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Backpacking Australia from Brisbane to Sydney

Yellow, pink, and purple clouds of a sunset over Sydney Opera House and the harbour

Join along for the ride down the East Coast of Australia where we’ve already completed our Cairns to Noosa journey, and we’ll be going from Brisbane to Sydney in part 2! Exploring two hugely different cities plus everything in between, here’s what we did on our backpacking trip. 

Brisbane Southbank

Our time in bustling Brisbane was spent with two friends who had decided to travel the East Coast in a camper van who were generous enough to let us stay with them for the four nights we were in Brisbane. It worked out to be fairly useful for all of us, as we had several ideas of what we wanted to do so it meant we did the planning and they did the driving! The first afternoon was spent driving around the city, getting slightly lost and ending up strolling along the Southbank.

The Southbank was my favourite part of the city. It’s home to a wonderful little market, several bars an restaurants, the cultural centre and a large lagoon, complete with a play area and sand! It’s also where the ferris wheel sits, and has some beautiful gardens and flower covered pathways which make for a very pleasant walk along the river. After a decent walk we found a sweet little underground bar to have a drink in the CBD. As we were approaching winter, not that it feels it at all, the sun set fairly early so we drove to find a free campsite to set up for the evening. We spent a quiet evening chatting, cooking everyone dinner, playing cards and (ahem) “enjoying” a nice glass of goon.

Brisbane Southbank overlooking the beachy area and pool with the sky scrapers in the background during sunsetSummer Brisbane eveningBlue skies over a flower tunnel where purple blossom grows over red Chinese lanterns

The CBD from the Southbank Lagoon, Chinese Lanterns, Riverside sunset

Surfers Paradise

The next day we drove south to the Gold Coast to spend some time at Surfers Paradise. The whole Gold Coast is renowned for its excellent beaches and surf spots. As none of us surf, we just appreciated the good weather, the golden sands and having fun in the waves. The beach seemed to stretch on forever, and it’s strangely juxtaposed with the towering skyscrapers of the holiday homes and apartment complexes that lie right on the beachfront. There’s not a huge amount to do there, so after a quick lunch we were off again to the city.

Again we found ourselves at the Southbank to wander the market and get a drink and ice cream while soaking up the atmosphere and people watching passers by. The campsite of this night was a little further afield and took a while to reach, so we had a brief dinner and went to bed relatively early in our cramped sleeping arrangements.

Perfect gold empty beach with blue skies adjacent to skyscraper flats

Surfer’s Paradise


Coolum Aqua Park

Making full use of the camper we spent the day taking a drive north to Coolum to check out an Aqua Park with “Total Wipeout” style adventure courses. For only $15 for an hour we had the best time feeling like big kids climbing on inflatable challenges, jumping off things (and falling off many times), swinging from ropes into the lake, and even jumping on trampolines in the middle of the water. It was just what we all needed to boost our moods and feel reenergised. We returned to the city and settled on parking up in a hostel car park where we were able to use their facilities. This also meant we were within walking distance of the Southbank, just in the West End. To enjoy this perk we all went for a drink that evening and chatted to various people from the hostel.

GoPro image of girl taking on inflatable water park challenge in Australia

Coolum Waterpark

Girls take a seflie on an inflatable challenge during a sunny day

Coolum adventure course

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

For our next excursion we drove to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, a small zoo just out of the city centre. It was here that I had wanted to go to for almost the entirety of Aus, it was recommended to me by my Mum (and Mums know best right?) and ever since I kept seeing people’s photos and stories of their visit. So here we were, and it was brilliant. The focus is on native Australian animals and I was not disappointed with the huge number of koalas on show, as well as various birds, reptiles and other mammals. I was extremely happy to finally be able to say I’d held a koala, which are surprisingly heavy, but for me I was in my element feeding the kangaroos. You enter a huge paddock with your bag of feed and simply approach whichever of the seemingly hundreds of ‘Roos you like the look of. I made particularly good friends with one I decided to name Stanley, and we bonded pretty well. I gave him practically a whole bag of food, several cuddles and then he hopped off to chill out in the shade. It was a very cool experience to be so surrounded by them all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself there and would consider it a Brisbane must-do.

