Chilled out surf towns. Gorgeous beaches. Coral reefs teeming with sea life. Lush wilderness. Great nightlife. Traveling the East Coast of Australia is the ultimate backpacking adventure.
When you are traveling the East Coast of Australia you’ll be able to hit some of the best destinations, including Cairns, Byron Bay, the Whitsundays, Magnetic Island and much more. Each town and city along the way is beautiful and chilled out and there are many exciting things to do, from surf lessons to hiking to snorkeling and much more.
Before you set off on your Australia East Coast backpacking adventure, here are 10 important things that you should know.
1. Don’t Underestimate The Distance
Australia is an enormous country and even though you will only be traveling down a portion of one coast – the distances are huge. Make sure that you are aware of how long it will take you to travel between each destination you hit, so that you can allow yourself enough time.
Traveling the East Coast of Australia will take at least a month or two if you really want to take your time and savour it all. You could possibly do it in two or three weeks, but that would require careful planning and only spending a short time in each place.
2. Choosing Your Bus Pass
One great way of traveling the East Coast of Australia is to get yourself a bus pass. This way you will be able to have a flexible trip and get on and off the bus wherever you want. The long distance buses down the coast offer bus pass options that will include unlimited travel in one direction over a span of three months. You will simply need to book your seats at least a day ahead when you decide to leave (or perhaps a week ahead during the peak travel periods).
The two main options for bus passes are Greyhound and Premier Motor Service. Greyhound offers a “Kilometre Pass” where you buy an amount of kilometres and are free to use them however you like, so you can go back and forth between places. It is also possible to buy a pass for unlimited travel between Sydney and Cairns or Melbourne and Cairns. Take a look at all of the passes online and find the one that fits your budget and your travel plans.
Premier offers similar types of passes – including an Unlimited Sydney to Brisbane Backpacker pass and an Unlimited Melbourne to Cairns Backpacker pass. The Premier bus passes are cheaper than Greyhound, so if budget is your main concern this might be the best option for you. However, the savings does come with a disadvantage – Premier only has one departure per day compared to the multiple departures with Greyhound.
We chose the Greyhound pass, because we thought that the single departure per day might cause problems. There were certain stops on the route where the only departure was in the middle of the night or at a very awkward time, so we thought it would be worth paying a little more for the flexibility and convenience. However, if you don’t mind this and you plan well, it’s still a great option for traveling the East Coast of Australia.
You can buy your bus pass from any travel shop and they might be able to give you a discount on the price if you are cheeky enough to ask. We did and we were successful!
3. Or, Consider a Campervan
Another option for getting up or down the East Coast in Australia is a campervan. The advantage of this is that you will have complete freedom. You won’t be constricted by bus routes and schedules, you can travel wherever you want and stop and stay for as long as you like. The cost will depend on the size of the van, the season and the length of your trip, so compare a few different sites to get an idea. You can actually use Skyscanner to compare the price of campervan rentals after entering your Point A and Point B and your travel dates.
There’s nothing quite like the excitement and freedom of hitting the open road and the East Coast drive will take you through some stunning scenery. There are plenty of campgrounds along the way where you can park your campervan and rest for the night – no need to worry about hostels or hotels. In some places you will have to pay for your camping spot, but in many places you will be able to camp for free.
You don’t have to buy a vehicle while you are in Australia – it is possible to rent one. This can save you a lot of hassle as you won’t have to worry about selling it at the end of your trip. If you are travelling as a group and you split the cost, this can be quite an efficient way to travel.
If you do choose to buy, make sure that you have the vehicle thoroughly inspected first. You want to make sure that it will last the journey down the coast in decent shape so that you can sell it before you leave Australia.
4. Where Should You Stop?
The East Coast of Australia is one long stretch of gorgeous coastal towns, islands and parks – each one more beautiful than the next. Where should you stop on your trip? You’ll have a tough time deciding, as there will be more beautiful places to visit than you will have time and room in your budget!
The best places to stop are up to you, as they depend on your budget and what you are interested in. For example, if you love surfing you might want to hang around Byron Bay, but if you love hiking you might enjoy Magnetic Island more. If it is on your bucket list to visit the Great Barrier Reef, you will want to stop in Cairns.
Some of the stops that you might want to consider while traveling the East Coast of Australia include Cairns, Townsville, Magnetic island, Airlie Beach, The Whitsundays, Rainbow Beach, Fraser Island, Noosa, The Sunshine coast, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and Sydney.
To get you started on planning your itinerary, here are some great resources:
11 of the Best Towns and Cities on the East Coast of Australia – by Jeremy from Travel Freak
The Perfect East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary – by Anna from Global Gallivanting
East Coast Australia – Cost, Route & Our Stops – by Jodie from The Little Backpacker
However, keep your itinerary flexible! While you are on the way, you might hear about somewhere you really want to visit and it’s nice to have the freedom to change course and adjust as you go!
