General thoughts and advice about your East Coast trip in Australia

As many backpackers, and especially those who travel on their own, I had planned my East Coast journey before I started it. It was the first time for me to travel that way: Usually I am the kind of person who doesn’t plan anything and prefers to arrive and decide spontaneously.

However, for Australia’s East Coast it was more than helpful to have planned everything beforehand. I realised that people who arrived without having booked anything couldn’t really do whatever they wanted because there were no places left, just like for the Whitsunday Islands. I was also lucky to know all the “secret places” that travel agent’s always talk about to their costumers, as for example Noosa’s fairy pools. So many people didn’t go because they just didn’t know them and regretted it when I showed them my photos!

And of course, perhaps the most important reason for me to have booked the whole trip in advance, is the money: If you buy everything in a package it obviously is cheaper than if you buy one thing after the other.

But I have to be honest, if it wasn’t Australia, where planned trips are cheaper and where you are more sure to get what you want if booking in advance, I would definitely prefer doing everything on my own. Waking up whenever I want to, choosing the places I want to see, just traveling on my own, no compromises, only with myself. But I knew, with the few days I had, I would’t have been able to do as many things as I wanted to during my East Coast journey.

Another thing you should know, and not all travel agents mention that, is the fact that there are two bus companies you can chose: Premiers and Grey Hounds. The latter has Wi-Fi and power points in the buses, but that’s the only difference, except for the price: Premiers is much cheaper, so this is the one I chose.

One thing that would have made my trip a lot better is more time: 15 days for all these things were possible, but not enough at all. I was tired in the end and I know I wouldn’t have been if I had had some more days in between to just relax at the beach and do whatever I felt like. Of course I could have also chosen to visit less places, but I was just too curious to see everything.

Absolute highlights during the East Coast journey were: Hostel “Art’s Factory” in Byron Bay, Noosa’s fairy pools, Fraser Island (everything!!!), Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island and diving and snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef.

Click on the places you would like to know more about:

Cairns: 22nd to 25th November 2016

After almost two weeks of tours and people around me all the time, I felt just like in paradise when I arrived in my hostel in Cairns where I had my own room and a big bed… the first time since I had arrived in Australia in August!

All I wanted was being with myself, reading a book and having dinner in a nice restaurant alone. The journey had been amazing so far, but I had not one day “off” during 15 days, because my timetable had always been filled with tours or bus drives.

My arrival in the hostel was quite funny though: When I checked in, I realized that the  receptionist was extremely polite to me and tried to help me out with anything she could, while at the same time she seemed a bit confused. After a while I understood her behavior, when she looked at me and asked shyly, “Do you know why the computer says you are VIP?”. I couldn’t help grinning: I hadn’t booked that hostel but got it for free from the company I work at.

So although I was quite in the mood of doing nothing, I couldn’t wait for my first tour in Cairns: A one day trip on the “Ocean Freedom” boat to discover the Great Barrier Reef. Of course I had already gotten to know it around Airlie Beach, but every part of the reef is different! And also just the time on the boat was wonderful – many people laid down to relax, there was heaven knows how much tasty food and really nice people and crew members. However, I preferred spending almost the whole day in the water (always with a wet suit to protect from jelly fishes), snorkelling and diving. I had passed my diver’s license in South Sydney (cheapest place in Australia) and was therefore more than excited to see what’s it like to dive in the Great Barrier Reef. And it was – what else – stunning! I saw lemon sharks (not dangerous), swam next to a half-meter-long turtle and hundreds and hundreds of fishes of all colours and sizes and took photos of them, as well as of a beautiful red starfish. I could take underwater photos thanks to a plastic cover for mobiles I had bought earlier in Airlie. It’s about $ 15.

 

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Me right before my first dive in Cairns. Wetsuits are important so not to get hurt by jelly fishes.

After the tour, together with two other guys I had met on the boat, I went to a small lagoon close to the ocean, just like a swimming pool and free for everyone to use. Lots of swimmers even did aquarobics, but I was too lazy after one day of swimming and preferred leaving after a bit, to have dinner at the harbour. After all I realised that Cairns by itself has not too much to offer, the main things to do are actually around the city.

