Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary

Sharing is caring!

Australia is one of my favourite and most travelled countries, having lived in Sydney for the past 3 years and completed a 6 month road trip around Australia, it’s safe to say I’m not short on knowledge/information when it comes to travelling this magnificent country. An East Coast Australia road trip will give you a taste of the best Australia has to offer from cosmopolitan cities, iconic sites, world class natural wonders, show stopping beaches and ancient rainforests. Having a self-driving itinerary, will allow yourself to get more immersed in what the East Coast offers whilst taking in the hidden gems where tourist buses do not venture. 

Having lived in Australia, I’ve done this whole route twice, and parts of the East Coast Australia Road Trip numerous times, and I’d do it again tomorrow if I could, it’s just that amazing!

Note: This road trip is completely customisable to your own wishes and plans or the timeframe and time of year you’re planning on doing it. It can be done in reverse, or in separate chunks – if you’re flying into a different city, you might want to start elsewhere.
There are international airports in Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and the Gold Coast on this route.

This ultimate East Coast Australia road trip itinerary will be starting in Melbourne and heading north up to Cairns/The Daintree Rainforest.

East Coast Australia Road Trip

Quick Tips Before Heading Off On Your East Coast Australia Road Trip

Best Time of Year?

Do not worry too much about the time of year, as winter (June-August) can be cold and rainy in Victoria/New South Wales but perfect weather up in Far North Queensland. Whereas summer (December-Feb) can be baking hot all round and in Far North Queensland you’ll need to watch out for the stingers and monsoon rains. 

If I had the choice, I’d start in February/March time in Victoria and work my way north up to Cairns by April/May time. Therefore getting the best of both worlds. But again don’t be too worried or indecisive on the best months, as you’ll have an epic time either way!

How Long Does It Take To Drive The East Coast?

This is ultimately up to you. There’s no golden answer, however many people do not realise how big Australia is. Driving from Melbourne to Cairns along the coastal route is over 3,700km and over 42 hours of driving (without detours to sites along the way). You could drive it in less than a week, but you’d miss out on everything. 

I would allow a minimum of 3/4 weeks to drive the whole East Coast. On my east coast Australia road trip, I took around 3 weeks but that felt very rushed and I didn’t see all the amazing sites. Thus, on the second trip I took 6 weeks to drive the route. For me, this was the perfect amount of time to see all beautiful lesser known sites as well as the main tourist attractions like Fraser Island, The Whitsundays and Byron Bay etc. 

To Hire Or To Buy?

This really depends on your time frame and if you’re planning on travelling more of Australia. 

If you’re travelling for less than a month, it’ll be easier and less stress to hire a camper-van/4×4. The following are companies that I recommend:

Budget

Comfort

Luxury

To find the best camper-van hire deals I use DriveNow, this is the best site for comparing rental prices from all the leading rental companies so you can make sure you’re getting the best price. 

Below you can find a free quote with DriveNow. 

If you’re staying in Australia for a longer period of time, travelling other parts of Australia or spending more than a month on the East Coast then I’d highly recommend buying a car/camper-van. 

For my second road trip down the East Coast, it was part of my 6 month road trip across Australia so I had my own 4×4 Mitsubishi Pajero with a bed in the back. If you’re wanting to travel off-road, on the beaches and want a bit more comfort a 4×4 is a great option. If you’re on a tight budget a Ford Falcon or similar are popular cars for backpackers which can also fit a bed in the boot. Otherwise if you’re sticking to paved roads a camper-van is probably your best option. 

In addition, at the end of the trip you’ll be able to sell your car/camper for a similar price you paid for it! I paid AUD$5500 for my 2001 Mitsubishi Pajero, and sold it 6 months later for AUD$5000.

Here is my beginners guide on how to buy a car in Australia.

Free Camping, Paid Campsites or Hostels?

Nowhere does hostels like the East Coast of Australia, and I’m pretty sure that no hostels are as expensive as the East Coast of Australia, especially in the big cities and tourist hotspots. You’ll make some great friends in the East Coast’s hostels and it would be a shame to miss them out completely, as they are a part of the experience.

However, I only recommend staying in hostels in areas like Airlie Beach, Cairns, Sydney, Brisbane, Byron Bay etc. As there free camping is impossible and paid campsites can be AUD$40 upwards per night. Making it just as cheap to stay in a hostel. 

When you’re out of the main cities, I’d recommend trying out free camping. I stayed 80% in free camps when I travelled Australia, and had no issues at all. Doing this I saved several hundred dollars which I spent on activities. However, free camps aren’t everywhere and some may look sketchy, thus paid campsites are advisable. 

These two resources were my wholly grail to free camping, and I cannot recommend them enough:

Map Overview: Melbourne -> Cairns

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary

So starting from Melbourne in Victoria, here are some essential stops and things to see on the my ultimate East Coast Australia road trip up to Cairns and The Daintree Rainforest. You can also reverse the route if this suits your needs.

This itinerary lists the minimum amount of days I suggest you spend in each place, what to do, where to stay and approximate driving times between the major stops. 

