3 Week Melbourne to Cairns Express

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Adult (18+)
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3-Day 4WD Tour

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Sunshine City

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Starlit Fraser Camping

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The Whitsundays

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Great Barrier Reef

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Backpackers' Hostels

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Byron Bay

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Greyhound Bus Pass

20 Day Melbourne to Cairns Express


Get to know the boundless beauty of Australia’s East Coast with our exclusive 21-Day Express Melbourne to Cairns Tour. Make your way from Australia’s two biggest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, to the bohemian paradise of Byron Bay before fully immersing yourself in the tropical paradises of Far North Queensland — Rainbow Beach, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, the Whitsundays and Cairns.

Our expert drivers and tour guides will do all the hard yakka while you kick back and have a blast. 4WD all over Fraser Island, sail the islands of the Whitsundays and plunge into the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef with dive and snorkel trips. This 3-week tour jam-packed with exclusive activities, relaxation, surf and sun is your one-way ticket to the best East Coast adventure ever!

  • Scuba and snorkel the best dive spots at the Great Barrier Reef 
  • Explore island paradise of Fraser with thrilling 4WD adventure
  • Sail the Whitsundays in style on a two-day, two-night liveaboard vessel!
  • Exclusive access to the hottest beach destinations on Australia’s East Coast

Your Sample Itinerary

Day 1

Great Ocean Road

Set Sail from Melbourne

Your epic adventure begins in Melbourne. Get to know your tour guides and fellow travellers as you depart Melbourne for an overnight bus to Sydney — these guys will be as close as kin after the next 21 days spent exploring Australia’s gorgeous east coast. If you’re keen to take a few extra days to immerse yourself in the cultural capital of Australia before the tour begins, consider booking in for an additional three nights, or explore the southern coastline with a day tour to the Great Ocean Road! Bon voyage, backpackers!


Overnight bus to Sydney

Trip Upgrade

  • 1 Day Great Ocean Road Tour

Trip Extension

  • Add 4 nights to your stay for more time in Melbourne!

Day 2 + 3

Ocean pools at Bondi

Explore Sydney’s Streets and Beaches

Spend the next two days exploring the streets and beaches of Sydney, home to the world-famous Bondi Beach! See the best of the seaside paradises on offer on the Bondi to Bronte walk, a 6 km roundtrip with non-stop ocean views. If you get hot, cool down in one of the many beaches, ocean pools, and rock pools along the way, and reward yourself with a beer and pizza at the locally loved Coogee Pavilion!


Central Sydney Hostel

Day 4

Aerial shot of Cape Byron

Bus to Byron

All aboard the overnight bus to Byron. The once sleepy township of Byron Bay is now a bustling bohemian paradise perched on the beautiful coastline of northern New South Wales, star-studded with celebrities like Zac Efron, the Hemsworths, Matt Damon, and Aussie music legend Angus Stone! It’s the unofficial Australian capital of chill vibes, so chillax and get ready to embrace your inner beach bum.


Hostel in Heart of Byron

Day 5 + 6

Two girls surveying Byron from cliff

Explore Byron Bay

Check into your luxe Byron hostel and get ready to immerse yourself in the salt, sun and surf. Take the next two days to get into the Byron groove with the abundance of local live music and nightlife, test your skills on the waves with a surf lesson or go kayaking!


Hostel in Heart of Byron

Trip Upgrade

  • Surf Lesson
  • Dolphin Kayak

Day 7 + 8

Aerial shot of waves on Rainbow

Rainbow Beach Getaway

Next stop: Rainbow Beach. Board the bus from Byron to Rainbow for two days and one night in this small coastal paradise. Explore the natural wonder of the rainbow sands in the south, where up to 72 different colours can be found, or take this time to relax and unwind after the hustle and bustle of Byron. The rooftop bar at The Deck is a fabulous location for golden hour drinks, too.


Hostel in the centre of Rainbow

Day 9, 10 + 11 

Three people admiring sunrise beyond shipwreck

3 Day 4WD Fraser Adventure

Spend the next three days 4WDing around one of the most beautiful and diverse islands in the southern hemisphere, K’gari (Fraser Island)! Explore the carcass of the SS Maheno (shipwrecked in 1935), the crystal clear waters of Eli Creek and Lake Mackenzie, or unwind with your mates in the Champagne Pools. The K’gari tour concludes on the third day when you’ll be escorted back to the familiarity of your Rainbow Beach accommodation.


Day 9 & 10 - starry beachside camping with excellent facilities

Day 11 - return to your Rainbow Beach hostel

Day 12

Aerial shot of Airlie coastline

Overnight Bus to Airlie

Sleep off your big couple of days on K’gari and be sure to lather up in aloe vera to turn those burns into glowing tans as you kick back, relax, and let the Greyhound safely transport you to your next adventure in Airlie.


