Road-tripping is an ideal way of exploring Australia’s East Coast. Famous for its food, culture, and remarkable holiday destinations, the East Coast is a stunning part of Australia. Packed with tons of gorgeous coastal towns, pristine beaches, vast open spaces, beautiful winding roads, a variety of national parks, and multicultural cities, the East Coast is a true paradise for holidaymakers.
When you plan a long road trip with your family or friends, it’s essential that you have a comfortable vehicle, so should either use a campervan or a motorhome.
However, before you start your journey, you have to consider several crucial factors, so that you do not confront any problem during your trip.
For another great East Coast Adventure check out:
Driving Gold Coast to Sydney: Rainforests, Mountains and Beaches
Should I rent a campervan or buy one?
Renting a campervan is an ideal option if you road trip if a one-off or your don’t live in Australia. It not only saves money but also eliminates the burden of finding an appropriate place to park it when not in use. You also won’t need to worry about the upkeep of the vehicle in the long-term.
However, if you are someone who plans frequent road trips, then buying a campervan is a better option for you.
How can I find a reliable campervan rental company?
Road tripping is one of the best ways to explore Australia so campervan rental is a quickly growing market.
Check out the top five campervan rental companies in the city where you plan to start your road trip, and then visit their websites one by one to figure out the kind of services they provide. For example, if you are planning to start the trip from Cairns, then you should search for “5 best campervan rental companies in Cairns.” And once you get the list, make sure you check the website of each company thoroughly
What is the best time to explore Australia’s East Coast?
If you are planning a trip from Cairns to Melbourne, then March, April, and May are the best months to travel. On the other hand, if you are thinking about starting your journey from Melbourne, then Spring is also an ideal time for your trip.
If you plan to explore the East Coast in June, July or August (which are winter months), then make sure that you pack winter clothes to beat the cold weather. You will require them in places like Noosa, Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay (southern Queensland), Sydney, and Melbourne.
However, you will find pleasant weather in North Queensland, which means you won’t struggle with cold temperatures in places like the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas, and Cairns even if you plan a trip during winters.
Is it possible to drive all the way from Cairns to Melbourne?
Yes, it is. If the roads are safe and you are with some interesting people, you can cover any amount of distance. The distance between Cairns and Melbourne is approximately 3000 km, the best way to make your journey interesting is to divide it into small chunks and then plan your stopovers accordingly.
Map of the Route
This is the minimum time suggested for this road-trip, but it could easily be extended. Cities like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne could easily take up a couple of weeks each and there are lots of other stop-offs on the way. You could also extend the trip past Melbourne on to Adelaide, taking in the Great Ocean Road.
- Cairns (3-4 days)
- Daintree Rainforest (1 day)
- Great Barrier Reef (3 days)
- Magnetic Island (2-3 days)
- Airlie Beach (2 days)
- The Whitsunday Islands (2 days)
- Rockhampton (1 day)
- Rainbow Beach (1 day)
- Fraser Island (1 day)
- Sunshine Coast (2-3 days)
- Brisbane (3 days)
- Sydney (2-3 days)
- Melbourne (3 days)
- TOTAL (30 days)
East Coast of Australia Itinerary
Here are the destinations that you must discover during your campervan road trip from Cairns to Melbourne.
(Spend a minimum of 3 to 4 days)
Before you start driving south to Mission Beach, you should explore everything that Cairns has to offer.
What should I discover in Cairns?
- Explore Palm Cove, which is only a 30-minutes drive from Cairns
- Take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to explore the hidden beauty of the rainforest
- Discover the Rainforest Nature Park and enjoy a delicious BBQ buffet lunch in the middle of tropical gardens
- Drive yourself to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park to enhance your knowledge of the Australian Aboriginal culture
- Explore Barron Falls if you love photography
- If you enjoy swimming and sunbathing, then you must discover the Cairns Esplanade
- Explore the beautiful tropical flowers at Cairns Botanic Gardens
Once you finish exploring all the beautiful attractions in Cairns and its surrounding, you should then head on to the Daintree Rainforest.
(Spend 1 Day)
If you are a nature lover, you will find Daintree Rainforest impressive. Home to unique tropical plants and trees, it’s one of the best places near Cairns to explore the Australian wilderness.
What should I do in Daintree Rainforest?
- Be a part of a guided walk to explore the unusual Australian wildlife
- Meet some saltwater crocodiles
- Visit the Daintree Discovery Centre to enhance your knowledge about the rainforest
- Cruise the Daintree River to take stunning photographs of the rainforest
- Discover short hiking trails
Once you finish exploring the Daintree Rainforest, head back to Cairns, and take a ferry to the Great Barrier Reef. If you have a bit more time, you can spend a day or two in Port Douglas, a beautiful town at a short distance from Daintree Rainforest with the tagline ‘where the rainforest meets the reef’.
Great Barrier Reef
(Spend 3 days)
If you opt for a boat journey from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef, it will take between 45-minutes to one and a half hours to reach your destination based on the island you choose to explore.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most famous travel destinations in the world. Packed with over 2900 coral reefs, and hundreds of beautiful islands, the Great Barrier Reef attracts millions of people each year.
