The East Coast of Australia is made for backpackers. The entire stretch from Sydney to Cairns is filled with glorious beaches, raucous nightlife (if that’s your thing) and iconic bucket-list activities.
When trying to decide where exactly to go in Australia, our minds were already made up for us thanks to some of the East Coast’s most famous attractions – the Sydney Harbour, Fraser Island, the Whitsundays, the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest … Even though we’d heard great things about the West Coast, we couldn’t visit Australia without seeing these places!
On touching down in Sydney, we were excited to begin the new Aussie chapter of our lives. Unfortunately for us, there happened to be a huge music festival in the city the exact weekend we were there, pushing up prices of what little accommodation was left and causing general havoc with our plans. So, we decided to move on up the coast and come back to Sydney later.
First stop Port Macquarie
Now, we hadn’t planned on coming here at all, but it seemed like a good place to stop, re-think our plans and get organised. Turned out to be a great little introduction to Australia – with a small but informative museum about Australian colonisation, a historic vineyard, a Koala Sanctuary and a beautiful beach (complete with the obligatory Aussie surfers).
Second stop Coffs Harbour
We had wanted to move on to Byron Bay from Port Macquarie, as we had heard good things about this hippy little surf town, but it seemed that all accommodation was booked out for a few days so we decided to stop off in Coffs Harbour first. I wouldn’t recommend it. Aside from visiting the botanical gardens, walking the small coastal trail or surfing, if you don’t have a car there isn’t much to do in Coffs Harbour (unless your aim is to get drunk or be exploited working on a blueberry or banana farm).
Third stop Byron Bay
Finally we made it to this much-hyped hippy surf mecca. Only, we didn’t find a hippy surf mecca here. It seemed like our timing was all wrong in Australia so far – we had unwittingly managed to coincide our trip to Byron with the infamous ‘schoolies’. This is an annual occasion (similar to spring break in America) where all college/high school students across Australia flock to places like Byron Bay in order to let their hair down, get horribly drunk and cause general chaos.
The ‘chilled’ beach was packed to the rafters with drunk teenagers playing loud music and you couldn’t walk down the street without being stopped by promotional people from bars offering free drinks vouchers to everything that moved. Far from feeling the relaxed and ‘groovy’ vibe of the town, it made me feel rather old and I couldn’t wait to move on!
Fourth stop Surfers Paradise
Following our schoolies experience in Byron, we were dreading Surfers. This place is known for its nightlife and we prepared ourselves for the worst. But actually, we were pleasantly surprised by the city. Although there were lots of teens having fun, there was also families enjoying their holidays and the cosmopolitan city was small enough to stroll around in but big enough that you didn’t feel surrounded by drunks at all times.
Fifth stop – Brisvegas (that’s Brisbane to everyone who isn’t Australian)
Brisbane is one of those places that big enough that there’s always something going on, but small enough to explore in a day – taking advantage of the brilliant free ferries.
It struck me as a very vibrant young city, with a great variety of trendy restaurants and bars, and lots of live music and buskers everywhere you go!
Sixth stop – Australia Zoo
We couldn’t go through Brisbane without stopping off at Australia Zoo on the way. Famous for Steve Irwin, this place was founded by family of the Crocodile Hunter and paved the way for his world-wide career.
There are probably better zoos to visit in Australia in terms of the variety of species (I’ve heard Tauranga Zoo in Sydney is excellent), but I’ve never been to a place where the keepers are so hands-on and interactive with the animals.
More like an animal entertainment show than a traditional ‘stare at all the animals while they’re sleeping’ zoo, here they have huge amphitheatres where you can sit and watch as the keepers play with the animals and show you just what they can do. The snapping crocodiles and swimming tigers were a highlight!
Overall we’d been enjoying our roadtrip this far, but the next places we would visit – Fraser Island, the Whitsundays and Cairns – would be where we would create some of the most memorable experiences of Australia.