Seven Day Road Trip up the East Coast of Australia: Sydney to Airlie Beach

One of the best ways to explore the East Coast of Australia is by car (or camper van if that’s your style). You could basically spend as much time as you wanted driving the east coast of Australia, as there are a ton of great stops along the way. Plus, you never know what you might see!

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I would recommend allowing two weeks if you want to make more stops, spend more time at each stop, or to camp and explore some of the natural attractions in the region.

We only had a week to make it up to Airlie Beach for our Whitsundays adventure (more on that later…stay tuned!), so we researched the most intriguing stops and made the most of our time exploring the region.

Our Seven Day Eastern Australia Itinerary

A. Sydney, Australia (1+ nights) – A great place to spend a few days to explore before picking up your car. There’s tons to see and do and eat, of course. Check out my post on Sydney for a few ideas! An add-on to this part of the trip would be to visit the Blue Mountains and/or Hunter Valley for wine tasting and then make your way to the coast.

B. Newcastle (day stop) – We decided to break up the trip from Sydney to Coffs Harbour with a stop in Newcastle. We drove around the area and then stopped to walk Nobby Head, an island connected by a breakwater constructed by convicts. It’s definitely worth a visit and the time to walk, as it was beautiful. If you have time, save a few hours and relax on one of the beaches in the area or take a longer lunch in town. We stopped at a place called Monkey, Monkey, Monkey for some delicious healthy smoothies. They had a great selection of healthy fare.

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Tip: If you have more time between Newcastle and Coff’s Harbour, drive right along the coast to Myall Lakes National Park and camp for a few days.

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C. Coffs Harbour (1 night) – This is about as far as you would want to drive in one day from Sydney. It’s a cute town with lots of mangroves and creeks to explore by kayak or beaches to relax on. Its most well known for it’s Big Banana, which my husband begrudgingly let me make a quick stop at for the obligatory tourist photo. Not really worth the hype, but I was entertained!

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D. Byron Bay (2 nights) – It is lovingly known as a beachside hippy town, and it definitely lives up to its reputation. It’s beautiful, relaxing, has great food and nightlife options, and an assortment of clothing optional beaches to hang out on (all pun intended).

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We found a fun artist community to stay in on AirBNB, so we spent a few nights in a little cozy stationary trailer on their property. My husband’s dream come true! (no, seriously).

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Whether you would like to spend the night (& day) partying or you would like to escape to a beautiful semi-private beach, the choice is yours. The lighthouse is a great place to see views of the area, to watch the sunset, and to claim that you have been to Australia’s most easterly point. You might even run into a Wallaby like we did!

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Byron Bay turned out to be one of our favorite places in Australia, I would highly recommend a stop here.

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E. Noosa (day stop) – This area is definitely worth a stop and potentially a night or two. The Noosa Heads National Park is gorgeous and full of koalas. In addition, the beaches are fantastic! This area is probably on the more expensive side to stay in, so you may want to check out one of the smaller towns nearby if budget is a concern.

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Instead of a giant banana Noosa had a giant Santa Claus!

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F. Hervey Bay/Fraser Island (2 nights) – We stayed in Hervey Bay so that we could venture over to Fraser Island, the largest island made up solely of sand in the world. Instead of doing a one day whirlwind tour of the classic sites, we decided to do a “Remote Fraser Island” tour by boat with Tasman Venture.

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We got to kayak through mangroves:

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Snorkel with sea turtles and large shovel sharks:

Climb a giant sand dune

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Finally, we enjoyed time on the beach & went tubing with this sweet speed boat that could also drive over the sand:

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It was a fun way to experience Fraser Island, and to us, it sounded much better than spending an entire day in a large 4-wheel drive tour bus. Instead, we got to relax on a large boat, explore, play, and experience Aussie BBQ.

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Tip: If you like authentic Italian pizza, check out Paolo’s in Hervey Bay…it was incredible!

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G. Airlie Beach – Our endpoint of the road trip and gateway to the incredible Whitsundays. The drive between Hervey Bay and Airlie Beach is a long, and boring one (about 9-10 hours). The main “highlight” along the way: Rockhampton – cattle capital of Australia. If I were to do it again, I would skip this part of the drive and fly. It wasn’t in the budget for us, so powering through the drive was the next best option!

Last, but not least…on most lists highlighting the East Coast of Australia, you would see Brisbane and the Gold Coast listed. We decided to skip Brisbane and the Gold Coast on this trip as we wanted to stick to the smaller and quieter towns. The Gold Coast sounded very similar to Waikiki, and since we have been to Waikiki and we had to make some tough choices due to time limitations, we decided to leave Brisbane and the Gold Coast out.

Where would you stop on your road trip up the East Coast of Australia? Comment below!

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