Australia

Explore Australia’s East Coast On This Ultimate Road Trip

By Isabel Croker
4th May 2021

white sand and palm trees line the beach of Horseshoe Bay

White sandy beaches, lush island getaways, sleepy seaside towns and gourmet food and wineries—Australia’s East Coast is a road-tripping nirvana. One of the most popular routes for travellers, there’s so many things to do and places to explore on the east coast it can be hard to know where to start. 

Since we’ll all be staying on our big ol’ island for a while, there’s no better time to explore our beautiful backyard—be warned, it’s pretty big. We’ve done the hard work for you and fuelled our wanderlust with the ultimate guide to Australia’s East Coast. You’re welcome. 

Whether you're hitting the road on the Melbourne to Sydney coastal drive, or journeying to the Sunshine State along the Pacific, here's our itinerary of places you have to visit.

Melbourne to Sydney

St Kilda

St Kilda is known as Melbourne’s favourite beachside suburb for a reason—a good few, actually. Kick up your heels by the seashore, fall in love with the little penguins at the St Kilda Breakwater and get your adrenaline pumping at the iconic Luna Park. Providing panoramic views of the Melbourne skyline, St Kilda Pier is a must-visit and you can take a step back in time when you dip into the heated pools at the historic St Kilda Sea Baths. Deciding where to eat is a tough decision with the plethora of drool-worthy options, but you can’t go past Stokehouse. Seafood is given a luxe treatment at this beloved seashore spot, complemented by uninterrupted views of the bay.

Palm trees line St Kilda Beach at sunset

Wilsons Promontory

Granite-studded hills meet white sand beaches, and fiery orange lichen boulders contrast with the brilliant turquoise waters. No, you’re not in some far-off European haven, you’re in Wilsons Promontory. The famed Wilsons Promontory forms a peninsula with a magnificent blend of windswept sand dunes, ancient rainforest and an abundance of wildlife. From hidden coves to large expanses of sandy shores, Wilsons Promontory has beaches in spades, but Norman Beach, Squeaky Beach and Whisky Bay have got to be on the top of your list. There is a labyrinth of walking tracks taking you to explore the furthest corners of the national park, including Tongue Point Walk and Big Drift Walk. Rest your head at Tidal River Wilderness Retreats—you’ll be spoilt with safari-style tents, queen beds and an ensuite, just metres from the beach.

Mornington Peninsula

A short drive from Melbourne you'll find the undulating hills, wild surf, orchards, and more than 50 cellar doors of Victoria's Mornington Peninsula. It's a food lover's retreat—just drive through the region, and the Peninsula's love affair with wine, fresh produce, seafood and bountiful food on the table is quickly revealed. Taste it, sip it, pick it, catch it, take it home with you. Get lost in Australia’s oldest hedge maze at Ashcombe Maze and Lavender Gardens, ascend the summit of the highest viewpoint on the peninsula at Arthurs Seat and pamper yourself at Peninsula Hot Springs, Victoria’s first natural thermal mineral springs. For a unique experience, stay at Polperro Farmhouse, a converted 1950s holiday home on a working vineyard with an outdoor firepit.

the sea peaks through the trees at a beach in the Mornington Penninsula

Phillip Island

Phillip Island is truly a natural playground for the curious spirit. Famed for its little penguins parading along the beach, the island boasts an abundance of natural beauty with sandy beaches and serene wetlands. Stroll the Nobbies boardwalk to view the magnificent jagged southern coast and blowhole, watch inquisitive seals frolic in the sea, go in search of whales and be in awe of natural scenery on a coastal walk. Conquer the Cape Woolamai Walk to the highest point on Phillip Island, kayak around the spectacular craggy coastline and watch the famous penguins waddle in on sunset for maximum adorableness. For delicious cuisine, we can’t go past Saltwater, which delivers a trifecta of dining experiences: 270-degree waterfront views, incredible drinks and quality, local produce.

Lakes Entrance

A thriving hub of native wildlife, pristine beaches and rich local produce, Lakes Entrance is situated on the edge of Ninety Mile Beach where the Gippsland Lakes meet the Southern Ocean and claims Australia's largest inland network of waterways. Stunning swimming beaches, a thriving water sports scene, glistening lakes, world-class fishing and swoon-worthy sunsets makes this water-loving town a must for anyone who is a slave to the tides. Take an unforgettable camel ride along the shores of Ninety Mile Beach, explore Griffiths Sea Shell Museum and stroll along the lakeside Esplanade. There's no going past fresh seafood while you’re in Lakes Entrance—dine atop a floating vessel at the recently hatted Sodafish for a tantalising sea-to-plate experience.

