubby hole, but it was pretty cosy!
  • All the snorkelling gear and four stops to see some of the best marine life in the area
  • A guided walk to Whitehaven Beach and to a look out
  • Slideshows of photos in the evening
  • Friendly, knowledgeable staff

Alcohol was brought on a BYO term. The boat isn’t an in-your-face party kind of boat, but a few of us got very merry on beer/ goon in the evenings.

If you want an in-your-face party style boat, I’d go with Clipper. This isn’t the boat to choose if you want a good night’s sleep – but it’s hugely popular with travellers on the east coast! (it does also have a huge inflatable slide which looks awesome).

And if you’re looking for a bit more luxury, Ride to Paradise offers the same style tour, but instead of the boat, stays in luxury accommodation.

There are dozens more Whitsundays tours, so if none of those take your fancy don’t fret – you’ll almost certainly find a great tour for you.

Whitsundays Tours

Your Whitsundays boat tour will take you back to Airlie Beach. Spend another night there, if you wish (there will most likely be an after party!), or head straight back to the road.

Coaches leave Airlie Beach to Mackay, or drive the distance – just under 2 hours and 150 kilometres. 

Mackay

Suggested time – 1-2 days

I had a fantastic time in Mackay, although I didn’t do much other than get a subway (a sandwich, not an underground train). I’ve never felt so immediately welcomed into a city – at first, I thought everyone knew each other, but when they all greeted me with an equal cordiality, I realised that people in Mackay are actually just that friendly.

Mackay is a launching point for the southern Great Barrier Reef and is home to some fantastic parks to the north and the west. Within the town, there’s lookouts, great food, lagoons and cycling trails. It’s a tropical city that’s worth a spot on your east coast Australia itinerary.

Things to do in Mackay

  • Cycle on the Bluewater Trail
  • Take a dip in the Bluewater Lagoon
  • Visit Lambert’s Lookout for a Pacific view
  • Explore a sugar cane mill
  • Camp with kangaroos at Cape Hillsborough
  • Go hiking and platypus spotting at rainforest-based Eungella National Park

Take a coach or drive the distance to Rockhampton, which is 3 hours 40 minutes and 336 kilometres. 

Rockhampton

Suggested time – 1 day

When I told a few people I was adding Rockhampton to my east coast Australia road trip itinerary, they laughed and said there was nothing there. I then looked up the best things to do in Rockhampton – and discovered that 5/9 revolved around the beef industry – not exactly a vegetarian’s dream.

But, dig a little deeper and there’s some great things to do in Rocky that don’t involve meat of any kind.

Things to do in Rockhampton

  • Visit the Dreamtime Cultural Centre which tells significant stories of the state and country’s Aboriginal population and their Dreamtime stories which is the basis for their culture
  • Catch the sunset over Mount Archer
  • Cross over the tropics at the Tropic of Capricorn Spire
  • Explore Quay Street and marvel at the historic, opulent buildings
  • Admire the works at the Rockhampton Art Gallery

Take a coach to Agnes Water, or drive the 2 hour 30 minutes, 225 kilometre journey.

Agnes Water/ 1770

Suggested time – 1-2 days

A lot of people just stop in Agnes Water for a break up between the long bus between Airlie Beach and Rainbow Beach (although hopefully I’ve convinced you to make a few extra stops along the way too!). But the surf town is a cool place to hang out for a few days. If you aren’t pushed for time on your Cairns to Melbourne road trip itinerary, take the chance to kick back on the beach for a few.

Things to do in Agnes Water/ 1770

  • Take a surf lesson for either $17.70 or $25 (I chose the $25 option, which is allegedly better – saying that, I chose it because it was the only one running in the afternoon. But I definitely felt like I got more than my money’s worth).
  • Do the Scooteroo tour – the tour takes you around the twin towns on scooters that are made out to look like huge badass motorbikes. I didn’t do it, but it looks like a lot of fun!
  • Check out some of the local national parks, such as Eurimbula, which has breathtaking coastline, 4WD tracks and scenic sunset spots.

Tours Around Agnes Water

Where to stay in Agnes Water/ 1770

Southern Cross Backpackers is a super chilled out hostel with a variety of accommodation options – there’s a campsite that you can drive onto, or dorms. Set in beautiful subtropical grounds, the hostel has a pool and a great chill out/ bar area.

But the best thing about this hostel is that it has a really nice community feel, with staff who take the time to get to know and help you out and encourage guests to socialise. It’s not a mad party hostel, but rather one where you can enjoy a few beers of an evening with like minded travellers. For rates and to book, click here.

Journey to Rainbow Beach by driving 3 hours 40 minutes and 322 kilometres, or taking a coach.

