Travelling from Sydney to Cairns is still my favourite road trip in terms of fun per mile.
I had 21 days set aside to make the journey and had three major priorities – lay on as many beaches as possible, make loads of new mates and try almost everything that comes along.
I decided to go with Oz Experience over the Greyhound because I wanted a ready-made package of like-minded people with the same agenda and, in truth, I didn’t want to be responsible for anything. At all.
After living in Sydney for several months, it was hard to ditch the designer handbags and hundreds of pairs of heels and crawl back onto the rucksack road again but the promise of drinking our way through 1600 miles whist seeing at least one koala, one ‘kangaroo Crossing’ road sign and learning to surf was enough to sway me out of The Ivy and into the back of a tour bus.
With 21 days, heading north, I picked these stops
Sydney to Spot X Surf Camp, up to Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane, Noosa, Rainbow Beach, Harvey Bay and Fraser Island, 1770, Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, Katoombit Cattle Ranch, Magnetic Island, Mission Beach and finally, Cairns.
Part 1: Sydney to Noosa
Yes, the bus drivers are all called ‘Uncle Buck’ or ‘TimTam’ and you’ll doubtlessly want to swing for the next one to punctuate every sentence with statements like “fair dinkum” and ‘too easy’ and, on occasion, you will be forcibly ejected from your seat (whether you pretend to be on a phone call or not) and you will be made to tell jokes/sing/dance and various other forms of humiliation.
But essentially, you’ll have the time of your life with people you can’t imagine not waking up next to for the rest of your journey. So, while you’re on your third rendition of ‘the wheels on the bus’, remember this – you will learn to love it. Alternatively, don’t sober up at any cost!
I was lucky that 3 weeks was a popular length of time to do the trip so found that many people were moving between places at roughly the same time. There’s nothing worse than making great friends over the first week and then finding they are all staying in Byron Bay for a month while you have to go on alone.
The bus only travels in the daytime and has great flexibility so you can stay as long as you like in each location, for the duration of your pass. The only stipulation is that you have to continue in the same direction. I had pre-reserved all my accommodation as I was on a tight schedule but immediately wished I’d left more flexibility. I really recommend booking your accommodation when you are on-board and that way you can stay in the same hostel as the friends you’ve made.
Surf Camp wasn’t the most auspicious start. Imagine being bundled into a wetsuit – in front of six blonde surf Gods who look like they’ve just stepped out of a Rip Curl calendar – then spending two hours lurching around your board in the hope that God-willing, your Passion-pop induced hangover is surely almost over…only it isn’t.
Byron Bay is beautiful and a hippy haven of incense, sunset beers on the beach and sunrise trips to the lighthouse – Australia’s most easterly point.
Less can be said of Surfers Paradise. Aside from an impressive coastal skyline, it’s a mess masquerading as Las Vegas’ very poor cousin but worth a look to see what everyone’s talking about.
Make sure you avoid ‘Schoolies Week’ if you possibly can – finding out that the 6ft surfer buying you a drink in Cheeky Monkeys bar is actually 17, will be used against you – not only in a court of law, but all the way up the coast by your ‘friends’ in a confined space.
Brisbane is a great city. Party all night in Fortitude Valley then sleep it off at the man-made beach at Southbank. Watch live music in Queen street and take a River Cat boat ride around the city. You really need at least three days here, there is so much to explore. See the city view from the top of Mount Coot Tha, have coffee in Bulimba, dinner in the West End and barbecues in Roma Parklands. I stayed in Brisbane City Backpackers – great pool with a view over the city and free movies every evening in the mini cinema.
Noosa is upmarket with beautiful riverside homes but the reason most Oz Experience backpackers stopped was to visit Australia Zoo to see the Steve Irwin legacy. Really worth a trip to finally cuddle a koala and a python and see the crocodile show where his wife and children still perform.
I left Noosa, almost half way up the east coast and waited for the Oz Experience Bus to pick me up and head towards Rainbow Beach. From there I would finally get to Harvey Bay to start my Fraser Island trip to camp on the world’s largest sand island with the dingos. Incredible!