Australia is full of backpackers and if you come down to this sunburned island, chances are quite high that you want to explore Australia’s beautiful East Coast. Even though this region has become extremely popular (and at some point you might feel like you’ve just travelled to Mallorca) I have to admit that it’s popular for a reason and that I never regrettet deciding for travelling the East Coast. So if you’re curious now how to explore this region without your own vehicle, then here’s my guide for busing around the Australian East Coast!
Going by car of couse allows you more freedom but as was travelling alone and didn’t own my own car I opted for the bus which turned out to be a great descision for a solo traveller. Even though I wasn’t able to go absolutely everywhere I still saw plenty of great places by bus I want to share with you now.
On my trip, I was northbound and made my way up to Cairns. I started in Bundaberg as I was living as an Aupair there at that time but already did lots of trips to the southern part of Australia’s East Coast. The most prominent starting points are Sydney or Brisbane and if you wish to, of course, you can start in Cairns and go southwards.
First stop: Brisbane
Okay let’s assume you start in Brisbane.If you want to explore the city I’d suggest you going to the CBD, see the Storey Bridge (which is beautifully enlightened at night), go for a swim at the Soutbanks pools and, most importantly, visit the Eat Street food market which is open from fridays to sundays. If you want to explore a bit of Brissie’s surroundings I’d recommend the Gold Coast, Moreton Island and North Stradbroke Island. If you want to see Kangaroos and Koalas, then head to the Australia Zoo or Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.
How much time do you need? If you want to see the city only I’d say one day is enough. If you want to explore a bit more of the surroundings I’d make day trips out of it.
Second stop: Noosa
Aaaah, Noosa, probably one of the most beautiful places on the whole East Coast! The Noosa Coastal Track starts at the beach of the town of Noosa Heads and goes from there to Devils kitchen and is a one-way track. Unfortunately, I only made it until Alexandria Bay because I was running out of water. This was a mistake I feel sooo dumb for! I only had a one litre bottle with me which was defintely not enough in summer, so if you want to walk the whole coastal track then ensure that you carry enough water with you. The whole track is 5.5km long and took me (till Alexandria Bay which was approximateley 3 – 3.5kms) two hours of slow walking and lot of photo stops. This place was a true dream!
How much time to you need? For the coastal walk, one day is enough in Noosa, if you want to enjoy the beaches here a bit more, then stretch your visit here!
Third stop: Rainbow Beach
Not only is Rainbow Beach itself a nice beach, there’s also the Carlo Sandblow right next to the beach which is super cool. Just don’t make the same mistake as I did and get there early to rent a sandboard. A plastic bag won’t do its job!
How long should you stay? One day is enough to see everything.
Fourth stop: Fraser Island
Depending on your tour you either start in Rainbow Beach or in Hervey Bey which would be the next stop on the East Coast. I unfortunately missed Fraser Island, the biggest sand island in the world, due to a tiny category four cyclone rolling on to the coast but I heard that this place is incredible beautiful!
How long should you stay? Depends on your tour. You can either book a day trip or a two day tour or go drive yourself and spend as much time on the island as you wish to.
Fifth stop: Bundaberg
Aaaaah, Bundaberg, my home for some months. Bundaberg is extremely untouristic but so so worth a visit! If you decide to visit Bundaberg then go get some amazing food there (eat out at Induldge and have ice cream at Nanna’s Pantry or Alouwishus), do a turtle tour at Mon Repos Beach and see some baby turtles hatching and enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of Australia which is not crowded at all: Elliot Heads. This place is simply incredible.
How long should you stay? Okay, let’s be honest, I can’t answer that question without prejudice: stay as long as you can and enjoy life (and ice cream) here!
Sixth stop: Agnes Water/Seventeen Seventy
These two towns do not only have a magnificent coast line but also offer incredibly cheap surfing lessons (and I’m sure you want to go surfing in OZ, right?) I booked through Lazy Lizard and learned to surf for three hours for 17$ only, including some cool gopro photos (that look like I can actually surf haha!).
How long should you stay? A day is totally fine for a surfing lesson in the morning and some explorations in the afternoon.
Seventh stop: Whitsunday Islands
Okay, let’s be honest, I guess this is for every traveller the most important stop on his East Coast trip. At least it was for me. I wrote a little guide on what you need to know about Whitsunday Island tours so if you need some more advice (and need to know where to find the cheapest tours) then have a look at that article, too.
How long should I stay? There are day tours but usually, tours go at least two days and that’s what I’d recommend, too.
