It’s on every Australian explorer's wishlist - the great east coast road trip. With hundreds of beautiful destinations located along this stretch, planning a drive north or south along the coast can be overwhelming. Luckily, we've done the research necessary to help you conquer Australia’s east coast highlights in as little as two weeks, starting in Byron Bay and finishing in Cairns.
You’ll be behind the wheel of this self-drive itinerary, we're simply here to steer you to the best sights, spots and stays along the way. First and foremost, to succeed in this adventure, you'll need wheels! If you don’t have your own vehicle, you can hire a campervan or car right here. We’ve come up with a range of budget options for each night of your trip, whether you're sleeping in a van, bringing a tent and camping or looking for a hostel bed to rest your head.
Ok, you ready? Your adventure on the east coast is about to begin! Drive safe and happy travelling.
Day 1: Byron Bay to Caloundra
From Byron Bay to the Sunshine Coast, today is going to involve a bit of time on the road. We suggest starting bright and early and pre-packing your bags and car the night before so you can wake up and get going! The drive north should take around 3 hours, longer if you want to stop in at the Gold Coast or Brisbane to break up the journey. There’s plenty of places to overnight on the Sunshine Coast, but we suggest Currimundi, just by Caloundra. Currimundi Lake is perfect for swimming and kayaking, plus there is a great coastal track to take by foot or bike to stretch your legs after a day of driving.
- Caloundra City Backpackers
- Coochin Creek - Beerburrum (and Beerwah) State Forest
- BIG4 Caloundra Holiday Park
Day 2 & 3: Caloundra to Noosa Heads
Continuing north, today set your sights on Noosa, only an hour’s drive from Currimundi. Head straight to Noosa’s central precinct, Hastings Street, and then to the Noosa Spit/Noosa River Mouth - a great spot to park up for breakfast, have a morning dip and start sightseeing. You can hike the Noosa National Park from here, a coastal track with incredibly rewarding views and beautiful protected beaches. Or, if you want a higher outlook, head to Mount Tinbeerwah Lookout, a 20 minute incline that promises unbeatable views of Noosa and the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.
Did you know Noosa has its own Everglades? If you want to explore one of only two everglade systems in the world while you’re in the region, jump on a river cruise or paddle your way upstream by canoe. Our other top activities for Noosa include a two-hour surf lesson at Main Beach and electric bike hire, a fun way to explore the area and its surroundings.
- Nomads Noosa Backpacker Hostel
- Belli Creek Park Campground (free)
- Fig Tree Point camping area (tent only)
- Harrys camping area, Cooloola Recreation Area (vehicle only access)
You can’t miss a trip to Rainbow Beach while visiting the Sunshine Coast. If you’re lucky enough to be travelling in a 4WD, you can take the car ferry from Tewantin to Noosa North Shore and access the beach track from here. Otherwise, head up the highway and in less than two hours, you’ll arrive in Rainbow Beach. Activities are aplenty here - you can sandboard at Carlo Sand Blow, learn to surf on an uncrowded beach, go standup paddleboarding, beach horse riding, take a half-day kayaking tour, or simply park up at the local surf club for a drink.
- Freedom Rainbow Beach Hostel (Campervan parking available for $15 per person, per night, in a secure area of Freedom Hostel property)
- Belli Creek Park Campground (free)
- Freshwater camping area, Cooloola
Day 5 & 6: Rainbow Beach to Fraser Island
Rainbow Beach is the ultimate gateway to one of the most pristine, beautiful places you can visit on the east coast - Fraser Island! If you’re road tripping with a 4WD you can bring it over by barge and self-guide on the island. Otherwise, we advise jumping on one of Fraser’s tag along tours. You’ll still get a chance to drive on the beach and explore the island, with some great added inclusions and your accommodation and food covered! The tours visit all of the islands renowned highlights, including Lake McKenzie, Eli Creek, SS Maheno Shipwreck, Champagne Pools and Indian Head.
- Camping included in tag along tours
- Great Sandy National Park - various camping locations available
- For 4WD and permit information, visit the Queensland Parks website
Day 7: Rainbow Beach to Bundaberg
Arriving back to the mainland, today it’s time to continue the journey north and set your sights on Bundaberg, a drive which should take around 2.5 hours. This Queensland country town has plenty to offer travellers; you can visit the famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery, take a stroll through the botanic gardens, stop by the Hall of Aviation and see the turtles at Mon Repos Turtle Centre.
- Federal Backpackers
- City Center Backpackers
- Tomato Backpackers
- Burrum Coast National Park
- Mouth of Kolan River
Day 8: Bundaberg to 1770
From Bundy to 1770, you’ve got just under 4 hours of driving to get to this great little coastal town. You can relax today and enjoy the beach, or you might feel up for activities! Our top recommendations include riding a “Chopper” motorbike, learning to surf, watching the sunset while kayaking, kitesurfing or taking off for a 2 day, 1 night castaway adventure on a remote island!
Day 9: 1770 to Airlie Beach
You haven’t had to put in too many full days of driving just yet, which is why today we’re suggesting you commit to the highway and 8 hours on the road to get from 1770 to Airlie Beach.
Day 10 & 11: Airlie Beach to Whitsundays
Airlie Beach is the ideal location to explore the world-famous Whitsunday Islands. You can take a day trip out to the Whitsundays, book a sailing adventure or even spend a night camping on one of the islands! If you’re a fan of the outdoors and getting closer to nature, you can also canoe, snorkel or take things up a notch with ocean rafting!
- Scamper Whitsunday Islands Camping
- Base Backpackers Airlie Beach
- Nomads Hostel Airlie Beach
- Chance Bay camping area
- Sailing Whitsundays 2 Days/2 Nights
Day 12: Airlie Beach to Bowen. Bowen to Mission Beach
We have little doubt the Whitsundays will be hard to leave, but there’s plenty further north still to be seen. From Airlie Beach, drive an hour and make a pit stop at Bowen for a swim or to see the Big Mango honouring the region’s beloved fruit. Continue north to Mission Beach, a drive that should take around 5 hours. In this tropical paradise, you can explore the beaches, face your fears with a skydive (landing on the beach!), hike up Bitcon Hill for incredible views and keep the adrenaline going with white water rafting.
Day 13 & 14: Mission Beach to Cairns
Your adventure of the east coast is nearly over, with the final destination on our suggested itinerary only 2 hours north of Mission Beach. Cairns is the famous gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest. It is also packed full of activities, the perfect place to squeeze in a few treats for the end of your trip. Snorkel or scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef’s spectacular outer reef, go white water rafting down the Barron or Tully River, see the sights of Cairns from the sky via hot air balloon, go skydiving or try the incredible Cairns bungy jump or jungle swing. If you prefer to spend your time relaxing, we recommend a scenic flight or day trip to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest.
Looking for more info before you go? Get in touch. Our team of experts have been there, done that, and they are happy to share their insider tips and traveller tricks with you!