Melbourne: 3 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Melbourne

Start off your epic east coast Australia road trip with the vibrant and hip city of Melbourne. It’s no surprise it’s Australia’s cultural capital with amazing coffee shops, beautiful art murals and open green parklands throughout the city. There’s been an ongoing case to which city is better: Melbourne or Sydney? You’ll have to visit both to make your own decision! 

Things To See & Do:

  • Shop till you drop at The Queen Victoria Market. The largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Talk a stroll through Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
  • One of the most photographed stations in the world. Flinders Street Station was completed in 1909 and is an iconic landmark in Melbourne city.
  • See the whole skyline, St Kilda, and beyond at Eureka TowerA 297.3-metre skyscraper located in the Southbank precinct of Melbourne.
  • Have a day of fun and games at Luna Park. It is home to the oldest, continually operating roller coaster in the world – the Scenic Railway! 
  • Café hop in funky Fitzroy district or other suburbs.
  • Enjoy the beautiful beaches of St Kilda.
  • See the Penguins of Phillip Island.
  • Venture outside of Melbourne and see the beauty of Australia’s Great Ocean Road & 12 Apostles Day Tour.

For any bookings like the Eureka Tower, Penguins at Philip Island or tours around the city I highly recommend using Get Your Guide. I used it all round Australia, and had the most wonderful tours and activities.

 

Where To Stay:

If you’re hiring a camper-van, I’d wait until the day you leave Melbourne to hire one, as you do not need it when visiting Melbourne. Public transport is great, with a free tram in the city centre. 

If you’re on a budget/backpacking Australia here are my favourite hostels:

  • Base St Kilda: Great if you’re wanting to be near the beach. It has free wifi, free activities every night and is great place to meet likeminded travellers. Click here to get the best rate!
  • United BackpackersWith probably the best location right opposite the iconic Flinders Street Station in the heart of Melbourne, it offers brand new facilities and free Wi-Fi in common areas its the perfect place to explore the city from. Click here to get the best rate! 
  • Space HotelA modern, chic and vibrant hotel where luxury meets budget. Right in the heart of Melbourne’s famous restaurant & bars district. With a rooftop with a hot-tub to a gym and cinema this hostel/hotel is unlike any other. Click here to get the best rate!

From Melbourne drive 3 hours south east to reach your next destination: Wilsons Promontory.

Wilsons Promontory: 1-2 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Wilsons Promontory

Set 3 hours east of Melbourne is Wilsons Promontory National Park, home to the southern most point of the Australian mainland and offers pristine untouched wilderness. Not many tourists venture here, and it’s known as a well kept secret to many Melbournians. It offers so much for families with its safe swimming tidal river, family friendly hikes, beautiful beaches and Australian wildlife.

Things To Do & See:

  • Hike to the top of Mt Oberon (picture above is the view from the top).
  • Visit the iconic quartz white sand beach: Squeaky Beach.
  • Ride your bike, surf or play in the sea at Normans Beach.
  • Walk to Sealers Cove, which is a 19 kilometre day walk.
  • Spot a wombat!

If you’re tight on time or just want to do a day trip to Wilson Promontory from Melbourne I recommend taking a full-day tour:

 

From Wilsons Promontory drive 3 1/2 hours north east to reach your next destination: Lakes Entrance.

Lakes Entrance: 1 day

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Lakes Entrance

Lakes Entrance is a seaside holiday resort and fishing port in Victoria. It is a fairly large town which gets busy in the holiday months, and is around 200km from the NSW/Victoria border. Lakes Entrance is a perfect mix of idyllic water, beautiful beaches and fascinating history. It’s a laid back town which is perfect for holidaying, camping and unwinding. 

Things To See & Do:

  • Visit Lakes Entrance Visitor Information Centre.
  • Spot wildlife around Gippsland Lakes by boat or foot.
  • Swim or sunbath at Lakes Entrance Beach.
  • Explore the limestone formations of Buchan Caves Reserve.

From Lakes Entrance head north toward the New South Wales/ Victoria border stopping via the idyllic seaside town of Mallacoota. Continue your drive pass the boarder into New South Wales and onto Eden. Total drive time: 3 1/2 hours.

Eden: 1 day

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: EdenUltimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Eden

Another seaside town by the coast, Eden has sapphire warm blue waters, nearby National Parks that encompass secluded coastal wilderness that is simply yours to explore.

Things To See & Do:

  • Spot Humpback Whales in the deep blue Twofold Bay.
  • Visit Eden Lookout and Rotary Park.
  • Learn the history of the orca Old Tom at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.
  • Get off the beaten path and drive on 4WD tracks at Ben Boyd National Park.
  • Enjoy the heritage of the town through the Heritage Walk or Heritage Drive.

From Eden head north passing through the towns of Tilba Tilba (historic village), Narooma (stop at Australia Rock where you can spot seals basking in the sun), and Mogo (artsy and eccentric shops).

