Sydney to Brisbane: Part One of Sydney to Cairns Road Trip
Suggested Itinerary for the Sydney to Cairns Road trip with cheap travel tips and stories. To see Part Two of this Itinerary click here.
Time of Year
Obviously because it’s Australia you can do this at any time of year. But because Cairns is so far north; summer = jellyfish and crocodile season. This makes a lot of the beaches as far south as Airlie Beach un-swimmable. Some places make up for it by having public lagoons in their popular areas. The best time to do this trip is in Winter dipping either side into Autumn and Spring (so around April until about September). In Winter you will still get perfect, hot weather, but without all the animals whose sole purpose in life is to kill you.
Total Travel Time: 34hr 15min
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The journey starts in Sydney; where I lived for three years. There is always something going on here and you will never have to look hard to find a friend. Sure, it’s dirty and mostly uninteresting but you can find hidden pockets of awesome all over the place. There’s the Moonlight Cinema in summer, the Coogee to Bondi Beach walk and endless festivals and markets. Oh, and no journey to Australia is incomplete without visiting some of the top caravan parks in Sydney.
I love Sydney, and you will too!
Hostel: You can find hostels for as cheap as $29 a night. My fave hostel in Sydney is Base which is about $35 a night. It is also right next to an awesome backpacker nightclub, Scary Canary, with some of the cheapest drinks in Sydney. For budget accom in the in a great location is Chiliblue.
Food: Totally recommend almost any Thai place in Sydney. It’s all tasty, creamy and cheap, cheap, cheap. Averages about $10-$15 a meal, or if you go in for lunch you will find an array of $7 specials. Head to Chinatown on Friday nights when they have the Street Food Night Markets. You can nab some delicious dishes for around $5.
Drinking: As I said above, the Scary Canary is a great night out with cheap drinks, no cover charge and loads of cool people. The music is horrible but you will still have fun practicing your corny dance moves!
Other: Sydney is actually pretty expensive if you hang in the popular areas like Darling Harbour or Bondi Beach. But there are always free events and things going on so you can easily budget here if you’re smart about it. Check the many whats on websites for Sydney.
Favourite things to do: Sydney has some great (but packed) beaches. One of my fave things to do is go to the beach with an esky and have some drinks on the grass or sand with friends. There is always something happening that you can get yourself involved with at the beach; volleyball, picnics, football, BBQ’s. It’s always a great vibe. In Sydney there is something happening somewhere almost every weekend. I love going crazy and meeting new people at these events. As long as you immerse yourself in the culture, you will love this City! Best beaches for drinking on are Coogee Beach and Bronte Beach.
Sydney to Newcastle (2 hours)
Just two and a half hours north, Newcastle is a great place to head when doing this road trip or even just to spend a weekend away from Sydney. A lot of backpackers skip Newcastle because it’s too close to Sydney, but if you take my advice – Don’t. It’s got beautiful empty beaches, the nightlife of a large city and loads of things to do. And here’s the best bit: it’s so much cheaper than Sydney! Here can you get a FREE surf lesson and FREE entry into a Nature Park (where you can also cuddle a koala!).
Hostel: There are only three backpacker hostels in Newcastle and they are all good. But the cheapest and my favourite one is Backpackers Newcastle, at around $30 a night. They have a Free BBQ on Mondays, they are the only hostel with a pool, a free shuttle bus into town and have really friendly and social staff (you will often find the staff going out with hostel goers after a shift). It’s like you’re all family when you stay here. If a hostel right on the beachfront is what you’re after check in at Newcastle Beach YHA.
Food: The food here is much cheaper than Sydney. There are pub meals every weeknight and the takeaway places are cheap. My fave is the Burger with the lot at Al Gators (right near main beach) for $4.50!
Drink: A night out is a bit cheaper in Newcastle too as long as you stick to bars and not the nightclubs. Some of the bars are really nice and on the harbour, such as the Brewery, which has a nightclub upstairs. A short walk from Backpackers Newcastle there is a dingy, moody local bar called the Lass O’Gowrie which I love. It has a great underground vibe with live music on almost every night of the week. The gigs are free and the drinks are cheap – it’s a great place to hang out on a weeknight.
Other: Backpackers Newcastle do a Free Surfing Lesson which you won’t find at any of the others with Newcastle Surf School (Note: it’ll cost $20 to hire a board if you don’t have one). Getting around Newcastle is cheap and pretty easy (most things are within walking distance). A company called Newcastle Now have loads of free events happening in Summer like Cinema Under the Stars and Latino Nights. Also, head to Honeysuckle on the Harbour. Not cheap but absolutely picturesque so just go for one drink.
