3 Week Cairns to Sydney Express

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Adult (18+)
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Byron Bay + Rainbow Beach

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Airlie Beach + Islands

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3-Day 4WD tour

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Reef + Marine Life

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Beach Campsite

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Scuba Dive

Great Barrier Reef

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4 Breakfasts + 6 Lunches + 4 Dinners

17 Day Cairns to Sydney Express


Ignite your inner adventurer and experience the iconic highlights of Australia’s East Coast on the 3 Week Express Cairns to Sydney Itinerary! Discover world-class reef systems, tropical island bliss and pristine coastal gems alongside fellow travellers!

Cruising from Cairns to Sydney in 21 days, good vibes are guaranteed with spectacular value-for-money guided adventures and the flexibility to travel your way! Soak up the fun by diving into the Great Barrier Reef wonder, sailing amongst the tropical Whitsunday Islands, 4WD along K’gari (Fraser Island)’s palm-fringed beaches and living the ultimate sun-drenched lifestyle. Along the way, stop in at bustling East Coast towns including Cairns, Airlie Beach, Rainbow Beach and Byron Bay. Take advantage of stress-free travel and the perfect seamless itinerary, by saying hello to the trip of a lifetime down under!

  • Dive deep into the flourishing Outer Great Barrier Reef adorned with exotic marine species.
  • Set sail and explore the Whitsunday Islands on a social, action-packed overnight boat!
  • Adventure into the pristine lakes, ancient forests and sandy beaches on a multiday K’gari 4WD camping safari.
  • Relax and play in the vibrant, coastal towns of Cairns, Airlie Beach, Rainbow Beach and Byron Bay!

Your Sample Itinerary

Day 1 

Two people holding acai bowls in Cairns

Welcome to Cairns!

Start your East Coast adventure in the lively tropical hub of Cairns, where the palm trees are swaying and the esplanade is always in full swing! Settle in to your central hostel, grab a drink and let the good times roll.


Hostel accommodation in the heart of Cairns

Trip Extension

  • Haven’t explored Cairns yet? See the most of this tropical haven with pre-tour accommodation and experience add-ons.


Day 2

Scuba diver on the Great Barrier Reef throwing a 'shakkas'sign

Great Barrier Reef Scuba Diving Experience

Sprawling over 2,300 kilometres along the northeast coast, the world-renowned Great Barrier Reef is situated a short cruise from Cairns. Dive into turquoise waters and adventure amongst technicolour reef systems, spot exotic reef fish and unique corals, and tick off your bucket list dreams of swimming near a friendly sea turtle! Choose to pop on a snorkel or explore deeper with an introductory scuba dive, where experienced trainers will teach you the basics of scuba. The ultimate opportunity to learn to dive amongst some of the world’s most pristine coral walls!


Hostel accommodation in the heart of Cairns

Trip Extension 

  • Expand your diving skills with a 4-day open water certification course

Day 3

Two women in the Cairns Lagoon in white bikinis

Cairns free day

A free day in the palm-clad Cairns is bound to have you feeling like you're on holiday! Choose to explore the nearby wonders of the Daintree Rainforest and Atherton Tablelands with a guided local tour or kick back by the lagoon! With cool swim, night markets and backpacker bars, it's never been a better time to soak up North Queensland’s epic atmosphere!


Hostel accommodation in the heart of Cairns

Trip Upgrade

  • Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Tour
  • Daintree Rainforest Guided Tour


Day 4

Koala in a tree

Cruise south to Airlie Beach

It's time to say goodbye to Cairns, head southbound along the East Coast highway and reach the vibrant backpacker town of Airlie Beach by nightfall! As you kick back for the eight-hour journey, take in Australia’s classic farm scapes and gleaming horizons before arriving at your central accommodation for the evening. With a lively backpacker scene and handfuls of bars and clubs at your doorstep, the night is yours to explore! Or, break up the road trip with a sneaky overnight stop at Magnetic Island, where untouched beaches and cuddly koalas are waiting to say hello!


Central Airlie Beach hostel accommodation

Trip Extension

  • Magnetic Island Koala & Wildlife Experience


Day 5

Three women sitting on top of the Airlie Beach welcome sign

Hello Airlie Beach!

