Over the next four weeks Zoe and I are embarking on an adventure up the Australian East Coast. We hope to get ourselves from Sydney to Cairns…. without getting lost… in a campervan we’ve hired from Travellers Autobarn. We should cover around 3,500 km along the way and stop at some of the best towns and cities that the East coast of Australia has to offer.
Why did we decide to drive ourselves I hear you asking?
Zoe and I made the decision to hire a campervan instead of taking the bus option purely because we wanted to have a completely different experience to New Zealand, basically we wanted to mix it up! We did consider other methods but the bus options in Australia didn’t seem to be as good as the Kiwi Experience unless you were to pay a lot more money and do an organised trip such as G Adventures or Contiki bus tour— our budget was not going to stretch that far. A lot of people choose to use the Greyhound buses which are a cheap way of getting around but they don’t have the same group tour bus atmosphere that the Kiwi bus has so that didn’t have the ‘pick me’ factor when we were deciding how to get around Australia. SO, campervan it was!
We hired the Chubby Campervan from Travellers Autobarn and it was the ideal compact size with everything in it that we wanted and needed. There’s internal space that can be structured into our bed or into an eating and sitting area, a kitchenette at the back of the van which includes a portable gas hob, sink, shelves and an ice box, there was also plenty of storage, USB sockets and plugs. The van was super easy to drive and did go quite fast— all in all, it was perfect for our needs and budget!
Of course, we had to decorate a little. We bought cheap fairy lights and pillows and blankets to give it that homely feel— we also later bought a fan because the heat was pretty unbearable the further north we went!
FINALLY, our route!
The best way to describe the route is to show you on a map…
We picked our stops along the coast based on recommendations from other travellers, blogs we had read, and also factoring in drive times and what we wanted to do at each place.
Our stops were in the following order; Port Stephens, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Noosa, Fraser Island, Rockhampton, Airlie Beach, Whitsundays, Magnetic Island, Mission Beach, Port Douglas and finally Cairns.
Off we go…
The beginning few days of our road-trip saw us visiting the small coastal towns of Port Stephens, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour.
When the weather was clear we spent our time visiting the beaches and taking short walks around to get a feel for the area. Port Macquarie has a cool pathed promenade which takes you along the coastline. It was lined with painted boulders which had drawings and messages from families and groups of people who have stayed here over the years— it was a friendly touch!
These towns are definitely more of a locals holiday destination as the campsites we stayed at were very popular amongst the retired Aussie. We found it quite funny when we parked up in our small campervan as we’d often find ourselves next to super vamped up versions that put ours to shame!
If you do a road trip I would recommend staying in Port Macquarie over Port Stephens and Coffs Harbour— there seemed to be slightly more going on in this town and if you can bear longer drives it’s wise to spend more time elsewhere.
Our next stop saw us at Byron Bay which we were excited about as this is one of the more popular towns to visit amongst both locals and travellers!
Unfortunately, the Australian weather system was not on our side— this time of year is supposed to be drier as we’re coming out of the summer and wet season, but it was very hit and miss. It’s still warm but there was a lot of rain and we got caught out a few times!
Byron Bay is a great town, very hippie and cool. Everyone walks around in bare feet (which I don’t understand) with lots of slouchy clothing, dreadlocks and with a relaxed, chilled out vibe. The shops, bars and restaurants mimic this feeling too and were decorated with a boho, hippie chic, bohemian décor and most were organic and environmentally friendly— I asked for a Diet Coke in one bar and was quickly rejected, ‘we don’t sell things like that!’ Ooh I’m sorry!!
The beach is huge with perfect white sands and the waves are great for surfing. I didn’t get to give surfing a go this time but it was still a great spot to watch everyone participating in water sports.
We visited the Cape Byron Lighthouse which sits on the top of a cliff and has amazing views over the surrounding beaches. Definitely great for a picture!
The next stop on our itinerary was the Gold Coast!
The Gold Coast is exactly as you’d expect— it’s a surfer’s paradise! As we drove through the city we passed huge waterways and canals which had beautiful houses sitting on the river banks with their boats moored on their private jetties, it definitely looks like a great place to live.
The beach stretches for miles with big sky-scrapers along the edge. The sea has great surf spots but more desirable to us there were soft sandy spots for sunbathing—had the weather picked up! Surfers paradise is the main section of the beach, and the most popular section next to the town.
Our next stop was Brisbane where we had a lot to cram in for the couple of nights that we planned to stay.
