Australia is one of the top backpacking travel spots on the planet and somewhere I’ve spent quite a bit of time on my own travels. One of the questions I get asked most about is:

backpacking australia budget costs


“How long do I need to spend on the East Coast of Australia

The Sydney To Cairns (or other way around!) route is the mainstay of backpacking in Australia – with so many amazing place sin between it’s the perfect travel trail for those in search of sun, fun and adventure.

But how long is best to spend on the East Coast?

2 Weeks?

4 Weeks?

Maybe ever longer?

Well here’s my advice to you on how long to spend and what you can realistically achieve in any given time frame.


The East Coast Australia Trail – It’s BIG!

backpacking east coast australia

This Isn’t A Short Trip!

The first thing I should really mention is the fact that the distance between Sydney and Cairns is pretty damn sizeable – 2628km along the coastal route…which is about 31 hours of solid driving time!

Alot of people seem to overlook the sheer scale of the route when planning – so it’s good to keep this in mind.

To put it more into context I guess you probably wouldn’t want to spend more than 4 hours a day driving/travelling if you’re on holiday. So with that in mind it would take you just over a week to complete it all.

…the times mounting up quickly hey?!


The 2 Week Option

It IS possible to do the entire route in 2 weeks – in fact many travel agencies in Australia sell such packages. In a super competitive market where budget is the main factor in any travellers decision making process they are also the cheapest options, which draws in many people.

However I would NEVER recommend trying to complete the route in 2 weeks. It’s a ridiculous concept that will see you spending waaaaaay too many consecutive hours on buses, having an incredibly limited amount of time in each stop, passing by many amazing locations and just rushing it all.

East Coast Australia is an incredible part of the world and something you should take your time exploring.

Sure 2 weeks is going to be the cheapest option, but it isn’t going to be the most fun. However if you are restricted to a 2 week Australia itinerary here’s what I’d recommend;

campervan australia est coast brisbane

Looooooong, Empty Roads!


1 night in Sydney

2 nights in Byron Bay

1 night in Rainbow beach (pre tour)

2 nights on Fraser Island

1 night in Rainbow Beach (post tour)

1 night in Airlie Beach (pre tour)

2 nights on Whitsunday Islands

1 night in Airlie Beach (post tour)

2 nights in Cairns


…and then you’d also have 2 overnight buses in there too (Sydney to Byron Bay and Rainbow Beach to Airlie Beach) – not so brilliant hey?!


The 4 Week Option

A much more sensible option is 4 weeks. This gives you twice the amount of time to play with and therefore a lot more down time. In my opinion 4 weeks is the minimum time frame you should be looking at and will allow you to really explore places and give you a good amount of scope when it comes to extending your stay or changing your plans. 4 weeks on the east coast of Austrlaia would pan out something like this;


3 nights in Sydney

2 nights in Yamba

campervan east coast of australia

Fond Memories Of East Coast Roadtripping!

4 nights in Byron

2 nights in Brisbane

2 nights in Noosa

1 night in Rainbow beach (pre tour)

2 nights on Fraser Island

1 night in Rainbow Beach (post tour)

1 night in Airlie Beach (pre tour)

2 nights on Whitsunday Islands

1 nights in Airlie Beach (post tour)

2 nights on Magnetic Island

4 nights in Cairns


As you can see you get a lot more nights in places so the pace is slowed down heaps – and you can also fit in extra stops like Yamba and Magnetic Island. This also give allows you to budget in Sydney and Cairns into the mix too.

I’ve left a couple days to play with that you can slot in whenever or extend your Cairns stay to fit in an open water dive course on the Great Barrier Reef or even a couple days further north in Cape Tribulation. For a bit of an added extra you could also cut out one of the nights in Airlie Beach or disregard Magnetic Island and fit Melbourne into it too.

I know a lot of people only have 4 weeks to play with when travelling Australia – so I put together a post on How To Spend 1 Month In Australia which contains a full itinerary including bus times to help you out!

The 6 Week Option

australia roadtrip buddies

Roadtripping To With My Buddies!

For me 6 weeks is the ideal amount of time to spend on the East Coast. It gives you plenty of extra time to really break everything up and have some serious down time. You can also easily fit Melbourne into the mix too as it’s only a short flight or overnight bus to connect from Melbourne to Sydney and then head upwards up the coast.

