Our guide to taking a surf trip from Sydney to Brisbane — along the East Coast of Australia — includes budget tips, where to stay and more!
Budget Tips for Taking a Surf Trip Along The East Coast of Australia
The feeling of arriving in Sydney and knowing this is the start of a long journey for us was amazing. We found a bar called AB Hotel near our hostel in Glebe Village that served $8 AU jugs of good beer. Which is extremely cheap by Australian standards.
Alcohol costs and arm and a leg! You can drop $80 on a 6 pack of good beer. The bar also had a huge upstairs that we ended up having all to ourselves and free wifi.
I later learned the reason for the insane beer prices in Australia. The government taxes alcohol and cigarettes like crazy in order to pay for the hospital bills that it causes. Which makes sense since they have socialized medicine and when people go to the hospital or doctor they pay little or nothing for care. I wonder if this will happen to beer prices in the US??? I hope not.
Glebe Village Backpackers Hostel
At Glebe Village Backpackers Hostel, we met a couple of nice and very helpful Germans who gave us some tips about the city and the buses. The hostel was not bad for $24 AU/per person and they made pancakes in the morning that were delicious!
They also have free BBQ on Friday nights. Just some wonder bread, a few hot dogs and hamburgers. But hey, it’s free. I wasn’t too stoked on the fact that there are no lockers or safes anywhere in the hostel, especially when you are sharing a room.
Since we had no idea where we wanted to go in Sydney, we just hopped on the bus and headed toward downtown. The bus driver was super informative and she was very enthusiastic about helping us plan our itinerary. We ended up fitting a lot into one day.
We walked the harbor bridge, checked out the opera house, went to the Royal Botanical Gardens (free admission might I add), and took another bus to Bondi Beach. The botanical gardens were full of flying foxes. I guess this is seasonal and you won’t always get to see them, but there were hundreds of them in the trees and flying around. They make a lot of noise and are pretty entertaining to watch.
Driving the van out of Sydney was stressful considering it’s a big city and we were driving on the opposite side of the road than we do in the US! One of the hardest things to get used to was that the blinkers and windshield wipers are also on the opposite sides of the steering wheel.
Since driving is second nature to a lot of people, it is almost impossible to break the habit of wanting to use your right hand to turn on your signal. But instead the windshield wipers will come on and it causes even more frustration and confusion. It was pretty comical how many times we did that.
In order to get out of Sydney, you have to pass a few tolls. But they can’t just let you pay the tolls as you go through them. You have to go online to each website for each toll you pass within 48 hours and give them your credit card or they will fine you. Our camper van company charges $50 per toll!
Since we decided not to bring any wetsuits on this trip, our best option was to continue north in search of warmer water. Our drive from Sydney to Newcastle took 2 1/2 hours. We managed to find the last site available at Redhead Beach Holiday Park. Since it was Easter break, everything was booked and the prices were jacked up. We paid $40 for our first night of “camping”.
I say camping in quotations because the camping we experienced in Australia was nothing like the camping we are used to. First of all, most people have a sink, a fridge and a stove in their van. Some people even brought huge televisions to watch outdoors and we saw a couple of washer/dryers.
Second, at every park we encountered, there was at least one camp kitchen that has everything you would find in a normal kitchen. Most places have pools and laundry rooms, some have tennis courts and there is usually a game room. We were really roughing it!
At Redhead Holiday Park there is a nice trail to the beach and sand dunes. There are also some decent surf spots according to the locals. The night we were there, the sky was really dark blue and everything looked surreal and beautiful. It’s a great place to take pictures of the sand dunes with the ocean as a backdrop.
The next morning we waited until the Kuta Lines Surf Shop across the street opened at ten and prayed they would be selling some used boards since we didn’t have any luck finding boards to buy in Sydney. The girl working there was extremely helpful and suggested some good places to stop along our way up North.
We found two surfboards at the shop for $200 AU each. A couple of beaters, but the price was right and we knew we would be chucking them in ten days anyway.
We had read about the Merewether Baths, just 10 minutes North of Newcastle, so we stopped there for a little photo opportunity. The waves were head high or bigger, breaking really quick, and it looked like a place for kamikazes only. We watched the surfers for a bit and continued to make our way up North.
We stopped along the way at a great little restaurant called the “Salty Dog”. They had extremely fresh fish and chips and a steak sandwich that was to die for.
It took about 4 hours to get to Crescent Head, our destination for the evening. Crescent Head Holiday Park was a step up from Redhead. The best part about this place, besides the waves, was the cafe. It was refreshingly cheap and healthy food. A nice change from dropping $30 at the grocery store for about 5 items. They also have 5 or 6 computers for you to purchase internet.
The next morning we checked the surf and decided it was worth a shot to paddle out. It’s mostly beach break, with one point break near the park. We would have enjoyed staying here longer, but we knew warmer water awaited us further up North.
Yamba and Angourie
Yamba, they say, is a sleepy little town. By sleepy I think they mean everything closes early (by about 7pm). They have fresh seafood right off the boat and a ferry to Iluka which is a nature reserve. It’s $6 each way but be careful because it is sleepy too. The last one back to Yamba is at 4pm.