What should I explore in Great Barrier Reef?
- Explore quirky marine life at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
- Take a dip in the turquoise waters, and spend time relaxing on one of the many beaches
- Enjoy swimming, scuba diving, and snorkelling
- Have a delicious lunch with your loved ones in a sea facing resort
- Enjoy a day trip to Fitzroy Island
Once you’ve spent a couple of days in the Great Barrier Reef, travel back to Cairns, and then drive south to Mission Beach.
(Spend 2 days)
The distance between Cairns and Mission Beach is just 139 km via Bruce Hwy/A1, which you can cover in around two hours.
Between Cairns and Mission Beach, you will find a little town called Innisfail where you can take a break. Innisfail is known for farming, and it’s especially famous for the banana industry. Some of the best attractions in Innisfail include Josephine Falls, Etty Bay, and the Mamu Tropical Skywalk.
After you finish exploring, you will head down to Mission Beach.
What should I discover in Mission Beach?
- Visit the Mission Beach Community Arts Centre to discover unique Australian artworks
- Discover Spanish-style buildings and structures at the Paronella Park
- Spend some time exploring beautiful paintings at the Helen Wiltshire Gallery
- Explore some rare lowland rainforest at the Djiru National Park
Other places that you can explore near Mission Beach include Bicton Hill and Dunk Island (which wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean).
After exploring every nook and cranny of Mission Beach, you can head straight to Townsville. Townsville, which is at a short distance from Mission Beach, is one of the most important travel destinations in the East Coast. You can spend a day or two at this lovely coastal city. Some of the most important attractions in Townsvilleinclude the Museum of North Queensland, Old Brandon Church, and the Herbert River Museum,
However, if you are short on time, you can take a ferry straight to Magnetic Island.
(spend 2 to 3 days)
Magnetic Island is one of the best travel destinations for those looking forward to spending some peaceful moments with their loved ones away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
What should I explore on Magnetic Island?
- Visit the Magnetic Island National Park, and spend some unforgettable moments in tranquil beaches
- Enjoy surfing and snorkelling at Alma Bay
- Explore a wide range of small shops at Geoffrey Bay
- Discover sandy shores and pristine waters at Arthur Bay
Apart from that, you can also explore Hawkings Point Lookout, the Forts, and Balding Bay.
Travel back to Townsville, and then head straight to Bowen. It will take around two and a half hours to reach Bowen from Townsville. However, if you don’t want to take a break at Bowen, you can drive straight to Airlie Beach.
(Spend 2 days)
Airlie Beach is a stunning town, so whenever you get an opportunity to explore it, you shouldn’t miss it. It will take around one hour to reach Airlie Beach from Bowen, so if you are not in a hurry, you can drive at your own pace.
What should I explore in Airlie Beach?
- Visit the Fairy Tree Park and swim in a beautiful lagoon
- Explore the Honeyeayet Lookout Trail
- Discover scenic trails at the Conway National Park
- Explore the beauty of Cedar Creek Falls
Once you finish exploring the Airlie Beach, take a ferry straight to the Whitsunday Islands.
The Whitsunday Islands
(Spend 2 days)
The Whitsunday Islands consist of 74 stunning islands, and they are famous for their sandy beaches and breathtakingly beautiful towns.
What should I explore?
- Enjoy diving, snorkelling, sailing, and swimming in one of the many beaches on Whitsundays
- You can also enjoy parasailing and wakeboarding
- Have some great fun with your loved ones while exploring Whitsunday Islands National Park
- Visit the Molle Islands National Park
Travel back to Airlie Beach, and then head straight to Mackay. It will take around two hours to reach Mackay from Airlie Beach.
Some of the best places that you can explore in Mackay include the Bluewater Lagoon, Cape Hillsborough, Eungella National Park, and Lambert’s Lookout. However, if you don’t want to stop in Mackay, you can drive yourself straight to Rockhampton.
(Spend 1 day)
Packed with tons of beautiful attractions, Rockhampton is one of the most beautiful cities in Queensland. You can have a great time with your loved ones while exploring this city.
What should I explore in Rockhampton?
- Explore Capricorn Caves to discover the underground limestone cave system
- Discover tropical plants, a Japanese garden, and a lake at Rockhampton Botanic Gardens
- Check out beautiful valleys and unique Australian wildlife at Mount Archer National Park
- Spend some time at Archer Park Rail Museum
After exploring Rockhampton, you can travel straight to the Town of 1770. You can discover places such as Bustard Head Light, Lady Elliot Island, Lady Musgrave Island, Bustard Bay Lookout, Deepwater National Park, Paperbark Forest Broadwalk, and Captian Cook Memorial.
You should then take your next break at Rainbow Beach, which is a beautiful town.
(Spend 1 day)
Packed with remarkable attractions, Rainbow Beach will you keep you occupied like anything. You can spend a day or two to explore this town, based on your convenience.
What should I explore in Rainbow Beach?
