Planning a trip to the East Coast of Australia and feeling overwhelmed? Does researching the endless options feel like a mammoth task? I’ve been there. Australia is so vast that the guidebooks and travel agents suggest hundreds of ‘must-see’ spots and numerous activities to fill your time with, leaving you feeling spoilt for choice. But don’t worry, I’m here to help.
I spent hours pouring through these guidebooks when dreaming up my East Coast road trip and mapped out a unique route via highly advocated hotspots. Hot tip: You can save a lot of money acting as your own tour guide! The following locations are a few of my favourites which have all been tried and tested; offering a varied overview of beautiful Australia.
Otherwise known as the cultural capital of Aus. Melbourne is home to Australia’s oldest public art Museum, which to this day is the most visited in all of Australia. This city also has a rich history of theatre and entertainment, not to mention that modern Melbourne is famous for its colourful street art.
I found that Melbourne is truly bursting with life and has something for everyone, particularly if that something is artisanal coffee. I would say that at times it can feel a little urbanised, though if it feels a little too urban, it’s incredibly easy to visit the exquisite botanical gardens or to head over to St Kilda beach to spend some time with the penguins.
With so many options at your fingertips, I would definitely recommend a few nights in Melbourne; particularly if you can hire a car and head out to the surrounding towns or the famous Great Ocean Road.
Read More: 5 Great Spots in Melbourne / The Great Ocean Road
Not one that crops up in guidebooks or indeed through recommendations, but a hidden gem nonetheless. What all of those travel guides don’t tell you, is how you’ll feel after driving for a few hours in the Australian heat if you decide to embark upon the journey from Melbourne to Sydney. You may well find yourself stopping off earlier than anticipated, which is exactly what happened to me.
Mallacoota is one of those naturally beautiful and incredibly peaceful places, perfect for a few days of R&R. Located in the middle of Croajingalong National Park; the drive itself is a treat thanks to the stunning surrounding views. Granted, the main town doesn’t have a great deal to offer, but I promise it’s worth it once you explore the surrounding beaches.
We particularly enjoyed exploring Betka Beach – though it’s important to watch out for the changing tides, or you could find yourself stranded on your own private island for a few hours!
Read More: Mallacoota
They say that when it comes to Australia, your heart either lies with Melbourne or Sydney. And I’m definitely a Sydney girl. For me, it’s the perfect metropolis which simultaneously offers relaxing vacation vibes.
Bursting with iconic landmarks and fabulous watering holes, take your cue from the locals who regularly revel in the latter. It’s the atmosphere here that does it for me, everyone seems so well balanced with their work/life priorities, they always make the most of the weather rather than sitting at home watching television. Yep, that’s one’s directed at my fellow Brits.
Sydney highlights include the classic sightseeing spots (Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge etc.) and the fact that you can very easily take a ferry across the harbour rather than simply driving. It’s far more picturesque, not to mention… fun! On top of all this, there are so many amazing places to explore a stone’s throw away from the city. Of these, I would highly recommend a day at Bondi Beach – if only to see what all of the fuss is about. Plus you have to spend at least one day in the Blue Mountains.
Read More: Sydney / One Day in the Blue Mountains
I had never even heard of Bellingen Town before visiting, and only headed over there to begin the ‘Waterfall Way’ driving route. But Bellingen was an incredibly pleasant surprise nonetheless.
The architecture reminded me of the Deep South with its Antebellum style porches. The whole place feels like somewhat sacred ground and was in fact named by the Pioneers as the ‘Promised Land‘. One of my favourite parts is the old Church which had been converted into a tasteful eatery. From the food to the people, the vibe here is very much organic and wholesome.
Additionally, you can find the stunning ‘Never Never Creek‘ nearby. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but from photos and how gorgeous the rest of Bellingen was, I can pretty much guarantee that it’s a safe bet.
Read More: From Bellingen to Bendemeer
This Malibu-Esque town is a popular holiday spot within Australia. With ginormous modern houses to gawk at, a parade full of dreamy boutiques and eateries, plus the rather large beach club – the whole town is very laid back and happy hour appears to be open to interpretation.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, Noosa National Park is only a short walk away on the other side of town. What’s so nice about Noosa is that it’s very compact, you can float between the shops, restaurants and the beach without a care in the world; everything’s within walking distance and it feels like a happy, safe bubble to be in.
Read More: Noosa
If you’re into Island life, you have to visit the Whitsundays at some point! Disclaimer: Be prepared to splash a little cash, as the only way to get here is via boat or seaplane. There are numerous companies offering sailing excursions, so be sure to do your research before you hit the seas.
My partner and I opted for a couples-only tour group for a slightly more serene experience to the party boats – and we couldn’t have loved it more. The catamarans dock at various locations for you to explore the surrounding beaches, local wildlife and watersports. Highlights? Whitehaven Beach and sunsets for miles.
The really idyllic moments involve breakfast on the deck at the crack of dawn… when the air silent quiet and the sun has just risen. It’s those moments which put things into perspective, reminding you just how big and beautiful this world is.
Famous for Peter Andre music videos and Herbal Essences Ads – Millaa Millaa feels a lot more like a tropical rainforest than you may expect. If you’re driving from Airlie Beach it is one long straight road, but the closer you get, the more picturesque it becomes (though a lot less straight)!
It’s a very small town, so if you aren’t interested in waterfalls and luscious greenery, it’s probably not for you. And if you are? Well, you’re in luck! One of the most enjoyable aspects is that even in the height of summer there are few other tourists around, so you can revel in the natural beauty of each spot without disturbance.
If you aren’t headed to Cairns you will likely miss out on this jaunt, as it’s pretty far North and isn’t really a destination in itself. Also, it’s important to note that you will need a vehicle to travel between each waterfall, there is no way they are close enough to walk between.
Read More: Exploring Millaa Millaa / En Route to Millaa Millaa
Incredibly hot and incredibly far north for Australia is the town of Port Douglas. Often visited as a starting point for Great Barrier Reef tours, it gives the impression that it’s a rather affluent part of the country. I would recommend at least a day trip here from Cairns, even if you aren’t participating in a reef tour.
The Port itself is no stranger to the shopping and dining scene, paired with ocean views and palm trees galore. It reminded me of Florida or even Barbados thanks to the uber-relaxed and
most likely retired regulars. In summary, Port Douglas offers up a less hectic daily pace that is nice to glide around in for a few hours.
Read More: How to Spend a Week in Cairns