Australia’s east coast is an iconic part of the country that’s on most travelers’ lists for exploring the land down under. And for good reason. The east coast has a plethora of incredible national parks, breathtaking beaches and charming cities.
But it is huge! It takes about 45 hours of non-stop driving to drive from the Daintree Rainforest down to Melbourne along the coastline. So the journey takes time. And if you really want to enjoy the east coast, it takes lots of time. I only had two weeks to explore from Daintree Rainforest down to Sydney, and it was much too quick. I was able to see several east coast highlights, but the time at each spot was very short, and a significant percentage of my time was spent driving from place to place. I recommend allowing at least four weeks to explore the east coast.
East Coast Highlights
The Daintree Rainforest is an absolutely stunning display of nature. The World Heritage area has a diverse landscape with stunning bays, forests, waterfalls, rivers and wildlife. It is the world’s oldest rainforest and home to the largest number of rare and threatened flora and fauna. There are several beautiful lookouts and stunning walks throughout Daintree Rainforest. And Cape Tribulation is a gorgeous headland. The rainforest and surrounding area that makes up the Daintree National Park are definitely must visit locations.
Port Douglas is a small town. The port town is a popular tourist destination and base point for visits to the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. But the town has its own charm and points of interest. There are several boutique shops and art galleries to enjoy. Port Douglas is also home to a large variety of restaurants. Four Mile Beach is a lovely stretch of sand to relax at and take an easy day.
Cairns is a large city. The city is another popular tourist destination. It is particularly popular among backpackers visiting the tropical north of the state. The touristy area in the city is fairly small and easy to walk around. A larger number of the stores, restaurants and bars are located on the streets nearest the coastline, including the Esplanade and Lake Street. The city is another good base for visiting the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Captain Cook Highway
The stretch of road between Cairns and Port Douglas is absolutely stunning. The highway has beautiful views of the gorgeous coastline. The drive is practically a destination of its own. Rex Lookout, which is about halfway between the two towns, is one of the best places to stop and soak in the beauty of the coastline. You get breathtaking panoramic views of the Coral Sea. The drive along Captain Cook Highway takes about one hour.
Airlie Beach is a small tropical town. The town is a beach destination of its own, but its proximity to the Whitsunday Islands is a key factor in its popularity. The Airlie Beach Lagoon is a lovely spot to lounge in year round and soak up the sun while admiring pretty views of the ocean. The town also has several restaurants, bars and shops along the Main Street. There are many outdoor activities to enjoy all around Airlie Beach, including hiking, diving and mountain biking.
The Whitsunday Islands are one of the most beautiful destinations along the east coast. Many of the collection of 74 islands have national parks. Several tours options are available for visiting the Whitsundays. And there are a number of activities available, including diving, snorkeling, jet skiing and skydiving. Highlights at the Whitsundays include Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. The ocean here is a piercing turquoise with swirls of soft white sand. It is a must see spot along any east coast visit.
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. The island is a World Heritage site filled with lovely natural attractions. Even though the island is made of sand, it has lush plant life. Fraser Island is home to mangrove forests, lakes, sand dunes, eucalyptus woodlands and rainforests. It is also home to Australia’s wild dog, the dingo. The island can be visited with any number of tours or explored on your own. Fraser Island is another must visit location.
Brisbane is Queensland’s capital city. The city is an intriguing blend of urban and nature. The South Bank is one of the best examples of this mix. It is home to a variety of museums, shops, restaurants and galleries. And it has South Bank Parklands, which includes the Rainforest Walk and Streets Beach. Streets Beach is a man-made beach with a large swimming lagoon. The Brisbane Botanic Gardens are another beautiful place in the city that demonstrates the blend of city life and nature.
Byron Bay is a notable beach town near the northern border of New South Wales. The town is a popular tourist destination, especially among backpackers and surfers. Byron Bay is also a hotspot for whale watching (from June to November), snorkeling and scuba diving. The town has several incredible beaches, including Main Beach and Belongil Beach. Cape Byron is the easternmost point of mainland Australia and has several nature walks that meander through beaches, rainforests and grasslands with gorgeous coastal views. The cape also has the Cape Byron Lighthouse.
Sydney is an attractive city. It is home to iconic buildings and structures like the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The city’s central business district (CBD) is fairly compact and walkable. But is also has a comprehensive train and bus network, which offers a convenient way to travel around the city. Sydney has quite a lot to see and do within the CBD and its surrounding suburbs. You can easily spend a week leisurely exploring Sydney, but it is possible to see the major sights in as little as a day if you absolutely can’t spare any more time. Sydney is definitely a must visit location when traveling Australia.
Melbourne is the cultural hub of Australia. The dynamic city is filled with laneways, restaurants, shops and museums. There is always something to do in Melbourne with a continual offering of theater performances, live music and/or comedy shows. The city has something for every person day and night. Melbourne is divided into several suburbs and surrounded by many smaller cities also divided into several suburbs. The city center, known as the central business district (CBD), is quite compact and is certainly the heart of Melbourne, but the city has much to offer in its surrounding suburbs as well. It is one of the greatest places in Australia and an absolute must visit location.
Traveling along the east coast is very accessible. For the ultimate flexibility, hire a car or campervan and enjoy traveling at your own pace and stopping at any destination you choose. For a more budget friendly option, travel via public bus. Greyhound and Premier Transport Group bus lines have backpacker passes that offer hop on, hop off travel in one continuous direction, north to south or south to north. Backpacker accommodation is available all along the coast. There are many great places to stay and meet other travelers. Australia’s east coast is an incredible area to travel and enjoy to whatever extent best works for you.
What east coast spots are you most inclined to visit?