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  • Writer's picturetherealbritzabroad

The Ultimate Guide to backpacking the East Coast of Australia

If I’m totally honest, before I visited Australia I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. It seemed to be on everyone’s list of places to go - but mine. Then I met my husband who is half Australian and we planned a month-long trip travelling the east coast, and I’ve never looked back since!

I’ve been lucky enough to visit 3 times in the past decade (definitely overdue another visit), and I feel like I’ve still only just scratched the surface of this massive, very special country.

Looking back, that trip to Australia was the first time I wrote a diary of our travels. I wanted to be able to remember all the places we had been during the month-long trip. It was a tiny little book where I wrote no more than about 1-2 sentences a day… 10 years later I always do a travel diary of every place we visit, and that’s where I go back to get all my info for this blog!

So here’s the main sights I visited on the Australian east coast, which will hopefully give you some inspiration for your own visit. It’s by no means all encompassing, you’ll want to save some places for your second visit anyway! ;)

Melbourne

We started the trip in Melbourne, which (in my humble opinion) is the city that will grow on you the most. It obviously doesn’t have the postcard spots of Sydney, but spend a bit longer in Melbourne and its charms will be revealed! Check out my Top 10 of Melbourne here for more ideas…

What should I see?

  • Walk from one end of Chapel Street to the other and discover all sorts of boutique shops through to high end Australian retailers.

  • Wander the narrow ‘Lanes’ in the centre of town and grab a coffee, the café culture here is second to none and this is a great place for people watching.

  • Get yourself to Fed Square and see the variety of architecture on display - from the Victorian-era Flinders Street Station to the geometrical, shard-like buildings on the square.

  • The food in Melbourne is amazing, and it’s also worth a visit to Victoria Market for live music, food stalls and drinks.

  • Visit the Melbourne Gaol for the history of the famed-outlaw Ned Kelly, follow it up with a visit to the state library to see his armour!

  • Head out of the city on a day trip to the Yarra Valley to sample the finest of Australia’s wines. Whilst there check out Four Pillars Gin Distillery, the Negroni Gin is a must taste!

  • Head down the coast to stunning Mornington Peninsula, the rugged coastline and beaches give a sneak peek into the glorious beaches that can be found in Oz.

  • Wake up early and make the drive inland to Ballarat, the historic gold-mining town where you can pan for gold yourself! On route you will start to understand just how vast and empty Australia is as the highway makes it way through vast open space.

If you visit in Spring (November) go to the Melbourne Cup! It’s the biggest horse race of the year, think Grand National – but with the bonus for the Aussies of a day off work!

How long do I need?

I’d recommend a full week in Melbourne all in all – there’s plenty to see and do in the city, as well numerous day trips further along the coast and inland.



Cairns and the Barrier Reef

Next up, we flew to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef. The flight is around 3.5 hours and so it made sense to head to the furthest point north and then make our way south travelling down the country. Cairns isn’t a massive town but is the gateway to the Barrier Reef, as well as tours to the rainforest further north. Whilst in Cairns we took a few day trips as it was an easy way to see a lot in a short space of time.

What should I see?

  • The abundance of underwater life, snorkelling or diving on the Barrier Reef.

  • Day trip to an idyllic island (we chose Green Island which was akin to a dreamy deserted island)

  • Venture into the Daintree rainforest to wildlife spot… Check out my post here on my adventure with Billy Tea Safari’s.

  • Take a dip one of the many natural swimming holes around Cairns such as Crystal Cascades.

  • Visit 4 mile beach, for just that – 4 miles of beach!

  • Pelican spot on a stroll along Cairns Esplanade

  • Go fruit-bat spotting anywhere in Cairns (hint: follow the smell!) and watch them swoop around as the evening draws in.

How long do I need?

We were in Cairns for a total of 4 days but managed to tick a lot off in a fairly short space of time thanks to some great day trips, I’d suggest more if you want to do multiple trips to scuba dive and explore the different areas of the reef.



The Gold Coast

From Cairns we flew down to Brisbane and then rented a car to get us to the Gold Coast and Byron Bay. I’m a bit confused about this part of the journey as we kind of went back on ourselves (I think we flew into the wrong airport!). But hey, it worked out OK.

What should I see?

  • Walk along Main Beach to Surfer’s Paradise for wide open beaches juxtaposed with tall blocks of flats and accommodation for the holiday crowd.

  • Walk Cape Bryon, Australia’s most easterly point for great rugged views.

  • Try surfing at famous hippie paradise Byron Bay.

  • Stay at the Art’s Factory – the original hippie hostel, as hilariously featured on The Inbetweeners film.

  • Rent a car and stop off at the various cute little towns along the gold coast – Kirra Beach, Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads to name a few.

How long do I need?

3-4 days is enough for some scenic walks and to visit a good few beaches, but take longer if you want to make the most of the partying at night and then hitting up the beaches all day.



Brisbane

After our backpacker’s experience at the Arts Factory in Byron, we were lucky enough to be staying with family in Brisbane, so I lapped up those home comforts, taking advantage of some chauffeur-driven sightseeing around Brisbane!

What should I see?

  • Visit Mount Coot-tha for panoramic views of Brisbane, as well as plenty of bushland walks and 20km of cycling tracks if you’re feeling more active.

  • Ride the City Cat – a speedy and fun way to see the city from the river.

  • Visit the beautiful botanic gardens to check out native Australian rainforest flora and fauna, all for free.

  • Go for drinks and dinner on the river.

  • Visit Brisbane’s oldest park, New Farm and stop in at Brisbane Powerhouse to see what’s on in the beautiful, industrial building.

  • Grab a drink and soak up the atmosphere of the South Bank.

  • Tour the Castlemaine XXXX brewery, learn all about the 140+ year history of the local beer of Queensland.

How long do I need?

3-4 days is plenty to see the main sights of Brisbane and hit up some lovely riverfront restaurants.


Sydney

From Brisbane we made the short flight (1.5 hours) down to Sydney (the right airport this time!). This part of the trip for me was the most greatly anticipated and it didn’t disappoint.

What should I see?

  • Visit the best zoo in the world, Taronga zoo! For the best panorama of Sydney’s landmarks, with the added bonus of giraffes! See my post here for why I think it’s the best!

  • Tour the Sydney Opera House for the history of the building. Did you know a design competition was run, with the winner having their architectural creation built?

  • Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge (and stop for a drink at the viewpoint after)

  • Get the ferry and soak up the cool vibes at Manly beach

  • Mooch around Circular Quay and eat at one of the restaurants on the waterfront.

  • Visit famed Bondi Beach, my highlight here (aside from the gorgeous white sand beach) was seeing Jay Kay from Jamiroquai, I can’t guarantee that though I’m afraid…

  • Go further afield and visit the Blue Mountains, marvel at the expanse of this national park and visit the famed 3 sisters.

  • Explore the Jenolan Caves and stay the night at the haunted house, if you dare…

  • Visit Burger Patch, I’ve followed these guys on Instagram for years – their burgers and shakes look insane!

How long do I need?

At least a full week to explore the city as well as hitting up the beautiful beaches for a day or 2.


From Sydney we flew back to Melbourne to see family before heading back to London. I literally cried at the airport as I didn’t want to leave! The Eastern Coast of Australia makes such an awesome trip its no wonder it’s the go-to trip for many on their first visit to Australia. Hopefully this blog post has given you some ideas of what to do and how long to spend in each stop – enjoy!

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