You want to travel down (or up) Australia’s East Coast but don’t have a lot of time? Don’t worry, I was in the same situation. My dad came out from Germany to visit me in Australia for 2 ½ weeks, so we had exactly 14 days to get from Cairns to Brisbane. That’s why I worked on the optimal two week itinerary for the East Coast Australia.
In this blog post, I am going to tell you where we stayed for how long, what to do in each place and what to do on the drives between the different places. I am also going to comment on what I think worked well and what I would change if I were to do this tour again (which I definitely will).
Day 1 – 4: Cairns
We stayed in Cairns for three nights. I would definitely recommend at least two nights here to be able to do a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. If you stay one more night, you can make time for another trip – to the rainforest. I’ve been recommended to go to Cape Tribulation by multiple people but it seemed kind of far away just for a day trip from Cairns. However, there are many more places with rainforest closer to Cairns. I probably wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. The cableway ride is cool but Kuranda (where you’d be going to) is overcrowded by tourists.
Cairns is a beautiful place. The Esplanade is the place to be; whether you go to the Laguna during the day or listen to buskers in the evening. Maybe, you’ll be lucky and get to see Legends of Perhaps perform.
Things to do: A trip to the Great Barrier Reef. We went on a trip to Green Island where we went snorkeling and did a ride in a Semi-Submarine. Check out Ratpack Travel for some cool options. They also offer a day trip to Cape Tribulation. You get 10% off with Where’s Mollie?’s code MOLLIE10.
Day 4: Drive from Cairns to Townsville
The drive from Cairns to Townsville should take you over four hours if you drive straight there. However, we decided to make the trip an adventure and stopped at Babinda Boulders, Josephine Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, and also went to Mission Beach. Check out my blog post on hidden gems along the East Coast Australia to find out more about some of the destinations. This took us pretty much the whole day (driving time almost 6 ½ hours but bearable because of the amazing breaks we took). It was definitely worth it as there (in my opinion) isn’t that much to do in Townsville.
Day 4 – 5 Townsville:
As I mentioned, there isn’t that much to do in Townsville, so one night here is enough. However, if you got more time to spare, I would definitely recommend spending a night (or more) on Magnetic Island. It is just a 25-minute ferry ride away from Townsville and there are some nice walks to do there.
Things to do: A trip to Magnetic Island, whether as a day trip (half day is good as well) or to stay overnight. If you arrive early enough, you don’t even need to spend the night in Townsville but can just stay on Magnetic Island.
Day 5: Drive from Townsville to Airlie Beach
Since we went to Magnetic Island in the morning before leaving to Airlie Beach, we did this drive without any notable stops. For the 275 kilometers, you should need around three hours, so this is not too bad.
Day 5 – 7: Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach is among my favorite places on this two week itinerary for the East Coast Australia. It has a nice waterfront, a beautiful Laguna, and a lovely atmosphere. In addition, this is the place to leave to the Whitsunday Islands from. For that reason, I would recommend at least two nights here for a day trip. But if you have some time to spare, definitely consider staying longer.
Things to do: A trip to the Whitsunday Islands is a must in my opinion. We went for a day trip to Whitehaven Beach with Air Whitsunday Airplanes which included a flight over the Heart Reef. There are multiple other tours though and you can even stay on some of the islands. Again, I would recommend to check out Ratpack Travel for some cool options. You get 10% off with Where’s Mollie?’s code MOLLIE10.
Recommendation: If you are looking for good accommodation (and got more than a few dollars to spare), check out Airlie Waterfront Bed & Breakfast. This has been my favorite accommodation in Australia.
Day 7: Drive from Airlie Beach to Mackay
The drive from Airlie Beach to Mackay is just 1 ¾ hours, so we did some stops along the way. If you are short on time, I suppose, you could skip Mackay and drive 5 ¼ hours straight to Rockhampton. However, the stop at Cedar Creek Falls is nice and I would 100% encourage you to make a detour to Finch Hatton Gorge (read more on that in my blog post on hidden gems along the East Coast Australia) which makes the drive 3 ½ hours long.
Day 7 – 8: Mackay
We honestly didn’t do anything here which is partly because it was pouring during our stay and partly because there really isn’t that much to do. You can go for a walk along the Marina and that’s about it. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!)
Day 8: Drive from Mackay to Rockhampton
Since it poured the whole day, we drove straight from Mackay to Rockhampton with the exception of a short lunch break. The drive is a little over 3 ½ hours.
Day 8 – 9: Rockhampton
Pretty much everything I said to Mackay, can be said for Rockhampton as well. If there are any cool things to do, we didn’t hear about them.
Day 9: Drive from Rockhampton to Hervey Bay
This was probably one of the most fun days to drive. Driving straight would take you a little over four hours, but I promise you there are some places worth stopping for on the way.
We went for the Paperbark Forest Walk (more on that in my blog post on hidden gems along the East Coast Australia), drove to Agnes Water and went to Seventeen Seventy to do the headland walks and to visit the Cook Memorial (not that breathtaking, to be honest). All in all, this drive will then take you about 5 ½ hours.
Day 9 – 11: Hervey Bay
Hervey Bay is a natural bay with some nice beaches. Like Rainbow Beach, it is also starting point of many Fraser Island tours. For that reason, I would recommend staying for two nights. I really liked the atmosphere in Hervey Bay and wouldn’t have minded staying even longer.
Things to do: A trip to Fraser Island can’t be missed. We went on a one-day tour with Unique Fraser Tours which is the only tour operator that goes to the Indian Head Lookout and the Champagne Pools on the one-day tour. There are multiple other tours though and some of them are for multiple days. Again, I would recommend to check out Ratpack Travel for some cool options. You get 10% off with Where’s Mollie?’s code MOLLIE10.
Day 11: Drive from Hervey Bay to Noosa Heads
This drive should take you about 2 ¼ hours. However, I strongly encourage you to take the 50-minute detour via Rainbow Beach. Once there, definitely check out Carlo Sand Blow for an impressive sand mass and stunning views (more on that in my blog post on hidden gems along the East Coast Australia).
Day 11 – 12: Noosa Heads
This is one of the places I wish we would’ve had more time for. One night just wasn’t enough for this beautiful place. Noosa Heads was more crowded than most of the other places along the East Coast due to its proximity to Brisbane (we were there over the weekend as well). It is just a beautiful holiday place with an amazing national park.
Things to do: Check out the Fairy Pools in the Noosa National Park (find instructions on how to get there and when to go here).
Day 12: Drive from Noosa Heads to Brisbane
This drive is just under two hours long, so I highly recommend a stop in beautiful Caloundra. To be honest, this place wasn’t even on my radar before I saw Phoebe from Kaptain Kenny Travel sharing pictures and videos from her home. And what can I say, it is definitely worth a visit. Beautiful beaches, coastal walks, picnic spots, and nice cafes (stay tuned for my vegan food guide to the East Coast).
Day 12 – 14: Brisbane
I liked the city of Brisbane with its cool architecture. However, I wouldn’t have minded spending one more night somewhere close to the beach rather than two nights in Brisbane. Still, there are a lot of cool things to do in and around Brisbane and you definitely won’t be bored.
Things to do: Stroll through Brisbane Botanic Gardens or visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.
That’s it for the ultimate two week itinerary for the East Coast Australia. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions! I would also love to see your adventures on the East Coast Australia, so feel free to tag me if you are at any of the places I’ve mentioned.