The east coast of Australia, what a place. No wonder 9.8 million of the 11.8 million visitors to the whole of Australia landed in NSW, VIC or QLD in 2017.
Sydney International Airport is the country’s busiest and where do a huge number of these people head when they’ve landed? North towards the Great Barrier Reef (why wouldn’t ya?). The number of highlights on this amazing coastline is unbelievable, why would anyone fly?
For the lucky ones undertaking the trip on the road, the first leg is from Sydney to Brisbane and is just over 900km. It’s a great distance to take a campervan and amble up on your own accord. Check out our road trip itinerary for more info.
From there, the distances grow. Brisbane up to the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, is a staggering 1700km. Taking the Greyhound Australia coaches is the perfect way to do it. Sleep through some long journeys to your next dream destination with overnight coaches, discover places you may not have known about and save money while doing it. It’s also the most eco-friendly way to travel!
We were gifted two 15-day Whimit passes to travel up the east coast of Australia. All of our opinions are strictly based on our own experiences and we wouldn’t recommend a service unless we believed that it was of a high standard. You can read everything on our Greyhound experience here.
Brisbane to Cairns
Stop One – Hervey Bay
It was a rainy day in Brisbane as we climbed aboard our first Greyhound bus to sunnier destinations. The first stop on our itinerary was Hervey Bay, famously known for its quaint seaside town and trips out to Fraser Island.
As we only had the one full day to really enjoy the area, we were up early to try and fit everything in. First, we walked along the foreshore from our hostel to the Urangan pier which was already buzzing for that time in the morning. There were heaps of people (and sea birds) fishing off the pier while enjoying the view of Fraser Island across the bay.
As we were lucky enough to be there on a Saturday, we had a nice time pottering around Urangan markets (Wednesday and Saturday, 7am – 1pm), just by the entrance of the pier. There was a good variety of stalls with homemade produce, arts and crafts, eco-friendly bits and bobs, and even live music to accompany it all. It’s well worth getting there before lunch, grabbing a bite to eat and getting to know the locals. We met some lovely chaps from Older Men Unlimited who are there every week holding raffles and a sausage sizzle. So go grab a sanger and hedge your bets with a $2 raffle ticket!
The foreshore of Hervey Bay is completely flat and perfect for cycling with the family – there are bike rental pop-ups and most hostels also have the option. The paths wind in and out of parks and picnic areas for kilometre after kilometre, there’s easily enough distance to spend a day walking up and down.
After an afternoon on the beach, we headed to Eat at Dan and Steph’s for Taco and Tequila night. Can’t recommend this restaurant highly enough! We had the delicious purple corn chips (+ toppings) then the $5, YES $5, tacos. Our favourite was the pulled pork and halloumi, followed closely by the beef and chicken. Washing it all down with the bucket of Corona, which wasn’t quite tequila but we couldn’t resist.
Stop Two – Bundaberg
Next up on our trip from Brisbane to Cairns was Bundaberg, something we would have totally bypassed if it weren’t for Greyhound coaches. It as a little gem of a town and we had a great day exploring. Definitely worth adding into your east coast itinerary.
To start the day off, we took an easy wander around the botanic gardens. We’ve visited botanic gardens in all the main tourist cities and this one was pretty impressive considering we hadn’t even heard of Bundaberg before we got to Australia. There’s a decommissioned sugar cane train for kids to ride, a history museum and the Hinkler aviation exhibition all on the grounds. As well as a dedicated Chinese and Japanese garden and rainforest walk. Not bad eh?
Then we set off for the renowned Bundaberg distillery for a tour of the rum factory. We took the self-guided museum tour which takes around 45 minutes. As we walked around, we learnt all about how the rum is made and the history of the company (including all their incredible fundraising efforts after the devastating floods of 2008 and 2011) before getting to sample some of Bundaberg’s finest.
We recommend trying the Solera as it’s worth $180 a bottle and was crowned the world’s best rum in 2016. Follow that up with the tropical mango and passionfruit rum (you are in tropical Queensland after all) or the coffee and chocolate liqueur. They’re all great!
Stop Three – Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays
Our first overnight coach experience took us into Airlie Beach for a 7:30 am arrival. As we drove into the town, our lovely coach captain gave us a good informative welcome with instructions on how to get to everyone’s accommodation.
We struck lucky with Magnums hostel as our room was ready for us to check in straight away. Our stay in this hostel from start to finish was great, if you’re looking for a good hostel in Airlie Beach, look no further!
The main highlight and tourist attraction of visiting Airlie Beach was our trip to Whitehaven beach and sailing around the Whitsundays. There are heaps of different day and over-night trips you can book, as well as different boats from catamarans to high-speed power boats. We chose to go for a classic sailing experience on the Providence V, a baby tall ship.
