Australian Backpacker Bucket List: The East Coast Experiences You Can’t Miss

exploring magnetic island in a barbie car

Australian Backpacker Bucket List: The East Coast Experiences You Can’t Miss

This Australian backpacker bucket list is pretty much the Kama Sutra of the East Coast from Cairns to Sydney. Yep: we promise.

From Jurassic-Park-style jungle, to crisp white beaches and cosmopolitan cities, the East Coast of Australia offers a smorgasbord of experiences.  Whether you’re hopping from hostel to hostel, vanning it, or are one of those glam-packers staying in hotels, this Australian Backpacker Bucket List ensures you will experience the very best of the land down under from Cairns to Sydney.

So pop on “Men At Work”, grab a note pad and get ready to plan the trip of a lifetime….


Your ultimate Australian backpacking trip starts in one of the adventure capitals of Australia: Cairns. Flanked by World Heritage Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is the perfect basis to explore these natural wonders, meet iconic Aussie wildlife and get your adventure fix!

Snorkel The Great Barrier Reef

girl snorkelling with turtle on the great barrier reef at cape tribulation with jungle tours

Stretching a whopping 348,700 km² across North Queensland, The Great Barrier Reef is the worlds largest living organism. Home to over 1,500 species of fish, one third of the worlds soft corals and an array of unique marine life, The Great Barrier Reef is one of the best places to visit in Australia.

Cairns and Tropical North Queensland is the closest location to the reef, which makes it a perfect starting point to living out your mermaid dreams. Mackay and Undine Reefs are just a 30 minute boat ride off Cape Tribulation and are home to turtles, rays and an abundance of colourful fish.

Head out on Jungle Tour’s Rainforest Meets Reef Tour and get ready to enter a whole new world underwater.

Explore The World’s Oldest Living Rainforest

alexandra lookout daintree rainforest with jungle tours cape tribulation tour

Spent your childhood watching Tarzan? Fan of the Jurassic Park movies? The Daintree Rainforest is an ancient tropical rainforest where you could easily imagine roaming dinosaurs. As a matter of fact, it’s the oldest living Rainforest in the world.

One of the most unique and complex ecosystems on earth, the Daintree is home to meandering rainforest boardwalks, crystal clear rainforest pools and a massive wild Estaurine crocodile population.

Take the Daintree ferry across the Daintree River and enjoy endless rainforest and palm-fringed beaches all the way up to Cape Tribulation. This iconic spot is where the rainforest meets the reef!

Explore this ancient wonder with Jungle Tours, which has trips departing daily from Cairns.

Chase Rainforest Waterfalls

girl swimming at nandroya falls atherton tablelands

Photo Instagram @thedailyluxe

TLC famously said “Don’t go chasing waterfalls”, but when you’re around Cairns it’s far too hard not to!

Cairns is surrounded by dreamy rainforest waterfalls perfect for cooling off in. Head up the Gillies Highway south of Cairns and explore the iconic waterfall circuit, which is home to Millaa Millaa falls. Made famous by Peter Andre’s “Mysterious Girl” (yes really) and Herbal Essences, this fairytale-eqsue waterfall is the most photographed waterfall in Australia. Don’t forget to do the iconic hair flick!

Enjoy more hidden waterfalls on the Palmerston Hwy near Innisfail. Nandroya Falls (photographed) is a beautiful two tier waterfall cascading over deep green moss and foliage.

If you live by the motto “the bigger the better” head on a Kuranda Day Tour to the mighty 260 metre Barron Falls.

Cuddle A Koala

girl holding koala at wildlife habitat port douglas

Did you really go to Australia if you didn’t hold it’s most iconic bear? Cairns has several spots where you can cuddle a koala and have your photo taken for the ultimate Instagram shot.

Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat has daily Feature Creature Sessions where you can pose with a koala and get your cuddle time.

Alternatively, head to Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome to get your koala fix without leaving the Cairns CBD. #AllYourFriendsWillBeJealous

Meet An Estaurine Crocodile

wild crocodile on daintree river with jungle tours cape tribulation

Never smile at a crocodile! Unless you want to see one that is! The Estaurine crocodile is the largest of all living reptiles & the sheer sight of one will make you feel like you’re walking with dinosaurs.

Saltwater crocodiles are in abundance on the Daintree River. If you want to tick seeing a wild croc off your bucketlist, we recommend a trip with Jungle Tours. All one and two day Daintree & Cape Tribulation tours include a croc spotting trip on the Daintree.

Or if you want to make your crocodile experience even more exhilarating, zipline over a huge Estaurine crocodile at Cairns Zoom. We kid you not!

Nana-style side note: if there’s a crocodile sign, never swim!

Mission Beach

The next stop on your Australian backpacker bucketlist is Mission Beach. Located in the aptly named Cassowary Coast, Mission Beach is home to miles of pristine beaches and has a large population of wild cassowaries. Head here and enjoy the relaxed tropical atmosphere, chill out in quirky coffees and spend your days beach-hopping.

Skydive Over The Great Barrier Reef

mission beach skydiving over great barrier reef

Photo Instagram @skydiveaustralia

Adrenaline junkies: this one’s for you! When backpacking Australia, you may as well tick of those bucket-list items and it doesn’t get more iconic than skydiving. Leap from a plane 15,000 ft above white beaches, pristine rainforest & The Great Barrier Reef. Hows THAT for a view?

Ready to get high?

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is true to name, it really pulls you in! This mountainous island is pretty much a backpackers playground. With life size Barbie cars waiting for your beach-hopping adventures & wild koalas, this place is a must-visit on your East Coast Australia adventure.

