Home Road Trip East Coast Australia Road Trip: Sydney to Cairns drive

East Coast Australia Road Trip: Sydney to Cairns drive

East Coast Australia Road Trip: Sydney to Cairns drive

The East Coast in Australia is surely the most popular road trip route in the country. Many travellers cross it from Sydney to Cairns. But it is actually much longer than this simple stretch of coast and extends from Eden in the south to Cooktown in the north. More than 3600 km of varied landscapes await you. You will discover the most famous cities in the country, dream beaches and national parks of rare beauty. You can observe whales, dolphins, turtles, koalas and other emblematic animals. The East Coast will seduce you whatever your desire. Here are our tips to prepare your East Coast Australia road trip.

How to visit the East Coast?

Between islands and paradise beaches, surf spots and incredible fauna, this road trip will not disappoint you. More civilized and developed than the rest of the country, this part of Australia will make you discover magnificent places. A road trip on the East Coast in Australia is very reassuring because you will find cities, amenities everywhere and easily. The ideal location for a first road trip. There is no perfect itinerary: it all depends on your desires, the season and the duration of your road trip. However, some spots are unavoidable.

There are different ways to get around the East Coast of the country. Here are a few options, the choice is up to you based on your budget and expectations.

Getting to the East Coast

One of the first steps is to get to the east of the country. If you are nearby and have a vehicle, you can get there by road. The roads on this part of the country are very good and you don’t need a 4 × 4 to get around.

You can also fly to Cairns north of the East Coast. The ideal starting point, you can rent a vehicle or join an organised tour to discover the coast. If you prefer a slightly shorter road trip, you can land a little lower in Brisbane. You can also land in Sydney and travel north. International flights from Europe connect the main European cities to the cities on the East Coast. You can also take a national flight if you are already in Australia (from Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra or even Darwin).

Rent a vehicle

If you don’t have a vehicle, hire one in Cairns, Brisbane or Sydney. This seems to be a great option for discovering the beauties of the coast. Book it in advance to choose and find your ideal vehicle because rentals are gone quickly, especially in high season.

The main suppliers are Britz, Apollo and Travellers Autobarn (by the way, you can get a discount here: promo code Travellers Autobarn). Otherwise, you can compare the rental offers for vans and motorhomes on the Motorhome Republic website.

Good to know

Some companies charge additional fees for drivers under the age of 25. If you do not drop the vehicle off in the same rental city, you will pay an additional charge (one-way fee).

5% discount on your Campervan rental

Hire a campervan and benefit from a 5% discount thanks to our promo code with Travellers Autobarn: GuideEN.

Choose your vehicle

Unlike the West Coast, a road trip on the East Coast of Australia can usually be done with any vehicle. However, it depends on your route. Keep in mind that this will be your little rolling house for several weeks and that it is important that you feel comfortable in it.

First, ask yourself what type of vehicle suits your expectations best:

  • A motorhome with all the utilities for those looking for comfort
  • A van, smaller but well organized
  • A campervan for a little more space and equipment
  • A 4 × 4 with a roof tent for the more adventurous and those who wish to visit Fraser Island in their own vehicle

Also determine your vehicle according to the number of people, your budget, your desired comfort, etc.

The East Coast by bus

You can choose to explore the coast by bus. This alternative can be considered if you do not have a license, or no vehicle. You will have less freedom in the route, but it is also fewer things to manage: driving, refuelling, vehicle maintance etc.

Several bus companies are present on the East Coast:

  • Greyhound: connects Canberra / Sydney to Cairns with stops along the coast
  • Premier Motor Services: serves the entire coast from Eden to Cairns
  • Stray Australia: guided bus trips from Sydney to Cairns (departures 3 times a week)

If you opt for “hop on / hop off”, plan your itinerary well in advance because the buses do not run every day.

With an organised tour

There are many organised tours on the East Coast. This can be a good option if you are not in a vehicle, travelling alone or want to enjoy the coast without organising anything and just enjoy it!

You can opt for an organised tour with main points of interest and activities, or opt to move on your own to tourist points on the coast and then book tours. Note that bus companies also offer transport and tour packages on the East Coast.

The East Coast by carpool or lift

You can find travel mates or fellow travellers who already have a vehicle, and are looking for people to join them and share the costs. There are a lot of ads on Facebook or Gumtree. An interesting solution if you want to travel at a lower cost. Remember to meet your travel mates before departure to make sure you have the same expectations, because once you leave, you will be together 24 hours a day!

East Coast Australia road trip

When to visit the East Coast?

Seasons on the East Coast

It is always beautiful on the East coast! The summers are hot (+30C°) and winters are mild. The mid-seasons are the most pleasant to enjoy this part of the country. However, it will always depend on the location, as the climate varies.

