We did it! We quit our job and started to travel – 12 months of complete freedom, adventure-chasing and memory-making. Our first one-way ticket led us to Australia, the continent of vast outback & nature, surfer vibes and buzzing metropolises. Exploring Down Under marked the perfect start to our trip around the world and left us stunned by its beauty – we couldn’t recommend it more. A road trip around Australia is a big, fat adventure and shouldn’t be missed on every travelers bucket list. But: It is a vast country, you can easily waste a lot of time going to places that are really not worth it, so better read our guide.
This is an overview of our 4-month road trip around Australia – from the East all the way to the West Coast. It includes the best travel destinations that we consider as “must-dos” but also honest advice on over-hyped places and travel fails that easily can be crossed out of your travel plan. Get ready for the time of your life and road trip the hell out of this beautiful country.
Before we get started we want to share some words about our trip and way of traveling.
# We were road-tripping in an overlanding vehicle – a Land Cruiser 80 series with a rooftop tent, which is perfectly fitted for all the crazy stuff. So we can go off-road, cross rivers and climb steep descends with our car. The beauty with this mode of travel is that you can go along the tourist routes but also off the beaten track, away from the masses and enjoy the best places all to yourself, in the middle of nature.
# We were striving for the perfect mix out of adventure, pure nature, remote places but also city life, surfer vibes and now and then some luxury. Other than most Australian backpackers we are not on a strict budget – so you will figure now and then we exchange our rooftop bed for some luxury.
# We love meeting people, having a drink mostly ends up in 10 more and we easily get soaked into the party mode (although we have to get up the next morning). But we are not 20 anymore – so we are past the times of wet t-shirt contests, 10-bed-dorms and party hostels already.
# Traveling is about experiences – and we were lucky that we had the most unforgettable, amazing and positive events throughout our road trip around Australia. However, you cannot bet on everything working out perfectly all the time. So, at the end of month four traveling Australia, on the way from Ayers Rock to Perth, we had an accident – a rollover on a muddy dirt road. Our car was completely wrecked, but luckily we were fine. This put an end to our Australia trip as we decided to skip Western Australia with a heavy heart and continue our travels in India. Nevertheless, it is an experience that is part of our travels and remains part of our world trip.
Here we go! Unforgettable, adventurous 4 months road trip around Australia in fast-forward.
Recommendation: Do It! 2-4 days
Sydney was our first destination in Australia and the pick-up place of our Land Cruiser, which we bought already beforehand from Germany. When we landed, Sydney presented itself in all its beauty with a bright blue sky, green parks everywhere and lots of sunshine. And this is what Sydney is to us – a pretty city with lots of sights and lively city beaches. It isn’t particularly cool or hip and they have ridiculous rules that most of the bars have to close at 1 am latest – but it still conveys a charm that makes it worthwhile seeing.
You will figure along your road trip around Australia that there are two kinds of people – the Sydney lovers and the Melbourne lovers. The unspoken rule seems to be that if you love one city you must hate the other one – it felt as if we were the only people that are indifferent. Melbourne is hipper, there is no question about it – but Sydney with its sights and beaches and parks is simply prettier. So for us there was no clear winner and we give it an even. So the recommendation is clear – experience both, Sydney & Melbourne, and decide for yourselves.
# Do the Sydney-Classic: Walk the Harbour Bridge and enjoy a beautiful view of the Sydney Opera House. It’s probably as touristy as it gets but it offers an amazing and infamous view.
# Visit a show in the Opera House: We agree that the tickets are pricey, but it is a once in a lifetime chance and will remain an unforgettable experience. We went for a great dinner at The Meat and Wine Co. at Circular Quay, did the short walk to the Opera House and watched the All You Need Is Love Beatles-show.
# Do a bar crawl: Sydney is a bit boring when it comes to nightlife but they do have some great bars that are definitely worth visiting. Our favorite was Mjölner, a Wiking -themed cocktail bar that also offers great food (for dinner you should reserve beforehand). Be aware that most of the Sydney bars close at 1 am – apparently this is to prevent drunk fights…
# Chill at Bondi Beach: Get a tan on the beach, dip in the water, do some surfing if you fancy and watch the hipster crowd enjoying themselves. Also visit the flee market if it’s on and have lunch and a daytime vine in one of the restaurants.
Recommendation: Do it, if you love remote camping (4WD only). 1-2 days
Samurai Beach is only 1 hour north from Sydney, but lets you feel like in another world. It is the perfect escape from the busy city-life and a great spot for all adventure campers. The beach is only reachable with a proper 4WD car as there is a 20 min stretch of bumpy road and you have to drive on the sand to find your spot for the night. It was quite windy when we got there so we set up camp behind the dunes, had a great campfire and some beers. There is no facilities whatsoever, no water, no toilets.
Recommendation: Can be missed!
We had a really rainy camp night and the weather wasn’t going to change for the next days. So we were fancying a nice hotel escape to dry up and enjoy ourselves. Some locals recommended to us Hunter Valley, a wine region just west of Sydney with some nice resorts and hotels. It is certainly a nice place but if you’ve ever seen wine regions In Italy or France it will leave you disappointed. If it wasn’t so close to Sydney, nobody would be talking about it.
Recommendation: Don’t do it! Except you make it to the Country Music Festival taking place every January – provided you like country music.
My husband promised me sunshine and heat in Australia and it was raining. There was a storm hitting Australia’s East and the weather was rough and cold all the way along the coast and not changing anytime soon. I had enough of that in Germany, so I insisted on my promised sunshine! So, instead of driving up the East Coast we decided to cut inland and discover the bush lands and get a first impression of Australia’s outback – the way back down we will go along the coast.
Tamworth was our first destination – the country music capital of Australia. Well, at least once a year for the annual Country Music Festival taking place in January with up to 50.000 visitors. Other than that the town is pretty unspectacular – it felt as if it is asleep all year until it awakes in January for the festival. The only attraction is a huge guitar statue on a parking spot, but definitely not a must-see.
NINDIGULLY PUB IN THALLON
Recommendation: If you are in the area – do it!
