Lesser known stops along Australia’s East Coast by guest writer and Aussie fan Matt Keen. The route up (or down) the Australian East coast is THE most travelled back packer route in the world, or so my Travel agent told me sitting in rainy London many months ago now. Being such an audacious claim I’m not going to put my head on the line and endorse this, but there’s no mistaking it as a mecca of travel for backpackers, flashpackers, career breakers and wandering souls. I’m sure there’s been some fancy number crunching somewhere hidden in the World Wide Web that could answer this for us, but as with many well-trodden and beaten travel routes worldwide we are all well versed in the must-see locations before we set off.
Here rises the problem that many travellers, particularly first timers (as I was in this case) encounter when they leave their first destination; where can I fill in the gaps between said must-see stops and experience a little of the real place? Now obviously there’s a plethora of published travel guides out there that document extensively countries worldwide, but in today’s post smart phone, app bristling world we want real information for real travellers, and not everyone’s budget stretches to expensive books in a packed destination itinerary.
Not what this post is about
So starting off, I’m going to disregard the following places (don’t get me wrong, STILL see these places and I had a great time in each one, but I’m sure most of you have heard of them):
- Byron Bay
I’m also discounting these, which perhaps require a minimal background knowledge of Australia:
- Airlie Beach – Launching off spot for most Whitsunday Island Trips
- Hervey Bay – Kicking off point for trips to Frazer Island
- Surfers Paradise – Heavily built up city along a vast stretch of beach
- 1770 / Agnes Water – Cooks Landing Point in Australia
You may be thinking that’s a lot of destinations, why do I need more stop offs? Well trust me, Australia’s BIG. Everyone knows this, but if like me you come from a tiny rock like England, having a grasp of the distances involved is something only a mega trip like 4000 odd KMs up the East coast of Australia will teach you. Plus waking up to glorious beaches and surf every day, Australia is a country you may want to only schedule a maximum of half a day’s driving for at one time.
Our East Coast Itinerary ….. 2 travellers, 1 hired campervan, an already exhausted budget, 2 second hand surf boards. We flew from London to Sydney and then used Cheapflights.com.au to fly around the rest of Australia (it’s so huge this is easily the best way to get around).
Stop off 1 – Newcastle
Newcastle serves as a brilliant first stop off when leaving Sydney. Heavy traffic and an increasingly erratic Sat Nav meant it took longer than we thought to leave the city, so the close proximity of Newcastle suited us nicely. Being under 200kms away it also means that you can spend an extra morning in Sydney to see any remaining sites or hit the shops in preparation for your epic journey north.
Due to leaving in the afternoon, we arrived in Newcastle in time for an evening out. This was all the motivation we needed, and Newcastle delivered brilliantly. Much of what Newcastle has to offer follows along the sea front, and therefore a night out can involve strolling from restaurant to bar following the crowd. The bars and clubs we encountered were also refreshingly unique and not too pretentious which is always great considering the clothes most backpackers have screwed up in their bags.
The beaches in Newcastle East are fairly small and uncrowded, they won’t be the most amazing you encounter in Oz but this means they offer a more laid back and less tourist orientated affair. There are 8 in total, which means that you have all the amenities of a city centre surrounded by easy access to beaches.
Stop off 2 – Port Macquarie
This is another stop off before the likes of Brisbane and Byron Bay. We accessed Port Macquarie down a small, winding road and the level of development is low rise and low key. This allows you to enjoy the landscape, primarily taking in the numerous tiny picturesque beaches and the larger Light House Beach. There’s still a decent provision of amenities, we visited the fairly large cinema and there wasn’t a lack of places to eat.
The biggest pull here though would have to be the range of beaches they have. There are several small rocky coves running along one of the main streets (Pacific Drive) with some accessed down steep cliff roads. These offer great surfing opportunities, particularly for beginners, and combined with the massive Lighthouse beach there truly is a great beaching experience to be had. We spent one of our days surfing Lighthouse beach, which due to its vast size and the small population of Port Macquarie meant we had plenty of space. Following this, we were warned by a local that it is known as sometimes having fairly strong rip currents and is apparently visited by the odd shark, so maybe exercise some caution here. However, we were joined by a couple of families surfing so the words of one local should probably not be taking as the be all and end all for this particular beach.
Stop off 3 – Lennox Head
Admittedly, Lennox Head is close to Byron Bay and therefore a determined driver could carry onwards to the soulful surf locale. However, having been a near 500km drive already from Port Macquarie it may be that arriving in Byron Bay late in the evening looking for accommodation is the last thing on your mind. The additional bonus to this strategic spot is that a short journey to Byron Bay from here gives you the flexibility of getting a great days surfing in in Lennox Head before heading onwards with plenty of time to spare.
For those in the know, Lennox Head can deliver awesome surfing. Famous amongst surfers worldwide, ‘The Point’ is a significant stretch of headland that can create some epic breaks that are known for offering long rides in to shore. For beginners, the sheer length of the beach creates ample surfing spots allowing you to head away from the crowd.
Spending a couple of days here really showed us the great Aussie combination of small town beach life. Australians are famed for their active lifestyle, and the ‘rush hour’ surf times in the early morning and late afternoon/evening reveals the dedication many Aussies have for water sports. Having said this, with such a large open sandy beach even at these times you don’t fell crowded, and the low levels of development along the beach front has left a nice open grassy embankment perfect for picnics and clumsily squeezing into your wetsuit.
Stop off 4 – Noosa Heads
Having now headed north of major East Coast urban destinations (Brisbane, Surfers paradise) many travellers up this route are looking for their final surfing destination. Noosa is known as one of the last places left to surf on the way to Cairns, and therefore a stop here can help you get rid of any lingering desires of perfecting your surfing technique. Unfortunately, as this was our first surfing trip ‘perfection’ was not in our vocabulary, but enjoyment certainly still was! Stopping here also afforded us an opportunity to offload our second hand surf boards and tap into some great backpacking culture.
The high street is typical of Aussie locations that thrive on the beach scene. Being the first or the last surfing destination depending on whether you’re heading North or South, you can find many shops here aimed at backpackers. As we were heading north, we used this as an opportunity to offload our second hand surf boards. With plenty of surf shops this afforded us a reasonable amount of bargaining power, as Surf Shops in Australia are renowned for ripping backpackers off when they buy their boards to sell.
It’s no coincidence Australia is such a magnet for backpackers. With all that it is known for offering, it is often the less thought of locations such as these that deliver some of your best travelling experiences. The East coast offers even more than I have covered here, which means you can easily tailor your trip along the coast to your own schedule and desires. Finding places you had not known about beforehand, or that aren’t on everyone’s travel itinerary, is often what great travelling is about.
Written by Matt Keen. Matt is a lifelong keen traveller and has added some awesome locations to his portfolio this year. Australia was one of his favourite travel destinations.