Mallacoota

This pristine coastal town is renowned for its bush and wildlife, walking trails and overall tranquility. Experience the diverse landscapes of the UNESCO-listed Croajingolong National Park, with its pure white sandy beaches, granite peaks and heathland. Unwind at this sweet coastal spot, which is renowned for its gorgeous sunsets, snorkel at the rugged Quarry Beach or meet the famous mob of kangaroos who live atop Gipsy Point. Known as Mallacoota’s best eatery, Lucy’s is a rustic noodle house where traditional rice noodles and dumplings are made from scratch and it’s become an institution for anyone visiting Mallacoota. 

Sparkling blue-green water meets the sandy beach of Mallacoota

Central Tilba

Travel along the beach road to Mimosa Rocks National Park, where you can swim and snorkel in the lagoons, surf at the ocean beaches and trek the jagged coastline. Stop at the picture-perfect village of Central Tilba, step back in time and explore local artisans, such as cheesemakers, wood-turners, glassworkers, jewellers, artists and winemakers. Classified by the National Trust, this once small dairy town has evolved into a fashionable destination remaining in a charming timewarp. Explore the Foxglove Gardens, which are in bloom all year round and indulge your cheesy cravings at the ABC Cheese Factory, where you can take a cheese-making tour and, of course, take your goodies home.

Batemans Bay

An unspoiled coastline of sparkling beaches, river estuaries and steep headlands, Batemans Bay is an idyllic stopover. Start your day surfing, snorkelling or diving, and finish off browsing through an impressive array of galleries showcasing local art. Spend the day at Surf Beach, where the crystal-clear waters are perfect for an underwater adventure on the Batemans Bay Snorkelling Trail. The enchanting Clyde River National Park is a natural playground by the river, boasting a variety of water activities and you have can’t miss out on the succulent Clyde River oysters. Drool. Top off your stay with a night spent cruising the Clyde River aboard a luxury houseboat.

Jervis Bay

Famed for possessing the whitest sand in Australia and turquoise waters to rival those of any, Jervis Bay offers a wealth of swimming, kayaking, boating, fishing, standup paddle boarding and surfing activities. Immerse yourself in nature here—Jervis Bay is home to two national parks, as well as Jervis Bay Marine Park, a haven for bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, little penguins and sea dragons. Booderee National Park boasts a menagerie of wildlife and swimming with the bottlenose dolphins is an absolute bucket-list moment. If you’re after bushland and bird song, stay at Hyams Beach Seaside Cottages—just 60 metres from the water, these pocket-sized dwellings boast quaint porches and gorgeous ocean views.

the white sand meets lush greenery in Jervis Bay

Sydney to Brisbane

Nelson Bay

Nelson Bay is the largest town in the Port Stephens area and has one epic drawcard—more than 100 dolphins live in the pristine waters of the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park making it one of the best spots in Australia to swim with dolphins. Thousands of whales migrate past this charming town between May and November, so a whale watching tour is mandatory. Cycle along the waterfront the perfect picnic spot at Bagnalls Beach, climb to the top of Gan Gan Hill Lookout and dip below the water at Fly Point-Halifax Aquatic Reserve, which boasts a colourful array of sea life. Indulge in truly exquisite seafood at Little Beach Boathouse, a stunning waterfront restaurant with an emphasis on fresh local seafood. 

Central Coast

From bushwalking in Bouddi National Park to surfing in North Avoca, there's certainly no shortage of activities on the Central Coast. Soak up the sun whilst canoeing, waterskiing, sailing, rowing or sailboarding on Tuggerah Lake, take a dip and a walk around Pearl Beach Rockpool and you have to take the walk from Macmasters Beach to Terrigal for the unmissable 5 Lands Coastal Walkway. You can keep the little ones (and big ones too) entertained with epic animal encounters at the Australian Reptile Park. For a truly unique getaway, stay in two Heritage-listed lighthouse keeper’s quarters and soak up the sweeping ocean views on Norah Head Lighthouse Reserve.

rolling green vineyards in Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley

With more than 120 wineries, including established names like McGuigan, Tyrrell, Tulloch and Drayton, the Hunter Valley is a must for any vino connoisseur. Indulge in wine tours or cooking classes, treat yourself at a luxurious day spa, or take a stroll through the boutique Handmade in the Hunter Market, featuring locally produced, handmade craft and foods. Did we mention the championship golf, award-winning restaurants and hot-air balloon flights? This magical region abounds with locally produced gourmet foods that will tempt any palate. We recommend booking a table at Muse Restaurant, a two-hatted eatery that is one of the region's main draws and showcases the best of Hunter Valley produce.