The Nindigully pub is in the middle of nowhere embedded in red outback sand – miles away from any inhabited area. It is probably the coolest outback pub we discovered on our road trip around Australia. The bar is frequently visited by locals that work in construction or farming in this area and are always happy to meet travelers – it will be hard to understand their accent though. If you have some drinks or dinner at the pub they allow you to camp for free in their backyard. Make sure you get there hungry, they serve the biggest burger in whole Australia.
Recommendation: Can be missed! But if you have time it is a nice escape from the tourist route. If you do it, take your time.
We went along the Matilda Way – a 1812 km stretch from Cunnamulla in South Queensland to Karumba in North Queensland. If you have lots of time as we did it is a great way to discover Australia off the typical tourist track. You will meet friendly locals with accents that make you feel like in your first English class, cross through sleepy villages and miles of cattle farms, learn about the history of this rural area, sleep in or camp in the backyard of historical hotels and enjoy beers in rustic, cozy outback pubs.
By the way, the Matilda Way owes its name to Banjo Paterson who wrote Waltzing Matilda – the famous Australian song about a vagabond that camped on a billabong in his swag. The song was invented in 1895 and was first performed in the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, a really historic treasure that doesn’t offer rooms anymore but a pretty relaxed bar to have some beers at. If you’re interested – Winton is all about Waltzing Matilda and even has a museum telling you all there is to know about the song.
Recommendation: Can be missed! It’s just another town.
We cut our way back to the coast and reached Townsville after days of bush land. The storm has passed and the weather was predicted to be nice and sunny again on the East coast – so back we are. However, we found Townsville has nothing special to offer. There is a nice viewpoint from the top of a hill but other than that it is a simple town and we were missing a nice center with restaurant, bars & co. The YHA hostel is a really cool spot with a rooftop pool and bar – so if you are in Townsville make sure you stop by to have a drink. If you want to visit Magnetic Island (which isn’t a must do) the ferries leave from the port in Townsville.
Recommendation: Can be missed! 2 days
We had a nice breakfast the next morning and went to the port to leave for Magnetic Island. There are two different ferries – one that takes cars and campers and another only for passengers. We took our Land Cruiser as we wanted to discover the island. It is actually pretty expensive to take the car over so in contrast to what we did we’d recommend to only pay the passenger fee and rent one of the cars on the island – it for sure will be cheaper. We camped in the backyard of the YHA hostel in Magnetic Island which was a very cool place – includes nice amenities, a cool bar with live music, tasty restaurant and lots of wallabies hanging around. From there you can walk to the beachfront and they have the BBQ grillers on the beach which you will find all over Australia. Amazing invention, you just push the on-button, throw you steak on the grill and enjoy some BBQ fun – it’s for free by the way, just clean up after yourselves. Next to the YHA is also a koala sanctuary and it’s a nice day activity to do a tour and learn about the furry animals, you even get to hold one if you want.
Magnetic island is a nice trip, no question. But now after we saw so much more we wouldn’t consider it a must-do – during our 4 months road trip around Australia we encountered other beaches and islands that are so much more incredible that they blew us away. It is a nice island, but there are much better ones.
Recommendation: Do it! 2-3 days
After our Magnetic Island trip we left Townsville straight away and drove up the East Coast towards Mission Beach. It is magic how the nature changes to an environment that much looks like a rain forest and you drive by mountains of trees and bushes on the left side and the ocean to your right. It is stunning and we reached Mission Beach while the sun was slowly setting and coloring everything in warm orange.
There are several nice places to stay for the night – for the first we chose Jackaroo Hostel and camped in the backyard. They have the most stunning view over the rain forest, a nice pool and bush bar where we had a drunken night with some other backpackers. Thanks for the headache the next morning.
There are so many great hikes to do in this area, make sure you do at least one of them. The second night we stayed on a campground at the beach with some nice fish restaurants close.
PARONELLA PARK AT MENA CREEK
Recommendation: Don’t do it!
Paronella Park was probably the biggest fail we experienced during our road trip around Australia – it was so bad that it was even a bit funny. The descriptions about this place sound amazing – an old castle in the middle of the jungle right next to a big waterfall. Pictures show this antique building overgrown with moss in front of a lush jungle landscape, it looks so romantic that it seemed like a great place to visit. In reality it is a tiny house with a balcony build in a nice garden – they make such a huge fuss about it that we wondered if they are being serious, the even do a freaking laser show at the evening to put the castle in scene. If it is the first castle-like building in the world you have ever seen it might slightly impress you – but other than that don’t even bother, especially as the entrance is quite pricey for such a freak show. If you ever came across a castle or basically any ancient structure in Europe or Asia or anywhere else – no matter how insignificant it was – this will be a big joke to you.
Recommendation: Do it! 1-2 days is enough
Cairns is a backpackers hub and has tons of bars, party hostels and restaurants. It is a cool and relaxed place and you won’t get bored as there is always something going on. They have a nice lagoon as you can’t swim in the ocean, I actually forgot if it is because of jelly fish, crocodiles, sharks or rips – but it’s Australia, so it might be all of it together.
For a nice dinner right at the harbor visit the Salt House – great flair and tasty food and wine. As well, they have a nice bar for sundowner-drinks.
Somehow we rather enjoyed Australia’s beautiful nature than the small cities – so for us it’s not a strict must-do. But if you’re in the area we’d say stay one or two night so you at least have seen it and experienced some of the nightlife.
Recommendation: Do it! 2-4 days
Cape Tribulation is a beautiful area full of jungle, wildlife and hidden beaches – it sums up all the beauty the tropics have to offer. A perfect place to relax, do some jungle hikes and discover the beautiful nature. Also the way to get there is quite spectacular – driving through a beautiful jungle landscape you also have to cross a little river with a bouncing ferry service. Check out their operation hours beforehand – they do a lunch break around noon which they heavily enjoy and use every minute of it. During our trip we only spend 2 days in Cape Tribulation and regret that we rushed through this wonderful area – definitely would do it longer to do some hikes through the jungle.
