OhMyGod I just LOVE Australia. It’s so happy and sunny and the people are fan-flippin-tastic! But it’s such a long way from home, you’d have to quit your job to travel there, surely?
Wrong. You don’t need to quit your job to have the best travelling experience of your life in Australia. If you can persuade your boss to give you 3 lovely weeks off, it’s possible to cram in all of the highlights of the east coast in this short time. Yes, it’s a little quick for some folk, but what else was annual leave made for if it’s not to live a little?
The ultimate way to do this of course is to grab some friends, hire a car and hoon your way up from Sydney to Cairns in style. Having your own car means you have total flexibility and it’s a whole lot faster than taking a bus, which can be slow and tedious (not great when you’re trying to cover a lot of ground). If you’re on your own it will be cheaper to get a Greyhound or Oz Experience bus than to hire a car, but you’ll definitely trade in a few precious hours of your time waiting for buses and finding your way from not-so-central bus stations to hostels.
If you’ve got longer than 3 weeks then I’d say bus travel is a perfectly good way to get around… it all depends on your timescales! But we’re doing this shiz in 3 weeks, right? So, let’s get started!
Sydney (3 nights)
If you’re flying into Oz from the UK you’ll need a few days to acclimatise and get over the jetlag before you hit the road. I can think of no better place to do that than everyone’s favourite city, Sydney. Spend the days hitting the beaches (some of my faves are Coogee, Manly, Narrabeen and of course the famous Bondi Beach) and at night hit one of the traveller bars in Kings Cross to get your globetrotting adventure off to a flying start. My personal choice is the World Bar, where the cocktails are served in teapots!
Also be sure to catch a ferry from Circular Quay for the best views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge take in the nearby Blue Mountains, one of the best natural wonders in the whole country.
Coffs Harbour (1 night)
If you have a little more time you could stop in Newcastle or Port Macquarie, but as we’re rushing to only the best places along the east coast, I’d recommend getting as far north in this first day as possible, and realistically, this is Coffs Harbour. Drive to Sealy Lookout for incredible views over the city and then grab a beer and toast to the first night of your Australian road trip!
Byron Bay (2 nights)
I could spend weeks at a time in Byron Bay, it’s just one of the coolest places to hang out in Oz. If you’re looking for the ‘travelling’ vibe, I’m pretty sure it was born here. Hippies and stoners sit happily beside party animals and leggy ladies dancing on tables in ‘Cheeky Monkeys’, a local nightlife institution. It’s a place where people from all over the world come to enjoy the surf, sea and scorching sunshine.
Brisbane (2 nights)
Welcome to Brissy, where literally anything is possible. Cuddle a cute l’il Koala Bear at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and then head to the city centre to climb City Hall’s bell tower before finishing off the day with one of 200 beers from the Brews Brothers Microbrewery. One of my favourite places to stay in the city is Brisbane City Backpackers, which has its own onsite pub and a rooftop swimming pool with views across the entire skyline. All this from 21 bucks a night. Yusss!
Noosa Heads (2 nights)
Most travellers might pass by Noosa Heads without stopping… big mistake. This little town is a complete gem, and apart from all the roundabouts making it one of the more confusing places to navigate (tip: don’t go for a run without a compass, you WILL get lost), it’s also one of the more beautiful places on the east coast, with waterways and beaches literally every which way you turn.
Hervey Bay and Fraser Island (3 nights)
Now we hit the good stuff. How about an island made entirely of sand, where you drive from one weird natural wonder to another in a 4×4 with a team of other travellers? Yes, it’s Fraser Island and the scene of all of the iconic traveller photos. Crystal blue lakes, ‘Champagne’ pools and even a creepy old shipwreck to explore means you need a couple of nights to see it all, and if you ask me, the best way to do it is to camp out near the island’s beaches. Just watch out for dingoes!
The Town of 1770 (1 night)
One of the only places I’ve ever seen to be given a number instead of a name, 1770 is so-called as that’s the year that Captain Cook set foot here. If you do have more time, spend a couple of nights here as there are some really kooky things on offer. First off, a scooteroo tour (automatic scooters souped up to look like Harley Davidsons) is a seriously unique way to see the town, and you’ll look like a total legend of course. Want more thrills? Ask around town for Bruce, a local nutcase who owns a plane, and will let you FLY it to a desert island for a castaway adventure. Yes, I know. Australia officially rules!
Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands (4 nights)
If you’re going to spend a while in one place it just has to be Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays. Get yourself booked onto one of the hundreds of 2-night boat trips taking you to awesome places such as Whitehaven Beach; a swirly whirly white sand beach with sand so fine they use it to clean NASA’s telescopes. Don’t forget to take advantage of the Great Barrier Reef by snorkelling or, even better, scuba diving the crystal clear waters in search of Nemo, and then head back to the party capital of Queensland, Airlie Beach.
Townsville (1 night)
In stark contrast to Airlie Beach, you’ll find almost nobody in Townsville; perhaps the odd tumbleweed and one of the local squaddies from the navy base propping up the bar. It’s a pretty weird place but worth a poke around, and an absolute must for anyone who is looking for the blandest sounding town name ever.
Cairns (2 nights)
Your final stop on your whirlwind adventure on Oz’s east coast is Cairns, and your last chance to top up that tan before you get home. Head to the Esplanade (basically an Australian lido), or make the most of the Great Barrier Reef before you board your flight home to boast about your adventures to your boring work colleague who’s only highlight of the last few weeks was bin day. Hmmmm…. Incredible Australian holiday of a lifetime, or separating plastics from glass? It’s a no brainer.