Guides

How To Take An East Coast Road Trip Nobody Else Has Taken

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With abundant sprawling coastline, long, winding highways, and some of the country’s most exciting towns and cities, the Australian east coast is a dream vacay – especially when you’re on four wheels.

The voyage from north to south (or the other way around) remains, as it’s always been, a hot bucket-list item – yet so many of us tend to traipse the road well-travelled, meaning we miss so many hidden gems.

So, we decided to curate a road trip itinerary that takes you (literally) along on the road less-travelled, complete with hints, tips and tricks on what to check out and where to head.

Before we hit the road… What road exactly are we talking here? Doesn’t the east coast stretch 4000km from Melbourne to Cairns? It sure does. And while some start and end in Sydney, we’re tackling the full kahuna here – and you can too.

Leg 1: Melbourne To Sydney

 

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We kick things off from south to north, that rite of passage between Australia’s two of the country’s buzzing capitals. While some prefer to hit the inland strip up the Hume Highway to spend more time lazing in northern NSW and coastal QLD, consider the M3/A1 combo through Victoria’s Gippsland, all the way up through southern coastal NSW. We recommend spending some time in gorgeous beachside nooks like Victoria’s far-eastern Mallacoota and Gypsy Point, and the winding, glorious NSW southern coast, including sweet pit stops at Merrimbula, Narooma, Moruya, and Bateman’s Bay.

You’ve got heaps of choice here, and it only grows with the voyage further north.

Ideally, stay a night or two if you can and head slightly inland to check out the historic and happening hub of Berry – the coffee, food scene (including the infamous Berry Donut Van), and old pubs here are fabulous – with a stint in coastal Kiama as you mosey towards the southern Sydney hinterland.

 

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Best of all, Airbnb is there with you everywhere you go: For Berry, check out the immaculate views of nearby Kangaroo Valley at the incredible SkyViewVilla. For Kiama, lap up a little ocean spray at this swell offshore cliff escape.


Leg 2: Sydney To The Coffs Coast

After you’ve had your fill of Opera House, bridge and sensational nightlife, make your move further north up the coast. Again, most road trippers tend to barrel quick and straight for the beaches of the northern NSW coast, overlooking an abundance of gems.

Instead, take a turn northwest of Newcastle towards stunning Anna Bay: home of one of the most incredible stretches of sand and rolling whitewash in the country (complete with camel trains, low-flying military aircraft, and otherworldly sand dunes).

 

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A few options present themselves at this point: you could take a rest from the coastal action and head inland for a dose of rural life in Tamworth, the nation’s home of country and western music. Of course, if that rolling coastline is still beckoning, tackle it at your leisure, but consider stopping off at lesser-frequented nooks, like the stunning and relatively secluded Sapphire Beach, proximate to the raging surf and views of the impressive Solitary Islands (all within glancing distance from this immaculate luxury villa, just a click or two to Sapphire and Moonee Beach, and a casual 10-minute leg into Coffs central).


Leg 3: Coffs Coast To Northern NSW

 

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From the Coffs Coast, we venture deeper into northern NSW, where the summer air thickens with the smell of sugar cane and sea spray. Though you might have loved the taste of Tamworth and opted to scoot up through the towns along the A15 (likely reconnecting at Grafton), you’re probably keen to hug the coast as much as you can, and rightly so – the beaches and inlets along this stretch are some of the most magical on earth.

While most travellers are drawn to Byron Bay (one of the most enchanting, if not busy, spots during the Australian summer), we recommend spending a stint in the lesser-known Lennox Head, or enjoy a sleepier vibe at northern counterpart Brunswick Heads. Equally splendid beaches to bodysurf in, cafes and pubs aplenty. Inland Mullumbimby, meanwhile, provides another beautiful stop-off choice.

If you do happen to scoot inland, Mullumbimby is host to a bunch of awesome and unique local Airbnb listings. Some are truly inspired – like this magical Balinese-style rainforest retreat, and this amazing treehouse ante-room, featuring some of the most spectacular views of the Byron Bay Hinterland.

 

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Leg 4: Northern NSW To The Fraser Coast

While many prefer to hit the bitumen and bypass bustling Brisbane for the Sunshine Coast, we really recommend stopping off for a night or two in the big smoke – Brisvegas is a happening hub, with heaps to see and do, ample mountain biking trails, and excellent foodie and nightlife scenes.

Now, let’s face it: you’d have to be mad not to include the Sunshine Coast and Noosa Heads on your itinerary – sometimes the road more travelled is travelled for a reason. We definitely suggest going with the grain in this instance.

 

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In Noosa, mix it up by spending a little time at nearby Sunshine Beach and Alexandria Bay. Consider also checking out the incredible dunes of Fraser Island, cliffs and epic beaches of Cooloola, and the Great Sandy National Park (both are trips in their own right, so you may need to think about juggling options if time is pressing).


Leg 5: Fraser Coast To The Whitsundays

The road really stretches out up here – terrain that most of us never get the chance to tackle. Be sure to take a pit stop at Bundaberg for a tipple of the local libation and national institution, Bundy Rum, and take a dip or surf at the east coast’s northernmost beach at Agnes Water.

 

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After a well-earned rest amongst the heritage sandstone buildings of Rockhampton, head inland to check out the incredible Capricorn Caves, one of the country’s largest and most impressive limestone cave systems.

While the Great Keppel Islands would make an ultra unique diversion, the Bruce Highway is the main artery north to Mackay (don’t forget to make pals with the local platypus posse at nearby Eungella National Park).

 

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The tropical vibes of Airlie Beach – gateway to the Whitsundays – awaits. Soak up the moment, and prepare for the final round. The Havana Retreat should do the trick, nestled amongst rainforest, incredible views, and even a free bike to get around town on.


Leg 6: Whitsundays To Cairns

We’re almost there, folks. But in the meantime, the Barrier Reef is a bucket-list experience not to be missed, so the tried-and-true wins again. Take in a cruise on the Whitsundays and lap up the gorgeous white sand and sun.

Though this stretch is all about taking the time for the little things that might otherwise go forgotten – for example, en route to C-town, get a photo with the Big Mango at Bowen, and at Townsville, consider a moment to discover one of the world’s most amazing and in-tact historical shipwrecks at the site of the SS Yongala.

 

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To remind yourself that you’re well and truly in the tropics, the Atherton Tablelands are a must see: an incredible mix of natural savannah, wetlands and rainforest – home to incredible local species, all experienced by the 17km Waterfalls Circuit.

 

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Four-thousand kilometres and three states later, you’re there: home and hosed in tropical Cairns. Pat yourselves on the back, enjoy an ice-cold beverage, cool off in the lagoon, and start reminiscing on the road trip of a lifetime – all done with a difference.

(Lead image: Larissa Dening / Tourism and Events Queensland)

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