Exploring Australia’s East Coast

Australia, Country Guides, Featured — By on May 2, 2011 at 6:00 am

By Bobbi-Jo O’GilvieAustralian Koala
Special to The Lost Girls

Australia. Known to many as the land of Vegemite and funny-looking animals that can almost always kill you. Where things grow bigger and weirder, and you’re always greeted with a hat tip and a “G’Day, mate!” Australia is also known for the things that don’t actually exist there: The lore of Drop Bears and Ring Snakes are both a testament to the perceived danger of the local wildlife as well as the fact that it takes a very special country to essentially have its entire populous in on a big practical joke.

Just to clarify: No, there aren’t feral koalas lurking in the tree tops waiting to pounce and kill. And, to the best of my knowledge, while Australia is home to something like six of
the 10 deadliest snakes in the world, none of them can literally stand upright, fashion themselves into a ring and roll after you as you run for your life.

Australian East Coast MapAustralia is home of the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Ocean Road, and the Great Dividing Range. You can tell this country has pride in its great things. The food, while expensive, is yummy if not exotic and of course, the people are as friendly as you’ve heard. A country whose chosen method of naming, designing or choosing the location of almost everything is a contest to be voted on by the people, Australia is almost 7.9 square kilometers of pure, unadulterated, spectacular, and enjoyable randomness.

Best places to visit on the East Coast

The country itself is too big to cover in just one guide, so let’s focus on the East Coast, or, as I like to call it, The Backpacker Highway. The most heavily trafficked corridor in Australia, the East Coast offers sights, sounds, and sensations for everyone from the young traveler to the retired holidaymaker.

SydneyAustralian Road Sign

You’ll be laughed out of almost every cocktail party if you visit Australia and don’t spend some quality time in Sydney. The Opera House alone is one of the most recognizable buildings on Earth. Seeing it in pictures and postcards doesn’t do the building justice—to truly appreciate it you have to take a walk the perimeter, marveling at how fluidly its appearance transforms as you move around it, and take a step inside, for a show or tour, and feel the energy coursing through the building. Nearby, the Botanical Gardens are an absolutely beautiful place to picnic and take in postcard-worthy views of both the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Just make sure you take a look upward to check out the large population of flying foxes that call the gardens home. While Bondi Beach is The Beach to see and be seen at, better surf and a more authentic experience can be found at the Northern Beaches, including, but certainly not limited to, Manly Beach. And if you’re in the mood for a drink after taking in all the culture and sightseeing? Head down to The Rocks, where the bar and pub scene is thriving and you get a strange juxtaposition of convict history and polished adult beverages.

Coffs Harbour

While I’m not personally in love with Coff’s Harbour in general, it’s worth a stop here
to see The Big Banana. It’s one of 150 such landmarks scattered around the country.
While it wasn’t the first built, it is the most famous. So take a picture in front of it, check
out the ice skating rink (!) and bumper cars. And, of course, have a banana. You’ll be
joining people from all over the world that have a picture in front of one of these Big
Things in their Australia scrapbook.

Fraser Island (and Moreton Island)

The sand islands of Queensland are a popular destination for families and backpackers
alike. Both Fraser Island, and lesser trafficked Moreton Island, are natural beauties
with 4WD adventures, camping opportunities, and world famous lakes (such as Lake
McKenzie). Hang out in the Champagne Pools on Fraser (even on a rainy day, the
water is always warm) or check out the Blue Lagoon on Moreton. And bring any jewelry
you might want polished, a few of the lakes have very fine sand that can do a better job
than your local jeweler!

Airlie Beach

Sail, sun, and scuba dive in the beautiful Whitsundays. Words cannot describe this place
justly and pictures fall short of capturing its true essence. Whitehaven Beach
is stunning. Multi-day boat trip companies offer a range of price points and experiences
around the 74 islands, so a wonderful vacation from your vacation is well within reach
for most travelers.

