Australia’s East Coast is full of surprises. From the lush rainforests of tropical North Queensland to the vibrant lights of Sydney’s skyline, there’s always something new and beautiful to discover.
Greyhound Australia is the most popular coach service in Australia and the only bus company that runs through all of the country’s mainland states and territories. Busses are modern, with reclining seats, USB plugs and free wifi (which, depending on where you are, may not always work). Most busses have a toilet on board, and each seat is provided with a plastic waste bag.
Unlike air travel, Greyhound’s coach busses allow 2 free pieces of luggage (up to 20kg) to be stored in the luggage compartment, as well as one carry-on item, which can be placed in a compartment above your seat or kept with you. Leg room varies, depending on how old the bus is, but seats are usually quite spacious. Due to Australian laws, seatbelts are required to be worn anytime you’re seated, but I didn’t find that this impacted my comfort too much. The air temperature varied between busses, so I recommend layering up since you never know how hot or cold it’s going to be.
Australia’s East Coast is huge. The distance from Cairns to Sydney is actually farther than driving from Toronto to Miami. If you drive from Cairns to Uluru, it’s about a 30 hour non-stop trip. Brisbane to Sydney will take approximately 10 hours straight through. Tackling the entire East Coast is no easy task, and you’ll want to make sure you have enough time. That’s why Greyhound Australia’s Whimit bus pass is awesome – you can change or cancel sectors of your trip at any point, allowing you to travel without stressing about anything.
Bus drivers were always helpful and friendly, and have some control over the temperature of the bus, so they’re happy to change it if it’s a problem. Some trips have a 30-minute meal break, with different food options depending on where you’re stopping. Some of my meal breaks were at petrol stations with a small hot meal menu, others were in areas with several restaurant options to choose from. Keep in mind that hot beverages are only allowed onboard if they’re safely contained in a mug with a screw-top lid.
Why you should consider a Whimit pass
Greyhound Australia’s Whimit pass is an electronic bus pass that gives you unlimited travel on Greyhound’s network for a specific amount of time – you can choose a period as short as 15 days (perfect for those just wanting to explore the Great Barrier Reef between Brisbane and Cairns), or as long as 365 days, which is a great option if you’re spending a year on a working holiday and want the complete freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want.
When I was initially planning my trip, my goal was to do it for as cheaply as possible so I looked at what it would cost to book each sector individually. Though Greyhound Australia is the most extensive bus company in the country, there are several other Australia coach lines and I added together all the cheapest options. Once I did this, I was surprised to discover that it was actually cheaper to book a Whimit pass, and if I did book each journey separately without the pass, I’d be sacrificing the flexibility of having unlimited bus travel that I could change at any time.
The perks of travelling Australia by bus
You may be wondering what the advantage is of traveling Australia by bus when flights around the East Coast are so inexpensive. Why spend 2 weeks taking a bus from Brisbane to Cairns if you can just fly there in a couple of hours?
Australia has some amazing cities, but the best parts of the country are the smaller towns in between. There are so many beautiful hidden gems that you can discover by taking the slow route, like searching for platypus in the Mackay Region, or surfing the unpopulated waves near Yamba’s pristine beaches. You also learn how the local public transit system works. You learn to find your way around a city by foot. You learn to get lost without looking like you’re lost. And you learn to break out of your shell much more, because sometimes the only way around is through talking to the locals.
Bus travel is also more sustainable than other forms of transportation. The exception to this is if you’re traveling in an electric car – but keep in mind that an electric car rental from Cairns to Sydney will cost you at least 3x the price of a 30-day Whimit pass. So when you travel by bus, you’re reducing the impact on not just the environment, but your wallet as well.
The bus vs campervan debate
Honestly, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Renting your own car or campervan can allow you more freedom to explore areas in the region that local public transportation may not extend to. You also have a little more flexibility about when you can arrive and depart places, and with a campervan you don’t have to worry about check-in times at all.
There are lots of advantages to taking the Greyhound bus around Australia as well. The biggest one, in my opinion, is that you don’t have to focus on driving, which can be exhausting during such a long journey. Instead of keeping your eyes on the road, you can watch Netflix or get a bit of sleep in between cities when you take the bus. You can also take overnight trips, which can save you money on accommodation and leave you with more time to explore during the day. In addition to that, you don’t have to worry about the added costs of petrol, road tolls or parking.
When you take the bus, there’s also still the option of renting a car just for the day, if you want more freedom to explore some of the National Parks or beaches that the local busses don’t travel to. This can be a lot cheaper than renting a car for the whole journey.
How to add travel to your Whimit pass
Greyhound Australia’s booking system is extremely easy to navigate. Once you sign in with your booking number and PIN, you’re taken to a dashboard where you can see your trips and add more sectors to your journey. Under each sector, you can see details of the trip, like a map of the journey and a timetable for each stop. You can also easily change your seat selection, which is great if you don’t want to sit at the very front of the bus or near the toilet in the back.
At the beginning of every bus trip, you’ll need to show the driver your ticket or a valid photo ID. To download an electronic copy of your ticket, you can select the “view ticket’ option at the top of your dashboard. If you change your seats, I recommend jotting down your seat number to refer to, since the bus driver won’t always tell you which seat you’re marked down for. Keep in mind as well that many bus drivers will tell you to just sit wherever you want.
You’ll also be sent a Pre-Boarding email the day before your trip, which reminds you of the time and date of your booking, and what you’ll need to bring. At the bottom of the email are a few suggestions on things to do in the place you’re traveling to. Greyhound Australia does a great job at communicating important information clearly, and it’s also very easy to get in touch with someone if you need support.
