3 Week Sydney to Cairns Express

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Select Date and Passengers

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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Social Vessel

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Scuba Dive

Great Barrier Reef

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4 Breakfasts + 6 Lunches + 4 Dinners

17 Day Sydney to Cairns Express


From the south to north, pack your swimmers and sense of adventure for an epic discovery of Australia’s East Coast, where iconic destinations and thrilling experiences are waiting around every corner! Hit the roads on the 21-Day Sydney to Cairns Express Itinerary and explore post-card-perfect beaches, technicolour coral gardens, rolling tropical islands and laid-back coastal towns filled with fun vibes!

Live the Aussie dream as you learn to surf in Byron Bay, 4WD along K’gari (Fraser Island), sail amongst the Whitsunday Islands and scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef with new mates from across the globe. With the ultimate seamless itinerary and 24/7 local support, relax and immerse yourself in the East Coast experience whilst all accommodation, transport and tour bookings are taken care of!

  • Explore the vibrant backpacker scenes of Byron Bay, Rainbow Beach, Airlie Beach and Cairns
  • Soak up the pristine beaches, lakes and forests of the Fraser Coast on a multiday K’gari 4WD camping tour
  • Sail from one Whitsundays highlight to the next on a social, adventure-packed overnight vessel
  • Scuba dive amongst exotic coral gardens and marine life on the world-renowned Great Barrier Reef

Your Sample Itinerary

Day 1 

Two people wearing backpacks in Sydney CBD

Hit the road from Sydney to Byron Bay

Begin your East Coast adventure by cruising from the bustling city lights of Sydney to the bohemian streets of Byron Bay, located in northeast New South Wales. Download some music and podcasts, pop your headphones in and watch the lush coastal headlands whirl past on your comfortable overnight bus. The perfect time to rest up and get excited for the once-in-a-lifetime experiences ahead!


Overnight bus to Byron Bay

Trip Extension

  • Haven’t explored Sydney yet? See the most of this seaside city with pre-tour accommodation and experience add-ons.


Day 2, 3 & 4

Two women taking in the view from the Byron Bay Lighthouse

Explore Byron Bay your way & surf lesson!

Immerse yourself in Byron Bay’s relaxed, eclectic spirit with two sun-soaked days of carefree adventure! Unwind on golden beaches, wander to the Byron Bay Lighthouse (Australia’s most easterly point), hang out at trendy local cafes and set free with a cheeky boogie at one of many beachfront bars! Boasting some of the best waves along Australia’s East Coast, catch a salty wave with a Byron Surf Lesson on day three; your teacher will have you catching barrels in no time! If you’re eager to see more Byron sites, extend your trip with a unique tour of Nimbin, Australia’s renowned hippie town set in the hinterland!


Hostel accommodation near the beach in Byron Bay

Trip Extension 

  • Nimbin Tour & extra night in Byron Bay

Day 5 & 6

Two men jumping with their arms spread on a sandy beach

Head north to Noosa

Say goodbye to Byron Bay with relaxed shoulders and a smile on your dial, before hopping aboard the day bus to Noosa, the dazzling seaside destination! The journey is roughly 400 kilometres, creating the perfect chance to reflect on your Aussie travels as you pass into Queensland. Following a day of cruising, reach the sandy shorelines of Noosa in time for a sunset stroll before checking into your central accommodation. Check out your poolside digs and explore Noosa with a free day! With gorgeous, endless beaches, excellent surf, colourful nightlife and exceptional National Park hikes, you have endless magic at your fingertips on the Sunshine Coast!


Hostel accommodation in the centre of Noosa


Day 7 & 8

Women sitting on a paddleboard in the surf

Hello Rainbow Beach!

Reaching the sub-tropical wonder of Queensland’s southeast coast, Rainbow Beach evolves around the ocean, with the main street leading you straight to the turquoise waves! A hidden paradise with an inviting coastal charm, escape the crowds and enjoy flourishing walking trails laden with native wildlife during your free day. Afterwards, cool off with a refreshing ocean swim or meet the quirky local dolphins with a Dolphin Kayak tour add-on. You’re bound to live the simple beach life at Rainbow Beach!


Hostel accommodation in the centre of Rainbow Beach

Trip Upgrade

  • Surf lesson

  • Dolphin Kayak 

Day 9 & 10

Women with her arms raised in a forest, K'gari Island

K’gari (Fraser Island) 4WD Camping Adventure!

Time to hit the iconic sand highways of the world’s largest sand island, K’gari (Fraser Island)! Slopping on the sunscreen and wearing your favourite swimsuit, prepare for days brimming with crystal-clear freshwater lakes, salty ocean swims, ancient forest hikes and the chance to try off-road driving! From Lake McKenzie, Eli Creek, Maheno Shipwreck and 75 Mile Beach you're bound to learn the island’s rich history and find your tropical zen along the way. By sunset, cruise back to your campsite where a classic campfire under the stars sets the scene for two nights of delicious meals and belly laughs amongst fellow East Coast adventurers!


Beach camping on K’gari with excellent facilities

Day 11

Group of five people standing in front of the Maheno Shipwreck, K'gari Fraser Island

Cruise back to Rainbow Beach

Start the last day of your K’gari adventure by catching a magnificent sunrise with a steaming brew in hand before hopping aboard the ferry back to Rainbow Beach. Arriving at your beachy accommodation by late afternoon, indulge in some well-earned downtime and laid-back chills with new mates before you journey to Airlie Beach the following day!