Ulladulla/Mollybook: 1 day (stopover)

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Ulladulla

I recommend you use Ulludulla or Mollymook as a stopover before Jervis Bay, as tomorrow will be a big day for beautiful white sand beaches. These two coastal towns will give you a taste of what’s to come, with stunning beaches and a real family friendly vibe. Enjoy freshly caught local seafood from fish shops and at restaurants, such as Ulladulla Oyster Bar. 

Things To See & Do:

  • Visit South Pacific Heathland Reserve to spot whales migrating along the NSW South Coast.
  • A scenic drive west is Pigeon House Mountain in Morton National Park 
  • Short drive south is Pot Holes walking track in Meroo National Park.
  • Learn some aboriginal history on the ‘one track for all’ walk which describes Aboriginal culture of the area, describing what happened when Europeans invaded and settled. 

From Ulladulla/Mollymook head 45 minutes north to Jervis Bay.

Jervis Bay Territory: 1-2 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Jervis Bay

With many saying it has the whitest sand in the world, Jervis Bay is one of Australia’s most popular seaside destinations. With spectacular crystal clear waters, perfect for snorkelling and safe for all the family to hiking trails throughout the territory a few days here to relax is a good option.

Things To See & Do:

  • Throw down a towel and soak up the sun on the famous Hyams Beach.
  • Explore the beautiful rock-pools at Greenfield Beach.
  • Witness what the ocean can create over millions of years at Hole in the Wall.
  • Explore the ruins of the legendary 1860 Cape St George Lighthouse.
  • Relax on Murrays Beach.

From Jervis Bay head west inland through Jerrawangala National Park to reach Canberra in 2 1/2 hours.

Canberra: 1-2 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Canberra

Head to Australia’s Capital, Canberra. Even though it’s famed for being the most boring capital, there is still a lot of history and politics surrounding the city making it a worthwhile visit. Plus you can tick another state/territory off your list! With many monuments, galleries, museums, and parklands Canberra isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be, trust me!

Things To See & Do:

  • Head to Parliament House and take a free guided tour through the building every day at 9.30am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3.30pm.
  • Walk around the Old Parliament House, home of the Museum of Australian Democracy.
  • See the Australian War Memorial.
  • Shop at the Old Bus Depot Markets on Sunday.
  • See artwork at the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery.
  • Look out over the city from the top of Mount Ainslie.
  • Watch sunset over Lake Burley Griffin.

Where To Stay:

From Canberra head 3 hours north past Golburn and just before the small village of Jenolan where the entrance to Kanangra-Boyd National Park is.

Kanangra-Boyd National Park: 1 day

Best Lookouts in the Blue Mountains

The lesser known Kanangra-Boyd National Park is shadowed by it’s famous sister The Blue Mountains, despite being located in the Greater Blue Mountains it is not nearly as popular. To get there it’s a 25km unsealed road, which can be accessible by 2WD during dry weather. Just make sure to let your tyre pressure down a bit. 

Things To See & Do:

  • Visit the nearby Jenolan Caves.
  • Walk to the Kanangra Walls Lookout.
  • Walk along the Plateau.

From Kanangra-Boyd National Park head 2 hours north to The Blue Mountains.

Blue Mountains: 2 days

Best Lookouts in the Blue Mountains

I’ve visited the Blue Mountains over 8 times since moving to Australia in 2015, and I still can’t get enough of all the amazing lookouts and hikes. As the Blue Mountains are so close to Sydney, it is one of the most popular day trips to take for visitors and residents alike. But unfortunately, most people don’t venture any further than Echo Point Lookout by the Three Sisters. It certainly is one of the best lookouts in the Blue Mountains, but it’s extremely crowded. There is so much more to explore and discover than just this, and having your own transport is a huge bonus.

Things To See & Do:

    • Three Sisters Lookout, the most popular and iconic spot in the Blue Mountains.
    • Pulpit Rock, Govetts Leap and Anvil Rock Lookout.
    • One of the most impressive lookouts showing how vast this National Park is: Evans Lookout.
    • Prince Henry Cliff Walk (West): Walk along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk westwards from Echo Point and it’ll take you past many little viewpoints like Lady Darley’s Lookout, Allambie Lookout, Wollumai Lookout and Cliff View Lookout towards Katoomba Falls.
    • Blue Mountains hop on hop off scenic world.
 

 

Read my full guide on the very Best Lookouts in The Blue Mountains.

From the Blue Mountains drive 1 1/2 hours to Sydney.

Sydney: 4 days

Best Backpacker Hostels In Sydney Australia.

Woohoo! We’ve made it to Sydney! Australia’s largest and most iconic city. With incredible sights like the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach to name a few. It’s hard not to fall in love with this incredible city. Having lived there for 3 years, Sydney will always have a special place in my heart. Sydney is expensive so I’ve made a list of 10 things to do in Sydney for under $10!

