A Complete 6-Week East Coast of Australia Touring Guide
Starting in Sydney and up to Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland, self-driving the East Coast is one of the best touring routes you can do in Australia.
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Tropical rain forests and spectacular hinterlands, the incredible Great Barrier Reef, Whitsunday Islands, and stunning beaches, it is little wonder this is such a popular road trip.
There is so much to discover on a drive along the coast – scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, whale watching, driving along miles of sandy beaches, heading inland to the outback regions…
Many travelers self-drive the East Coast as part of a Big Lap of Australia, taking a few months or even years to tour the country.
The drive covers 2,615 kilometers/ 1,625 miles from Sydney to Cairns. Include a drive north of Cairns to visit Cape Tribulation which is about 280 km return, plus a few other deviations during the journey, the miles driven and time needed to see everything soon add up.
Our 6-week self-guided itinerary below explains what to expect when touring the east coast, highlights, and a few hidden gems. There will also be places to discover that we have not mentioned, which makes the journey all the better as a little ‘serendipity’ can be an awesome thing.
For travelers with more time, it will be easy to expand on this suggested travel itinerary. If less time is available it can be adapted to suit your own time frame.
East Coast Australia Map
How long do you need to travel East Coast Australia?
- 6-Weeks would be our recommended time frame to comfortably enjoy everything the Coast has to offer. Even longer if you can. It would be so easy to spend months along the East Coast.
- 4-weeks is the minimum, suggested, time to spend touring the East Coast from Cairns to Sydney.
- 2-weeks – The journey can be done in 14 days, it is a squeeze to get the most out of the trip within that time frame, but it is possible if there is no more time available to you. The suggested itinerary below can be adapted easily by stopping in the recommended towns but spending less time.
Sydney, Cairns, and Brisbane all have international airports, using a flight finder such as Sky Scanner is a good way to source the best deals on international and local flights.
Find a list of all Australian airports by state here.
Is it expensive to travel in Australia?
Yes, it costs more to travel here than in our neighboring countries of South East Asia, but our wages and living expenses are higher. Does it cost much more than The U.K., most of Europe or North America? Not really, in our opinion.
Tours and activities can be pricey, travelers need to budget carefully. The East Coast has so many activities on offer – diving, sailing, bungy jumping, sky-diving… we have listed some of the best tours available in the itinerary below.
Petrol is about half of what it is in Europe. The whole East Coast trip from Cairns to Sydney is 2,615 km – to drive from Amsterdam to Gibraltar is 0ver 2,400 km. Not allowing for diversions on either route.
Accommodation can be expensive but we have many budget options. Free camping is plentiful and most of our campsites are usually open all year round.
Don’t be put off traveling here because of the constant comments about expenses. Be savvy when you travel.
East Coast Australia Weather
The temperature in Tropical North Queensland is an average of approximately 29°C (85°F) all year-round. The temperature fluctuations between the summer and winter seasons are a lot less than in Europe or North America.
The rainy season rolls in during December, January, and February so it tends to be really wet and humid up in tropical Queensland. Not ideal weather for touring as the waters get murky, visibility for snorkeling and diving is poor and sailing the Whitsunday Islands would not be quite so much fun, perhaps. This does mean it is the low tourist season though so accommodation and rental prices will usually be less. It is also jellyfish and stingers season up north, which means swimming is not safe unless wearing a ‘stinger suit’ or swimming in safe inland rivers or netted beaches (read more below).
- October/November are generally dry months though winds can be strong and the Stingers and Jellyfish start arriving (see below).
- June/July/August/September tend to be the most favored months for an east coast holiday as the days are warm, generally sunny with blue skies. Awesome weather for a vacation.
- March/April/May can tend to be quite hot still but usually pleasant for traveling.
Warnings – Jelly Fish, Dingoes & Crocodiles
Jelly Fish and Stingers can pose a serious threat to swimmers up north during the summer months. Pay attention to signage and be aware of the dangers. Read more about Dangerous Animals in Oz.
Dingoes are quite common in some areas up north and in Central Australia/Northern Territory. Our native dog does not necessarily pose a threat to humans BUT –
- Do not feed them or try to get close.
- Do not leave food out at night in areas that have dingoes.
Crocodiles – Saltwater (or Estuarine) crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are the world’s largest living reptile species, growing up to 6m long and weighing up to a tonne.
It may sound like you will be taken by a Dingo, eaten by a croc or stung by a jellyfish in Australia, take care, be sensible and heed cautions in the limited areas that these animals may pose a threat and you will be fine.