Make sure you don’t choose PK’s Jungle Village as accommodation – although it is a pretty place with campsites and cottages close to the beach it was more or less the unfriendliest place we came across on our road trip around Australia. They have more “Don’t do” signs on the wall than you can count and although the bar was crowded they closed down at 8 pm (!) – what a shame for a backpacker’s place and completely killing the party mood!
LIONS DEN HOTEL
Recommendation: If you aim for Cape York – Do it! 1 night
For most backpackers their journey up the East coast ends in Cairns or the latest in Cape Tribulation. We, for our part, were heading towards Cape York – the northernmost point of Australia embedded in one of the remotest wilderness areas and the same time one of the craziest 4WD tracks Down Under has to offer. The Lions Den Hotel lies on the way and offers great camping on a croc-free river and a cozy pub. If you head towards Cape York this is also the place to meet alike adventurers and maybe convoy up for the trip to the northernmost point. Make sure to properly stock up in Cooktown before hitting the wilderness as you are aiming for one of the remotest places you will find along your road trip around Australia.
OLD TELEGRAPH TRACK & CAPE YORK
Recommendation: Do it! – if you are seeking a 4WD off-road adventure (4WD only). Will take you 5-10 days.
The Old Telegraph Track is an infamous 4WD track that connects the northernmost point of Australia with the rest of the country. It contains everything an off-road seeker can dream of – from water crossings to steep down- and uphill valleys and a beautifully remote area. The most known and feared crossing is called “The Gunshot” – an almost vertically descent ending in a mud hole. The good thing is that every crossing also offers an easier way around, a so called chicken track, so you can decide on the spot if you want to back off. Make sure you drive a proper off-road vehicle and definitely have a winch if you are on your own.
Other than that the track offers beautiful swimming holes and waterfalls that are save to swim in – the most beautiful are the Fruitbat Falls and Elliot Falls, the later also having a campground right next to it. Arriving up at the tip of Cape York you will encounter a great calm area with a fun hike to the northernmost point of Australia – oh, and don’t miss the wood fired pizza at the Cape York Camping Punsand Bay campground, a tasty payoff for the strains of the legendary Old Telegraph Track.
Important pro-tip: Don’t go there in high season, which runs approx until October – we went in November and were basically on our own, which was beautiful.
In case your adventure sense was just awakened read our full blog post about our off-road trip up to the Cape York tip here. You will even find a little video showing you some fun crossings.
PORT DOUGLAS & PALM COVE
Recommendation: Do it! Some luxury right at the beach! 2-4 days
After BBQing every night, showers in rivers and lots of dirt along our adventure up to Cape York I was fancying some beach life, good restaurants and a luxury hotel. So, our way led us straight to Port Douglas – a coastal town known for nice hotels and resorts and a much liked vacation destination for local Australians. There we found exactly what we needed – some days of complete relaxation, sun-tanning at the pool, drinks from the pool bar and good food. We stayed the QT in Port Douglas – a cool, hipster-style resort with a great restaurant. QT is actually a chain and well-worth checking out. While we were there the popular Melbourne Cup was taking place – the most famous horse racing event and for every Australian a great opportunity to get drunk as hell. So we joined one of the Melbourne Cup daytime parties – we lost all our bets but at least had a good party.
Don’t miss renting a bike and ride it along the beach for sunset – afterwards find yourself one of the many restaurants in Port Douglas’s center.
Unfortunately we missed Palm Cove and only were driving through it when we left – to be honest it looked even nicer than Port Douglas. As pretty as Port Douglas is it is missing a beachfront area with bars and restaurants, and that’s exactly what we found in Palm Cove. So next time we might prefer Palm Cove over Port Douglas.
Recommendation: Can be missed! 1-2 days max
My husband was in Australia before and was raving about Airlie Beach – but somehow this time we both weren’t impressed at all. It is a nice place with a public lagoon and some backpacker bars and restaurants, but it was simply ordinary to us. All the bars and restaurants were average and even a bit grubby. Apparently there was a big storm and lots of businesses closed down including some beach bars – maybe this stole the charm of this place.
For us Airlie Beach was simply the hub from where the Whitsunday Island cruises leave – which definitely is stunning and a must-do when you’re in Australia. As we are lazy with planning we didn’t reserve a cruise beforehand and most were already booked out when we got to Airlie Beach – at least the ones we wanted to do. With 30 years of age we are a bit over the extreme-backpacker party age and budget traveling and we were aiming for a more luxurious option. So Plan B it was: We simply continued our travels and booked a Whitsunday couple cruise for some weeks after along with a cheap flight up from Sydney.
Recommendation: Not worth it! Except you come for a rodeo.
Rockhampton is the meat-capital of Australia – this might still be the case in terms of output, but the city is just big and unspectacular. If you drive towards the city you pass miles and miles of cattle pasture but this is more or less the only hint for its meat popularity. The Lonely Planet describes Rockhampton in a very charming and romantic way and we imagined cowboys riding down the street and rough pubs with country music – so we were very disappointed finding nothing but an ordinary mid-sized city. We went to one of the most famous restaurants in town – the Great Western Hotel – and the steak was spectacular. On some days during the week they offer rodeo and this must be a worthwhile experience – we talked to some locals and they were just raving about it. So if you really want to stop in Rockhampton check rodeo times before and reserve a ticket – then it will be a great experience along with a good steak later on. Other than that – save the time and just drive by.
Recommendation: Can be missed – but it’s your departure port for Fraser Island, so stay there if you want to leave the next morning for some beach-driving action.
Rainbow Bay is nothing special but it’s the starting point for an incredible adventure – Fraser Island. You also could leave from Hervey Bay but the ferry ride is longer and more expensive, so if you don’t want to waste money this is you place. Our plan was simple: We wanted to go to Fraser Island on our own account – and we were happy to take along people with the same goal. So we posted in one of the many Australian backpackers Facebook pages to find some travel mates – and found plenty of them. In the end we were a huge crowed of 15 people – 4 Israelis, 2 English, 5 German girls who just got out of High School, 1 Spanish, 1 Chinese and the two of us. Thus, Rainbow Bay was the place where we all met first and got along right on the spot. Other than that there is not much going on and you may just continue to the peninsula from where the ferry to Fraser Island is leaving.