Things To See & Do:

  • Spend the day at Manly Beach. If you’re there on a Sunday take advance of cheap travel day where you can use public transport throughout the city for just $2.70 (January 2019).
  • Walk the coastal route from Bondi to Coogee Beach stopping at all the beaches along the way.
  • Walk around the iconic Sydney Opera House or book a tour to learn about the history and culture of the Opera House.
  • Stroll through the beautiful Botanic Gardens right by the harbour and walk to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.
  • Climb Sydney Harbour Bridge.
  • Head south to NSW Royal National Park and trek to see the Figure of 8 pools and Wedding Cake Rock.
  • Drive north to Palm Beach and hike to the top of Barrenjoey Lighthouse.
  • Have lunch at the famous Doyles Seafood Restaurant.
  • Go up the Sydney Tower Eye and Observation Deck.
 

Where To Stay:

Like Melbourne, staying in hostels will be around the same price as staying in a caravan/holiday park. Plus you’ll be located right in the city centre with good transport links to the beaches. Here are a few of my favourite hostels in Sydney. If you’re wanting a more in-depth guide read my best backpackers hostels in Sydney.

  • Bounce Hostel: This was voted the best backpacker hostel in Australia back in 2014, the best backpacker hostel in Sydney and the most popular. Located in Surry Hills, a trendy area with bars, nightclubs and pubs it’s a great place to base yourself whilst in Sydney. It’s also opposite Central Railway Station too. Click here for the best rate!
  • Wake Up!: Is located opposite Central Station, with great access to trains and buses throughout Sydney and beyond. It’s one of the more modern looking hostels throughout Sydney, and was voted the most popular hostel in Sydney in 2017. Click here for the best rate!
  • Mad Monkey Coogee Beach: Is brand new and everything you dream of for a hostel. Steps from the beach, close to restaurants & bars, friendly staff, modern & clean rooms and a great atmosphere to meet like minded travellers. Click here for the best rate!

From Sydney drive 2 hour north to The Hunter Valley Wine Region.

The Hunter Valley: 1 day

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Hunter Valley

Give your tastebuds a serious work-out in Australia’s oldest wine growing region. Home to more than 120 wineries, this is paradise for lovers of wine, cheese and chocolate. If you are wanting to drink lots of wine, make sure to book a tour instead of driving.

Things To See & Do:

  • Visit the many open wine cellar doors.
  • Go on a cheese tasting extravaganza. 
  • Float above the vineyards in a hot air balloon.
  • Be pampered at a day spa.
 

Head 3 hours north from Hunter Valley up to Port Macquarie.

Port Macquarie: 1 day

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie is known for its beaches, wildlife and penal colony past. St. Thomas’ Anglican Church was built by convicts in the 19th century. A coastal walk from the town centre to the 19th-century Tacking Point Lighthouse offers views over waters home to whales and dolphins.

Things To See & Do:

  • Check out the artistically painted rocks along the coastal walk.
  • Check out a sunrise or sunset on the many beaches.
  • Walk the 9km coastal walk which traverses most of the town’s beaches.
  • Visit the ‘brothers’ and drive to the summit of the North Brother mountain, which offers spectacular views of the local area.

Head north from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour via the Waterfall Way: total drive time 5 hours.

Coffs Harbour (via Waterfall Way): 1 day

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Waterfall Way

Driving from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour if you have time I highly recommend taking the Waterfall Way inland. It’s a 185 kilometre road traversing no less than five national parks, and has some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. It is a long drive, so you may want to split it up between 2 days, but it you get up early you can do this in 1 day.

Things To See & Do:

  • Red Cedar Falls (which a difficult 8km hike is necessary to reach – but definitely head there if you have the time!).
  • Chandler Falls.
  • Wollombi Falls.
  • Ebor Falls.
  • Tristina Falls.
  • Crystal Shower Falls.
  • Dangar Falls.
  • Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and Skywalk Lookout.
  • Historic town of Bellingen.
  • The Big Banana’s waterslides and activities.

From Coffs Harbour head 3 hours north to Byron Bay.

Byron Bay: 2-3 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Waterfall Way

The beautiful Byron Bay, home to the most easterly point of the Australian mainland is a hippy and surfers paradise. Without a doubt the highlight of your trip from Sydney to Brisbane will be Byron Bay. There’s lots of reasons why so many people fall in love with it. If you have time, I’d recommend staying in Byron Bay for as long as possible – but if you only have a few days, here’s the highlights.

Things To See & Do:

  • Walk up to the lighthouse from Byron Bay town for sunset.
  • Learn to surf/catch a wave at Wategos Beach.
  • Dance away at the drum circle on Main Beach.
  • Visit many of the beaches around the area.
 

Where To Stay:

In Byron Bay itself, as it’s a popular tourist spot caravan/holiday parks are ridiculously expensive. Thus, it’s just as cheap to stay in a hostel in the centre of town. The following are my favourite hostels in Byron Bay:

  • Wake Up!: Located right on the beach and with free wifi, yoga, bike hire, surf hire, and live music it’s easy to see why this hostel is one of the most popular and favourite amongst travellers. Click here to get the best rate!
  • Nomads: a 2 minute walk to the beach, nomads is right in the centre of town. It also has a 12 seater jacuzzi and rooms ranging from a 10 bed mixed dorm to private rooms, perfect for all budgets. Click here to get the best rate!
  • Arts Factory Lodge: Spreading out over 5 acres of gorgeous grounds, The Arts Factory is less of a hostel and more of an experience. Its got a name as a bit of a hippie hangout, and it definitely attracts the free spirited and artistic – but really, there’s something for everyone at the Arts Factory. Click here to get the best rate!