Port Stephens

Spanning 26 crystal-clear beaches, Port Stephens is the perfect holiday destination and boasts stunning sand dunes, coastal walks, national parks and a carefree beach lifestyle. Port Stephens is all about the sea and sand, tasting freshly caught seafood, wading in the clear waters and taking it slow. Head up to the Nelson Head Lighthouse and sip coffee with panoramic views over the bay, then hit the water at Fly Point Park to discover sea caves, sponge gardens and shipwrecks. For the more adventurous, sandboard down the spectacular Stockton Sand Dunes and hike to the top of Tomaree Head Summit for expansive ocean views. Bannisters at Port Stephens has preserved the bones of an iconic retro motel and refurbished the site into a vibrant yet secluded hotel, perfect for your stay in paradise.

a boat pulls into the coastal town of Port Stephens

Coffs Harbour

The beachside city of Coffs Harbour is surrounded by national parks and uncrowded beaches. From scuba diving to skydiving, surf rafting and whale watching, this beachside city is full of attractions to keep you busy. The Solitary Islands Marine Park is a highlight and is home to a variety of marine life and encompasses estuaries, sandy beaches and subtidal reefs. Take it slow and relax on gorgeous beaches like Jetty Beach and soak up the spectacular views at Sealy Lookout. You can’t leave Coffs without a visit to the iconic Big Banana and we always stop into Latitude 30, a landmark Coffs Harbour restaurant serving up the freshest of fish while overlooking the marina.

Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie offers a plethora of activities to get the adrenalin pumping—from 4WD tours and horse riding to tandem skydiving, paragliding, water skiing, kayaking and wakeboarding. If taking it slow is more your thing, this beachside town boasts 17 gorgeous beaches, a lush hinterland and a variety of attractions including the adorable Koala Hospital, Billabong Zoo and gorgeous river cruises. At the end of the day, call into the Little Brewing Company cellar door and sample some of their award-winning beers. After your beers, rest your head at Diamond Waters Treehouse Retreat, an award-winning luxury private oasis hidden among the treetops. 

Yamba

Yamba was once a sleepy beachside town but is quickly shaping up to be the next Byron Bay, with world-famous surf breaks, untouched beaches and a town with just the right amount of coastal buzz. It’s worth a visit while this special town still maintains its unique charm. Just south of Yamba, Angourie is one the best point breaks in Australia and deep-sea fishing expeditions are legendary here. A kayaking tour will get you eye-to-eye with wild dolphins in the estuary and a hike to the top of Yamba Lighthouse is essential for stunning panoramic views. Pay a visit to Paradiso, a pan-Asian restaurant that slings epic cocktails and bao buns.

waves crash against the shore of Yamba

Byron Bay

This beachside paradise is rightfully known as one of the gems of the East Coast and boasts spectacular beaches, unique shopping and dining experiences, world-class festivals, and vibrant community spirit. You'll find a wide range of delicious cafes—plant based peeps rejoice ‘cause there are loads of vege-friendly options—and the iconic Byron Bay Farmers' Markets every Thursday and Saturday are the prime spot to stock up on fresh produce. Don't miss a stroll along Cape Byron to the Byron Bay lighthouse on Australia's most easterly point and be the first in Australia to watch the sunrise. Bliss. Top off your Byron experience with a visit to Mark + Vinny’s Place, which is known as the Italian mecca of Byron and serves up some of the best Italian around (with a cheeky twist). 

Gold Coast

Stretches of pristine beaches, bustling nightlife and ancient rainforests are just a few of the highlights of this vibrant coastal region. Embrace the unrivalled energy of the Gold Coast, where beautiful sandy beaches, thrilling theme parks and a vibrant dining and cultural scene come to life in this entertainment playground. Whether it’s watching the sunrise at Burleigh, taking in the golden sand at Surfers Paradise, exploring the serene Gold Coast Hinterland or getting your heart racing at world-class theme parks, this special place is about savouring the sun on your skin and salt in your hair. Sip on cocktails while watching the sunset dip below the Surfers Paradise coastline and waves roll in just metres from your table at the iconic Burleigh Pavilion

the lush green hinterland of the gold coast

Brisbane To Cairns

MARCOOLA

Nestled on the Sunshine Coast between Mudjimba and Noosa, Marcoola is the quiet beach town you didn’t know still existed in Queensland. Providing the perfect blend of blissfully tourist-free beaches with a thriving organic foodie culture and accommodation that won’t cut into your retirement fund, Marcoola is a well-guarded local secret for a very good reason. Our recommendation: start your weekend getaway a cold pressed juice at The Grilled Gecko Café, stock up on produce from the attached organic grocer and then head to the beach for a picnic next to the sea. If you've got room left, you could always make the two kilometre journey along the beach to nearby Mudjimba and finish the afternoon with a tipple at the High Tide Bar & Grill. Queensland, you spoil us.