Sydney is located in the temperate southern part of the country. The city experiences hot summers and mild winters. The average annual temperature is around 20 °C. The hottest month is January and the coldest July. The climate in Sydney is pleasant throughout the year, however, the best time to explore this part of the country is spring.

Cairns is located in the tropical northern part of Australia. The city has a tropical climate. The dry season from May to October is a pleasant and warm period. The wet season from December to March experiences hot days with daily thunderstorms.

Generally, the climate on the East Coast is fairly favourable throughout the year. The most pleasant period for this road trip is therefore from September to November. The north experiences a tropical climate with a dry season (May to October) and a wet season (December to March). Better to avoid these months to make the most of your road trip.

The best time to travel

The ideal time to visit the South of the country is in spring and summer. Then the North in autumn and winter. The best times to visit the East Coast are therefore the mid-seasons. That is to say between April and June, or between September and November.

Travel Advice

The wet season lasts from December to February in the north of the country. Some roads are at risk of being flooded and inaccessible. Plan your East Coast road trip in Australia accordingly.

How long should you plan?

The duration of your road trip depends on many elements: the direction in which you travel, your itinerary and your timetable. If you plan to do Sydney – Cairns, 3 to 4 weeks may be enough. If you want to start south of the coast and go north, plan at least a month and a half or even two if you want to take your time. Note that there are 3600 km between Eden (to the south) and Cooktown (to the north).

In general, try to plan wide so that you can linger a few days if you particularly like a place and want to spend more time there.

The best spots on the East Coast

You’ve no doubt heard of the Great Barrier Reef and its incredible marine life, or even Sydney and its opera house. Between big cities, national parks, heavenly beaches and thrilling activities, the East Coast has no shortage of incredible sites to discover. To help you plan your trip.

Sydney

The most famous of Australian cities is obviously the most essential step of your trip on the East Coast. With more than 5 million inhabitants, Sydney is a cosmopolitan city with world-famous monuments such as the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. It also has one of the most beautiful bays in the world.

Enjoy the hectic life of its centre or its charming neighbourhoods like The Rocks. Take a jog in the very large Botanic Garden and its breathtaking view of the bay. Discover its many museums and even Australian wildlife in the heart of the city. But if you prefer, you can also relax on its many beaches, enjoy several walks along the coast or surf in the trendiest places of Bondi and Manly.

sydney opera house

Jervis Bay

When you get to Jervis Bay you realize that heaven on earth is not just a dream. With a reputation for having the most beautiful beaches in the world, with transparent waters and white sand, Jervis Bay is the ideal place for a moment of relaxation.

You can also meet the many dolphins that live in the bay. Do not miss the Booderee National Park ($13 for 2 days) which offers very beautiful hikes. For snorkelling, you will find a little more at South Hyams Beach, very popular for beginners and professionals.

Jervis bay east coast

Blue Mountains

Just a 2 hours drive from Sydney, the Blue Mountains National Park covers 240,000 hectares. It includes forests, rivers, plateaus, waterfalls, or gorges … To visit this magnificent park you have the choice between several hiking trails.

Among the essentials, there are Three Sisters, the Wentworth Falls, the Evans Lookout. Katoomba and Blackheath are the main cities of the park and will each offer you magnificent views and a totally different landscape. The park is also the natural habitat of the emblematic animal of the national parks of New South Wales, the lyre bird which can imitate all the sounds it hears.

Blue mountains

Port Macquarie

The city of Port Macquarie is nothing special in itself. However, it is home to one of the few koala hospitals in the country and you shouldn’t miss this. These little animals are cared for and protected in this great sanctuary where they take good care of them.

The city also has very pretty beaches to discover. Many museums and historic sites will teach you more about Australian history, such as the Church of Thomas Apostle built by the convicts in 1821.

koala

Byron Bay

Byron Bay is often described as the coolest city in Australia. A Bohemian atmosphere, surfing and an alternative culture make this city a place where you feel good and where you want to stay. At the same time dynamic and peaceful, this city bordered by the sea makes you want to land on the beach and do nothing but enjoy.

Do not miss the incredible panorama from the lighthouse, the view is splendid. This is a destination you need to see.

Byron Bay

Surfers Paradise

With its famous beach, tall buildings, nightlife and amusement parks, Surfers Paradise is the must-see town on the Gold Coast. Here you will always find an activity to do regardless of the time of day or night. You can also take the time to climb to the top of the QDeck to enjoy a 360° view of the entire coast.

surfers paradise

Brisbane

Located 25 km from the sea and built on the banks of the river of the same name, Brisbane is the capital of Queensland. It is a modern and lively city with an astonishing mix of architecture. The pointed roofs of Victorian churches rub shoulders with tall, coloured glass buildings.