Firstly, we stopped at Australia Zoo which was founded by the late Steve Irwin’s parents and made a popular tourist attraction through Steve Irwin’s television show. They have crocodiles, snakes, kangaroos, koala bears, wombats and so much more. We spent the entire day here and it was a lot of fun and very interesting to learn about all the dangers of the animals than inhabit Australia!
We also visited the Lone Pine Koala Bear Sanctuary where we held a koala bear… they aren’t the friendliest of animals and I could tell mine was bit fed up which I felt bad about! Still cute though. There were also native animals here such as the kangaroos which we fed.
The Aussie rules football season kicked off the weekend we were in Brisbane so we bought tickets and headed to The Gabba where we saw the Brisbane Lions play the Western Eagles. This game is not an easy one to understand if you’ve never watched it before and the pitch is huge so it took a little bit of time to get to grips with it. It was cool to see the huge stadium and to watch the sport that the Aussies go mad for!
Brisbane is a pleasant city in Australia, lots of shops , great bars and restaurants etc. They have a long pier which is scattered with, again, restaurants and bars. There is the South Bank Lagoon which looks great to cool off in, but we didn’t have the time to actually go for a dip!
The next day we travelled to Noosa where my mum and dad had kindly paid for an apartment for us to stay in as we were celebrating my birthday.
Noosa is a beautiful area with lovely beaches, restaurants and bars… much like a lot of the towns we’re visiting along the east coast of Australia! Noosa did have the edge over some of the other towns as it was more geared up for tourism.
On my birthday we got up early cooked a lovely breakfast that was accompanied by a bottle of Prosecco then headed to sunrise beach. This beach was a long stretch of white sand that squeaked as you walked on it, much to the amusement of Zoe and I. We spent the day chilling on the beach listening to music and sipping on some beers. At one point we saw a few dolphins swimming along. That evening we went out for a lovely meal. I had a great day.
Noosa has a big national park which has a lot of good walking routes and where you can go to spot koala bears in the wild, we didn’t see any though and it was such a hot day that we ended up lying on the beach… we needed to catch the rays while the sun was shining for once!
The next day we were picked up from our campsite and driven in a huge 4×4 , ex military, truck to Fraser Island. You may know Fraser Island for the beautiful Lake McKenzie where the water is two contrasting blue colours.
We drove on the beaches in the 4x4s winding our way along the sand. We were lucky to spot a dingo almost straight away and he ran along side the bus for a while, so we were able to get a proper look at him.
Following this, we drove to a forestry area along narrow sandy tracks— you definitely need a 4×4 to drive here! Somehow the trip we booked onto coincided with a OAPs bus tour group, so Zoe and I were the youngest in our group by about 40 years! It was funny because we were given the option of a long walk or a short walk, Zoe and I opted for the long one of course but we didn’t expect all the oldies to do so and so we walked very slowly along this uneven path through the forest. I was so worried one of them would fall and injure themselves but they all made it—no disrespect intended! We got to see huge trees of different species along the walk and also a lot of mosquitos, we were bitten to pieces!
We then arrived at Lake McKenzie! The weather wasn’t so great that day and it had been raining so the thick cloud slightly ruined the view but the lake was still so beautiful, and it did stop raining for us to take a dip and have a swim! The water was warm and calm however it was quite scary to swim where the sand quickly drops and the water colour contrasts to the deep blue— pathetic, I know!
On our way back along the beach one of the tyres popped on our 4×4 so we had to stop for the drivers to change the tyre. Zoe and I were taking notes in case this happened to our campervan, although doing it on a ex military vehicle looked like it would be a lot harder!
It was a great day and I’d love to have spent more time exploring Fraser Island.
The rain had not stopped since we drove back form Fraser Island and the next day we decided to drive straight to Rockhampton instead of going to Hervey Bay as the weather forecast was so awful.
When we arrived to Rockhampton it was dark and the rain was chucking it down so we got drenched setting up our van. There was nothing to do in Rockhampton whilst it was raining so we didn’t really get up to much.
When the weather picked up on our last afternoon in Rockhampton we managed to make it to the beach. However, getting there was not an enjoyable experience, we were walking through a bushy area next to an estuary and I was panicking that there would be snakes or salt water crocs. Zoe also got covered in bites so it definitely wasn’t a good idea! The beach was huge when we arrived and we had a walk around before heading back to the campsite to relax by the pool—just before it started raining again!
