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Australia,  Itinerary

Travel Itinerary: 3 Weeks on Australia’s East Coast

Australia’s East Coast is the most popular backpacking route in the world, and there’s little wonder why! Travellers from all walks of life come to experience the spectrum of landscapes, glorious nature and cosmopolitan cities that line the coast of one of the most fascinating countries in the world.

Choosing to travel to Australia is easy, the real question is, how long should your trip be and where should you go? To ensure you get the absolute most out of your adventure, let me show you your perfect 3 week East Coast itinerary!

The Route

The reason the East Coast is such a popular trail in the first place is because of the sheer variety along it! Between Melbourne and Cairns, you have everything from big cities and white sandy beaches to thick rainforests and desert islands! Each stop is like a different world!

To get the absolute most out of your East Coast adventure, your itinerary should be for at least 3 weeks! You could definitely stay longer, but Australia isn’t exactly cheap, and any less will barely give you enough time to enjoy everything.

The beautiful thing about this route is that it’s so easily interchangeable! If you wanted, you could easily spend an extra day somewhere or just move on earlier. You could also start the journey from either direction! Either way, you’ll still be following the same route!

Day 1-2: Melbourne

east coast itinerary melbourne
The cityscape of Melbourne

Where better to start off your Australian adventure than in the nation’s first capital city! The international melting-pot of Melbourne has a uniquely European feel, no doubt influenced by the city’s original settlers hundreds of years ago! It’s even reflected in a few of the attractions such as Flinders Street or the home of Captain James Cook, the man who first claimed Australia for the British empire (sorry about that!)

The city also has a plethora of museums such as the National Gallery of Victoria and Melbourne Museum which gives a little more detail about the city’s history. There’s also a particularly beautiful memorial to Australia’s fallen men and women at the Shrine of Remembrance, which overlooks the rest of the city.

The coast of Phillip Island. Photo by Nur, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At least one of your days should be spent exploring the incredible nature on the outskirts of Melbourne. At Phillip Island, you’ll be able to visit some of Australia’s most iconic critters, including koalas, kangaroos and even penguins, that’s right, PENGUINS!

Each night hundreds of these cute little fuzz balls emerge from the sea and waddle their way to their homes for the evening. If you don’t want to go all that way, or pay to get into the island, then you can also spot these little waddlers under the decks of St. Kilda Pier, another of Melbourne’s must-see spots!

Day 3: Canberra

Parade from the Australian War Memorial. Photo by Thennicke, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sydney’s the capital of Australia right? WRONG, it’s this place! Though Canberra doesn’t have much of a reputation and doesn’t have that much for a curious traveller to see, it’s still worthy of a place on your East Coast itinerary!

Known affectionately as the Bush Capital, Canberra is one of those rare cities that was purposefully built to become the nation’s new capital! As such, the city is home to many of Australia’s important sites, such as the Parliament House and the High Court. Though if politics doesn’t take your fancy, you can spend your day exploring Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and enjoy the views from Gibraltar Peak.

The East Coast of Australia is the world’s most popular tourist route which has some fantastic tours along it, but which are the best?

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Day 4-5: Sydney

Australia’s most iconic image! Photo by Bernard Spragg, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sydney will always have the top spot on any East Coast itinerary! Australia’s most famous city has plenty to offer every type of traveller, from the glories of the city to the wildlife that surrounds it.

Not only is the Sydney Opera House the most iconic image in all of Australia, but the entire city seems to gravitate around it! On one side you have the peaceful expanses of the botanical gardens and on the other, you have the modern skyline of Sydney Harbour, another attraction all in itself. Nearby is the neighbourhood known as the Rocks, the site of the city’s first settlement, which leads to yet another iconic site, the Harbour Bridge. From here you can get an amazing perspective of the city by scaling to its top as part of a tour!

east coast itinerary bondi
Taken on the walk between Bondi and Coogee

Sydney’s other main highlight happens to be one of the most famous beaches in the world! Bondi Beach is the perfect spot to soak in a few rays and enjoy the splendour of the deep blue! If you’re not one for sitting still, then you can spend the time walking across the coast from Bondi to Coogee Beach, one of the most picturesque trails in Australia!

Day 6-7: Byron Bay

east coast itinerary byron bay
The most easterly point in Australia!

Oz may be known for its laid back attitude, but there’s one area of the country which is the chillest of all. Byron Bay is renowned as the camper vans driving, dreds swinging, guitar playing, hacky-sack kicking, weed-smoking paradise! The ultimate hippie haven.

You could spend your time visiting Cape Byron Lighthouse, the most easterly point in Australia, or just spend your day on the beach. Most simply come to enjoy the vibe of Byron Bay under a haze of questionable fog and mind-altering psychedelics.