Central Airlie hostel

Day 13

Three young folks enjoying sunset on beach

Airlie Adventure

Welcome to tropical Far North Queensland, travellers! Airlie is a backpacker’s paradise teeming with friendly locals and tourists, and free and cheap activities to keep you busy. Explore the sun-drenched coast, float in the serene lagoon, or set your inner daredevil free with a skydive over Airlie’s picturesque bays and beaches.


Central Airlie hostel

Trip Upgrade

  • Skydive
  • 1 Hour Reef & Island Scenic Flight

Day 14, 15, + 16

People flipping off of boat

Sailing Adventure Through the Whitsundays

Set sail from Airlie for a two-day, two-night escape to the 70 islands that make up Whitsundays. Hop between island paradises, snorkel with diverse and visually spellbinding marine species, and scuba dive through the vibrant and unique coral gardens of the Great Barrier Reef! Your expert crew will provide VIP experience, knowledge of the area, and 5-star banquets before delivering you safely back to the mainland for another night in Airlie.


Day 14 & 15 - Shared cabin aboard modern sailing vessel

Day 16 - Airlie Beach hostel

Day 17

Girl dancing in crowded club

More Airlie Fun

Enjoy one last day in beautiful Airlie. Hit the beaches or experience Far North Queensland’s renowned hospitality and food scene. You might not be back for a while, so why not hit the town with your new mates for a night of celebrations while you’re at it? Shake off our sea legs and put on your dancing shoes!

Trip Upgrade

  • Skydive
  • 1 Hour Reef & Island Scenic Flight

Day 18

Couple canoodling at Crystal Cascades

Final Destination: Tropical Cairns

The end is nigh, dear travellers, and we’re going out with a bang! Arrive at the capital of tropical Far North Queensland, Cairns, and get settled at your luxe hostel. Spend the next few days exploring the nightlife, and unbeatable waterfalls, or indulge in a scenic flight over the islands and reefs.


Central Cairns hostel

Day 19

Girl snorkeling into coral gardens

Snorkel and Dive the Great Barrier Reef!

Dive into the depths of the best dive spots on the Great Barrier Reef and discover radiant coral gardens, giant clams and sunken ships, a snorkel the shallows with sea turtles, dolphins and endless schools of vibrant tropical fish. The Great Barrier Reef is made up of over 3,000 reefs, and each is unique and different from the rest. This is one adventure you’ll never forget, so remember to bring your underwater camera!

Day 20

Two people by the lagoon in Cairns

Cairns Free Day

Explore the local wonders of Cairns, like Rusty's Fruit Market, the local lagoon and of course... the bars and restaurants! Kick back, take a dip and hang out with your new friends at your hostel pool for a super chilled-out day in Cairns.

Day 21

Group of friends on cliff with ocean in background

That’s a Wrap!

Day 21! Wake up in warm, sunny Cairns with two-and-a-half weeks’ worth of tan and travel stories to trade with friends old and new. What’s next? Maybe you’ll extend your stay in Cairns, or revisit your favourite east coast gems!

What's Included?

  • 2 nights in Sydney
  • 2 nights in Byron Bay
  • 3 nights in Rainbow Beach
  • 3 day/2 night Fraser Island Tag-Along Safari
  • 3 nights in Airlie Beach
  • 2-day, 2-night Whitsundays Trip
  • Luggage Storage Airlie Beach
  • VIP boat after party
  • 3 nights in Cairns
  • 1 Day Great Barrier Reef Cruise including 1 introductory dive
  • Greyhound Bus Pass
  • 4 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 4 dinners

What's Extra?

Optional Trip Extensions

  • 3 nights in Melbourne + 1 day Great Ocean Road tour
  • Dolphin kayak Byron Bay
  • Surf lesson Byron Bay
  • Skydive Airlie
  • 1 hour reef and island scenic flight

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 that’s solo, with your partner, friend or group of your own choice, spend your downtime how you like and connect with the gorgeous locations on the way!

Is this itinerary guided?

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?

4 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 4 dinners are included in this itinerary package, all of which are provided during your day trips. The rest of the meals are up to you, and you will have plenty of access to bars, restaurants 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 per day?

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 beachfront, poolside and city-centre hostels. On your Whitsundays sailing trip, you will spend two nights in a shared boat cabin. On K'gari (Fraser Island), you will be camping in a beachside campsite with hot showers and all gear included. You also have one overnight bus trip.

Can I upgrade to private rooms rather than shared dorms?

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

What kind of transport is included?

Our itineraries include 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 or personalise my itinerary?

Simply chat with our friendly travel agents to personalise your itinerary before you book. We wouldn't blame you for wanting longer in the Byron Bay surf 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

Molly Horne

Feb, 20 2024

Absolutely incredible! Best part of my Australia trip so far!

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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