Planning a road trip in Australia? Discover our selection of the best spots to visit on the beautiful East Coast. Among large cities, national parks, beautiful beaches and sensational activities, the East Coast Australia has many many places to discover. To help you plan your trip, here is a selection of 16 destinations not to miss!
Download the complete Guide for a Road Trip on the East Coast
Our FREE 52-page guide brings together all the info you need for your East Coast Road Trip in Australia:
- Preparations (seasons, budget)
- All the best spots to visit on the coast
- The best tours & activities
- Spots to park and sleep in a campervan
Table of Contents
Well known and famous all around the world, Sydney should obviously be one of the most essential steps of your journey on the East Coast Australia. With over 4.5 million inhabitants, this cosmopolitan city combines world-famous landmarks such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and with no doubt one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Enjoy the vibrant life of its center or its charming surrounding areas like The Rocks or Newtown. Enjoy a relaxing time in the large Botanic Garden with breathtaking views across the bay, or discover its many museums. You can even discover the Australian wildlife in the heart of the city at Darling Harbour. If you prefer you can also relax on its many beaches, enjoy several coastal walks or surf or head towards Bondi Beach or Manly for the trendiest places.
What to do?
Among the most popular activities to do in Sydney, here is what we recommend:
- Visit Taronga Zoo to explore the Australian fauna and admire the city from the bay
- Sydney Opera House Tour to discover the stories, history, and magic of the place with a guided tour.
- Unlimited Skyfeast at Sydney Tower rotating restaurant to enjoy the spectacular 360-degree views while feasting on more than 30 international dishes from the open kitchen
Blue Mountains National Park
The Blue Mountains National Park covers 240,000 hectares, and comprises forests, rivers, waterfalls, gorges … And it is located just 2 hours from Sydney! When you arrive at the Echo Point, you will have an overlook over the famous Three Sisters, an unusual rock formation representing three sisters who according to Aboriginal legend were turned to stone. To visit this beautiful park you can choose between several hiking trails such as Wentworth Falls or Evans Lookout. Katoomba and Blackheath are the main cities of the area and will offer a magnificent point of view and a completely different landscape. The national park is also the site of natural habitation of the emblematic Lyre bird. This bird is capable of imitating any bird songs that he hears in the forest, as well as the unnatural sound made by humans.
What to do?
There are many hikes to do within the National park, but if you feel a bit more adventurous, we recommend a Abseiling or Canyoning Experience to discover the gem amongst the Blue Mountains canyons. A unique and challenging experience!
When you arrive in Jervis Bay you realize that heaven on earth is not only a utopia. With the most beautiful beaches in the world, super clear waters and white sand, Jervis Bay is the perfect place to relax and observe the many dolphins that live in the bay. Do not miss the Booderee National Park ($13 for two days), which offers beautiful walks. For snorkelling there is a little place further South: Hyams Beach which is popular with amateurs and professionals. Jervis Bay has been a Marine park for 18 years and has unique and healthy ecosystems in Australia. That’s why the crystal clear waters of Jervis Bay are home to over 100 bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales. You can easily book a tour to see those amazing creatures.
All koalas lovers should stop at Port Macquarie. You can visit a hospital for koalas for free where you have the possibility to adopt a koala (donations are appreciated and will help to save the little animals). Port Macquarie has also very nice beaches and many museums and historical sites. Don’t miss the Church of Apostle Thomas built by convicts in 1821 to learn ore about the Australian history.
If you have time, spend some time exploring the Billabong Zoo in Port Macquarie. The zoo is committed to education and home to over 80 species of native and exotic mammals, reptiles and birds. During your visit, learn about the lives of the animals in the wild and conservation efforts.
The trendy city of Byron Bay is renowned for its cool atmosphere and relaxation centres. You will also appreciate its beautiful lighthouse and its amazing beaches. Cape Byron, only minutes from the city, offers a beautiful view of the coast and also a very good lookout for whale watching during the migration period. A walk will lead you to the Captain Cook Lookout, an observation platform located on a rock surrounded by the water!