Stop wise basically just pad out the 4 week trip with longer stop overs really! You certainly have the scope to add in extra like Cape Tribulation (just above Cairns) and even break up the Sydney to Byron leg with spots like Coffs Harbour.

The best advice with 6 weeks though is the fact you know you have a solid amount of time – maybe don’t even make a plan and see where it leads you!


The 12 Months Option!

roadtrip australia backpacker

Kick Back, Relax And Enjoy!

If you’re heading out to Australia on a working holiday visa then you’ve potentially got a year to play with which is awesome!

This is going to allow you to bounce around, backtrack, change plans, basically do whatever you want. Leave if you don’t like a place, stay until you get bored if you enjoy another!

If you do have 12 months though two words of advice – don’t smash out the whole coast in one shot quickly just because you can. If you like somewhere, stay and work to top up the funds. Move on when it feels right. I spent over 6 months in Byron Bay before exploring anywhere further north than Noosa.

Do I have any regrets? Nope! I loved that place!

The other word of advice – why just the East Coast? Western Australia is a bit more off the backpacker trail and there’s heaps to do, so there’s no reason to constrain yourself to the East Coast trail simply because that’s where everyone else seems to be heading!

Ultimate Australia Guide backpacker travel working holiday oz

So What Do I Recommend?!

Bottom line is – the more time you have the better! Obviously time constraints and budgets come into it but try not to rush if you can help it. It’s better to spend a bit more time and money and do it properly than to leave Australia feeling like you rushed it and didnt get the most out of this wonderful country.

If you need any other help planning check out my East Coast Mini guide and Australia Monthly Budget posts for tips on how to make the most of the land down under.

Make sure you check out some of the awesome East Coast Australia Packages over at RTW Backpackers too or customise your own East Coast Package!



Have you hit up the East Coast Trail?

Anything you’d add in about time and stops?


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32 Responses

  1. Holly

    This is fab thank you.. So looking forward to my month travelling in Oct up the east coast! : )

  2. Monty

    How much do you think you should budget for say, 8 weeks sydney to cairns not leaving anything out and plenty of drinking? any guesstimates would be appreciated!

  3. Martin

    Hey there,
    I´m going to do this trip from Cairns to Sydney this year! Very excited already.
    We are 2 and we will start at the end of July….and that leads me to my question now.
    We will stay there from July till the end of August and I want to ask you what´s the “winter” in australia like? :D

    Best wishes from Austria,

    • Chris

      Hey Martin,
      Stoked to hear you’re heading out to tackle the East Coast – love that part of the world! Winter varies along the coast, I won’t lie Sydney could be pretty cold, but Cairns is going to be pretty hot! It might rain a bit, but it’ll still be pretty warm around Queensland! You’ll have a blast!

  4. louisa klimentos

    You are one amazing person ,Chris who appreciates Australia.I wish you can come back to australia and take the roads less travelled

  5. Lydia

    Hi Chris, thanks so much for all of your Australia advice! I have used it as the basis for planning my upcoming trip. One question for you – I am travelling the East Coast mid December- mid Jan which I understand is quite a peak time. I am travelling alone so keen to meet new people and continue my journey with new friends, however a lot of the hostels you recommend already seem to be booked up around Christmas and New Year! Is it best to pre-book hostels and trips at this time of year or wing it?



    • Chris

      Hey Lydia, stoked to hear about your trip! Indeed that’s peak season so it’s best to pre book if you can, or at least a few days in advance especially for key parts like xmas/new year and the week after new year as thats when a lot of people are moving around in the same direction!
      Chuck my buddy Crawf an email on – he works for a travel agency out there and can help you out no worries :)

  6. Jonny

    Suh dude!
    Me and ma boi are looking to hit up the East-Coast, we know we want to start at Adelaide and also visit Melbourne, Sydney, Fraser Island, Byron Bay and Cairns.
    Any other suggestions that will make our trip the best?
    Thanks bro

  7. Chelsey

    Hey Chris,
    I am planning the east coast trip second week of January, we end start in cairns and make out way down to Melbourne. Flights are booked! But now that I am planning I am reading that January is one of the worst months due to the weather. Did I make a mistake going in January?? :( also any suggestions for the great barrier reef, we are divers and would like the best experience since we may never be back at the barrier reef again.