Continuing our east coast road trip we stopped at Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays! We weren’t spending much time in Airlie Beach as we had planned a two- night boat getaway around the Whitsundays but the time we did spend gave us a good impression.
When we travelled around New Zealand we made friends with a girl called Jenny who had been living in Australia before she was travelling around NZ. She had been working as a deckhand on some of the boats in the Whitsundays so she had described to us how beautiful it was and how much she loved Airlie beach. The town was quite small but packed with shops and bars and restaurants that were really nice. It was surprisingly quiet while we were there but it was a good chance to relax before we headed on our boat trip.
It was now time for our Whitsundays trip! We booked a small 10 person catamaran called Entice for two nights and three days. It’s not the usual backpacker boat to go on but we had heard very mixed things about the huge party sailing boats and we didn’t want to be crammed into bunkbeds, feeling sick and just getting drunk! Boring I know but we were so pleased that we made the decision we did!
The catamaran was beautiful and Zoe and I dropped lucky as there were only 8 guests on the boat so we had our own room. There was a trampoline section at the front and seating at the back of the boat. Inside there was a dining area next to the kitchen, it was great!
We had very mixed weather (standard!) during our time in the Whitsundays with a lot of rain but also some blasts of sunshine.
We embarked on the boat late afternoon on the first day and set sail for our docking place at sunset (although we couldn’t see much of the sunset due to the thick clouds!). It was raining during our journey and the deckhand asked for help putting up the sails, of course I volunteered but I was soaked from head to toe and I hadn’t chosen the right shorts to do this in. It was funny though as I had to slide back to the seating area at the rear of the boat on my bum because it was so slippy.
The first day we woke early to sail through Hook passage towards Whitehaven beach. This part of the journey saw us going through huge waves so that the boat was massively bouncing up and down. The skipper purposefully took us further through these waves so that Zoe and I got soaked. We were sitting on the trampolines having a great time bouncing up and down, we definitely went air borne at times, we loved it!
Whitehaven beach was beautiful, even with the thick stormy looking clouds— it gave the beach a dramatic look— I think those who get to see it in full sunshine should be jealous of us, not the other way round!
Whitehaven beach though is a destination for photo shoots, everyone is taking photos and videos of themselves prancing around and posing like models… we had a great laugh about it. Don’t get me wrong I do love to get a good picture but some of the people were taking it to the extreme. It is the perfect backdrop though!
We then sailed to a couple of snorkelling spots where we had to wear very attractive stinger suits. The first had so much beautiful coral which was really close to the surface. We saw a 100 year old clam which was cool and a multitude of beautiful fish. The second snorkelling spot had us swimming with huge fish that our skipper was feeding, including a Maori Wrass ( I have failed and forgotten the names of the others!).
The following day we got up and went paddle boarding around the bay. It was fun and you could see some of the coral underneath the surface through the crystal clear water although there were no fish. Zoe and I didn’t do it for very long as of course, it started to rain— it was warmer in the water!
After that we went for a final snorkel and saw lots and lots of parrot fish and a blue spotted reef sting ray but there wasn’t much else here, it was still fantastic though. Luckily the sea in Australia is so warm so you can spend a long time snorkelling, even when it’s chucking it down with rain!
That was the end of our trip and we headed back to Airlie Beach. I had a go at sailing the boat but it was so hard with the wind and I couldn’t keep us in a straight line so I was quickly sacked! I loved this trip and it was definitely a highlight of my travels so far, I want to do more stuff like this in the future!
The next day we were up early and driving to Townsville where we were getting the ferry over to Magnetic Island.
We arrived on Maggie island in the afternoon and we picked up our Barbie car. The Barbie car is a topless toy like car which is a popular way to drive around Maggie island. It’s quite a small island and some of the roads aren’t accessible to the Barbie cars so you can easily drive round in half an hour!
We stayed at Bungalow Bay Koala Village in a private hut which was very cute. There were little wallabies wandering around and the place had a a really nice rustic and authentic feel to it. We spent the evening on the beach watching the sunset and having some drinks, followed by a meal at one of the local restaurants.
The next day we went on a walk which took you around the old forts and there were a few view points where you could see the beaches and the coastline. We also spotted a koala bear which was sleeping in one of the trees, very cute! We went for another drive in our Barbie car which was was a lot of fun to drive
The only reason we stopped at Mission beach was because we had planned to do a skydive here! Mission Beach is regarded as one of the best skydiving spots in Australia as you land on the beach.