Don’t be put off coming down under for an adventure, it really is not so dangerous in Australia – we don’t have bears at least!
Renting a Vehicle
Hiring a car or campervan to tour the East Coast or anywhere in the country is a good option. Getting onto the open road and exploring at your own pace means stopping when and wherever you please.
DriveNow is one of the best websites search for a good price across different vehicle rental companies. Simply enter the required dates etc. and a page will display showing all the different hire prices for cars and motorhomes from all the major companies. You are then taken through the secure booking process.
- Driving Tip for UK/European visitors: Do not park on the roadside facing oncoming traffic as you can in your own countries, it is illegal in Australia and people do get fined. Friends of ours recently had this bad experience when parking very briefly to check into their hotel in Byron Bay.
Buying a Vehicle
Having your own vehicle is one of the best ways to travel around Australia. Before leaping into buying a car or even beginning your search, read this article for some really useful information and tips.
Travellers Auto Barn is a good place to research buying a vehicle as they offer a set buyback price when the trip is finished, which takes the stress out of selling.
Joining a Facebook Group for buying or selling a car is also a good idea, Backpacker Cars Australia is a large group with plenty of vehicles on offer.
East Coast Bus Tours
A range of value packed adventure tour options within Australia can be booked through specialist online travel agents such as the Trip Advisor Company – Viator.
A Sydney to Cairns ‘Hop On – Hop Off Bus Pass is an ideal way to see the coast. Stay with the same group or stop and start as you please.
Greyhound Coaches offer flexible, jump on and off as you please, passes for travel around Australia, prices are reasonable and this may be a good option to look into.
Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling & Scuba Diving Cruises
Boat cruises operate from a number of destinations along the coast offering a variety of options from 1 day to multi-day trips.
We have some highly rated options for snorkeling and diving trips listed below in the itinerary. Browse lots of snorkeling and diving tours to get an idea of what is on offer.
Free Camping Queensland and New South Wales
Australia is a country with a great range of free camping grounds and low-cost campsites, use the Wiki Camps App to find suggestions. It is a good idea to aim to arrive early in the afternoon if looking for a site in a free camp during the busy season as they can fill up quickly. People often leave late morning, so arriving around midday or soon after is a good plan.
Free campsites usually have basic toilet facilities, do not expect running water as a rule. Some sites will require campers to be totally self-sufficient. Check details of campsite facilities before arriving, if possible (using the WikiCamps App).
Food Costs – Eating Out & Saving Money
It costs to eat whether you are at home or traveling. Naturally. But it is possible to save money.
Food can be expensive, dining out will add $$’s to any budget if done too often. It is easy to find cheap places to eat as well as fine dining restaurants in Australia. Have a look at grocery prices here to get an idea of food costs compared to where you live.
We have cafes and restaurants that are as good as any in the world, coffee is usually great and Aussies love a cuppa. Having your own portable cook stove, using a thermal cooker to prepare meals and packing a coffee maker will save a lot of money – you can then choose the view you want to have when dining!
Drinking out a lot will quickly deplete any budget, though some of the Aussie Pubs are well worth a visit to meet locals and get a feel for the country, look for the type of pub where the locals drink for a bit of Australian flavor.
Wine boxes are very popular here and will often be referred to as ‘Goon’. They are mostly quite a respectable drink, practical and economical. They are often talked of as something to drink when really desperate and that the quality is poor – not at all. Read more about the history of cask wine over the past 50 years in Australia.
Free BBQ’s are often available in parks around the country, or certainly available for a low cost. Perhaps pick up some groceries and have a bbq. Take advantage of camp kitchens at campsites.
6 Week Itinerary
This suggested 6-week touring itinerary can be adapted to whatever time frame is available, it takes in the very best of the East Coast of Australia and allows enough time to really get to know the country.
Touring routes from Melbourne to Sydney can be found here, with options to drive via the coast or over the mountains and High Country regions.
Sydney – 4 Days
The capital city of New South Wales and one of the world’s most spectacular cities. Sydney offers so much and can keep visitors busy for weeks.
- Spectacular walks, especially from Manly to the Spit or the Coogee Coastal walk.
- See and tour the famous Sydney Opera House
- Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb (or walk across, it’s a fab experience too.) Read one travelers story here.
- Ride the ferry across the harbor to spectacular suburbs and beaches, Manly is a favorite!