Rainbow Beach

Suggested time – 1 day

Rainbow Beach is a tiny little town (if you can call it a town!) nestled between Agnes Water and the Sunshine Coast. It’s an ever popular backpacker destination because… here is where you go on your Fraser Island tour. But Rainbow Beach is lots of fun too – kick back here for a couple of days if you have the chance.

Things to do in Rainbow Beach

  • Sandboarding at Carlo Sand Blow
  • Surfing and sunbathing at Double Island Point
  • Driving around the gorgeous Great Sandy National Park

If you’re booking on a Fraser Island tour, you’ll need to be at the safety briefing for 6pm the day before. This means staying at least one night in Rainbow Beach – and it’s a good idea to book for the day after too, so you’re not rushing after your tour and have some time for drinks with your group!

Where to stay in Rainbow Beach

Dingos is one of the only hostels in Rainbow Beach, but it’s ran so well that there’s really no need for any competition. It’s outside-based, with two fun bars often featuring live music, $7 dinners every night and free vegan pancakes for breakfast each morning. Choose from a hostel dorm room or sleep in your car or campervan for just $10.

Fraser Island

Suggested time – 3 days

For Fraser Island you have two options. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle with a large clearance, 4WD knowledge, are sure that your car won’t break down on the island, good car knowledge in general and a sense of adventure then go ahead, do a self-guided tour of the island.

If you don’t (the only criteria of these I really met was a sense of adventure – unless I can count hair-raisingly navigating down the Gibb River Road in Western Australia as 4WD knowledge?) then the best thing is to book a tour.

I went with Dingos – who are ran by the same people as Dingos hostel – and highly recommend them. The tour involves four 4WD vehicles drove on a ‘tag along’ basis – so everyone who has a licence and is 21+ gets a chance to drive the cars.

The tour definitely burns the candle at both ends – so if you want to drive first thing in the morning you really have to limit the drinking the night before. There’s video footage of me on night two, dancing around a gazebo with a bag of goon. Needless to say I was not on the list of designated drivers the following morning.

Dingos Tours: What Do They Include?

  • Knowledgeable and friendly guides
  • Three meals a day – if you have any dietary requirements just state at the time of booking and they will provide an altered meal plan
  • Use of the 4WD vehicle for three days
  • Ferry crossing to Fraser Island
  • Campsite accommodation

Now, I’m never really a huge fan of tours – I much prefer hitting the open road with my own car and stopping wherever I want to, for however long I desire. But for Fraser it is kind of a necessity, and it’s a great place to meet new people.

Highlights of Fraser Island

  • The brilliantly blue Lake Mackenzie
  • 4WD – ing through the subtropical rainforest
  • Being drifted away in Eli Creek, a natural lazy river
  • The spectacular Champagne Pools
  • Gazing over the island from Indian Head lookout
  • Drinking (and dancing with) goon back at the campsite. Backpackers eh…

Other Fraser Island Tours

Return back to Rainbow Beach with the tour – you’ll probably want to stay another night at Dingos. 

The next day, drive 1 hour 40 minutes, 134 kilometres to Noosa Heads or jump on a coach.

Noosa and the Sunshine Coast

Suggested time – 2-3 days

Noosa is a charming town nestled in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. It’s loved by backpackers and locals alike, because of its beautiful surroundings and bustling atmosphere.

Things to do in Noosa

  • Exploring the coastal and inland tracks of Noosa National Park – which is very easily accessible from the town, even if you don’t have a car
  • Lazing, BBQing or swimming on one of the town’s many beaches
  • Café hopping and seeing who really does the best soy cappuccino in Noosa
  • Similarly, check out every breakfast spot in town (warning: you’ll need a huge appetite or a few days)
  • Climb up Mount Tinbeerwah for amazing panoramic views of the whole coastline
  • Go on a kayak tour of Noosa Everglades
  • Go stand up paddleboarding in Little Cove

Where to stay in Noosa

Nomads Noosa is located right in the heart of town, making all of Noosa’s main attractions easily accessible. There’s options to play beach volleyball or pool and drink at the on site bar. Choose from 8, 10 and 16 bed dorms and click here for rates and to book today.

Travel 141 kilometres, 1 hour 45 minutes, to Brisbane.

Brisbane

Suggested time – 2-3 days

You’ve reached the big city!! I was most excited to get to Brisbane because it meant I could go to LUSH and stock up on shampoo bars, but there’s lots of other things to do in Brissy too. The city has a certain air of glitz and glamour about it, and within Brisbane, there’s some great museums, fantastic restaurants and bars, a bridge climb and city beaches.

