Australia is renowned around the world as one of the most popular backpacker destinations, especially for Europeans, Americans and Canadians. Throughout my travels to South East Asia over the past couple of years, nearly everyone I met was either heading to or had just spent some time in Australia.
Coming from New Zealand, travelling Australia is something I initially never really considered doing. Generally, the feeling of wanderlust tends to take you as far away from home as possible. But the more I travelled, the more I would continually hear about the epic experiences and stories coming out of the East Coast of Australia. I kept wondering, ‘What makes the East Coast of Australia so appealing?’.
After half a year of travelling throughout South-East Asia, the opportunity arose for me to travel the East Coast of Australia. I would finally be able to experience it myself, travelling from Sydney all the way up to Cairns over three weeks.
There are multiple options as to how you can travel the East Coast of Australia, but I basically narrowed down to two options. I considered hiring/buy a van or camper and making my way up the coast, however, this can be a bit pricey and there’s less opportunity to meet other travellers.
The other more cost-effective way for me as a solo backpacker was to jump on a hop-on-hop-off adventure bus with a company called Loka. Loka is not only a way to get around, there are cheap ‘Inter-City’ type options which just take you from city to city (with no experiences along the way) or all-inclusive tours which don’t offer any flexibility in your itinerary. Loka is somewhere in between offering guided passes up the coast of Australia, visiting some epic destinations, with total flexibility to hop-off along the way. They bring together a group of like-minded travellers and provide a really positive, social environment to explore with. Almost like a hostel on wheels.
The experience was incredible and went above and beyond my expectations. The must-dos of the Australian East Coast lived up to all the hype I had been hearing over the years. The [unique places] you visit with Loka actually ended up being some of my most memorable experiences.
Here are my top ten highlights and, in my opinion, must-dos if you are ever considering hitting the East Coast of Australia.
Sydney the first city that springs to mind when you think about Australia. Although it is not the capital it is Australia’s most populated city. I have spent a couple of days in Sydney and it is an awesome city to walk around. The one thing that surprised me was the contrast within the city, the inner workings of a concrete jungle with the balance of parks filled with trees and open grass fields not to mention the most spectacular white sand beaches which are all so accessible to the city centre (Bondi, Manly, Bronte, Coogee etc)
The main attraction and one of Australia’s most iconic buildings are the Sydney Opera House with the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is an easy walk from the city centre and is right next door to a beautiful waterfront Botanical garden (a great spot to eat a bite of lunch). When you are done exploring for the day, Sydney also offers some epic night live. if you are planning to stay for a day or a week before you continue with your travels there is plenty to see and do including day trips to the Blue Mountain National Park
2. Barrington Tops
Traditionally, if you were to head up the Australian east coast a lot of people tend to catch the direct bus from Sydney to Byron Bay. A trip that takes upwards of 12 hours. Traveling with Loka breaks up the distance with three unique stops over a few days.
The first on that stop was Barrington Tops, somewhere that you would not typically hear about, let alone consider for your first stop during your travels of Australia. Yet it turned out to be one of my favourite places!
Barrington Tops National Park is made up of a rainforest like landscape in the South East of New South Wales. The accommodation is a small lodge (or house that has been converted to accommodation) and the surrounding facilities are epic in a rustic type of way! They have a bar, pool table, and dart board with a jacuzzi set up on an ‘aussie style’ deck with incredible unobstructed vistas of the surrounding area.
Photos do not do this place justice. You simply have to go there yourself to appreciate how good it is. Once you have checked in, it’s time to go for a river tubing float down a luscious private stream. You get suited up in boots, life vest and a helmet and jump on the back of an old army jeep to head down to a river and start the tube experience.
That night you can expect cocktails in the spa, wood-fired pizzas, homemade garlic bread and games around a semi-outdoor bar. This is the perfect way to begin the journey up the East Coast.
3. Mojo Spot X Surf Camp
Mojo Spot X is located on the coast between Sydney and Brisbane at Arrawarra Beach. This large, quite hippy style surf camp caters to all skill levels. Whether you are a beginner and want to develop your skills over a few days or an experienced surfer just wanting to spend a few weeks chilling at a remote, yet quite a social beach spot.
The camp has a vast range of facilities including basic camping, caravan parking or cabins like accommodation and Tipis. It also has kitchens where you can jump in for the inclusive nightly meal and breakfast in the morning. It is a short simple walk to a beautiful beach where you can get your surf on, enjoy a walk or just chill out.
4. Nymboida River Retreat
Nymboida River was the third stop on our way up the coast. Another really interesting overnight destination that is unique to Loka and somewhere you would never otherwise consider visiting on your way up the coast.
5. Byron Bay
Byron Bay is located on Australia’s Easternmost point, one of those towns you always hear about when you mention the word Australia. There is a reason why it is talked about so much, there is nowhere that I have travelled that can compare.
A small town located right on the coast with a balance of hippy, trendy and surfer like culture. It all intertwines with each other and creates an atmosphere like no other. You can surf, hang out on the beach or walk around the little town listening to the epic buskers.
6. Rainbow Beach
The gateway to Fraser Island, chances are if you are or have travelled to Fraser island you would have passed through or stayed at Rainbow beach. A little beach town with a small population, a unique beach that resembles a rainbow and home to one of the best sunsets in the world at the Carlo Sand bowl.
The Carlo Sand bowl is located a short drive or walks from the main hub of Rainbow beach and a must do if you are ever in the area. Off to one side, you look out over rainforest as you watch the sunset whereas the other side reveals sand right to the ocean.
7. Fraser Island
Fraser Island is among one of my favourite travel experiences as a whole, let alone Australia. If you are planning to travel Australia at any time in your life this is a MUST DO. I hopped off the bus with Loka that I had been travelling up the coast with, to spend 3 days and 2 nights on the Island before jumping back on the bus again.
8. Great Keppel Island
Hopping back on the bus I made my way to Emu Park which is the gateway to Great Keppel Island. I headed over to Great Keppel Island which you can do on your own however I experienced it with the Loka Crew through their unique Island travel experience.
The Loka Island treasure hunt makes sure we got the best experience possible and see all the sweet spots on the island. There are a couple of secluded beaches like Monkey Bay that take a while to get to by climbing up and over the island. Here you can snorkel with turtles and stingrays, but if snorkelling is not your thing you can relax on the white sand beaches.
9. Whitsunday Islands
One of those locations that is considered a wonder of the world, the picturesque sandy beaches that you see on postcards across the world. Based out of Airlie beach you can catch boats for just a day trip or extend your experience with a 3-day trip throughout the Whitsunday Islands.
The snorkelling is insane, swimming with Giant Trevally and numerous other fish. Some of the best snorkelling I had done as we made a couple of stops on our way to Whitehaven bay. Walking up the track towards Whitehaven bay it’s hard to put into words what you can see and feel, simply wow! The view is insane and you can also head down to the beach and swim in the water yourself.
10. Magnetic Island
This unique island located just out of Townsville is a perfect place to hang out for a couple days. You can hire some 4×4 and explore the island with walks up to the old-world war forts while seeing some wild koalas in their natural habitat. The best part is having the beaches all to yourself as you watch the sunset and feed the local parrots.
These were just some of my highlights from my trip. Sydney to Cairns as a whole though was one continual highlight. Although there are multiple ways to travel the East Coast of Australia, some of these locations are unique to Loka. I would highly recommend considering them if you are heading to Australia yourself, check them out for yourself!