Top 10 things to do on Australia's east coast
Australia’s east coast has it all, from vibrant cities to rainforest and miles of pristine beaches, not to mention the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands. Whether you fly, hire a campervan, car or use coaches or trains, whatever mode of transport you choose it is easy to get around this stunning part of the world and see the main sights. If you have time, driving this vast and varied route is a fantastic way to see the changing landscape from coastline, to rainforest, banana plantations and fields full of sugarcane. However if you have a shorter time frame then flying up or down the coast is the perfect way to see more of the sights. I drove from Sydney to Cairns in just over two weeks and covered 6 out of 10 on this top ten list. I’m heading back this year to attempt to complete the rest!
Whichever you pick from our list of top 10 things to do on Australia’s east coast, you won’t be disappointed.
Discover wildlife at Kangaroo Island
A beautiful rural island, this wildlife-studded destination is often referred to as a zoo with no fences, offering an amazing way to see Australia's animals in their natural habitat. Of course, you'll see kangaroos relaxing on the island, but there's also a chance of encountering sea lions and fur seals dotting the shore, koalas hugging the trees, and wombats scurrying across the floor. At night, the penguins stir, bats fly across the sky, and you may even see a possum slinking through the bushes. There's plenty of fantastic outdoor recreation to enjoy here, including wildlife tours, quad biking, surfing, and exploring Flinders Chase National Park.
Quaff wine at Hunter Valley
For wine buffs or would be wine buffs Hunter Valley is the perfect place to sample wines and quaff to your hearts content. Situated three hours drive up the coast from Sydney and inland from Newcastle it is the perfect stop off if you are on a road trip. The area is known for its Shiraz and Semillon and many wineries offer free tasting sessions. There are a variety of vineyards from small producers to larger commercial ones. The Hunter also has an olive centre and chocolate company. So if wine and nibbles are your thing then wine country is definitely the place to head to. Stay a few days; hire a bike and cycle between wineries. Cheers!
Surf at Byron Bay
Surfing is a must do while in Australia and Byron Bay with its cool laid back surfy vibes is the place to do it. Byron is all about sun, sea and surf with so many beaches to choose from and it’s chilled out atmosphere you can’t help but kick back and relax. There are a lot of places around the town to rent a surfboard from or book a lesson. Clarkes beach is good for beginners, The Pass is generally good for surfers of all levels and Watego’s is good for longboarders. Byron can get busy so if you want to escape the crowds Tallow beach is a lovely spot stretching for 7km south of Cape Byron.
Drive the Great Ocean Road
If you are hiring a car, campervan or motorbike and plan on visiting this part of the southeast coast then the Great Ocean Road is a fantastic route to drive. Follow the road as it winds along the dramatic coastline taking in stunning views such as the Twelve Apostles. These impressive limestone rock formations are an interesting and imposing natural landmark. The Great Ocean Road is roughly 248 miles long and in about 5 hours you can cover the whole stretch from Nelson to Torquay. Koalas are in abundance on this part of the east coast and are easy to spot in gum trees on the drive, especially near Kennett River. Stop along the way at seaside towns such as Port Fairy full of quaint 19th century cottages and Apollo Bay. Great Otway National Park is a good area to stop for rainforest walks. Look out for Cape Otway lighthouse too; it is Australia’s oldest. To explore at a slower pace, take a stroll along the Great Ocean walk, stretching at 64 miles in length from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles. If you don’t have your own vehicle book onto an organised trip which will take you along the road and back in a day.
Further reading: Drive the Great Ocean Road.
See street art and markets in Melbourne
Melbourne is a fantastic city with all sorts to see and do. Go on a walking tour and see the city’s famous street art, kayak on the Yarra River, jump on a tram and spend some time on the beach at St Kilda or relax in one of Melbourne’s many coffee shops or a rooftop bar. Visit the Queen Vic market; it has everything from local produce, a fish hall and a deli as well as a fast food area. From November to February the market comes alive on Wednesday evenings with food stalls, bars and live music. If you fancy something a bit different take a trip to Philip Island to see the famous penguins, the island is also home to a seal colony and has some good surfing beaches.
Go whale watching
Humpback whales make their annual migration along the coast from late July to early November on their way to Antarctica; stopping in Hervey Bay to rest with their newborn calves. One of my favourite trips while in Australia was spotting whales; it was just incredible, especially seeing a mother and calf breach at the same time. Hervey Bay is the best place to book a trip to see these magnificent creatures; there are an abundance of tour companies to choose from. There was plenty of whale action on my trip, tail and fin slapping, breaching and they came pretty close to the boat too. The company I booked my trip through were very good and being involved in whale research meant they had a lot of knowledge about these amazing creatures.
