Now that we’ve made it around most of Australia, all that’s left to do is to mosey on down the east coast from Cairns to Sydney, the unofficial capital of Australia.
We’ve left the dry arid plains of Central Australia behind and are about to embark on a tropical journey through rainforests, across beaches and into cities. It’s time to meet the real Australia; where you won’t just find international visitors, you’ll also find thousands of Aussies from across the country flocking to the beach, where they can catch a few rays and drink as many beers as they like.
First thing’s first, when it comes to visiting Cairns, make sure you’ve researched the weather! This part of tropical North Queensland, while certainly not the hottest part of Australia, is incredibly humid. What does this mean? Well, it means that you’ll step out of the shower and want to step back in pretty much immediately because your skin will get super sweaty and sticky ridiculously fast!
The wet season is also a bitch, with torrential rains and the possibility of cyclones. So, if you want to make the most of this coastal part of Queensland, the best time to go is between April and September. This is considered the winter season, but the temperatures are still nice and warm and there’s minimal rain. During summer, there’s a good chance you’ll be so sweaty you won’t know if it’s raining or if you’re just sweating a downpour.
Now that we’ve got that sorted, what can you do in Cairns? Well, you can stare in shock at the bats just chilling in the trees, or you can get a little more proactive and head down to the Cairns Esplanade. Bordered by the city centre and the Coral Sea, there’s a saltwater lagoon pool with sandy edges and barbecues and playgrounds – perfect for if you’ve got the kids with you. When we were there, there was even a market!
You can also hit up the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which you can read all about in our post, Conquering Fears in Cairns, or you can head out to the Great Barrier Reef, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The real gems of Cairns, however, lie outside the city limits.
Port Douglas is a little tourist town that’s just under an hour from Cairns. When I went to North Queensland, I actually stayed here for a week, and took my time exploring Four Mile Beach, the surrounding cane fields, and of course, the rainforest!
You can feed native animals at the wildlife sanctuary, hire a bike to ride around the town, walk up to the town’s peak for some scenic views, or jump on a tour bus or hire a car to head further north to Cape Tribulation in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest.
The Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation
Channel your inner Steve Irwin on a crocodile spotting cruise, take a dip at Mossman Gorge or take a hike through the thick of the rainforest. You can also dig into a thick piece of steak before taking a stroll along the beach at Cape Tribulation. This part of Queensland is undoubtedly one of my favourite places in Australia, and I just know you’ll love it too!
However, prepare to shit yourself at the sight of spiders as big as your head (I’m not kidding).
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s national treasure. As a Melburnian, I like to think that people really want to visit Australia to see our multi-cultural city, but if I’m being honest with myself, deep down I know that they come to hit up the beaches in Queensland and to snorkel/dive The Great Barrier Reef.
How does Cairns come into this? Well, Cairns is the gateway to the reef. You can snorkel or view the colourful majesty from a glass-bottomed boat, or put on a wetsuit and jump right in to see the world’s biggest coral reef up-close and personal. Word to the wise though, coral bleaching is slowly destroying the reef, so if you’ve always dreamt of going diving in Queensland, now’s the time to do it!
Brisbane marks the next stop on our journey down the coast. You can still expect to experience hotter than usual temperatures, the laid-back Aussie attitude (which I’m sure you’ve come to love), all while soaking up the best of the city!
Perched along the Brisbane River and only about a 40-minute drive from the sandy white beaches of the Gold Coast, Brisbane encompasses the best of Queensland’s coastal surrounds and the coolest parts of Melbourne’s culture and art scene.
I’d highly recommend visiting the South Bank Cultural precinct where you can check out the Queensland Museum and Science Centre, as well as the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, and if you’re visiting in spring, make sure you soak up the sight of the blooming Jacarandas that colour the city purple each year.
The Gold Coast
Home to the best theme parks this side of the equator, some of the finest beaches in the country, and of course, some pretty great coastal walks, if you haven’t been to the Gold Coast, you’re really missing out.
Think Warner Brother’s Movieworld, Dreamworld, Seaworld and my personal favourite, Wet n Wild, where you’ll happily spend $10 on one measly churro, only to nearly throw it up again when you jump on your tenth roller coaster for the day.
A lot of tourists like to stay in Surfers Paradise, but while it’s worth a visit, you’re much better off heading a little further down the coast to Broadbeach or Palm Beach, where the beaches are just as nice but a hell of a lot quieter. If you’ve got the time, the Sunshine Coast is even better and much less touristy.
Do not, I repeat, do not go to Byron Bay during schoolies time! From late October right through November, this touristy little hipster, weed smoking town turns into a drunken port for newly free-from-the-establishment high school kids. Trust me, it will not be fun!
However, any other time of the year, Byron Bay is just beautiful, albeit a little on the touristy side, which I’m sure the locals have a love-hate relationship with. Much like the Gold Coast and Cairns, there are plenty of beaches and walking tracks you can enjoy.
Take the coastal walk up to Cape Byron Light, explore the Arakwal National Park or learn to surf at the beach. If you like the ocean and coastal or wilderness-type walks, you’re pretty much set in Byron Bay.
So I hope you’re not sick of the beach because we’re still not done with it! Coffs Harbour is a city on the north coast of New South Wales and is pretty much known for its beaches; so don’t pack away your bathers just yet!
But if you’re getting a tad sick of finding sand in a whole bunch of nasty places and are way too burnt to head to the beach yet again (I feel your pain), why not check out the Big Banana or take a stroll through the Coffs Harbour Marina?
Remember how we said in Part Three of this four-part series that you could ride a camel around Uluru, well in Port Macquarie, you can ride one across the beach – who knew camel rides were such a big thing in the land down under? You can also visit the Cedar Creek Goldfield, where you can pan for gold like you’re a 19th-century gold digger or do early morning yoga on the beach before catching some waves at many of this picturesque port’s surf beaches.
You know how you read in your school textbooks that Canberra is the capital of Australia? Well, scrap that, because the ACT might be home to the Australian government, but it’s got nothing on Sydney! In fact, Sydney was originally the capital, before it was later moved to Canberra; but that’s a whole other kettle of fish!
Now, when we think of Sydney, images of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour, and the Opera House come to mind. It’s pretty much a given that you should check these sites out, even if it’s just for a quick selfie for your Instagram account or so you can say you’ve been. But, while you’re there, why not do a bridge climb and take in the views of the harbour from the best possible vantage point, or take a cruise through the harbour, while you sip on Champagne like you’re a member of the Australian elite?
However, if you want to ditch the crowds at the beach, Manly Beach is only a little bit further out than Bondi, is just as beautiful, and not quite as crowded.
You can also check out one of the city’s many dog-friendly or cat cafes, and do a touch of shopping at the historic Strand Arcade.
The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are Sydney’s answer to The Grampians. They’re insanely beautiful, have some great camping or luxury accommodation options, and are undoubtedly the best hiking spot in New South Wales.
Don’t believe us? Just check out these views?
So, make sure you pack your walking shoes and prepare your legs and feet for the best bloody workout they’ve ever gotten.
And that’s Australia, guys! It’s been a long four posts, but for the ultimate Aussie adventure, and for some fun off-the-beaten-track adventures, our How to Travel Australia Like a Local series pretty much sums up the best of this little ol’ country.