My first solo travel experience is one of the best experiences I’ve had so far. The chosen destination I had for this experience was a bit of a classic, especially for girls leaving school in Germany, and I headed off to Australia.
I spent a total of five months in Australia during which I had the time of my life, met up with friends and family, worked for a travel agency and explored as many places as I could. The last two particularly went very well together. As a bit of advice and something I wish I’d known before I got there is the fact that Australia is enormous with so many different terrains and there are a couple of classic backpacking/travel routes. The most famous and probably most well-known is a classic Australian East Coast trip. Most people travel this route north to south but either way is possible.
I didn’t do the standard route but through my work, my own and other people’s experiences I found out so many helpful and interesting things that hopefully can help you along as well! So, here are some of the main destinations on the Australian east coast including some sights that are nearby and some hopefully helpful recommendations.
Cairns – Daintree Rainforest, Atherton Tableland
The most northern point of the classic east coast trip is Cairns. Now, Cairns is known for an array of things but the reason it’s on most backpackers’ radar is because of the constantly active nightlife. There is even a specific hostel dedicated to partying called Gilligan’s. The city of Cairns itself didn’t really have much else to offer in my opinion but there are a few things to do that are close by. The three main tours or day trips are to the Daintree Rainforest, a waterfall tour in the Atherton Tableland or a boat trip out on the Great Barrier Reef. I would personally recommend an overnight stay in the Daintree to experience the glowing funghi that’s there! You can explore the forest and main tree that is featured in the James Cameron film “Avatar” and various other animals and flora. The Atherton Tableland also includes the Millaa Millaa Waterfall featured in a famous Herbal Essences advert and you can recreate that scene for yourself.
Mission Beach – Skydive
A possible stop a bit further down the coast is Mission Beach. There are some lovely hostels in secluded areas around there but the main reason to visit here is a skydive that allows you to land on the beach! That was one of the best experiences I had in Australia and I would do it a thousand times over if I had the chance.
Magnetic Island is an island off the coast of Townsville. It’s pretty small but absolutely stunning! The nature on the island is beautiful and there are loads of small paths and trails that you can explore all around. Some take you higher up into the forest and others are more along the beach. The barbie cars on-site are very popular and offer some great photo opportunities. I wasn’t old enough to rent one at the time but it’s definitely a fun experience.
Airlie Beach – Whitsundays
An east coast highlight and must-see are the Whitsundays. Most Whitsundays tours include a stopover in Airlie Beach either the night before or the night after the boat trip. I would recommend booking the night after so you can enjoy the end of your tour with the rest of the people you’ll meet. There are so many different boats and types of tours on offer to explore the Whitsundays that I recommend talking to a travel agent on-site or in another stop along the east coast and they’ll do their best to find the boat best suited to you. The water in this national park is stunning, the fish are beautiful, and the silicon beaches are some of the most beautiful beaches you’ll see! The most common tours are either a day tour or two and a half days/two nights. Try not to book your tour too far in advance because boat tours are obviously subject to changes in the weather.
Noosa – Fraser Island
Another absolutely classic tour is a Fraser Island trip. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and is also home to the whitest sand ever! Tours either start in Noosa or Rainbow Beach but I’d certainly recommend Noosa of the two since there is much more to see and do there. Noosa is also a very typical place for Australians to go on holiday and you can tell. Much like Byron Bay it has a very relaxed but also a bit of a touristy atmosphere. This also means that it is not the cheapest place to stay but for a couple of nights, the prices certainly won’t kill you. There is also a famous coastal walk that you can do there that offers some amazing views!
The first and last impressions I got of Australia were in the city of Brisbane. It’s a lovely city to explore and it gives off the impression that it would be a great place to live but if you’re just traveling through, a couple of nights could be more than enough. It totally depends on what you’re after but I personally found Brisbane a little too dull and not particularly backpacker friendly.
Right, this is another absolute must-see and exclusively Australian experience: Byron Bay. Byron Bay is basically a tiny hippie town on the east coast that is most famous for the surfing and chilled vibes it offers. A local highlight is the hoola-hoop guy along the main road who has been there for years and just makes people smile. If you’re a good surfer, then don’t miss out on the waves at Byron! If you’re not so experienced, then be careful because renting a surfboard in Byron can be quite expensive much like the surf camps there and the beaches and the surf is always very crowded. I’d recommend looking at camps or coastal towns nearby or elsewhere along the east coast for a week’s worth of surfing. Something that Byron Bay is the perfect place for, however is a good night out at the weekend! Have a look what’s open during your stay and make the most of the night. A daytime highlight is also walking to the most eastern point of Australia that is decorated with a beautiful lighthouse.
Coffs Harbour/Port Macquarie
Now Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie are not places that are usually on a must-visit list of Australian towns but they do have some lovely aspects about them. A highlight of my trip was a surf camp that I visited near Coffs Harbour that was great! It was off the beaten track with its own little beach area and a great atmosphere. I visited a classic Mojo Surf camp and was very happy with the deal I got. Be sure to check out multiple offers before booking because some travel agents or direct websites are often a lot more expensive than others. In general, these small coastal towns often have more to offer than you think, and the local hostels offer some great atmospheres and experiences. Smaller hostels definitely make it easier to meet people and you’ll never be too bored.
Sydney – Blue Mountains National Park, Palm Beach
Finally, the last stop on most east coast trips is Sydney. There is so much to say about Sydney that a simple paragraph just won’t cut it. I lived in Sydney for over three months and loved every minute of it! The Blue Mountains National Park and Palm Beach are nearby and have some great hiking trails and natural views. The city itself has so many things to see and do, you could spend ages there and still won’t be done. The coastal walk starting at Bondi or Coogee Beach is a must do, much like visiting the harbour and the Opera House. Sydney has a very active nightlife and more than enough museums, beaches and other sights to visit that will keep you busy during the day.
Further possible stops
Obviously, Australia’s east coast is very long, and I didn’t stop everywhere along the way. I made a couple more stops than are listed here that are quite small in comparison to the rest. These were places like Townsville, Bowen and Agnes Water/Town of 1770. A couple of famous stops that I skipped are the Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise. I decided to not go here due to financial and time-saving reasons as they are very similar to other cities and towns but there’s not much I can say about them. Maybe they’re worth looking into if you like the city lifestyle wherever you may be.
There you have it. An example of a classic Australian east coast trip. If you’re interested in more details on the specific destinations, packing tips or general travel planning advice, check out some of my other posts and stay tuned for more!
If your questions aren’t answered here or you have any comments or personal experiences you’d like to share, don’t be afraid to get in touch and let me know!
One Comment Add yours
Hi there Meg, we are Marlena and Kurt. Very cool, we visited Sydney as well back in 2018, and did the Coastal Walk too, it is definitely a can’t miss! You should check out our page too if you have some time. Nice to meet you!