Whether you’ve just arrived in Australia or you’ve finished off an epic two year working holiday visa, the east coast is most definitely a rite of passage for all backpackers. From natural wonders to cosmopolitan cities, lush rainforests and pristine white sandy beaches, it is the trip of a lifetime!
I spent 3 1/2 weeks travelling the east coast and had enough time to see everything it had to offer and party hard. I travelled during Australia’s off season (August) when there were fewer crowds, prices were lower and the weather still bloody hot in tropical Northern Queensland. I began my trip in north Australia, Cairns, a short eight hour flight from Bali! I couldn’t contain my excitement while I waited on the bus to my hostel. I stayed at Gilligans backpackers. It was clean, cheap, sociable and home to the most popular nightclub in Cairns. It had a bar, pool, travel agency and was full of young people. This being the first leg of my solo trip, I was so grateful to have amazing roommates. As soon as I walked through the door I was greeted by a bubbly flamboyant blonde named Harry and we instantly hit it off as he was also a solo traveller. That evening we hit the pool and he filled me in on what to do and gave me tips on how to plan my trip. The following day I strided into Peterpan’s travel agency with a few ideas and bounded out with a jam packed itinerary.
Cairns is the gateway to one of the seven wonders of the natural world- The Great Barrier Reef. There are so many ways to experience the reef, from helicopter rides, to scuba diving and snorkeling. My experience scuba diving in the reef was amazing. The charter company I decided to go with were called Down Under Cruise and Dive. On our way out to the reef we were briefed, buddied up and our equipment checked for safety measures. The charter was extremely professional and efficient. The two dives went far too fast. We saw turtles, colourful fish and the beautiful reef. Diving at the Great Barrier Reef was somewhat disappointing, it definitely did not trump diving in Koh Tao, Thailand. It was just not at all what I thought it would look like. Saying that, it was an amazing experience ticked off the bucket list. The reef, in my opinion was best explored snorkelling, especially the second stop at Hastings Reef, where the waters so shallow there’s no need to free dive.
The following morning a group of us set off for a bungee jump at AJ Hackett, 15 kilometres north of the city. I was somewhat disappointed to be the only female present, a bit of Dutch courage, a pep talk from the lads and away we went. The hardest part was willing myself to jump headfirst from the tiny ledge, then it was an exciting adrenaline pumping challenge followed by a great day of live music and entertainment. I’d originally intended on getting the video as I thought of it as a once in a lifetime experience but a minor boob mishap led me to change my decision promptly. A tip to the wise, wear a tight top when doing your jump!
Cairns nightlife is crazy, awash with night clubs, restaurants and bars. Gilligans and the woolshed were the go to amongst many. I met the most amazing people in Cairns which made moving on that little bit harder. It had so much more to offer, rainforests, waterfalls and white river rafting, but time was of the essence.
Travel in Australia is made so easy with a bus pass. The most popular companies are Greyhound and Premier Motor. Both travel the entire length and breath of the country and I chose to go with Premier Motor. The only difference being that Premier had only one bus scheduled per day and no wifi and buses tended to be less crowded. I often had a whole row of seats to myself which came in handy on night buses.
After leaving Cairns by bus the next stop was Townsville to catch a ferry to Magnetic Island. The ferry left every few hours to bring passengers within shouting distance, a mere 8 kilometres to the idyllic island. With only 2000 residents, this island is home to plenty of wildlife. I stayed at base hostel, known as the party hostel on the island. It’s most famous for its full moon parties between June and October. Situated on the beach this large hostel was relatively cheap, with a bar onsite,nightly entertainment a swimming pool and a car rental shop. Myself and a group of girls decided to rent a 4×4 so we could explore the island further. Many choose to rent barbie cars (we opted for just a photo), but this leaves you limited to where you can drive.
The Forts walk, a busy walking track is home to many wild koalas and fabulous views. There’s endless Aussie critters to spot on Magnetic Island. The headland on Geoffrey’s bay is a gorgeous wallaby colony and they simply love to have their photo taken – bring a banana skin to lure them in, they won’t be able to resist!
Next on the itinerary was Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays. The town centre with its abundance of quirky clothing stores and food hubs is definitely worth exploring. Here I stayed in Nomads, an amazing atmosphere with even more amazing staff. With one night to spare before departing for the Whitsundays we decided to go cane toad racing. This was definitely an experience and a half. Middle aged men betting their weekly wages on toads, some of which never even crossed the starting line. Airlie Beach has a vibrant nightlife scene, there’s no shortage of bars to choose from.
The Whitsundays was definitely one of the highlights of the east coast. 74 Whitsunday islands lie between the coast of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. Pretty cool eh. A 2pm departure at the harbour, I arrived with my bag of goon under my arm greeted by many other travellers roughly my age from all over the world with cartons of beer. I thought to myself, this is going to be a memorable trip! All aboard, a drink in hand and the mingling began. The first night was chilled and relaxed, after dinner there was a spot of speed dating to help break the ice. There were definitely some characters on board, a few drinking games later, travel stories shared and new friendships were made.