Eighth stop: Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island, located in the Pacific Ocean just a few kilometres away from the city of Townsville on Australia’s mainland, is a paradise for every nature lover (and for every party-seeking backpacker).
Magnetic Island, or also called Maggie, is easy accessible by ferry within an hour and once there, there are two hostels as well as a bus that services the island. When I arrived, I actually didn’t feel like I’m in Australia anymore.
I stayed at the Base Hostel which was the cheapest option and then started exploring. I first headed south and made my way from Nelly Bay to Picnic Bay and already could enjoy some amazing views. Getting any further north was quite hard without own transport so instead I headed south then.
North from the Base hostel is the island’s centre where you can find the harbour and a foodworks (so better take some food with you to the island). I went a bit further to a place that was the main reason for me visiting Magnetic Island: the rocks with the wallabies! Even without the wallabies these rocks by the sea were worth a visit but the wallabies were the cherry on the cake. They’re everything but shy and super photo models! You can also feed them, but if you feed them, then just with some fruit.
From there I made my way to The Forts, with a short stop at Honeymoon Bay. The Forts is one of the most prominent walks that Maggie has to offer due to the high chance of spotting koalas there. I was lucky enough to spot one and was happy as a kid with its ice cream.
I walked all the way from the hostel to the starting point of the Forts walk which might not have been one of my best descisions as the only way up there was on the island’s main road (it’s by far not a big road but anyways) with a good amount of traffic, if I’d known before I would’ve jumped on a bus which stops right at the Forts walk and didn’t cost more than one or two dollars.
How long should you stay? In total, I stayed on the island for two days and totally loved this place due to the great nature. However, there were loads of partying backpackers (it got more and more on the second day as the next day there was the famous full moon party on the island I’m happy I missed) just dressed in bikinis that rented pink cable cars and that somehow let me feel a bit out of place but hey – this island is a real allrounder and offers activities for everyone!
Nineth stop: Cairns and surroundings
Finally! Cairns, the starting point for all the Great Barrier Reef snorkel and diving tours. I was so excited!
I did a lot of research on which tour to choose and finally realised that there was not really a bargain to find. I was torn between the cheapest option (a daytrip with two stops and lunch for 99$) and a multi-day trip which was around 300 bucks. In the end, I booked the cheap one via backpackersworld and hey, it could satisfy my desire to go snorkelling (and dives were also possible on that boat).
But then there was another problem to be solved: I did not own a waterproof camera (if there’s one thing in my life that I regret as much as not going on an exchange programme in school then it’s not taking a waterproof camera on my South East Asia and Australia trip!). However, solving this problem was just a quick research away: there are several shops in Cairns where you can rent underwater cameras, so I made a reservation for a Gopro, paid the 40$ online and collected the Gopro when I arrived in Cairns (and was super happy to have made a reservation as I got the last Gopro, the guys that were with me in the store and that made no reservation couldn’t get any camera).
And then, finally, it was the day of my snorkel-tour: Together with my companion Sarah I grabbed some breakfast from Maccas, tried to find the boat at the harbour (which isn’t as easy as you may think) and couldn’t wait to jump into the sea! I let pictures speak for it and just tell you that yes it is as amazing as everyone says! It’s just incredibly sad that the reef is dead now :-(
Besides the Reef, you can also explore the waterfalls around Cairns (which is what I did with a great tour I booked through my hostel), visit the Daintree Rainforest or see Fitzroy Island. I had much more on my list but I was unfortunately running out of time.
How long should you stay? I stayed in Cairns for two days which was definitely not enough to see all of its great surroundings. I’d rather suggest to stay for at least four or five days to see everything this region has to offer.
How can I get from A to B?
As I already mentioned, I did this itinerary by bus which was quite easy to master. All the places are serviced by Greyhound and by Premier bus service. Greyhound is the bigger and better one in my opinion (and more expensive), but a comparison is worth it as Greyhound is not always more expensive than Premier. Depending on your itinerary and your time frame it’s also interesting to have a look at the bus passes that Greyhound offers as you could make a bargain there, too.
Where should I stay?
Easy question, easy answer: there are hostels everywhere and you can always find a cheap bed!
When should I go?
I did that trip in March which is supposed to be rainy season (silly me didn’t know before) but I didn’t have a single rainy day (except for the cyclone that ruined my Fraser Island tour haha). Other than that, December – February is not only super hot summer but also high season, whereas in Australian winter you could get some bargain on the tours.
And now go and enjoy the beaches, the waves and the sun!