We were up early on the day of our skydive as it was booked for 7am (book in advance if you’d like a later time!!). When we arrived the weather wasn’t looking so great but we were geared up and loaded onto the bus which took us to the runway. I was beyond myself with nerves and had gone into a silly giggly phase which seems to be my method of dealing with anything that scares me.
We arrived on the runway and it was chucking it down! We had to wait in the ‘departure’ lounge as the skydive could not go ahead at that time. Half an hour passed, more rain, then another 20 minutes and still rain! Our skydiving leader (who was also my buddy) said that we had to head back to the main office as there was now not enough beach to land on due to high tide. We got back and waited another half an hour before we got back on the bus and returned to the runway. We were given the go ahead despite the fact that it started to chuck it down, again!
Next thing I knew, we were on the plane! The propeller started spinning and we were moving fast along the runway, my stomach was doing flips and I was wondering what the hell I was doing!! There were 16 of us altogether crammed onto the small plane about to throw ourselves out at 15,000ft, it seemed crazy to me! We kept climbing into the sky and my skydiving buddy was filming me on a go pro and asked how I was feeling to which I was responding with a smile but I was shitting it— he was also trying to wind me up by saying how inexperienced he was and that he was scared but I wasn’t going to fall for that!
All of a sudden we reached 15,000ft and the door to the plane was opened, Zoe was first to go and I saw her head disappear under the plane—that was the moment I truly felt sick! The next girl went ten seconds later and then I was hanging out of the plane with my eyes closed. Another ten seconds went by and I was flying through the sky! It was unbelievable! Its so difficult to describe the feeling of free falling through the sky because it was unreal! The adrenaline rushes through you and it’s the best feeling ever! 50 seconds later my skydiver successfully (thank god!) released the parachute and we slowly spun around and took in all of the view before landing on the beach. As soon as it was over I wanted to do it again! If you ever get the chance to do it, you just have to force yourself because it’s a once in a lifetime/
After the adrenaline rush of our skydive had simmered down we headed on the penultimate drive to Port Douglas. On route the weather wasn’t great just for a change, but we still took the opportunity to stop at the scenic waterfalls, Millaa Milla Falls. These waterfalls featured in Peter Andre’s mysterious girl music video and I couldn’t resist playing the song as we arrived. The waterfall is beautiful and is very symmetrical looking. If it wasn’t for the weather I would definitely have taken a dip!
Port Douglas is a lovely town to have a wander around and to spend a day or maybe two. We didn’t have much of an explore here but we did enjoy it. Unfortunately, when we visited the beach it was closed, apparently this was due to a crocodile sighting but I don’t know how true that was!
The next day we visited Mosman Gorge where we enjoyed a short walk along the gorge and took in our surroundings. Here we saw our first huge spider, I know, the first one— i’m quite disappointed in the lack of Australian dangerous wildlife spotting!
Finally, we were on our last drive, on our way to Cairns. This route was not long and was along the coastline so it was very scenic.
On our first day in cairns we were off to the Great Barrier Reef. We paid for a trip which included two snorkelling sights and a BBQ lunch. The snorkelling was amazing, we saw so many fish and colourful coral, plus I saw a reef shark and a cool fish called a Flowery Cod which was hiding underneath the coral. I would definitely say that the Great Barrier Reef close to Cairns is better than in the Whitsundays! I loved the snorkelling and I definitely would like to take up scuba diving one day, I’m certain of this now (I think my dad will be pleased to hear this as he’s such a keen scuba diver!)
The next day we had a wander around the city and the harbour area of Cairns before relaxing in the lagoon (a pool).
Then it was time to pack up the van and give it back to Travellers Autobarn. I definitely think it was the best idea to drive ourselves around Australia but I was glad to give it back. It was a nice change to stay in campsites as an alternative to hostels— they were so much cleaner and we had more privacy. We had a lot of fun driving and thankfully the roads were so easy to drive on, if not a little boring! Highlights of the road trip have to be, The Whitsundays, the Great Barrier Reef trip and the skydive (obviously!!). The east coast of Oz is great and has so many nice beaches (unsurprisingly), the Aussies definitely have a great lifestyle here and I’m very jealous!
3,500km later and the road trip is complete!
This was a bit of a long blog and there was so much more I could have written about but I didn’t want to bore you! Hope you enjoyed!