5. Beware – The Sun Is Stronger Than You Think
Did you know that Australia is one of the most dangerous places in the world when it comes to sun exposure? In most places, the ozone layer will protect you from most of the UV rays of the sun. However, above the Land of Aus there is a huge hole in the ozone layer, which is one of the main reasons Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world. If you don’t want to bring home permanent UV damage as a souvenir of your East Coast of Australia trip – make sure that you take measures to protect yourself – such as:
- Cover up when you can – clothing will protect you from the sun’s harmful rays.
- Wear at least a 30 SPF sunscreen and reapply it if you are swimming or sweating.
- Avoid going out in the heat of the mid-afternoon. Plan your outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t as strong.
- Wear a pair of sunglasses that will protect your eyes from the UV rays.
6. AirBnB Can Be a Good Option
We used AirBnb a lot when we were traveling the East Coast of Australia. Between the two of us, renting an apartment costs slightly more than staying in a hostel – but not much more as hostels in Australia are also more expensive. In truth, it offers a lot better value. You will have more privacy and you will be able to cook your own meals, which will save you a lot of money on eating out in restaurants.
Having a comfortable place to chill at night means that you can spend a few nights in during your trip – as even going out to a pub for a few drinks in Australia can be a big expense. In some Airbnb rentals you will share the space with the owner or other housemates, in other situations you will have the place to yourself. If you have never used Airbnb before, here are some tips from Nomadic Matt.
7. Tipping Is Not Expected
If you are from North America and you are used to paying an extra 20% whenever you dine at a restaurant – you don’t have to do this in Australia. Tipping is not a thing Down Under, just pay for your food or beer and don’t worry about leaving any extra. Don’t feel bad either – servers in Australia are paid a good wage and they don’t rely on tips for their income, so it’s just not part of the culture.
If you get exceptional service or you are feeling generous you can always give a tip. The staff will certainly appreciate it, but it won’t be expected.
8. Stay Connected With a Local Sim Card
Getting a local SIM card for your phone is one of the main tips we suggest when traveling anywhere, as it gives you many advantages. You will be able to use Google Maps to find your way around, you can look up information on the go and you can stay in touch with your new Australian mates.
Your best strategy is to bring your own unlocked phone and buy a SIM card when you arrive. There are phone shops at all of the airports and at most shopping centres, so you can get one easily no matter where you fly into. There are three main mobile networks in Australia – Vodafone, Telstra and Optus. Depending on where you are planning to travel, you should check the mobile network coverage maps. Some companies offer better coverage than others.
I had a Telstra SIM card while I was traveling the East Coast of Australia and in my experience it had good coverage in many locations, even in remote areas where people on other networks weren’t able to get a signal. However, this may only be relevant to you if you plan to travel off the beaten path – if you stick around the cities and main destinations you are sure to have coverage from all providers.
For more detailed information on buying a SIM Card in Australia, check out this great in-depth post from Too Many Adapters.
9. Save Up A Lot of Money, Then Save Some More
This is probably going to be one of the most expensive backpacking adventures you have ever had. Australia is not a cheap country to live in or travel in, so make sure that you have a lot of money in your savings. If you are visiting Australia on a Working Holiday Visa, you have the option of traveling down the east coast slowly and picking up jobs as you go along.
However, a job is never guaranteed – so it is always important to make sure that you have plenty of travel savings. Check out this guide I wrote to saving up money for travel.
10. How to Find Cheaper Food
The cost of eating food in a restaurant in Australia is very high, so if you want to stretch your travel budget further I would recommend staying in accommodation with a kitchen and cooking your own meals. Check out “6 Practical Tips for Hostel Cooking” for some ideas on how you can prepare your own food for cheap.
When you are buying groceries to cook at your accommodation, most of the big supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths will have a section where they offer food which is close to it’s expiry date and has been marked down. Lee and I have found some great high quality food there at less than half it’s original price – including gourmet pizzas for 50 cents each and premium cuts of meat for only a few dollars. As long as you either freeze the food or eat it right away, this is a great way to eat well in the cheap in Australia.
More Tips for Eating Cheap on the East Coast of Australia
Here are some other tips for eating cheap when you are traveling the East Coast of Australia:
- Look for cheap meal deals at the pubs and backpacker bars.
- Eat lots of fresh tropical fruit, it is affordable and delicious.
- In most of the public parks and beaches in Australia there are free outdoor barbeques that anyone can use. A cheap meal can be just a few sausages and chicken wings from the supermarket, prepared while relaxing in a beautiful park.
- Shop at Aldi – although they don’t have much selection they have some products that are much cheaper than anywhere else – such as beer. 🙂
- Try to eat out for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner – the prices will be cheaper.
- Hit the food court in the shopping mall to find cheaper meals.
- When you sign up for a food ordering service like Uber Eats or Deliveroo, you will often get an introductory promotion with a discount on your order or a $20 voucher. Make sure you take advantage of this.
These are just a few of the things that you should know before traveling the East Coast of Australia. With a bit of planning and preparation, an East Coast trip can be one of the best backpacking experiences in the world!
If you have any other travel tips you have learned along the way, please share them with us in the comments below.