    • Chris

      Hey Chelsey,
      Stoked to hear you’re heading to Australia – you’ll love it out here!
      Hmmmm weather wise how long are you spending between the two? If it’s over a couple of months or so it might be worth grabbing a cheap internal flight down to Melbourne and working your way up so you follow the best of the weather as Feb/March Melbourne starts cooling down. That being said slightly lower season means cheaper prices and less crowds!
      Dive wise if you’re going all out I’d recommend an overnight liveaboard with Deep Sea Divers Den – check it out on the following link;

      Ping me an email on the contact page and I’ll pass on some discount codes for you :)

      If you’re diver I also highly recommend diving in Byron Bay – during summer months its a great spot for Manta Rays and Leopard Sharks! Again let me know if you want any discounts!

      Take it easy


  8. Hannah

    Hi Chris! Im looking to do the east coast in 16 days. Ill be flying from cairns to brisbane, then driving from brisbane down to Melbourne, partly on the GOR, and then flying from Melbourne to Adelaide where Im living while on exchange. Could you give me a schedule breakdown similar to that in your article of where I should stay and for how long given my current time restraints? Id appreciate it!

  9. Leanne

    I will be booking the 30 day tour so hostels and transport is included. I will just be paying for additional activities, eating and drinking.
    Would you say £60 GBP would be per day?

    • Chris

      Hey Leanne,
      There are a few tour options on RTW but most of them include accomodation, however transport usually isn’t include to allow you to pick the best option for you (Greyhound, Premier, campervan etc)
      So yes £60 per day for additional activities, eating and drinking should cover you easily – although that obviously depends what activities! chuck me an email on if you have any questions!

  10. Joey deegan

    My name is joey , heading to oz on the 4/6/17 i have 19 days to get from cairns to sydney as i fly home the 25. Looking for advice . I have a camper booked. Any advice would be greatly appricated
    Thanking you

    • Chris

      Hi Joey – check out my other site and drop me an email – I can hook you up with some awesome tour deals!

  11. Kamil

    Hello Chris! I will be going to traveling from Melbourne to Cairns in Australia. I will be flying in from New Zealand on September 25th. I was thinking of spending 3-4 weeks and would like to end my trip with a Great Barrier Reef activity in Cairns before leaving to England. Any advice on a good 3 week itinerary for Melbourne to Cairns as I’d to minimize my budget and time but without rushing too much. Any advice for the Great Barrier Reef exploration would be greatly appreciated as well. Thanks for your help!

    • Chris

      Hey Kamil,
      Stoked to hear you’re heading to Oz from NZ :)
      If you’re looking for some help with your trip check out my other site which specialises in east Coast Australia and we can help put together your perfect itinerary and give you a discounted deal too, our custom package builder is available on the following link;

      For the Great Barrier Reef I’d recommend the guys from Deep Sea Divers Den – I’ve used them for a few years now and always have a blast!
      If you have any other questions let me know and I’d be happy to help!

  12. megan

    hey there – awesome post I love reading your stuff its always so helpful ! I’m am looking for some advice though if you can help me…I land in Sydney on the 8th March ’18 and my flight to NZ from Melbourne leaves on the 14th May so I essentially have just over 9 weeks travel time: this is where it gets tricky: given the seasons / months I’m there would you recommend I made my way up from Sydney to Cairns then took a direct flight to Melbourne to spend my last week before heading to NZ or would you land in Sydney, spend a week there then fly to cairns and make your way down the east coast to Melbourne ? I’ve been toying with the idea of both now for so long I figured you might have some advice for me I’m so stuck haha!
    Thanks in advance x

    • Chris

      Hey Megan,
      Stoked to hear about your East Coast plans and good work with the 9 week plan…plenty of time t enjoy everything!
      Personally I’d go for the third option – land in Sydney, spend some time there then head to Melbourne for a week before flying over to Byron Bay from there (either Ballina, Gold Coast or Brisbane Airport) and then head up to Cairns.
      The reason I suggest this is you’re finishing up in May which is pretty much Aussie winter…and yes Australian can actually get a bit cold, especially in Melbourne! So doing your Melbourne part at the start will mean you get the best of the weather down there and can then follow the summer up the coast!
      Plus that means you can just grab a Brisbane > Cairns Greyhound Pass which saves you $100 and includes the leg from Byron > Brisbane for free!
      I hope that helps! Also check out my other site which specialises in Oz and NZ travel and drop me an email – I’ll hook you up with some discounts and help plan your trip if you want!

      Take it easy



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