East Coast Australia: Destination Travel Guide

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East Coast in Australia is rightly hailed as one of the most exciting destinations worth visiting on a tour to Australia, with its incredible mix of natural beauty, thriving city life, surfing culture and simply divine coastline. It stretches from tropical Cairns in the north to cosmopolitan Sydney in the south, by way of Fraser Island, Brisbane, and Gold Coast to name just a few of East Coast Australia’s highlights. A phenomenal 2,600 km end to end, a guide to its many fascinating destinations is a must to navigate through its best destinations. So read on to discover the very best of East Coast Australia!

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8 Main destinations to visit in East Coast Australia

1. Cairns 

Fitzroy Islands in Cairns, Australia
Located in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef is Fitzroy Island, an untouched paradise of emerald forests and white sand beaches.
kuranda scenic railway in Cairns
Kuranda railway runs between Cairns and Kuranda, providing scenic vistas for its passengers. Images of Cairns by We Seek Travel

Marking the northernmost point of what is generally considered the Australian East Coast, Cairns is a town with a buzz, thanks to the regular influx of visitors eager to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Also a gateway to Australia’s tropical rainforests, there’s a great selection of restaurants and bars.

Top 4 attractions in Cairns:

  •    Daintree National Park
  •    Fitzroy Island
  •    Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
  •    Kuranda Scenic Railway
East coast Australia Airlie beach
Take a flight over the Great Barrier Reef and spot Heart reef.

Airlie Beach is an area of stunning panoramas, friendly locals, and a good number of walking trails. Airlie Beach also offers a variety of options — a sailing, catamaran ride, or ocean rafting trip you won’t want to miss — for getting to the white sand paradise hideaways that are the Whitsunday Islands.

Top 3 attractions in Airlie Beach

East coast Australia fraser island
Dingoes can be found on Fraser Island.

Just off the coast of Queensland, Fraser Island lays claim to being the world’s largest sand island, so big its beach-cum-highway is used as an airstrip for light aircraft. It is one of the destinations that cannot be missed on an Australia trip. The best way to get about the island is by off-roading in an all-terrain vehicle, just make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the local dingo population — the last remaining pure breed animals anywhere in Australia.

Top 4 attractions in Fraser Island

  •    75 Mile Beach
  •    Maheno Shipwreck
  •    Champagne Pools
  •    Spotting wild dingoes

4. Noosa

The location of Steve Irwin’s family-friendly Australia Zoo, Noosa also has more than enough untamed nature, with some spectacular secluded beaches within the bounds of Noosa National Park. You also won’t want to miss the sociable hustle and bustle of Eumundi Markets, while the waves around Noosa are also perfect for trying your hand at surfing.

Top 4 attractions in Noosa:

  •    Noosa Main Beach
  •    Sunshine Beach
  •    Hastings Street
  •    Noosa Everglades
East coast Australia brisbane
Brisbane has some great sights and activities to take in.

Ignore Brisbane at your peril! Shedding its dour reputation, Brisbane, Queensland’s capital has some great sights to take in. Mild temperatures and the many green spaces makes this city a charming stop for travelers in the East Coast. Should you choose to go around town, you will find a whole host of cool cafes and bars to choose from.

Top 4 attractions in Brisbane:

  •    Botanic Gardens
  •    Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
  •    Southbank Parklands
  •    Storey Bridge
east coast australia gold coast
Gold Coast is the place to head for an adrenaline rush from surfing, theme parks or hiking.

Known for its glittering skyline of skyscrapers along its beachfront, there’s a lot more to Gold Coast than office blocks. This is the place to head for an adrenaline rush, either from the thrilling rides of the city’s many theme parks, or from a day’s hiking or mountain biking through parkland including Tamborine Mountain and Lamington — both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Top 7 attractions in Gold Coast:

  •    Tamborine Mountain Glow Worms
  •    Sea World
  •    Surfer’s Paradise
  •    Coolangatta Beach
  •    Greenmount Beach
  •    Mermaid Beach
  •    Currumbin Beach
East coast Australia Byron Bay
Byron Bay is the most easterly point in the Australian mainland.

Not only is Byron Bay the most easterly point on the Australian mainland, but it’s majestic natural setting, dotted with coves and tumbling waterfalls, is one that has to be seen to be believed. Not far away you’ll also find Nimbin, a colorful hippy commune that dates back decades.

