How to get around east coast Australia

Traveling around the east coast of Australia is surprisingly easy for such a large area with plenty of transportation options available from flying into major airports located in the east coast states (Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland) and driving between destinations to catching public transport in the form of train and bus services.

The most time-efficient way of traveling along the coast is to fly from Melbourne to Sydney and then from Sydney to the Gold Coast, or to other various destinations along the coast such as Ballina (Byron Bay) and Cairns depending on your travel plans. The cheapest way of travelling along the coast would be to either catch public transport or drive with both options allowing a flexible itinerary and greater control over where you stop and how long you stop. 

Flying around the east coast of Australia

East coast Australia encompasses three states - Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland - all of which have significant airports to fly in and out of, making traveling between the destinations extremely easy. Some of the more popular airports to fly into include Melbourne International Airport (Tullamarine, MEL), Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport (SYD), Brisbane Airport (BNE), Gold Coast Airport (OOL), Coffs Harbour Airport (CFS), Whitsunday Airport (Airlie Beach, WSY), and Cairns Airport (CNS).

There are also plenty of other smaller airports located across the three states but they don't offer the same number of flights and at the same level of frequency as the major airports do, making it more convenient to fly into one of them to continue your east coast adventure. 

The east coast of Australia is serviced by several airlines including Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia, and Rex Airlines, all offering daily services to and from the major cities mentioned above. The cost of the fare will depend on which airline you're flying with, where you're traveling from and to, and what time of the year you're traveling in but to make sure you're getting the best price, we recommend booking your flights well in advance to avoid disappointment and unavailability. 

If you plan on continuing your journey by car once you arrive at one of the airports already mentioned, there is also car hire available with several car rental companies servicing the east coast of Australia including Avis, Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, Europcar, Hertz, and Thrifty. The cost of renting a car can vary as well depending on a number of factors but you can expect to pay an average of USD$26+ per day. 

Driving around the east coast of Australia

There's a reason why self-driving remains the most popular way of experiencing the east coast as it's not only a great way to see some of this country's most incredible landscapes but it also allows you the chance to move around more freely once you reach your final destination without having to rely on public transport or car-share options.

Yes, driving along the coast will be one hell of a road trip with the total travel time between Melbourne and Cairns coming to a whopping 31 and a half hours but that can, of course, be broken up into reasonable distances over the course of a multi-day/multi-week holiday. 

Here are the approximate driving times between major destinations along the east coast of Australia: 

  • 8 and half hours to drive from Melbourne to Sydney 
  • 5 and a half hours to drive from Sydney to Coffs Harbour
  • 2 and a half hours to drive from Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay 
  • 1 hour to drive from Byron Bay to Surfers Paradise 
  • 2 and a half hours to drive from Surfers Paradise to Noosa 
  • 6 hours to drive from Noosa to Rockhampton
  • 8 and a half hours to drive from Rockhampton to Townsville 
  • 4 and a half hours to drive from Townsville to Cairns

All major highways are relatively well maintained and easy to navigate with plenty of road signage featuring bold lettering and directions so you shouldn't come to any major traffic disruptions along your route.

You need to be mindful of potential delays during peak periods, especially around populated cities, so make sure you leave enough time in your itinerary to account for this. 

Catching public transport around the east coast of Australia

If you want to be mindful of your carbon footprint while traveling, catching public transport is the best option for the environment with both train and bus services available between states. While these options aren't the quickest way to travel along the coast, they can be a great way to explore different destinations you might not have ordinarily stopped at had you been flying or self-driving. 

Catching the train 

You have a few options if you want to use the train as your form of transportation with companies such as XPT, Queensland Rail Travel, and NSW TrainLink, all offering daily services - usually in the morning and in the evening.

Unfortunately, the train isn't the quickest transportation option as it takes several hours to make the journey between destinations with plenty of stopovers along the way. Tickets can also be a little pricey with the economy class on most trains starting at around USD$78, however, it's recommended you book your seat well in advance to avoid missing out, especially if you're after a daytime fare. 

Catching the bus 

If you'd rather catch the bus between destinations, there are a number of companies that offer daily services including Greyhound, Firefly Express, and Premier Coaches with routes such as Melbourne to Sydney, Sydney to Byron Bay, and from Byron Bay to Surfers Paradise. 

Bus tickets are a bit cheaper, starting at around USD$49 depending on your chosen route, but the total travel time will be a bit longer than it is catching the train as buses are still subject to traffic conditions and road regulations. 

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