Driving Australia’s East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

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Driving the east coast of Australia has been a dream of mine since I can remember.

When I booked my flights to Australia, I was so psyched about finally experiencing one of my major bucket list items. But, when I looked at my itinerary and saw that it takes two to three weeks to properly drive from Cairns to Sydney, I realised I simply did not have enough time. I was only in Australia for four weeks and I wanted to visit family in Sydney, snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, see friends in Melbourne and spend some time in Adelaide. Australia is HUGE and four weeks was not going to cut it!

Driving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

Aside from extending my trip and staying in Oz for an extra month (not possible!), I realised I had to relinquish the one thing I really wanted to do in favour of seeing as much of Australia as possible. Or so I thought…

That’s where coseats.com came into it. The day before I flew to Cairns, we found a deal for $5 a day campervan hire on coseats.com. The agreement was that we had to drive the campervan from Cairns to Sydney in six days. Ok, so over 2000 miles in six days was a big task but this was our only chance to drive the east coast of Australia while also sticking to our schedule.

After spending a few days exploring Cairns, we collected our campervan and hit the road. As it was such a last minute decision, we hadn’t decided where we would stop each night. We knew we wanted to spend one night in Byron Bay but other than that, the whole six days were open to spontaneity – the best way to travel! We estimated that six hours driving each day would get us to Sydney on time. So, with that in mind, we set out for our first stop – the Whitsunday Islands and Airlie Beach.

Driving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

Day One – Cairns to Airlie Beach, Whitsundays

We travelled for about seven hours on the first day to get to Airlie Beach, driving through gorgeous rainforest scenery most of the way. The first day was not without event, as we almost ran out of fuel about an hour from the Whitsundays! Driving late at night, we noticed the fuel gage dropping quickly and when we passed several closed gas stations, we started to panic a little. With less than ten miles left in the tank, we rolled into a Shell gas station very relieved, but managing to see the funny side! So, lesson learned – if you’re travelling through Australia, make sure you plan your route and always be prepared for a lack of gas stations! Especially late at night, as we were not prepared for the gas stations to close so early! But alas, all was fine and we arrived at Airlie Beach around 10pm. After finding a quiet street we settled down for the night.

Driving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

Day Two – Airlie Beach to Mount Etna Caves National Park

Rising early to make the most of our day in the Whitsundays, we were slightly disappointed to see the weather wasn’t at it’s best – overcast but nevertheless, still hot! After an AMAZING plane ride over the Whitsunday Islands with jaw-dropping views, we spent the morning at Airlie Beach. We decided to hit the road around lunch-time to make some headway on our journey. After travelling for about three hours we drove through a town called Clairview (although I’m not sure you can call it a town if it has no shops, bars or restaurants). By now, the sun was out, the temperature gauge was soaring and the only place we could buy a cold beer was a small caravan/trailer park right on the beach. We grabbed our books and settled down on the beach for an hour to enjoy our beers before hitting the road once more.

Driving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to SydneyDriving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

Rockhampton was our destination for the night, but just north of Rockhampton we passed a sign for Mount Etna National Park. Being the not-very-experienced-trekkers that we are, we decided to head into the national park for a quick stroll to see if we could find the famous bat caves. But, after one too many cobwebs in the face with some very large, possibly-poisonous spiders attached, we sped back to the safety of our campervan and headed into the village. Here we spent the evening in The Caves Country Pub chatting to the locals, playing pool and philosophising on life.

Driving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to SydneyDriving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

Day Three – Mount Etna National Park to Noosa Heads, Sunshine Coast

Leaving early in the morning to hit the road, we knew we wanted to stay in Noosa Heads for the night. We had friends living there and wanted to catch up with them. About an hour outside of Noosa, we stopped at a small town called Tiaro. Driving through Tiaro, we passed the cutest retro vintage coffee shop – Retro Espresso – and just had to pull in! As we reached Noosa we saw a sign for a vista point, so took the 20 minute walk to the top of a hill for some breath-taking panoramic shots of the sunshine coast.

Driving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to SydneyDriving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

Arriving in Noosa Heads, we headed straight for the beach for an evening swim as the sun set (bliss!). Much to our joy, we found showers on the beach!! When you haven’t showered for three days in 40 degree heat, finding a shower is the best feeling in the world! Refreshed and a lot cleaner (!!), we met our friends and headed out for cocktails.

Driving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to SydneyDriving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

Day Four – Noosa Heads to Byron Bay

The next day we enjoyed a short four hour drive, arriving in Byron Bay in the early afternoon. Byron Bay was the one place we really wanted to spend some time, so it was great that we got to enjoy the afternoon and evening there. Mooching around the shops and lazing on the beach, we fell in love with Byron’s hippie vibe immediately. I ate some of the best pulled pork tacos of my life at cool Mexican cantina, Miss Margarita and the Strawberry Shake Collada was also to die for!


