Australia’s east coast: 20 Epic places you can’t afford to miss
Australia’s east coast has been, for many years, at the top of backpackers’ bucket lists.
It’s MASSIVE and offers countless new adventures for you to experience.
Sun, surf, beach towns, cities, national parks, unique wildlife and brain crushing hangovers…
You’ll freakin love it (and make a couple of new friends in the process).
So don’t miss out on amazing adventures and supercharge your Australia trip with these 20 epic places on Australia’s east coast you don’t want to miss.
1. Mellow Melbourne
How can you enjoy a city that offers nothing spectacular to see?
Common, do a little search on TripAdvisor.
You’ll find the Royal Botanical Gardens as the number one attraction.
C’mon, Royal Gardens as number one attraction?!
Boring AF Mate.
But here’s the thing with Melbourne.
Melbourne is not a city you go and see, it’s a city you have to experience.
You’ll find mega-talented street musicians, trendy cafes, craft beers, classy rooftop bars and cool little alleyways…It’s all available every single day in Melbourne.
Next, to this, you’ll find St. Kilda Beach which is medium-pretty but has a uniquely pleasant vibe.
Stay in Melbourne for a couple of days. Walk around, follow your curiosity. Listen to street musicians perform while you sip your freshly brewed coffee.
And then try to leave.
You’ll cry. True Story.
2. Surprisingly beautiful Phillip Island
Phillip Island is suffering a small identity crisis.
Not with the touristy tourists, but with the too-cool-for-school-backpackers that scoff a place because they think it’s touristy.
Most people think that Phillip Island has nothing more to offer than the overpriced Penguin Parade.
It’s here where you can watch 200+ penguins come back to shore after their day out in the ocean. To be honest, it is a bit of a tourist trap.
But even if it sounds boring, you shouldn’t skip Phillip Island. Unless you want to miss stunning coastlines, good surf, seal colonies and easy hikes with breathtaking views.
Our advice: don’t miss it.
3. Wilson Promontory National Park
Known by locals as the Prom, this beautiful national park offers the perfect getaway from Melbourne.
You’ll find beautiful mountains right on the seafront, dazzling sunsets and an abundance of wildlife. Honestly, you’ll be surrounded by kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and beautiful birds of prey.
Whether you reward yourself with a challenging hike, a dip in the ocean or a tasty picnic, your time in the Prom will be one of the highlights of your trip.
4. (Not-so) Great Ocean Road
At least, it can be great but it depends on how you approach the whole thing.
You’ve got the ‘quick-quick-just-need-to-see-it’ approach that most touring companies use to rush through all the main sites. It will put you in a car for 6-8 hours a day, leaving you with beautiful photos but feeling meh.
And then there is the other approach. The approach that will make the Great Ocean Road… Great again.
The secret to this approach is this:
Do stuff and do it at your own pace.
Hike, surf, swim, drink, eat, watch the sunset, sunrise and take the occasional photo.
Do this and you’ll have an amazing time, pinky-promise 🙂
5. The gorgeous Grampians
Huge granite rocks shape this waterfall-rich landscape that is home to big mobs of curious kangaroos.
A few hours from Melbourne or Adelaide, this national park will leave you with a childlike enthusiasm for life.
Swim under waterfalls, skip from rock to rock as you get closer to the summit’s breathtaking view, and watch the sun set over the lush green forests in the valleys below.
The best way to see the Grampians is by camping, as you will wake up to the sight of Kangaroos skipping around your tent. Don’t worry if you don’t have camping gear, there are a couple good hostels around.
6. Sexy, sophisticated Sydney
You can’t go to Australia’s east coast without seeing Sydney.
C’mon we all know you want to spam Facebook with that Opera House selfie to prove you’re really in Oz.
All jokes aside though.
Sydney is fun and while the semi-glamorous ‘see-and-to-be-seen-attitude’ from most locals doesn’t please everyone, Sydney will never leave you disappointed.
You’ll find cool bars, beautiful beaches (maybe even star in Bondi Rescue), sweet restaurants, all the iconic sights and a lot of travel buddies.
Smart Idea: Buy the Ultimate 283-page Ozzie Backpackers Guide To Australia and discover all the exciting places in Australia.
7. The Breathtaking Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains, home to the iconic three sisters, is a short train ride away from Sydney.
It’s a Mecca for rock climbers, hikers and nature lovers. You’ll find breathtaking views, epic waterfalls and dense forests that beg you to go for a challenging hike.
For the nerds that are fascinated by anything that is the tallest, fastest, largest… here you’ll also find the world’s steepest train ride.
Money-saving Tip: Hop on a train from Sydney to Katoomba on a Sunday and the journey will only cost you AUD 2,50. (Need more money saving tips? Sign up for our free backpacker bootcamp that will instantly save you 1000 AUD.)
8. Port Stephens / Nelson Bay
Looking for an encounter with dolphins, whales and/or sea lions? Port Stephens is the place to be.
From May until October you can spot humpback whales as they migrate to warmer waters. Dolphins are cruising around all year long.