- Explore Cooloola Great Walk, a stunning bushwalking route in the Great Sandy National Park
- Enjoy camping with your loved ones at Carlo Point Marina
- Explore dolphins at Barnacles Dolphin Centre
After discovering the beauty of Rainbow Beach, you should explore Fraser Island.
(Spend 1 day)
Fraser Island is one of the most iconic beach holiday destinations in Australia. Known for its amazing beaches and luxury resorts, Fraser Island will keep your loved ones occupied like anything.
What should I explore in Fraser Island?
- Spend some time relaxing on one of the many white sand beaches at Lake McKenzie
- Enjoy swimming at Lake Wabby, which is the deepest lake on Fraser Island
- Explore the wreck of a trans-Tasman liner at SS Maheno
- Swim in the pools of bubbling water at Champagne Pools
Apart from that, you can also explore Lake Boomanjin, Lake Birrabeen, and Orchid Beach.
Once you finish exploring Fraser Island, travel to Sunshine Coast.
(Spend 2 to 3 days)
Packed with several fascinating attractions, Sunshine Coast is one of the most popular travel destinations in the East Coast.
What should I explore on the Sunshine Coast?
- Visit the Noosa National Park to explore amazing beaches and walking trails
- Explore marine life at the SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast Aquarium
- Discover different types of animals at the Australian Zoo
- Spend some quiet moments at the Noosa Main Beach
- Have tremendous fun with your loved ones at Aussie World, a theme park with rides and tons of shoes
From Sunshine Coast drive yourself to Brisbane, one of the most important cities in Australia.
(Spend 3 days)
If you drive at your own pace, it will take around two hours to reach Brisbane from the Sunshine Coast. Packed with tons of museums, art galleries, shopping destinations, and restaurants, Brisbane is a city that can keep you occupied for two to three days.
What should I explore in Brisbane?
- Explore koalas at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
- Enjoy rides, and discover marine animals at Sea World, an aquatic-themed amusement park
- Discover beautiful gardens, playgrounds, and swimming areas in South Bank
- Visit Story Bridge for picturesque views of the Brisbane city
Apart from that, you can also explore Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, Gallery of Modern Art, and Queen Street Mall.
From Brisbane travel south to Sydney but don’t forget to explore the attractions that you find on the way.
In other words, before reaching Sydney, you must explore places like Surfers Paradise, Byron Bay, Yamba, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, and Newcastle. You can spend a week to explore all these places.
(Spend 2 days)
Sydney is one of the most iconic cities in Australia so you can devote as many days as possible to explore it.
This beautiful capital of New South Wales is home to incredible attractions.
What should I explore in Sydney?
- Spend some time exploring the Sydney Harbour Bridge, an iconic structure built in 1932
- Explore Sydney Opera House, which is an iconic performing-arts venue
- Enjoy surfing at the Bondi Beach
- Discover koalas and giraffes at Taronga Zoo Sydney
Apart from that, Royal Botanic Gardens, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, Circular Quay, Manly Beach, Royal National Park, and Hyde Park.
From Sydney, you should travel south to Melbourne and spend time as per your convenience in exploring the attractions that you find on the way.
The attractions that you will find en route to Melbourne include the Blue Mountains, Canberra, Jervis Bay, Ulladulla, Mogo, Eden, Wilson’s Promontory, and Phillip Island. You can take a week to explore them if you are not short on time.
(Spend 2 to 3 days)
Brimming with spectacular restaurants, bars, shopping centres, museums, and art galleries, etc., Melbourne is a highly modern city.
What should I explore in Melbourne?
- Explore exotic plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Victoria
- Shop clothes, shoes, and accessories for your loved ones at Queen Victoria Market
- Explore museums and art venues at Federation Square
- Discover different types of animals at Melbourne Zoo
Once you finish exploring Melbourne, you will realise that your road trip has changed you a lot. After carrying out such a long road trip, you end up becoming a very responsible person, and that’s because you get a variety of experiences apart from having endless fun with your loved ones.
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Useful Tools for Booking Your Sabbatical
I always use Skyscanner or Agoda alongside Google Flights to make sure I’ve got the best price. I use Google Flights to save a route and monitor price changes and a combination of Skyscanner and Agoda to get the cheapest tickets.
If you are in the UK I would also highly recommend signing up for Jack’s Flight Club to get incredible flight deals sent to your email inbox every week.
When booking accommodation I always start with Booking.com as they generally have the best range and prices. I also regularly use Airbnb for longer stays and apartments in cities (use this link for £25 off your first stay). For a different experience try signing up to Housecarers for free house-sitting opportunities (get 10% off membership with this link).
Travel insurance might seem like an unnecessary cost, but when a flight gets cancelled, injury occurs or you damage a piece of gear you’ll regret not paying in advance. I’ve used World Nomads for two sabbaticals and (after badly damaging a hire car in Laos!) found the claim process to be simple and transparent.
Getting from the airport to your destinations is an added stress after a tiring flight, so take the guesswork out and pre-book with JayRide.com. Their prices often beat the local taxis and I've found them to be reliable and easy to use.