Mission Beach

Mission Beach is by far my favorite destination on the East Coast. Just two hours south
of its Party Town Big Sister, Cairns, Mission Beach is the perfect mix of adrenaline and
relaxation. Want to jump out of a plane or raft down Grade 4 rapids? You can do that.
Want to walk along 14 km of beautiful beach, feet planted firmly on the ground? You can
do that, too. Although Mission Beach recently suffered a head-on strike from category
5 Cyclone Yasi, that is all the more reason to flock to this beautiful sanctuary where the
rainforest meets the reef. It will take time to rebuild the area, and nearby Dunk Island,
to its pre-cyclone state, but the lush rain forests, excellent activities and almost too-
perfect-to-be-true beach are things that are ingrained into the soul of Mission Beach and
something that a storm cannot take away.

Notable Mentions: Bellingen, Coolangatta, Port Douglas, Port Stephens, Cape
Tribulation, Byron Bay.

Maybe Skip: Cooktown, unless you’re an older Australian, Cooktown doesn’t have
much to offer other than nice sunsets and trinket-type souvenirs at the local museum.

Things to do on the East CoastAustralian Outback

Abseil in the Blue Mountains

A 45-minute train ride out of Sydney will find you in the scenic Blue Mountains.
Wonderful nature walks and camping trips are highlights, but the real gem in the area is
canyoning and abseiling down its many cliff faces and waterfalls. You won’t regret the trip and will never forget the adrenaline rush.

Surf in Coolangatta

Home of the Quick Silver Pro, Coolangatta is the real surfer’s paradise of Australia.
Legend Mick Fanning is a regular in the area and if you aren’t into surfing, there’s great
scuba diving—where you’ll see sea turtles and leopard sharks—just off the coast at Cook

Do as the locals do in Byron Bay

This notorious hippie town has an even hippier town a short drive away: Nimbin. I won’t say what goes on there, but the more alternative traveler might have a good time on the psychedelic bus ride there and interacting with the…interesting locals. In town, it’s worth checking out Arts Factory for home brews and live music.


As a reformed scardey cat, I can personally vouch for these two activities being my
favorite things about Australia. Jumping out of a plane at 14,000 feet might seem like an
impossible feat, but force yourself to go, and you will be thankful forever. This is one of
the few places in Australia where you can land on the beach, and on the way down you
have great views of Dunk Island and the Great Barrier Reef.

Try the Vegemite

Just do it. I won’t say whether I enjoyed it or not, but I’m fairly certain they won’t let you
in the country unless you promise to give it a shot.

How to save money in Australia

Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll either find Australia incredibly cheap or
incredibly expensive.

Food, in general, is steep. So, if you’re short on cash, grocery shop (Cole’s is cheaper
than Woolworth’s) and eat in. Hostels are generally less expensive when compared
to other countries, and you’ll find better deals in the bigger backpacker towns (from
AUD $10/night in Cairns). Just remember, you get what you pay for, and many of the cheapest options will charge you for linen, etc., which adds to the cost.

If you’re ambitious enough to tackle the entire East Coast, Greyhound Australia and Oz
Experience offer cost-saving hop-on/hop-off passes that can be used over anywhere
from a three-month period to entire year. These are worth getting to have your travel costs out of the way up front versus point-to-point ticketing.

Don’t leave Australia without…

…Embracing the wildlife! The country is absolutely PACKED with wildlife sanctuaries
that offer a more intimate and genuine experience than a traditional zoo. Two of the
bests are Currumbin Wildlife Sactuary outside of Coolangatta and Lone Pine outside of
Townsville. I’d even say that the animals look happier in sanctuaries versus zoos, but
that might be a stretch. Feed kangaroos, cuddle koalas, see the biggest crocodiles in
captivity and please, oh please, find out what a cassowary is. The animals are strange,
but they sure are cute.

And don’t be worried if…

…You see lots of people strolling around barefoot. It’s not that uncommon to take a
stroll or go to the grocery store without shoes in certain parts of Australia. Trust me, it’s
totally normal, and no, those people aren’t homeless. In fact, some schools require the
kids to wear hats, but not shoes!

Enjoy Australia!

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