Rainbow Beach

All-too-often overshadowed by its famous neighbour, world heritage-listed Fraser Island, Rainbow Beach is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered. The sleepy surf town gets its name from a stunning stretch of beachside cliffs coloured with rippling shades of orange, red, amber and brown. You’ll want to head to Double Island Point to check out its 19th-century lighthouse, and stroll on a massive batch of sand at the Carlo Sand Blow. But if you’re looking for adventure, don’t be fooled by the town’s laid-back facade—Rainbow Beach is home to Wolf Rock, one of the most sought after natural dive sites in the world. The four volcanic pinnacles that make up the site are an official marine sanctuary for critically endangered Grey Nurse sharks, so you’re guaranteed to make some fishy friends. You can go on tour with Wolf Rock Dive to see the rock, but if you’re looking to head underwater, you’ll need to have a dive certificate. 

a car is parked on the golden sand of Rainbow Beach

Bargara

When we promised you beach towns, it’s a pretty safe bet that Bundaberg wasn’t the first place on your mind—or the second. Or the tenth. But trust us, Bargara is everything you want and more in a perfect seaside getaway. Just 10kms east of Bundaberg town centre, you’ll be greeted by the sight of palm trees lining the foreshore, and golden sands stretching out to meet the sparkling turquoise ocean. On the Coral Coast, swimming is an all-year-round activity, and when the tide comes in we suggest heading to The Basin to feed the fish that will be vying for your attention the moment you step into the water. Of course, the beaches aren’t the only thing on offer—we recommend taking your appetite for the delicious cafes and bars dotting the town, and stopping at Robertson Flower Farm to smell the flowers on your way. 

AGNES WATER AND 1770

Located about six hours north of Brisbane, the twin beach towns of Agnes Water and 1770 mark the northernmost surf beaches in Australia and they're absolutely dreamy. They also happen to be situated on the southernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef and all the beauty that entails. So, basically, they’re a little slice of tropical beach heaven without the exxy resort fees. These quaint coastal towns offer the opportunity for visitors to surf, swim and snorkel—all in the same place—while getting some much needed R&R against a stunning coastal backdrop. Sounds rough, right? 

The sparkling blue-green waters of Agnes beach.

Yeppoon 

Just under 40 minutes’ drive from Rockhampton sits Yeppoon, a stunning coastal town along the Capricorn Coast. Full of beach-chic boutiques, murals, and op shops, there’s plenty to keep you entertained before your feet even hit the sand. But once the waves start calling, hit the water and see if you can spot a dugong hiding amongst the seagrass, or wait ‘til the tide heads out to explore the caves and rock pools. The town even has its own lagoon, complete with a beachside infinity pool, and if you can get up early, it’s a stunning spot to catch the sunrise. Boasting delicious tropical produce and fresh seafood, Yeppoon is an idyllic introduction to beachside living—so good luck dragging yourself home. 

Bowen

If you haven’t heard of Bowen, it’s probably because the name has been lost to whispered declarations of awe and wonder over the peninsula’s most popular attraction—Horseshoe Bay. The iconic beach is regularly listed as one of the best in Australia (no surprises there, it is in Queensland) thanks to its two granite outcrops which provide perfect conditions for snorkelling just a short swim away from the beach. Of course, Bowen’s other beaches aren’t anything to sniff at either. The calm, azure waters of Gray’s Bay make canoeing and paddle boarding a breeze, and the secluded Murray’s Bay is an excellent fishing spot. If you’re a fan of the Big Pineapple, you can tick off a visit to another of Australia’s ridiculously-oversized fruit structures by checking out the Big Bowen Mango. Even better, bite into a real one while you’re there.

Dreaming of your next getaway already? We reckon it’s about time you explored the jaw-droppingly beautiful Top End and fuel your wanderlust with our ultimate guide to Darwin.

Image Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland, Destination NSW, Visit Victoria, Getty

Get our top stories direct to your inbox.

Get our top stories direct to your inbox.

You May Also Like