Get lost on Fraser Island
This rugged island is the largest sand island in the world and only accessible with a 4WD. Many tour companies offer day trips and two to three day trips that include camping or a stay at one of the resorts or hostels on the island. There is so much to see and do on Fraser; if you have time it is worth staying the night to see more. Drive along 75 mile beach, jump into the cool crystal clear waters of Lake McKenzie, visit the shipwrecked Maheno, and stroll through the rainforest to Lake Wabby, Fraser Island’s deepest lake. Climb to the top of Indian Head and admire the views or trek over the huge dunes at Hammerstone Sandblow. Look out for dingos too; Fraser is home to Australia’s purest breed.
Further reading: Exploring Fraser Island.
Sail the Whitsunday Islands
The Whitsundays are a collection of 74 tropical islands surrounded by the beautiful turquoise waters of the Coral Sea and fringing the Great Barrier Reef. There are many different options to visit these stunning islands from day trips with a number of stops to longer Sailing trips, which are a great option depending on how much time you have. I did a day trip and visited Whitsunday Island; this included a stop at Whitehaven beach and a guided tour up to a viewpoint. The dazzling white sand and blue waters are incredible. The tour also stopped off a Langford Island, at low tide a narrow spit appears out of the water making it a great spot to take some photos and spend some time snorkelling.
Cairns is the best city to be based for a visit to the Great Barrier Reef and with 1,600 miles of it there is a lot to discover! There are many trips that leave daily from the harbour, you can dive, snorkel or take in the sights and sunbathe. I really recommend doing a full day trip and visiting the outer reef. Crystal clear shallow waters and beautifully coloured marine life all come into view as you drift over the coral.
For an alternative view of the reef and surrounding rainforest in Cairns a skydive is a fantastic option. Freefalling for 60 seconds from 14,000ft, I can’t think of a better place to experience such an adrenaline rush! Back on terra firma there are plenty of things to do around Cairns. Visit the Cairns Night Zoo for some nocturnal wildlife spotting and a good old Aussie barbeque. Take the Kuranda Scenic Railway up the Macalister Range to the rainforest town of Kuranda. This unique route goes across bridges and through tunnels and offers some awesome views of rainforest, waterfalls and mountains. Kuranda itself has some markets to explore and Koala gardens.
Head further up the east coast past Cairns to the Daintree Rainforest for more adventure. Go ziplining through the forest canopy, visit a fruit farm, or take a 4WD tour through the rainforest.
Further reading: Scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef.
See the sights of Sydney
This beautiful city lives up to all its expectations and much more. I loved just being there and taking in the famous landmarks. I couldn’t quite believe that I was standing right in front of the Opera House or staring at Sydney Harbour Bridge. Take in the sights with a stroll around Circular Quay, I really recommend having a drink at the Opera Bar. Right next door to the Opera house, the outdoor seating gives you incredible views of the harbour. Visit an area of the city called The Rocks; there are markets held here every Saturday and Sunday and the ‘foodies’ market on Fridays. A popular way to see Sydney Harbour is on the water; the perfect way to do this is a boat ride on the Manly ferry. Jump on from Circular Quay with your camera and snap away! Manly is a lovely place to visit too for a stroll along the shady promenade, ice cream and people watching.
Another fantastic way to see the city is on a Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. There are four different climbs including a dawn climb and a twilight climb. Nicknamed ‘The Coathanger’ it is 134 metres high at the summit and there are 1332 steps to reach the top. This is definitely on my agenda for my next trip to Australia. It is not the cheapest experience but I think the opportunity to climb up to the top of one of the world’s most famous bridges is not something that you get to do everyday and surrounded by such incredible views.
Slightly further afield Taronga Zoo, found on the shores of Sydney Harbour is home to around 4,000 animals, you can get to the zoo via ferry from Circular Quay with a combined Zoo and ferry pass. Bondi Beach is the place to go for some bronzing in the city. This famous beach is only a 15 minute drive from the city centre. Sunbathe, watch the surfers or take a wander on the Bondi to Coogee Walk, it’s a great way to explore this beautiful coastline.
Further reading: Sydney beach holidays.
Holiday Ideas Travel Guides
- Going solo down under
- Exploring Australia’s Aboriginal culture
- The most swoonworthy stays in Australia
- Stopover options for travelling to Australia
- When is the best time to travel to Australia?
- Top 10 cities in Australia
- Top 10 most photogenic locations in Australia
- Top 10 Australian Outback experiences
- Top 10 things to do in Australia
- Top 10 things to do on Australia's east coast
- Top 10 national parks in Australia