This Road Trip Itinerary For The East Coast Of Australia is perfect for travelers how have roughly 6 weeks to travel from Melbourne to Cairns. We have also altered it to suit 4 – 8 week trips with add on or takeaway locations, which can be found at the bottom of the post. So here we go…
The Great Ocean Road – 3 Days
The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most beautiful drives and an absolute must if your going on a road trip. Our route offers minimal driving and maximum sights over the 3 day tour from Melbourne and back (more information).
Highlights: Torquay and Bells Beach surf culture, Kangaroos at Anglesea Golf Club, Split Point Lighthouse, TGOR sign A.K.A. Memorial Arch, Fish and Chips in Lorne, Feeding Koalas and Parrots at Kennett River, Apollo Bay and The Twelve Apostles.
Drive Time: Return trip from Melbourne, 9 Hours, Distance: 570kms
Melbourne – 2 Days
On several occasions Melbourne has been voted the most livable city in the world and we can see why, it’s Australia’s best city. Offering an excellent free tram service, a fantastic bar scene and of course the world famous Queen Victoria Market, you’ll fall in love with Melbourne.
Highlights: Queen Victoria Market, China Town, Federation Square, National Gallery of Victoria, bars and street at in Fitzroy (more information).
St Kilda – 1 Day
Just outside of Melbourne’s CBD is the suburb of St Kilda, a backpacker favourite. Upon arrival you may feel like you’ve somehow traveled to an English seaside town with it’s rickety theme park and fish and chips on the beach.
Highlights: St Kilda main beach, penguins at the pier, Luna Park (more information).
Drive Time: From Melbourne CBD to St Kilda, 20 Minutes, Distance: 7kms
Phillip Island, Penguin Parade – 1 Day
Another sight not to be missed is the awesome, cute and amazingly interesting Penguin Parade at Phillip Island. Not only can you watch 1000 penguins come home after a long days fishing but you’ll witness koalas and seals as well.
Highlights: Penguin Parade, The Nobbies Seal Colony, Koala Sanctuary (more information).
Drive Time: From St Kilda to Philip Island, 2 Hours 10 Minutes, Distance: 140kms
Drive: Phillip island to Canberra – 1 Day
Fill up your petrol tank, get some good music playing and drive. Unfortunately, not all of the coastline is interesting particularly the stretch from Philip Island to Canberra, so don’t fear, your not missing a lot.
Drive Time: 8 Hours 20 Minutes, Distance: 730km
Canberra – 1 Day
The Capital of Australia! It’s packed with everything Australian, the National Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial to name the top two that you’ll want to visit. Don’t fear, it’s not crazy busy like most capitals.
Highlights: Parliament House, Australian War Memorial, Questacon, National Museum of Australia.
Sydney – 2 Days
Sydney has it all, Bondi Beach, the Opera House and some 6 million Australians, Sydney loves itself and you’ll love Sydney. With this much going on don’t expect any time to relax, there’s simply too many places to go and too many sights to see.
Highlights: The Rocks, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge walk, Government House Tour, Bondi Beach (more information).
Drive Time: From Canberra to Sydney, 3 Hours 5 Minutes, Distance: 285kms
Manly – 1 Day
This surfer suburb of northern Sydney deserves at least a day of your enjoyment. Soak up the culture, enjoy the beaches, markets and if you’ve got your head screwed on you’ll invest in a surfboard, you wont just want one, you’ll need one for the next 1000kms.
Highlights: Sydney Harbour National Park, Manly main beach (more information).
Drive Time: From Sydney CBD to Manly, 45 Minutes, Distance: 20kms
Freshwater – 1 Day
A stones throw away from the oh so popular Manly is it’s little brother, Freshwater. This place is awesome, after experiencing a busy few days it’s nice to enjoy a location where the pace of life is a little slower, but still supplies great entertainment.
Highlights: Salt water swimming pool, awesome waves.
Drive Time: From Manly to Freshwater, 15 Minutes, Distance: 5kms
Blue Mountains – 1 Day
The Blue Mountains are a world heritage listed sight consisting of one million hectares and they are spectacular. Be prepared to see one of Australia’s most dramatic landscapes, take a camera as this is definitely a picture postcard location.
Highlights: The Three Sisters, Botanic Gardens, Govetts Leap, Wentworth Falls.
Drive Time: From Freshwater to the Blue Mountains, 2 Hours 40 Minutes, Distance: 140kms
Drive Time: Blue Mountains to Port Macquarie, 5 Hours 40 Minutes, Distance: 480kms
Port Macquarie – ½ Day
After half a day driving, welcome to Australia’s body boarding capital, enjoy the surf, a skate at the skate park or a walk along the famous painted rocks walkway. If you visit during whale season it’s a really good place to watch the majestic animals swim on by.
Highlights: Surf, Skate park, Painted rock walkway, whale watching (more information).