- Go snorkeling at Manly to see colored fish!
- Take a Sea Plane joy flight over the city for a bird’s eye view!
- Sydney Tower for a meal with 360-degree views
- Did you know Whale watching cruises operate during certain times of the year from Sydney?
- For a good giggle, join a bus tour to Summer Bay, maybe even see some of the cast from Home and Away
- Read more about things to do in Sydney.
Accommodation in Sydney
A little bit of luxury
- The Sofitel in Darling Habour offers panoramic views, some rooms have bathrooms with views too and the service is superb. For anyone want to splurge and stay in one of the best Sydney Hotels, this one is highly recommended.
- The Holiday Inn, Darling Harbour is our favorite hotel in the budget range. Not super cheap, but the location, quality, and service are hard to beat.
- Darling Harbour has more accommodation choices, the Novotel being one of the best for budget-friendly rooms.
- Budget-friendly rooms at the Ibis Budget Motel near the Sydney Olympic Park with parking onsite is a good choice for people traveling with cars.
Best Backpacker Hostels
- Sydney Central YHA Clean and comfortable with a friendly feel, it has been a popular backpacker hostel for years, situated in the historic area of ‘The Rocks’ close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- Wake Up Sydney hostel. A fun place to stay, well managed and friendly. Cafe on site, fabulous rooms and centrally located in the heart of Sydney.
Best Caravan and Camping Choices
Wanderers Rest is on the outskirts of Sydney but in a good location and free for members, nominal charges for non-members.
Blue Mountains – 2 Days
Sydney to the Blue Mountains – 1 Hour
After experiencing Sydney, the 1-hour drive to the gorgeous Blue Mountains is like a breath of fresh air. Spectacular vistas and walking tracks. Stay a night in the mountains before continuing North towards Newcastle and Port Macquarie. The Prince Henry Cliff Top walk is one of the many amazing hikes in the mountains.
If you prefer to do a bus tour of the Blue Mountains, a lot of choices are available.
Accommodation in the Blue Mountains
- For a really special stay in the Blue Mountains, Lilianfels Resort and Spa is just amazing! This grand country style house boasts 2 restaurants, a pool, stunning views that will make your jaw drop and first-class luxury.
- Mid-range budget accommodation choices are plentiful, one of the best is Echo Point Motor Inn, parking onsite and just 200 meters from the famous Three Sisters viewpoint!
- The Luxury Straw Bale Eco-House is a really special place to stay too, ideal for couples, families, friends, it is under 3 km from Katoomba.
- A backpacker hostel that we stayed in with our kids is called 14 Lovel Street. It is a fabulous old home that first served as a guest house in 1913. We loved staying there as it was quirky and full of charm.
- Campgrounds: Read this page about some of the favorite campsites recommended by ‘Scenic World’.
Port Macquarie – 1 Day
The Blue Mountains to Port Macquarie – 4 h 35 min (422 km) via M1
Port Macquarie offers plenty to see and do, National Parks, beaches and wildlife. More time can easily be spent here, depending on your own schedule.
The drive from Port Macquarie to the mountain area of Dorrigo is fairly quick, there is plenty do, visiting the beaches and towns along the way. Nambucca Heads is a fabulous town and worth visiting (as are so many of the little towns along the way).
Accommodation in Port Macquarie
- Waters Edge in Port Macquarie is a fabulous place to stay, a touch of luxury suitable for families as well as couples etc. Most of the rooms have a balcony and views across the pretty Hastings River. Onsite pool, kids playground and a restaurant with beautiful views as well a great food.
- Flynns on Surf Beach Villas, these lovely villa style apartments are just a 2-minute walk from Flynns Beach. Another short walk away is the Nature Reserve and Koala Hospital. Port Macquarie town center is a 3-minute drive. A pool, as well as BBQ facilities, are also onsite.
- Fancy staying in a funky backpacker hostel? Beachside Backpackers have earnt themselves a great reputation for a fun and clean place to stay.
- The Port Macquarie Tourist Park offers cabins as well as a well laid out caravan and camping section with all the facilities anyone could hope for.
The Waterfall Way – 2 Days
Port Macquarie to The Waterfall Way & Dorrigo – 2 h (172 km)
This drive is simply stunning! Loads of walks and waterfalls that can be explored over one day or more. Two days in the National Park will definitely be easy to do. Drop into the Bellingen information center for maps and information on road conditions.
