The route up Australia’s East Coast has earned its rep in offering a seemingly endless supply of must-do experiences. The classic Sydney to Cairns route introduces you to both sides of modern Australia — the bright lights of big cities and the raw beauty of the Outback. You’ll have the chance to experience a ton of unique activities — everything from wine-tasting to sailing to snorkelling.
Spend the morning in Sydney’s historic harbour side precinct, The Rocks, and take full advantage of Sydney Harbour YHA’s close proximity to all major attractions. Take a walk around Circular Quay, enjoy a Harbour Cruise or stop by Opera Bar to take in the spectacular Harbour Bridge views over lunch. Don't miss the largest Australian beer list in Sydney at The Australian Heritage Hotel — right next door to the hostel.
Leave the hustle and bustle of Sydney behind and head on to the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine producing area. There are a ton of activities and attractions in the Hunter Valley. Go horse riding, hot-air ballooning or bike riding. A wine tour is a must — speak to the staff at the best hostel in the wine country for their recommendation.
Head north for Port Stephens, a holiday haven with 26 beaches and a mountainous, rainforest-fringed peninsula. Drive to the Nelson Head Lighthouse or walk to the top of Tomaree Headland in Tomaree National Park. Both spots offer panoramic views over the bay.
Join a dolphin-spotting cruise from Nelson Bay or go quad biking over the infinite sand dunes at Stockton. Tuck yourself away for the night at Port Stephens YHA where you’ll spend dreamy hours in a bungalow nestled in amongst the trees.
Keep heading north towards Port Stephens. On the way you can stop and enjoy Forster’s beaches and visit dramatic Ellenborough Falls near Taree. Well worth the stop, a camel ride along Port Macquarie’s Lighthouse Beach is unforgettable. Drive on to Coffs Harbour YHA and you’ll not miss The Big Banana — which has been stopping traffic since 1964.
Rejoin the Pacific Highway and head north through bustling Ballina, where the Big Prawn will have you yearning for some fresh seafood. Ride the rolling waves at Lennox Head before heading into Byron Bay for the evening. Byron Bay YHA is right in the heart of the town, with unspoiled beaches and spectacular walking and cycling trails just minutes away. Ask the staff about the best local surfing spots — they may even join you!
Don’t miss a stroll along Cape Byron to the Byron Bay lighthouse on Australia’s most easterly point. Sunrise is particularly magical if you can get up early enough. This bohemian beach paradise is also the place to swim with dolphins, learn to surf and try yoga on the beach. Take a day trip to hippy Nimbin and visit a Farmers Market or stay in a tepee at Nimbin Rox YHA.
Enter Queensland's capital to find out why Brisbane is boss. With big city vibes, a sub-tropical climate, friendly atmosphere and vibrant outdoor spaces it’s no wonder the locals love it. Brisbane City YHA has got you covered while you're in town.
Take a day to explore the city. The city boasts trendy boutiques, museums, bustling laneway bars and al fresco dining on every corner.
Head on towards to Hervey Bay where multi-award winning Hervey Bay YHA is conveniently located within an easy walk of nearby beaches. There are a ton of activities to keep you busy from kayaking to stand up paddleboarding to fishing.
Take the day to visit Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island. Swim in the crystal blue waters of the famous Lake McKenzie or enjoy a full day's worth of exploring by 4x4 to hit all of the highlights Fraser Island has to offer.
Travel up the 'Capricorn Coast' and make your way to Rockhampton, which is a little further inland and widely regarded as 'cattle county'. Ask the staff at Rockhampton YHA about an Australian Outback Farm Experience and see what Outback Australia is really all about.
Keep heading north and you'll reach Airlie Beach, gateway to the gorgeous Whitsundays. Airlie Beach YHA is located in the centre of town, close to the swimming lagoon, restaurants, cafes and Airlie's thriving nightlife.
Take the day to explore the Whitsunday Islands by your choice of land, sea or air. You absolutely can't miss the famous Whitehaven Beach!
A little further north and you'll reach your final destination at Cairns Central YHA. Cairns is a backpacking mecca and the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Dive into the technicolour water world exploring coral ecosystems as you scuba dive or snorkel the reef.
Make the most of your last day and get the adrenaline pumping by skydiving, whitewater rafting or bungy jumping. Find out why Far North Queensland is Australia's adventure capital.
Pic credits: Neale Cousland Shutterstock, Sand Safaris, Legendary Pacific Coast, Shutterstock, Tanya Puntti Shutterstock, Leah Kennedy Shutterstock, Derwent Hunter - Tallship Adventures, Tourism Queensland, Darren Jew TEQ, Tandem Cairns.