From Byron Bay you have two options depending on your time frame: head inland to Nimbin and onto Border Ranges National Park, Lamington National Park and Springbrook National Park before heading to Gold Coast – I suggest take a minimum of 2 days. Or if you’re short on time, stay along the coast up to Coolangatta and onto Gold Coast.

Gold Coast: 2-3 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Gold Coast

Ahhh Gold Coast, also known as the Miami of Australia, you either love it or hate it. Home to the infamous Surfers Paradise beach, it’s a vibrant young and bustling city that favours the young. If you want to do lots of theme parks and attractions save money with a Gold Coast Flexi Attractions Pass.

Things To See & Do:

  • Go surfing along Surfers Paradise Beach.
  • Check out views of the city from the Sky Point Observation Deck.
  • Go out and party – it’s what the city built its popularity on. Surfers Paradise has all night parties.
  • Visit one of the many theme parks
 

Where To Stay:

  • BUNK Hostel:A well facilitated hostel that’s great for both relaxing and those who want to party. It is centrally located, with an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub and also offers free breakfast. Click here for the best rate!
  • Down Under Hostel: Priding itself on a lot of free activities and perks like breakfast, washing, lockers, wifi and games room. Down Under Hostel is perfect for young travellers. Click here for the best rate!

From Gold Coast drive a short 1 hour north to Brisbane.

Brisbane: 3 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Brisbane

This is the last of the big cities now all the way up to Cairns. Queensland’s capital is no longer just a big country town, it’s increasingly cultured and cool centred around the winding Brisbane River with a great array of museums, swanky restaurants and an urban beach on the lovely south-bank.

Things To See & Do:

  • Take a day trip to the near by islands of Morten, Stradbroke or Bribie Island.
  • Climb Story Bridge.
  • Visit South Bank Parklands and leave all your troubles behind on a hot Brissy day at one of the city beaches.
  • Take the CityCat along the Brisbane River, to see the skyline in all its beauty.
  • Visit the museum of Queensland and learn all about the state you’re just above to travel.
  • Take a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane.
  • Visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.
 

Where To Stay:

  • City Backpackers: Only minutes from all the best shopping, bars, restaurants and nightlife, it has all the options to suit any traveller, and for those on a shoe string budget or even if you want to splash the cash a bit. Click here for the best rate!
  • Bunk Brisbane: Is for those wanting to meet fellow travellers, and wanting to party. With free breakfast everyday, 30 Mins free wifi per day ($2 a day) and a free shuttle from the Greyhound and Premier stops it’s a great option for backpackers. Click here for the best rate!

Drive 2 hours north from Brisbane up to Noosa.

Noosa: 2 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Noosa

Undoubtably my favourite seaside town on the east coast of Australia. Spend sun drenched days exploring the long, golden beaches, surf or just chill out in chic and charming, Noosa. This is also one of the gateways to Fraser Island, however the more popular departure town is Hervey Bay so I will link Fraser Island in with that later on. I personally based myself out of Noosa when I did a 3 day 2 night trip onto Fraser Island, as I was linked with a hostel in Noosa. 

Things To See & Do:

  • Visit the idyllic spots in Noosa National Park: Fairy Pools, Hells Gates, Dolphin Point Lookout and Boiling Pot Lookout.
  • Take a self-guided Noosa Everglades Day Tour (I did this exact tour and cannot recommend it enough!).
  • Visit the famous Australia Zoo
  • Head to the ethereal volcanic crags of the Glasshouse Mountains National Park. 
  • Go stand up paddle-boarding in Little Cove

From Noosa drive 2 1/4 hours north to Hervey Bay. If you’ve got your own 4WD and want to explore Fraser Island in your own car instead of a tour, head down to Rainbow Beach to get the ferry onto Fraser Island. Otherwise I recommend booking a tour from Hervey Bay.

Hervey Bay & Fraser Island: 2-3 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Fraser Island

This isn’t much happening in the town of Hervey Bay, however as the gateway to Fraser Island it’s busy with tourists and locals all year round. Fraser Island is a must on your east coast Australia road trip. It’s the largest sand island in the world, it’s a unique and essential Australian experience with miles of beaches, rainforests, sparkling lakes, rusting shipwrecks and wild dingoes. 

You can take a day tour of Fraser Island but it’s better to spend at least a few days and nights exploring Fraser Island trekking, swimming and camping out on the sand dunes under the stars.

In the winter Hervey Bay is also one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales on their migration.

