Top Tips for Driving the East Coast of Australia

Top Tips for Driving the East Coast of Australia

It is arguably one of the most popular routes for tourists and backpackers in Australia, but before you set off on the very long self-drive stretch between Sydney and Cairns there's a lot you should consider. Check out my top advice and things to consider below.


1. Don't try and do it all in one go!

The distance between Sydney and Cairns is very very long (2413 km to be precise). Although technically the trip can be done in two days, where's the fun in that? I've just spent the past four weeks travelling the east coast and found this a great length of time to explore the coast and it's towns. Not only is it more fun, but it's important for your own safety to not rush this journey. Trust me, the hundreds of unfortunate roadside memorials you will encounter will be a strong enough reminder for you to take this drive seriously and take your time. The journey is notorious for the number of deaths and crashes that occur due to driver fatigue. 


Australia Scenic Coast

2. Look out for tourist routes

Obviously a road trip along the east coast sounds like heaps of fun with endless views of beaches, rainforests and kangaroos. Although you are lucky enough to experience some of these sights, it won't be long before you find yourself stuck on a long stretch of road with nothing exciting to look at. The route between Rockhampton and Mackay is a good example of this. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for scenic or tourist routes. Between Airlie Beach and Cairns, you'll find a number of creeks, waterfalls and swimming points that are definitely worth stopping at and experiencing. You're lucky enough to have the flexibility of driving a car and being able to stop whenever and wherever you want so utilise that. 


Kangaroo Australia

3. Be very careful of wildlife 

Everyone has seen the famous yellow kangaroo and koala road signs. Well you're sure to see even more of them on this journey and it's crucial that you actually pay attention to the meaning behind it. Many a time did we have to guess whether it was a tyre or a kangaroo in the middle of the road. Unfortunately, it would usually be the latter. Dusk and dawn are the times that animals are most active so it's very important you're alert.

Kangaroos are frequent in Queensland and don't have the ability to jump backwards, so once they've jumped into the road there's no going back. Make sure you give any animals you see a wide space and don't dazzle them with your full beam headlights as this will confuse them more. Not only is it heartbreaking to harm an animal by hitting it with your car, hitting a wild animal at 100kmh is also likely to do some very serious damage to your own car. There will usually be a local rescue number depending on your location for you to ring if you come across and injured animal so do keep your eye out for signposts with the number on it. 


East Coast Australia Road

4. Don't rely on Google Maps 

You are very likely to come across bad signal spots when driving, where you'll be unable to access mobile data or signal. If you are a fan of using google maps, this can cause some issues to your route plan and rerouting options. If you can, get ahold of a printed map of the east coast as this can easily sit in your glove box for emergencies. I  found the app '' incredibly handy as it doesn't rely on mobile data to form a route. It only needs your location services to be enabled and can withstand signal interferences a lot better than google maps. It also has great suggestions for beaches, lookout points, parking and toilets. 


Australia east coast self drive tips

5. Have lots and lots of music ready

Not only is music essential to any successful road trip, but I've found music is one of the best ways to keep you alert. Many a time I've found myself nodding off in the passenger seat whilst I'm supposed to be on kangaroo watch and the best way to perk yourself back up is by blasting out the most classic, cheesiest and easy to singalong tunes. So make sure you've got an aux chord handy and a LOT of playlists. You're driving a long distance and need a variety of songs to keep you entertained. A rechargeable device is also a very handy investment to keep your music player charged. 


Hammock beach Australia

6. Try to avoid driving at night 

The highways you will be on will not have streetlights. You will be lucky if you can see reflector posts. Dusk is also the time of day when animals are most likely to be on the move and with darkness being a factor this makes it even harder to spot them. To help minimise the possibility of driver fatigue and accidents involving animals or other vehicles, I would suggest it's best to aim to reach your next stop before sunset.  


East Coast Australia Spectacular View

7. Stock up before you hit the road 

Snacks and water are a necessity for driving this route. Make sure you always have some in the car before heading off. Although these things can be bought at petrol stations or roadside stops, they tend to be overpriced so is best to pick some up at a lower price before leaving. You'd be surprised how much water you will get through so it doesn't hurt to buy a 24 multipack of water bottles and leave them on your back seat. A cool box is also a great investment. 


8. Plan your pit stops 

There will be hundreds of rest points signposted along the highways you will travel on. However, the majority of these will simply be gravel lay-bys on the side of the road. If you do some planning and research the night before, you would be surprised with what nice small towns, beaches, lookout points and scenic views can be found just off the highway. On some certain stretches it can be a long time before you reach a small town to pick up your utilities so make sure you have a look and get an idea of the towns you will see along the way and the distance between them. 


Driving East Coast Australia Car

9. Take care of your car

If you're driving a rental car, it can be very easy to become reluctant to actually check it over. It's important for your own safety to make the effort to look after your car. Most petrol stations have free air and water points to sort out your tyres and fill your windscreen washers. You're going to experience some rough terrain and dusty roads so make sure these two things are kept in check. In the really unlucky case of a breakdown,  make sure you have your rental companies number written down so that they can assist you.


By Jessica Hutton


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