So you want to travel the East Coast of Australia? Well, I hope you've prepared your liver and are ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Now comes the tricky bit... planning and budgeting for your trip - there's just not enough information out there about how long your trip will take or how much you will spend, so here is your definitive guide on how to travel the East Coast of Australia on a budget.
You will have already heard about the highlights from other travellers or your own research - diving on the Great Barrier Reef, driving 4x4s on Fraser Island and sailing the Whitsundays. But for every part you already know about, there are countless other amazing trips and activities to experience - the East Coast is not a place you want to miss out so make sure you plan your trip well.
No-one wants to regret not skydiving at Mission Beach or cuddling koalas on Magnetic Island, this is a trip you want to save your pennies for so you can splash out when it finally comes around. Whether you've just arrived in Australia, or you're finishing off an epic two year working holiday visa, the East Coast is a rite of passage for backpackers exploring Australia.
Planning Your East Coast Australia Trip
When planning, there are 3 things you need to be aware of:
- Australia can be expensive and the East Coast is the most expensive place you will go because it is the one place where you will be partying every night and spending $$$ on adventure trips every single day.
- Australia is big and even just on the East Coast there is a whopping 2628km along the coastal route which would take days to drive. Count in stopping off along the way and you'll take weeks to complete - don't try and rush your trip!
- The East Coast is the best place to meet people, so even if you're travelling alone, don't expect to stay that way! Some of the best friends I've made in Australia are the very first people I met on the East Coast.
How long will it take me?
Travelling the East Coast will take you several weeks, it is possible to squeeze it into a two week schedule but you will end up missing out on a lot of fun experiences! Most travellers seem to agree that around four weeks is the perfect time to spend on the trip - some cut it down to three, while others stretch it out to five, but if you want to fit everything in and have time to enjoy it - four weeks is just about right.
How much does the transport cost?
There are so many options when it comes to travel but the main choices seem to boil down to hiring a car or a camper van and driving the East Coast, or taking a Greyhound. Both have benefits - camper vans will save you money on accommodation and give you more freedom, but Greyhound gives you the full hostel experience while saving you money on fuel. Both are fantastic experiences but you have to figure out which is within your budget. You could even use a combination throughout your journey keep things interesting! One of our favourite road trips is between Sydney and Brisbane, stopping by Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise and checking out the waterfalls, rainforests and the hippie village of Nimbin on the way!
- Greyhound bus pass (Melbourne <> Cairns) $519.
- Greyhound bus pass (Sydney <> Cairns) - $425.
- Greyhound bus pass (Brisbane <> Cairns) - includes travel one way to or from Byron Bay $335.
- Hire a camper van - usually around $60 to $100 per day (depending on the season, availability and what insurance reduction option you choose).
- Flights between Sydney <> Brisbane, or Brisbane <> Cairns are usually around $100 but the prices vary.
- Hitchhiking - fuel costs and witty banter.
Where will I stay?
Again, this one is totally dependent on budget - you could spend the whole trip in your camper van, hit the free campsites, or stick to my favourite accommodation - hostels! Hostels are without a doubt the best way to meet people and enjoy your trip on the East Coast - lots of trips actually run out of the hostels and will give you great discounts for staying, as well as cheap, or even free, meals! My favourite hostels along the way had to be Base St Kilda (for a party), The Arts Factory Lodge (where the Inbetweeners 2 film was shot) and Base Airlie Beach (for the campervan sites and tropical pool). For some much needed chill out time after hitting up Fraser Island or the Whitsundays, I also suggest a stop by Southern Cross Backpackers in the town of 1770. Remember it's always good to try and book before you arrive, especially during peak season or you might struggle to find a bed.
- Most expensive hostel - Wake Up Hostel, Sydney $38-45 a night
- Cheapest hostel - Nomads Noosa at $21 a night (a 16 Bed Dorm is definitely an experience)!
- Average bed - $31 a night
- Campsites - free to around $20-30 a pitch
- Multi night accommodation pass that you can use to book hostels as you travel from $279
What will I eat?
Food and drink can quickly take you from budget traveller to flashpacker - it's important to decide at the start what you can afford, especially if you're travelling in a group. Serious budgeters will stick to a diet of instant noodles and cheap pasta, while those who can afford a bit more might club together to whip up fajitas or have a BBQ on the beach.