Not into marine life? Port Stephens also has the beautiful Stockton Sand Dunes that give you the feeling of being in the Sahara Desert. It is here where you can cross off a couple bucket list items like sandboarding, four-wheel-driving and camel riding.
9. Yamba (Hidden Gem)
This charming little beach town has a laidback vibe with an amazing hostel at the beating heart of the backpacking community.
Fill your days with endless surfing, lazing on the YHA rooftop or join Shane’s 10 Bucks Tour to go cliff jumping and see other cool local spots.
It is the kind of place that transforms your travel plans. Don’t believe it? We’ll bet you that you will find yourself at the hostel reception asking the all too familiar question: Can I stay one more night?
10. Bustling Byron Bay
Byron Bay is a coastal town that is all about sun, surf and party.
Add a relaxed hippy-like atmosphere, a couple bags of goon and some smokeable greens and you’ll understand why most backpackers pause their trip in this beautiful spot.
But don’t be fooled by the introduction, Byron Bay is as big in partying as it is in natural beauty.
Walk up to the lighthouse, hike the challenging Mount Warning or take a stroll in the nearby Arakwal National Park.
So no matter how much you want to drink or laze on the beach, remember to keep at least a couple fit days.
Brissy, Bris Vegas or simply Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city and is mainly focussed on business.
That means there isn’t a whole lot of culture in this place, but to be honest… you’re not planning to visit Australia’s east coast to enjoy cultural nuances.
While it won’t be the #1 highlight of your time on Australia’s east coast, it has some laidback parks, a big man-made lagoon and some bars where you can show what you do best (yep, that’s drinking).
12. Classy Noosa
After you’ve carefully avoided the shithole called Surfer’s Paradise, you’ll find yourself back in a paradise called Noosa.
It’s a stylish little beach town with upmarket cafes and boutique stores, surrounded by natural beauty.
Go on a beautiful walk along the coast, rent a surfboard for some awesome longboarding and indulge on a delicious coffee.
13. Fraser Island (Unesco World Heritage)
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and one of the best experiences on Australia’s east coast.
Stare in disbelief at the crystal clear waters of Lake McKenzie, enjoy beautiful views from Indian Head (with sharks and stingrays cruising the waters) and take a dip in the Champagne pools, a natural spa.
Sound good, right?
Join a 4WD self-drive tour and cruise to all the amazing spots together with your little Fraser Family.
At night you’ll go back to your campsite, have a couple drinks get drunk with your feet in the sand and chat away into the early hours…
Oh, and try to not to get eaten by dingos.
14. Town of 1770 (And The Coolest You’ll Ever Be)
If you’re travelling from South to North, this is the last place you can surf on Australia’s east coast. After that, the Great Barrier Reef stops all the swell and the ocean becomes flat like a pancake.
Town of 1770 is a laidback beach town along Australia’s east coast that hosts the daily Scooteroo tour, a must-do for any aspiring bikey.
Leather up, start your engine and drive around town on your chopper style scooter. We don’t care if you’re Ariana Grande or Freakin’ Elvis, this is the coolest you’ll ever be.
15. The picture-perfect Whitsundays
Another highlight you don’t want to miss: a sailing cruise along the Whitsunday Islands.
Hop on board one of the boats of your choice and enjoy the natural beauty of iconic Whitehaven beach.
Keep an eye out for (lemon) sharks, stingrays, sea snakes, flyfish and turtles as you sail through intense blue waters.
If you’ve always wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef, make sure to book a boat that offers diving as a part of their tour. You won’t regret it
16. Charming Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island is well-known for the Barbie-style roofless cars, but there is more. It is the encounter with animals that draws the backpacking crowd.
Stay at the Bungalow Bay Koala Village if koala cuddling, snake hugging and bird kissing sounds like a good idea. Or head over to Horseshoe Bay Beach for your daily relaxation.
17. For adrenaline junkies: Mission Beach
If you came to Australia’s east coast to empty your bucket list, you’ll want to stop at Mission Beach.
This is THE place where you do your Skydive over the Great Barrier Reef and rainforest.
18. The perfect green Atherton Tablelands
Hidden in the rolling hills behind Cairns, you’ll find an area filled with waterfalls, beautiful greenery and fresh food producers.
Rent a car or join a tour for an amazing drive through an amazing area that is often overlooked by backpackers.
Cairns is the perfect place to end or start your trip along Australia’s east coast.
Not only does it offer countless bars to celebrate the start or end of your trip, it also has a big lagoon to chill in and some cool day trips you can do.
Go diving or snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, take a trip to Fitzroy Island or jump aboard the scenic Kuranda railway.
If you’re not hungover from the day before…
20. Daintree Forest: where the reef meets the rainforest
This rainforest is the oldest living forest on the planet and is one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth.
It’s also the place where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s like David Attenborough’s wet dream.
Take a trip to Cape Tribulation from Cairns and you’re surrounded by 2000-year old trees, large spiders that eat meat for fun and maybe even a cassowary.
Casso-what you say?
Well, these guys…
So that’s that:
20 Epic places on Australia’s east coast that you don’t want to miss.
Can you imagine the adventure that’s waiting for you?
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