Travelling up the East Coast of Australia is one of the worlds most popular backpacking routes – but what’s the best way to tackle it?
I’ve been getting a lot of email from readers lately asking about travelling the East Coast of Australia, an area of the world I’m pretty clued up on having spent heaps of time there over the last few years.
I’ve already chatted about how long you should take to travel the East Coast and how much you should budget for Australia so since it’s a topic a lot of you guys want more info on I thought I’d put together a stand alone blog post for you all showcasing some of the ways you can travel around on this awesome part of Oz.
So if you’re looking at heading that way – on a working holiday visa or just some time backpacking – there’s a heap of options for you to choose from…
What’s The Best Way To Travel The East Coast Of Australia?
One of the most famous ways of getting up the East Coast trail is the Oz Experience. Admittedly it has a bit of a reputation for being a bit of a mental boozey, party bus – however this has changed recently. Basically the Greyhound Bus company bought them out, so the Oz Experience is much more chilled now and the bus passes actually use the Greyhound buses – so it’s a totally different experience these days!
The Oz Experience travel passes come in a variety of routes (including Melbourne – Cairns and Sydney – Cairns which are the most popular) and you can even bundle in some of the main tours (like the Whitsundays and Fraser Island) to make things easier and save yourself some dollar too.
It’s a hop on, hop off style throughout, so you dictate where you go and how long for, which is perfect for those who want to wing it, or those who want to simply structure it all before they leave!
Passes are usually valid for 3 months but you can pay to extend this to 6 if you’re staying longer.
The first is the destination passes, like Oz experience this is a one way route from point to point – however the Greyhound ones have much more variety depending on how you travel around and again are valid for 3 or 6 months.
The second option is the KM pass, where you buy an amount of KMs and are free to use them how you please.This comes with 2 massive advantages.
Firstly the pass is valid for 12 months, so if you’re on a working holiday visa or longer stay it’s perfect.
Secondly you’re only limited with distance, not route – so if you decide to fly from Brisbane to Melbourne and then travel back to Sydney you can simply use the same pass, this is great for those who are bouncing around a lot of flying between spots to find work.
If you’re running low on KMs you can top it up and if you have a few too many you can also exchange it for day trips and tours.
And finally in 2018 Greyhound launched the new Greyhound WHIMit bus passes – which offer unlimited travel across the entire Greyhound network valid from 7 day up to an entire year depending on the pass you choose – including backtracking and even their routes to/from the Red Centre!
This is perfect for those who aren’t sure of their plans but who have a set time frame in which to travel.
The Greyhound Bus Passes tend to be the option of choice for self guided East Coast Australia Package Deals as they’re cheap, flexible and hit up all the major spots.
The Greyhound WHIMit Passes start at $249 for 7 days and run all the way to $1499 for the year long pass.
This would be my personal choice if I was doing the East Coast again as it’s cheap, flexible and takes in all the major stops. If you’re looking for a full list of where the Greyhound stops check out this post – it’s also the option I suggest using for the trip in my How To Spend 1 Month In Australia, Sample Itinerary post
The other main hop on, hop off style bus service is the Premier Bus. It’s the same as Greyhound in structure – running up/down the East Coast stopping at all the major destinations en route.
For the budget conscious the Premier Bus Passes are cheaper than Greyhound (roughly $100 per pass) so if money is the deciding factor this is the option to go with!
However with these savings come some disadvantages. Firstly you won’t be able to include Melbourne on any hop on hop off pass (although you can buy a Sydney to/from Melbourne pass with Greyhound on top) but more importantly is the fact Premier only has one departure per day compared with the multiple ones on Greyhound.
For some this won’t be an issue and the savings are worth it – but for certain route and overnight options this can be a huge inconvenience – especially into Noosa and Rainbow Beach when you have to attend safety briefings the night before your Fraser Island tour.
Still if you plan well and need the save as much money as possible it’s a solid option!
Loka Travel Passes Stray Australia
**UPDATE – Loka have now merged with Stray Travel and are now called Stray Australia – check out the full range of Stray Australia bus passes here**
The new kid on the block so to speak is Loka. The brainchild of the guy who launched Oz Experience, Kiwi Experience and Stray it’s a hybrid and mid ground between the hop on, hop off bus passes and a full blown tour.
