3 Months on Australia’s East Coast: Itinerary & Spends

If you’re in the early stages of considering your trip to Australia’s East Coast, you’ve probably come across countless articles, listicles and itineraries and are in the process of trying to piece together the puzzle that is – travelling this amazing 3500km+ coastline. It definitely took me some time to connect all the dots and figure out the possibilities for myself as a first-time solo traveller attempting this totally new experience… on the other side of the world. No pressure AT ALL.

Once I did figure it all out – as best I could – I scribbled myself a rough itinerary with all the destinations I wanted to see, along with an estimate duration in each. In case you’re wondering how I started that, it was all thanks to a Lonely Planet guide to East Coast Australia (to help me pin-point the locations) and the Greyhound network map (to help me know there were bus stops in each location).

The East Coast – as you may have already learned – is PACKED with backpackers from all corners of the globe. Sure, anyone can travel it but it’s a sure thing that it’s completely catered to backpackers, which means you need never worry about finding all the information you could possibly need. Not to mention, the hundreds of travellers you’ll meet, each sharing their tips and know-how along the way. You’ll notice – amongst the hundreds you meet – that you’re all completing this same journey together and at times, it feels a little monotonous but ultimately everyone’s experience differs for a bunch of factors like; budgets, priorities, travel companions, personal or work commitments and time durations. Everyone is completing the route at their own pace, for me it was seemingly a fairly slow pace compared to some others.

I spent a total of 3 months travelling from Melbourne to Cairns – incidentally the same time you can purchase a Greyhound hop-on-hop-off pass for – and loved doing it this way. Spending that extra time in towns and cities gave me a chance to get to ‘know’ them that bit more and even sometimes feel like a very tiny piece of the furniture. But sometimes I did wonder, am I doing things too slowly? Or are others doing things too fast? I decided there was no right or wrong way to travel the East Coast, it’s entirely based on you and your preferences.

This itinerary isn’t about me telling you what you MUST do, it’s just one more article to add to the online collection of travellers sharing their ideas and insights. I was keen to see what I did in real-time, compared with what I planned for myself in my rough scribbles back in England all those months ago (and what I spent – Ouch). In general, there’s a lot that went exactly to plan but there were also some changes, hitches and surprises along the way.

So, this is it! My 3 month breakdown – from the pre-departure stages to the real-time stages – with lessons and some of the best tips I learnt on Australia’s East Coast…

Melbourne, Victoria

I flew Heathrow to Melbourne via Singapore. Half the backpackers I spoke to skipped Melbourne and started their journey from Sydney. This is totally fine if you’re not a city person. But if you want to drive the Great Ocean Road, you may as well include a few days exploring the cool city of Melbourne as well for its European vibes and massive street art and café culture.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 2 WEEKS
  • How much time I really spent here: 12 NIGHTS (9 NIGHTS IN AIRBNB = $903 + 3 NIGHTS HOSTEL = $138) = $1,041

TOP TIP: Be sure to check out Melbourne’s food markets, definitely Queen Victoria Markets and the Night Noodle Markets in Birrarung Marr Park (if visiting in November) – amazing food. Stay in central accommodation in the CBD or in St Kilda – 30 mins from the city – for laidback, beachy vibes!

Sydney, New South Wales

The one half of backpackers I spoke to who had been to Melbourne preferred it to Sydney. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Sydney. Of course it’s one of the most famous cities in the world and rightly so for it’s iconic sights of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Depending on what you fancy, you can stay in the CBD or in Bondi, or even Coogee so you can have access to the city when you like but also be near the coast.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 2-3 WEEKS!
  • How much time I really spent here: 7 NIGHTS = $231

TOP TIP: Walk to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, passing the historic area of ‘The Rocks’ on route, the only part of the city I found that gave me a small insight into Sydney back in the day. Take a day trip by train to see the Blue Mountains.

Port Macquarie, New South Wales

My first taste of what was to come along this beautiful coastline. Port Macquarie, home to a Koala Hospital with free tours every day, a cute town and an amazing 9km coastal walk to Tacking Point Lighthouse.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 1-2 DAYS
  • How much time I really spent here: 9 NIGHTS = $280

TOP TIP: Complete the Coastal Walk in the morning – early afternoon for less crowded views and cooler temperatures. Arrive at the Koala Hospital for a free 3pm tour by one of the dedicated volunteers.

Coffs Harbour, New South Wales

Uh oh. This is where we meet a hitch in the plan. Due to pre-booking my Christmas accommodation in Byron Bay, it meant I had time to drag out between towns before. And between Coffs Harbour, Yamba and Byron Bay there was nowhere else that stood out to be worthy of a visit. This resulted in staying in Coffs Harbour for a week (and for my birthday) and… I didn’t love it there.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 1-3 DAYS
  • How much time I really spent here: 8 NIGHTS = $233

TOP TIP: Venture out of town and explore Dangar Falls and walk through rainforests on a Dorrigo Adventure Day tour with Coffs Coast Surf Tours – read my blog all about it here!

