Road tripping along the East Coast is a quintessential activity when visiting Australia. From picture-perfect beaches, to lush rainforest, and the world’s largest coral reef system, it’s easy to see why the East Coast is so popular.
Most people stick to the well worn route from Sydney to Cairns- stopping along the way in Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane, Fraser Island, and the Whitsundays- but I wanted to touch upon some smaller beach side towns, national parks, and other places that you may not be as familiar with.
I’m not saying you should skip out on the popular spots like Fraser Island or the Whitsundays- they’re popular for good reason. However, if you have the time when traveling the East Coast, maybe consider these (somewhat) off-the-beaten path destinations.
Montague Island, New South Wales
This island is known for its lighthouse and has the largest colony of Little Penguins in New South Wales. Daily tours depart from the nearby town of Narooma, and you will see an abundance of wildlife and learn about the island’s history. There is also an option to take a two night ecotour which allows you to participate in conservation efforts for the penguin colony.
Myall Lakes National Park, New South Wales
This National Park has one of the largest coastal lake systems in New South Wales. It’s the perfect place for kayaking, canoeing, fishing, swimming and even surfing. There are numerous campsites for tents, trailers, caravans and boats.
Yamba, New South Wales
This holiday resort town boasts uncrowded and beautiful beaches, a bustling cafe scene, and great fishing spots. There are eleven beaches in the immediate area, and Pippi Beach is an espeically idyllic spot- popular with surfers and sunbathers. Yamba is also great for outdoor activities like kayaking, biking, and hiking.
Lennox Head, New South Wales
Located 15 minutes south of Byron Bay, this seaside village boasts a beautiful beach and is substantially less crowded than its popular neighbour.
I took my first surfing lesson at this beach and loved it. Not only was there ample space for surfing, but the surrounding area was full of stunning scenery.
Moreton Island, Queensland
This island is 98% National Park and is the third largest sand island in the world. It’s only a 75 minute ferry ride from Brisbane and has pristine beaches and accommodations for every budget. Popular activities include snorkeling, four wheel driving, and sand boarding.
Magnetic Island, Queensland
Most people have heard of Magnetic Island, but it’s still sometimes left off of travelers’ East Coast itineraries. It’s one of my favourite places in Oz, and I believe it shouldn’t be missed.
With 23 pristine bays and beaches, an abundance of wildlife, and walking and hiking trails, there’s lots to see and do on this tiny island. Make sure to hike along the Forts Walk trail where you can spot wild koalas. The koala colony on Magnetic Island is said to be one of the friendliest and most accessible colonies in all of Australia.
Lady Elliot Island, Queensland
With over 1,200 different species of marine life found around the island, Lady Elliot is known as one of the best snorkeling and diving destinations on the Great Barrier Reef. You can fly in for a day trip from Brisbane (and a few other locations), or stay on the island at their Eco Resort. The resort has been recognized for its sustainable tourism initiatives and they strive to minimize their impact on the environment. Solar power is utilized, food is composted on the island, and they no longer sell plastic water bottles.
Eungella National Park, Queensland
With rugged, natural beauty and sub-tropical rainforest, Eungella National Park is a nature-lover’s paradise. There are 25km of walking trails- varying in length and level of difficulty. You can see wild platypus here and bird watching is a popular activity.
Cape York Peninsula, Queensland
Cape York Peninsula is a vast and remote area located at the northernmost tip of Australia. It boasts one of the largest areas of unspoiled wilderness, numerous national parks, former mining towns, wild crocodiles, and a rich Aboriginal history.
There are so many other small, coastal towns you could include in your itinerary like 1770 (a small surfing town), Bundaberg (home of Bundaberg Rum), Port Macquarie (known for its beaches and koala breeding centre), Rainbow Beach (a laid back beach town and access point to Fraser Island) or Mission Beach (beautiful scenery and skydiving above the beach)- the list is almost endless!