Trainer passes a visitor a koala to holdGirl holding a koala in a forest setting of Australia

Koala Hugs

IMG_7297Making friends

As we continued exploring Brisbane, we enjoyed looking around the Queen Street Mall at the various stalls and interesting architecture, and later spent the morning of Anzac Day wandering the cultural centre and appreciating the art installation there before walking north to the CBD to check out Anzac Square Memorial, the botanical gardens and the parliament. It all sounds fairly hurried but it was enough time to see everything for us.

With our sightseeing done, we waited for the bus to take us on our way once more only to find the bus cancelled. Without so much as a word from the company booked with, we were pretty annoyed! Once we got through to the bus company they eventually booked us onto a later bus from another company free of charge, and they would be paying for our dinner that evening in apology. Back past the Southbank we were in the foodie capital of Little Stanley St and found a lovely Italian place and managed to get a very decent dinner before heading to get picked up. It meant we arrived in Byron Bay a good 5 hours late, so we crashed into bed straight away without a second thought.

Nighttime view of the Brisbane CBD overlooking a riverCloudy skies over the Brisbane southbank where the city's name creates a large outdoor art pieceThe Anzac memorial made of sandstone in Brisbane

Brisbane Southbank and city on Anzac Day

Byron Bay

Feeling cranky and tired, we chilled out as much as possible the next day after wandering the main streets of this little hippie traveller town. The best thing about our chosen hostel was the great free dinner available, not only was it tasty but it also had decent sized portions, so we felt as though we’d hit the jackpot that evening.

The next few days in Byron were spent lazing around the beach, exploring the boutique clothing stores, appreciating the great food and cafe culture in the town, and generally taking it easy.

Overalll we found that although Byron was nice, it wasn’t the most budget friendly place, and when the weather was bad there was really very very little to do. It was a shame, as I think had we had more energy we would have explored things a little more, but we just so desperately needed a good rest after over a week of rushing about and poor sleep! If you think we were going to sleep well the next night, think again. We endured possibly the worst roommates I’ve ever experienced. And, of course, they were a bunch of loud English boys…. They came into the room at all hours of the night, loudly and extremely disrespectfully to the point where we couldn’t stand them anymore. Their idea of having fun seemed be getting into fights with one another and shouting. It’s people like that who give travellers such a bad name.

For a day out we hopped on a bus to Nimbin, home of the ultimate hippie life. This tiny village was extremely weird but very good fun with a wonderful relaxed vibe. Had we been more up for it we most certainly would have made better use of our time there, but sadly energy levels just didn’t quite allow us to get into it, despite the preparations that were being made for the annual “Mardigrass” festival. Still, we enjoyed the art galleries and exploring the many stalls of jewellery trinkets.

To enjoy some good weather at last we headed straight for the beach, and taking a beautiful walk along the coast to the most eastern point of mainland Australia, all the way to the old lighthouse at the top of the hill. It was a great way to round off Byron, and made us feel much more positively about our time there.

Another bus cancellation (our bad luck strikes again) meant we were transferred to an overnight train down to Sydney later the next day, and to make up for it were provided a free trip to the Blue Mountains to apologise! Maybe encountering a few hiccups wasn’t turning out to be so bad after all…


Byron Bay Lighthouse

Nimbin Trip


Arriving early morning into Sydney we had the whole day to enjoy, so slowly made our way around Pitt St to get our bearings and eventually made it to Circle Quay where we had our first sighting of the Sydney Opera House. I have to say, I was completely blown away by how magnificent it is. I just couldn’t look away from how huge, beautiful, and iconic it is. It sounds strange to say, but I was suddenly overcome with a wave of realisation that I was in Australia, I had made it to the other side of the world. It was quite an emotional moment. We continued walking, snapping photos and fully loving Sydney already.

We got to the Harbour Bridge and turned back towards the Contemporary Art Gallery, where I realised we had just a couple hours left to go in and see the last day of a Grayson Perry exhibition. Never one to turn down art I quickly headed inside and boy were we glad. It was a rushed but amazing exhibition, with some excellent pieces, and an artist I’ve wanted to see an exhibition of for quite some time.


Sunset over Sydney Opera House


Day two of our Sydney exploration began with running a few errands and exploring Martin Place. I also had to buy another camera, as my new one had a broken lens from some sea water. Annoying but it couldn’t be helped. We then took an open top bus tour around the city like proper tourists, but the slow pace and limited useful information wasn’t quite what we were looking for. It definitely wasn’t worth the money, you’re better off buying separate bus tickets and making your own way in my opinion. The only benefit to it was that it highlighted places we would want to visit again on foot, and it took us to a very cold (ok ok, it was about 25C) Bondi Beach, where we still had an ice cream because who goes to the beach and not have ice cream?

