The popular east coast of Australia is packed with nature, from the world’s largest sand island (Fraser Island), to the Great Barrier Reef, with sea life like turtles, manta rays, dolphins and whales in between. The east coast is a popular Australia backpacking route, so if you're visiting, I’d definitely recommend flying into Sydney and making your own way to Brisbane or Cairns as a ‘surface sector’.
I did this trip independently, buy you could backpack the east with a Greyhound bus pass, with a campervan or by joining a group tour which will include your accommodation, transport and some meals and activities along the way.
From Brisbane (where some international flights arrive), it’s just a short 50 minute flight up to Hervey Bay, the starting point of my Aussie nature coast trip. One of the best things I find about internal flights in Australia is that they’re often like scenic flights - giving you a great view of the coastline and the countryside, and the Brisbane – Hervey Bay flight is no exception.
Hervey Bay is the gateway to Fraser Island (affectionately referred to as ‘the sand pit’ by the locals), which you can reach via a short ferry ride from Hervey Bay.
I stayed at the King Fisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island which caters for a full range of travellers, from those looking for luxury to those on a backpacker budget. Their restaurant offers modern Aussie cuisine so you can sample some interesting dishes including Kangaroo, Emu and Crocodile. Turns out not everything in Australia is poisonous!
If you make an early start, you can head off for some whale watching, just one of the many activities offered by Kingfisher Bay resort.
For our trip, the weather was perfectly calm and we set off north along the coast of the island, all the time keeping our eyes peeled for whales. It was around and hour and a half before we spotted any whales, but the views from the water taking in the vastness of the island and how dense and uninhabited it is are really astonishing.
I visited in September and we spotted a few different humpbacks plus a couple of mothers and calves – we certainly felt we saw our fair share of tails slaps and dorsal waves before making our way back.
Continuing our day on the water, we jumped into canoes to go exploring with a ranger. The rangers here are great; they know a lot of the area’s history and tell some great stories about the area and the island. These canoes are available for rent for anyone visiting the resort.
Next up was a ‘bush tucker’ tasting session, led by our ranger and a local chef. They lay out a taster selection of berries, buds and meats all chosen from Fraser Island, and then you’ll hear a talk explaining how each is used in cooking.
This was certainly a worthwhile experience and I thought everything was very tasty. Admittedly, not everyone thought the same and there were a few moans and groans - although nothing like the drama you see on the TV Show ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’! As we boarded the ferry back ot the bay, our backdrop was one of the most spectacular sunsets that I have seen.
Jumping into a small 12-seater plane from Hervey Bay, I must say I was quite excited to be heading off to Lady Elliott Island, at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
As I’ve mentioned, these local flights are scenic and pretty special. We flew north along the coastline we’d previously covered by boat, which gave us an impressive aerial perspective. As we approached Lady Elliott Island the plane circled so we could see the reef and even make out the shapes of manta rays and turtles in the deep blue below. As a keen diver, I was desperate to get into the water and see what I could spot close-up.
This island is great for snorkelling and diving and offers some close-up encounters with the underwater world. Saying this there is a lot to see just snorkelling. On the reef here you will see the usual suspects; parrot fish, sergeant majors and if you’re lucky a turtle or manta ray. There is a dive shop on the island with qualified divemaster and instructors.
Lady Elliott island is the kind of place where’d you normally stay 5-7 days. There isn’t much else to do on the island other than chilling out, bird watching, snorkelling/diving, so it’s definitely a place to come to unwind. You have little choice but to kick back and relax as there’s no internet (you can’t even tell everyone what an amazing place you’re visiting until you have left!), and no phone reception, which is great!
Arriving back into the land of phone reception and internet, we took some time to tell people back home about the amazing paradise that is Lady Elliott Island (and ironically how great it was to have no internet access). For the next part of our trip, we would head back to explore more of Fraser Island, this time in a big 4WD truck.
On route, we stopped in a little town called Tin Can Bay where you can feed dolphins in the shallows which sounds fun but was rather touristy, so might be worth missing. Driving through the Queensland countryside you’ll pass lush, green fields and eucalyptus trees before arriving in Rainbow beach, named because of the different coloured layers of sands in the hills.
If you’re on a Fraser 4X4 tour, you’ll be advised to hold onto your belongings as things can end up all over the place during the bumpy ride. I took that advice with a pinch of salt until half an hour later when I almost came flying out of my seat. Good job I had the seatbelt on otherwise the lady in front of me would have had a surprise. Besides the entertainment of the ride itself, look out for vast beaches and dingos!
The night skies on Fraser Island are spectacular. I strolled along the beach gazing at the stars and realised I’d forgotten how many there are. With no light around, you can see the Milky Way and so many more stars – in fact it’s one of my favourite things out being in the bush in Australia.
For our second day on the island we made another early start and headed to Lake MacKenzie which is in the middle of the island. It’s quite a bizarre to find a fresh water lake amongst all the sand on an island in the sea but the beach is by far the softest, whitest sand I have ever set foot on! I’d also recommend taking a refreshing little dip in the lake if you get the chance!
Our next highlight was a fast-paced drive across ‘75 mile beach’. Whizzing along the beach at high speed seems a little weird at first and seeing numerous other cars doing the same thing is stranger still. In the distance I could see bronze-coloured rocks being hit by waves and lots of cars were stopping beside them. As we drew closer, I realised the rocks were in fact the Maheno, a ship wreck on the beach which has been here for years.
Our guide gave us plenty of time to make the most of the photo opportunity, as well as a little history lesson about how the ship had been sold to the Japanese and was on its way north to Japan when it was caught in a big storm and ended up running aground on Fraser Island.
Back on the mainland, we headed for Noosa - a great little town and I really liked it. There’s a great beach where I knew we were going to get a surf lesson coached by an ex-world champion. That said, no amount of pro-instruction helped me stand up on the board and hang ten - instead I swallowed a fair amount of water!
For the afternoon, we headed into the hinterland with a stop at Australia zoo where I was able to get a brilliant selfie with a kangaroo. One thing I love about Australia is that the drives are never dull and for such a short distance travelled, you’ll get to see contrasting landscapes of rolling hills and forests as far as the eye can see.
Our second spot of whale watching on the nature coast from Mooloolaba was even better – we spotted more whales, but this time we were hoping for the chance to jump in and swim with them. For me, this was an amazing opportunity as having swum with some of the largest sea creatures in the world, this could help me tick a whale off my list! I waited with anticipation, searching for whale sightings but on this occasion we saw no whales, but a pod of dolphins playing around.#
To reach this part of the Aussie coast, the most convenient international airport is Brisbane. You can book a direct flight that arrives in Brisbane, or you could look at Australia multi-stop flights for ideas of how to include Brisbane (or Cairns or Sydney) in a longer itinerary.
There are a number of pre-bookable tours we offer that cover this section of the east coast:
If you'd like to make your own way around, why not look at Australia campervans and bus passes for Australia? Travel Nation can also arrange car hire. For some hand-picked accommodation ideas, see the Queensland accommodation selection (more can be recommended).
If you’d like to explore Australia’s nature coast including Hervey Bay, Fraser Island, Noosa and Lady Elliott Island, Travel Nation can help you plan a trip on any budget - just contact Travel Nation on +44 1273320580 . I made this trip in September, starting from Brisbane, but check out these tours that include a similar itinerary. These are just ideas – they can customise any itinerary to suit you!