With its famous beach, tall buildings, its nightlife and theme parks, Surfers Paradise is the must-see of the Gold Coast. You will always find an activity to do no matter what time of day or night it is. You can also take the time to climb up the SkyPoint Observation Deck to enjoy a 360° view.
Located 25 km from the ocean and built on the banks of the Brisbane river, this city is the capital of Queensland. It is a modern and vibrant city with an amazing mix of architecture where the roofs of Victorian churches got mixed with large coloured glass buildings. With pleasant temperatures, all year round you can enjoy a walk in the Botanic Garden. Don’t miss the other side of the river with Southbank Park to enjoy a swim in the artificial lagoon with views over the city. You can also visit the numerous museums in the area (all free).
What to do?
Among the most popular activities to do in Brisbane, here is what we recommend:
- Australia Zoo, home of over 1200 animals from around the globe.
- Story Bridge adventure Climb to venture to new heights on a 2-hour climb of Brisbane’s most iconic landmark. Take in a full 360-degree panorama of Brisbane and its surroundings.
Located on the Sunshine Coast, Noosa has a laid back beach style and enjoys a sub tropical climate. The excellent “Coastal Track” is a pleasant walk accessible from the main beach of Noosa Heads and leading to the National Park where you can see kangaroos, koalas, even some dolphins and in season (June to November) whales. If you have time for one trail in the National Park, make it the Coastal Walk (5.4 km each way). Follow the path with the ocean on your left to reach Boiling Pot.
Visit Rainbow Beach to enjoy its beach and the surf courses offered. Once there you can admire the coloured cliffs flowing into the ocean or walk on the large sand dune Carlo Sandblow offering a beautiful view of a beach on one side and on the Great Sandy National Park on the other side.
Book a tour to drive across a pristine stretch of white sand with a 4WD all the way from Noosa to Double Island Point. Admire the stunning scenery of the Great Sandy National Park, and take in the impressive views from the Double Island Point Lighthouse. Have a look out for turtles, sharks, manta rays, and dolphins in, along with humpback whales between June and October.
With 184,000 hectares, Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and the only place where trees grow in the sand. It is also the place of the most purebred dingoes which live freely on the island. To travel on the island you will need to take the ferry from Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach. Being only accessible to 4WD you can go with your own/rented vehicle or through one of the many organized tours. On site swimming is strongly discouraged, but you can refresh yourself in the Champagne Pools without any risk. Do not miss the famous wreck of the Maheno ship on 75 Miles Beach, the Cathedrals which is a series of brightly coloured cliffs, or Indian Head, one of the best observation point for dolphins, rays, sharks and whales during their migration.
Town of 1770 & Agnes Water
Town of 1770 and Agnes Water are two coastal towns located at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, and they are perfect vacation destinations. Here, you will find stunning secluded beaches, charming coves, abundant wildlife, and plenty of opportunities to engage in various activities.
The Whitsunday Islands
The Whitsundays comprises 74 subtropical islands scattered along the coast. Most of them are uninhabited and are national parks. A few islands have large resorts for tourists. Airlie Beach is a small city and the main departure point to the islands. You can visit those islands via trips of one or more days or by taking a ferry that will take you to one of the islands. It is also possible to discover the Whitsundays by plane, seaplane or helicopter to enable you to have an overview of the archipelago. Do not miss the famous Whitehaven Beach, the 7 km beach of extraordinary white sand and turquoise water.
Great Barrier Reef
The World Heritage listed, magnificent reef, stretches almost 2600 km between Bundaberg and the Northern tip of Cape York. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on Earth and even visible from outer space. There are 2 ways to experience the reef: choosing a trip of one or more days by boat to go diving or snorkelling, or gaining altitude and admire the coral formations by air. The major cities to depart in order to discover the reefs are Cairns and Airlie Beach with its very popular Heart Reef.
