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Australia’s well-trodden east coast trail… but why?

There is so much more to Australia than the east coast trail, that well-trodden route that most travellers take. Whether it starts in Sydney or Melbourne, it takes in both cities (they’re a short flight apart), then involves the long drive up the east coast of NSW to the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, and then up the Queensland coast to the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns.

Backpackers with time on their hands do it in a Wicked Camper, older travellers opt for a Britz or Maui camper van, while cash-rich time-poor travellers fly between the main destinations. It’s a fine trip but it’s by no means the best Australia has to offer, yet it’s the route everyone seems to want to take.

Just this week Jean commented on my post Best time to visit Australia?: “We are planning a trip and are trying to figure out the best time of year for our journey to Australia. In a perfect world of 3 weeks of traveling, we would like to see the Barrier Reef, Sydney, Melbourne (and New Zealand), and spots in between and along the way.”

Last week we met a traveller in Victoria saving money for the same kind of trip while Vicky Baker wrote in response to my last post: “When I left uni, I went backpacking in Oz. I was definitely doing things I felt I *should* do then, the East Coast trail etc. I didn’t want to “miss out” by varying off the route. Funnily enough I don’t regret it, because I needed this experience to find out what I wanted from travel.”

Vicky makes some great points. But I still don’t understand why the East Coast trail became that route in the first place.

Because, as an Australian born and bred in Sydney (a gorgeous city) who spent every school holiday at some east coast seaside town (Umina, Forster, Yamba, Coffs, Mollymook, you name it; all charming places); spent five years travelling the country in a caravan with family as a teen; lived on the Sunshine Coast in my late teens (including one too many visits to Brisbane); re-visited Melbourne myriad times as an adult (all good fun); in recent years travelled the length and breadth of Western Australia (to write LP’s Perth and WA), returning many times to visit family (now in Perth); and more recently travelled through four states (Northern Territory, South Australia, WA and Victoria) over four months doing research for books for Rough Guides and DK… (now they’re pretty good Australia-wide qualifications, right?)… I still don’t get it.

Admittedly I’ve lived in the UAE since 1998, so I am a little disconnected and have a different perspective, so will someone please tell me why the east coast trail remains the most popular travel route when there are so many more spectacular routes in this country to take?

Pictured? A beach at Augusta on Western Australia’s southern coast.

7 comments

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  1. Terence Carter

    For me as a ‘youngster’ in grade 11 at school, the east coast trip was a surf trip. Sure I’d done the trip by caravan with my parents, but the surf trips ruled. Byron Bay and Broken Head still hold fond places in my memories — and considering what Byron is like these days it’s best left remembered as a sleepy surfie/hippy town with a milk bar, a ‘Mexican’ restaurant and a service station.

    The ‘attraction’ of Byron aside, I don’t get the East Coast trip either. It’s not that it isn’t beautiful, but for sheer physical beauty, nothing can beat the west coast. And arguably, once you’ve seen one east coast Aussie beach town, you’ve seen them all:
    Milk Bar. Check. Bakery (pies made on premises a bonus). Check. Inauthentic Chinese Restaurant. Check. Inauthentic Mexican Restaurant that’s actually Tex Mex. Check. Caravan Park. Check. Hippy/New Age store where the owner might know where you can score ‘weed’. Check. Newsagent. Check. Bad motel chain. Check. Surf Shop with surfboards bolted to walls, but none you can actually buy. Check. And so on…

    I actually do love the east coast, I just wouldn’t recommend it to visitors as something that ‘must’ be done on an Aussie sojourn when there is so much else to explore that’s far more unique.

  2. Claudio Tomassini

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  3. Gary Arndt

    I think it is pretty simple.

    That is where most of the people live. That is the where the majority of the vegetation in the country is. That is where the Great Barrier Reef is.

    I’ve been to every Australian state and capital city. While there are great things to see all over Australia, they are much more difficult to get to. Darwin and Perth have no other major cities nearby. The vast majority of the interior country is a giant wasteland.

    You can get the most bang for your buck if you only have a limited amount of time by traveling the east coast.

  4. Terence Carter

    Gary, if you have only a limited amount of time, why keep driving through towns that are literally all the same? The Barrier reef? Sure, fly to Mackay.

    At least you won’t have to pass 5,000 wicked campers doing exactly the same trip because everyone told them they ‘had’ to do it.

    Bang for your buck? Depends what you prioritise as as traveller. For some people, seeing that ‘giant wasteland’ is one of the highlights of their trip to Australia.

  5. Lara Dunston

    Hi Claudio – I’ll drop by and check out your site.

    Hi Gary – the one thing that most travellers to Australia say is that because it’s so far to come here it will most probably be there one and only visit.

    If that’s the case, then why not see the very best the place has to offer – Sydney sure, but what about Uluru, Kakadu, the Margaret River, Broome…

    The interior is no more a wasteland than Arizona/Utah/New Mexico or the Sahara or Empty Quarter is… it boasts some truly spectacular semi-arid and arid scenery with an abundance of wildlife and birdlife.

    If travellers want bang for their buck, apart from Sydney and the GBR, I don’t think they’re going to get much ‘bang’ on the east coast, as fond of it as I am. I’ll be back in Dubai in April, but if a publisher offered me another Australian-based project next year and I had to choose between the east coast or the Red Centre, I know which I’ll be choosing.

    1. TravelTaster

      Erm, too many people lack imagination? And the outback is a bit of a challenge and intimidating to some. It’s long, long distances between towns and the desert landscape is for specialist foreign travellers. Driving across the Nullabor is an epic road trip but I suspect it’s a stretch for many.

      The East Coast has a bit of everything. And it’s only well-trodden to Australians. To people who have never driven it before, it’s great. I love revisiting Jervis Bay, Mollymook etc. It’s a shame Margaret River and Broome are so damn expensive to get to, due to Australia’s tyranny of distance. It’s more expensive to fly return to Darwin than it is to SE Asia. That’s crazy!

    2. Lara Dunston

      Good point re lack of imagination!

      The East Coast is very well-trodden as far as foreign travellers are concerned – that’s who I was referring to, not Australians :) It’s firmly on the backpacker circuit, and is the most common route that young independent travellers take.

      I do agree that the East Coast is lovely, but I just think that for foreign travellers who might only ever visit Australia once in their lives the West Coast, South-West Australia, the Top End, and the Red Centre offer far more drama in terms of landscapes, more unique experiences, the people are friendlier (plenty of eccentrics in the Top End & Red Centre especially!), and they generally offer a more rewarding experience.

      It certainly *is* more expensive for Aussies to travel from Sydney or Melbourne to the West/Top End, and totally agree with you that it’s crazy (flights in Australia are just so over-priced compared to the rest of the world), but for foreigners it’s not – you can get from Europe/Dubai to Perth for less than you can fly to Sydney/Melbourne.

      Thanks for dropping by! :)

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