A couple of days in Dorrigo, exploring the area and learning some of the local histories would be time well spent. The town is RV friendly and one of the special places in Australia that many travelers often don’t hear about.
Accommodation in Dorrigo or Bellingen
This mountain region has some fabulous accommodation to choose from, one of the best-rated places with spectacular views, is the Lookout Mountain Retreat. The setting is stunning and the accommodation suitable for all travelers.
The Dorrigo Mountain Resort Caravan Park is a perfect spot to pitch a tent or roll in with a caravan etc.
Bellingen YHA is one of the best hostels in Australia. Formerly a grand old home, it now accommodates travelers and has gorgeous views across the countryside, despite being centrally located in the town.
From Dorrigo, you have a couple of options either continue north over the mountains of return to the coast and pass through Coffs Harbour which is another lovely town, home to the ‘Big Banana’!
Yamba – 2 Days
The Waterfall Way to Yamba – 2h 40 (approx 200 km )
A very popular town with a great vibe and so much to see. The beaches are excellent, plenty of surfing and visitors can watch fur seals play on the rocks.
The Hickey Island Reserve is a good spot for families to enjoy safe swimming and dolphins can often be seen there too.
Accommodation in Yamba
- Beach Shack on Main is a renovated 4-bedroom home that is also super close to the beach and fantastic for families or small groups of up to 8 people. Beautifully decorated, spacious and welcoming, this home is one of our top picks.
- The Cove Beachfront Luxury Apartments overlook the beach, making an early morning walk on the beach or around the headland as easy as can be. Restaurants and cafes are all within easy reach and the resort boasts a heated outdoor pool and spa.
- The Sands Resort is another wonderful choice, right by the beach, the apartments are rated 4.5 Star and beautifully maintained.
- The Yamba YHA is a purpose-built, budget-friendly place to stay. Dorms and private rooms as well as a rooftop bar/cafe with views over the town.
- Campgrounds and Caravan Parks: So many choices! From the Woody Head campground in the Bundjalung National Park to the Big 4 Saltwater Park with everything laid on for an awesome family stay. The Blue Dolphin Resort has multiple pools, cabins, and villas as well as caravan and camping sites!
Byron Bay – 2 Days
Yamba to Byron Bay – 1 Hour 40 mins (124 km)
Byron used to be an idyllic, sleepy, little town until it became incredibly popular and a ‘must-see’ destination for travelers. It is much busier these days but still has a great feel to it and is worth spending some time in the beaches are awesome, the walk out to the Cape Byron Lighthouse is a good hike and a drive up into the hinterland to visit the quirky little town of Nimbin is definitely a must-do.
Tip: Look for cheap and cheerful day tours to Nimbin, a few will be on offer from backpacker haunts. Find a tour that includes ‘secret’ waterfalls and lakes… This article is quite amusing about one traveler’s experience.
- The Arts Factory has long been a favorite and has been established for decades. A fun and affordable option for backpackers and they offer private rooms too. It has a very cool and funky vibe.
- At the other end of the budget scale, Elements of Byron, nestled on 50 acres of beachfront provides a level of luxury that cannot be beaten in Byron Bay.
- Family and budget friendly accommodation can be found in Byron too of course – The Oasis Apartments and Tree Top Houses can accommodate families, couples, singles and small groups.
- Camping and Caravanning parks are plentiful, one of the best rated is the Discovery Parks site, and a little further from the center of town is the 4.4* Suffolk Beachfront Holiday Park with tent cabins as well as camping and caravan sites.
Brisbane and/or The Gold Coast – 3 Days
Byron Bay to Brisbane – 2 hours (166 km)
The drive north from Byron to Brisbane is not long but there is a lot to see and do along the way.
- Driving via the Border Ranges is one of our favorite road-trips.
- Climb Mt Warning, the first place in Australia that the sun touches each morning.
It is decision time, either head to Brisbane if you want to include another city on the route, it is a lovely city with plenty to see.
- Stop in Coolangatta or near about or where the action is at the Gold Coast/Surfers Paradise with theme parks and the famous ‘Surfers Paradise’ beach… or travel on up towards Noosa perhaps…
- Coolangatta and the Tweed River area are good options if you want to experience the Gold Coast but not be in the main area. One hotel that is getting loads of attention for its funky charm is The Pink Hotel
- On the Gold Coast itself, the Mercure Gold Coast Resort The resort has a lovely pool, tennis courts, golf course and plenty of areas to relax between exploring the region.