Embark on this captivating island adventure from Townsville. The ferry ride takes approximately 20 to 35 minutes, with a round-trip ticket costing $36 for a passenger or around $250 for a vehicle, depending on its size and the season. Here, you won’t be short of ideas to explore every corner of the island: hiking to spot koalas, scuba diving and snorkeling to marvel at the marine life and the SS Yongala wreck (one of the world’s best dive spots), kayak, jet-ski, or scooter rentals, as well as encounters with rock-dwelling wallabies along the seaside.
Mission Beach is one of only a few spots in Australia where two World Heritage areas meet. The Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. You can find the Cassowary here (the most dangerous bird in the world). Many walks are available from the city and will lead you in the heart of the dense rainforest. Mission Beach has also a beautiful 14km beach lined with coconuts where you can explore the wreck of “Lady Bowen“.
Located west inland from Cairns, this vast medium-altitude plateau offers stunning scenery and abundant wildlife. You can discover a serie of falls, among them Millstream Falls, 5km west of Ravenshoe, the widest waterfalls in the country. The Waterfalls Circuit, a 15km narrow road leads to Elinjaa Falls, Zillie Falls or Millaa Millaa Falls, where you can swim in the heart of the rainforest. You may also be able to see platypus in Platypus Park near Atherton, or rock wallabies at Granite Gorge Nature Park near Mareeba.
Cairns is the second largest city in Queensland. It is located in the heart of the “Wet Tropics” and enjoys a warm and humid climate all year round. This is a very dynamic city but mainly known as a departure point for trips on the Great Barrier Reef. Despite the heat, you cannot swim outside the artificial lagoon located on the seafront due to crocodiles and deadly jellyfish in the ocean.
What to do?
Here are some of the activities we recommend in Cairns:
- Visit Kuranda by traveling on the Kuranda Scenic Railway and returning by the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Explore the village located in pristine rainforest and visit markets, shops and food stalls.
- Enjoy the artifical lagoon at the Esplanade
- Of course, a trip to cainrs need to include the discovery of the Great Barrier. So why not glide over it on a scenic flight (40 minutes) from Cairns with picture-postcard views of Green Island, Arlington Reef, Middle Cay, and more?
Daintree National Park
Daintree National Park, 100 km Northwest of Cairns became a World Heritage site in 1988. To access the National Park you will have to cross the Daintree River on a cable ferry ($23/vehicle). Then a single sealed road will lead you to the beautiful beach of Cape Tribulation. Along the way, there are many short walks for you to discover the lush tropical forest of the park. The 4WDs will be able to keep going north on the Bloomfield Track to reach the small town of Cooktown.
Book a tour and explore the Daintree River and Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, Mossman Gorge and more in one adventure-filled day. Be part of the wildlife river cruise, learn about the fragile ecosystem and try to spot crocodiles
What is the best time to visit the East Coast?
The East Coast is vast, and the climate varies significantly from North to South.
Sydney is located in the temperate Southern part of the country. The city experiences hot summers and mild winters, with an average annual temperature around 20°C. The hottest month is January, and the coldest is July. Sydney’s climate is pleasant throughout the year, but the best time to explore the city and its surroundings is undoubtedly spring (from September to November).
Cairns is situated in the tropical North of Australia, which means it has a tropical climate. The dry season (May to October) is a pleasant and warm period, while the wet season (December to March) has hot days with daily thunderstorms. Be cautious if you decide to visit the Northern part of the coast during the wet season, as some roads may be flooded and inaccessible.
Generally, the climate on the East Coast is favorable year-round, but if you had to choose, the most pleasant time for a road trip is from September to November. However, be aware of the wet season in Northern Queensland, which experiences heavy rainfall between December and March. It’s best to avoid visiting during this period to make the most of your road trip.
As you can see, the ideal time is to visit the Southern part of the coast in spring and summer and the North in autumn and winter. Opt for the shoulder seasons like spring and autumn.