The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia’s East Coast

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

The east coast of Australia is currently one of the most popular for young backpackers and its not hard to see why. Bring together the laid-back lifestyle, glorious sunshine and sun-blazed beaches of Australia and you’ve got a backpackers dream! 

It seems that those who don’t have the availability to explore Australia on a Working Holiday Visa choose to spend around 3-5 weeks on the east coast. Whilst it’s a difficult task to compact this route into just a month without missing some gems (and I’d definitely recommend staying longer if you can) I’ve chosen places that I would personally recommend if you have limited time to explore. 


Melbourne (5 days)

Day 1: Recover from your jag lag by strolling leisurely through the city! Take advantage of the cities free transport and take a ride on the City Circle tram, or travel within the Free Tram Zone, which allows you to access the main attractions, such as Federation Square, Flinders Street Station, the Queen Victoria Market and the unique artwork on Hosier Lane.

Day 2: Continue exploring the city in the morning. Stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens and wander to the Shrine of Remembrance. In the afternoon, catch the tram to St Kilda, one of the most popular suburbs in Melbourne. Here you can stroll along the pier, relax on the beach and take a picture with the clown-faced entrance at Luna Park! If you’re lucky you might be able to spot wild Little Penguins that inhabit the rocks and crevices at sunrise or sunset!

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Day 3: Travel 90 minutes outside of Melbourne to Phillip Island. There are many things you can do here, such as explore Cape Woolamai and the walk to the Pinnacles or enjoy the coastal viewings of The Nobbies. Have dinner at Cowes before heading to the Penguin Parade. This not-for-profit organisation allows you to watch wild Little Penguins retreat the angry ocean at sunset and head to their burrows! All revenue is invested in conservation, research and education.

Day 4 & 5: Hire a car and spend the next two days exploring the Great Ocean Road; one of the worlds most scenic coastal roads that meanders from Torquay to Portland. This area is known for its abundance of rock formations, unique Australian wildlife and stunning coastal views. Click here for more information.

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Sydney (4 days)

Day 6: Spend the day exploring the city. Check out the Royal Botanical Gardens before seeing the Sydney Opera House at Circular Quay. The best introduction to Sydney is to capture the iconic landmarks in all their glory! From there, catch a ferry to Darling Harbour (around $5) to sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Darling Harbour is the hub of entertainment with an abundance of buzzing restaurants. Time your trip perfectly and watch the free fireworks that take place every Saturday night!

Day 7: On your second day in Sydney, catch the bus to Bondi and soak up that gorgeous sunshine on the golden sandy beach! Marvel at the unique artwork before strolling along the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. This incredibly picturesque walk takes you along Tamarama and Bronte beach as well – there are so many places to stop off and have a dip! 

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Day 8: Spend your third day in Sydney exploring other areas you’ve missed! Head to The Rocks to find out more about the cities history, stroll through Hyde Park or grab a bargain at Paddy’s Markets. In the afternoon, catch the ferry to Manly ($15 return) for a less-touristy feel. Don’t forget to snap a picture of the iconic landmarks as you sail across the harbour!

Day 9: Embark on another epic road trip to The Blue Mountains, which can be reached by train or hire car. One of the main highlights, The Three Sisters, is located at Echo Point, which offers you a brilliant view of the mountains behind. According to aboriginal legend, the unusual rock formation represents three sisters who were turned to stone! 

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Coffs Harbour (1 day)

Day 10: Split up the long drive to Byron Bay by stopping off at this harbour-side city. Stroll along the beach and enjoy fresh fish and chips on the pier (watch out for pesky seagulls though!).

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Byron Bay (2 days)

Day 11: If you love marine life, golden sandy beaches and chilled-out vibes, then Byron Bay is definitely the place for you! Spend your first day in Byron exploring the coastal town, sunbathing or surfing at the beach, and in the evening follow the Cape Byron Lighthouse walk. Reward yourself with an ice cream at the top!

Day 12: Spend the next day kayaking in the Bay with Cape Byron Kayaks, where you’ll hopefully see pods of dolphins! End the day by watching the sunset at Main Beach and head to Cheeky Monkeys for cheap food and drink.

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Surfers Paradise (1 day)

Day 13: The next stop is Surfers Paradise, known as one of the nightlife capitals of Australia, with skyscrapers that line the beach, buzzing bars and an abundance of theme parks. You can spend the day shopping, climbing the tallest building or whale watching.

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Brisbane (2 days)

Day 14:  Spend your first day in Brisbane getting to know the city! Stroll along Queen Street Mall, which hosts an abundance of shops and outdoor bars, entertainment acts and aspiring musicians! Walk along the Victoria Bridge to the South Bank Parklands, which plays host to an outdoor swimming pool and man-made sandy beach lagoon.

