When most people think about a break to Australia, they think six months travelling with a backpack. However, for those of us with limited annual leave and more limited budget, Australia can easily be enjoyed in small snippets. I visited the east coast of Australia, from Byron up to Daintree, on a two week trip in March, and I fitted in a surprising amount of sightseeing!
Famous for being a surfer’s haven, Byron is not to be missed on a trip to the east coast. The town itself has an abundance of delicious restaurants and cafes, along with quaint crafts shops and pretty much every surf brand you could wish for. There is a vibrant nightlife with numerous nightclubs acting as hubs, particularly for backpacking visitors. Many east coast locals go to Byron Bay for its beach and surf; it is a fantastic spot for water sports in general. Kayaking is an incredible experience, and there are several companies that can be found dotted about near the beach. I was lucky enough to experience dolphins swimming around my kayak and jumping out of the water; a breath-taking sight. If you really want to dry off, you can reach Cape Byron Lighthouse after a steep walk, which is the most easterly point of the Australian mainland, and a great lookout point along the coast in either direction.
There is a complete mixture of accommodation available in Byron including homely, laid-back B&Bs.
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, at 123 kilometres long, and with over 100 freshwater lakes dotted about the island it certainly deserves its’ World Heritage listing! The island is completely disconnected from the mainland, so provides a unique haven for wildlife, which includes dingoes. Views are breath-taking; I have never personally seen sand so white before, which is due to the high silica content.
The island is on the itinerary of a lot of back-packers, however, it can be enjoyed by all, as there are many hotels on the island now, as well as hostels. I joined an organised group tour around the island that provided great value, as all food throughout the day was included. It also meant that we were escorted round the island by an experienced driver, which I would recommend, as it is easier than you would think to get your 4×4 stuck in the sand! The tour-guide, an ex-resident of the island, knew their history and wildlife inside- out, ensuring that we respected the delicate, unique environment whilst enjoying the sights of its Champagne Pools and lakes.
Cairns & the Great Barrier Reef
Cairns has a large range of places to stay, from lively hostels close to the night markets, to affordable apartments over-looking the peaceful harbour. Quite a lot for one town! You can easily stay within Cairns and enjoy everything it has to offer, including a zoo, butterfly sanctuary, spectacular Scenic Railway and local galleries to name a few. Cairns Wildlife Dome is a great option for wetter days, allowing you to see the local wildlife under the cover of a large dome, and you can even zip-wire across it.
Or, if you have a little more time, Cairns can be a great as a base for exploring the Great Barrier Reef, or further north along the coastline towards Daintree and Port Douglas. Boats leave daily from Cairns harbour to different areas of the ocean. Tour organizers can be contacted through most hotels and hostels or can be found dotted about the town and are extremely helpful in helping you plan your trip. I visited in February, which is heading into wet season, so had to be very careful about when I timed my sea trip to avoid choppy weather/ trip cancellations. Cairns is one of the closest points from the coastline to the reef, so it is great for those who are looking for a shorter trip on the sea. Reef tours tends to last the whole day, allowing several hours for snorkelling when you get there, or even a helicopter ride for those wanting a different perspective of this seventh wonder! It is a perfect chance to see nemo in real life
Have a look at accommodation in Cairns
Daintree Rainforest can be visited in a day from Cairns and shows a completely different side to the east coast. The further north you travel, the more humid it becomes, and the vegetation notably changes to rainforest and exotic plants, with bananas and tea plantations dominating the landscape.
Most Daintree trips will drive you through the forest, with various points to stop and wander along specified routes to explore the scenery. Local guides will point out plant-life, for example the strangler fig which grows around existing trees to create an interesting sight, and if you are lucky, you will even see the wonderful Cassowary, one of the largest birds on the planet!
Trips will take you along the Daintree River, near Cape Tribulation, where you may possibly see a crocodile along with the amazing plantlife in this area. Port Douglas is also just along from Daintree on the coast and is a popular spot for Daintree tours to stop on the way back to Cairns.
Whitsundays and Airlie Beach
The Whitsundays present some of the most recognized images of the east coast of Australia. They consist of 74 islands, with secluded inlets, lush greenery, the swirling sands of Whitehaven beach, and the infamous Heart Reef. (top image)
A boat trip or plane ride over this unforgettable scenery is a must. If you are feeling brave and want a very unique view of the Whitsundays, you can even sky dive onto Airlie Beach! Airlie Beach provides the point of departure to the Whitsundays and is a small friendly town, with a marina and handy shops. I stayed at a hotel which was a short walk up a very steep hill just off the main street; definitely worth the walk, as the higher you are, the better the views out to the Whitsundays.