I spent my next and last day on a tour to discover the only place in the world where two natural listed world heritage sites meet each other: Daintree rain forest, the oldest rain forest in the world and the Great Barrier Reef, which is the world’s greatest living tropical reef. Highlights of the bus tour were swimming in a lake at Mossman Gorge, spotting a baby crocodile during a river cruise, having lunch at an awesome place at the famous beach Cape Tribulation and obviously discovering plants and animals in the rain forest! Our guide was in a good mood and told us lots of interesting details during the bus drive. I honestly am happy having done this tour, but again after so many days of action I often felt like I just wanted to lay down and do nothing.

In the end my mind was full of incredible memories, I had seen so many things and met so many new people, but I was also quite tired. I reckon if I had had more time for everything, I would have been more relaxed and rested by the end of the trip. However I do not regret one single tour I did and I know that I will never forget the whole trip and all the wonderful experiences I made.

Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands: 19th to 22nd November 2016

After Fraser Island, I was really excited to finally get to see the Whitsundays Islands, because they are to most a really important part of their East Coast journey and I had heard so many things about them.

They are actually 74 islands all in all, but only three of them are normally visited by tourists. These three islands offer amazing beaches and perfect places to snorkel, since they make part of the Great Barrier Reef. But the most important reason why people go there is “Whitehaven Beach” on the biggest island, “Whitsunday Island”, after which the group of islands is called. This beach has, believe it or not, the purest sand in the world: It comes freshly out of a volcano under water and is therefore as white as snow. My skin became softer and my hair silky when I washed it with the sand. I told Lotte, the Dutch girl from my group on Fraser Island and who I met on the Whitsunday tour again, that I had been told that the sand even whitens your teeth. She then brushed them with it, and it was disgusting – at least I had something to laugh!

What I also liked about the tour was the place where we spent most of our time: Not in hostels (because there are no on the islands), but on a sailing boat! There are actually many different choices of companies and the boats all have their own kind of atmosphere. There is a party boat, a calm boat and many more. I was on an ecological boat and only stayed for two days and one night, whereas the others usually take two nights. I initially wanted to stay longer, but to get the best boat I should have booked many more weeks in advance. Unfortunately, Australia doesn’t work like other holiday destinations: You cannot always book spontaneously, because everything will be sold out. Many backpackers I met didn’t get any sailing boat anymore.

The crew (three young Australian and Kiwi guys) was really friendly and helpful, food was included and sooo tasty and it never got boring on the boat because there were lots of opportunities: Sunbathing, going for a swim, snorkelling (A-MA-ZING! Never in my life I swam within so many fishes!), chatting with the other boat guests or just chilling downstairs in the cabins. We could feel really honoured, because the staff members told us that we were the best group of people they’ve ever had! I just hope they don’t always say that. 😉

Before and after the trip I spent a night in the small town of Airlie Beach, which is the departure point for the islands. I hadn’t actually heard too much about the city and was surprised about how nice it was! It reminded me somehow of South France, with lots of small cute shops and restaurants. The coastline – again – looked just amazing, although you cannot go swimming in the water because of small dangerous jelly fishes.

Town of 1770 – 18th of November 2016

I spent one day and one night in the small town of 1770, which is named after the year of its discovery. The accommodation “Southern Cross hostel” was a beautiful place surrounded by trees and a swimming pool, very good to relax and close to nature.

However, the reason for visiting this quite unknown city was a famous tour, which has been voted top 5 things to do on Australia’s East Coast by TripAdvisor: Scooteroo. During the tour, you discover the area’s wildlife, see kangaroos running next to you and have tasty potato wedges at the harbour. But the best thing: You’re not driving around in a normal tour bus, but on your own scooter. I imagined that tourists watching us 30 people on scooters that look like real motor bikes, with our cool motor jackets and helmets, must have believed we were some gang and I felt like making part of the Hell’s Angels or so. Though I had some issues with my scooter in the beginning and one of the guides accused me of not having payed attention to his instructions, he later apologised when he realised that it wasn’t my fault. Except for that I really had a great time and wouldn’t like to miss that part of the journey!