We ate dinner later on at Orgasmic Food, a Middle Eastern vegan/vegetarian restaurant with a distinct street food vibe. We shared a couple of falafel and hummus platters – absolutely delicious! We spent the rest of the evening drinking and playing cards in a bar on the beach front – a chilled out night to remember.


Day Five – Byron Bay to Cathie Creek

Loving Byron Bay, we decided to have a late start and spend a few hours on the beach. Reading in the sun after an early morning swim is the best possible way to start the day.


We stopped off for a tasty lunch platter in Coffs Harbour, enjoying every minute of the sunshine! Port Macquarie was our destination for the night, but arriving in Port Macquarie we quickly turned around and decided to find somewhere else. For our last night we wanted somewhere special and Port Macquarie wasn’t cutting it. Driving aimlessly down the coast, we stumbled on a gorgeous lake area called Cathie Creek. We had found our last pitstop.

A quick trip to the local liquor store and we were sorted for the night with a bottle of red, and cheese and crackers for dinner. After a quick dip in the lake and a splash around with the GoPro as the sun went down, we hit the sack ready for our final day of driving into Sydney.


Day Six – Cathie Creek to Sydney

The last day saw us almost run out of fuel again (seriously, how did we not learn the first time!!!). Fortunately, we got to a gas station in time, buy it was a close one! The $1000 fine for returning the campervan late spurred us on and we made it into the city with a couple hours to go.

I was genuinely sad to hand back the campervan; it had been our home for six fantastic days. The flexibility and spontaneity of the trip was refreshing and life on the road was good. We met so many interesting people along the way; people we will probably never see again but who we shared some amazing moments with.

Driving Australia's East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

I know this blog post is a long one but writing it really made me relive the trip. We had such a great time driving the east coast and I’m so so so glad we did it.  I know it seems like a lot of driving but if you get the chance, do it and don’t look back! Of course, it was a flying visit to the east coast, and there are so many things we missed – but I guess we can save that for next time.

Have you driven the east coast? What was your favourite place?

All photos and opinions are my own.

Driving Australia's East Coast - From Cairns to Sydney

26 thoughts on “Driving Australia’s East Coast: From Cairns to Sydney

  1. Sounds amazing. I can’t wait to get to Australia in 2 weeks and see what the country has to offer. I’ll stay there for a year, and I’m so excited I can’t even put it into words :o)

      1. I got my plain ticket to Melbourne. Dats it :o) I’ve been a creature of habit for my whole life, so I figure it would be a good idea to see how I deal with absolutely no plan or known habits in a foreign country all alone. Please pray for me hahahhaha

          1. One more thing to note down – I’ll see if I can find it, even though I don’t really drink beverages :o)
            Yes, that’s my plan. I got a bunch of my old colleagues and my family and so on who wants to know that I’m alive throughout my trip, so I figured writing blogs as signs of life would be sustainable 😀

  2. Awesome! How I wish I had moved there in my 20s as I had wanted to but its a bit too late now for one reason or another. But I can dream by means of your blogs, I love reading about your adventures. Got any more escapades to tell?

  3. Wow this looks like such an amazing road trip! Those beaches and views are beautiful. Definitely adding this to the bucket list!

  4. I have always wanted to do one of those $/day campervan drives, but I’m not 25 yet 😦
    Glad you got to see so much of my beautiful country, every roadtrip is different and looks like this was a great one!

  5. Wow, that’s quite the distance for such a short amount of time! I did Brisbane to Airlie in 6 days earlier this year, and that was still a bit of a stretch, so I’m really impressed how much you managed to do!

    1. Yes it was a long way to drive and I will definitely return to do the east coast over a longer period of time in the future but it was such a great experience and we have so many memories!

  6. I love this post! I guess most people would probably say you should spend a lot more time on this kind of journey, but your 6-day challenge sounds like such an amazing adventure! I love a good road trip, especially if the road is the actual highlight of the trip 🙂 Sorry though that you had to miss snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef – I’m sure that would be awesome too!

  7. I’ve heard about this deal before! I’m going to Australia for 1 year and will be travelling round for 6 months. My plan was to buy a camper van with my boyfriend and travel round. Hopefully it’ll go to plan! Great post!

  8. You will need to keep travelling or come again, the south coast is delightful, much less developed than the north. With amazing beaches even if the water is cold.

    1. Yes! So much more to see. I spent some time in Melbourne and Adelaide and got to see some of the south coast but not as much as I would have liked. I know I only saw a tiny snapshot of Australia so can’t wait to return! 🙂

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