East Coast Adventuring: From Brisbane to Cairns


While not quite half way, I’ve split my East Coast Adventure into two parts: From Sydney to Brisbane and Brisbane to Cairns. After 48 hours in Queensland’s capital, Beth and I began the second half of our journey, which included all of our day trips and overnight tours. The scenery between Brisbane and Cairns changes dramatically as rain forests and sand islands are gradually introduced into the tropical landscape. We had much to look forward to and several more stops ahead. First up, the beautiful Noosa!


Home to one of the two Everglades in the world (Do you know where to find the first one?!), Noosa is a beautiful beach town with much to explore. The essentials includes a ritzy strip of shops close to the beach and the “backpacker” part of town just over the hill. Everglades kayaking tours, sunset cruises, and trips to Fraser Island are typical here.

1. Shop along Hastings Street

Window shopping is a must here or, if you have a little extra cash, spend an afternoon browsing the clothing boutiques, high end retailers, and local artist shops. Beth picked up a collection of beautiful Australian animal prints in one of the stores. A perfect memento for her trip.

2. Noosa National Park Coastal Walk

Stretching for 10km along the stunning coastline, this walk is essential for visitors and locals alike. It is here where we spotted our first wild koala, a white bellied sea eagle, and a sea turtle surfing the waves of Hell’s Gate. The path hugs the coast with multiple lookouts and perfect clearings between the trees to admire the sparkling blue waters and hoards of surfers down below. The walk even takes you through a nude beach where you’re sure to see your fair share of naked old men enjoying their moments of freedom. Complete the walk or turn back when you’d like – either way, it’s worth the views!


Barely even worthy of being called a town, Rainbow Beach is the main jump off point for Fraser Island. Quite literally, this stop has one block of cafes and shops, with limited dinner options and nothing open past 8pm. Although we were treated to a beautiful sunset the evening we returned from Fraser, there wasn’t any need to visit here. Do yourself a favor and start your Fraser tour from Noosa or Hervey Bay, skipping Rainbow altogether.


We booked our stop in Hervey Bay in an effort to break up the 17 hour bus ride between Rainbow and Airlie Beach. While we only scheduled a less than 24 hour stay, we wished we had booked more time here! Hervey Bay is another jump off point for Fraser Island and famous for whale watching.
This town is much larger than both Noosa and Rainbow and is filled with charming bays, a harbor, fishing jetty, cafes and shops. It is also decorated with whale statues throughout the town as a reminder of what you’re really there to see. Unfortunately for us, we were just shy of the start to the season. I think the first sighting was actually the week after we were there! With more time we would have joined a twilight kayaking tour at the very least. Lots of great bird life here, too!

AGNES WATER and the TOWN OF 1770

And I thought Rainbow Beach was tiny…This was second addition to the itinerary to break up the trip and was only good for a bed to sleep in rather than a bus seat. Agnes Waters is barely more than a simple block of shops and cafes, all of which were closed by the time we arrived. It is well known for a few unique tours though, and with more time, we would have been happy to join either. If you’re there for more than a night, check out the cheap surf lessons (3 hours for under $20!) and Scooteroo, a motorbike tour around town. No joke.


Ahh, paradise! Airlie Beach is where you really start to see the change in scenery. Palm trees line the white sand beaches with views of docked sailboats, catamarans, and yachts in front of you and lush green rolling hills behind. Airlie is made for tourism with a variety of surf shops, restaurants, backpacker bars, and cafes. A beautiful spot of cool blues and warm greens, feeling like a tropical island.

1. Sail the Whitsunday Islands

…THE reason to stop in Airlie! Beth and I joined a 2-day/2-night sailing and snorkeling tour of the Whitsunday Islands, a truly unique and memorable experience with gorgeous beaches and colorful underwater sights. Read more about our trip here.

2. Beaches and Lagoons

Airlie is all about the water. When you’re not on a boat, you’re likely hanging out at either the beaches or lagoons. This coastal town thoughtfully offers visitors the best of both worlds with lagoon pools and sandy beaches to relax. Take your pick!


Our final destination along the coast and jump off point for our bucket list destination, The Great Barrier Reef. Most travelers journey to Cairns for their reef trips but there is much more to see and do here. Another destination that I would have liked more time, Cairns is a busy backpacker spot with options to explore both the surrounding rain forest and reef.

1. The Great Barrier Reef


A place of milestones, Beth completed her 50th dive on The Great Barrier Reef and I overcame my fear of snorkeling! All the pictures in the world cannot compare to the firsthand views on the reef. Our day tour took us to two destinations along the reef and granted us the opportunity to explore the reef in wind, rain and waves as well as the warm sunshine. Check out my photo diary from the trip here.

2. Atherton Tablelands

We’re officially tree huggers thanks to On the Wallaby. Our final day along the coast was spent exploring the peaceful Tablelands, less than an hour outside of Cairns. We visited giant strangler figs, towering twin Kauri trees, waterfalls, and freshwater lakes. It was the relaxing end to a tremendous East Coast adventure!

3. Cape Tribulation, Daintree Rainforest, and Port Douglas

And for my next visit, I’ll hit these awesome spots, too!


Traveling up the East Coast from Sydeny to Cairns
  • 9 Greyhound bus rides with 2 overnight trips for a total of 45 hours spent on board
  • 2,415 km (1,500 miles) traveled along the coast
  • 9 different hostel stays
  • 22 days of traveling up the coast
  • 5 adventure tours booked
  • 11 towns/cities visited

Published by Ali Gaffey

An American girl full of life and adventure!

3 thoughts on “East Coast Adventuring: From Brisbane to Cairns

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