The dream backpacker town, Airlie Beach offers everything from snorkelling, hiking, seaside dining and a classic bar hop filled with local and traveller favourites! The day is your oyster, so it's time to slop on the sunscreen and hit the ground running. Fill your morning with a stroll along the Airlie Beach foreshore and swim in the seaside lagoon. Next, chill out with your newfound mates, hike to scenic lookouts or take a thrilling jump into paradise with an Airlie Beach Skydive upgrade! To finish, we recommend raising a glass as the sun sets at one of Airlie’s main street bars!


Central Airlie Beach hostel accommodation

Trip Upgrade

  • Airlie Beach Scenic Skydive
  • Scenic Flight over the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands

Day 6 & 7

Woman with arms in the air overlooking Hill Inlet, Whitsundays

Set sail amongst the Whitsunday Islands!

Ahoy sailors! Get ready to open the sails and cruise into the world-renowned Whitsunday Islands where all of your island-hopping, snorkelling and beach dreams are bound to come true. Enjoy two days and two nights on a state-of-the-art backpacker boat, exploring the pristine silica sands of Whitehaven Beach, capturing the majestic swirling sands of Hill Inlet and snorkelling to your heart's content amongst fringing coral walls and friendly marine locals. Your swimsuit and camera are a must-bring, as you adventure to world-famous island destinations. In between the action, chill out on shady deck spaces, crack open a cool beverage and enjoy the social scene at sea with your crew!


Cabin or shared space on your overnight vessel

Trip Upgrade

  • Private cabin
  • Scuba dive

Day 8

Group of people aboard a social sailing vessel in the Whitsundays

Head back to Airlie Beach

Wake to the soft lull of the ocean on your last morning in the Whitsunday Islands and spend the morning cruising back to the mainland hub of Airlie Beach. Once you’ve enjoyed some downtime back on land, make the most of your last night in Airlie Beach at the exclusive sail afterparty. Take advantage of free entry into Airlie’s hottest nightclub and VIP drink discounts with your new Whitsundays mates!


Central Airlie Beach hostel accommodation

Trip Upgrade

  • Airlie Beach Scenic Skydive
  • Scenic Flight over the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands

Day 9

K'gari (Fraser Island) coastline

Airlie Beach to Rainbow Beach Travel Day

After four fabulous days of Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands fun, the East Coast is beckoning once more! Depart Airlie Beach on an overnight bus to the laid-back Rainbow Beach, the getaway to K’gari (Fraser Island). The journey is roughly 1000 kilometres so it's a good idea to download some movies and podcasts for the trip, reflect on your dazzling travels so far (perfect time for an Instagram post!) and kick back before your next adventure begins!


Overnight bus to Rainbow Beach

Day 10 & 11

Person carrying a surfboard on their head wearing a red rashie

Relax and play at Rainbow Beach

A hidden paradise situated along Queensland’s southeast coast, approximately three hours from Brisbane, Rainbow Beach is the ultimate beach town! Boasting a homely charm and idyllic sandy beaches, travellers can escape the crowds and soak up the simple life amongst Rainbow Beach’s chilled-out streets and shorelines. Nestled amongst walking trails and home to thriving native wildlife, now is your chance to delve into the off-the-beaten tracks. Choose to book a Dolphin Kayak tour and meet the local dolphins or add a surf lesson to your trip for an extra slice of thrill to your free time!


Hostel accommodation in the centre of Rainbow Beach

Trip Upgrade

  • Rainbow Beach Dolphin Kayak tour 
  • Surf lesson

Day 12 & 13

Group of people jumping in the air at Maheno Shipwreck, K'gari Island

K’gari (Fraser Island) 4WD Camping Safari

Bring along your sense of adventure and hit the shores of K’gari, the world’s largest sand island, for a three-day, two-night guided 4WD camping tour! Spend your days trying your hand at some off-road four-wheel-driving, diving into the salty waves, swimming in freshwater lakes, exploring biodiverse forests and best of all… sleeping under the stars! With expert tag-along guides, learn the unique history of the sand island and have a laugh amongst fellow East Coast sun seekers. From the astounding delights of Lake McKenzie, Eli Creek, 75 Mile Beach and Maheno Shipwreck, you're guaranteed to find your zen and get personal with mother nature at her finest! 