Recommendation: Absolutely! Do it! (4WD only) 3-6 days.
If you have a 4WD car: find a nice crowd and do it on your own account or rent one! Tours won’t give you the same, perfect experience.
Fraser Island is the shit! It is one of our most favorite places of Australia – it is so unique that it might be a once in a lifetime experience. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island with a huge rain forest flourishing in its center and it is simply a must-do. Next to its beautiful nature the most special thing about the island is that it doesn’t have any roads but you simply drive on the plain beach and camp behind dunes. In order to enjoy the complete particularity of Fraser Island, don’t go with one of the commercial tours but do it with your own off-road vehicle. It is definitely worth it.
The only hassle is that Australian authorities makes it sound pretty complicated to go on the island. You need a vehicle permit, a camping permit and a ferry ticket for yourself and the car. But to be honest it’s not a science and you can reserve all of it online beforehand or in Rainbow Bay in one of the tourist offices. The ferry ticket we even bought on the spot when we got on the boat.
In total we spent 5 nights on Fraser Island – 3 nights camping with the 15-people-crowd we met in Rainbow Bay and 2 days in the Kingfisher Bay Resort. The later is not worth a visit at all, it is an aged, overpriced property that maybe was luxurious 20 years ago. But other than that we had an amazing experience of Fraser Island. In our eyes it is simply a natural wonder made accessible for travelers. Last advise: Look at the tide schedule before you enter the island and bring enough food and gasoline (there are small supermarkets but expensive as hell).
# Book your camping permits for spots in the north of Fraser Island to enjoy the incredible nature away from the crowds. Don’t camp in the huge touristy campgrounds in the center of the island – it makes you feel like anywhere else except Fraser Island. The northern beaches are incredible.
# Visit Eli Creek and refresh yourself floating along the river. As well, watch the planes land and depart from the sandy runway on the beach right next to the creek.
# Have a dip in the Champagne Pools – natural swimming pools formed by crashing waves on the rocks. It is simply beautiful.
# Dip into tea water! On Fraser Island you might encounter lakes that contain disgustingly-looking brown water – it doesn’t look nice and definitely not inviting for a swim. But be aware of the explanation: Tea plants are growing around and within the lake releasing their flavors and herbs. In other words, the lake is a huge tea pot with herbal plants all over the place which makes it a little wellness temple.
Can be missed:
# Lake McKenzie is one of the most beautiful freshwater lakes on Fraser Island and everyone is raving about it. But, if you are from Europe it is most likely like any other lake you’ve seen before – so, it is a nice place to visit but from all the popular sights on Fraser Island it’s the one to miss.
Don’t do it:
# The Kingfisher Resort looks amazing on pictures but in reality it has aged and doesn’t justify the price. If you look for a nice escape this is not your place to go to.
Recommendation: Do it! 2-3 days
Noosa Heads is a cute little coastal town and simply a great place to relax and enjoy some beach life. They have tons of good restaurants, a nice oceanfront and you can do some surfing, kayaking or SUP. We actually figured there are two great places to spend the evening at – the little center right a t the beach and the street along the branch stream. Don’t miss The Boathouse Floating Restaurant – they have a great restaurant in the boathouse but also a sun-downer terrace on top to watch the sunset while having a drink and a bar snack.
SUNSHINE COAST & BRISBANE
Recommendation: Do it!
The entire area from the Sunshine Coast down to the Golden Coast is gorgeous and it is worth to just float along and take your time as long as you enjoy it. The surfer vibe along with beautiful beaches won’t disappoint you. We unfortunately were unlucky with the weather and it was raining with no prediction of sunshine the next days. So, although we didn’t want to we had to skip the Sunshine Coast as well as Brisbane – but from all the stories we heard it is definitely worth it.
Recommendation: Can be missed! 1-3 days
Surfers Paradise is a big city full of skyscrapers, entertainment and restaurants – it feels a little bit like Miami. The beach just goes for miles and miles winding its way from the Sunshine Coast all the way down to the Golden Coast and in the middle you have all the skyscrapers popping up to mark Surfers Paradise. It is a nice stopover to do some partying and dining, but neither the bars, restaurants or clubs are very special – so it will give you a nice time but nothing you will remember for long.
We spend there 2 days in a skyscraper apartment as we urgently needed a laundry machine. We accidentally hit the “Schoolies Week”, meaning lots of drunk teens were around celebrating the end of their school time. For our taste it would have been nicer to stay in one of the little towns around Surfers Paradise and enjoy some calmer beach life – but if you are up for some bar or club hopping it will be a fair place for some days.
Recommendation: Do it! 4-6 days
Byron Bay is Australia’s hippie and surfer hub. Don’t get deterred at your first impression – the streets feel too crowded, even a bit hectic, and might not convey a relaxed hippie vibe at first sight. But, the thing is, you need to give it some time until the unique Byron Bay flair has soaked in – from that moment on you will see, feel and experience it every second of your stay. The town is flooded with sun-tanned surfer dudes in batik shirts, surf board clamped under the arm aiming for the ocean. Once you got it, the vibe in Byron Bay is incomparable – get sucked in and ride the happy wave.
here are tons of bars and restaurants in the center offering all kind of healthy hipster food, so it’s paradise for all avocado lovers and the health-conscious. Byron Bay is known for its great swell – so you didn’t really experience it without surfing or taking a surf lesson on one of the many beaches. Also do the little hike up to the lighthouse for sunset and enjoy the view. Other than that just relax and enjoy the vibe. One of the best experiences we encountered there was the Three Blue Ducks farm – a restaurant / bar / farm / shop that grows everything they serve as a cooperative on their own farm. Stunning design, great food and pricey hipster presents for your friends back home. Don’t miss it!
