We’ve been out of Australia for a couple of days now and I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down and write a decent blog post about our time there and what we got up to!
We spent 1 month in Australia travelling down the east coast – including Christmas in Byron Bay and New Year in Sydney which was pretty amazing. That said, we definitely feel like 4 weeks was nowhere near enough, so if you’re planning a month in Oz try and stay a week or two longer at least if you can.
One thing that I completely failed to appreciate before we arrived, despite planning our route, was just how enormous the place is. Just the journey from Cairns to Sydney, a tiny snippet of the country, is 2,500km! If you are squeezing in the East Coast in a month, it’s definitely doable, but be prepared for long journeys. We negotiated this by travelling using the Greyhound bus – it’s fairly cheap and 4 night buses helped us to economise on accommodation costs and meant we weren’t wasting too many days travelling instead of exploring.
Below is our itinerary for one month in Australia, together with an overview of some of the average costs so you know how much to budget for your trip. I’ve also included a section at the end for extra things we missed but would definitely include if we’d had a little more time. We spent a fair while in Byron Bay and Sydney over Christmas and New Year, in part so we could relax over the holidays and due to many places having minimum length stays in these periods.
Day 1-3: Cairns
We flew into Cairns and relaxed for a few hours before heading into town to explore. The night market is well worth a visit – with lots of stalls selling everything from cheap and delicious Asian food to massages and souvenirs. It’s also lovely to wander down the esplanade, where you can swim and soak up the atmosphere of this tropical city. The next day it was time for the big draw – spending the day on a snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef which was incredible. Try to hire an underwater camera if you can – we managed to get one thrown in with our tour package which was definitely worth negotiating for. Finally, on our last day in Cairns we took a wander to the botanic gardens and Rainforest walk.
If you’re spending one month in Australia, it may be worth cutting this down to just one or two days and sticking to the highlights to create a little more time.
Night Bus to Airlie Beach > 12 hours
Day 4-7: Airlie Beach & Whitsundays
Airlie Beach is a tiny but beautiful town on the coast – there are plenty of beach walks to enjoy, cafes and restaurants in the town itself, and of course the beach. The main attraction here though is that it’s the entry to the Whitsunday Islands. We’ll write a more detailed guide to the islands if we ever get time, but if you’re spending one month in Australia on the East Coast you absolutely cannot miss the Whitsundays. The best thing to do is take a 1/2 night sailing tour where you’ll sail round from place to place stopping to snorkel and hike to stunning beaches along the way. Make sure your itinerary includes a trip to Whitehaven beach, where you can find some of the whitest sand and clearest water in the world.
Night Bus to Noosa > 16 hours
Day 8-10: Noosa & Fraser Island
This journey was a killer but it was definitely worth being based in Noosa rather than Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach for our Fraser Island trip as there’s lots to do here and an amazing beach. The town has loads of shops, restaurants and cafes and there’s a national park with great coast walks. Again, we were based here for a tour – this time to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. We did our trip through Nomads, the main benefits being that it was pretty cheap and we got to drive ourselves along the beach in our 4×4 on a follow along driving trip. Lake Mackenzie is the highlight of the island and most trips spend a few hours relaxing and swimming here, but there’s plenty more to see on Fraser.
Night Bus to Brisbane > 10 hours
Day 11: Brisbane
Sadly we only had one night in Brisbane on our whistlestop one month in Australia but enjoyed exploring the city centre, including the city hall, and the riverside. It’s a pretty buzzing city with loads to do – we’d probably spend 2-3 days here at least if we came back to Aus.
Morning Bus to Byron Bay > 4 hours
Day 12-16: Byron Bay
We arrived in Byron on Christmas Eve and spent 5 nights here. It’s a super relaxing place to spend some time, and definitely lives up to its hippy reputation – expect to see dreadlocks, hipsters and juice bars at every turn. Somehow though, it still manages to feel pretty authentic and is our favourite beach town on the East Coast that we visited on our one month in Australia – although we saw many beaches! The walk to the lighthouse is a great Coast walk, with dolphins and whales to spot at the right time of year. You can also reach the most easterly point of Australia on this walk. It’s also possible to take a bus to visit the nearby hippy village of Nimbin which is a popular tour.
Night Bus to Sydney > 12 hours
Day 17-23: Sydney
We stayed in Coogee Beach for 7 nights as it was the cheapest option for New Years when we booked, and isn’t too far outside the city centre. Obviously there’s far too much in Sydney to include in this summary, but we have a travel guide on the way to help you plan your trip. The must sees are: harbour bridge, pylon lookout, opera house, circular quay, botanic gardens, Hyde park, the rocks, Bondi Beach, manly beach, darling Harbour, maritime museum, Australia museum, NSW Art Gallery and observatory hill. Luckily there are lots of free and cheap things to do in Sydney that will help you stick to a budget.
