Backpacker's guide to the east coast
This backpacker bucket list for Australia's east coast will show you the best experiences between Melbourne and Cairns.
By Lee Atkinson
Wildlife, world-famous road trips, wonderful beaches, island getaways and fabulous nightlife – there's so much to see and do on the east coast of Australia that it can be hard to know where to start. We've put together the ultimate backpacker's bucket list of things to do between Melbourne and Cairns. Don’t go home without ticking off as many as you can.
Tour the Great Ocean Road
It's one of the best seaside road trips in the world and it starts just west of Melbourne. Famous for the 12 Apostles rock formations, the Great Ocean Road boasts one view after another, as well as glorious beaches and lush rainforests. It can be done in a day trip, but it's well worth taking a bit of time to discover hidden gems along the way. From towering redwoods to quaint seaside towns with epic swell just begging for a surf, there are plenty of must-stop spots along the Great Ocean Road.
See the penguin parade on Phillip Island
Grab a front row seat at one of the world's best wildlife shows, on Phillip Island. Every night hundreds of little penguins come out of the sea and waddle up the hill to their burrows in a melt-your-heart parade. Phillip Island is also home to a Koala Conservation Centre and Churchill Island Heritage Farm. You can book bundled tickets to save money.
Walk the koala trail on Raymond Island
Raymond Island, a free, five-minute ferry ride from the town of Paynesville in Victoria's Gippsland Lakes, is home to one of the largest koala colonies in Victoria; about 300 koalas live in the treetops on the tiny island. Follow the marked koala trail for close-up encounters with one of the Australia's cutest critters.
Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge with BridgeClimb is a once-in-a-lifetime thrill, and worth the splurge. If BridgeClimb is fully booked, however (it's a highly sought after experience, so book ahead) you can also climb to the top of one of the bridge's sandstone pillars, the Pylon Lookout, catch the ferry which passes under the bridge from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island, or do what many Sydneysiders do each day, and simply walk across the bridge for free.
Stroll the Bondi clifftops
Hike the wilderness
Lace up your walking shoes and catch the train from Sydney's Central Station to the pretty town of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, approximately three hours away. Spend the day walking one of the many wilderness trails in the World Heritage Blue Mountains National Park. There are waterfalls and great vistas everywhere you look, but make sure you don't miss the area's most Instagrammable spots.
Kayak with dolphins in Byron Bay
Making eye contact with a wild dolphin at sea level is a wildlife encounter you'll never forget. It's even better when it's in the beautiful waters of Byron Bay on the New South Wales North Coast. Book a kayaking with dolphin tour and stay at the flash Wake Up Byron Bay.
Party on the Gold Coast
Nowhere knows how to party like Queensland's glittering Gold Coast. Glam up and join the Gold Coast Backpackers Big Night Out. It's on every Wednesday and Saturday night, and the cost includes party bus, free drinks and VIP entry into four clubs.
Explore Fraser Island
Swim in clear lakes and float down a rainforest stream on Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island. Climb sand dunes, see a rusting shipwreck and drive the beach highway. You can DIY, or make it easy and go out with Cool Dingo Tours. They include everything (transport, food, accommodation and activities) in their two-day trip.
Sail the Whitsundays
Sail into the sunset in the beautiful Whitsunday Islands, off the Queensland coast near Airlie Beach. There are several operators that can take you snorkelling, walking on the white sands of Whitehaven Beach and to the scenic Hill Inlet lookout where you can see the famous colours of the swirling sands.
Find Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef
Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. There are loads of dive and snorkelling trips out to the reef, even for first-time divers. Shop around and you can pick up a tour for less than AUD$100. Or join an overnight trip and sleep out on the reef.
Spend a night in the rainforest
North of Cairns, the World Heritage Daintree is the oldest living rainforest in the world, and the closest thing you'll ever see to a real life Jurassic Park. Spend a couple of nights in one of the friendly hostels at Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the beach, and you'll hear the sounds of the rainforest even as you drift off to sleep. Most hostels also offer forest tours after dark.