MOJOSURF / SPOT X SURF CAMP IN ARRAWARRA
Recommendation: For the surf-addicts – do it! 5 days – 2 weeks
We really got drawn into this surfer lifestyle in Byron Bay and wanted more of it. The same time we figured it’s actually not easy to learn, especially with the big Australian waves. So we came across Spot X Surf Camp in Arrawarra – Arrawarra is unspectacular and has nothing to offer except surfing, but pretty good surfing with a great swell. The Spot X Surf Camp is located right on a beach that offers the perfect waves for beginners but also advanced surfers. They offer a classical surf school for people like us – but the same time run a professional academy qualifying for accredited surf instructors that lasts over several moths. Joining the classical camp includes morning surf lessons with really great and experienced instructors, different accommodation options, three meals a day and you also can upgrade the package to additional afternoon surf, pictures and some free merchandise from the shop. The great thing about it is that it feels like a big family with the same passion of surfing captured in an own little word. Having seen already surf camps in Latin America I have to say it lacks a bit in detail – the facilities are not very nice and could do with some color, but other than that it was a great experience and you really make a big step forward regarding your surfing skills. Check it out and find your mojo.
Recommendation: Can be missed! 1 day max.
After a great time at the Spot X surf camp we headed towards Sydney to catch our plane up to Airlie Beach to take our Whitsunday Island Cruise. We didn’t want to sit too long in the car so we did a stopover in Port Macquarie. We had a nice evening but there is nothing special at all about this place.
WHITSUNDAY ISLAND CRUISE
Recommendation: Do it! 3 night cruise
So, we caught our plane from Sydney to Airlie Beach where we booked our Whitsunday Getaway couple cruise. We had a catamaran fitted for 4 couples including own room with en-suite and 3 days & 3 nights of sailing fun waiting for us. The Whitsunday Islands are stunning – there are no words to describe the incredibly soft and white sand (I think it’s even the softest sand in the world) under your toes and the clear blue water of Whitehaven Beach. It just will make you feel like in paradise! Make sure you reach Whitehaven Beach between high and low tide to see the sand shades in all its beauty.
Don’t miss a dive or snorkel trip along the Great Barrier Reef watching the fish-party under the sea. However, prepare yourself that the Great Barrier Reef is pretty harmed from all the pollution and tourism – it will still impress you but also leave a bad feeling in your belly about what mankind does to our beautiful nature.
We were super-lucky with the other 3 couples on the cruise and we made great friends having an amazing time. The funniest thing was that it was a BOYB cruise and as no one wanted to look like an alcoholic everyone cut down on its wine and beer supply – it was no surprise that we ran out of alcohol the last night. So make sure you have stock up plenty 🙂 Other than that we really can recommend the Whitsunday Getaway cruise – although catamarans are small boats they still offer great comfort and the food was just incredible. We expected easy-to-prepare pizza and other fast-food but were surprised by tasty healthy food, pre-dinner snacks and fruit bowls. As well, they cater for all kind of eating habits from vegetarians, vegans, allergies or simply people that are difficult with food. The only downside was that our skipper was a pretty weird woman who lacked knowledge about the best places in the Whitsundays – so we had to read up on ourselves which is not what you expect on a guided cruise.
Recommendation: Do it! 2-3 days
After our Whitsunday Island adventure we flew back to Sydney and took off to the Blue Mountains – a mountain range just 90 minutes outside of Sydney. If you are from Europe please adapt your expectations beforehand – it is not the alps or Dolomites. But it is a beautiful landscape full of tall forests, sandstone cliffs, waterfalls and deep canyons that make it a worthwhile visit. There is great camping in pure nature right next to steep cliffs that take your breath away and you can spend your days hiking through the beautiful nature – make sure you at least once do a canyon hike all the way down to its core.
The Three Sisters constitute THE landmark of the Blue Mountains – three mountain stacks that stand for three beautiful sisters of the Katoomba tribe that fell in love with three brothers from a neighboring tribe. The law of the land prohibited the love so in order to save the sisters during war they were converted into stone stacks by a witch doctor – unfortunately he didn’t survive to reverse the spell. It looks stunning but is swarmed with mainly Asian tourists, have a look and enjoy it, but understand that this is not the only thing the Blue Mountains have to offer.
If you fancy some luxury after days of camping we can recommend the Echoes Boutique Hotel or the Liliansfels Blue Mountain Resort – both lovely English-style hotels with great spa and restaurants and very close to the famous Three Sisters.
PEBBLY BEACH, COAST SOUTH OF SYDNEY
Recommendation: Don’t do it!
From the Blue Mountains we decided to cut back to the beach south of Sydney but it wasn’t the best idea we had so far. The campgrounds were overtaken by long-term campers with a huge set-up that doesn’t leave much space for travelers. The beach was nice but the flair wasn’t – so the next day we cut back inland to visit Canberra. We were expecting away-from-it-all beach camping a la Samurai Beach but it was not like that at all.
Recommendation: Can do! 1 night
All the travelers are hating Canberra – but to be honest it is not that bad at all. It doesn’t carry the typical laid-back Australian flair as a lot of governmental jobs are located in Canberra – but it still is a stylish city, especially when you hit the quarter New Acton. There are loads of nice restaurants and bars and one of the most stylish hotels named “Hotel Hotel” – a project in collaboration with designers, artists and fantasists. So if you are in the area and fancy some nice dining and cocktails it’s not a bad place to stop – but don’t drive extra hours to get here.
VICTORIAN HIGH COUNTRY
Recommendation: Do it! (advisable to have a 4WD for the cool stuff). 4-8 days
The Victorian High Country is one of Australia’s highest mountain range of lush green valley with soaring peaks, beautiful nature, lots of fresh air (gets quite cold up there), great hiking trails and camping spots. When you get there during summer time like we did you will find little skiing villages that must be buzzing during winter. Hiking seems not to be a thing in Australia so during summer time the Victorian High Country is quiet and offers a great time to explore – and the villages still offer cozy places for a stopover.