Things to do in Brisbane

  • Visit the museum of Queensland and learn all about the state you’ve just been exploring
  • Explore the world of contemporary art at Queensland Gallery of Modern Art
  • Rent a bike and ride around the city and its ‘burbs
  • Take a Kookaburra River Queens cruise – which use old style paddlewheel vessels – around Brisbane’s river, taking in the city’s attractions.
  • Go shipwreck diving at Moreton Island
  • Climb the city’s Story Bridge and get impressive views of the entire cityscape
  • Enjoy all sorts of artwork at Queensland Art Gallery
  • Visit South Bank Parklands and laze away a hot Brissy day at one of the city beaches
  • Go on a whale watching tour (seasonal) to see humpback whales travel from the Antarctic to Queensland’s more mild waters

Note – one of the most popular Brisbane attractions is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. I’ve omitted it off this list because I don’t think that any institution, sanctuary or not, is ethical if it allows you to hold a wild animal who normally likes its space. If you can hold it, it has likely been unnaturally domesticized. If you want to see koalas, head to Magnetic Island or the Great Ocean Road where there are plenty in their natural habitat.

Where to stay in Brisbane

City Backpackers is a friendly, well-equipped hostel with a bar and roof terrace and a fantastic view of Brisbane’s skyline. Lots of people stay in the hostel and work, but it’s got a great atmosphere for short-termers as well. The on-site bar offers $10 dinners every night and great drinks deals.

People are definitely encouraged to get in the party mood here, but for those wanting to chill/ still recovering from dancing around with a bag of goon on Fraser Island (me), it’s easy to catch a good night’s sleep, and the staff are very helpful with daytime activity recommendations. There is also free parking, which is a great benefit in Brisbane central. For rates and to book, click here.

Brisbane to Sydney Drive Itinerary

 You still with me? The Cairns to Brisbane drive itinerary was the longest chunk of your trip – but that’s not to say that the next two segments aren’t just as epic. If you’re venturing south of Brisbane, let me show you the very best spots to visit on this Brisbane to Sydney drive!

Drive 1 hour, 78 kilometres, to reach Surfers Paradise. You can also jump on a Greyhound to do the distance, or take local buses and trains.

Gold Coast

Suggested time – 2-3 days

 If Australia was a cupboard of condiments, Gold Coast would definitely be marmite – you either love it or you hate it. (it wouldn’t be Vegemite, Australia’s answer to Marmite, because every Aussie young or old loves it). Gold Coast is home to lots of beaches, plenty of good surf, parties until 6am and high rise buildings.

The centre of the Gold Coast is Surfers Paradise, which is where most of the backpacker hangouts are.

Things to do in Surfers Paradise

  • Go out – it’s what the city built its popularity on. Surfers Paradise has all night parties, day sessions, boozy BBQs – you name it
  • Believe it or not, it’s a popular destination for surfing – although the waves definitely seem for the more advanced, there’s some spots that are great for beginners too
  • Go to the all-vegan Lord of the Fries. These burger stalls are all over Melbourne and Sydney, but I think the Surfers Paradise joint was the first to be completely vegan. It mainly serves mock meat, which was a bit strange to eat – but it’s tasty comfort food and it saves animals and the world
  • Check out views of the city from the Sky Point Observation Deck
  • Head to Infinity, which is a house of optical illusions and a fantastic place to spend a rainy day!
  • Browse the beachfront markets on a Wednesday, Friday and Sunday night
  • Check out some more free things to do on the Gold Coast here.

Pssst… I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you’re after a lively backpacker scene and crazy parties, stick to Surfers. BUT there’s lots of quieter beaches in the Gold Coast that are amazing for a more chilled out holiday; make sure you visit some of these hidden gems on your Brisbane to Sydney drive!

Other beaches on the Gold Coast

  • Burleigh Heads
  • Coolangatta
  • Currumbin
  • Kirra Point
  • Mermaid Beach

Check out this Gold Coast Beaches Guide for some more information about alternative beaches.

Where to stay in Surfers Paradise

A well facilitated hostel that’s perfect for both chill and party, BUNK is centrally located, with an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub. The hostel offers free breakfast, and each dorm has ‘privacy pods’ with individual lights and power sockets. However, if you want to socialise, there’s plenty of areas perfect for meeting new travel mates. For rates and to book, click here.

Drive 1 hour 2 minutes and 78 kilometres from Surfers Paradise to Mullumbimby. If you are taking the coaches down the east coast, you’ll need to fast track straight to Byron Bay.

Queensland/ New South Wales Border

Crossing over into New South Wales from Queensland is pretty uneventful – if you’ve ever crossed into Western Australia, you’ll know how painful border crossings can be!

You’re not too far from Byron Bay, one of the best places on the planet in my humble opinion, but there are a few gorgeous spots that are worth visiting before you reach the hippy town.

Mullimbimby

Suggested time – stopover

Slightly inland is the charming town of Mullimbimby – which many regard to be ‘Byron Bay 20 years ago’. It’s one of those towns where great pleasure can be had just by strolling around.

