The Best of East Australia: Mountains, Beaches and Reef

Eastern Australia is the perfect road trip destination with attractions conveniently spaced along the coast.  With amazing cities offering culinary delights, incredible beaches for relaxation, majestic mountains and world class scuba diving, there is something for everyone.  This is one of the most clean, friendly and efficient countries we have had the pleasure of visiting during our travels through 17 countries in 2017.

There are countless things to do and see in East Australia, where the majority of the country’s population resides.  We spent two weeks visiting the eastern part of Australia following our road trip on the Great Ocean Road and camper van-cation around Tasmania.img_1512

City Life

Sydney
Sydney caught us off guard.  We expected just another big city but fell in love with the atmosphere and scenery.  The city was scattered with people, but seemed more laid back and never felt over-crowded like others.  There is so much to do and see, and plenty of places to just relax by the water.  Don’t miss these areas:

  • Sydney Opera House – The iconic Opera House sits on the water and can be seen from several spots around the harbour.  There is a huge open area around the building where people come to relax and enjoy the views.  We had high expectations going into our Opera House tour and this architectural star did not disappoint.
  • Harbour Bridge – The impressively large bridge spans the water and has a pedestrian walkway with views of the harbour and Opera House.  We watched but opted to forgo the Harbour Bridge climb at AUD$313 per person.
  • Royal Botanic Garden – The gardens are directly next to the Opera House and wrap along the harbour shore.  There are walking trails with amazing views of the city buildings, Harbour Bridge and Opera House.  The gardens are free to the public.
  • Fish Market – One of the most exciting and delicious place in Sydney.  The market is bustling with fisherman bringing in their fresh catch and lined with restaurants selling all types of amazing seafood.

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Brisbane
We had heard that Brisbane wasn’t worth a stop, so didn’t expect much, but ended up really enjoying the city.  It is built around a river which snakes between towering skyscrapers.  These are our must dos:

  • South Shore – This area is full of interesting things, including gorgeous bougainvillea covered walking trails, man made beaches and cafes.  There are also incredible children’s waterparks and playgrounds (we even wanted to sneak in).
  • Gallery of Modern Art Museum – A free gallery which has an extensive collection of modern art, including some really fun traveling exhibits.  It is located on the river next to the South Shore.
  • Bridges – Brisbane has a seemingly limitless number of unique bridges crossing the river, each with its own charm.  Running over these connecters is quite enjoyable as many are pedestrian only bridges.
  • CityHopper Ferry – There is a free ferry service which has a limited route through town.  It is a great way to see the buildings and bridges from the water.  HINT:  Grab a seat in the back or on the top deck (if available) and sneak some wine to make for a relaxing boat ride.

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Beaches

Australia has countless beaches lining the never ending coastline.  These are some of the most pristine which we have visited in the world.  With a total population less than 10% of that in the United States, it is easy to find a vacant beach where you can relax.  We found some great ones during our trip.  Sapphire Beach and those around Port Douglas were the most private.  Emerald Beach and the beaches of Port Stephens were the most picturesque.  Byron Bay and the Gold Coast had the most lively with restaurants, boardwalks and entertainment nearby.img_1686img_1567img_1563img_1792img_1846img_1797img_1820

Mountains

If you need a break from beach and city life, the Blue Mountains are just a two hour drive from Sydney.  There are extensive hiking trails and several quaint mountain towns from which to base your exploration.  A number of lookout points can be found throughout the park allowing sweeping canyon views.  Our favorite sunrise and sunset spots were at Govetts Leap lookout and the Three Sisters lookout, respectively.  If you don’t get your fix here there are also endless hiking trails in the National Parks not far from the eastern coastline to explore.img_1431img_1534img_1499img_1445img_1463

Scuba Diving

Australia is world renown for diving at the Great Barrier Reef.  Despite some significant reef damage in recent years due to rising ocean temperatures, there are still plenty of pristine areas to dive.  The Outer reef has been less affected than the Inner reef and was the spot we chose to explore.  We went from Port Douglas, north of the more touristed town of Cairns.  We dove with Quicksilver, a large but very efficient operation, and had an excellent experience.  The water temperature is warm so no wet suit is needed, but a lycra suit is required during stinger (jellyfish) season.img_1968img_1951img_1973-2img_1967-2img_1928

Special Note

A trip to Eastern Australia would not be complete without a visit to the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie.  This non-profit sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates injured koalas and adds an extra dose of cuteness to any trip.  The hospital gives FREE daily tours of the facility and its permanent Koala residents at 3:00pm.  The big takeaway from this tour is that promiscuous koala behavior can lead to chlamydia, and chlamydia is slightly cuter when furry.  If you see a wet brown Koala bottom, be sure to call the clinic to have it checked out.  Also, koalas are NOT bears!img_1578

Cost

Australia is a first world country with all of the amenities you would expect, and a price tag to match.  We spent 29 days in the country including our trips on the Great Ocean Road, Tasmania and the East Coast.  Total cost of this portion of our world trip?  $6,000 USD for a couple, or $207 per day.  Transport was the most costly portion at $2,657, including car and camper rentals, inter-continental flight (New Delhi to Melbourne) and three in-country flights.  We stayed in a mix of Airbnb and hotels, and cooked meals when possible (always the fresh catch).  We ate picnic lunches along the trip which limited costs and added enjoyment.  This is a nearly cashless country, with widespread credit card acceptance.img_1556-2

Make sure to check out previous posts from our trips through Africa, India and Nepal.  Also take a look at our Planning Page for essential information to help prepare for your own world trip including packing, pre-trip timeline, and understanding travel insurance!img_1643

5 thoughts on “The Best of East Australia: Mountains, Beaches and Reef

  • It appears that Australia lived up to the hype as a bucket-list destination. Glad you had a wonderful experience. Once again your review was well detailed and your pictures beautiful.

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  • I have a friend who lives in Port MacQuarie part of the time and then in Tasmania in summer. We do a week together in Sydney each year, just the girls. Theatre, ferries, shopping a bit but the fish market is wonderful. We never tire of the harbour’s beauty. Australia is a stunning country. Prices are high because everyone has award rates which provide good working conditions. Good salaries and a minimum of 4 weeks paid leave. Most places have 3 months paid leave too after 10 yrs service. Many Australians go to Asia for holidays. Much cheaper. I have visited all the places you write of here. I am glad you had such a good time. Your photos are beautiful.

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