Things To See & Do:

  • Maheno Shipwreck.
  • Crystal clear freshwater Lake Mackenzie.
  • Drive along 75 mile beach.
  • Hike up to the rocky outcrop of Indian Head and spot sharks, stingrays and turtles.
  • Visit Lake Wobby, a 30 minute walk from the beach.
  • Be drifted away in Eli Creek, a natural lazy river.
  • Bath in the spectacular Champagne Pools.
  • Stargaze.
 

After your Fraser Island Tour you’ll be dropped back at Harvey Bay. Continue your road trip north for 2 1/2 hours up to Agnes Water/1770, ready for a long drive the next day. 

Agnes Water: 1 day

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Agnes Water

Between Fraser Island and Airlie Beach there isn’t too much in the way of attractions, but Agnes Water/1770 is a great way to break up the long journey to come. The Town of 1770 was the first western settlement in Australia, named after the year it was discovered by Captain Cook and has some cute surf beaches to break up the journey. Agnes Water nearby is also a nice beach town to take a break, and has probably the cheapest surf school in Australia.

Things To See & Do:

  • Take a surf lesson if you haven’t already as this is the last place on your east coast Australia road trip.
  • Book a Eurimbula National Park Tour

Prepare for the long drive up to Airlie Beach from Agnes Water. The total drive time without stops is just under 8 hours. If you’re tired of driving, you could stay the night around Rockhampton (Capricorn Caves offers camping spots or you can find free campsites along the route in Camps Australia Wide book).

Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays: 3-4 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: The Whitsundays

Oh The Whitsundays I can never get enough of you. Without a doubt my overall favourite place on the whole east coast of Australia. I’ve visited these beautiful islands on 5 separate occasions, and it still never gets old or boring. The Whitsundays and Whitehaven Beach is a must do on any trip up/down the east coast. I’d also advise doing a 3 day 2 night tour to get the full experience. Whether you’re wanting luxury or a party boat, they have it all here.

I’ve done 2 different tours:

  • On-Ice with iSailWhitsundays, which to date it one of the best things I’ve ever done.
  • Ride To Paradise. You stay in a luxury mansion in the middle of the rainforest, and venture out on day trips from there. Read my review on Ride To Paradise here.

Things To See & Do:

  • Drive 1 hour south to Eungella National Park. One of the best places in the world to see a platypus in the wild. 
  • Visit Shute Harbour, a much quieter town to Airlie Beach.
  • Take a 1 hour scenic flight over the Whitsundays.

Below are a few tours, and don’t worry if these don’t take your fancy there are plenty more to choose from!

 

Where To Stay:

  • Nomads Hostels: Nomads Airlie Beach is the perfect place to stay before or after a trip to the Whitsundays. Located right in the heart of Airlie Beach opposite the famous swimming lagoon, Nomads is no more than 50 metres away from all that Airlie Beach has to offer. Click here to get the best rate!
  • Base Backpackers: Set amongst 6 acres of tropical gardens with an outdoor swimming pool right in the heart of Airlie Beach, you can have the luxuries of a resort at backpacker prices! Click here to get the best rate!
  • Airlie Beach Magnums: Magnums is a tropical oasis in the middle of the excitement of Airlie Beach. Relax in their beautiful settings or take a short stroll to the famous Airlie Beach Lagoon, Abel Point Marina, or Port of Airlie. Click here to get the best rate!

After having the time of your life in the Whitsundays head 3 hours north to Townsville to board the short car ferry over to Magnetic Island. On the way stop over in the beautiful seaside town of Bowen, famous for mangos!

Townsville & Magnetic Island: 3 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Magnetic Island

The Townsville Region in North Queensland, Australia offers diverse experiences from the awe-inspiring Great Barrier Reef, World Heritage Wet Tropics and primarily the picturesque Magnetic Island. There’s plenty within Townsville to occupy a day trip, so before you hop over to paradise, take some time to explore what Tropical North Queensland’s largest city has to offer.

The entire island seems to run at its own time, with a chilled pace. You’ll soon get accustomed to the pace of Magnetic Island and you’ll never want to leave.

Things To See & Do:

  • Take a walk along Townsville’s beautiful Strand.
  • Drive to hike up to Castle Hill for sunset.
  • Spot koalas on the forts walk, whilst you learn about the wartime history of the island.
  • Spot rock wallabies.
  • Hire a barbie topless car for the day. 
  • Catch an amazing sunset at one of the many spots around the island.

Drive 3 hours north from Townsville along the Cassowary Coast past Tully, Mission Beach and into Innisfail.

Innisfail: 1-2 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Wallaman Falls

There are numerous places on your way up to Innisfail to stop, and because of this if you have time, you may want to split it up and sleep somewhere like Mission Beach. You’ll pass sugarcane towns like Tully, which has been name the ‘wettest place in Australia’. Make sure to visit the golden gumboot in the centre of Tully to get an idea of how much annual rain falls each year. 