- Camping and Caravanning travelers can stay amidst the action close to the beach and near Seaworld at the Main Beach Tourist Park. As well as camping and caravan sites, they also offer 2-3 bedroom villas.
- Brisbane does, of course, offer some amazing accommodation choices. The YHA has dorm rooms, doubles, family and ensuite rooms and boasts a rooftop pool as well as a great location within easy walking of the cities main attractions.
- The High Life Central Hotel in Brisbane has car parking and a rooftop infinity pool! It is one of the most popular accommodation choices in the city. Another popular place to stay in the city, also with a rooftop pool, is the Mantra Midtown
Noosa – 3 Days
Brisbane to Noosa – 1 Hour 45 mins (141 km)
Noosa is awesome. A very sweet town with such a fabulous vibe. Beaches galore, rivers to explore, hinterland and loads of walks in the National Park, it is little wonder many Victorians like to head up to this area during the winter months down south.
Only three places in the world have Everglades, Noosa is one of these destinations and is home to stunning rivers that flow through to the National Park and beaches. Hiring a kayak is a budget-friendly activity, paddling through the calm waters is easy and so much fun.
A day tour to the Glass House Mountains is a must-see of the area as well as spending time on the amazing beaches and waterways.
- The Colonial Resort in Noosa is a family favorite with everything needed for a great holiday. 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments are available.
- Nomads Backpackers in the heart of Noosa is one of the most popular places for backpackers. With a pool and all the fun that Nomads has become well known for. Dorms and private rooms available.
- The Noosa River Holiday Park is perfect for camping, caravanning or hiring a cabin. Located on the banks of the Noosa River and a super popular place to stay.
- Or how about Glamping? Pitch Luxury Camping is a well-established business with rather awesome accommodation! Customers decide where they want to stay, choosing from many of the Noosa camping grounds, and then the Glamping Tents are pitched and setup for you.
- For travelers seeking a bit more luxury, Peppers Noosa Resort is hard to beat.
Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island – 3 Days
Noosa to Rainbow Beach – 1 Hour 40 min (134 km)
Some travelers might prefer to bypass Noosa and drive direct to Rainbow Beach. Allowing more time in this laid back little town is not a bad way to spend a few days, though it still has a lively buzz about it.
As one of the two main departures points to the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island, Rainbow Beach is a perfect destination for a few days to chill out. Horse ride along the beach, discover the colored sands, sky-dive… home to the longest surf break in Australia!
Rainbow Beach Accommodation
- Pippies Beachouse is one of the most popular hostel style places to stay in Rainbow Beach and they offer tag-a-long tours and their own private campground accommodation on Fraser Island too.
- The Rainbow Beach Holiday Park has cabins as well as caravan and camping sites. It has a boat ramp and is ideal for kayaking and other great activities.
- Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort offers a bit of extra luxury, with boutique apartments and panoramic views of the ocean and Fraser Island.
One of the absolute highlights of an East Coast adventure! Stunning beaches, eucalypt forests, freshwater creeks, miles of beach to drive along, sand dunes to ‘surf’ down and a variety of accommodation options to choose from. It is little wonder Fraser Island is so popular.
Visitors can go to Fraser as solo adventurers, in ‘tag-a-long’ tour groups, join 4 wheel drive bus tours for a day trip or longer or even catch the ferry and go on foot. The island is about 123 km (76 m) and approximately 22 km (14m) wide. It became a World Heritage Site in 1992.
Check local ferry timetables, if you plan to go on your own to Fraser Island:
Tag-along Tours to Fraser Island
A Tag-along tour simply means you get to play ‘follow the leader’ driving a 4 wheel drive vehicle and learning about driving on the sand with the safety of expert help if you get stuck.
Pippies Beachouse is one highly recommended company to join for this type of adventure, they provide Toyota Land Cruisers, accommodation on the Island, meals and all the planning needed to get there. They also have a hostel and apartments in Rainbow Beach where they are based. Read about their tour options, accommodation deals and local information here.
Luxury 4 wheel drive buses take passengers across to Fraser Island to experience the thrill of driving along beaches and all the other fun activities on the island.
- Go on a fully catered 2 Day Tour to Fraser Island
- Experience the best of the island on a day tour, see the western side of the island, swim, snorkel and you may even see whales in the whale watching season.
Accommodation on Fraser Island
- Camping is one of the most popular ways to stay on Fraser Island. Drop Bear Adventures can give you plenty of advice on where to camp and obtaining permits.