Beach camping on K’gari with excellent facilities

Day 14

Women wearing a hat on the ferry to Fraser Island

Head back to Rainbow Beach

Wake early for a final K’gari sunrise, enjoy a steaming cuppa along the beach and final ocean swim, before hitting the sand highways once more to journey back to Rainbow Beach. Arriving at your beachy accommodation by late afternoon, spend the night catching up on some well-earned rest or continue the fun with newfound friends at the Rainbow Beach Surf Club, a local watering hole overlooking the sea!


Hostel accommodation in the centre of Rainbow Beach

Day 15 & 16

Noosa Headland

Noosa Dreaming

Days 15 and 16 hold a beach-drenched stop on the Sunshine Coast. Noosa is renowned for its excellent surf, beachy towns and gorgeous hinterland, so get ready for plenty of swimming, surfing, walking and exploring! Grab a good book and catch a tan as you lay on the sands of Little Cove, doing as much or as little as you please!


Beachy Noosa hostel

Day 17

Surfers riding waves at The Pass beach, Byron Bay

Hit the road to Byron Bay

From one East Coast beach highlight to the next, you go! Pop your headphones on once more as you hit the wide-open roads and cross the Queensland border to New South Wales. Situated amongst the rolling hills and divine coastal headlands of northeast New South Wales, Byron Bay is the ultimate destination to ‘cheer up, slow down, and chill out’ (as the welcome sign says). After a day of travel, head to Main Beach for a sunset stroll and cruise along the buzzing main street to get a taste of Byron’s cruisy, free spirit!


Hostel accommodation near the beach in Byron Bay

Day 18 & 19

Two women using the binoculars at Byron Bay Lighthouse Lookout

Explore Byron Bay your way & Surf Lesson!

Travelling down Australia’s East Coast the last two weeks, you’re sure to have heard all about Byron Bay’s famous beachy vibes… now it’s time to experience it for yourself! Your first day in Byron holds a half-day surf lesson bound to have you cruising the waves like a local! On day 19, you have a free day! Rise early (if you want to, that is) and wander to one of the main street's many eclectic cafes for your morning coffee before spreading your towel and enjoying some rays! Adventure to the Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia’s most easterly point, to check out some spectacular views, and take a cheeky dip at The Pass beach whilst you’re there.


Hostel accommodation near the beach in Byron Bay

Trip Extension 

  • Nimbin Tour & extra night in Byron Bay

Day 20

Byron Bay Main Beach sunrise, strong pink and purple colours

Byron Bay to Sydney Travel Day

Say goodbye to Byron Bay in the morning and hello to your final leg of overnight bus travel as you head south to Sydney! Kick back in comfort, gaze out at rolling coastal and country scenery, and scroll through all the once-in-a-lifetime adventure memories you’ve made over the past 20 days. Now is certainly a convenient time to get posting all of your beached-up Byron selfies for everyone back home. Don’t forget to tag us at @eastcoasttours... we love watching our one-of-a-kind itineraries come to life!


Overnight bus to Sydney

Day 21

Two people in East Coast Tours shirts in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Farewell and welcome to Sydney!

Touchdown in Sydney, the classic Aussie capital city where world-class surfing beaches meet the teeming concrete jungle! By now you’ll be ready to stretch your legs and explore all of Sydney’s iconic destinations from the Opera House, Bondi Beach, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Taronga Zoo, the list of things to do in Sydney is endless. As your unforgettable 21 Day Express Cairns to Sydney Itinerary comes to an end, it's time to go your own way and continue the fun in Sydney’s city lights! 

Trip Upgrade

  • Post-tour accommodation and activities in Sydney

What's Included?

  • 1-day Great Barrier Reef Cruise, including 1 introductory scuba dive
  • 2-day, 2-night Whitsundays sailing tour
  • 3-day, 2-night guided Fraser Island 4WD camping tour
  • Byron Bay surf lesson
  • Exclusive VIP Airlie Beach afterparty
  • Meals during your ticketed tours
  • 20 nights of accommodation
  • Stops in Cairns, Airlie Beach, Rainbow Beach, Noosa and Byron Bay
  • Access social activities and perks of your hostels
  • All bus transport from Cairns to Sydney
  • 2 overnight buses
  • Hostel breakfasts
  • Guaranteed authentic adventures!