We found two of our absolute favorite camping spots within the mountain range – Craig’s Hut and Wonnangatta Valley. We really urge you to check out both of them (you will need a 4WD though). Craig’s Hut is right on top of a hill offering stunning views and a great spot to light a fire pit during cold nights. You may be lucky as us and have the spot all to yourselves. To get to the Wonnangatts Valley you need to face a 3 hours 4WD track – but it is worth it. Lying between big mountain ranges it is a far-reaching green area next to a river. It is simply beautiful and invites for some relaxed camping days and a morning shower in the river. This place is as far away from it all as possible!
BLUE RAG TRACK, VICTORIAN HIGH COUNTRY
Recommendation: Do it if you like off-roading (4WD only). Daytrip
The Blue Rag Track is an iconic off-road drive along the mountain crest of the Victorian High Country leading on top of a summit with spectacular views. But not only the incredible view from the top is unforgettable, also the drive is scenic with steep cliffs left and right from the track. The Blue Rag is rated as difficult, but we found it actually very doable when the weather is dry. And the spectacular view and freedom-feeling on top is just priceless. We met an Australian couple driving the track with their newborn – they only looked perplexed when we asked them if they weren’t nervous doing such an off-road track with a baby. For them it seemed to be a normal Sunday outing 😉
Recommendation: Do it! 4-10 days
Christmas and New Years Eve were just around the corner and we were aiming for Melbourne where we booked an apartment for 10 days. For us it was the longest stay at one spot in Australia so far as well as our place to be for the festivities. Australians take Christmas decorations very serious – so the city will be sparking and blinking in all corners including over-dimensional snowflakes and candy cane. It is hard for Germans to get into the Christmas mode without snow and the cold but we tried hard with a super-cheesy Spotify playlist and a huge home-cooked stuffed turkey. For New Years Eve there are tons of parties taking place followed by big fireworks over the harbor. It is a great experience but be aware that the fireworks cannot be compared to those in Sydney and Australians end their festivities pretty early at round 1 am.
But now about Melbourne – it is a cool and hip metropolis with a huge range of restaurants, bars, nightlife and entertainment opportunities. It is definitely worth to stay in Melbourne for quite some time to experience all there is to offer and get soaked into the big-city lifestyle. Also the surrounding beaches in Brighton and St. Kilda are worth a visit.
Other than that – be prepared that Melbourne gives you all kind of seasons and temperatures, you might be freezing one day while the day after a 40 degree desert-wind blows in your face.
# Do a bar crawl: Melbourne has an incredible bar scene with innovative concepts that won’t disappoint you. Our favorites where The Everleigh due to it’s old world style and great cocktails, Berlin Bar with two differently themed bar rooms: a posh West Germany and a communist-style East Germany and Black Pearl with a unique atmosphere. But find out for yourself.
# Eat some homemade dumplings in china town
# Treat yourself with amazing dining experiences – some restaurants will blow your mind and it’s impossible to try everything you want to. If you like middle eastern cuisine Sezar in the CBD is your place.
# Visit a stand-up comedy show
# Do a graffiti walk through the CBD
# Have a beach walk from the Brighton Beach Boxes to St. Kilda and treat yourself for some cheese and wine at Milk The Cow
# Watch the little penguins for sunset at St. Kilda Beach – they are the cutest
VANUATU, SOUTH SEA ISLANDS
Recommendation: Do it! 7-10 days
We came to Australia on a simple tourist visa which meant we had to leave the country after thee months in order to renew it. So we were looking for a fun destination in fly-in-fly-out distance from Australia. Sounds easier than it is as Australia is further away from the rest of the world than we had in mind – so our affordable options were narrowed down to Bali, New Zealand and the South Sea Islands. Could be worse we figured and selected Vanuatu as our visa-run escape – a beautiful island paradise with clear blue water, dream-beaches and beautiful untouched nature.
f you ever get the chance it is a wonderful place full of heartwarming, uncorrupted people that (at least up to now) are happy with their traditional, unconventional lives and the island is simply stunning. We experienced the most amazing snorkeling in Vanuatu – a thousand times better that we’ve seen in Australia along the Great Barrier Reef. There is a big fat fish party in Vanuatu’s sea and being a snorkeling guest was a great honor and unforgettable experience.
For a very local experience visit one of the local villages and try some Cava – a local root drink with a lightly intoxicating effect.
GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Recommendation: Do it! 3-4 days
The Great Ocean Road is one of the most beautiful scenic routes and should be on every traveler’s bucket list. The 243 kilometer long coastal road offers beautiful views, dramatic cliff lines, famous rock stacks and great beaches. Make sure to take your time for this beautiful drive and don’t rush through – it is definitely worth it.
# Take a touristy picture at the big wooden Great Ocean Road entry gate
# Have a surf on Lorne Beach (for beginners) or Bells Beach (if you are a pro)
# Dine at Chris’s Beacon Point restaurant and enjoy the great view with a glass of wine in your hand
# Visit the famous sights: 12 Apostles, Gibson Steps, The Arch & London Bridge and Loch Ard Gorge
# Return to the 12 Apostles for sunset to enjoy the magic view and off the tourist hours
Got hooked? Here you find a post about our perfect 3-day road trip along the Great Ocean Road with all our tips.
GRAMPIANS NATIONAL PARK
Recommendation: Do it! (4WD recommended for the cool stuff) 2-3 days
Around 3 hours west of Melbourne you find the Grampians National Park – a beautiful mountain range of sandstone that is rising above flat farmland. The park offers breathtaking views that will blow your mind – and is a great destination for hikes to find wildlife and stunning waterfalls. The most beautiful being the MacKenzie Falls – they also offer a great swim on hot summer days.
We actually didn’t quite understand why the Grampians don’t enjoy a higher popularity in Australia – most travelers haven’t even heard of them although it is such a worthwhile place. Up to now it seems to be an insider tip – so hurry up and don’t miss it! We found one of our most favorite and spectacular campground within the Grampians called Kikijarr Heights – it offers an absolutely breathtaking sunset view over the entire national park.