- Kingfisher Bay Eco Resort is a stunning place to stay on the Island, hotel rooms and villas plus plenty to do!
Bundaberg – 2 Days
Rainbow Beach to Bundaberg – 2 hours 30 mins (203 km)
Famous for Bundaberg Rum, this little town is a worthy inclusion on a tour up the coast, it is at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Visit the distillery and do a tour perhaps.
Learn about turtles, One of the most amazing things to do in Bundaberg is to see the turtle hatching on Mon Repos Beach (French for “My Rest“) from November to mid-March. Night time is the best time to see this amazing sight.
Nearby, Lady Elliot Island is a popular destination on the southern Great Barrier Reef
Stop in at Maryborough on the way, the birthplace of Pamela Travers, author of Mary Poppins and home to the Mary Poppins Festival each year.
- For a budget option, the Bunk Inn Backpackers Hostel is a great choice. 4-5 bed shared dorms with shared ensuites (18 plus age requirement).
- AAOK Riverdale Caravan Park, just a 15-minute walk into town, this pet-friendly park offers everything needed for a night or two in Bundaberg.
- Nearby in Bargara and close to Mon Repos Beach where turtles hatch, the Zen Beach Retreat is 4-star luxury with absolute beach frontage, onsite pool, spas and every detail covered to make your vacation extra special.
- A 1-minute walk from Bargara Beach and 7 km from Mon Repos Conservation Park is Kacy’s Bargara Beach Motel, Rooms, suites, penthouses, and serviced apartments are available at this 4-star accommodation.
Town of 1770 & Agnes Water
Bundaberg to Town of 1770 / Agnes Water – 1 hour 22 min (122 Km)
This is just a short drive from Bundaberg, so you could easily make this your destination rather than Bundaberg. It is a great spot to visit and one of the highlights of the Town of 1770 is to join the Scooter Roo Mini Chopper motorbike tour of the town. Put on a real leather jacket and be part of a motorbike ‘gang’!
LARC! Tours is another great activity for visitors. Is it a boat? Is it a truck? They are famous for their bright pink amphibious craft that takes passengers on the water and across the sand dunes where you can even experience the thrill of sandboarding down a dune and into the sea!
How about going on a 3 Day ‘Castaway Island’ trip. Relax, kayak, swim, snorkel…
Accommodation in Agnes Water / Town of 1770
- The 1770 Southern Cross Backpackers is home to the Scooteroo Bike Tours and a fun hostel. Another friendly and well-liked hostel is Cool Bananas. Both are great budget choices, especially for backpackers.
- Agnes Water Beach Holidays offers apartments, even awesome glamping and powered as well as un-powered sites. With beach frontage and clean facilities, this is a fabulous park.
- For a touch of luxury, check out Lagoons 1770 Resort & Spa or Town of 1770 Beach Shacks for something really special.
Airlie Beach – 3 Days
Agnes Water to Airlie Beach – 8 hours (706 km)
Jumping off point to the amazing Whitsunday Islands! Charter your own yacht or choose a cruise with a group of people. Airlie Beach is a fabulous town with so much happening and yet it still has the small town feel. Plenty of awesome accommodation options, days can be spent here just chilling and cruising.
Indulge in highly recommended activities from Airlie Beach:
- Take a scenic flight over the Whitsunday Islands & Great Barrier Reef
- Or try a 3-hour sunset segway tour of Airlie Beach with dinner included!
- Sail the Whitsundays on a full day Catamaran trip?
- Launch yourself out of a plane and skydive over the Whitsundays perhaps?
Accommodation in Airlie Beach
- The Big 4 Adventure Park will have the kids screaming with joy! With its own water park and fantastic facilities, the Big 4 offers cabins and apartments plus powered and unpowered sites.
- Backpackers By The Bay is a great hostel, clean and well run, plus they offer some fab sailing cruises for backpackers and anyone looking for some adventure on the Whitsundays.
- The Island View Bed and Breakfast is a perfect budget choice, clean rooms, views, and a pool.
- Peninsula Picture Perfect Apartments overlook the marina and are very popular with great reviews.
- The Mirage, Whitsundays is definitely one of the more indulgent and luxurious places to stay, their blurb says it all… “We provide self-contained apartments, villas, and penthouses all endowed with epicurean kitchens, indulgent bathrooms and spacious terraces with breathtaking island-dotted ocean views”.
