14 incredible places to stop during a road trip down Australia’s east coast.
Australia’s east coast is the perfect place for beach-lovers to complete an epic road trip. Silky white sand and clear blue waters line pretty much the entire east coast, with dense forests and hills framing the charming surf towns that lie beside the ocean.
An Australian east coast road trip is easy to do on a budget, especially if you save money on accommodation by camping or sleeping in the car. Because Australia’s east coast is packed with beautiful beaches and hiking trails, most of the landscape can be enjoyed for free. If you try and prepare most of your own meals using cheap ingredients from budget grocery stores like Aldi, petrol will be the biggest expense.
I recently completed this road trip with my boyfriend and it took about two weeks. Shout-out to him for driving the entire way and showing me all these sick spots, he’s the best. Also shout-out to our friend Ryde for letting us use his van for this amazing trip.
So here is a brief outline of this east coast Australia road trip. I’ll list all the places we stopped and highlight the best activities we did. Since this article only stretches from Noosa to Sydney, check out these articles for other areas on the east coast worth traveling to. For adventures further north, read 10 Amazing Things To Do In Tropical North Queensland. For ideas of what to do south of Sydney, check out 6 Beautiful Places In New South Wales, Australia, 12 Things To Do Along The Grand Pacific Drive, and A Guide To The Royal National Park: Sydney, Australia.
Stop 1: Noosa
Noosa is crowded, but with good reason. The rugged headland known as Noosa Heads juts out into the turquoise ocean, curving in and out to create numerous enclosed beaches with perfectly shaped waves. The town center exudes a feeling of luxury, with expensive restaurants and golden tea lights filling the vibrant streets. Little lagoons twist through the city, all framed with super nice, modern mansions that reflect the wealth of the people who live here.
Favorite activities: Hiking the Coastal Walk that snakes around Noosa Heads National Park, surfing on a longboard at Tea Tree Bay, enjoying the view from the Laguna Lookout.
Stop 2: Kondalilla National Park
We found this gem of Southeast Queensland after driving from Noosa down to the Sunshine Coast, then venturing inland for some hiking. Located in the Blackall Mountain Range, this rich forest is overflowing with some of the tallest, most majestic trees I’ve ever seen.
Favorite activity: Hike the 4.7km long Kondalilla Falls Circuit Track, which loops around a giant waterfall. You can view the falls from afar and eventually get right up next to it at the bottom of the circuit.
Stop 3: Montville
The drive back from Kondalilla Falls towards Brisbane took us through the Gold Coast Hinterland, a hilly area of lush forest and charming villages. Here we stumbled across Montville, one of the most adorable towns I’ve ever seen. Sitting at 400m above sea level, the main street of Montville is packed to the brim with interesting shops, rustic architecture and artistic cafes.
Favorite Activity: Browsing through the handmade crafts and unique gifts sold in the shops, and stopping at a cafe for a fresh pie afterwards.
Stop 4: Brisbane
We only stopped in Brisbane briefly to catch up with a friend, but I’ve been here before and wanted to mention it due to its central location on this road trip. This thriving city is the capital of Queensland, and its large size means it’s full of sightseeing and nightlife. The South Bank is a central area of the city where you can eat nice food by the river and stroll through the glimmering lights hanging from the trees.
Favorite Activity: Exploring the Riverside Markets on Sunday, open from 7am – 3pm.
Stop 5: Burleigh Heads
After driving through the Gold Coast, and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the crowds and lights of the big city, we decided to camp a bit further south in the suburb known as Burleigh Heads. We spend three days here because we loved it so much. Right next to the main beach is a long stretch of running/walking track and plenty of grassy space for fitness and picnics. The waves are fun, the small national park on the headland has an easy, enjoyable walking trail, and the right next to the beach is a big park and campground with instant hot water and barbecues.
Favorite Activity: At the northern end of the running track, there is a small, steep hill that leads to a wonderful lookout. You can see Burleigh Heads to the south, and the skyscrapers of the Gold Coast to the north.