With pleasant temperatures all year round, you can enjoy a stroll at any time in its Botanic Garden. Or cross to the other side of the river, in Southbank Park, to enjoy its artificial lagoon with a splendid view of the city. Take a map at the visitor centre at Queen Street Mall, the main avenue, the starting point for an efficient route to discover the city’s historic monuments and main centres of interest.

Brisbane East Coast

Noosa

Noosa is a popular seaside resort on the Sunshine Coast for travellers. The town is very nice for walking, shopping or dining in front of the sea. Its national park is just incredible and offers sumptuous landscapes as well as incredible wildlife: koalas, iguanas, dolphins, etc. 334 hectares of tropical forest along the sea, you might as well say that the panoramic view is breathtaking!

Noosa

Rainbow Beach

We mainly come to Rainbow Beach to enjoy its beach and its surf lessons. You can take the time to admire the rainbow-coloured cliffs that flow into the ocean or take a stroll on the large sand dune by Carlo Sandblow. From here you will have a beautiful view of the beach on one side and the Great Sandy National Park on the other.

Rainbow beach east coast

Fraser Island

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 home to the purest breed of dingos that you can see roaming 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 for 4 × 4 you can go there with your own, with a rental or by participating in one of the many organised tours.

Swimming on site is strongly discouraged, but you can cool off in the Champagne Pools. Do not miss the famous Maheno wreck which is stranded on the 75 Miles Beach. Or The Cathedrals, a site made up of a series of colourful cliffs and Indian Head, one of the best places to watch dolphins, rays, sharks and whales during their migration.

Fraser Island

Whitsunday Islands

This archipelago groups 74 subtropical islands scattered along the coasts. The majority is uninhabited and are national parks, while a few others have large resorts. The town of Airlie Beach is the main departure point for the islands. You can visit them on excursions of 1 or more days. Or take a ferry which will drop you off on one of the islands.

It is also possible to discover the Whitsundays by plane, seaplane or helicopter to allow you to have an overview of the archipelago. Do not miss the famous Whitehaven Beach, its extraordinary 7 km long white sandy beach and its turquoise water.

Whitsunday Islands

Great Barrier Reef

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it covers almost 2,600 km. Stretching between Bundaberg and the northern tip of Cape York, the Great Barrier Reef can be discovered in two ways.

You can choose a trip of 1 or more days by boat to be able to practice diving or snorkelling. Or gain altitude and admire the coral formations by plane. The main departure cities are Cairns and Airlie Beach, popular for its Heart Reef.

great barrier reef
Credit : Vlasoff Sand Cay | GBR Cairns | Amber Toms

Tours to the Great Barrier Reef

Find the best tours to the Great Barrier Reef. Read this article to find out more!

Mission Beach

Located in the heart of a tropical rain forest, the Mission Beach resort is a city between sea and jungle. Lined with palm and coconut trees, its long main beach of fine sand is ideal for basking in the sun. Beware, however, of the many crocodiles and jellyfish that populate the waters. Protective nets are installed in certain places to allow people to be able to bathe.

mission beach east coast

Atherton Tablelands

Located west of Cairns, this vast mid-altitude plateau offers beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife. Don’t miss Millstream Falls, 5 km west of Ravenshoe, the widest waterfall in the country. Do not miss the Waterfalls Circuit, a small 15 km road that leads to Elinjaa Falls, Zillie Falls and the superb Millaa Millaa Falls where a pool allows you to swim in this idyllic setting in the middle of the tropical forest.

The region is dotted with beautiful viewpoints including Halloran’s Hill Lookout and Millaa Millaa Lookout. You may be able to spot a platypus at the Platypus Park near the town of Atherton. Or feed rock wallabies at the Granite Gorge Nature Park near Mareeba.

Atherton Tablelands
Credit: Tourism Australia

Cairns

Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the city of Cairns is renowned for its peaceful ambience and tropical climate. This city of 150,000 inhabitants has a lot to offer those who come to visit it: an artificial lagoon, paradisical beaches and islands, a botanical garden, a lively and festive city centre, you can be sure that your visit to Cairns won’t be boring.

Cairns Road trip
Credit: Tourism Australia

Daintree National Park

Accessible by ferry from Cairns or Port Douglas, Daintree Rainforest is one of the oldest forests in the world. It will allow you to set off to explore Australian flora and fauna like an adventurer! Here you can see a variety of unique plant and animal species and feel connected to nature like nowhere else. To access Daintree National Park, you will need to cross the Daintree River aboard a small cable ferry ($22 / vehicle). Then a single paved road will take you to the magnificent Cape Tribulation Beach. Along the way, many small steps of about 2 km are offered to discover the lush tropical forest of the park. The 4 × 4 can continue further north on the Bloomfield Track to reach the small town of Cooktown.

East Coast Australia road trip.

East Coast itineraries

Unlike his sister on the West Coast, the distances between cities on the East Coast are quite short. Yes, the East Coast is populated and you will find stores everywhere. An ideal location for a reassuring road trip.