Top 4 attractions in Byron Bay:

  •    Cape Byron Lighthouse
  •    Surfing at The Pass
  •    Sunday Markets in the Northern Rivers
  •    Snorkeling at Julian Rocks
east coast australia sydney
No travel to East Coast Australia can be complete without a stop in Sydney.

No travel to East Coast Australia can be complete without a stop in Sydney, home to its famed harbour, Opera House, and the bridge, and beaches including Bondi. Sydney is definitely the most iconic city of Australia. Here, you will find a mix of history, architecture, art, sun, sand and sea. Visit the city’s fantastic museums and art galleries before enjoying some of the finest food on offer in East Coast Australia.

Top 5 attractions in Sydney:

  •    Sydney Opera House
  •    Sydney Harbour Bridge
  •    Bondi Beach, Manly Beach
  •    Taronga Zoo
  •    The Rocks

Possible 14-day itinerary for an East Coast Australia tour

Day 1: Sydney

Arrive into Sydney and transfer to your hotel for check-in. Explore Australia’s beating heart by heading to the harbor side area, full of places to grab a bite  as well as Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. Get great views of the city by climbing the bridge, or take in a concert at one of the world’s most iconic locations. 

Day 2: Sydney and the Blue Mountains

Travel to the Blue Mountains area around Leura and Katoomba which takes about an hour’s drive from Sydney, where the eucalyptus forests outside of Sydney are at their most picturesque. Ride on the steepest railway in the world through the trees, then head into the fabulous Jenolan Caves, thought to be some of the world’s oldest. Round off the day by visiting the Koala hospital at Port Macquarie. Return to Sydney and spend the night.

Day 3: Dorrigo National Park

The next day, head out for Dorrigo National Park. Continuing on to Dorrigo National Park from Sydney, about four hour’s drive from Sydney. Make sure you take a stop at Nambucca Head in order to learn about the guardianship role the Gumbaynggirr aborigines have had with their local environment for centuries. Then take a cooling plunge into the waters at the base of the stunning Dangar Falls. Spend the night close to Dorrigo National Park.

Day 4: Byron Bay

Head out early in the morning to reach the charms of Byron Bay, as this will require an 8 hours' drive. There is also an option to take a flight of about one and half hours. The easternmost point in mainland Australia, there’s plenty of time to relax on the apparently endless coastline, or slip on the walking boots for a short hike among other adventures. Don’t miss sunset from the town’s lighthouse, from where it’s also often possible to catch sight of whales and dolphins. Spend the night at Byron Bay.

Day 5: Byron Bay

After a free morning in which to relax and take in Byron Bay’s laid-back atmosphere it’s time to get the adrenaline pumping. Take to the waves for a surf lesson or a kayaking trip, or opt instead to splurge in the town’s shops before enjoying another great plate of Aussie hospitality. Spend the night at Byron Bay.

East Coast in Australia is a mecca for surfers worldwide.

Surfing in east coast Australia
East Coast in Australia is a mecca for surfers worldwide.

Day 6: Brisbane

Head out for Brisbane on day six. Stroll the paths that run alongside the Brisbane River, keeping an eye out for sights including Storey Bridge, before continuing on to the impressive collection of fauna at the city’s Botanic Gardens. End the day in Brisbane by relaxing in the cafes and bars that spill out in the fashionable district of Westend to really get a sense of what Brisbane is all about.

Day 7: Noosa

The next morning, head to sunny Noosa for the day, where the activities on offer are as varied as any on tours. Explore the colorful Eumundi Markets, seek out an isolated beach for a perfect afternoon of rest and relaxation, or head into the surrounding bush to spot koalas in the wild! Spend the night in Noosa.

Day 8: Hervey Bay and Fraser Island

On day eight, start the day from Noosa and move to Hervey Bay, from where you can reach Fraser Island. Crossing over to Fraser Island, you’ll get a chance to drive a 4x4 along stretches of 75 Mile Beach, taking in some of the most iconic spots on the world’s largest sand island as you do so. The Maheno Shipwreck and the Champagne Pools natural Jacuzzi are some of them. You also shouldn’t have any trouble spotting Australia’s last purebred population of dingoes. Return back to Hervey Bay and spend the night there.

