East Coast OZ: Does Australia live up to the hype?

Blurb

Everyone I speak to always says how amazing Australia is! I think it would be like how I view Japan as a place to live and visit, so must be literally heaven on earth! By the way I copied the classic itinerary of going down the East Coast (going up or down doesn’t matter but the majority go up). It would be impossible to visit all the spots in Australia unless you are living here/ on a working visa, so this could be an option for you if you wanted to do both.

My preconception of Australia was that it was mainly sandy beaches and tropical weather. However there are adventure activities which draw in the masses, usually young adults. Although it isn’t my favourite location, I will say that the nature and sea sports/ adventure tours they have are pretty good. I will outline my basic itinerary and you can decide if you wanna flip it on its head or add destinations to it but I will say that its unlikely you will find somewhere which has all that the East Coast has to offer.

Getting Around and finding a bed

I looked at so many various options of getting around. It is notorious that Australia is expensive and it is really expensive. This translates over to the food costs, tour costs and overall living but at this point, if you’ve planned to go and you’ve saved up the funds then it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. I would advise not doing a daily budget and just an overall budget, if you wanted to calculate a daily budget then it will be high because you may want to skydive one day and chill at the beach the day after.

Finding a hostel or hotel is easy, I would recommend staying in hostels as you will meet alot of people but not everyone is friendly. There were alot of german students who were travelling before going to university and so they usually kept to their own circles. I tried to use Couchsurf but I found it wasn’t a reliable app as you had to rely on hosts replying to you in timely fashion.

Car

This is a good option, you have the freedom to where you want to go and when you want to leave. However if you are renting a car for a long period of time then the overall cost will be big, oh and if you usually drive on the otherside of the road then this may put you off!

However renting a car when you are in each city may be a good idea to get around and you can always find people to split the costs with you, so in a lot of cases where you may want to visit a destination but wanna do it cheaper, renting a car may be the way to go. In the case of crossing waters, then unless you’ve scored a boat via connections or rented one (damn!) then you will have to consider a tour.

If you want flexibility then rent a car, but I would advise doing it over short periods and try to use social media/travel apps (Facebook/ Couchsurf/ Travello) to get some other travellers in. You’ll meet some great people and also cut costs.

Camper Van

This is another good idea but it is very costly. It’s a double whammy of having transport and a place to eat/sleep. There are even vans with shower units installed, so you are literally a modern day nomad. However the cost of a camper van is over £1k if you are doing a month long trip. I would only recommend this if you have already got a travel buddy (family/friend/partner) because then at least the cost will be split and make it a lot more worthwhile. This is the best option if you’re not travelling alone.

Motorbike

I would’ve loved to do this and you could really go adventure-style on this, I don’t recall looking up the costs but it probably would be cheaper than a car but then if you are carrying a big backpack it isn’t ideal. Usually you would take panniers and a rucksack but maybe if you own a motorbike already and live in Australia, this would be a good way to go. Also you could camp along the coast, light up a campfire and have a different experience compared to staying in a hostel etc.

Public Transport + Greyhound

This would be the cheapest option in most peoples minds and you are correct. Greyhound will pop up in your search engine results as the top listing and it is probably the best way to go. This is what I did; so if you purchase a Cairns-> Melbourne or the reverse, you will spent about £350 and this pass will last 3 months from initial use and 1 year validity (if you are undecided when you will use it). This gives you unlimited travel but only going in one direction. The seats are comfy but you will find it hard getting a good nights sleep unless you’re one of those people who can sleep anywhere! I would recommend this option if you want convenience and best value.

Another option I didn’t really consider but I was told about during my trip was to take the train. The prices are much cheaper but the downside was that they are extremely slow. If you are strapped for cash and no one is offering a ride then a train may be the best option for you.

Hitchhike

I’m not a seasoned hitch-hiker and I don’t know much about the hitch hiking etiquette but this is a cost free method. While in Argentina, one guy I chatted to said hitch hiking was common in Patagonia and so it was a safe way to get around. In Australia, I’d probably say it is not an uncommon way of getting around but I saw more “digital” hitch-hiking. Couchsurf was popular for people asking for lifts but also offering lifts too (as people wanted to split costs and have some company). If you aren’t on a time limit then you could do this, its highly likely that there will be some drivers along the East Coast who can give you a helping hand.