The cosmopolitan streets of Nimbin. Photo by jeffowenphotos on Flickr

You could also spend a day visiting the country’s alternative lifestyle capital, Nimbin. Two tour companies run regularly from Byron Bay and pass several spectacular natural wonders and iconic landmarks along the way, including Nightcap National Park and Minyon Falls. It’s a chance to experience some of the incredible natural beauties surrounding Byron Bay, so you don’t just spend your time getting high as balls.

Day 8: Surfer’s Paradise

The glorious colours of the Gold Coast

The next stop on your itinerary is the pinnacle of sun, surf and sex along the East Coast! There isn’t actually a whole lot of things to do in town, but it does throw one hell of a party! It’s a favourite amongst locals as the go-to party destination and has its fair share of clubs and bars across the beachfront.

If you’re not the party type, then the area has much more to offer! As the name suggests, the nearby ocean has some of the best surfing opportunities across the country! If you rather avoid shark bites, then you could also spend your day exploring the thick jungles of the Hinterland Regional Park.

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Day 9-10: Brisbane

east coast itinerary brisbane
Where are we? Photo by Kgbo, Wikimedia Commons

Though it’s one of the few big cities that line the East Coast, it’s the area’s nature that truly puts this place on the map! The outskirts of the city have some of the most iconic animal experiences in all of Oz!

The most famous landmark of all has to be Australia Zoo, which belonged to the one and only national treasure, Steve Irwin. Or would you prefer the opportunity to hold a real-life koala and hand-feed kangaroos at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary? If you’re not an animal lover, you could spend the day scaling Mount Coot-tha for some incredible views of the city and surrounding landscape.

Within the city itself, you can spend your time exploring the Brisbane River, either by following the promenade or even paddleboarding along it! Also, be sure to track down the all-important Brisbane sign, how else will people know you were there? On the way, you can also check out Brisbane CBD to see daily life in the city.

Day 11-15: Rainbow Beach & Fraser Island

east coast itinerary fraser island
The pristine coastline of Fraser Island

There are a ridiculous number of amazing tours you can be a part of in Australia, but none are as mind-blowing as this one! Fraser Island is an enormous sand island standing in the middle of shark-infested waters off the coast of Queensland, and it’s the venue for one hell of an adventure!

You’ll live for a few days in the wilderness while you explore the island in monstrous 4x4s searching for some of Fraser Island’s best hotspots. They include the stunning white sands of Lake Mckenzie, or Lake Wabby, an oasis that is filled with tiny fish that gently nibble away at your dead skin!

east coast itinerary lake mckenzie
The glorious Lake Mckenzie

After a long day of exploring shipwrecks and spectacular rock formations, the convoy will return to basecamp to prepare dinner over barbeques and finish the limited amount of booze you brought with you. Oh, and did I forget to mention that the island is home to wild dingoes!! If you’re very lucky, you might be able to spot one scuttering by.

Back on Rainbow Beach itself, you can spend your time kayaking with dolphins or exploring the multicoloured sand dunes, hence the name. Truly an adventurers paradise!

Day 16-19: Airlie Beach & Whitsundays

Whitehaven beach at low tide on Whitsunday Island

If spending your time on a desert island doesn’t take your fancy, how about living out at sea? Spending a few days sailing amongst the Whitsunday Islands has become a rite-of-passage for most travellers in Oz. The views of Whitehaven Beach at low tide has to be one of the most awe-inspiring places in the entire country.

You’ll also have your first opportunity to experience the Great Barrier Reef! Each tour includes a stop off at some of the best snorkelling spots amongst the islands, where you might be lucky enough to spot some dolphins, sharks and maybe a few turtles! As the sun begins to set, you’ll get to spend your evenings enjoying your limited supply of booze while the boat’s crew prepare your dinner. If you ever wanted a slice of luxury, this is it!

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Day 20-21: Cairns

Too many beautiful beaches and glorious oceans. Photo by julia Chapple on Flickr

That brings us to our last stop on your East Coast itinerary, and time to finish with a bang! Cairns is the ultimate nature paradise, the highlight of which is of course the Great Barrier Reef! As it’s the best place to visit it, there are endless amounts of tours available which will take you to swim with some reef sharks, enormous sea turtles and eerie barracudas!

Source: Rob and Stephanie Levy from Townsville, Australia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Back on land, Cairns also has other incredible natural wonders, such as the UNESCO-listed tropical rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands. Tours leave from Cairns daily and take you deep into the thick jungles to see some of the area’s highlights such as the Lake Barrine crater lake and Paronella Park. For most, the star attraction is being able to swim beneath Millaa Millaa Falls! A natural paradise!

A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.

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