Recommendation: Could do! (4WD recommended for the cool stuff) 1-3 days
As a next destination we were aiming for the Flinders Ranges – the largest mountain range in South Australia hosting three national parks. To be honest, for my taste the landscape looked too barren – the area wasn’t very green and thus a strong contrast to what we’ve seen in the Grampians. I suppose this was also due to the fact that we visited during summer time and rain was little – so maybe spring time is the better season. My husband actually sees this differently as he liked the spacious landscape that offers far-reaching views. So it really depends on what you are looking for.
Recommendation: Do it! 2-4 days
We love wine! So, Barossa Valley was our place to be – a beautiful wine region nested within a valley roughly 70 kilometers outside of Adelaide. Although it can’t keep up with Italian or French wine quality and landscape – it is still a beautiful area to have a taste of Australian wine and enjoy the flair. The perfect day activity is to go from vineyard to vineyard and drink yourselves though the wine list – they all have cellar doors that offer free (or for a tiny fee) wine tastings. If you find a favorite you can buy a bottle right there.
We also experienced one of our nicest dining experiences in Barossa Valley – a set menu at the vineyard restaurant St. Hugo Wines. It is a stunning property and the food was delicious. Make sure you go for the wine accompaniment!
Recommendation: Could do! (4WD only) Will take you 2-3 days.
After we filled ourselves up with wine at Barossa Valley we were aiming for the Red Center of Australia – most importantly to see the legendary Urulu. There are different ways you can take, we went via the Oodnadatta Track – a 600 km long unsealed outback track passing through tiny little outback towns. wWe even encountered one with only 3 permanent residents, one of them being a dog. It is quite an experience, especially driving the Oodnadatta Track during summer time with temperatures up to 45 degrees (always have enough water with you!).
While during winter time the track is quite busy we had it almost to ourselves which made the lonesome desert feeling even more authentic. If you take the Oodnadatta adventure, plan for an overnight stop at the Coward Springs campground – it’s like a little oasis in the middle of nowhere with hot springs. During winter time they warm you up at cold desert nights – during summer time this sounded like a very stupid idea, at least at first. But it was quite the opposite – 30 degree hot springs feel pretty refreshing with 45 degrees outside temperature 😉 On the way along the Oodnadatta Track you will find a very bizarre roadhouse completely in pink – just looks too surreal to drive by so we stopped for a coffee and met two Germans we really got along with, so we decided to team up and travel together for the next two days.
Recommendation: Do it! (4WD only) 1 night
We were on the road with our new German friends who – in the heat of the midday desert sun – had two blowouts in a row! Luckily, a local drove by to help us out with a new tire. This made us aware one more time how important it is to be prepared driving through the barely populated desert, there might no one come by for hours.
After we helped our new friends to change tires we were aiming for the Painted Desert – a beautiful area ascending in the middle of the desert. Its hills look as if a paint bucket in all shades of red was poured all over making them look like painted little mountains. The sight of the Painted Desert was so magical that we set up our camp for the night right next to the hills – that wasn’t really allowed but the area was so lonely that we didn’t expect anyone to come by and check. We spend a wonderful evening there watching the sun set behind the painted desert hills.
Recommendation: Not really worth it. 1 night max
Coober Pedy is a desert town often referred to as the “opal capital of the world” due to its high opal occurrences and thus strong importance in the mining business. But what makes the place even more unique, especially to travelers, are its below-ground buildings. To escape the intense heat the inhabitants simply started to build their houses under the ground to keep temperature low – it’s practically a natural air conditioning.
We know, this sounds super-interesting and worth a visit – but to be honest Coober Pedy is very, very ugly and completely unspectacular. There is simply nothing to do and it’s just a hot place with houses underground instead of overground. Whenever I saw young local people I was wondering what the hell they are doing in this god-forsaken place. To make our stay more interesting (and escape the 40 degrees) we took one of the underground hotels for the night – while the natural air conditioning really works and it is nice and cool down there it makes you almost depressed as you have no windows and daylight. So it might be a place to cool down if you are in the area but it is definitely not worth a detour.
FINKE NATIONAL PARK
Recommendation: Do it! (4WD only) 2-4 days
After dull Coober Pedy we were continuing our road trip towards the red center of Australia. Our German travel companions from the Oodnadatta Track and Painted Desert recommended the Finke National Park to us so this was our destination for the night. And it was stunning! We finally entered an area where the ground turned bright red and was just glowing all over the place. Red Sand! Blue rivers! Lush green vegetation on steep yellow cliffs! What a view.
Finke National Park was the perfect compensation and one of the most beautiful experiences of our Australia trip. Again, you will need a 4WD car to drive the bumpy off-road tracks but in return you will have a place off the beaten track.
There are several camping options within the park and all of them were amazing – we chose one right at the river close to a little forest with a huge red cliff in front of us. After a quick dip in the water we had a BBQ and – despite the 30 degrees – a bonfire for the better outdoor feeling. An unforgettable experience was also the wildlife during nighttime. We were already asleep in our rooftop tent when we heard a loud galloping noise outside – we looked out of the window and saw a horde of wild horses playing under the moon. As well we heard dingos howling from afar which makes you feel completely one with the nature. So if you get a chance don’t miss this beautiful national park.
KINGS CANYON, WATARRKA NATIONAL PARK
Recommendation: Do it! 1 night + hike the next day
Canyons always are impressive to me – the massive crevices and deep falls make you aware how strong the forces of our nature are. The Kings Canyon is no exception in this – located in the Red Center of Australia and 245 kilometers bee line from the desert city Alice Springs, it is the biggest canyon Australia has to offer. It shines in beautiful red sandstone and hosts crevices with the dept of almost 250 meters – in our opinion it completely can keep up with the Grand Canyon of the US. We arrived in the late afternoon and aimed for the campground at the Kings Canyon Resort – as far as we are aware it is the only option for camping within the Watarrka National Park (except you find a nice but illegal freedom camping spot). It is quite clear that the resort is aligned to host loads of people – might be very stressful during main season.
As we were there during shoulder season it was nice and there is a beautiful sunset platform with view on the Kings Canyon. Check sunset times and don’t miss the amazing view.