Things to do in Mullimbimby

  • Stroll around the Mullimbimby Community Garden
  • Check out the local Rainforest Walk
  • Enjoy the markets – Mullum Community Market runs on the 3rd Saturday of every month and the Mullum Farmers Market is every Friday 7-11am
  • Check out some of the charismatic cafes
  • Stroll around the murals painted by local artists
  • Attend a yoga or pilates class or unwind at the day spa

Drive 10 minutes or 7.7 kilometres (yes, that’s it!) to Brunswick Heads

Brunswick Heads

Suggested time – stopover

Photo via Flickr by Richard Rydge

Heading out to the coast from Mullimbimby is the tranquil Brunswick Heads, home to bushland opening out onto serene beaches.

Things to do in Brunswick Heads

  • Canoe, birdwatch or hike in the Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve
  • Catch a surf on the local beach
  • Jump from the old wooden bridge into the clear river (at high tide!)
  • Enjoy the vistas of the bush opening out to beach
  • Go stand up paddleboarding at Torakina Beach

Drive 18 minutes or 18 kilometres to Byron Bay

Byron Bay

Suggested time – 3-4 days

Ahhh… Byron Bay. My second home and the only place in 18 months of travelling that could persuade me to stay longer than a month. I actually lived in Byron Bay, in a tent, for five beautiful months and I would go back in a heartbeat.

There’s lots of reasons why so many people fall in love with beautiful Byron Bay, and it will no doubt be a highlight on your Brisbane to Sydney drive. Here’s why it changed my life. I’d recommend staying in Byron Bay for as long as possible – but if you only have a few days, here’s the highlights.

Things to do in Byron Bay

  • Walk up to the lighthouse
  • Catch a wave at The Pass
  • Go scuba diving at Julian Rocks
  • Catch some live music at The Rails or the Northern
  • Watch the sunset while dancing away at the drum circle
  • Watch some of the amazing entertainers (often fire spinners or buskers) at Main Beach
  • Catch the Arts Factory’s talent show

I genuinely feel a pang in my heart while writing about Byron Bay – I miss it every day.

Byron Bay Tours

Where to stay in Byron Bay

There’s no better place to stay at in Byron Bay than The Arts Factory. Spreading out over 5 acres of gorgeous grounds, The Arts Factory is less of a hostel and more of an experience. Its got a name as a bit of a hippie hangout, and it definitely attracts the free spirited and artistic – but really, there’s something for everyone at the Arts Factory.

Enjoy didgeridoo lessons, yoga classes, bush walks, the weekly talent show and more at the Arts Factory, while staying in one of their dorms, private rooms or even on the attached campsite which is affectionately known as ‘The Jungle’. I lived here for five months and couldn’t get enough of it. Click here for rates and to book.

Can’t get enough of Byron and want to live there? I don’t blame you, it happens to the best of us. Here’s a guide to getting a job in Byron Bay

The Hinterland of Byron Bay

Suggested time – 1 day

Byron Bay’s famous for its beaches, but don’t forget to check out its amazing hinterland too. Home to waterfalls, national parks, forests and quirky towns, there’s something kind of magical about the Byron Bay hinterland.

Things to do in Byron Bay’s Hinterland

  • Eat locally sourced food in Newrybar’s Harvest restaurant
  • Head to Nimbin, which is possibly the hippiest town in Australia. Enjoy the laidback, organic lifestyle of the town and stock up on some erm… treats… if you’re into that kind of thing!
  • Hike to the top of Mount Warning to be the first in mainland Australia to see the sun rise
  • Walk to the base of the spectacular Minyon Falls
  • Stroll through rainforest of the Nightcap National Park to the gorgeous Protestor Falls
  • Have a swim in the plunge pool of Killen Falls

Drive 1 hour 40 minutes, 126 kilometres from Byron Bay to Yamba, or catch a coach heading south

Yamba

Suggested time – 1 day

Yamba is a sleepy little coastal town with lots of natural beauty and attractions. While it’s not the most visited town on the east coast by any means, it’s gaining popularity with backpackers and travellers doing the Brisbane to Sydney drive.

Things to do in Yamba

  • Go surfing at the many beaches
  • Bask in the stunning natural beauty of the Angourie Blue and Green Pools
  • Take the Angourie Walking Track along the stunning coastline
  • Enjoy the vista with a picnic at the Yamba Lighthouse
  • Do ‘Shane’s 10 buck tour’ which takes you around the town, telling you its stories in the tour operator’s own wicked humour

Where to stay in Yamba

Yamba YHA Backpacker Beach Resort is located right in the centre of town, and has the option of dorms or private rooms with en suite bathrooms. There’s an on site café and bar, BBQ facilities and free parking, and the hostel is where the famous ‘Shane’s Tour’ begins. For rates and to book, click here.