Where to stay?

I didn’t plan anything for this portion of my travels, but I will say that staying in hostels is probably a better way to go. The reason I say this is because you can meet other travellers, share travel tips, talk to reception about what to do/see and not break the bank.

If you definitely want to plan it out then you could go for my favourite stay – Airbnb as you will find a good bed for cheaper than £10-15 but another option you could try is Couchsurf. As I was getting off the bus from Cairns, I thought, maybe I will give it a try! I sent a message to a host in Airlie beach and I got rejected! I think his reason was my message wasn’t friendly enough, to be fair I didn’t think about what I was writing as I was so tired from spending 13 hours on a bus. So guys, if you want to try Couch surf, make sure you sugar coat each message but of course be genuine about it.

The idea behind Couch surf is a good one but this is probably one of the downsides, you may not always get an offer to stay somewhere. The stay is free but usually some sort of gesture in return is a good idea, like buying something or offering to cook a meal for the host during your stay is what people online say.

If you are using your own transport then you can consider camping out and doing it along freedom beaches/ campsites – some are free and some require a fee.

Let’s talk dollars

The cost of living in Australia is higher and a lot of resources are imported which is why I think it is costlier. However, an Australian couple who I chatted to during my tour in Peru said that the average wage is also higher (80,000AUS). If you are planning to do a world tour or just go around Australia then just make sure you have thought out your finances, you may get out there and run out of cash! However if you are on a working visa then you can work a little and then travel after you’ve saved up enough.

The cost of eating and alcohol was probably on average £4-6 more expensive than normal (for outside meals) and maybe on par with London prices depending on where you go. The cost of a tour was quite expensive, and you should remember this when you are saving up and deciding when to go on your trip. A day tour will cost around £60-70 and a multiple day tour £140-180 (2/3 nights). I would say if you are going to Australia and going all out then budget at least £2000 minimum for transport, living, tours etc. over a one to two month period.

Where should I go?

This is just what I did personally but if you want to stop at every place or miss places out then you can do it and if you want to reverse the direction, I won’t stop you!

Cairns > Airlie Beach >Hervey Bay + Fraser Island > Noosa Junction > Byron Bay > Sydney > Melbourne

I want to also mention that people usually go up (so if you make any friends then you will want to go up with them but if you are going down then it will be quieter).

Cairns

This is the Northern point of Australia and I wasn’t a huge fan of Cairns but there are some activities you can do within about 3-4 days. I was so jetlagged than I didn’t go crazy with the activities.

  • Snorkel or scuba dive around the Great barrier reef – outer portion
  • Visit Daintree rainforest
  • Visit Kuranda and take the scenic railway
  • Take a journey to the Athelon Tablelands and Cape Tribulation

Some locations I missed out which people recommended were Magnetic island (next to Townsville), Port Stevens, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane and the Gold coast.

Airlie Beach and Whitsundays

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Yes, I did. And I’d do it again. Highly recommend it! 

The bus journey on the greyhound was 14 hours, so I think I know why people stop off at Townsville on the way. If you want to go to Magnetic Island then you can rent a 4×4 and drive around the island.

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View from inlet hill of sandy swirling beaches on Whitsundays islands

White sands, the dream!

I really enjoyed Airlie as I made some friends there and there was a lot to do. The most popular option is to do a 2 day tour of Whitsundays where you can go on a party boat or a tour boat, there are multiple islands consisting of the Whitsunday Islands. It is unlikely that you can visit all of the islands in two days but you will see the most popular destinations like Inlet hill lookout, Whitehaven beach and parts of the great barrier reef. Here is my summary:

  • Do a 2 day tour, there are so many ship tours you can choose any (budget £200 for it as it includes everything)
  • Do a day trip to the Whitsundays (I did this and I saw what I wanted; trip to Whitsunday Island, Whitehaven beach, snorkelling, Signal hill lookout at Tongue point)
  • Skydive over Airlie beach, a friend I made in the hostel asked if I would like to skydive and I hadn’t given it much thought because I was trying to budget (but seriously its difficult to when you are in Australia!). I was swayed by the 2 for 1 deal and paid half price for the skydive. There are various locations you can do it but I would recommend going with a friend and ticking it off your bucket list!
  • Rent a jet-ski, you can rent these daily and also kayak too from about 80 AUS
  • Chill with your new friends in Beaches; Airlie didn’t really have a party scene when I was there probably because it was off season. However the vibes were nice and it didn’t burst my eardrums.