Later that evening I met a friend from college who just so happened to also be in Sydney to enjoy a bottle of wine overlooking the Opera House, reminiscing about our teenage years and having a wonderful catch up and giggle. This was another time when I felt like I was a real human again rather than a mess of a backpacker constantly on the move, sometimes it’s so necessary to take time out from sightseeing. And best of all we had probably the nicest view in town!


Bondi Beach

Blue Mountains Day Trip

Our tour of the Blue Mountains took us a whole day to complete, and it really was a worthwhile day out. We started out visiting a clearing to see some wild kangaroos before heading onto Wentworth Falls where we were guided by our driver Nick through the forest to various viewpoints to enjoy the waterfalls. Eventually we reached the waterfall crossing which suddenly put into perspective just how tall the fall was!

A brief stop for lunch and we were off to see the Three Sisters. This cluster of rocks have a mythical story about how the sisters were frozen into stone after falling in love with brothers from another rival village (very Romeo and Juliet). The view point there was immediately impressive, the name Blue Mountains immediately becomes clear, and the hazy sapphire view just seems to go on forever, with hills stretching out all the way to the horizon with nothing to break it up. It’s moments such as this that made me realise the vastness of Australia, I still cant fully comprehend it’s size!

We took a short drive to another waterfall walk just down the road of the previous town, which was also lovely. It may seem stupid but it never really dawned on me that there were homes and towns in the Blue Mountains. I suppose I had thought of them to be literal mountains which would of course be uninhabitable, as in NZ. After all our walking and sightseeing was done, we went to a rather fancy hotel to be treated to a complimentary beer. I opted for a deliciously crisp cider to satisfy my thirst!

The Three Sisters rock formations as part of the Blue Mountains in Sydney, Australia - surrounded by lush green forest and flat mountains stretching into the blue horizon

Three Sisters

The Blue Mountains in Sydney Australia live up to their name by reflecting the blue skies and with stunning blue views across the thick forest in the distance

Blue Mountains

We had made good friends with a few of the people from the day trip, and so agreed to have a burger together later that evening. Following that we went to grab a drink and wander around Luna Park – a creepy looking amusement park which was creatively illuminated. From there we strolled across the Harbour Bridge and through The Rocks to reach Circle Quay once again. We grabbed a pavlova to share and then enjoyed feeling fancy at the Opera Bar right below the Opera House. We had a brilliant evening of laughter and chatting, I don’t think we could have asked for a better last night in Australia and I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to spend it with anyone else.

Then came our last, very frantic day. Our flight was overnight so we had a lot of time in the day to cram in as much as possible. We walked back to the bridge and walked allllll around the opera house to really feel like we had soaked up every drop of its magnificence. We detoured back through the botanical gardens and past various points of interest such as the gallery, museum, and St Mary’s cathedral. We were feeling extremely proud of ourselves for our excellent ability to sightsee in such a small amount of time, aren’t we efficient!

After making our way back through Hyde Park and the Anzac Memorial before taking a train to revisit Bondi Beach and enjoy chilling out there for a couple of hours of Aussie sunshine. Turns out we really loved Sydney, and I hope another visit to this famous city is on the cards in the future.

And there we ended our East Coast Australia journey! Overall I really loved my time there, however in hindsight the life of a backpacker in Australia is an extremely busy and frantic one. Comparing it to my time as a backpacker elsewhere, I’d say it’s not my first choice but I’m so glad to have seen and done so many great things in the time we had, and of course chance and circumstance will always affect your enjoyment of a place. The backpacking culture of Australia is certainly different to places such as New Zealand, and my personal preference favours the quieter, more scenic activities in NZ compares to beach and city life in Australia, but each to their own. Experiencing different places is a great way to understand what you most appreciate in your travels, and so my time in Australia certainly confirmed my desire to see more culture and landscapes around the world. Having said that, I loved exploring all the East Coast has to offer, and as a backpacking must-do it cannot be missed off the list!

Have you visited the East Coast of Australia? What were your thoughts? Share your stories about the best things you’ve done on your travels!

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