Australia is such a huge country that it’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to planning your trip. If you’re short on time, then I’d highly recommend the East Coast as there’s so much packed into a relatively short distance, so you can spend more time on the beach and less time on the road.
I flew into Melbourne and worked there and Sydney for a while so I haven’t included them in this itinerary. Driving from Melbourne to Sydney will take about ten hours so you may want to consider internal flights if you have limited time on the East Coast. We flew up to Cairns from Melbourne and hired our campervan from there, returning it in Brisbane. If you want more info about hiring campervans, I’ve done a whole post on it here. Alternatively, I’ve heard good things about the Greyhound Bus which is probably more cost effective if you’re travelling on your own.
Driving from Cairns to Brisbane is a total of around 20 hours, so easily manageable over about three weeks. We only drove for two to three hours a day and found the driving really straightforward. We hired our campervan for just over two weeks to get from Cairns to Brisbane but spent a few days in Cairns before picking up our campervan and then about a week after staying with friends and family in Brisbane and The Gold Coast. It’s definitely doable in two weeks but I’d recommend a three to four weeks. Anyway, onto the itinerary!
Day 1 and 2
It’s time to start your East Coast Adventure! Before beginning your road trip, spend a couple of days in Cairns. I’d highly recommend the Uncle Brian’s Fun, Falls and Forest Tour – definitely lives up to its name! There are also free fitness classes and a lagoon on offer.
Accommodation: We stayed one night in a twin room at Dreamtime Travellers Rest which was a short walk from the centre. A cool little hostel with great staff. There are fans in all rooms but there is an additional cost for A/C. We then stayed at Caravella Central in a dorm room, opposite the infamous Gilligan’s. It was a pretty basic hostel but in a great location with free A/C (in the 8 bed dorm – apparently this isn’t the case for all rooms though) and fast wifi.
Pick up your campervan/car/Greyhound bus pass, it’s time to hit the road! Head South from Cairns on the Bruce Highway (pretty much the only road you’re going to be on for the whole trip, good ol’ Bruce…_) to Mission Beach. If you didn’t go on the Uncle Brian’s tour, then stop off en-route at Babinda Boulders to stretch your legs with a short walk through the rainforest, or cool off with a dip in the very refreshing (read: freezing) pools.
Paronella Park is well worth a visit and is just a short way off Bruce Highway. We didn’t really know what to expect but really enjoyed our visit. It’s a little pricy for backpackers at $44/person but this includes unlimited entry for two years (a little far for me to revisit from the UK though!) and a free site to camp or park your campervan overnight.
If you’re short on time, then you could continue onto Townsville which is around another three hours of driving. Mission Beach is famous for skydiving but if this isn’t your thing, then we found there wasn’t a huge amount to do.
Accommodation: We parked at the Jackaroo Treehouse is a hostel with campervan parking. We were able to use all the hostel facilities which was great and it was a really unique place to stay. It wasn’t really set up for campervans though as it was just a gravel car park on a bit of a slope so I kept rolling into the window during the night…
Day 4 and 5
Get on the road again and head towards Townsville. From here, you can catch a ferry to Magnetic Island which is well worth a visit. We caught an early ferry and spent the whole day spotting koalas on the Forts walk and chilling on the beach at Horseshoe and Picnic Bay. If you’ve got time to spare, spend a night or two here.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Big4 Walkabout Palms caravan site. Good facilities and a short drive from the centre of Townsville.
Just over three hours drive away from Townsville is Airlie Beach, home of The Whitsundays. Book yourself onto a sailing trip for a spot of snorkelling, sunbathing on deck and a stroll along the picturesque Whitehaven Beach. Both day and overnight trips are available – we opted for two days/one night on ‘The Siska’.
Once you’re done sailing, head back into the town to checkout Airlie Beach’s nightlife.
Accommodation: We stayed at Base as they offer campervan parking in addition to hostel rooms. Great location but be aware that it does get pretty busy and check in can be quite slow. We were also able to pay to park our campervan there whilst we were on our Whitsundays trip.
A mere two hours from Airlie Beach is Mackay that features a lovely lagoon that is free to use. We spent a couple of hours relaxing at the lagoon before driving to a free campsite a few hours away. The drive from Mackay to Agnes Water (our stop for tomorrow) is the longest section on this trip at around six hours. You could stop overnight in Rockhampton though which is a welcome sight after several hours of driving through empty landscapes!
Accommodation: We stayed at a free campsite (found using Wikicamps).
The quaint towns of Agnes Water and 1770 are pretty tiny – blink and you’ll miss them! They are really beautiful though and we enjoyed an afternoon of kayaking as well as visiting the landing site of Captain Cook.
Accommodation: We stayed at The Reef Caravan Park. Lovely, clean facilities and friendly staff. The beach front campsites can get filled up pretty quickly so this is a good alternative.
Bundaberg often gets a bad rep amongst backpackers but I really enjoyed my time here! You’ll no doubt have seen the Bundaberg Ginger Beer bottles in Australia and you can visit the Bundaberg Barrel to see where the drinks are made or head to the rum factory. Depending on the time of year, you can also go to Mon Repos which has a turtle centre and you can see turtles coming onto beach to lay their eggs or see the eggs hatching.
Accommodation: We stayed at Bargara Beach Caravan Park. This is a huge caravan park so you shouldn’t have any problems finding a site. It’s also quite close to the Mon Repos Centre.
Day 12 – 14
Hervey Bay is only around an hour and a half from Bundaberg and is where you can access Fraser Island. We didn’t really explore much of Hervey Bay as we were short on time. Fraser Island was one of the highlights of out trip.
Accommodation: We got a site at the YHA Colonial Village which also offers hostel rooms. They allowed us to park for free whilst visiting Fraser Island and our Fraser Island tour picked us up from the hostel.
Noosa is about two hours from Hervey Bay and is such a beautiful area. We went on a beach horse ride on Noosa North Shore and I think it was my standout moment from my whole time in Australia. I’d highly recommend ‘Equathon’, the company we went with, as they can cater for different riding abilities and offer great canters down the beach!
Accommodation: we drove to a free campsite near Australia Zoo (found on wikicamps) and stayed there for the night so we could get to the zoo early the next day.
Day 16 – 18
Australia Zoo is only an hour from Noosa and well worth a visit. There’s lots of exhibits and a chance to cuddle a koala if you want that iconic picture. Brisbane is around an hour from the zoo and is the only place we experienced traffic on our roadtrip! We sadly had to say goodbye to our campervan, Christina, in Brisbane as our rental time was up. From here, we stayed with friends and family, using trains and buses to get around if we weren’t able to get a lift with them.
Brisbane is a really cool city to spend a few days in. Mount Coot-tha offers great views over the city and the Eat Street Markets are a must if you’re a foodie.
Day 19 – 21
The Gold Coast is easily accessed from Brisbane and is around an hour by car or train. The Gold Coast kind of felt like Australia’s version of Miami to me. There are also lots of theme parks here and I’d recommend researching passes if you want to visit more than one as you’ll save a lot of money this way. My favourite was Wet n Wild – Movieworld and Seaworld had a lot of ride closures which were quite possibly in relation to the tragic accident at Dreamworld sparking vigorous retesting of rides.
If you have any time left on your trip, then Byron Bay is only an hour or so from the Gold Coast. Sadly, we didn’t have time for this but it gives us an excellent excuse to come back to Australia…
So there you have it! There’s so much to see and do on the East Coast but I hope this helps you to narrow it down a bit. I’ve linked some other blog posts I’ve done which you may find helpful as they include more detailed information on certain places. Have an amazing time on your Australian adventure!