Basically it’s guided throughout, but you can hop off at any destination and extend your stay. This means it attracts a broad range of travellers – those who like to wing it and those who want some more structure, meaning there’s always a great group vibe and dynamic whichever pass you choose.
The Loka travel passes also mix it up a bit in terms of transport too – buses up to Noosa and then trains from there to Cairns. This cuts down travel time and also makes the journey heaps more comfortable too!
Loka also takes in some more off the beaten track destinations too – including wine valleys and cattle farms. This means you’ll get to meet heaps of locals and see a different side to Oz.
Since merging with Stray they have now also launched the Freestyle Tour Passes too, which include your first nights accommodation in each stop and top tours like Fraser and Whitsundays, sos you can use them as a mini tour option as well.
The only downside is that the passes are only valid for 3 months – so if you’re staying for longer you might need to split the passes up, however it’s sweet as if you’re on a smaller time scale!
UPDATE: Loka Passes now have a full 12 month validity, so they’re even more flexible!
A Guided Tour
If you’re travelling solo, are nervous or have a strict budget or time frame then a straight up tour through Australia might be a solid shout.
There’s heaps of different options on the market – including G Adventures and Topdeck.
These usually work out more pricey than the bus pass options and are fixed times and dates – so it’s not for everyone. The fixed price and massive amount of inclusions do however have their advantage if you’re working within fixed time frames and money.
Personally I’m not a huge fan of the whole organised tour thing, especially since the East Coast of Oz is so much fun and easy to travel off your own back. Each to their own though and if it’s something you don’t feel comfortable doing solo or you really want to kick back and have all the key things organised for you this would be the option for you.
If you want a bit more flexibility in your routing and really enjoy a road trip experience hiring a car or campervan could be worth a look.
The main advantage hiring a campervan in Australia is the fact you can obviously stop off wherever and you’re in control of your itinerary. Unlike buying a van it also means your hire is a fix cost (except fuel of course) and you don’t need to worry about selling it at the end.
If you add in breakdown and pay the extra for a full comprehensive insurance it also means there’s little in the way of worries about mechanics and what not too.
It can work out costly if it’s just a couple of people or over a long time period though and you do need to have set start/finish dates and places., but for shorter trips and groups it’s a great alternative way to travel.
I campervanned Perth – Darwin on the West Coast of Australia and it was heaps of fun, just don’t underestimate the travelling distances and times!
Check out companies like Spaceships, Jucy, Britz and Travellers Auto Barn – all of which have different models and prices. Or let the guys at RTW Backpackers find you the best deal with their Australia campervan hire enquiry form!
Buy A Campervan/Car
If you’re looking to be in complete control of your trip buying a campervan or car is the best option by far, in fact this is what I did on my working visa in Australia!
I bought a van, chucked a bed in the back, built a mini kitchen/BBQ thing and loaded my surfboard on the roof – easily the best travelling decision I’ve ever made!
HOWEVER this option does come with a rather hefty price tag and there are some serious pitfalls you need to avoid!
Do some homework before buying and it might even be worth paying a mechanic to check it over, the last thing you want is the engine to blow up 100km down the road after buying it…which actually happened to my buddy!
I lucked out with my van, the only extra cost was a replacement battery (because I left the lights on!) and sold it at the end of my trip with only a minimal loss. If I’d sold it in either Sydney or Cairns I would have easily made all of my money back!
Apart from dictating your own timescales and routes this option all means you can save some serious money on accommodation too. There are heaps of spots around Oz where you can camp for free, although in key areas (like Sydney, Byron Bay and Melbourne) you may well have to pay for a camping spot, so keep that in mind.
If you’re sensible thought and buy a non graffiti covered car or van you can sneakily stay in residential areas to save some money….I spent 3 weeks in Melbourne on a residential street and 2 weeks at Bondi Beach (amongst others!), just be quiet, considerate and don’t push your luck too much as they can hand out some hefty fines!
Find The Option That Suits You
As you can see no matter what your style of travel, budget or time frame there’s a good selection of ways to travel the East Coast of Australia – so check them all out and figure out which suits you best.
What I can say though is no matter which way you opt to travel around the East Coast is always full of treats and I’m sure you’ll be back for more…I’m always looking for a way to pencil it into my travel plans again!
If you’re heading there soon check out RTW Backpackers for heaps of awesome packages and travel passes. Or let me help plan your Aussie adventure with my East Coast Australia Trip Planner!