You can also easily delete sectors of the trip through the booking system. The only time I wasn’t able to do this was when I wanted to cancel a trip on the same day that I was supposed to travel, but this was fixed in just a couple of minutes when I called the Greyhound Australia support number that can be found at the top of their webpage.
Greyhound Australia also provides a handy Coach Tracker on their website where you can enter your trip number and the date you’re traveling and it will show you the current location of your bus on a map. I had this webpage saved to the home screen on my phone for easy access, and used it quite a lot to get an idea of whether or not there would be any major delays during my journey.
How to choose the best seats
Every seat on a Greyhound Australia bus is a good one. There are two USB plugs for every pair of seats, overhead reading lights and even the seats at the back of the bus recline. Each seat is equipped with a seatback pocket and waste bag, as well as overhead storage. There’s a toilet at the back of each bus and water fountains on many of the busses in the fleet (this does not apply to the zoo bus that connects the Australia Zoo with Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast – instead of a lavatory, there is one row of seats across the back of the bus).
Seats at the back are usually more private, since most people sit near the front of the bus. This has a downside, however, as the toilet area at the back is often a bit smelly. Keep in mind also if you’re planning to sleep, that the toilet door can be quite noisy when it’s opening and closing.
What to pack for your bus trip
Each passenger is allowed a carry-on bag, which you can keep in the space at your feet or in the overhead storage area. There are a few things that I would recommend packing in your carry-on for each sector of your trip.
If you want to get some sleep during your bus trip along the east coast of Australia, I recommend packing eye shades and earplugs. You can also bring a small pillow and blanket to keep you cozy during the journey. You’ll want a USB cord to keep your phone charged up, as well as snacks and a water bottle. There are tv screens on the bus, but I’ve never seen them turned on, so a pair of headphones for a Netflix binge or a book will help keep you entertained during the trip.
If you have a history of motion sickness, it’s a good idea to take a tablet before your journey, as some roads can be quite bumpy. You may also want to pack your own meals if you have any allergies or food intolerances, since options during rest breaks can be limited.
I also recommend dressing in layers as the temperatures on the bus can fluctuate. You’ll want to make sure you have a warm sweater in winter, since it can be chilly, even in North Queensland.
If you plan on getting work done during the journey, keep in mind that while there are USB plugs, there are no power outlets on the bus to charge laptops, so you’ll probably want to bring a spare battery pack for your computer.
What are the disadvantages of travelling by bus?
My trip lasted about a month and included stops in 17 different towns and cities. To say this was an amazing trip would be an understatement. It was incredible. It was also exhausting.
When you’re planning a coach trip across East Coast Australia, you need to be aware of a couple of things. First of all, the bus station isn’t always in the centre of town. There were several places where getting to my accommodation with my heavy backpack required taking a bus or an Uber. Make sure you know what your transit options are when you arrive, and what you need to be aware of. For example, local busses in Sydney don’t accept payment on board, and public bus stops in Rockhampton can be hard to find, though busses can be hailed from any point along the route.
You’ll also need to factor in the coach schedules for arriving and departing each city in your itinerary. For me, this sometimes meant I had less than 24 hours in a place if I wanted to fit it in. Some destinations have only one Greyhound passing through each day, and it may be at a strange time. Other destinations, usually big cities like Sydney and Brisbane, may have other options throughout the day.
Even though it can be frustrating at times, the money you save by traveling on a Whimit pass does make it totally worth it. And the inconveniences are small ones – overall it’s a great experience.
Example 30-day Whimit itinerary
- Days 1-3: Cairns, with day trips to Kuranda and Port Douglas.
- Days 4 & 5: Townsville and a day trip to Magnetic Island.
- Days 6 & 7: Airlie Beach doesn’t have much to offer, but it’s the perfect jumping off point for the beautiful Whitsunday Islands.
- Day 8: Rent a car and explore the hinterland around Mackay.
- Day 9: Rockhampton. The Dreamtime Culture Centre and Rockhampton Zoo were my favourites here.
- Day 10: Agnes Water. Make sure you catch a sunset in Seventeen-Seventy!
- Days 11 & 12: Head to Fraser Island from either Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach.
- Days 13 & 14: Noosa. You can do a day trip to Australia Zoo from here using your Whimit pass.
- Days 15-17: Brisbane. Make sure you take the free CityHopper ferry around the harbour for great views and easy travel.
- Days 18 & 19: Enjoy the nightlife, beaches, and theme parks of Surfers Paradise.
- Days 20 & 21: Rest & relax in Byron Bay. Don’t miss the hike to the Cape Byron lighthouse!
- Day 22: Enjoy the near-empty beaches of Yamba.
- Day 23: Coffs Harbour. Make sure your visit includes a trip to the beautiful Forest Sky Pier for sweeping views of the area.
- Day 24: Port Macquarie. The koala hospital is a great place to check out here.
- Days 25 & 26: Newcastle, including a day trip to Port Stephens.
- Days 26-30: Sydney, with a day trip to Canberra.
If you’d like to find out how to experience your own adventure with a Whimit bus pass, you can check out the Greyhound Australia website, which has the most current buss pass prices and route maps.
Are you planning a trip to Australia?
I’ve created a printable travel planner that will help make trip planning a breeze. This 7-page PDF has spots to fill in hotel and flight details, emergency info, must-do activities and more. It is available as an instant digital download in the Onwards + Upwards shop.
You can also check out my guide to the best backpackers hostels in Australia. It has tips on how to choose a good hostel and lists some great ones in every state to check out. I’ve also written a post all about staying at YHA Australia hostels.
*Please note that this article was written prior to the Covid-19 pandemic so some information may have changed. Greyhound Australia graciously provided me with a 30-day Whimit pass in exchange for an article about my experience. All my opinions remain honest ones.