Nambucca Heads – 1 Day
Before now, like most travelers you probably haven’t heard of Nambucca Heads, however, we’d say that this is the number 1 hidden gem of the East Coast. It’s a sleepy little town that is drop dead gorgeous, the beach, the flocks of dolphins, turtles and stingrays, this is an amazing little town.
Highlights: Captain Cook Lookout, V–Wall walkway, dolphins, Turtles, Whales, Friendly Locals (more information).
Drive Time: From Port Macquarie to Nambucca Heads, 1 Hour 30 Minutes, Distance: 115kms
Coffs Harbour– 2 Days
Being one of the larger towns along this stretch of the East Coast Coffs Harbour is an ideal location to slow down and recuperate. You wont be slowing down too much though because there is still a lot to see here.
Highlights: Dolphin Marine Magic, The 800m Jetty, surf, turtles and dolphins (more information).
Drive Time: From Nambucca Heads to Coffs Harbour, 35 Minutes, Distance: 50kms
Lennox Head– 1 Day
Lennox head, a tiny town that packs a serious punch. Fancy a free skin and hair therapy session? Take a dip in Lake Ainsworth, a tea tree lake and feel how soft and smooth your skin and hair is after. Then visit some of the biggest waves in Australia at the National Surfing Reserve.
Highlights: Lake Ainsworth, Lennox Head National Surfing Reserve (more information).
Drive Time: From Coffs Harbour to Lennox Head, 2 Hours 45 Minutes, Distance: 225kms
Byron Bay – 2 Days
Welcome to the infamous Byron Bay! This is tourist central, with a massive 20,000 people visiting Byron Bay everyday there is always something to see and do here. Think it’s interesting during the day? Just wait until you see Byron at night!
Highlights: Lighthouse walk, surfing, nightlife, buskers, hippy and surf culture (more information).
Drive Time: From Lennox Head to Byron Bay, 25 Minutes, Distance: 20kms
Nimbin – 1 Day
There are many capitals along the east coast of Australia, Nimbin however, is the most controversial and interesting of all. It is the hippy and marijuana capital of Australia! IMPORTANT: Eat the cookies here with caution!
Highlights: Hemp Embassy, High street, People Watching, cookies (more information).
Drive Time: Return trip from Byron Bay, 2 Hours 20 Minutes, Distance: 130kms
Surfers Paradise – 1 Day
Yet another world famous beach, Surfers Paradise is smack bang in the middle of the Gold Coast and as you can imagine from its name surfers love this place. The golden beaches run as far as the eye can see to the North and South.
Highlights: Main Beach, surfing and Ripley’s believe it or not (more information).
Dive Time: From Byron Bay to Surfers Paradise, 1 Hour 15 Minutes, Distance: 95kms
Brisbane – 1 Day
Brisbane is Australia’s third biggest city and of course like all big city’s it offers a bunch of activities. It has some really great attractions, however, they are a little more difficult to find than most. Luckily we’ve found them for you.
Highlights: South Bank, Brisbane Greeters free tour, Powerhouse events (more information).
Drive Time: From Surfers Paradise to Brisbane, 1 Hour, Distance: 75kms
Australia Zoo – 1 Day
WE LOVE THE AUSTRALIA ZOO!! This is without a doubt the best zoo in the world and possibly the best attraction on the East Coast. Be sure to put on your trainers because you’ll be running around all day long.
Highlights: The Crocoseum, Tiger Show, feeding the Kangaroos, hugging Koalas, everything! (more information)
Drive Time: From Brisbane to Australia Zoo, 1 Hour 15 Minutes, Distance: 80kms
Caloundra – 1 Day
Marking the beginning of the Sunshine Coast Caloundra will provide a well deserved rest. With a great, free public pool and a lovely stretch of beach, it’s perfection.
Highlights: Kings Beach, Sir Francis Nicklin Swimming Pool, Currimundi Lake (more information).
Drive Time: From Australia Zoo to Caloundra, 25 Minutes, Distance: 25kms
Noosa Heads – 1 Day
This is the ‘it’ town along the Sunshine Coast, Aussies and tourists love Noosa! With lovely clear water at the main beach and a lush green national park, Noosa satisfies all of it’s visitors from surfers to walkers and everyone in between.
Highlights: Noosa National Park, Fairy Pools, Noosa main beach (more information).
Drive Time: From Caloundra to Noosa Heads, 50 Minutes, Distance: 55kms
Fraser Island/Rainbow Beach – 3 Days
Australia in a 3 days you say? Yep, that’s Frazer Island. With white sand beaches, crystal clear lakes and thick green forest this island, which is the largest sand island in the world offers Australia on a plate.
Highlights: Lake McKenzie, Eli Creek, Champagne pools, Central Station Rainforest. Maheno Shipwreck, Giant sand dunes (Rainbow Beach) (more information).
Drive Time: From Noosa Heads to Rainbow Beach, 1 Hour 40 Minutes, Distance: 135kms
Drive: Rainbow Beach to MacKay – 1 Day
The last long drive, however, if you wish to go on a few detours there are two sights to be had: Bundaberg and the town of 1770. Other than these two there isn’t anything worth the detour. Get that pedal to the metal and power on North!
