Backpacking East Coast Australia: A 1-Month Itinerary To Kick Start Your Travel Plans
Planning out your first holiday to Australia is an unbelievably exciting time… only to get even better once you arrive and the trip begins! Being such an enormous country with a spectacularly diverse landscape, it can be difficult to know where to begin. An itinerary through East Coast Australia – whether you’re self-driving, on a tour, or a mix of both – is a popular backpacking option, and an excellent choice to begin.
Journeying from Sydney and heading north to Byron Bay, and eventually to Cairns in north-Queensland, the East Coast route showcases so much variety. You’ll encounter classic Australian wildlife, pristine beaches, national parks and rainforests, snorkeling and skydiving opportunities, and so much more.
To help kick start your East Coast Aussie travel plans, we’ve put together an example 1-month itinerary. Although this 30-day itinerary does give you a glimpse into the highlights of what lies along this coastline, we would suggest four weeks as an absolute minimum to experiencing this kind of trip.
4 Week East Coast Australia Itinerary Plan
Day 1-7: Sydney
Capital cities don’t get much better than stunning Sydney, New South Wales. Arrive to Sydney for your first taste of Australia, and you’ll quickly notice the outdoor lifestyle, beautiful beaches and awesome energy that makes this city a favourite for so many. We could write forever about what to do here, so instead we recommend you check out our range of (free) travel guides and tips of what to do and where to go in Sydney. We recommend (at least) seven days in Sydney, to give you enough time to explore the city, enjoy a few themed nights out at Side Bar, as well as day trips to must-see locations like:
- The Blue Mountains
- Hunter Valley
- Royal National Park
- Hyams Beach and the South Coast
Where to stay: Look for centrally-located accommodation that enables you to easily travel for day trips out of the city. Wake Up! Sydney Central is conveniently located opposite Sydney’s Central Train Station, connecting you to the Blue Mountains, South Coast and beyond. Buses and trams are also right outside our doors, and you’ll find yourself within walking distance to suburbs like Surry Hills, Darling Harbour, Glebe, and more.
Day 7-9: Bondi Beach
In addition to seven days based in Sydney, we recommend staying two nights in Bondi to truly soak up that quintessentially Aussie beach lifestyle. And what better place to do that, than in the very heart of Bondi Beach. What to do in Bondi? Grab a surfboard (complimentary for all guests at Wake Up! Bondi Beach) and take to the famous waves of Bondi; soak in views on a Bondi to Coogee coastal walk; experience the weekend Bondi Markets; venture to Hornby Lighthouse and Watson’s Bay; eat and drink and the endless cafes and bars in the area.
Where to stay: Wake Up! Bondi Beach is your picture-perfect seaside accommodation. Located directly opposite Bondi Beach, you can soak up the views from the exclusive panoramic Rooftop (which also makes for one of the best outdoor gyms or yoga spots!).
Day 9-10: Newcastle or Port Stephens or Hunter Valley
It’s time to travel north to either Newcastle, Port Stephens or the Hunter Valley- depending on your preference.
Port Stephens, on Worimi Country: go here for adventure and epic scenery! Hiking the 2.2km return Tomaree Head Summit trail gives you incredible views of Port Stephens (an instagrammable delight). You can also go sandboarding, quad-biking or camel riding on the Worimi Sand Dunes. These are the largest moving coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, and have great Indigenous significance.
Newcastle: a student city, known for its nightlife! Enjoy the many pubs and bars this city has to offer, from breweries and pubs to cocktail joints and themed bars. Newcastle is also known for its beaches and awesome surf – experience it for yourself at Merewether Beach!
Hunter Valley: If you didn’t manage to do a day trip to the Hunter from Sydney, then you might want to spend a night here instead. One of Australia’s most famous wine regions, here you can enjoy cheese, chocolate, natural beauty and, of course, wine!
Day 10-15: Byron Bay
You’ve made it to a northern-NSW slice of paradise: Byron Bay! Blissed out Byron is an absolute must on everyone’s Australia adventure. This is your place to do as the town’s motto says: Cheer Up, Slow Down, Chill Out. In Byron, you can do as little or as much as you want, but to get you started we suggest having a read of our free travel guides and tips to the area. In just five days, you might not want to leave the town itself. However if you fancy a day trip, add towns like Yamba, Mullumbimby, Nimbin and Minyon Falls or Killen Falls to your list.