Choose your itinerary according to the season. If you are looking to enjoy pleasant temperatures all along the route, we advise you to leave from Eden or Sydney in the direction of Cairns if you are travelling between April and June, and vice versa if you are travelling between October and November. If you are travelling between these periods, choose the best compromise.

It may be interesting to end your road trip in Cairns which is one of the biggest cities on the East Coast in Australia since it will offer you more possibilities according to your needs. It will, therefore, be easier to find a job, sell your vehicle, etc. and you can fly there. You will be as close as possible to Asia. Flight tickets to Indonesia, for example, are relatively cheap from northern Queensland.

Where to sleep on the East Coast?

The East Coast has many large cities. You will be able to sleep at paid campsites or paid camp spots or go further inland to camp for free. For those who want to pitch their tent or sleep in their vehicle, wild camping is not allowed. In tourist areas, you risk a fine, or less serious, of being woken up by the rangers. So be careful.

You will find motels, inns or hostels offering accommodation all along the coast. The prices are very variable according to the standing, the season etc.

We advise you to download the Wikicamps application which will indicate the places where you can sleep, according to your criteria (presence of toilets/showers, free, possibility of making a fire, presence of a river, etc.). Its cost is € 5.49 on the App Store.

Alternatively, you can use the Campermate app which is free but much less complete. You can also purchase Camp Australia Wide, a book of all free and paid campsites and campsites for sleeping all over the country.

camping road trip

Budget for a road trip on the East Coast

To fully enjoy your trip, you will need to plan your budget. Make sure you have the necessary budget and take enough money with you to avoid awkward situations. Here we give you some important points to consider when planning your road trip budget on the East Coast of Australia:

  • Food supplies: $250
  • Paid camps: $400
  • Activities: $1,000
  • Extras (restaurants, etc.): $300

To this must be added the travel costs which will depend on the means of transport you have chosen.

With a rented vehicle

On average, vehicle rental for a month will cost you $1600 with insurance if you get it right. Obviously, this is an indicative price that varies a lot depending on the vehicle, the period and the agency you choose. To that, you will have to add about $500 for petrol, it will all depend on the consumption of the vehicle and the price of gas during your road trip. You should know that the price of petrol varies a lot in Australia depending on the season.

With your own vehicle

If you already own your vehicle, you will have no rental costs and your costs will, therefore, be less. You will still need to count: $500 in fuel. However, there may be additional maintenance costs which are not negligible.

All-inclusive agency package

There are many packages with travel agencies. These offer packages with transport, usually by bus and tours to the main points of interest on the coast. Allow a minimum of $1,500 per person, prices can go up to $5,500 for the most complete packages.

By bus

The three companies that serve the East Coast are Greyhound, Premier and Stray. You can opt for a Hop On Hop Off Pass. This allows you to take the bus where you want and when you want to reach the cities of the East Coast.

Greyhound offers $445 Passes from Sydney to Cairns. From Melbourne, it will cost $550. Premier, it’s the cheapest company. It will cost you $230 from Sydney to Cairns. Finally, with Stray, the Sydney to Cairns Pass costs $1,100. This includes transportation but also a guide and activities such as Magnetic Island, Wine tasting in Hunter Valley or even a visit to the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie.

Complete guide to download

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

Practical information

Rent a Campervan or Motorhome

You will easily find a vehicle that you start from Sydney or Cairns. The number of rental companies is about the same in these two cities. Prices are variable and can range from $ 80 to $ 200 a day, with an average of $ 100.

Main companies in Sydney:

Find out more: Sydney campervan & motorhome rental

Main companies in Cairns:

  • Apollo Motorhome Holidays
  • Hippie Campers
  • Travellers Autobarn
  • Europcar
  • Britz
  • Avis
  • Sixt
  • Hertz
Find out more: Campervan and motorhome rental in Cairns

Rent a Car

You will find many car rental agencies around Sydney and Cairns airports. The main rental companies are:

  • Avis
  • Hertz
  • Europcar
  • Thrifty

Find your car at the best price thanks to this online comparator: www.airportrentals.com

For more information: Car rental in Australia

Accommodation

Compare hotels & hostels: www.booking.com
Airbnb : www.airbnb.com.au

Travel insurance

As with any other trip outside Europe, do not forget to take out insurance during your road trip. For detailed information, see our guide for travel insurance .

Tips

Make sure you always have water and sunscreen with you as the sun can be dangerous in the long run. For more info:

  • Road Trip Australia : Tips

Updated on the 01/05/2020. Initially published on the 04/02/2020.

Avatar
The ultimate guide to work and travel around Australia with a Working Holiday Visa! Get all the tips and advice from other backpackers. The first travel guide written by Backpackers for Backpackers in Australia!!!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here