See Koalas In The Wild

koala in the wild magnetic island

Photo via Magnetic Island Travel Diary

Magnetic Island certainly has the koala-fications for you to see these iconic marsupials in the wild. Take the Forts Walk and spot wild koalas in the gum trees. Be rewarded at the end of the hike with sweeping 360 degree views of the island from historic World War 2 forts.

Explore “Maggies” In A Barbie Car

exploring magnetic island in a barbie car

Photo by The Daily Luxe

Get ready to zoom around Magnetic Island in a topless Barbie car! With the wind in your hair and infinite blue oceans in the horizon, you may just find yourself screaming “I’m a barbie girl, in a barbie world”.

Magnetic Island has dozens of gorgeous beaches waiting for you to explore. Wizz around the bustling centres of Horseshoe Bay and Picnic Bay in your barbie car and enjoy scenic walks to the hidden gems of Radical Bay and Geoffrey Bay. Grab your towel and sunscreen and get ready to find your own slice of beachy paradise!

The Whitsundays

After enjoying island life on Magnetic Island, drive down the coast to Airlie Beach, a bustling backpacker haven that is just a stones throw away from the stunning Whitsunday Islands.

Sail The Whitsundays

sailing whitsunday islands backpacker bucketlist east coast

Photo by Tourism & Events Queensland

It doesn’t get more glam-backer than sailing around the Whitsunday Islands. Start your day with some of the most beautiful sunrises in Australia. Enjoy snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, exploring beaches and islands with your new boat pals and finish the day underneath uninterrupted views of the Southern Night Sky.

We recommend sailing boats “Spank Me” (yes really) and “Avatar” for a unique Whitsundays Experience.

See The Beach View That Will Leave You Breathless

whitehaven beach hill inlet most beautiful beach in australia

Photo by Tourism & Events Queensland

It doesn’t get more postcard-picture-perfect than Whitehaven Beach! Swirls of bright white sand contrast with bright turquoise water to create one of Mother Nature’s most stunning paintings. Hike up to the lookout at Hill Inlet to be treated with a view that will last forever. Then wonder down and relax on some of the whitest sand you will ever see!

As a matter of fact, the sand is so pristine that it was used to make the glass for the Hubble Telescope. You can wash your hair with it or even use it to brush your teeth! We dare you!

Rainbow Beach

When the sun hits the cliffs at Rainbow Beach, you will be treated to a spectrum of dazzling colours that makes you realise how this beautiful beach earned its name. Located at the base of the Inskip Peninsula this laid-back town is a great basis from which to head to Fraser Island.

Sandboard The Carlo Sand Blow

couple at carlo sand blow rainbow beach

Photo: Tourism & Events Queensland

The Carlo Sand Blow is one of the best kept secrets of Australia’s East Coast. Just a short walk from the township of Rainbow Beach, this coastal desert is a must-visit. 15 hectares of wavy sand on top of a cliff is sure to blow your mind.

Backpacking is made for trying new activities, so why not sand board down these sand dunes?

Explore Fraser Island

eli creek fraser island backpacker bucket list

Photo: Tourism & Events Queensland

Fancy floating down creeks, swimming in blue lakes and spotting wild dingoes? Introducing Fraser Island. This utter paradise is the world’s largest sand island and has several spots that are undoubtedly some of the most stunning in Southern Queensland.

Head to the inland beach at Lake McKenzie and dive into clear blue waters, cool off in the appropriately named champagne pools and drift down the relaxing currents of Eli Creek.

We recommend taking multiple day four wheel drive tours to see the best the island has to offer!

Byron Bay

lookout over byron bay


Photo by IG @photography_byron_bay

If there was an award for the most relaxing place on the planet, Byron Bay would take out gold. This hip coastal town comes with a surfy, hippy-like edge that will leave you yearning for more. Take a walk up to the lighthouse at Cape Byron to reach Australia’s most Eastern point.


Enjoy A BBQ On Bondi Beach

bondi icebergs bondi beach sydney

Photo by Instagram @anthonyglick via @sydney

It ain’t an Aussie trip without a cheeky “shrimp on the barbie” on Bondi Beach.

For a glimpse of more stunning Sydney beaches, head on the Bondi to Coogee walk.

Learn To Surf

rip curl surf camp 7 mile beach sydney

Head to Seven Mile Beach, two hours south of Sydney and try your hand at one of Australia’s most iconic sports: surfing! All camps include accommodation, transport, equipment, food and lessons! Yeah baby!

Climb The Sydney Harbour Bridge

sydney harbour bridge climb east coast australia backpacker bucketlist

Photo source: Instagram @bridgeclimb

Why see the Sydney Harbour Bridge when you can climb it? Get your adrenaline pumping by climbing the world’s most iconic bridge. Enjoy 360 degree sweeping views of Sydney and experience a lifetime that will give you years of boasting rights.

You go Glen Coco!

Ready to start your ultimate East Coast backpacker adventure? Check out our range of Cairns Tours for Cape Tribulation, wildlife experiences, Kuranda & more!



To all our wonderful passengers, visitors, supporters, and followers past and future, we are required to follow government regulations and stop operation until further notice due to COVID-19. The animals at the CaPTA Group's parks will continue to be cared for during this time by our wonderful wildlife staff. It is sad to have to write this after over 39 years of operation, however we will get through this together and look forward to reopening and welcoming you all back in when possible. We will keep you posted, please be patient as we work through this.

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