Hostel accommodation in the centre of Rainbow Beach

Day 12

K'gari (Fraser Island) coastline

Rainbow Beach to Airlie Beach Travel Day

After 12 unforgettable days of adventure-chasing from Sydney to Byron Bay and the Fraser Coast, the East Coast is beckoning once more! Hop aboard an overnight bus to Airlie Beach, the renowned coastal town where the backpacker scene is always in full swing! Despite the long journey ahead, kick back with a movie or two and reflect on your brilliant travels so far. Don’t forget to tag us at @eastcoasttours in your FOMO-inducing Instagram posts!


Overnight bus to Airlie Beach

Day 13

Women wearing a hat posing on the Airlie Beach foreshore

Welcome to Airlie Beach!

Wahoo you’ve arrived in Airlie Beach, the tropical town on every backpacker's bucket list, situated at the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef! Stretch your legs and get a taste of Airlie’s social scene with a morning wander along the foreshore and swim at the lagoon overlooking the Coral Sea. Offering natural wonders and bustling nightlife at your doorstep, there is an abundance of exciting budget-friendly activities to fill your free day with!


Hostel accommodation in the heart of Airlie Beach

Trip Upgrade

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

Day 14 & 15

Two people getting a picture taken in the Whitsundays at sunset

Sail through the Whitsunday Islands!

Time to hoist the sails and venture to the world-famous Whitsunday Islands on a two-day, two-night social sailing tour! Kick back on the 98% pure silica sands of Whitehaven Beach, hike to Hill Inlet lookout where the swirling lagoons below make the perfect photo, and snorkel amongst fringing reefs brimming with vivid coral formations and quirky marine species. On a state-of-the-art backpacker boat, enjoy shady deck spaces, an abundance of aquatic activities and a fun knowledgeable crew. After days of island-hopping adventure, be sure to enjoy the social scene by cracking open a cool beverage with your crew at sunset, pure bliss!


Cabin or shared space on your overnight vessel

Trip Upgrade

  • Private cabin
  • Scuba dive

Day 16

Tour group at Hill Inlet lookout, Whitsunday Islands

Airlie Beach afterparty time!

Make the most of your last morning of authentic sailing amongst the dazzling Whitsunday waters with a cup of tea at sunrise and breakfast mingle with your crew, before cruising back to Airlie Beach. After checking into your central accommodation, take some downtime to rest up before the night of fun ahead! Reunite with your new mates at the exclusive sail afterparty, where free entry into Airlie’s best nightclub and VIP drink discounts are ready and waiting. The perfect excuse to let down your hair and show off that newfound tan!


Hostel accommodation in the heart of Airlie Beach

Day 17

Cedar Creek Falls, Whitsundays Mainland

Airlie Beach adventure day

You’ve explored the golden highlights of the Whitsunday Islands, now it's time to discover the natural wonders of the Whitsundays mainland! A full day in Airlie Beach offers you the ultimate flexibility to adventure at your own pace. Grab your friends and check out the freshwater beauty of Cedar Creek Falls, road trip to the neighbouring town of Bowen, indulge in a delicious seafood buffet along the esplanade, relax by the Airlie Beach Lagoon with your travel journal, or head back out to the islands with a day tour add-on! From an adrenaline-pumping skydive, a mindblowing scenic reef flight or an exciting jet ski adventure... the choices are endless!


Hostel accommodation in the heart of Airlie Beach

Trip Upgrade

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

Day 18

Two koalas eating leaves

Hello tropical Cairns!

From one lively East Coast haven to the next! Take it easy as you embark on the eight-hour journey from Airlie Beach to Cairns, passing a plethora of rich farmscapes and shining coastal horizons along the way. Touching down in the lively tropical centre of Cairns by dusk, stretch your legs with a stroll along the palm-fringed esplanade and say hello to new friends at the many vibrant backpacker bars. To break up the journey to Cairns, add a magical overnight stop at Magnetic Island, for a chance to cuddle a furry koala and swim amongst some of the clearest waters you’ll ever see!


Hostel accommodation in the heart of Cairns

Trip Upgrade

  • Magnetic Island Koala & Wildlife Experience

Day 19

Three women wearing snorkel masks on the Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef scuba diving experience

The glistening gem of the East Coast, the Great Barrier Reef sprawls over 2,300 kilometres, giving life to over 3,000 individual reef systems and hundreds of unique marine species! The best way to discover the biodiverse coral forests is with an introductory scuba dive (included), where experienced instructors will teach you the basics of diving. Cruise to the Outer Reef for the day where quirky reef fish, friendly sea turtles, giant clams and corals of all colours are thriving below the glassy surface. Whether you stick to snorkelling or try out diving, the Great Barrier Reef is a marine adventure you’ll never forget!


Hostel accommodation in the heart of Cairns

Trip Extension 

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

Day 20

Three people walking through palm trees

Cairns free day

Cairns is a tropical marvel, with everything from rainforest, reef, island and bush. Make the most of your free day by venturing out to the Daintree Rainforest and Atherton Tablelands local guided tour add-on, where enchanting freshwater waterfalls and ancient forests showcase a different side of the tropical reef city! Or, chill out by the pool with your new mates and let the beachy do the work!

Trip Upgrade

  • Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Tour
  • Daintree Rainforest Guided Tour


Day 21

Two people taking a selfie at Cape Tribulation

Continue the fun in Cairns!

As your sun-soaked 3 Week Express Cairns to Sydney Itinerary comes to an end, it's time to check out of your accommodation and say hello to the next leg of your great Aussie adventure!

Trip Extension

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

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

  • Pre-tour accommodation and Sydney & Blue Mountains tour
  • Guided tour of Nimbin
  • Magnetic Island Wildlife Adventure
  • Post-tour accommodation and Cairns tours

Optional trip upgrades

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

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 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 fun and adventurous backpacker-style tours.

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 bus.

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

Tom Langford

Apr, 18 2024


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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