Day 2, we were taken by a smaller boat to reach the beach. We then followed the bush walk until reaching the Hill Inlet Lookout. It was mind blowing. If you don’t have this on your agenda you need to rethink it immediately. We walked in further to the infamous Whitehaven Beach. The sand was so white it was blinding. We spent the day gossiping about the night before, playing footie and swimming with sting rays and lemon sharks.
Little did I know just how mad this boat was going to get. 50 drunk individuals in their 20s competing in lap dances and sex position competitions in order to crown ‘king and queen of the clipper!’ It was a blast. All in all the clipper did not disappoint. With crazy people, a jacuzzi spa on deck, two water slides, snorkelling and scuba diving, what more could you ask for?
You can imagine the shadow of a human I was hopping on an overnight bus to Rainbow Beach the following evening. I was so delighted when my bus broke down, giving me a few more hours sleep to recouperate before my Skydive. I finally arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed! Thankfully I was able to push my skydive to later on that day. It was the most exhilarating experience. Amazing coastal views over Fraser Island with spectacular coloured sands. The craic with Matt my tandem buddy (who happened to be the biggest charmer) was 90. The thrill in a tiny plane, the adrenaline rush as we leaned out and fell from the doorway literally took my breath away. The instant facelift (as seen in pictures) the chance to experience controlling the canopy and the easy and accurate beach landing. I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat. I got to share this experience with Holly, a fellow nurse and friend now living in Brisbane. We were on a high for days after.
At Rainbow Beach I stayed at Dingos hostel, home of the best Fraser Island tour, around the worlds largest sand island. The day before our departure we met our group for a safety briefing. Following the old school safety video we were kitted out and ready to hit the road early the next morning. An early start, we loaded the 4x4s with supplies, food, booze and sleeping bags. Eight squeezed in per vehicle, we were off to catch the ferry. Within ten minutes goon (boxed wine) bags were being passed around the trucks. The drinking had begun. We explored all 120 kilometres of the island, shipwrecks, rainforests, spectacular sand formations and fresh water lakes, Lake McKenzie being my favourite.
At night we cooked dinner as a group, drank goon by the campfire and star gazed by the water. It was magical, like nothing I’d ever experienced before. The tents were small and cosy, pick a buddy who doesn’t mind a good spoon, it gets a bit nippy. With no pillows we soon realised an empty goon bag filled with air does the job perfectly.
Dingos Fraser Island exceeded all my expectations, the people really did make the trip. Our guide Lukey Lovey was full of banter and high on life. He certainly made sure we left no stone unturned and made the most of our time there.
I was so glad to make it to Noosa in one piece. I was looking forward to a few chilled beach days. I ended up crossing paths with many people I’d previously met. We ate, drank,caught up and explored a little. Nomads here had a cool, relaxed vibe. Lisa, anika and myself hit Noosas National Park 10 kilometre round trip. The views were mesmerising. Whale and dolphin sightings were out of this world. The well signed tracks led to ‘Tea Tree Bay’, a popular surfing spot and ‘Granite Bay’, a nudist beach (if you’re into that kind of thing!). Newbie surfers can hire boards right at Noosas main beach, where the waters calm enough for beginners.
A little more revived, the next stop was Brisbane. This city was not at all what I expected. South banks man made beach always had free events happening. I thought I’d do something different and take in some culture. I visited the museum of modern art, I didn’t last long, not my scene! Loane Pine Koala Sanctuary, a short bus journey from Brisbane houses over 130 koalas (that’s a lot of chlamydia in close proximity). My favourite thing here was actually feeding the kangaroos and people watching. The lengths some people go to to get that perfect selfie with the animals. Absolutely gas. Here you can also get a picture holding a koala. It’s so impersonal, you get two seconds to hold them and get a quick snap before the convere belt starts again.
While in Brisbane I stayed at bunk hostel, located in Fortutude Valley, the hub of Brisbane’s nightlife. This hostel was great for making friends, with a huge communal kitchen, pool and jacuzzi. The night life was great. It offered everything from movie nights to trivia and planned bar crawls.
I departed on my final night bus to Byron Bay where all kinds of people are well catered for as it allows you to explore your inner hippie with its magical combination of natural beauty and creativity. I stayed in Nomads, yet again, it was a solid 3 minute walk to the beach, perfect. There’s so much to do in Byron, the lighthouse walk has great views and gets the heart rate going. The earlier in the morning you can make it to the lighthouse the better. It’s not unusual to spot pods of dolphins playing nearby and I’ve heard it’s a phenomenal destination to see the sunrise as it’s Australia’s most easterly point.
I booked a kayaking tour at nomads with Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay. We spent more time in the water than in our kayak (myself and Karine were useless) while pods of dolphins swam around us. On our way back in, somewhat disappointed having not seen a hump back whale, one threw it’s tail in the air 10ft away from us, it was so exciting, a little scary, but amazing. The main beach in Byron Bay is famous for its breath taking sunset and on my last night a group of us gathered with beers and ‘good vibes’ as the hippie dippies liked to call it. There’s plenty more to do in Byron, visit Nimbin, Minyon Falls, skydive if you haven’t already done so or learn to surf.
The east coast has so much to offer, prepare your liver and get ready for one hell of a ride!