We can’t recommend this company highly enough, our whole experience with them was incredible. The two guys on board made us all feel welcome and clearly knew their stuff. The boat itself was comfortable and well equipped as well as having the novelty of being on a proper sailing boat rather than a speed rig!
We have a full review on sailing around the Whitsundays and the trip to Whitehaven beach (including a great snorkelling spot).
Stop Four – Townsville
Probably our most relaxing few days, we took it slow and enjoyed a few of the town’s highlights. The most popular attraction in Townsville is getting the ferry over to Magnetic Island. You can hire out a ‘topless’ Barbie cars to tour around the island on sealed tracks. There’s also the chance to feed rock wallabies and enjoy pristine bays as the sun goes down.
If you’re looking for something closer to home and a bit more budget, Townsville’s Strand is a gorgeous stretching beach with ice cream parlours and designated swimming areas. This is what we chose to do and we enjoyed a lazy afternoon with good food and beaming sunshine (and with a scoop of the white passionfruit from Juliette’s cafe).
After the ice cream, we headed to the Castle Hill lookout and took in some amazing views of Magnetic Island and Townsville. There’s a couple of options to get up to the lookout, you can walk up for 3km (pedestrian friendly) or use the easier (and our choice – carrying on our slower pace) sealed road up to the lookout. You won’t be disappointed!
Townsville is also home to the Reef HQ Aquarium, the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium. It’s the National Reef Education Centre for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority so is a great educational day out for all the family. If you won’t have time to see the Great Barrier Reef, or you’re just not into swimming in the sea, then this is a fab alternative.
Stop Five – Mission Beach
The home of the cassowary! We spent heaps of time (honestly hours) walking around looking for one but unfortunately, we couldn’t see any of the majestic (but seriously dangerous) birds. You might get lucky and people say they just walk out in front of buses and cars, so be careful if you’re driving through. Our Greyhound driver slowed right down and told us all about his sightings over the years, so it does happen!
Mission Beach is a fab place to spend a couple of days relaxing on the long, stretching beach or hopping on a ferry and exploring Dunk Island. There are also boardwalks through dense rainforest surrounding the main town – this is one of the best locations to try and spot a cassowary if you’re desperate to find one. Top tip if you plan on venturing into the rainforests, wear insect repellent! There are a lot of mozzies and they are the bitey kind.
Dunk Island has nature walks that offer spectacular scenery of Family Islands National Park. Or you can simply enjoy the day on the beach after a BBQ or a dip in the ocean. Just be careful of those jellies (and crocs – #straya).
Stop Six – Cairns
Our end destination. If you’re going out to the Great Barrier Reef chances are you’ll be departing from Cairns. We snorkelled on the Barrier Reef in three different spots and we’ve done a full review for where to see the best marine life.
We did two different trips out to the reef from Cairns (the other was during our Whitsundays tour), to Green Island and to Fitzroy Island. They were very different experiences but both worth doing! Personally, our favourite (and possibly favourite day out during our time in Australia) was Fitzroy Island. The whole day was magic and we managed to see more than we had hoped for while snorkelling. It’s known for its turtle population and luckily, we spotted four large green turtles bobbing along by the pier and out in the deeper parts of the reef. We also managed to swim with two – this was honestly the best experience. If you’re looking for turtles, Fitzroy Island is your place. As well as turtles out on the reef, they have a fab turtle rehabilitation centre on the island as well as some great walks and a nice ocean-view bar to finish the day at.
Cairns also has some great activities outside the water. Just a short ride away and you’ll find the Skyrail and Kuranda scenic railway and village. If you travel just a tad further than that, you’ll reach the Daintree. Both offer jaw-dropping rainforest scenery. The Daintree, and specifically Cape Tribulation, is known as ‘where the rainforest meets the reef’ – roughly two and a half hours from Cairns. This is the less touristy option as you take the time to wander through boardwalks in the heavy-set rainforest.
If you want to feel like Peter Andre/a Herbal Essences model then head to the Cairns waterfall circuit! Millaa Millaa falls is the star of the show as it was featured in the Mysterious Girl music video and sensual shampoo ads. The surrounding waterfalls are also pretty impressive and there are heaps of tours that will take you out there (we’ll have that song in our heads for days now).
All in all, our trip with Greyhound up the east coast was fab. It went without a hitch and we managed to see more than we bargained for! If you need more info on the buses themselves, their routes or generally why you should pick Greyhound for your trip you can read our ‘Campervans v. Greyhound buses‘ post.
Any questions, please feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment!