Road tripping is one of the most popular and fun ways of traveling in Australia. Hiring a camper and planning out your route can be stressful, but whether you go down under and venture to the outback or want to surf along the Gold Coast and visit the Great Barrier Reef, driving in Australia won't leave you disappointed.
HIRING A VEHICLE
There are a range of campers you can hire that will come fully equipped with a bed and kitchen. You can even opt to get cool add ons like a bike rack, extended kitchen or sun deck. We went to some camper sights and would see the craziest investments that people would make from a full on pizza ovens to movie projector screen.
Because we had already purchased a tent, sleeping bags, and other various camping equipment from REI and Kathmandu Gear, renting a camper would have been redundant. Instead, we decided to just rent a car in Melbourne and use our tents every now and then at camper sights. The one thing that was different about renting a car in Australia compared to New Zealand, was that in Australia you have to pay a drop off price which can vary depending on where your start and end points are. Because our ending point was all the way up in Cairns, our drop off price ended up costing more than the car itself! If you're on a strict budget, there are companies that will let you hire the car for free to transport the vehicle back to it's starting point-but keep in mind that they give you a tight time frame which can result in a lot of long drives and not a lot of time for sight seeing.
Contrary to popular belief, Australia is HUGE. Which means driving between cities can be long and tough with not much scenery to keep you entertained. PSA: Using your thumb and pointer finger on a print out map of the continent is not an accurate unit of measurement when attempting to calculate distance.
There are many different routes you can take when driving in Australia. For us, it was simple; we had to make it from Melbourne to Cairns in approximately 32 days. Although still considered a short period of time to explore the entire coast of a continent, a month gave us enough time to limit our driving time and stay in each location for 2-3 days.
This is our suggested route:
- MELBOURNE -
- SYDNEY -
- CROWDY BAY -
- COFFS HARBOR -
- BYRON BAY -
- GOLD COAST -
- BRISBANE -
- SUNSHINE COAST -
- NOOSA -
- HARVEY BAY -
- FRASER ISLAND -
- SEVENTEEN SEVENTY -
- AIRLIE BEACH -
- TOWNSVILLE -
- MAGNETIC ISLAND-
- MISSION BEACH -
- CAIRNS -
Each city and region of Australia is worth stopping at and exploring. This route breaks up the drive perfectly with just a handful of excruciatingly long stretches.
Melbourne to Sydney
This is where your journey down the Great Ocean Road begins. It may be four hours out of the way from Melbourne, but seeing the infamous Twelve Apostles is not something you want to miss.
We drove down to the Great Otway National Park and spent our first night camping at Blanket Bay camp site. The "parking spaces" in the camp are widely spread out so you have your own privacy. This spot gives you the best access to your very own private beach so you can hear the sound of the crashing waves when you fall asleep. The spot is situated only 10 minutes away from the Twelve Apostles so you can be sure to catch its magnificent beauty during the sunrise or sunset!
A straight shoot from Melbourne to Sydney is about 14 hours..so if you plan on making that drive to get to your final destination, make sure you pack plenty of snacks and have an amazing playlist otherwise it's doubtful your trip will be enjoyable.
There are many national parks in between Melbourne and Sydney that you can explore for either a chance to stretch your legs on some of the beautiful hikes or camp at for the evening. For a mountainous camping spot and a chance to partake in a sunrise hike, head to Wilson's Promontory National Park and Pigeon House Mountain. The treks can vary from moderately difficult to leisurely climbs and the views at the peaks are spectacular.
You can find more secluded beach campgrounds at places such Ben Boyd National Park with a large kangaroo population or Booderee National Park to venture out to Steamers beach, Hyams beach, Bombo Quarry, Mermaid pools, Minerva pools, or our personal favorite, the Figure 8 pools which are only accessible during low tide, so make sure you camp overnight and get a good head start in the morning!
Sydney to Byron Bay
After spending some time in Sydney, head North West to the Blue Mountains National Park. A walk through this scenic landscape and you'll quickly come to realize why they're called the Blue Mountains.
There are tons of trails to within the National Park with quite a few free campgrounds. On your trials you will most likely encounter the Three Sisters Mountains and Katoomba falls that leads to a magnificent view of the valley.
Though it is considered part of the Blue Mountains Range, the Wollemi National Park is a little out of the way from your Route, but the Pipeline track is well worth it.
Crowdy Bay National Park
Crowdy Bay was one of our favorite camping spots in all of Australia. Located right on the beach, you immediately get access to some of the best swimming spots on the coast. Wild kangaroos roam the beaches and the campgrounds so you can wake up to a proper Australian morning.
Completely underestimating the distance from one end of the beach to the other, Brendan and I decided to venture out and go on a nice "leisurely" walk along the shore. The walk ended up lasting a total of 6 hours and we had blisters and a tough sunburn to prove it.
The Cathedral Rock National Park and Washpool Natural Park both have beautiful hikes with unique rock formations and access to the Godwana Rainforest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site to break up the drive evenly.
A nice stop along the way to Byron, you'll find it to be a quaint little town along the harbor. There are plenty of things to do around this area, a Sunday market on the weekends, spending a day at the beach, or jumping off the famous jetty!
Byron Bay to Noosa
Say goodbye to beautiful Byron and head up North along the coast to Brisbane. Your first stop will be Gold Coast.
We honestly just went through the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast because the weather had not been so great, however, if the weather is in your favor you definitely want to be hitting up surfers paradise. This is where tons of people come to enjoy the amazing waves and learn how to surf in one of the coast's many schools.
Many people skip over Brisbane because it's very much a city atmosphere and when you're road tripping the east coast in Australia, stuck in a city is the last place you want to be.
Only staying one night, Brendan and I decided to rent out an Air BnB in the heart of the city. Situated on the water, we thoroughly enjoyed the subtle busyness of the city. There is a china town you can go to for dinner and plenty of cafes around the area to grab a coffee in the morning.
Take a walk through the city's botanical gardens and check out the amphitheater on the river to catch a show.
Noosa was arguably one of our favorite spots in Australia. With tons of great restaurants and shops set up in a quaint relaxing beach town, Noosa reminded us of Cape Cod and Nantucket.
We stayed in an Air BnB that had a pathway leading directly to Sunshine beach. This point began our Noosa National Park hike all the way down to Noosa Heads where we saw the beautiful beaches of Noosa and found the fairy pools. Along the way you'll hit Main Beach which is the protected beach with hardly any waves and end your day at Dog Beach which is a relaxing place to take a swim at the river mouth.
If you have time to hike, head to Mount Cooroora and Mount Coolum to experience amazing hikes with an even better view!
There are tons of great restaurants to explore in Noosa. For great vibes, head to Village Bicycle for festive tacos or Karage Chicken at Sushi Yahman. For amazing pizza you can check out Locale or El Capitan. Either grab a beer or end your evening at Bistro C, Little Sister, Eddie Cheebas, and bars along Peregian Beach!
Hervey Bay was our departure port to Fraser Island. There are three main companies that you can book tours with on Fraser Island and going there is a must! We mainly just used Hervey Bay as a stopping point, however, if you're there during the right season, it's a great place for whale watching.
Fraser Island to Cairns
There are many great places to stop at and break up the drive to the Great Barrier Reef.
This beach is your gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. We had booked our tour with Wings Boat and were looking forward to three full days at sea exploring some of the most beautiful islands in the world. Unfortunately, we happened to be there the same week that the cyclone was hitting the entire east coast of Australia, so our trip was inevitably cancelled. If your trip doesn't get jinxed by a huge cyclone, then check out Hamilton Island which is the main resort island and of course the infamous Whitehaven Beach.
We spent a good amount of time in Townsville mainly recovering from the cyclone and found that it was an awesome town to get stuck in. There is a long strip with some great restaurants and a string of Pilates, bar, and yoga studios.
Visible from the coast of Townsville is Magnetic Island. You can take a ferry there and explore the entire island in one day. The whole island is a national park and is beautiful.
If you're looking for a secluded classic Australian Beach getaway, then Mission Beach is your spot. While you're there, you can rent out cool jeeps and dune buggies and explore the town! On your way to Cairns from here you'll find a small detour to Mills Milla Falls. A beautiful waterfall, this spot is a must see, but be sure to go early to beat the crowds.
You've made it to the Great Barrier Reef! The stretch from Townsville to Cairns can be BRUTAL, especially if you run into roadblocks, flooded highways, and occasional crocodile crossings caused from the cyclone. It took us about six hours, however with great beach stops and hiking trails along the way, it's easy for time to fly. The trick is to make as many of these stops as you can, otherwise you end up signing up for a vacation spent entirely in your car.
We ended up loving our roadtrip along the East Coast of Australia and eventually we want to make our way to explore the West Coast! Although some of the road trips can get long and tiresome, killing your significant other is easily avoidable with a great playlist, plenty of snacks and occasional trivia games.