What's Extra?

Optional extensions

  • Magnetic Island Wildlife Island adventure 
  • Guided tour of Nimbin 
  • 3-night Sydney and Blue Mountains tour
  • Pre-tour accommodation 

Optional trip upgrades

  • Van or rental car transport 
  • A private cabin on your Whitsunday sailing vessel
  • Hostel dorm upgrades
  • Cairns Rainforest / Waterfall guided tours
  • Award-winning Airlie Beach skydive
  • Whitsundays 1 hour reef and islands scenic flight
  • Rainbow Beach Dolphin Kayak

Terms and Conditions

Please read our terms, conditions and cancellation policies before booking your East Coast itinerary package. 


Who will I travel with?

This is not a group tour, so you only travel with whoever you book for. Whether solo, with your partner, friend or group of your choice, spend your downtime how you like and make memories with your tribe!

Whenever you embark on a tour during your itinerary (like your Whitsunday sailing trip or K'gari 4WD), rest assured they will be adventurous backpacker-style trips, attracting similar types of travellers.

Is this a guided trip?

This is a semi-guided itinerary, meaning that professional skippers and tour guides lead any time spent on individual tours (like sailboats, 4WD camping tours, reef tours, and the likes). However, the in-between bits like travel days, downtime and free days are up to you.

That means nobody will be waking you up for your early bus or checking into hostels with you, however, it makes your time in Australia undeniably more personalised and flexible. Read more about our semi-guided itineraries in our FAQs or chat with a local travel agent to match you with your dream experience.

If you are looking to travel with a group of other backpackers and be guided through every leg of your journey by a local leader, check out our fully guided group itineraries.

Are meals included?

This itinerary includes 4 breakfasts, 6 lunches and 4 dinners (14 meals in total) all during your guided tours. The rest of the meals are up to you, and you will have plenty of access to bars, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets along the East Coast.

Do I need travel insurance?

Yes, we strongly recommend that travellers purchase their own travel insurance before their East Coast trip. Travel insurance is not included in your package price, and East Coast Tours is not responsible for personal injury, operator cancellations or delays.

How much spending money do I need?

We recommend about $60 to $100 AUD spending money per day. This will cover you for a meal in a restaurant, a couple of beers and some supermarket supplies daily. For details on your daily spending budget in Australia, check out our budget travel guide!

Where will I stay?

You will stay in a variety of central hostels on this trip including 15 nights in shared hostel dorms (Byron Bay, Rainbow Beach, Noosa, Airlie Beach & Cairns), 2 nights in a Whitsunday sailing vessel, 2 nights in a deluxe K'gari (Fraser Island) campsite with your tent and gear included, along with 2 overnight buses.

Can I upgrade to private accommodation?

Of course! If you prefer some privacy, you can absolutely upgrade to private rooms. Please note that you will pay the difference from a shared dorm to a private room, and all accommodation is subject to availability. For a detailed estimate, chat with our friendly travel agents over live chat to secure your space.

What is the transport like?

This itinerary includes bus transport which is primarily a Greyhound Whimit Pass. Greyhound Busses are deluxe coaches with in-seat USB charging, wifi, reclining seats, air conditioning and onboard bathrooms. If you wish to upgrade your package, you can book a rental car or campervan through our friendly travel experts to go your own way!

Can I extend, shorten or personalise my trip?

Yes! Simply chat with our friendly travel agents to personalise your itinerary before you book. We wouldn't blame you for wanting longer in the K'gari rainforests or Airlie Beach sunshine!

Are the dates flexible?

Yes, the dates for this itinerary are flexible. Simply input your preferred arrival and departure dates before booking, or chat with our expert travel agents about your timeframe and we'll make it work for you!

Customer Reviews

Cole Proctor

Dec, 18 2023

Absolutely unreal experience! Campsite was lovely and hats off to our guide Jamie! He’s one crazy guy with a huge personality who provided us with constant laughs the whole trip! 10/10 would recommend :)

East Coast Tours acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend that respect to all First Nations peoples.

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