Australia is bursting with beautiful places, and it can be hard to know the best places to stay on your East Coast adventure. We’ve put together a list of our favourite spots to help you plan the trip of a lifetime. With the knowledge of expert adventurers behind you, all that you’ll have left to do is book your bus and do your little excited dance!
Where to hop off in New South Wales
Two of our most popular tours start here, so we’d hazard a guess that most of you will be spending some time here anyway. Some backpackers avoid cities like the plague, while others embrace them – whichever you are, Sydney is sure to charm the pants off you. The sweetheart of the south, Sydney combines big city life with beach vibes, and the call of nature is never more than an hour away. Check out Bondi Beach and the famous coastal walk to Coogee for some free fun, or hit the town and live up to your backpacker reputation. If you have a day to spare before your trip begins and love nature, a Blue Mountains day trip is the perfect quick fix.
Coffs Harbour is in the north of New South Wales, in between Port Macquarie and Byron Bay. Stray stays in Port Macquarie, but the following day travels up the coast to “Coffs”, as the locals call it. It’s famous for growing bananas (and one Big Banana in particular), but the heart of our visit is through the banana plantations and up out of town.
This takes us to the spectacular Niigi Niigi (Sealy Lookout) perched above the Orara East State Forest Park. This area is home to the Gumbaynggirr people, and we take a Giingan tour to learn more about their ancient culture, language and customs.
Coffs Harbour is a little bit off the beaten track, but that’s what Stray does best. A wide variety of incredible destinations combined with unforgettable experiences.
The happiest town in Australia gets an honorary mention here. Some of the Stray Tours spend 3 nights in Byron Bay and another starts in the town. With either option, you’ll have time to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and cool bars of the town. The motto of this town is “cheer up, slow down and chill out”, and that’s exactly what we recommend. There is plenty to do here; sea kayaking with wild dolphins, scenic walks, more surfing opportunities or a day trip to Nimbin. However long you stay, embrace the vibe and explore at your own pace.
Where to hop off in Queensland
Welcome to Queensland and its cool capital. Wedged between the sparkling ocean and multiple national parks, Brisbane is featured in all our current tours and is a great place to explore. The bustling city is famous for its diverse arts and cultural scene – check out the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Head out on a free walking tour to discover hidden gems in the city, like laneway bars and the Eat Street markets. Our must do activity is taking a dip at Streets Beach, Australia’s only inner-city beach. For more beach vibes, you could head out on a day trip to one of Brisbane’s nearby islands and explore the shipwrecks and marine life. This would work if you have a couple of days before setting off on the Dingo tour which starts from “Brissy”.
With a name like that, who wouldn’t want to stay here a while! Beautiful beach aside, Rainbow Beach is where we return from an East Coast rite of passage: Fraser Island. The world’s largest sand island, you’ll have 3 days dedicated to exploring this unique destination. You’ll grab a group of mates and take turns driving 4WD trucks all over the island. You’ll camp under the stars, swim in champagne pools, play impromptu volleyball and walk up to stunning view points. All along the East Coast you’ll hear people talking about Fraser Island, and there’s only one way to find out if it lives up to the hype… hop off! You can also return to hop off in Noosa and do Fraser Island trips from there.
Another beach, another launching pad for an Australian favourite. This time we’re hopping off at Airlie Beach to visit the magical Whitsunday Islands. Your Stray Tour includes a 3 day/2 night sailing trip to The Whitsundays, living aboard a 76′ ocean going yacht. You’ll head to the picturesque Whitehaven Beach, swim in the southern end of the Great Barrier reef, and watch the sun set from Hamilton Island. The word most commonly used to describe the Whitsundays is ‘paradise’, as you’ll see for yourself on your tour.
After indulging in a few expensive but memorable activities, Magnetic Island offers you the chance to change pace and save a few dollars. The island is over 50% national park, and there is plenty to do for those on a limited budget. Rent a 4WD between some mates and explore the island at your own pace, or head out on foot for free! Look out for wild koalas and rock wallabies, walk one of the many tracks through the park, and relax on secluded beaches. Finish the day on West Point Beach for an unforgettable sunset, and then head back to the hostel for a few beers by the pool. Magnetic Island is like a holiday from travelling, the perfect escape from the busy mainland.
The end point for three of our tours, Cairns is a tropical adventure centre. The most obvious draw card for this far north city is one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef. You can take a day trip out to snorkel or SCUBA dive amongst turtles, rays, and hundreds of species of fish. Back on the mainland, you can go white water rafting on Australia’s best rafting river or skydive over the whole place for panoramic views. If you’re just in the mood to chill, you can visit the markets, wander the botanical gardens, and swim in the central lagoon. For those who don’t want the adventure to end, there are plenty of day trips from Cairns – check out Kuranda, the Atherton Tablelands and Fitzroy Island.
We hope this guide has helped you to decide where to hop off on the East Coast. To get the most out of your Stray adventure, we recommend planning ahead, taking it slow, and saying YES as often as humanly possible. Check out our current east coast Stray Tours and find out which one ticks your boxes. Want more? Read our Bucket List for the East Coast here.