Catch a coach heading toward Coffs Harbour, or drive the 1 hour 38 minutes, 138 kilometre distance

Coffs Harbour

Suggested time – 1 day

Photo by Andrea Schaffer via Flickr

 Famed mainly for ‘The Big Banana’, there are some other attractions in Coffs Harbour that aren’t big fruit. Some of the best attractions are coastal, but my favourite bit of Coffs is its hinterland.

Things to do in Coffs Harbour and the surroundings

  • The gorgeous waterfalls of Dorrigo National Park
  • The Big Banana’s waterslides and activities
  • Koala spotting in Bongil Bongil National Park
  • Visit the rugged Muttonbird Island
  • Admire the boats at the marina and jetty

Drive 27 minutes, 34 kilometres, sout-eastwards from Coffs Harbour to Bellingen. If you are taking the coaches down the east coast, you’ll need to skip this part and head straight to Port Macquarie. 

Bellingen

Suggested time – stopover

Bellingen is half country town half hippy retreat; I was there just after same sex marriage was passed in Australia, and was uplifted at all the banners and signs throughout the town expressing their joy at equality. Pair this with stunning buildings and fantastic cafes set in the most picturesque setting, and you’ve got yourself a perfect little town.

Drive westwards from Bellingen toward Armidale. It’s 155 kilometres, and would take around 2 hours with no stops – but let’s face it, you’ll be stopping a lot. 

The Waterfall Way

Suggested time – 1-2 days

The Waterfall Way has some of the most scenic falls in the country. It’s a 185 kilometre road traversing no less than five national parks.

Waterfalls along the way

  • Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and Skywalk Lookout
  • Crystal Shower Falls
  • Tristina Falls
  • Dangar Falls
  • Ebor Falls
  • Wollombi Falls
  • Chandler Falls
  • Red Cedar Falls (which a difficult 8km hike is necessary to reach – but definitely head there if you have the time!) 

From Armidale, travel down the Oxley Highway to reach Port Macquarie. At a distance of 250 kilometres, it’s just over 3 hours of driving.

Port Macquarie

Suggested time – 1 day

Whether you head back out to the coast via the Waterfall Way return route or head south in the hinterland, you’ll eventually find your way to the Central NSW town of Port Macquarie. Famed for its stunning beaches, this town has a lovely laid back atmosphere and plenty to pass a few days.

Things to do in Port Macquarie

  • Check out the artistically painted rocks along the breakwall
  • Check out a sunrise or sunset on the many beaches
  • Grab a beer and watch the waves at the Beach House
  • Walk the 9km coastal walk which traverses most of the town’s beaches
  • Visit the ‘brothers’ and drive to the summit of the North Brother mountain, which offers spectacular views of the local area

Head 244 kilometres south to Newcastle, which should take you about 2 hours 10 minutes. Or hop on a coach heading in the same direction.

Newcastle

Suggested time – 1 day

Just two hours north of Sydney, Newcastle is a buzzing town basking in scenic surroundings. Head to Newcastle to check out the coastal national parks and the charming atmosphere of the city itself.

Things to do in Newcastle

  • Glenrock State Conservation Area
  • Minmi Cemetary Walk, which tells some of the tales of the coal mining boom
  • Enjoy the vistas of Nobbys Beach and the city’s lighthouse
  • Visit the Newcastle Museum to learn more about the surrounding area’s history
  • See some local art at the Newcastle Art Gallery 

From Newcastle, head to Palm Beach, which is a 173 kilometre or 2 hour 16 minute drive. If you are taking the coaches, you’ll need to head straight to Sydney.

Palm Beach

Suggested time – stopover

Photo by Suzanne via Flickr

You’re technically in Sydney’s northern beaches now! Palm Beach was made famous for being the setting of Home and Away, but there’s plenty to enjoy within the vicinity for not-so-big fans of the Aussie soap.

Things to do in Palm Beach

  • Take in a great view from Barrenjoey Lighthouse
  • Go paddleboarding from the beach
  • Walk around the Home and Away set
  • Dine at some of New South Wales’ classiest eateries 

Drive 43 minutes, 30 kilometres, along the side of the Pacific Ocean towards Manly, one of Sydney’s northern suburbs.

Manly 

Suggested time – 1 day

I’m really dragging out this entrance to Sydney, aren’t I? You’re almost there – well, you’re technically there – Manly is and isn’t part of Sydney. It’s only a ferry ride to Darling Harbour, but the beaches and community atmosphere of the suburb make it an entity of its own. Many backpackers choose to stay, work and live in Manly over Sydney ‘proper’, and there’s plenty of draws to this part of the city.

Things to do in Manly

  • Visit the resident penguins at Collins Beach
  • Have a BBQ and catch the sunset at Shelley Beach
  • Do the 9km North Head Sanctuary loop walk from Shelley Beach, which will give you fantastic views of Sydney Harbour and wildlife spotting opportunities
  • Walk along the northern beaches via the Manly to Split walk
  • Check out the bustling markets of the town

Where to stay in Manly

If you don’t fancy staying in Sydney proper, check out Manly Bunkhouse, which boasts en suite dorms and rooms, communal areas, central location and outdoor spaces. Click here to find out more.

Take the ferry over to Sydney Central, which costs $15 – or $2.60 if you are going on a Sunday! Or drive the 18 kilometre distance, which should take about 30 minutes (traffic dependent). 

Sydney

Suggested time – 4 days

You made it! Congratulations on reaching Australia’s largest city. Sydney’s definitely a bucket list city that every keen traveller should visit at least once in their lifetime. Although it’s not my favourite place in Australia, it was the first part of Australia I ever went to and that makes it very special for me.

Things to do in Sydney

  • Walk around the iconic Opera House
  • Stroll through the beautiful botanic gardens, right by the harbour
  • Walk to Mrs Macquarie’s Seat and snap a great picture of the Opera House
  • Head to the Australian Museum to learn all about this weird and wonderful country
  • Explore the funky suburbs such as Newtown
  • Brunch in the upmarket Surry Hills
  • Head to the Eastern Beaches; admire the outdoor pool at Bondi and complete the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk
  • Go to the NSW Royal National Park to check out sights like the Figure 8 Pools and Wedding Cake Rock
  • Check out this local’s guide to Sydney for more ideas

Sydney Tours

Where to stay in Sydney

Which neighbourhood to stay in in Sydney largely depends on what kind of scene you’re after; whether you want to enjoy the fast-paced life of the CBD, one of its quirky suburbs or chill out on Bondi Beach.

If you’re after a stay in Central Sydney, Railway Square YHA is a hostel with a difference – half of it is located in disused railway cabins! It also offers cheap breakfasts, excellent facilities and great events. For more information and to book, click here.

Sydney to Melbourne Drive Itinerary

So many people fast track from Sydney straight to Melbourne, and I think it’s such a shame. This area of the country is spectacular, with amazing coastline, unique national parks and quirky townships. Take some time for your Sydney to Melbourne drive; to explore a little of southern New South Wales and eastern Victoria, and I promise you won’t regret it!

The Blue Mountains

Suggested time – 2-3 days

To reach the Blue Mountains, drive 55 minutes or 62 kilometres from Sydney to reach the edge of the National Park. It’s an extra 30 minutes/ 40 kilometres to reach the three sisters, the most prominent landmark in the park. Alternatively, you can take the train to the national park from Sydney Central.

I’m sending you on a little detour here, but it’s well worth it. The Blue Mountains are located 62 kilometres west of Sydney, and they are nothing short of spectacular. If you’re taking the Greyhound down the coast, I’d really recommend renting a car, taking the train or taking a tour to this national park – it’s definitely an Australia must-see.

Covered in eucalypt forests, the Blue Mountains are named so because of how the oil from the trees mixes with water vapour. They span over  11,400 km2 and encompasses hills, waterfalls, lookouts and spectacular panoramic vistas.

Things to do in the Blue Mountains

  • Three Sisters Lookout, the most popular and iconic spot in the Blue Mountains
  • Evans Lookout, my personal favourite
  • Traverse some of the many tracks of the mountains
  • Visit the Waradah Aboriginal Centre

Psstt.. If you’re visiting the Blue Mountains on a day trip from Sydney, head there on a Sunday, when the train fare is just $2.60

Blue Mountain Tours

From Bathurst, which is located at the other end of the Blue Mountains National Park, drive 253 kilometres to Canberra, which should take you around 3 hours 13 minutes. 

Alternatively you can reach Canberra by bus or train from Sydney Central.

Canberra

Suggested time – 1-2 days

Tell anyone you’re planning on a trip to Canberra on your east coast Australia road trip and their response will be ‘why’? Famed for its dullness, the capital of Australia isn’t the top spot on anyone’s itinerary. Why am I recommending you go there then? Well, for all my history and politics fans, there’s lots to do in Canberra if you’re interested in getting to know how Australia works and has worked in the past. And I think if you’re travelling in a country, these are things you have a duty to know.

Canberra can be done in a day trip from Sydney – it’s a three hour drive to the city (just down the road, you know), or you can take a coach or train between cities. There is enough to keep you occupied for longer though – check out this post for some ideas of what to do in 2-3 days in Canberra. If you’re self driving down the east coast, you can head south-east from Canberra and then continue your Sydney to Melbourne drive via the coast.

Things to do in Canberra

  • Visit the Parliament House and sit in on a question time (which is 2pm when the parliament is running)
  • Walk around the Old Parliament House, home of the Museum of Australian Democracy
  • See the Australian War Memorial
  • Enjoy a sunset over Lake Burley Griffin
  • See artwork at the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery
  • Look out over the city from the top of Mount Ainslie

Check out this guide to Canberra for more ideas.

