Top 16 Stops: East-Coast Australia Road-Trip

Is an Australia road-trip in your sights as your next adventure? Trust me. The sheer number of campervans out on the roads does not lie. The best way to see this incredible country is on wheels!

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Not only is travelling by campervan the trend Down-Under, it gives you an addictive feeling of freedom and adventurous flexibility. Whether you are frying up some burgers underneath the stars or pushing open the doors first thing in the morning to the view of a beautiful sunrise on the beach, you have the power to choose where to wake up in the morning and which exciting destination to head off to next. THAT is incredible.

You may think that you’ve got the whole route planned out. However, don’t forget that you could easily fall in love with an unexpected stop-over and extend your stay there, or be underwhelmed with a place you thought would be awesome and leave early to your next stop. The beauty of a road-trip in Australia is that there is something to discover that meets every traveller’s desire. Waterfalls. Rainforests. Paradise beaches. Bustling cities. Adrenaline sports. Incredible night-life.  Peaceful hikes.

So take your pick. Fill up your tank. Forget the strict timelines and hit the road.

It can be very easy to get caught up in the ‘planning’… There are tons of online itineraries and guides from blogs and travel companies that claim to share the perfect route. We decided to throw caution to the wind when we hired our Apollo HiTop Camper from the Cairns branch in Queensland. After being scammed trying to buy a second-hand van online (don’t ask), we decided to treat ourselves to the security of going through a legit rental company and having a microwave, fridge and cooker top for our trip! Absolutely NO regrets.
We also armed ourselves with just a handful of top destinations to hit on our way down to Melbourne and I think that really is the best way to do it!

It can get so confusing juggling multiple recommendations and lists upon lists of road-trip itineraries. INSTEAD – Check out this handy map that we have put together that highlights the absolute MUST-VISIT stops as you head down the East-Coast.

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Keep reading for a very quick and simple summary of each place (starting from the North) so you can decide whether to add it to your itinerary or drive right on by…

1. Cape Tribulation

Located in Daintree National Park, this is the place to go if you want to breathe clean rainforest air, soak up breathtaking natural views and spot some serious Australian wildlife. Saunter along the canopies and boardwalks that snake through the Daintree Rainforest and jump on a boat tour to see if you can spot some of the many local crocodiles that glide through the waters! Keep an eye out for ‘Scar Face’ the notorious male crocodile that is the infamous hunter (and womanizer) of the area.

2. Port Douglas

This small town offers serene waterfront living where you can read under palm trees, cast your fishing rods and practise outdoor yoga at sunset. The perfect, sleepy town full of recharging backpackers.

3. Cairns

Cairns is the place to be if you prefer your nights soaked in vodka and your days full of regret(!) Stay in vibrant hostels such as the famous Gilligan’s to guarantee a night-life to never forget. On check-in, it feels like a luxury resort with a swimming pool fit with a cascading waterfall but then erupts into a backpacker’s party venue dream with jello-wrestling, DJs and cheap drinks. 
Travel companies line the streets of Cairns offering a multitude of day-time activities (sky-diving, bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, quad-biking…) The city is also known as the ‘Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef’, so make sure to book your boat ride out to dive amongst the world’s most incredible colonies of colourful fish and corals. They can be seen from space, you know. Watch our amazing dive HERE!

Just South of Cairns, make sure to tour the beautiful waterfalls of the area such as Milaa Milaa and Ellinjaa Falls! Milaa Milaa Falls was used to film the Herbal Essences commercial – and of course Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl video!

4. Magnetic Island

Located only a 25-minute passenger ferry ride away from Townsville, you can buy a package that includes travel to the Island and accommodation. We chose Base Backpackers and were not disappointed!  This hostel is right on the ocean’s edge and we spent our evenings there chatting to travellers by the fire, winning a free bar tab at the trivia quiz and dancing under lit-up palm trees. Then, the sun rises and you can rent 4×4 ‘topless’ cars to explore the island and its stunning beaches. This place is really special.

5. Whitsunday Islands

The pure magic of the Whitsundays is impossibly difficult to put into words. You book one of the many catamaran packages available at Airlie Beach and board your boat to paradise. Sunbathe on deck and then scramble up as fast as you can when majestic whales breach the waters nearby. The sand formations of the Whitsundays change throughout the year so you never see two photos that are the same! (Something about that is SO cool to me…) We spent hours wading through the clearest and most deeply turquoise waters that I have ever seen, watching graceful stingrays glide past us and polishing our feet on the impossibly fine white sand. I don’t think I have ever felt more blissful in my entire life.