Things To See & Do:

  • Head to Australia’s highest waterfall (roughly 300m), Wallaman Falls. If you have time, hike down to the base and see it close up. 
  • Admire the beautiful Hinchinbrook Island from Hinchinbrook lookout.
  • Soak up in Cardwell Spa Pool.
  • Visit Murray Falls.
  • Head into the centre of Tully to see The Golden Gumboot.
  • Tully is also famous for White Water Rafting. I did this an it was incredible! Book the tour I went on here!
  • Visit the historic grounds of Paronella Park.
  • Head 30 minutes north of Innisfail to Babinda Boulders.

From Innisfail head 1 hour inland up to the Atherton Tablelands, waterfall galore!

Atherton Tablelands: 1-2 days

The most beautiful waterfalls near Cairns: Millaa Millaa Falls

Far North Queensland is famous for its many picturesque and impressive waterfalls, and many of them are located in the Atherton Tablelands region, an 1 1/2 drive from Cairns. You’re nearly in Cairns, but we’ve still got so much more to see, so make sure to take your time round this area as it’s simply stunning. You may even recognise this waterfall (Millaa Millaa) from the Herbal Essences advert or Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl Video!

Things To See & Do:

  • Drive along the ‘waterfall circuit’ and visit the most popular and well-known waterfall in Queensland: Millaa Milla Falls. Also Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls.
  • Just down the road from the waterfall circuit is the beautiful Mungalli Falls.
  • Visit Nandroya Falls.
  •  Located just outside Ravenshoe, is the impressive Millstream Falls. Australias widest single drop waterfall.
  • Get up close to Little Millstream Falls.
  • Swim in Mount Hypipamee Crater.
  • Visit the famous Curtain Fig Tree. It is located in a national park about one kilometre north of the town of Yungaburra on the Atherton Tableland.

If you’re tight on time, I highly recommend taking a day trip from Cairns to this area. This is an epic tour and I can’t recommend it enough: Waterfall, Wildlife and Rainforest Tour from Cairns.

Drive north 1 1/2 hours from Atherton to Port Douglas. We’re saving Cairns till last!

Port Douglas: 1-2 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Port Douglas

Port Douglas is the perfect place if you’re wanting to relax. With many upscale resorts for families, couples and travellers it offers a good base to explore the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. Whether you want to swim along gorgeous beaches and hike through the hinterlands or simply relax by your resort pool with a cocktail in hand, Port Douglas is the perfect holiday destination to relax after a long road trip!

Things To See & Do:

  • Walk along Four Mile Beach and hike up to Four Mile Beach Lookout.
  • Walk or drive up to Trinity Bay Lookout. It’s quite a steep and long hike so if you’re unsure, I would drive.
  • Sunday there is a market in Anzac Park which offer numerous stalls selling local arts, crafts and produce.
  • Sample the many amazing coffee shops and cafes
  • Watch the sunset at Rex Smeal Park.

Where To Stay:

  • Port Douglas Backpackers: Is a funky new hostel in the heart of Port Douglas down, just a 5 minute walk to everything. All rooms have AC, swipe card access, lockers and USB chargers. It’s a super relaxed vibe, meaning you can unwind and enjoy what Port Douglas has to offer. Click here for the best rate!

From Port Douglas head 1 1/2 hours north to Cape Tribulation, the northern most destination on your east coast Australia road trip!

Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation: 1-2 days 

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Daintree Rainforest

Where the ‘rainforest meets reef’. At around 1,200 square kilometres, the Daintree is a part of the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian continent. Make sure to go as far as Cape Tribulation but after that the road ends and you’ll need a 4WD. There are short walks, stunning beaches (beware of crocs and do not go in the sea), cultural experiences, croc spotting cruises and four wheel drive tracks to be enjoyed within the breathtaking national park.

To get to Cape Tribulation you’ll need to cross a short 5 minute car ferry which costs AUD$28 return (January 2019). It operates from 6am to midnight each day.

Things To See & Do:

  • 20 minutes north of Port Douglas, visit the magical Mossman Gorge, which numerous short hikes.
  • Cruise the Daintree River looking for crocodiles.
  • Stop by the Mount Alexandra Lookout to see why it’s called ‘where the rainforest meets reef’.
  • Walk through the jungle at the Jindalba Boardwalk.
  • Visit the Daintree Discovery Centre to learn about aboriginal culture and history.
  • Walk along Cape Tribulation Beach
  • Check out the gorgeous Emmagen Creek at the start of the Bloomfield Track.
  • If you have your own 4WD vehicle, drive the Bloomfield Track; an unsealed road heading north to Cooktown.

If you don’t have your own vehicle or have a tight time frame, there’s plenty of world-class day tours from Cairns to the Daintree National Park.

 

 

Your last drive! Head 2 hours south down to Cairns. 

Cairns: 3-4 days

Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Cairns

Congrats, you’ve reached your final destination on your east coast Australia road trip! Cairns is the gateway to the largest coral reef system in the world – The Great Barrier Reef and also the adrenaline capital of Australia. The tropical city is a great place to end your epic road trip, the iconic Australian lifestyle – chilling by the lagoon, dining at the many cafes and restaurants of the city and enjoying its nightlife scene. 