There are three caravan parks in Yamba. The Blue Dolphin (close to the river and marinas), Calypso Holiday Park (close to the lighthouse, beaches and ferry, but sites are right on top of each other), and Yamba Waters Holiday Park (quieter, bigger sites, good facilities and probably the cheapest).
We parked our van at Yamba Waters and paid a mere $25 AU, which was cheap compared to our previous $40 sites. We found out later that this park is near a lagoon, which brought on the mosquitoes. Even though we got eaten up pretty bad, I would still recommend staying here. We were also pretty stoked to find a cheap grocery store called Bi-Lo, where we stocked up on camping food.
Our campsite was only 5 minutes from the gorgeous Angourie Nature Reserve and the world renowned surf spot, Angourie Point. Angourie Point is a right hand point break with some decent beach break on the other side of the rocks.
In addition to uncrowded and good waves, Angourie also boasts 2 natural swimming holes right next to the ocean. They call these the green pool and the blue pool. But after some rain, they both turn into brown pools. Here you will find many tourists jumping off cliffs into the pools.
After spending 2 amazing days surfing Angourie and checking out the area, we decided to continue our journey up the eastern coast of Australia in search of another great wave.
Broken Head is a little town just 7 km South from the hustle and bustle of Byron Bay. We found Broken Head Holiday Park in our GPS, as we did with many of the parks we ended up staying at in Australia. The parks in the GPS were not always great, but we usually had good luck with the ones that were within walking distance to a beach.
This particular campground is surrounded by stunning views north and south. There is a fun surf break here that has a fast peeling right hand wave, best in swells with a S-SW wind. There is a 1.6 Km trail from the park that winds through a reserve with dense rainforest, which then opens out to cliffs with views of the crystal clear water below and the Two Sisters Rocks.
At the end of the trail is a secluded beach called Kings Beach and a nice place to chill for a while. As we were leaving the beach, a couple of people arrived with a tent, so I’m guessing this may be a cool spot to camp for the night. But please check the tides first!
Before we set up camp that night, we decided we had enough mosquito bites all over our bodies from the previous 2 nights, so we headed to Byron Bay to find some mosquito netting that we could cover the windows of our van with. Our sleep in Yamba consisted of choosing between either the feeling of suffocation by no air flow in the van with all the windows closed, or giving the bugs a free for all while we were sleeping.
We couldn’t find any mosquito netting, but we did find some thin dish rags and packing tape. We must have looked pretty ghetto back at our campsite with me holding the dish rags for Scott, while he taped them up to the moon roof and windows of the van. It actually was a topic of conversation a little later in the evening with our neighbors, 2 Aussies.
These two guys were extremely interesting and informative. They were on a six-week trip of the east coast of Australia since they had never seen the North or the Great Barrier Reef. Naturally, we had all sorts of questions to ask about things we had encountered on our trip thus far.
For example, the bugs and creatures of Australia. We learned that the bug which we thought was a horse fly, was actually called a mud fly and they give nasty bites. We had first come across this bug in Angourie, and at first it acted and looked like a bee. It had stripes like a bee and chased like a bee when you tried to swat it away. Upon further investigation, I had decided it was harmless and told Scott that I thought it was a fly. So he let one land on him and it just sat there for a while until Scott flicked it off.
The next day he had a large bite on his hand. Come to find out, these flies draw blood just like a mosquito, but the bite is much worse and it itches like crazy. Oops! Sorry, Scott! [:o] From now on I will take the advice of our new Aussie friends. “If you don’t know what it is, assume it bites, because most things do in OZ”.
It was also interesting to learn about the starfish that are now living in the Great Barrier Reef that are not native to Australia. These starfish were introduced by boats and fisherman from China. They are now eating away at the Great Barrier Reef and no other fish can eat them!
Apparently we have been saying the names of most cities in Australia incorrectly. Cairns is cans, Melbourne is melbun, Brisbane is brisbun and Bondi is bondai. Good to know. Now we can speak Australian.
And now I don’t feel so bad about not tipping at a restaurant in Australia. The wait staff make between $17 to $23 per hour and that is how they can afford to not receive tips from customers. While we are on the subject, most employees in Australia make at least $15 per hour for any job. It didn’t sound like they have a minimum wage, but we were told that only the young kids make less than $15.
The next morning we packed up the van and drove seven km to Byron Bay to check the surf since there was no swell hitting Broken Head. We checked a point break by the light house and it looked really small and super crowded. But it was a beautiful, warm day and we were in Australia, so we paddled out anyway.
The ocean water in Byron Bay is blue-green and we could see all the way to the bottom. I can’t say much for the waves that day, and we spent most of our time trying not to get hit by longboards. San Diego’s version of a party wave is nothing compared to 20 people scrambling to catch a 1-2 foot wave on a crowded peak in Byron Bay. But it was fun, nonetheless.