Highlights: Bundaberg, Town of 1770.
Drive Time: From Rainbow Beach to Mackay, 9 Hours 20 Minutes, Distance: 845kms
Mackay – 1 Day
Otherwise known as the, ‘Sugar City’ Mackay is surrounded by sugar cane fields. It invests heavily in Arts and Culture and as a result, often offers an interesting event. If you don’t fancy partaking though there is always the fantastic swimming pool, Bluewater Lagoon.
Highlights: Events, Bluewater Lagoon, Bluewater Trail (more information).
Cape Hillsborough – 1 Hour Detour
Cape Hillsborough is well worth an extra hour on your journey time from Mackay to Airlie Beach. Get up before the sun rises and visit Cape Hillsborough National Park to witness the sun rise over the beach, as 20 or so kangaroos and wallabies hop around to find breakfast.
Airlie beach – 1 Day
Small but packed with backpackers is Airlie Beach. Like many other towns in Northern Queensland, it’s got a great 24 hour public pool in addition to some awesome live music on the main high street. The reason why it attracts so many tourists… It’s where the Whitsundays tours depart from.
Highlights: Lagoon, Bicentennial walkway, Paddy’s Shenanigan (more information).
Drive Time: From Mackay to Airlie Beach, 1 Hour 45 Minutes, Distance: 150kms
Whitsundays – 2 Days
Sailing the Whitsundays is another must do on the East Coast. You’ll visit the amazing, mind blowing Whitehaven beach with lemon sharks and stingrays. Snorkeling in reefs packed with marine life and may even see turtles… you cant possibly say no!
Highlights: Whitehaven beach, turtles, beautiful coral, thousands of fish, sailing (more information).
Townsville – 1 Day
A stones throw away from the end destination is this wonderful spot. What’s there to do? You could feed some turtles, swim in the lagoon and conquer the 350m castle hill that over looks the town. The views are breath taking during sunset.
Highlights: Castle Hill lookout, Turtle feeding, Lagoon (more information).
Drive Time: From Airlie Beach to Townsville, 3 Hours 15 Minutes, Distance: 275kms
Cairns – 2 Days
As the gateway to or from of the East Coast, Cairns is jam packed right up to its eyeballs with backpackers and tourists. Because of this it is filled with activities, tours, bars, music and events. Not to mention the great weekend markets.
Highlights: Free fitness classes, lagoon, buskers, markets (more information).
Drive Time: From Townsville to Cairns,4 Hours 20 Minutes, Distance: 350kms
Great Barrier Reef – 1 Day
Of course your going to the Great Barrier Reef, this would be the worst itinerary in the world if it did not include one of the 7 Natural wonders of the world that happens to be right on the doorstep of Cairns. It is an utterly amazing experience!
Highlights: The most beautiful, colourful endless reefs filled with fantastically colourful fish (more information).
Daintree – 1 Day
Yet another world heritage listed site that calls the East Coast home. Take a day trip from Cairns to the oldest rain forest in the world and witness the thick green forest meeting the white sandy beaches. Keep an eye out for spiders, snakes and the odd monster saltwater crocodile.
Highlights: Mossman Gorge, crocodile tours, Cape Tribulation (more information).
Drive Time: Return from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, 5 Hours 20 Minutes, Distance: 280kms
2 Free Days
We’ve factored in a couple of free days just in case you find something that really interests you or you find that you’d like to spend more time in one or two of the above awesome locations.
Total days: 42 – So how much is this road trip going to cost?
Going for a 4 week road trip?
Use the above itinerary but skip the following locations: The Great Ocean Road, St Kilda, Canberra, Freshwater, Brisbane, Caloundra, Mckay, Townsville. You will also need to cut a few days from the following locations: Fraser Island (-2 days), Cairns (–1 day), Daintree, Free days (–2 days).
Due skipping the above (16 days) you’ll need to add in 2 days of driving. If your doing the east coast in 4 weeks expect a lot of driving, but don’t worry, you will still be able to see and do all of the main experiences.
Going for an 8 week road trip?
We’ve got you covered, just add in the following to your itinerary: The Great Ocean Road to Adelaide (+1 day), Manly (+1 day), Blue Mountains (+1 day), Byron Bay (+1 day), Noosa Heads (+1 day), Fraser Island (+1 day), Magnetic Island (Townsville), Rainbow beach to Bundaberg to the Town of 1770 then onto Mackay (+2 days), Daintree (+1), Free Days (+4).
You can relax on an 8 week long road trip. The additional days above are spent in new locations or have been added to a current location where they’d be most needed.
Weather you’ve got 4, 6 or 8 weeks to enjoy the East Coast – It’ll be jam packed with picturesque sights, mind blowing experiences and breathtakingly beautiful locations. Full of beaches, forests and amazing coastline, road tripping the East Coast is a once in a lifetime opportunity – So live the dream and enjoy every second!