Fraser Island

Cruising down Fraser

Yes, this is a must do. If you want to do it then you can access the island from Hervey Bay, Rainbow Beach or even Noosa heads. I would recommend going from Rainbow beach because it is so close to the ferry point of the island. I went with Dingos and I had such a good time and made new friends in the 4×4 we all shared.

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The tour consists of a 3 day tour with average food but you get to drive around in a 4WD buggy and blast music out like a gangster. The cost will range from 450-520 AUS but it is worth it and a lot of people I chatted to said they got the Whitsunday-Fraser Island combo deal, which gave you a slight discount. Each tour company is different but I would recommend booking it early because it is always full, I booked last minute and I was lucky enough to get a place the day before and as fate would have it, meet great people! One worry I have is that when you travel with others that they aren’t very engaging which does happen but I was again lucky on this occasion.

General Island itinerary:

  • Visit to a freshwater/rainfall lake such as Lake Mckenzie
  • Visit to Tea tree lake
  • Go to Champagne pools
  • SS Maheno Shipwreck
  • Indian Head lookout
  • Tube raft
  • Drive around in a 4×4 like a loon

Noosa Heads

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Main beach

I wanted to head straight to Byron bay but unfortunately my pass would only let me go to Noosa before I went to Byron bay, the times clashed and I ended up staying one night in Noosa. A lot of people said Noosa was an enjoyable place and I could see why. There were some tour activities like going to the Everglades and hiking around the national park. However the surfing spots here are extremely popular, I didn’t end up surfing here but I can imagine it there would be some killer waves!

Byron Bay

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Byron lighthouse

Everyone I spoke to said that Byron bay had great vibes and was a cool place to spend a few days. It definitely had good vibes and was very cool. There are streets of hip shops and some nice bars around, everything has a great set-up. The lighthouse had some beautiful views and was a popular spot to see the sunrise and sunset. However this is where I did some surfing (badly) and also some dolphin spotting. I would recommend a couple of days here but unless you’re staying long term, I wouldn’t recommend any longer than 5 days.

Sydney

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VIVID light show combined with Opera house – great views
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Harbour bridge

Is a visit to the land down under complete without a trip to Sydney? I really liked Sydney as a city and it had a lot to offer. Even though Canberra is the capital, I feel like Sydney was like London except that it has a lot of ferry services. I think that Sydney would be a great place to spend a week and if you get bored of it, there are places nearby like the blue mountains that you can explore too. Here is a small list of what I liked about the city:

  • The Rocks district and market
  • Sydney opera house (VIVID festival was going on!)
  • Ferries – Manly beach ferry from port 3 is world famous
  • Bondi Beach
  • Harbour bridge – you can even scale to top of the bridge for a fee

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Blue mountains

Even though I spent a few days in Melbourne, I didn’t feel I did everything I wanted to. When I return to Australia, I will write a full blog dedicated to it. However I have to say that it’s Chinatown district was one of the best I’ve been to.

Top tips

  1. Cook for yourself to save costs (rookie tip but can be forgotten) and you end up forking out a lot for eating out but in the major cities, you can find cheap eats too
  2. Book a greyhound pass if you are unsure of which way to get around
  3. Remember that the tours will be the main expense on your travels along the East coast, so don’t cry when you might be spending £200 in a day – just do it, you’ve saved up the money for it!
  4. Chat to other travellers and share your tips about what to see in the area; there are offers for multiple travellers booking on a tour etc. I did this with a girl staying in my hostel and it was a really cool experience to share with someone else and it didn’t cross my mind to do a skydive before
  5. Make sure you consider your budget and have a rough idea of what you wanna do (if you are doing a world tour then I would still have a basic idea and then you can decide when you are in Australia) but have a contingency fund as well; might have to work a couple more months! sorry guys!
  6. The most popular route is to head upwards and this way, any friends you make will stay with you on your journey, however the bus will usually be busier. I made my way downwards to fly to New Zealand but you can do this from Cairns.
  7. If you are travelling in a group, then I would consider renting a campervan. The overall cost will be much cheaper and you can decide where/when you want to travel but you may not meet as many people

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