Favourite things to do: I love the beach, and the beaches in Newcastle are really nice, and empty! Bar Beach is the best, longest beach with good surfing waves so there’s usually just surfers there. The Bogey Hole is also a great place to snorkel and explore around the rocks. But the coolest thing I found there was a Free Wildlife Park; Blackbutt Reserve. It is full of Australian animals and birds. You can buy some food for 80c and feed the emus, peacocks and kangaroos. But the best thing was being able to hug a koala! It’s only $4.40 to hug the koala so it’s the cheapest I’ve ever found. The whole park is pretty cool and a great place to spend a day. Also a 20 minute drive from Newi is Stockton Sand Dunes where you can 4wd, buggy, slide, camp and do whatever you want on the dunes.
NOTE: I went back to Newcastle later and made a video for Backpackers Newcastle because I loved them so much. There’s shots in there from Blackbutt so you can see for yourself how great an experience it is. Have a watch:
Newcastle to Taree (2 hours)
I actually wouldn’t recommend going to Taree at all. But it’s where I grew up so I dropped in to see family. There are some really nice beaches close by at Forster, Old Bar, Harrington and Port Macquarie which are nicer places to go if you want to break up the trip. Nambucca Heads is also really nice.
Food: Cheap! Good pub grub for around $7-$10
Drink: If you want a rowdy country bar, Taree has it. Only open on weekends though, it’s pretty small. Drinks are around $5
Favourite things to do: A place on the way to Old Bar called Salt Water is in my opinion one of this area’s best kept secrets. The beach is almost deserted, other than the odd surfer, and stretches for miles. Here Khappinghat Creek meets the sea and in high tide you can walk up the creek a bit and slowly float back to the beach. While I was here my family friend Tez took me up in his tiny three person vintage Auster plane. I have included a couple of photos but if you want to see more please check out the photo blog story.
Taree to Byron Bay (5.5 hrs)
Ahhh Byron Bay. One of my favourite places in Australia (and everyone else’s, it seems). This place has a great hippy, surfey, laid back vibe with a busker on every corner and some of the best surf in the area (loads of surfers travel from far and wide to come here). I spent New Years here one year and it was so packed you couldn’t see the sand! The food is good, the bars are always packed and the vibe is relaxed and everyone just wants to have fun. While I was here I camped in a friends backyard. You can also find deserted beaches to park your camper van on, though there won’t be any showers or toilets and I’m not exactly sure it’s legal.
Hostel: Although I camped while here there is an amazing Hostel called the Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge. Words can’t describe how cool this place is. It’s based in the rainforest and features teepees, rainforest camping, didgeridoo making workshops, an eco garden that you can eat veggies from and a bush tucker walk. Teepees are around $30 a night. It is much cheaper to camp though.
Food: Loads of Takeaway burger joints, organic food stores, pubs and the normal fast food chains around. Prices aren’t cheap. Around $15 for lunch. Look out for a market or cook at your hostel.
Drink: There is a really nice beachfront bar called Beach Hotel which is huge and has a great vibe. It gets packed on weekends and drinks aren’t cheap. Also, there’s the famous Cheeky Monkeys night club which I have found myself dancing on tables at once or twice.
Other: Other than activities that revolve around the beach there’s not much else to do here, so you won’t be spending too much money.The town is based on it’s beach vibe and you can just hang out on the streets and the beach all day. There are Surf Lessons from about $65 a day if you’re into that or Beach Horse Rides from $80. Favourite things to do: There is a guy on main beach who has become pretty famous. He makes huge sand sculptures which are intricate and beautiful, plus he’s always up for a chat. Also, if you have a car you can drive to Nimbin for the day; this little rainforest town is famous for it’s hippy vibe, good food and cheap hash cookies.
Byron Bay to Brisbane (2hrs)
Ahhh Brisvegas. The Warmest Capital City in Australia (other than Darwin). It always has good weather and lots of things to do here.
Hostel: Bunk Backpackers has 20 share dorm beds from about $17. The beds are really private and you even get your own enclosed area in the wall with power for your electrical items. This place has a heated spa and a pool, communal areas and kitchens. It also has a cheap and fun bar attached called Birdees that’s quite famous for it’s cheap drink deals and messy dance-floor.
Drink: My most favourite place to drink in Brissy is Cloudland. Walking into this place is like stepping off the street into a vibrant rainforest garden. There are swinging seats and ponds nestled in amongst the ferns and shrubs. Every aspect of the place is perfectly decorated down to the naked wire man emerging from the misty pond (they actually build a stage over the misty pond when they have live bands in there). Drinks aren’t cheap so get drunk at your place of residence before coming here.
Favourite things to do: There is a free man-made beach/lagoon called Streets Beach at South Bank Parklands. The beach is big and long and attracts a lot of people. There is grass to sun bake on, sculptures and gardens, good food and bars nearby and you can easily catch the ferry to other cool places in Brisbane.
Currency: Australian Dollar (AUD)
1 USD = $1.08AUD
I was here: September 2012