You can’t visit Cairns without taking a trip snorkelling or diving the Great Barrier Reef . You can take a day trip or a live aboard multi day trip where you can go further out on the reef and maybe even do some night diving.

Things To See & Do:

 

Where To Stay:

Cairns is a backpackers paradise, thus you won’t be short on choice for great hostels at your final destination on your east coast Australia road trip. I’ve personally stayed at Gilligans Hostel every-time I’ve been to Cairns and love it. However, if you’re not too much into partying and want somewhere quieter I’ve given you a few more options.

There aren’t any free camping options within the city itself, but some in the local area, although many do not have great reviews. 

  • Gilligans Hostel: Is THE place if you want to experience the best of Cairns party scene. With something different going on every night, you’ll never be far away from the party. All rooms are clean, with a pool, bar and it’s own booking centre. Click here for the best rate! 
  • Globetrotters International: For those wanting a non-party hostel. Set up for travellers who wants to see Cairns and experience its wonderful lifestyle. Being a non party hostel mean that you can enjoy the hostel without being put off by noisy people up all night. Click here for the best rate!
  • Bounce Cairns: Is a resort style hostel, newly renovated in 2018 featuring free hot breakfast, free wifi and a free airport shuttle. Centrally located in the heart of Cairns and is only a short walk to all the major attractions. you are guaranteed to get the most out of your stay and get a great night’s sleep here. Click here for the best rate!
  • Mad Monkey Backpackers Waterfront:Fully refurbished in Sept 2017, they offer affordable upmarket accommodation in the heart of Cairns. Set right on the Esplanade, in arms reach of all the popular attractions, best bars & restaurants. Click here for the best rate!

East Coast Australia Road Trip & Beyond…

20+ Truths About Road Tripping Australia

If you’ve managed to read this Melbourne to Cairns East Coast Australia road trip itinerary from beginning to end, you’re a star – it’s probably my longest post! However, previously having done so much research on this trip before I went off, I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I really hope this guide will help you on your incredible trip up the east coast!

To help with finding accommodation/campsites, practical tips and things to do I traveled with the Camps Australia Wide book to find free campsites all down the East Coast and a Lonely Planet Australia Travel Guide and I would recommend buying this from Amazon before you go as it’s cheaper. 

Have an amazing East Coast Australia road trip!


Do you have Pinterest? Save it for later!

The Ultimate East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary. From Melbourne to Cairns.

Sharing is caring!

By | 2019-01-23T13:40:45+01:00 January 9th, 2019|Australia, Australia Road Trip: Pre-Trip Planning|10 Comments

About the Author:

Hey there I'm Emma! A luxury and adventure travel blogger. I've currently travelled to 53 countries with no plans to stop! I hope I can inspire you to travel the world with my travel guides, travel and blogging tips, as I believe travel is for everyone. So come and travel well for less with me!

10 Comments

  1. Lauren 01/12/2019 at 11:46 am - Reply

    This is so so helpfull! I have just arrived in Brisbane so gonna check out those islands. Such great ideas and tips, cannot wait to continue my East Coast roadtrip!!

    • Emma Lomas 01/12/2019 at 11:49 am - Reply

      Hi Lauren,

      Ah you’ll have the most incredible time! So glad I can help with your travel planning around the east coast 🙂

      Happy travels,
      Emma

  2. Julie 01/12/2019 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    What a complete and detailed post! This is saved and will definitely come in handy when I finally make it to Australia. Traveling the east coast by van is a dream of mine:)

    • Emma Lomas 01/13/2019 at 9:47 am - Reply

      Hi Julie,

      Thanks so much! You’ll have an incredible time travelling the east coast 🙂 Can’t wait to here all about it!

      Happy travels,
      Emma

  3. Finding Yoki 01/12/2019 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Awesome article! It’s been a while I visited Australia, and your article made me wanna visit there again. Australia is a beautiful country, and I will definitely keep this for my future reference.

    • Emma Lomas 01/13/2019 at 9:47 am - Reply

      Hey!

      Thank you 🙂 Great time to add it to your 2019 travel list 😛

      Happy travels,
      Emma

  4. Katherine 01/12/2019 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    Great round up of the Aussie east coast! I’m now feeling a pang of homesickness, so thank you 😉 LOL
    And you helped me discover a bunch of things that I haven’t done at home, so I guess I need to go back for a little road trip visit!

    • Emma Lomas 01/13/2019 at 9:48 am - Reply

      Hi Katherine,

      haha whoops sorry 😛 You live in a gorgeous country, very jealous!

      Happy travels,
      Emma

  5. Annika 01/13/2019 at 9:03 am - Reply

    Oh man, I really need to make it to Australia – this looks amazing and I absolutely love road trips! Will definitely safe this and hope to make a trip happen this year 🙂

    • Emma Lomas 01/13/2019 at 9:48 am - Reply

      Hi Annika,

      I highly recommend it! Glad this can help you in your future plans 🙂

      Happy travels,
      Emma

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

shares