Where to stay in Canberra

A spacious hostel in the city centre, Canberra City YHA offers a swimming pool, sauna, rooftop terrace and an onsite bar and café. Choose from double, twin or dorm rooms and check here for rates and to book.

From Canberra, drive 2 hours 55 minutes/ 222 kilometres eastwards to Jervis Bay. If you are taking public transport, taking a bus to Wollongong and then local transport south to Jervis Bay is an option.

Jervis Bay

Suggested time – 1-2 days

Bladdy magical. That’s what Jervis Bay is. Three hours south of Sydney, it’s a spectacular beach with white-as-it-gets sand and the bluest of blue waters. If it’s hot on your visit, it’s a great place to have a beach day – or there are hiking trails and swimming spots to enjoy. Whatever the weather, it will no doubt be a highlight on your Sydney to Melbourne drive!

Things to do in Jervis Bay

  • Have picnic at Greenfield Beach and enjoy the beautiful rockpools
  • Take the White Sands Walk from Greenfield Beach along the bay
  • Go on one of the walking tracks of Booderee National Park
  • Walk the Abrahams Bosom Reserve which leads to some of the most secluded beaches in the area

From Jervis Bay, travel 1 hour 12 minutes or 87 kilometres to Ulladulla. If you are taking the coaches down the east coast of Australia, Premier serve this area of the country.

 Ulladulla

Suggested time – half a day

On your drive south, Ulladulla is worth a stop over on your Melbourne to Sydney coastal drive, mainly for the ‘one track for all’ walk which describes Aboriginal culture of the area, describing what happened when Europeans invaded and settled. 

From Ulladulla, drive 50 minutes or 63 kilometres south to Mogo, or hop back on the Premier coach service.

Mogo

Suggested time – stopover

Mogo is a quirky village that is really no more than a cluster of buildings on the side of the road, but it’s worth checking out to see some of the eccentric and arty shops, and admiring the treasures within each!

From Mogo, drive 2 hours 20 minutes, 189 kilometres, to Eden, stopping in at some of the New South Wales state forests (many of which are also free campsites!) along the way.

New South Wales State Forests 

Suggested time – stopover or overnight stop

Away from the beach, New South Wales is home to some spectacular state forests. There are lots of free camping spots within these forests, each which contains walking trails and makes for a great leg stretch en route south. Look for signs to rest areas between Mogo and Eden; you’ll find information about local walking trails along this route.

Eden 

Suggested time – 1 day

It’s scenic beaches all the way down now, and Eden is no exception. If you fancy lazing back on a beach, there’s plenty of those; or seek some adventure at one of the surrounding national parks.

Things to do in Eden

  • Visit Woboyn Beaches – located on the shores of Disaster Bay! – to enjoy the spectacular oceanic vistas
  • See the Ben Boyd National Park for 4WD tracks and short walks
  • Enjoy the heritage of the town through the Heritage Walk or Heritage Drive

From Eden, head toward the New South Wales/ Victoria border and then drive to Lakes Entrance. Total driving time 2 hours 46 minutes distance 242 kilometres. If you’re taking public transport, transfer to a V Line coach to reach Lakes Entrance.

New South Wales/ Victoria Border

Just south of Eden is the New South Wales/ Victoria border, another unassuming crossing that only involves passing a sign.

Lakes Entrance 

Suggested time – 1 day

A somewhat sizable town under 200kms from the NSW/ Victorian border, Lakes Entrance is a perfect mix of idyllic water, beautiful beaches and fascinating history. It’s a laid back kind of town which is perfect for holidaying, camping and unwinding. It’s also one of the most beautiful spots of the south coast, in my humble opinion!

Things to do in Lakes Entrance

  • The Entrance to the Lakes walk which showcases some of the best natural scenery of the area
  • Hire bikes and explore the town with two wheels
  • Take an eco cruise to see some local marine life
  • Explore the limestone formations of Buchan Caves Reserve 

From Lakes Entrance, drive 3 hours 34 minutes or 273 kilometres westwards towards Wilson’s Promontory. If you are taking public transport, it is easiest to travel from Lakes Entrance straight to Melbourne and organise day trips to Wilson’s Promontory and Phillip Island from there.

Wilson’s Promontory 

Suggested time – 1-2 days

A national park bordering the beach, and the southernmost point of Australia, Wilson’s Promontory is a fantastic place to stop on a Victoria road trip. The park is free to enter and explore, and includes hikes and beaches. Its   natural beauty makes it an essential stop on your Sydney to Melbourne drive.

Things to do in Wilson’s Promontory

  • Walk to Sealers Cove, which is a 19 kilometre day walk
  • Stay at Wilsons Promontory Lightstation
  • See the world’s most southern mangroves
  • Hike to the top of Mount Oberon
  • Squeak around on the sands of Squeaky Beach 

Day Tour to Wilson’s Promontory

Drive just under 2 hours, 134 kilometres, to reach Phillip Island. The island is connected to Australian mainland by a 26 kilometre long bridge, so you don’t need to worry about ferry crossings!