6. 1770 / Agnes Water

Now , THIS is the place to go to SURF!
Byron Bay has become notorious for being the surfing hub of Australia, however, we heard it was expensive, overcrowded and had disappointing waves for beginners. Instead, we heard of this place from a local Australian that we met and could NOT have been more grateful.  Get this place officially added to your itinerary and give Gnarly Tours a call!
Trust me, I am probably the least coordinated person on this Earth and for an incredibly low fee, these fun and energetic Aussies got me standing up on the board in a matter of minutes and having the BEST day frolicking in the ocean waves. If you take one recommendation from this post, it should be to book this Surfing School for your ultimate Aussie experience!

7. Fraser Island

Book a Cool Dingo Tour to experience the world’s largest sand island (120km!) in the absolute best way possible. Meet up with a bunch of equally as excited travellers as you set up your tent in a campsite, make your own dinner as a group and put your explorer hats on.  You’ll swim in Lake McKenzie (a white-sand pure-water lake), visit the enormous SS Maheno shipwreck moored on the beachfront and fizz away your troubles in the Champagne Pools! Not only that, you get to drive 4WD trucks along the beach and through the island forests. See our video HERE

8. Brisbane

After spending some serious time with Mother Nature, it was actually great to be surrounded by skyscrapers and city locals! Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, is a city set on the beautiful Brisbane River. Some serious time, money and passion have been invested there as every walkway, fountain and garden are meticulously maintained and beautifully crafted. Visit the Koala Sanctuary, Modern Art Gallery or simply wander through the Botanic Gardens.

9. Gold Coast / Sunshine Coast/ Surfer’s Paradise

It was pretty rainy when we were here, unfortunately (despite the summery tone of this area’s name(s)!) Despite this, we definitely understood why it is so popular. Skyscrapers frame the sky along the beachfront and talented surfers carve their way through the waves. As far as cities go, I could definitely see myself living here long-term purely for the laidback coastline views and surfing vibes.

*BONUS STOP* Head South to Springbrook and hike up to the top of Purling Brook Falls!

10. Byron Bay

Backpackers often pick Byron bay as their long-term place to work and replenish travel funds and as a result quickly build strong friendship groups. The beaches are permanently filled with the chatter of friends as they drink beers, skateboard, surf and watching dolphins play amongst the waves at sunset. Stay at Arts Factory Lodge for that extra bogan feel!

11. Dorrigo

Recommended as a quick detour by an Australian local, we broke away from our planned route and thought we’d check it out… Dorrigo is not often known amongst travellers and offers some beautiful viewpoints of the coastline and amazing cliff jumping spots!

12. Blue Mountains

Just West of Sydney, you will find this awe-inspiring rugged mountain range. Brave the wind and the crowds to see the famous 3-Sisters and enjoy the large viewing platform that overlooks dramatic sloping cliff edges and distant silent waterfalls.

13. Sydney

The city of Sydney needs no introduction! Sip on cocktails and enjoy a sophisticated brunch on the Harbour-front overlooking the famous Sydney Opera House. Get your adrenaline fix and scale the Harbour Bridge. Or simply top up your tan on one of the many picturesque beaches such as trendy Bondi that are scattered around the city.  A full guide of the city written by a local is Coming Soon!
Check out our Whale-Watching video HERE!

14. Canberra

Take a walk around the Capital of Australia and get your tourist on! Tour around the expansive Parliament Houses, the Australia War Memorial and the National Museum of Australia.

15. Melbourne

Melbourne ended up being our long-term base after our road-trip ended and we absolutely loved it there! There is a vibrant, artsy edge to the air and the city is filled to the brim with backpackers who are recharging their bank accounts. Take your pick: Hidden graffiti alleyways, hip coffee shops, grant state library, high-class restaurants along the Yarra River, art galleries and endless activities and events to fill each day. You can also rent bikes, visit the Luna Park amusement park and chill on the beach at nearby St Kilda!

16. The Great Ocean Road & the 12 Apostles

If you have driven your campervan this far – Congrats! Now, it would be an absolute crime not to drive the Great Ocean Road. This scenic driving route wraps around the coast so you can put the window down and take in those stunning beach views as you speed by. Make sure you stop at the 12 Apostles, a group of huge weathered limestone towers that rise out of the ocean waves. Read more here.

So, what are you waiting for? Go and have the road-trip of a lifetime!

SHARE THIS with your soon-to-be road trip buddy and get preparing…

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  • Reply
    June 20, 2018 at 12:23 am

    I’m saving this because Australia is on my list of places to travel soon!


  • Reply
    June 20, 2018 at 11:22 am

    Sounds like an amazing trip. Those beaches are beautiful, luv that the sand at the WhitSundsdays beach never looks the same!! I would have never thought of renting a campervan to travel a country or coastline but now I really like the freedom it gives to go where you please and see places you might not otherwise visit.

    • Reply
      Kate -
      June 21, 2018 at 4:23 pm

      Completely agree, Lisa! I never thought sleeping in a van would be something that I would enjoy so much hehe – ‘Stumbling’ upon hidden amazing places that were never on your initial itinerary is such a bonus. I’d love to drive across the States next!!

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