The town of Byron is full of backpackers and driving through the streets is a pedestrian hazard. If you are looking for a cheap meal, which is often the case while visiting this country, check out Eagle Pizza for some good deals. This town overall was too crowded for us, so we continued up the Gold Coast. Our drive up the Gold Coast was slightly disappointing.
We saw a lot of big sky scrapers and busy cities. Needless to say, we moved through this stretch of coast fairly quickly.
We stopped at Palm Beach for a bite to eat (another delicious wrap) and a look at the ocean. As we drove through the streets of Surfer’s Paradise, in between tall buildings, we realized this was no longer a surfer’s paradise and moved on. Our new plan was to hit the Sunshine Coast before dark.
That’s when we hit our first bit of bumper to bumper traffic on the M1. This shifted our route to a place called Beerwah, near the Glass House Mountains, and we stayed in a creepy run down caravan park straight out of an 80’s horror film. The camp kitchen was full of spiders and when I took a shower I had the feeling a killer would slash through the shower curtain at any moment. Our neighbors near our campsite were very friendly though, so that made up for the scary vibe.
Beerwah is about 15 minutes from the Australia Zoo, so after our creepy night in a run down caravan park we got an early start to go see some crocs! I wasn’t expecting much from our visit to the zoo since most of the times I have been to a zoo I go home disappointed when I realize the most interesting animals are sleeping during the day. Or I can’t see through the cages to get a good picture.
We had planned to only spend a few hours, but ended up spending 5 without even scratching the surface of what they have to offer. We were very impressed with the crocodile show that was performed by the Irwins. I’ve never seen a live show with crocodiles and I was honestly afraid for the people on stage. They could have been taken down at any moment if something went wrong!! Definitely a highlight of the trip.
The other animals were equally impressive because they all seemed so much happier than they do at a lot of zoos. We really got the feeling like the animals are well taken care of and that they enjoy being there. The cages were not chain link, so it was easier to take photos. The habitat of the Red Panda was a wall about waist to chest high and that was it! It seemed the animals would be able to get out if they wanted.
We also saw a cheetah out of its cage with a couple of zoo employees and 2 tourists that were petting it. Another highlight for me was the Roo Heaven where we were able to feed and pet all the kangaroos roaming around.
Our visit to the Sunshine Coast was bittersweet. We were in search of warm water and some waves. We found the warm water, but the surf forecast said no waves would be hitting this area for about 5 days, which was after we had to drop off our campervan to get ready for our flight to Thailand.
Our night in Maroochydore, we spent at Sea Breeze Caravan Park at a site that was practically on the beach. It’s a nice place and we would have stayed longer if we were not in desperate need of some waves. The next morning we drove to Noosa Heads, about 30 minutes north, where we found a posh getaway for people interested in shopping and lavish dinner cruises. In search of surf, and less touristy venues, we set our sights back below the Gold Coast to a little town called Cabarita.
Cabarita, Australia is a laid back, small town on the Tweed Coast. Thankfully, the town has protected wetlands that limit the amount of development and this gives it that small town feel where everybody knows everybody. We found Cabarita to be heaven on earth and a perfect place to spend our last days in Australia. The North Star Holiday Resort that we stayed at was huge and had everything you could possibly need.
We arrived on a Sunday night and went to the neighboring Pottsville in search of some dinner. We found the most unique restaurant and pizza joint called “White Jade”. We ordered a garlic and prawns pizza that was unlike anything we have ever tasted before. The staff was very friendly and there seemed to be a ton of regulars.
The next morning we found Hastings Point in Cabarita and enjoyed an early and uncrowded surf session. Hastings has both a North and a South facing peak, so you get to take your pick depending on what the swell is doing that day. We ate lunch overlooking the water and soaking up the views.
We spent the next morning admiring Hastings in and out of the water. A wind swell had come in the night before and caused some pretty junky surf, so it was quite a work out just to paddle out. We really didn’t want to leave this place, but the surf report promised better waves in Broken Head. So we set out for our final night back at Broken Head Holiday Park and were greeted with some chest high fast breaking waves to finish off our trip.
The night brought some torrential rain and a rush in middle of the night to grab our towels and such left to dry. We arose to mud covered boards and a beautiful sunrise over the ocean. On our way out of Byron we sold our boards at the local pawn shop and headed back to Jucy to return our bright green and purple accommodations in the Fortitude Valley part of Brisbane.
Our stay in Brisbane was a short one. After we had dropped off the van, we were just looking to kill some time before the last air tram left for the airport. The air tram stops running at 7:28 pm and doesn’t start up again until after 5 am. Since our flight left before 7 am, we figured we might as well just sleep at the airport since the tram didn’t start early enough and a cab ride would have cost $50 or more.
During our visit to Brisbane, we did stumble upon a street mall with many different restaurants and food shops. It was a Wednesday and most restaurants were having Wednesday night specials that we couldn’t pass up. We ended up at Ric’s Cafe & Bar and were able to share a huge plate of fish, chips and steak for $8.
Now we must say goodbye to Australia, but not before we spend a lovely night in the Brisbane airport!