There are plenty of hostels in the city, but it’s typically far cheaper to stay further out and take the bus in. We also did the Manly to Spit Bridge and Coogee to Bondi hikes which take 2-4 hours each.
Day 24-25: Blue Mountains
For our last few days we hired a car to explore a couple of places outside the city, which I’m really glad we did. Personally with just one month in Australia to explore the whole east coast I’m glad we didn’t try to drive the full itinerary as the distances are just too vast, but having a car for a few days was great. The National Park is so beautiful and our favourite spot – we ended up spending 2 days in the Blue Mountains so we could see more. Our favourites included the famous 3 sisters, Watoomba Falls, Wentworth Falls, Leura Cascades, Jenolan Caves and Grand Canyon trail. If you love nature and like hiking make sure to spare a few days.
Day 26-27: Newcastle & the Hunter Valley
Our main reason for heading up to Newcastle – a couple of hours north of Sydney – was to visit some friends, but it’s worth including on this one month in Australia itinerary for a few reasons – including the famous Hunter Valley which is just on the doorstep. We spent a lovely afternoon here exploring the wineries and doing lots of tasting! If you have a willing driver it’s easy to drive between the wineries and find cellar doors that welcome spontaneous wine tastings.
There are also chocolate shops, fudge shops, honey tastings and many more places to visit. There are also beautiful beaches in and around Newcastle – including Nelson Bay which has a lovely marina. We also spent an afternoon at Oakvale Zoo, which is really reasonably priced and hosts all the Australian animals you could hope to see if you didn’t manage to spot them on your way down the coast!
Day 28: Somersby Falls & Royal National Park
On the way back to Sydney for our onward flight we had a pretty jam packed day trying to squeeze in a last couple of sites. The first was taking the coastal road down to Somersby Falls, a picturesque and quite quiet waterfalls which is a great spot for a wander round and picnic lunch. From here we headed to Royal National Park on the outskirts of Sydney. Located on the coast, it hosts over 32,000 acres of protected park land – highlights include Wattamolla Beach and Falls.
What to Include if you Have More Time
So there you have it – the perfect itinerary for spending one month in Australia! As you can see, we covered a lot of ground and managed to see loads – from museums and zoos to beaches, waterfalls and national parks. There’s definitely a lot that we didn’t manage to see though, so if you have a little more time or want to tweak our itinerary we feel like the following are our biggest misses from Oz:
- 2 night Whitsundays tour instead of 1 night
- 2 night Fraser Island tour instead of 1 night
- Magnetic Island – a day trip from Townsville where you can choose to stay overnight on the island
- Australia Zoo – one of the top tourist attractions located between Noosa and Brisbane
- Extra couple of days in Brisbane to see more of the city
- Surfers Paradise also looked amazing and we would’ve spent at least a day or so here
- Quite pricy, and definitely outside our budget for the time of year we visited, Uluru would have been amazing to see
- Finally, it doesn’t really count as our itinerary goes from Cairns to Sydney but we’re desperate to visit Melbourne having heard nothing but good things about it
Budgeting for One Month in Australia
Australia is definitely one of the more expensive countries we’ve visited and it can be a challenge to travel on a budget – especially if you’re travelling quickly and don’t stay in one place for too long. Below is a rough summary of our coast for spending one month travelling East Coast Australia.
Average Accommodation Costs
– Around 33AUD for 2 bunks in a 4/6 bed dorm room
– Around $70AUD for a private room in a hostel
Average Travel Costs
– 441AUD per person for a hop on hop off Greyhound ticket from Cairns to Sydney
– 300AUD to hire a car from Jucy for 5 days and 4 nights with 2 drivers
– Around 1.10 to 1.35AUD per litre for fuel
Average Food Costs
– Expect to pay a minimum of 10-15AUD for a cheap meal in a pub
– House wine or beer costs around 6-10AUD
– You can get a reasonable cheap bottle of wine from a bottle shop for around $10 or around 15-20AUD for a six pack
Activities and Tour Costs
These vary enormously and depend a lot on your negotiating skills! We paid the following per person, and anything included above but not on this list was free. Quite a lot to squeeze in for one month in Australia but we definitely missed a lot as well!
– Great Barrier Reef day trip, 2D/1N Whitsundays, 2D/1N Fraser Island and 2 nights accommodation in Noosa – 880AUD
– Catmosphere Cat Cafe Sydney – 20AUD
– Australia Museum inc Spider Exhibition Sydney – 16AUD (student)
– Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout – 10AUD
– Jenolan Caves Imperial Cave Tour – 35AUD
– Oakvale Zoo – 22AUD (25% discount voucher)
– Somersby Falls – 8AUD parking
– Royal National Park – 12AUD parking
Total: 1003AUD / around 614GBP
We tend to be pretty light on the activities compared to most travellers as we gravitate towards cheap or free things to do like museums, hiking or beaches and skip out the expensive but popular things like bungee jumping and sky diving. These sorts of activities are very expensive in Australia particularly so be sure to budget plenty of you plan to do any of these.