Yamba, New South Wales

Pleased to leave Coffs Harbour, I was so excited to arrive in Yamba at the friendly YHA with legend owners, Shane and Justin. Stay here and I guarantee you’ll have a blast and make friends. It was one of the most sociable hostels I stayed at in my time on the East Coast. If you like to surf, you’ll love Yamba. A lot of people compare it to Byron Bay ’20 years ago’. Unable to time-travel, I had to make my comparisons with modern-day Byron and have to confess not seeing a lot of similarities besides both being cool towns with good beaches nearby and a lot of surfers.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 1-3 DAYS
  • How much time I really spent here: 11 NIGHTS = $374

TOP TIP: Stay at the YHA and do Shane’s $20 tour, plus take the opportunity to learn to surf with the amazing instructors (organised through YHA) for one of the best value lessons you’ll find on the East Coast.

Byron Bay, New South Wales

So, I LOVE Byron Bay. It is where I have returned to in hopes of finding work and settling for a while. Honestly if you just wanna chill out or surf or party or shop (bag yourself some tie dye if you wanna fit in!) or eat great food or listen to quality music, it’s perfect.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 1-2 WEEKS
  • How much time I really spent here: 13 NIGHTS = $693 (More pricey as I stayed over the Christmas and New Year season)

TOP TIP: Walk to the Lighthouse at least once! Discover amazing street buskers at night in the town and join crowds at Main Beach for a unique drummers circle at sunset – VERY hippy. Catch live music for FREE every night at The Rails. Also, take your pick from the amazing café selection on offer, check out my blog here for my 10 best picks!

Coolangatta, Queensland

Originally I planned to visit the Gold Coast including Surfers Paradise. Along the way, from comments I’d heard out of the mouths of other travellers, I started to think it wouldn’t be much of a paradise for me so I skipped it. Instead I stopped off for 2 nights in Coolangatta, a quieter end of the Gold Coast with a great surf reputation. ‘Cooly’ is a nice enough place but if given the chance again, I would have skipped it. If you don’t surf, there’s just not enough to do here. If you want to party, head straight to Surfers Paradise.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 1 WEEK (INCLUDING GOLD COAST ORIGINALLY)
  • How much time I really spent here: 2 NIGHTS = $98

TOP TIP: Walk to Point Danger for some cool coastal views. Have brunch at BoardRiders, a surf shop featuring a café and bar.

Brisbane, Queensland

So after all these beach towns, it’s likely you’ll want a slice of city life again. Or you just won’t want to see a skyscraper again in your life. Chances are you will stop off in Brisbane on your East Coast route and you really should! Brisbane is a great little city that’s not completely over-flowing with tourists and has a lot of activity based either side of it’s famous river.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 2 WEEKS
  • How much time I really spent here: 7 NIGHTS = $176

TOP TIP: If you do nothing else in Brisbane, make sure you catch the CityCat to EatStreet Market in Northshore Hamilton. You won’t regret it! But check out my list of 10 great things to do in the city for some more tips.

Noosa, Queensland

And as much as I liked my brief encounter with the city again, God I was ready to return to the beach. Luckily, the next stop was Noosa! Even more exciting, I found out I could travel to Fraser Island from here and so I skipped out 2 places originally in my route: Rainbow Beach and Hervey Bay.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 1-2 WEEKS
  • How much time I really spent here: 4 NIGHTS = (Price included in my Fraser Island Tour – see below)

TOP TIP: Walk the coastal route through Noosa National Park for some amazing views, cool little beaches and the fairy pools.

Fraser Island, Queensland

After stressing myself out for days in Brisbane on the hunt for a good Fraser deal, I eventually booked onto a tour with Nomads Fraser Tours, organised through the Nomads Noosa Hostel. I actually purchased the package through RTW Backpackers with my pre and post nights included in Nomads Noosa for $499. Everything else on the island is included for you: brekkie, lunch and dinners on all days, 2 nights in either a dorm or tent and of course a 4×4 car to cruise to each of the Fraser highlights including; Lake Mckenzie, Lake Wabby, Indian Head, Eli Creek and Maheno Shipwreck.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 3-4 DAYS
  • How much time I really spent here: 3 DAYS/2 NIGHTS = $499 (TOUR)

TOP TIP: If you’re worried about driving on Fraser Island, don’t be! Take the chance to drive a 4×4 on the world’s largest sand island, it’s an amazing experience! Oh, and take your own snacks and drinks regardless of what your tour offers because everything on the island is ridiculously expensive!

Agnes Water, Queensland

Agnes Water became the ‘breather’ that I needed to break up the past few full-on weeks. And that wasn’t planned, but after days of constant street-pacing in Brisbane followed by Noosa and Fraser Island in quick succession, my body felt in need of a rest. Agnes turned out to be the best place to do that, staying in the YHA – a 10 minute walk from the beach and a good 20 minute walk to the closest shops and cafes. It was super humid in my time here and I spent 3 days walking to the shops or beach in the morning followed by afternoons in air con to do research and trip planning.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: I DIDN’T
  • How much time I really spent here: 4 NIGHTS = $108

TOP TIP: So, as well as Yamba offering pretty good value surf lessons on the East Coast, Agnes Water is another destination you will find very good value lessons so take the opportunity while you can to learn how to surf here!

