What we'll cover in this article
My girlfriend and I plan to travel from Sydney to Cairns this December. Do you have any tips on what to visit (and what not?) – Ingmar
Sydney to Cairns is a very popular route in Australia. You can travel this distance in a relative short time and see lots of different sights and types of nature. Whether you like cities, beaches, amusement parks or walking tracks, there is something for everyone.
The total distance between the two East Coast cities is about 2400 km, which would be 28 hours of non-stop driving. But trust me, you do want to take your time by stopping and staying in each of the following places (at least) and let it all soak in. Australia is not a country you want to rush through!
Here are my recommended stops and minimum days stay advice. I suggest a stay of at least 4-5 weeks on Australia’s East Coast.
5 Days – Sydney
Many travellers start in Sydney, so it’s a great place to meet others and start your journey along the East Coast. Visit the Botanical Gardens, The historical Rocks area, explore the many neighbourhoods with their small bars and restaurants, marvel at the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, hang out at Bondi Beach and don’t forget to make a day trip to the Blue Mountain area.
2 Days – Port Stephens & Hunter Valley
Port Stephens is a large natural harbour and popular for whale (when in season) and dolphin watching. The Hunter Valley is the place to be for wine lovers. There are lots of wineries around where you can taste wine, but also cheese, beer and chocolate.
2 Days – Port Macquarie
Port Macquarie was first visited by Europeans in 1818 and kept growing in popularity because of its extensive beaches and waterways. If you’re looking to spot koala’s, you’re in the right place! You can spot them in the trees, or find them in the Billabong Koala Park and Koala Hospital (caring for koalas injured through bushfire, dog attacks and car hits).
2 Days – Coffs Harbour
The coastal city of Coffs Harbour is turning into the adventure capital of Australia. You can go skydiving, deep sea diving, rafting, surfing, kayakking and much more! And don’t forget to visit the Big Banana, of course.
3 Days – Byron Bay
I don’t think I’ve ever met someone that didn’t enjoy their time in Byron Bay. Ok, maybe myself when I visited during a cyclone, but apart from that… Byron Bay has one of Australia’s East Coast best beaches and it’s a great place to go kayakking with dolphins or learn to surf. Walk to the picture perfect lighthouse on top of the hill to see the sunrise in the morning. You’re standing on the easternmost point of mainland Australia!
Cities to Beaches
2 Days – Gold Coast
The Gold Coast consists of 57 kilometres (35 mi) of coastline with some of the most popular surf breaks in Australia. Nature lovers can head out to South Stradbroke Island, for an unique flora and fauna. If you’re more into thrill rides and spectacular shows, make your way over to Surfers Paradise, where you’ll find plenty of water- and amusement parks.
2 Days – Brisbane
When in Brisbane, visit the South Bank and Roma Street Parklands, the Botanic Gardens, Brisbane Forest Park and Portside Wharf. And I really enjoyed visiting The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, only a short bus ride away.
3 Days – Noosa
The Shire of Noosa is one of the last places along the East Coast where it’s safe to surf (no crocs there) and the beach is stunning. Take a long hike in the adjacent National Park as well, you might spot a goanna or a koala! Visit Steve Irwins Australia Zoo from here instead of Brisbane, as there is a free shuttle bus that will take you there.
4 Days – Fraser Island
Rainbow Beach is a perfect point to catch a ferry to Fraser Island, ‘s worlds largest sand island. You can drive with a 4WD on the beach, spot wild dogs (dingo’s) and camp in the wild. True adventure! You can access Fraser Island from Hervey Bay also, but from there the ferry will be around 40 minutes instead of the 15 minute ride from Rainbow Beach.
3 Days – Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island can be reached by ferry from Townsville. The island had an important defensive position during World War II and many remains of that time can still be found during a hike along one of the many island tracks. At the Base hostel, full Moon parties are also held every month.
Exploring the Great Barrier Reef
4 Days – Airlie Beach / The Whitsunday Islands
The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of continental islands of various sizes and you can visit them on one of many sailing trips available, starting from Airlie Beach.
5 Days – Cairns
Cairns is the perfect starting point for snorkel trips to the Great Barrier Reef or (multiple) day trips to the Rainforest at Cape Tribulation. Taste tropical fruit, go horse riding and spot local wildlife, it’s all possible.
Long Hikes and Tropical Rainforests
Have fun exploring Australia. After visiting the East Coast, I’m sure you’ll want to continue or come back to see the other parts of Australia too!