Day 9: Airlie Beach

From Hervey Bay, take a flight to Airlie Beach. You won’t want to rush the journey on to Airlie Beach, so take the day, stopping off whenever you feel the need to grab your camera and snap another phenomenal panorama! But make sure you also leave enough time to take in some of Airlie Beach’s well marked out walking trails around this particularly fine part of East Coast Australia. Spend the night at Airlie Beach.

Day 10: Whitsunday Islands

Depart Airlie Beach for the Whitsunday Islands, a group of 74 small islands boasting unbelievably fine white sand epitomized by Whitehaven Beach. A day is not enough for Whitsunday Island so spend a night here. Having sailed leisurely over to the islands, there will still be plenty of time to delve beneath the waves, snorkeling gear in hand. See the corals and tropical fish of the Great Barrier Reef before anchoring off the islands for the night.

Day 11: Whitsunday Islands

Enjoy your second day in paradise on board your boat before returning to Airlie Beach in the afternoon. After a quick freshen be sure to check out all the town has to offer when it comes to its restaurant scene and nightlife. Spend the night at Airlie beach.

Day 12: Cairns

Take a flight from Airlie beach to Cairns. Explore the incredible diversity and wonder of Australia’s tropical north by sailing over the rainforest outside of Cairns on the Skyrail cableway. Then take in this impressive natural spectacle from the ground, with a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, taking in waterfalls, mountains, and gorges as you return to Cairns.

Day 13: Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest

Head north from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, for an unforgettable mix of pristine beaches and verdant rainforest explorable through the series of boardwalks. Zip-line through the jungle, or learn more about the Daintree Rainforest with an immersive tour led by an aboriginal guide of the Kuku Yalanji people to discover all about bush tucker and bush medicine.

Cairns is the ideal spot to go diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

Day 14: Cairns

Your final day gives you another chance to sail to the Great Barrier Reef, where you can snorkel and scuba dive to catch sight of some of the reef’s most iconic species, from clown fish to turtles, reef sharks and rays.

This 14-day itinerary can also be done in reverse by starting from Cairns and finishing at Sydney. Contact a travel expert for Australia and plan a trip around this itinerary.

east coast australia great barrier reef
Cairns is the ideal spot to go diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

3 Travel Packages for East Coast Australia

Sydney to Cairns Northbound

Travel Australia’s major destinations in East Coast on this 14-day tour, starting in vibrant Sydney before taking in the gourmet foods of the nearby Hunter Valley. Natural wonders occupy the next days, with a guided walk in Lakes Way, and a visit to the koala hospital at Dorrigo National Park. Here you’ll also uncover aboriginal culture. After a stay at Byron Bay you’ll visit Noosa and then Fraser Island for a 4x4 adventure. Taking in Brisbane, you’ll spend a couple of days relaxing on the beaches of the Whitsunday Islands and Airlie, before arriving in Cairns and taking to explore the Great Barrier Reef.

Brisbane to Cairns Experience

From Brisbane you head to the wilds of the Noosa Everglades wetlands, which you’ll explore on foot and by canoe. Continue to Fraser Island, you’ll take to 75 Mile Beach by 4x4, before boarding a sleeper train to Airlie Beach. Here a range of activities, from bush walking to offshore snorkeling are included. You’ll then anchor off the spectacular Whitsunday Islands for two nights. The tour ends with a free day in tropical Cairns, where both the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest await.

Best of Australia

From Cairns, you head north to Cape Tribulation for a mesmerizing walk through the Daintree Rainforest led by an aboriginal guide. Turning back south, you’ll reach Airlie Beach, from where you’ll jump aboard a sailing boat to the incredible white sands of the Whitsunday Islands. Returning to the mainland, you’ll transfer to the laid-back charm of Byron Bay and the beauty of nearby Port Macquarie, and the Blue Mountains. Here you’ll ride the Scenic Railway, and take a walk through the Jamison Valley and Jenolan Caves. Sydney is the last destination of the tour, and what a way to end!

As diverse as it is stunning, East Coast Australia offers visitors a bounty of adventures. From the natural beauty of its beaches and coastal forests, the tranquility off its islands, the lust for life contained within its cities, or the adrenaline-fueled adventures that seem to be around every corner, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in East Coast Australia.

Published by Sofie, updated on December 27, 2021

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