 

 

 

Fraser Island: 15th to 17th November 2016

Fraser Island – or K’gari, in the Aboriginal language – is the biggest sand island in the world, one of Australia’s twelve natural world heritages and to most the absolute highlight on their east coast trip. I’ve had the chance to spend three amazing days on this awesome place. After one night in a hostel on Rainbow Beach, departure town for the boat to the island, I could start my journey in the morning together with 31 other travellers and one guide.

The tour on Fraser Island is not like any other tours though, and that is also what makes the experience so special. I did not spend my time in a tour bus, but instead enjoyed a ride in a 4WD with seven other young people. Since I have a driver’s license and am older than 21, I was allowed to drive. However did I drive only very shortly. Instead I preferred playing the DJ next to the driver, which my fellow passengers might not always have appreciated too much.

We spent our nights in a big pretty modern camp. Food was provided and each group cooked their own dinners in the evenings, which was much fun and tasty.

I was in a group with Jose from Spain, Tory from London, Lee and Frankie, a couple, also from England, Lotte from the Netherlands, Sammy from the States, and Mike from Belgium. Spending night and day together, we became good friends for the short time. The first night was particularly funny for me – and for some of my mates a nightmare, but even worse for them was the next morning. The reason for this is a drinking game called “Fuck you” and the very cheap Australian boxed wine “Goon”, which every backpacker in Australia has tasted at least once. Although I had never played this game, I “won” several times against poor Lee, who even had taught it to us.

Despite the long night and all the hungover people, we always had to leave early in the mornings. There are so many amazing things to see on Fraser Island! Besides the lovely views we always had while driving on the beach and in the woods with the car, our guide, who always was in one of our four cars, showed us many more attractions. Lake McKenzie is probably one of the most famous ones. Its water literally looks like a swimming pool and its sand is just as white as snow. I also loved to swim in in the current of Eli Creek with an air mattress, to admire the view from Indian Head, where I spotted a big turtle, to relax in the Champagne pools next to the ocean and do a one hour walk to finally reach amazing lake Wabby.

I more than enjoyed my time on Fraser Island. There were so many moments I was speechless about what nature offers to us humans, about what wonderful places exist on our earth. And beside the nature aspect, I have had such a funny time with the guys in my group.

Noosa: 12th to 14th November 2016

Noosa is, according to Graham, the manager of Backpacker’s World Travel where I work in Sydney, “a holiday in a holiday”, and that is absolutely true. After two nights in this small town, I had kind of the same feeling as when I leave a spa after one day: Slightly tired, but comfortably warm and relaxed.

The only unpleasant part of my stay was my hostel because of unfriendly staff, long waiting periods and a non-working air conditioner (in the first night, our room was a sauna, another link to spa 😉 ) which is why I had a chat with the manager in the end. But even this could not keep me from enjoying this trip a lot. The first day I spent with discovering what the city is famous for: Its Everglades. I had booked a one-day boat tour linked with a 45 minutes’ canoe drive. In the morning, I got to know Elaine from Dublin and we found out that we were staying in the same hostel, and even in the same room. So we spent the next days together discovering Noosa and its surroundings.

The Everglades are tropical wetlands and exist only twice in the world: In Florida and in Australia. We discovered those beautiful landscapes on a boat and were canoeing for about an hour. In between we had morning tea and later BBQ and we could jump in the river, which felt just great after the small sports part on the canoe. Our guide also gave us a lot of interesting information about nature and aboriginal culture.

Elaine and me ended our day with another BBQ in the hostel, before we fell in our beds, exhausted, but so happy.