Townsville – 2 Days
Airlie Beach to Townsville – 3 Hours 10 mins (275 km)
One of the biggest drawcards is that Townsville is also the jumping off point to visit Magnet Island (Maggie to the locals). A brilliant island to stay on with a good range of accommodation and plenty of walks to keep you busy. The island is 52sq km (20.1 sq miles) and a short ferry ride from Townsville.
If you are not planning to visit Magnetic Island, maybe continue on to Mission Beach… another 2 hours 45 mins drive north.
- Join a full day tour of Magnetic Island
- Or maybe catch the ferry across and stay a few nights? Check ferry timetables here.
- Can I take my own car to Magnetic Island? Yes! Any type of car can go across on the 20-minute ferry ride.
- Dogs can also go to the island, some areas are pet-friendly – much of the island will be off-limits to dogs though because of the National Park areas.
Accommodation on Magnetic Island
- Arcadia Beach Guesthouse offers great accommodation on ‘Maggie’ and has a really cool, laid back vibe. Single rooms, queen, double, twin, dorm and even ‘safari’ style tents!
- The Island Leisure Resort is another very popular place to stay, bungalow style rooms with plenty of activities on site.
- Three different backpacker hostels are worth considering, each one in a different island location and all highly rated. C Stay in Picnic Bay, Koala Village YHA in Horseshoe Bay and Base Backpackers in Nelly Bay.
- Grand Mercure Apartments Magnetic Island – Boasting ocean views, a spa, and 4 swimming pools as well as easy access to local bushwalking tracks, a stay at the Grand Mercure will please anyone wishing for a bit of luxury.
Mission Beach – 3 Days
Townsville to Mission Beach – 2 Hours 45 mins (235 km)
There is something about Mission Beach that we just love. Laid back, fun and with so much to do too.
- Snorkel or dive the Barrier Reef from Mission Beach, it is actually closer to the coast at this point than further north.
- Visit the unusual gardens of Paronella Park, see the Cathedral Fig Tree, it’s a massive, 500-year-old strangler fig tree in the nearby Danbulla State Forest.
Mission Beach Accommodation
- Jackaroo Treehouse is one of the best hostels in Mission Beach. Onsite pool (of course), they have their own tour booking desk, plenty of tropical shade and really good accommodation in dorms and private rooms. It is a little bit out of the main center of Mission Beach but they run a free shuttle bus for guests.
- Eco Village, Mission Beach is in a rainforest setting and really close to the beach. They offer self-contained bungalows located around the pool area and deluxe spa suites that offer a little more privacy.
- Castaways Resort and Spa is a beachfront paradise. Luxury, pools, onsite restaurant and plenty to do.
- Mission Beach Camping and Caravanning Park is right on the beachfront with views to Dunk Island, it’s pet-friendly and budget-friendly!
Cairns, Far North Queensland – 5 Days
Mission Beach to Cairns – 1 Hour 50 min (139 km)
The capital of far north Queensland and another very popular access point to the Great Barrier Reef.
Cairns is not a huge city by any means and has so many things to do within the city as well as in the countryside. Along the Esplanade there is a man-made ‘lagoon’ for swimming or basking in the sun. It is a great meeting spot and ideal for families. There is a grassy area for picnics and chilling too.
For families, Cairns offers a few good playgrounds along the Esplanade where children can safely have a whale of a time. BBQ’s dot the area, handy to cook a meal and enjoy the outdoors.
The city is not blessed with great beaches, but just a little further north plenty of long golden beaches are on offer. Port Douglas is a super alternative to staying in Cairns if you are looking for somewhere a little bit quieter.
- Diving, snorkeling, and sailing on the reef, so many tours to choose from depending on your budget and time available. We loved the all-day Catamaran Cruise.
- Nearby Green Island is an ideal day trip too, perfect for families especially as kids love it and can snorkel safely.
- Skydiving! I jumped out of a plane for my 30th birthday, what a superb experience. Everyone ought to do this, just once at least!
- Visit Kuranda and the markets on the Atherton Tablelands – getting there by either car, tour bus, the famous Tourist Train or the Sky Rail.
- A scenic cruise and helicopter flight over the outer Great Barrier Reef is another once in a lifetime experience to include in an Aussie bucket list.
- If these activities are not adrenalin pumping enough for you, how about a Bungee jump or a giant swing above the rainforest canopy?
- Full day white-water rafting down the Tully River! We absolutely loved this experience and so did the kids!