Stop 6: Rainbow Bay
Just a quick 20 minute drive south of Burleigh Heads lies Rainbow Bay, a gorgeous collection of beaches boasting great waves and picturesque scenery. We only hung out here for an afternoon, but it’s a great spot for anyone who wants to surf, swim, or soak in the sun.
Favorite Activity: Hike the short coastal walk from Snapper Rocks to the grassy hill that overlooks Duranbah Beach, then chill out here and watch the all the good surfers ride the pumping waves.
Stop 7: Lamington National Park
Located about an hour inland from the Gold Coast, the landscape here is truly incredible. Steep winding roads allow you to climb higher and higher over the sprawling greenery below. I have to thank my friend from Brisbane for taking us here, as our van would have struggled on those uphill hairpin turns.
Favorite Activity: Hiking to Moran Falls and watching the sunset over the valley from the top of the waterfall.
Stop 8: Byron Bay
This trendy hipster town is crowded with cool shops, great food, and stunning beaches. The coastal walk to the Lighthouse is perfect for viewing all the natural beauty that thrives on the outskirts of the busy town center. On this walk I noticed the effort that the community here makes to protect the environment, with recycling bins and cigarette disposal stands scattered everywhere. There are also lots of little signs educating people about the whales and dolphins that live near the area, showing respect for the local wildlife.
Favorite Activity: Byron Bay was lovely, but my favorite part about this stop was actually driving 30 minutes out of town to Killen Falls and standing in the cave behind this amazing waterfall while the rain poured outside.
Stop 9: Iluka
For a bit of peace and quiet after Byron Bay, Iluka was perfect. This tiny seaside village has a soothing atmosphere and the Iluka Nature Reserve has plenty of walking tracks for enjoying the serenity of nature.
Favorite Activity: Practicing my sports photography skills while Matt surfed amazing waves at the Breakwall.
Stop 10: Crescent Head
Though Crescent Head was pretty crowded on the weekend we visited, the crystal clear water and endless sunshine made the trip worth it. We were perfectly content just relaxing here; reading on the grass, swimming in the waves and collecting shells on the beach.
Favorite Activity: Walking up to the small headland at sunset, then walking up to the bigger headland to enjoy the view of the whole campsite.
Stop 11: Forster
Located in mid-north New South Wales, Forster is yet another coastal town with rich national parks neighboring the rippling waves of the Pacific. Popular beaches here include Boomerang Beach and Bluey’s Beach, and there are plenty of campsites in Booti Booti National Park, some with hot showers.
Favorite Activity: Watching the sunrise over the glassy surface of Wallis Lake.
Stop 12: Seal Rocks
Just south of Forster, we made a quick stop in the little settlement known as Seal Rocks. This town is super small, so when we stopped for a swim in a little fishing area we had the whole beach to ourselves.
Favorite Activity: Taking a short, shady walk up to Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse and listening to kookaburras sing along the way.
Stop 13: Newcastle
The second biggest city in NSW, Newcastle is known for its busy harbor and amazing beaches. We hung out around the beach the whole time, so I can’t say much for what goes on inside the city. But the two beaches I enjoyed most are the huge Merewether Beach and the quieter Nobby’s Beach.
Favorite Activity: Walking along the raised platform of the Memorial Walk. This walkway has plaques and images that commemorate Australian soldiers who fought in past wars, and the view of the city and ocean below is stunning.
Stop 14: Sydney
Sydney is pretty close to home for us, so we actually didn’t stop in Sydney at all. I’m planning on writing a more detailed article about Sydney in the future, but I thought I’d include a brief overview for the sake of any traveler’s who want to stop here.
I think the best part of Sydney is by far the beaches, and the popular Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk is definitely not to be missed. The Sydney Opera House and Botanic Gardens are classic sights right in the city center, and Newtown is a trendy area of the city great for shopping. Chinatown has cheap and delicious food, and Darling Harbor is nice for a harborside stroll.