Day 15: This is your day to view the city! Catch bus 471 to Mt Coot-Tha for an incredible view of Brisbane in its entirety. In the afternoon, walk through the Royal Botanical Gardens and along the bridge or take the free City Hopper Ferry to Kangaroo Point, where you can either take a picnic or use the free BBQ points whilst watching the sun set over the city. You can also abseil, kayak and stand-up paddleboard on the river!

Related Post: Why I Loved Living in Brisbane

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Noosa (1 day)

Day 16: Located on the Sunshine Coast, Noosa is the perfect place to explore the wilderness! Take a walk through the Noosa National Park or swim in the sea. In Noosa the water is so blissfully warm, it’s the perfect spot for surfing! 

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Fraser Island (3 days)

Day 17, 18 & 19: Widely recognised as being the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island can be accessed either by a 3 day, 2 night bus tour or a 4×4 tag-along tour. Most people opt for the latter and claim it to be one of their favourite memories from their east coast trip! You’ve probably come across a picture of one of the main attractions, Lake McKenzie, at some point, but there’s so much more to Fraser Island than this alone! During the three days, you’ll explore deserted beaches, a washed-up shipwreck, freshwater creeks and you might even spot a dingo!

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays (4 days)

Day 20: If you’re travelling by bus, catch the long, overnight journey to Airlie Beach, which is the gateway to the Whitsundays. Spend your day recovering from the journey and cooling off at the man-made lagoon. 

Day 21, 22 & 23: There are an abundance of boat tours to choose from to explore the Whitsundays! Within your trip you’ll sail around the islands, snorkel and scuba dive and hopefully spot some turtles! The main destination is Whitehaven beach, where the sand is made of 98% pure white silica, meaning that you can exfoliate your skin with it!

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Townsville & Magnetic Island (1 day)

Day 24: Whilst you can probably miss out Townsville from your agenda as there’s not an awful lot going on, you do need to visit in order to catch the ferry to Magnetic Island. Once on the island you can explore via topless rental car!

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Mission Beach (1 day)

Day 25: Stop off at Mission Beach if you’re looking for a gorgeous sandy beach and an adrenaline-rush. Here you can skydive over the beach!

Tropical North Queensland (5 days)

Day 26: The first place you reach in Tropical North Queensland is Cairns. You’ve had a busy few weeks so relax by taking a dip in the man-made sandy beach lagoon! Keep an eye out for the myriad of Flying Foxes that circle the city at night.

Day 27: Get ready to tick scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef off your bucket list! Whilst there are many different boat tours to choose from, I would recommend Reef Experience; they offer snorkelling and scuba diving, lunch, drinks and a glass bottom boat ride for $195.

Day 28: Head further north from Cairns along the Captain Cook Highway to Port Douglas. This resort town is popular with tourists and Australians themselves who see the town as an idyllic holiday location. Head to the Trinity Bay Lookout for an incredible view of Four Mile Beach. From here, drive further south to explore Cape Tribulation.

The Ultimate Itinerary For Backpacking Australia's East Coast

Day 29: Explore the Daintree Rainforest, one of the oldest rainforests in the world, which hosts an enormous diversity of plants and animals. Check out Mossman Gorge and go on a Daintree River Cruise, which is a great way to learn about the crocodiles that inhabit the river and see them in their natural habitat.

Day 30: Spend your last day exploring the Atherton Tablelands, an area consisting of rainforest, wetlands and waterfalls. Don’t miss the abundance of waterfalls this region has to offer. A personal favourite of mine was Josephine Falls, which has a natural water-slide! You can also visit the heritage-listed Curtain Fig Tree and the Cathedral Fig Tree.

Are you planning on visiting the east coast of Australia? If you’ve already been, would you add anything else to the itinerary? If you’ve enjoyed this post or would like to ask any further questions, please comment in the section below!

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One Month in Australia: a Complete East Coast Itinerary

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  1. May 12, 2017 / 12:13 am

    Wow this is great! Thanks for including your route, super useful 🙂

    • May 13, 2017 / 10:58 pm

      No worries! I’m glad it’s helped you 🙂

  2. May 13, 2017 / 11:06 pm

    Wow. One month in Australia sounds great. I have never traveled long term. Hope to learn from bloggers like you.

    • May 13, 2017 / 11:22 pm

      Oh really? If you ever get the chance give it a go 🙂 Long-term travel comes with its challenges but its great to be able to explore places for longer!

  3. Nina
    May 19, 2017 / 5:32 am

    We did almost the same route and absolutely loved it there. Probably one of the best times of my life! And beautiful photos as well x


    • May 21, 2017 / 11:39 pm

      It’s a very popular route for a reason isn’t it! 😊 Thank you!

  4. Sarah
    June 12, 2017 / 3:15 am

    While you’re in Coffs Harbour, go to Emerald Beach to watch the sunset! There are hundreds of wild kangaroos wandering around!

    • June 12, 2017 / 4:43 pm

      Thanks for the tip Sarah! I wish I’d have known that when I was in Coffs Harbour! 🙂

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