Airlie Beach & Whitsundays, Queensland

Happy that I’d spent enough time doing… not a lot in Agnes Water, I was pleased to arrive in Airlie Beach, merely for the closeness of shops and restaurants that I didn’t have in Agnes, but also for the lagoon that I discovered on my first afternoon, which was such a treat on a hot day. 2 days later, I boarded my Whitsundays boat (Boomerang) and spent 2 nights aboard this sail boat, snorkelling and discovering the beautiful spots of Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet Lookout.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 4-5 DAYS
  • How much time I really spent here: 4 NIGHTS = $130 (AIRLIE HOSTEL) + 2 NIGHTS ON BOAT IN WHITSUNDAYS = $468 (TOUR)

TOP TIP: Check out the lagoon and spend some time relaxing before or after your Whitsundays tour. It’s huge and completely free with areas to splash about or lanes to swim. And a tip for the Whitsundays – just DO the Whitsundays! However, don’t feel like you have to book an expensive tour to get the most out of it, I believe I could’ve saved a good $250 just doing a one day tour and would’ve still seen and done everything, minus sleeping on a boat (which ain’t all that!)

Townsville, Queensland

Townsville is where it went down hill weather-wise. I arrived to non-stop, torrential rain which lasted for the 4 days that I was there and turned into a very questionable debate of whether my Greyhound bus would arrive to take me to Cairns as so much flash-flooding was causing concern on roads. Sadly due to the weather, I didn’t see anything in Townsville besides the walls of my hostel, a Woolworths and the HQ Reef Aquarium, which I did actually really enjoy and it gave me a good taste of the Great Barrier Reef should the weather still not have been perfect for my arrival there…

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: I DIDN’T
  • How much time I really spent here: 4 NIGHTS = $108

TOP TIP: Stay at Rambutan YHA. Unlike most hostels, this has very stylish décor and resembles more of a boutique hotel, with a rooftop restaurant by the pool and a nice breakfast café downstairs.

Cairns, Queensland

The weather improved but didn’t completely clear up the whole time I was in Cairns and because of this I didn’t feel inclined to spend heaps of money on Great Barrier Reef tours. So I missed out on pretty much the number 1 reason to visit Cairns, however I did do the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which was a pretty nice journey with a great view of Barron Falls.

  • The time I estimated I’d be here: 3-4 WEEKS!!! (What did I think I was gonna do?!)
  • How much time I really spent here: 11 NIGHTS = $268

TOP TIP: Try your best to NOT visit Cairns in the wet season, besides the weather not being the greatest, it’s also stinger season and makes it that bit more difficult to swim wherever you like for fear of being attacked by a jellyfish. But seriously, I didn’t do any Great Barrier Reef tours because I couldn’t justify the expense of them when the weather was so bad. (Gives me an excuse to return).

And that’s it! 3 months of Australia’s East Coast briefly summed up in about 2000 words. I guess one of the main things I’ve learnt is that it’s definitely good to plan, but also to accept that plans don’t always go to plan… You can see that mine clearly altered throughout the journey from what I had initially planned back in England. I can honestly say that I’m happy with how the majority of my route went, even with the few blips I experienced, I just tried to accept them as moments I could learn from.

So, to sum it all up…

  • TOTAL SPENT ON ACCOMODATION = $3,740 – (£2,058)
  • TOTAL SPENT ON TOURS = $1,444 – (£795)

That leaves me with…

  • FOOD & DRINK = (ROUGH ESTIMATE) $1,560 – (£858)
  • … and TRANSPORT = (LOCAL BUSES, GREYHOUND 3 MONTH PASS, 1 FLIGHT and 2 TRAINS) ROUGH ESTIMATE – $884 – (£479)

… and a bunch of other things I don’t need to bore you with.

So, 3 months on Australia’s East Coast is going to burn a hole in your wallet for sure (budget $7500-$8000 / £4,000-£4,500 at least) but it’s worth it for the experience you’ll have.

HOWEVER, there are more ways I could’ve saved money. I could’ve picked cheaper hostels and larger dorm rooms. But it was my choice to stay in the more well-known hostels and book myself into female dorms with up to 6 beds. Book 8, 10 or 12 bed dorms and the cost instantly lowers! I could’ve also resisted the urge to eat out as much as I sometimes did… but food is important to me sooo… no regrets there.

There’s always going to be shoulda, woulda, coulda’s but the experience on the East Coast is what YOU make it. I hope this information helps you, if you have questions or are looking for specific advice on anything between Melbourne and Cairns, I’d be happy to help! Just shoot me a message. You can also check out my East Coast Instagram highlights for some inspiration!

ENJOY!

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