The next morning, we got ready to discover Noosa’s beaches and especially its fairy pools. It took us about one hour to get to those small pools in between a rock platform. I honestly don’t even like walking too much, but this walk was so much worth it. The ocean next to us was shining in a crystal clear turquoise-blue color; the stone beach didn’t really seem to be the most comfortable place to lay down, but it looked just amazingly beautiful next to the sea. Our route was surrounded by palm trees and other plants and we spotted at least three lizards that were about one meter long and crossed our path leisurely (no joke!).

However, the absolute highlight on that way obviously was our destination, the fairy pools! The water was so refreshing after the walk and after climbing the rocks to reach them. It was also so clear, I could see small fishes swimming between my legs. A crab crossed our way, but luckily didn’t come too close. Of course Elaine and me took lots of photos, trying to keep his moment forever. Just before leaving, we watched the sea for a moment and – it might seem exaggerated – but I felt a kind of gratitude that such places exist in the world and that I was able to meet them.

Elaine and me finished our short time together in a – what else could it be – Irish pub, where we got fish and chips and beer, and it felt just sooo good after the walking trip. I had to leave in the afternoon to get my bus to Rainbow Beach, but I really hope to meet her again one day!

Byron Bay: 10th to 12th November 2016

First impression: lovely, but lonely

It seems to me that I am not used to travel by myself anymore! It feels so strange, arriving in Byron Bay, my first stop on Australia’s East Coast, and noone is there with whom I can talk. I tried though, and although I was told people in this corner are so open-minded, I don’t really feel this way right now.

Maybe it’s also from exhaustion that I am not as positive about my journey in this moment as I hoped to be. I stayed the whole night in the bus, leaving Sydney at around 7 pm and arriving here at 8 am.

The hostel, “Arts Factory”, seems really nice and Hippie-like though, with lots of young women with dreads and long and light dresses. Guys walking through the hostel barefoot and with a surf board under their arms. And then there is a pretty lake surrounded by tables out of wood and small bamboo huts.

Starting to fall in love

Byron Bay became a short, but wonderful adventure: First day Kayaking in Cape Byron Marine Park and spotting some turtles and dolphins with really nice guides and other lovely backpackers. I made friends with an Austrian young lady, Andrea, who was travelling by herself and on the same tour as me.

The next day by chance we met again – in the bus that brought us to Nimbin, the Hippie town! I was really happy to meet her, and the bus drive by itself became really great, with heaps (Australian synonym for “lots”) of laughters thanks to the awesome driver and guide, Jimmy, and other young people in the bus! Nimbin is really known for its style of the 1960s, with people all wearing long hair and typical Hippie clothes. Quite a bit of marihuana (of course!) and space cookies anyone can buy from lovely old ladies in the streets. Jimmy told us then the story of a young lady who one day during the trip had had one or two cookies too much and started to have hallucinations. When the other guys left the bus to buy some ice cream, she imagined they wanted to get weapons to kill her, which is why she closed the door of the bus so that noone could enter anymore!

Instead of buying grass, I spent my money on beautiful Hippie dresses and jewellery and – I have to admit – one (or two) beers. The ambiance in the bus and during the BBQ on an amazing lake side was great. People were having fun, sun was shining and lunch and drinks were very tasty. Jimmy also showed us the most amazing landscapes and told us some more stories, while we could take pictures. That was when I regretted so much not having taken my bridge camera from Europe, but only my smartphone. I won’t ever be able to show people the exact beauty of what I have seen!

I also started to really like the small town of Byron where I went for a couple of walks. It is just like people imagine Australia: Cool, relaxed and with lots of surfer boys and girls all over the place. I also started to fall in love with my hostel and soon realized that it wasn’t actually too difficult to get to know people. In the evenings, I had some really nice chats with the girls in the “room” I was staying. It wasn’t only a room, but more like a tiny cottage right next to the lake, with its own bathroom and kitchen. In the mornings, I had great views over the forest and could spot some rare animals while enjoying my breakfast calmly. The evenings however I preferred to spent in the kitchen, which was much busier and I could meet people that had stayed longer in this place. Some were working there against free accommodation in a tent. They seemed to be laid-back nature lovers.

After two nights, I had to leave this small paradise however to discover my next destination: Noosa!