The next day take off for a hike through the canyon which is beautiful. If you are there during summer time be aware that they close the big hikes down if it gets too hot – so make sure you get there in the morning and take lots of water.
AYERS ROCK / URULU
Recommendation: Do it! 2-3 days
The Ayers Rock – named “Urulu” by the Aboriginal people – is a magical place. It is home to several legends and conveys a spirituality that felt very unique to us. The infamous Urulu is a huge sandstone rock formation placed within flat, red land – it simply looks unreal, as if some giant placed it right in the middle of the Australian continent. It looks beautiful – especially during sunrise and -set when in glows in all shades of red droning over the far-reaching flat landscape. Although it is quite a journey to drive to the Red Center of Australia it is completely worth it and should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
It is quite interesting digging into the history of the legendary Urulu – its holy meaning to the Aboriginal people as well as the fight about its ownership. It also makes you sadly aware about the conflicts between the Aboriginals and Australians and how the continent was invaded in the first place.
A beautiful, very recommended experience is the Sounds of Silence dinner – a dinner under the stars with view on the huge Urulu rock. It is pricey – but we felt it is worth it. The evening starts with canapes and drinks served on a little plateau for sunset with view on the glowing Urulu. Afterwards you will be seated on tables for 8 and you get to know some other people. Our table was quite fun with 4 Hong Kong Chinese and 2 Germans, especially as everyone was quite eager to drink a lot of wine. You will get to listen to a didgeridoo player and star talker – the later is quite interesting if you are from Europe and used to a completely different night sky.
Again, there is only one place to stay at – the huge Ayers Rock Resort with various hotels for all price classes and a campground. It’s nicely maintained and has several restaurants but can’t hide that it is a huge tourist place. It’s actually a shame that this is the only place they got.
GREAT CENTRAL ROAD
Recommendation: Could do. (4WD recommended) Will take you 2-3 days
The Great Central Road is a 1.126 kilometer long unsealed road connecting the Red Center with the West Coast of Australia. For us it was only the means to cut through to Perth and we didn’t expect it to be any nice, but to be honest it is actually a beautiful stretch of land. There is not much to do there except making you kilometers but the nature is beautiful and constantly changing. While you start in a deserty landscape with bright red sand it changes more and more to a green and hilly environment. It is great to watch how nature amends and made us very excited for the West Coast. There is beautiful free camping but be aware to keep your distance to the Aboriginal communities – we heard about a lot of cases where stuff got stolen or drunk were looking for some trouble.
Long story short: we were almost at the end of the Great Central Road when we had our accident – after days of heat there was a huge thunderstorm making the unsealed read wet and muddy. We rolled our car – luckily we walked out without a scratch and are very thankful for that, but our beloved Land Cruiser was a complete write-off. Of course we were devastated at the beginning – but realized pretty quickly that we must be thankful to be unharmed. Traveling is about experiences – we were lucky enough that we only had positive ones the past 4 months but now and then you have to live with a setback. And we wouldn’t be the perfect couple if we didn’t stand together and get back up on our feet to continue our wonderful travel around the world. The same time it was clear for us that we don’t want to continue our Australia trip – as much as we were excited for Western Australia, after this horrible accident and without our car it wouldn’t feel the same. So we needed a Plan B – India it was. So our aim was to sort out everything there is to sort out regarding the accident, get to Perth as fast as possible and hop onto the next plain to Goa, India.
Recommendation: Don’t do it!
We were stuck in Laverton – a god-forsaken place in the middle of nowhere. Our accident happened 400 kilometers away from the next township and we were lucky that a truck driver gave us a ride – he dropped us in the first town after miles and miles of outback along the Great Desert Road: Laverton. Frankly, it is far away from pretty and there is nothing to do except getting drunk in the pub – the most ironic thing was that there was no escape. The only way to leave Leverton was by bus which was running once (!) a week. So after we were able to tow our car we spend our days sorting our stuff and selling the wreck and camping equipment followed by lots of beers and wine at the pub. But as much as we hated Leverton at the beginning – after being stuck there for a week we really fell in love with the incredibly helpful and warm people. It sounds impossible but after just a couple of days they made us feel like we belong to their community and gave us a hand in absolutely everything – including the organization of a ride with a trucker to Kalgoorie, a place populated enough to have trains running to Perth. So, what can we say – despite the fact that we wouldn’t recommend anyone to visit Laverton, we really fell in love with this place due to its people. At some point we will come back to Australia to travel the Western part of the country and I’m sure we will return to Laverton to have a fun night at the pub with our new-found friends.
KALGOORLIE & BOULDER
Recommendation: Could do, if you are in the area. 1 day
Kalgoorlie and Boulder are twin cities that grew during the Golden Rush due to its proximity to the Golden Mile. They belong to the most meaningful mining towns of whole Australia and make you feel as if you traveled back in time. The whole area seems to be solely about mining and the majority of people are somehow engaged in the gold business. Compared to Laverton, Kalgorie & Boulder are lively and colorful with bars and live music. A “special” experience are the so called Skimpies in the Exchange Hotel, young bar tenders in tight dresses or bikinis. Well, to be honest they are extremely young and some don’t have the shape for the tightness of their outfits. But the locals seem to like it as the place was buzzing when we got there.
The biggest attraction is the super pit – an incredibly huge mining hole, in fact the 4th biggest in the world, that can be looked into from a viewing platform. It is impressive – the huge trucks working within the pit look like freaking toys and leave you wondering how much deeper they will dig.
Recommendation: Could do! 1-3 days
So, here it was – our unplanned last stop within Australia. Perth is a nice change from all the small outback towns we encountered in Central Australia – and it is the only bigger city you will encounter in Western Australia. Perth has cool bars and restaurants on the oceanfront and offers beautiful sunsets. In our opinion it cannot keep up with the beauty of Sydney nor the hipness of Melbourne but it doesn’t disappoint either. So have a stop here fore a couple of days but then take off to discover Australia’s remote West Coast. If you do, let us know how it was – it is still standing in big, fat letters on our bucket list.