Accommodation in Cairns & Nearby
Cairns is a very popular place to stay, less than 30 mins out of the town center, Trinity Beach is also popular.
- Pullman Cairns International is one of the most popular family-friendly resorts in Cairns. It is central to all the action of Cairns, has a gorgeous pool, bike rentals, cafe on-site and each room has a balcony. Whilst it is a perfect place for families, it is also ideal for other travelers and such a good base to explore further.
- Marlin Cove Holiday Resort, close to Trinity Beach, is a top choice for families, couples… anyone. The tropical gardens and family villas are beautiful, a pool with its own sandy beach, lap pool, and tennis courts make this a good alternative to Cairns for family-friendly accommodation.
- Luxury accommodation in Cairns – The Shangri-La Hotel at the Marina is a romantic, 5-star hotel with absolutely everything needed for the perfect stay.
- With so many backpacker hostels to choose from, it can be a tough decision. A couple of really funky and well-established hostels that have been popular for years are Gilligan’s (known for being quite a party hostel) and Dreamtime Traveller’s Rest (chilled and colorful).
- Caravan and Camping at the Cool Waters Holiday Park, on the banks of Freshwater Creek in Brinsmead, is a smaller park that takes extra care to ensure visitors are well looked after. With swimming areas, walks and plenty of activities yet close enough to the center of Cairns, this park is a great choice.
Port Douglas – 2 Days
Cairns to Port Douglas – 1 Hour (67.5 km)
As an alternative to staying in Cairns, Port Douglas is a fabulous town, smaller and quieter than Cairns but with everything on offer in the way of trips to the Great Barrier Reef and the Tablelands. The beach and tropical setting have enticed visitors from all over the world for decades. The town has grown and expanded over the years but is still an awesome place to base yourself.
Accommodation in Port Douglas
- Peppers Port Douglas is one of our top picks for somewhere to stay in Port Douglas. Suitable for anyone with plunge pools, their own sandy beaches by the onsite pools and tropical garden setting.
- Pool Resort Port Douglas, another stunning place to stay. Two and three bedroom apartments for families and small groups., overlooking a palm tree lined plunge pool… or indulge in their palatial three bedroom plunge pool apartment!
- Families love the Port Douglas Queenslander Just a 5-minute walk from 4-mile beach and the marina. The Queenslander has a heated saltwater pool and fully equipped apartments.
- Dougies Backpackers in Port Douglas is a good place budget option. Plenty of fun for backpackers in this clean and lively hostel.
- Caravanners and campers are well catered for at the Tropic Breeze Caravan Park. Just a 1-minute walk to the famous 4-mile beach. Self-contained units as well as powered and unpowered sites.
Cape Tribulation – 3 Days
Cairns to Cape Tribulation – 2 Hours 40 min (141 km)
Self-driving to Cape Tribulation is a great way to see the area, stop in at Mossman Gorge on the way. This is about as far as you can go without a serious 4 wheel drive vehicle, but it is still an adventure very worthy of adding to an East Coast trip.
Plenty of tours run from Cairns and Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation. All-day bus tours and multi-day tours are available.
Cape Tribulation Accommodation
- Great family accommodation can be found at the Daintree Rainforest Retreat. a small family run motel in Cow Bay.
- Rainforest Hideaway is a quiet eco-lodge where guests can chill out and enjoy the tropical surrounds. Set on 5-acres, it is a 20-minute walk to the beach. They also have a real treehouse for guests that want a bit more of a jungle experience.
- Backpackers are well catered for at Cape Tribulation. PK’s Jungle Lodge is one of the longest established hostels and the family-friendly Daintree Crocodylus in nearby Cow Bay is a superb option too. Both hostels are funky with plenty to do, swimming pools on-site as well as tour booking desks.
- If you are looking for a luxury stay at Cape Tribulation, the Wompoo Eco Retreat is a stunner. Bungalows with mountain views, a private outdoor rammed earth bath, fridge, and handmade soap. This 5-star B&B is sure to please visitors to Cape Tribulation and Cow Bay.
- Campers and caravan travelers are also catered for and the Safari Lodge has a lot to offer. Grassy tent sites, quiet campervan, and caravan sites plus awesome little ‘safari hut’ cabins for those visitors not camping.
Road Trip around Australia?
Thousands of international travelers come to Australia to do a complete road trip around the country each year, some people are short on time and might do ‘the lap’ in a few months while other people might take many months, even years. We have a touring guide to help plan an Aussie road trip, providing driving times and distances. Read more here…