Phillip Island

Suggested time – 1 day

Located off the coast just 90 minutes from Melbourne, Phillip Island is a great pit stop. Famed for its wildlife, water sports and motor sports, there’s plenty of great reasons to visit Phillip Island if you’re not quite ready for big city life and the end of your east coast road trip.

Things to do on Phillip Island

  • Surf from one of the many beaches
  • See some of the spectacular wildlife, including penguins, seals and koalas
  • Go go-karting and learn about the history of motor spots at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit Visitor Centre
  • Check out the crashing waves of Cape Woolami along the rugged coastline of the island

Phillip Island Tours

Drive 1 hour 50 minutes, which is 141 kilometres, from Phillip Island to Melbourne

Melbourne  

Suggested time – 4 days or more!

Bet you thought you’d never get there, right? Nearly 3000 kms from Cairns – although if you’ve taken all of my suggested detours, you’ll have racked up a good few more kilometres – your arrival in Melbourne is a long time coming. Melbourne is a vivacious, ever-changing city with a great community feel and upbeat spirit. It reminds me a lot of Bristol, my adopted hometown, and it has tons of amazing things to see and do.

Things to do in Melbourne

  • Visit some of the amazing museums or galleries throughout the city
  • Café hopping in funky Fitzroy or other suburbs
  • Discover some literature gems at the State Library of Victoria (and of course snapping a photo of )
  • Support Melbourne’s most sustainable restaurant, Lentil as Anything
  • Enjoy seaside vibes at St Kilda
  • Watch the penguins at St Kilda
  • Get lost in the other endless suburbs
  • Catch a live music event at one of the many venues around the city
  • Eat at some of the best restaurants in Melbourne
  • Get out and exploring some of the surrounding towns and natural wonders. These include: the Grampians National Park, the Great Ocean Road, the city of Ballarat, the quirky town of Daylesford.
  • If you’re not quite road tripped out yet, check out this Victoria road trip itinerary to see the best of the west of the state.
Skint after your epic voyage down the east coast? It happens! Here’s how to explore Melbourne on a Budget

Where to stay in Melbourne 

For well equipped accommodation at budget rates, there’s nowhere better than Urban Central. This busy hostel has lots going on, with cheap dinners, an on site bar and complimentary bike hire, rice, pasta, tea and coffee. The dorms are great for a good night’s shut eye; each bunk has its own light, a comfy mattress and a large locker with a power point inside each. For rates and to book, click here.

There’s so many more things to do in Melbourne, and it’s a great place to set some roots down and live for some time. If you’re looking to find a job after your Cairns to Melbourne road trip, working a while in Victoria’s capital could be the answer!

East Coast Australia Tour

If you don’t fancy doing the whole trip by car or coach, guided tours from G Adventures travel the popular East Coast route. They’re a great company who have a sustainable influence with their tours.Click here to find out more.

Your ultimate Cairns to Melbourne road trip guide

If you’ve managed to read this Cairns to Melbourne road trip itinerary from beginning to end, I salute you – it’s one long post! But please do save it for later and check back – this is just the beginning of a series of posts on the East Coast of Australia. Expect destination specific hostel guides, packing lists, driving tips and example budgets online over the course of the next few weeks! Subscribe to never miss a post, or come and say hello over on Facebook!

Thinking of exploring the rest of Australia? Please do, it’s awesome! I’ve written a few more handy guides like this one, which are perfect to put your wanderlust into action!

Related Posts

If you’re yet to head to Australia, check out my packing list to make sure you’ve got everything and send your friends and relatives this Australia gift guide so they can get you a little something before you head off!

Finally, if you have a lot of questions, I now offer travel coaching! Here’s some more information about this service.

Disclosure: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase using these links, I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. This is just one of the ways I keep this blog running!

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Searching for an east coast Australia road trip itinerary? This suggested route will take you through the highlights and hidden gems of the east coast of Australia, including spots in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Split into three sections: Cairns to Brisbane drive, Brisbane to Sydney drive and Sydney to Melbourne drive, and with Australia hostel recommendations and plenty of travel tips for Australia, this is the only Cairns to Melbourne drive itinerary you'll need. Click through to read more! Searching for an east coast Australia road trip itinerary? This suggested route will take you through the highlights and hidden gems of the east coast of Australia, including spots in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Split into three sections: Cairns to Brisbane drive, Brisbane to Sydney drive and Sydney to Melbourne drive, and with Australia hostel recommendations and plenty of travel tips for Australia, this is the only Cairns to Melbourne drive itinerary you'll need. Click through to read more!

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