My Favorite Destinations in Australia

“I’m in this little hippie beach town in Australia called Byron Bay,” I typed to my friend in a Facebook message, “and I’m absolutely in love with it!”

“You’ll fall in love with a lot of places,” my friend replied, and he was right. I’ve been on the road for four months and I’ve already had multiple love affairs with multiple cities and countries. I spent four and a half weeks visiting seven cities along the east coast of Australia, each one special in its own way. I had loads of fun and met some great people in every place, but I really fell in love with four places: Byron Bay, the Whitsundays, the Atherton Tablelands, and the Daintree Rainforest.

Byron Bay

I love warm weather, sunshine, and beaches, and Byron Bay delivers on all three. I had spent two weeks in chilly Melbourne and New Zealand, and even though Sydney was warmer (and I loved the city) it just didn’t compare. Byron Bay is a small town with a chill hippie vibe. It’s a place where I instantly felt comfortable and content. Everything is in walking distance and people spend their days surfing and relaxing at the beach. I could finally spend an entire day lying on warm sand, listening to the waves roll in, soaking up the sun.

View of Byron Bay from the Cape Byron coastal walk

Surfing lessons and kayaking with dolphins are on the top of most peoples’ lists when visiting Byron Bay. I chose to save my money and watch the surfers from the beach, which was plenty of fun for me. A couple of my new friends took surfing lessons here and they absolutely loved it. I say if you really want to learn to surf in Australia, Byron Bay is the place to do it.

Another popular activity, which is free, is to walk to the light house at Cape Byron. I walked up along the coast and back to town through the bush. With sweeping views of the sea, the beaches, and the town, it is a must-do in Byron Bay. You can usually go up inside the light house, but unfortunately it was closed when I was there.

Cape Byron Lighthouse – photo by Martin Beyer

Byron Bay also has the most easterly point of Australia mainland, which can be found along the coastal walk to the light house. I spent some time here just enjoying the view, and I actually saw a whale and her calf swim by and do a few jumps out of the water!

With beautiful beaches, warm sunny weather, hot surfer dudes, and a chill vibe, Byron Bay is my kind of place. I met a few people who had previous plans to keep traveling the coast and just stayed. If I didn’t already have other things booked, I think I would have done the same!

The Whitsundays

This is one of those places you see on postcards that doesn’t look real, and once you get there you can’t believe your eyes. Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. My pictures look photoshopped, and they are not even edited! The water is crystal clear, and the white silica sand is so pure you can exfoliate your skin, polish jewelry (but only the real stuff), and even brush your teeth with it!

View of Whitehaven Beach at the Whitsundays

I did a day tour with Ocean Rafting, on which I snorkeled for the first time, took in the views of Whitehaven, island hopped, and had lunch on the beach. Many people do overnight tours to the Whitsundays. I think this would have been great fun, but it is a lot more expensive and you get to see and do just as much on the day tour, you just don’t stay as long.

The Atherton Tablelands

Coming in a close second to the Whitsundays, the Atherton Tablelands is the next most beautiful place I have laid eyes on. I couldn’t believe it.

My friends who live in Sydney, last name Atherton, told me when I was there that I should visit the Atherton Tablelands, which is outside of Cairns. They said their dad’s ancestors settled the area. I kept it in mind and thought maybe it was just a park or a small area; not a major tourist destination. Next thing I knew I had travel agents and other travelers telling me I needed to go. “Holy shit,” I thought, “this is a big thing!” My friend was so nonchalant about it, I had no idea.

The landscape is incredible with mountains, volcanoes, and lush green valleys. I did the Waterfall Wanderers tour with Active Tropics Explorer, which I recommend if you don’t have your own mode of transportation and want to see the waterfalls. The drive through the tablelands is absolutely stunning and you visit several waterfalls, including Josephine Falls with a natural waterslide, and Millaa Millaa Falls, which is the site of Herbal Essences’ iconic hair flick shampoo commercial.

The Daintree Rainforest

Also outside of Cairns is the Daintree Rainforest. I did an overnight tour, also with Active Tropics Explorer, to Cape Tribulation. I had the opportunity to walk through the rainforest and swim in Mossman’s Gorge, go on a crocodile river boat tour, and spend the night at a beautiful resort in the middle of the rainforest. The resort also offered a free two-hour walking tour along the beach to a lookout spot.

Rainforest Boardwalk through the Daintree Rainforest

At more than 135 million years old, Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world. To put that in perspective, the Amazon is “only” 55 million years old! The entirety of Australia used to be covered in this rainforest, and the portion in North Queensland it covers today is the only part that survives.

Cape Tribulation is special because it is the only spot in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef – come together.

Written in the sand: “Great Barrier Reef” pointing left, “Daintree Rainforest” pointing right.

Besides being beautiful, I learned a lot during this excursion.  When backpacking it can be easy to just surround yourself with other travelers and get caught up in the party scene, so I encourage you to get away from the city every now and then, enjoy nature, and learn something new!

Australia was an incredible adventure, and each place I visited was truly awesome. The areas listed above only highlight a small portion of the amazing things you can do and see there.

Have you traveled around Oz? What is your favorite spot? Let me know in the comments!

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