At this point, I've been almost everywhere along the east coast of Australia.
This includes every place you should visit and every place nobody ever should.
Over nine weeks I backpacked my way through 22 cities and towns from Sydney, NSW to Cairns, QLD. This means I only got to spend a few days in each place when, in fact, I could have spent more time in fewer places. The guide books I read had a way of making me feel like every stop on the east coast was worth a visit but, as it turns out, that's not entirely true.
Don't get me wrong–I love Australia, but if you've got a limited amount of time, stick to the following cities!
Of course, Sydney, the most famous of all Australian cities, is a must visit. It spans multiple boroughs, each one offering something entirely different.
A small, lesser-known town on the east coast with an immense amount of charm. The beaches are breathtaking and the views I was lucky enough to witness were some of the best I've evern seen. Yamba is also known, within the right crowds, to provide some of the best surf on the east coast. Most other people just haven't heard that yet. Be sure to sign up for ‘Shanes Ten-Buck Tour' at the local YHA hostel.
3) Byron Bay
A party town and a beautiful beach make this a great stop for backpackers. Be prepared to spend some money on a few blurry nights!
4) Surfer's Paradise
Very touristy but it's a must visit. Lots of shopping and beach bodies everywhere. Despite its name, there are better places along the coast to surf.
Great nights out in Fortitude Valley, and enjoy a ride up the river. Culture abounds in Brisbane, too, making it a must-see destination in Australia.
A small, quaint town offering magnificent views, some really nice hikes and loads of boutiques along the esplanade. The beach here was one of my favorites.
7) Fraser Island
Be sure to do a 4WD tour of Fraser Island. Spend three days and two nights driving along the beach, through the water and over obstacles with a group of seven others in your vehicle. The tour companies provide you with menus, food, tents and every other necessity. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip.
8) Whitsunday Islands
Whitehaven Beach is a beach unlike any you've ever seen before. A cruise through the islands will take you there and possibly elsewhere, depending on the vessel. You can dive or snorkel along the way, creating a fulfilling experience. I'd recommend a smaller boat with fewer people–larger boats become more commercialized and a bit less personal.
9) Magnetic Island
A tiny little island (seven minutes from end-to-end on a scooter) off the coast of Townsville. Some fantastic hiking and walks, remnants of World War II barracks and a beautiful beach made this one of my favorite stops along the way!
10) Mission Beach
Stop by Mission Beach if you're interested in skydiving. It's one of the only places you can land on the beach and the views from 14,000 feet in the air are spectacular!
Backpacker central! There's lots to do from Cairns but not much to do in Cairns. It's the jump-off point for diving on the Great Barrier Reef as well as other day trips to surrounding areas like Kuranda and the Atherton Tablelands.
But prepare to party hard!