When it comes to eating out, Australia is very expensive so you always want to be looking for the cheapest options - backpacker discounts and free meals in hostels are a good way to cut costs. Hitting up the local markets is always a great idea - Australia has some of the yummiest fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Cheapest backpacker meal: instant noodles at 60 cents a pack! Or go for the bulk buy at the local Woolworths or Coles - you can usually grab yourself a 10 pack for $2
- Best hostels for budget backpacker meals: Base Sydney for $10 Steaks & Burgers and Gilligans in Cairns from as little as $5, or even free if you buy a drink!
- Cheapest home-cooked meal: veggie pasta $2-4
- Best budget group meals to make: beach BBQs, fajitas, pasta
- TIP: buy an environment friendly bag from Coles or Woolworths to carry with you as you and buy in bulk. At the supermarket you can pick a bag of carrots $1, a bag of onions $2, a box of apples $3, bananas .50 cents each, packet of pasta $1... yummo!
Partying is a big part of East Coast life, but we all know drinking in Australia can be expensive - it's time to accept the fact you will be drinking a lot of goon! When it comes to nights out, pre-drinking is key and it's important to make the most of backpacker bars and all those hilarious competitions to win drinks. If the sun is shining - why not head on down the beach and sink a few before the sun sets? Base recently wrote an article which I found very useful: "8 Classy Goon Recipes all Backpackers will LOVE!"
- Average cost of goon: $9.99-12(Golden Oak 4l)
- Cheapest bottle of wine: $5 (Whispers or Passion Pop)
- Cheapest beer $4-5 - it's cheaper to buy a carton of beer for around $35 - $45
- Best hostels for competitions: Nomads Noosa (I won a Whitsundays Cruise and Kiwi Experience pass in one night!)
How much do the tours cost?
The East Coast is packed with adrenaline-charged adventures, ocean experiences and unbelievable natural beauty that will take your breath away. There is so much to explore, see and do in the weeks you'll spend on the coast that it can be hard to decide which trips you don't want to miss out on. Not every budget will allow for every trip, and there will be some people who just don't fancy taking part in every trip along the way, so here is the top trips price list:
- PADI Open Water Diving Course plus 3D/2N Liveaboard in Cairns (5 days) $915
- Great Barrier Reef snorkelling $175, with a taster (introductory guided) dive $245
- Fraser Island (3 days) $519
- Whitsundays (3 days) from $439
- Australia Zoo $59
- 1 Day Great Ocean Road Tour $99 (I love the 3 day tour that includes the Grampians for $399
- Brisbane's Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary $36
- Surf Lesson in Byron Bay $40-50 (shop around)
- Overnight Surf Lesson & Stay at Mojo Surf Camp $265
- Skydive $275 + $35 APF Levy
- 2 Night Magnetic Island stay + snorkel hire $102
- Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb from $278
- White Water Rafting in Cairns $179 + $30 Levy
- Cape Tribulation overnight rainforest stay $178
- Day tour to Nimbin Hippie Village $55
- Sea Kayaking Byron Bay $69
There are lots of different companies offering variations on these trips and experiences, so be sure to shop around for the best deal - always look for trips offering meals included as this can save you a lot of money! Most of the hostels on the east coast of a travel desk. Tip - to save $$ organise a package at one of the travel desks that includes the tours, hostels and transport that you want.
So how much will it cost me?
After speaking to lots of travellers, it seems the consensus is it will cost you around $3-4,000 for a month on the East Coast. The average spender who chooses most of the best trips and eats/drinks on a budget would come in at closer to $3,000, but if you really want to go all out on the trips and party like there's no tomorrow you're looking at much closer to $4,000. You can do it in much less time and money, but most backpackers treat it like a once in a lifetime trip and want to make sure they make the most of every opportunity! So if you're thinking of planning an East Coast adventure - get saving and get planning!
Guest Post written by: Lucy Ruthnum Journalist, blogger, freelance writer Images are authors own.
Ready to plan? Check out our 'Backpacker's Guide to Australia's East Coast'.
*prices were correct at time of publishing