Where to stay: Wake Up! Byron Bay offers affordable, laidback Byron accommodation in a beachside paradise setting. Essentially: it’s your perfect paradise escape… while still being budget-friendly! Guests can enjoy complimentary activities every day (including yoga classes, sunrise lighthouse tours, and meditation classes); and you also have access to free bike, surfboard and SUP hire.
Day 15-17: Brisbane
Despite being Queensland’s capital city and Australia’s third largest city, Brisbane has a small-town charm about it, which is welcomed at this half-way stage of the itinerary. In Brisbane, you can enjoy a bit of everything, with something for every type of traveller and personality. It’s got a beer scene, food markets, pumping nightlife, gorgeous botanic gardens, and also some fantastic day trips. We recommend:
- Australia Zoo: the biggest zoo in Australia, made famous by the late Steve Irwin and his wife Terri
- Moreton Island: take an island tour to spot wild dolphins and go snorkelling in the crystal clear waters
- Stradbroke Island: revel in the sublime natural beauty of ‘Straddie’, including its nature hikes, surfing beaches and gorges
- Lone Pine Sanctuary: the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. Hold a koala and get your photo snapped up, or even meet dingos and snakes!
Day 17-19: Noosa
Beautiful Noosa! As you head further north on this East Coast itinerary, you’ll come to experience the spectacular scenery of a more tropical Australia. While in Noosa, kayak the Noosa Everglades and soak in the pristine wilderness. This is a definite must-see and makes for stunning photos. Walk through Noosa National Park and look out (or up!) for sleepy wild koalas in the trees above.
Day 19-22: Fraser Island
The largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island has the MOST incredible nature. And the passionate locals at K’gari Fraser Island Adventures will help you experience it all, with amazing travel experiences that don’t cost the earth. Learn how to drive a 4WD like a local, see the magical Lake McKenzie, swim in creeks with the world’s cleanest water, have fun wildlife spotting, and so much more.
Day 22-26: Whitsundays & Airlie Beach
There are 74 different islands that lie between the northeast coast of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. Together, they make up the dreamy Whitsunday Islands. While on these islands, you’ll come to experience some of the whitest sand in the world, dense rainforest, hiking trails, and water so beautiful it’ll make all of your Australia dreams come true. Make sure to have a day out with Ocean Rafting which offers an awesome speed boat ride, snorkelling, and a guided walk. True Blue Sailing provides another guaranteed great option. We love their Atlantic Clipper and New Horizon boats, which both have huge waterslides, jumping platforms, and snorkelling opportunities. For a shorter boat experience, jump on the Solway Lass Sunset Cruise to experience a pirate ship with a rich history.
Day 26-28: Townsville & Magnetic Island
Picture a tropical island paradise, and Magnetic Island is what you’ll find. Accessible by ferry from Townsville (a town worth exploring in itself, particularly for its history), Magnetic Island is your go-to for beautiful coral reefs, sandy beaches, snorkelling adventures and sunshine. You’ll find no shortage of adventure in this part of the world. For the ultimate fun experience, get around the town in a Barbie Car or Topless Jeep Wrangler!
Day 28-30: Cairns
And finally, welcome to the adventure town of Cairns! As well as being the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns offers up so many thrill-seeking activities to do and see. If scuba diving, snorkelling, bungee jumping, skydiving, or white water rafting are on your #backpackingaustralia bucket list – then this is the place to tick them off! You’re in Tropical North Queensland here, so expect to also see photogenic waterfalls. Drive the Waterfall Circuit that’ll have you soaking up the sights of Milla Milla Falls (one of Australia’s most photographed waterfalls), Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls.
Phew! You made it! As you can tell, this 30-day East Coast Australia itinerary is a whirlwind adventure trip. It takes you through the highlights of what lies between Sydney in New South Wales and Cairns in Far North Queensland. While you can absolutely spend more time in virtually every destination, we hope this itinerary provides a base inspiration of where to start your travel-planning.
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