Hooray! We finally made it to our final destination, Cairns. If you’ve been following our journey, you’ll know that we’ve been on the road for the last 2 months, travelling up the east coast of Australia, from the sandy beaches of Sydney to wet tropics of Cairns. After hours of debating whether or not we would rent/buy a car and drive our way up the coast, we decided to go for the more cost-effective backpacker experience – taking a hop-on-hop-off bus and staying at different hostels in the main towns/cities along the way.
YHA (Youth Hostelling Australia) is part of the world’s largest accommodation network, HI (Hostelling International), a company that we used for most of our travels in Canada. We find YHA’s booking system and website really easy to navigate, and their hostels are consistently safe and clean, two crucial factors for any backpacker looking for accommodation. Without further ado, we present to you:
Our Top 5 YHA Hostels Up The East Coast Of Australia
1. Railway Square YHA, Sydney, NSW.
The best place to start would obviously be at the beginning, at our first hostel in Australia. Conveniently situated right next to Sydney’s Central station, we couldn’t ask for a better location. As the name suggests, the building itself used to be part of the station, which has now been converted into modern accommodation, with a railway twist. The former Platform Zero has been transformed into stationary carriage dorms, that sleep up to 8 people. The staff told us a funny story of a previous guest who was shown these train carriage dorms, and with a concerned look on his face asked: “…but what happens if I fall asleep and wake up at a different station?”.
The hostel was large, with tall corrugated metal ceilings, and support beams. The communal area was air conditioned, which extended through vents into each dorm room, keeping the entire hostel at a comfortable temperature 24/7. Shortly before our arrival the outside pool spa area was closed for renovations, and replaced with a sun lounge terrace, where most people hung out during the day (weather permitting). On a rainy day, most guests would hang out in the movie room to relax on the beanbags and have a movie marathon (we almost got through all the Harry Potter films before Christmas), or kick back in the lounge area and read a book, or make use of the free WiFi.
Each night of the week, Railway Square would provide a different cooked meal for a very reasonable price, from chicken schnitzel with salad (a personal favourite) to hot dogs and burgers to salsa and nachos. They also offered different events on a few evenings, most of the time ending up at one of the local bars doing activities like karaoke and crab racing, with some pretty decent prizes to be won. Don’t forget, there are free chips and sangria on a Friday night… but don’t be like Ally and where a white to this party. As you can imagine, she spilt red sangria allllll over herself and ruined a new jumper. Thankfully, the Railway Square staff knew exactly what to do, and helped us save the jumper!
The first few days of travelling can be stressful, and for peace of mind, you may be better booking your accommodation before your arrival. You can book in your stay at Railway Square YHA here. Worth noting that if you book in with their weekly rate special, you also get free breakfast and a delicious coffee, made lovingly by their in house baristas.
2. Ozzie Pozzie Backpackers, Port Macquarie, NSW.
When booking our East Coast trip, we were advised by several travel agents to skip ‘Port Mac’, as they believed it didn’t have much to offer. We’re so glad we decided to stop here regardless of the advice, and feel these agents couldn’t have been more wrong. Port Macquarie is a small seaside town, boasting 17 gorgeous beaches and a variety of activities, such as Billabong Zoo and the Koala Hospital. There’s also a really nice coastal walk along the break wall, where visitors can legally paint the rocks. Almost every rock along the wall was covered in paint splats, hand prints, cartoon characters, quotes and memorials, you could easily spend a whole day looking at them!
Jolene from Ozzie Pozzie picked us up at the bus station in the hostel minibus, a first for us, and we were grateful, even though it was a short ride. The building is on a quiet back street, intertwined with trees and plants, giving it a treehouse feel. The vibe was really chilled, and there was plenty of space to relax. It was a scorching day when we arrived, so the outdoor pool was a godsend, with sun chairs, hammocks and covered seating areas all around the circumference of the pool. Inside the main building was the communal lounge/dining area, with lots of character. Decorating the hostel, you’ll find an assortment of individual flip flops (or thongs, as Aussies call them) with funny messages to Ozzie Pozzie, and handmade dream-catchers. Their movie room has the most impressive film collection and offers rows of sofas that were super comfy. To Ally’s delight, a large library in its own room, complete with a sofa and lamp. If you aren’t in the mood to relax though, there are lots of games to keep you entertained, from a pool table, ping pong, Foosball, air hockey, chess and an assortment of board games.
The hostel had a central location to Port Macquarie, and is within walking distance to most of the town, beaches and attractions. Alternatively, there are regular shuttle busses if you don’t fancy the walk, and the hostel offers a drop off service to the Greyhound station. Ozzie Pozzie isn’t a party hostel, so after a long day exploring the town, it’s nice to come back and know you’ll get a good nights sleep here. They offer a variety of rooms, from private doubles to 10-bed dorms. We stayed in a 10-bed and had no issues at all, there was a decent amount of space, and a locker provided for each bed. Make sure you have a good lock before using it on their lockers… Ally bought a cheap one from a dollar store in Sydney but hadn’t used it before. Somehow, it changed the combination on itself overnight and we couldn’t open the locker when we were due to check out. Thankfully, though, Dubi was able to get the bolt cutters and help us get our valuables back!!
If you’re planning a stop at Port Macquarie, (which we highly recommend) you can book your stays the Ozzie Pozzie here.
3. Cape Byron YHA, Byron Bay, NSW.
Our favourite town up the East Coast is Byron Bay, without a doubt. It’s a relatively small town, branching off the high street (Jonson St), and you’re never more than a few minutes walk from Main Beach. The people that live there have a very relaxed way of life; shops open when the owners feel like it, and most people walk around barefoot. Unlike most of the East Coast, where the most popular music genre is electronic dance, Byron’s musicians are the other end of the spectrum, with most playing acoustic guitar and singing indie/folk songs.
Cape Byron YHA was in a perfect location. It’s in the centre of town but is far enough away from the bars that you don’t hear the hustle and bustle of Byron’s nightlife when you want to sleep. It’s less than a 5-minute walk from Main Beach and one of the closest hostels to the Lighthouse Trail around the coast.
At the hostel’s entrance, we were greeted by two friendly receptionists. They were informative about activities happening in the area and the hostel throughout our stay, such as free pancakes for breakfast on the day we arrived – YUM! We phoned the night before to confirm our reservation, but the hostel was unaware we were travelling together. By the end of our call, Cape Byron YHA had upgraded our room for free! We were placed in a 5-bed maisonette dorm and got a double bed and large locker to ourselves on the second level. The room was clean and spacious, and we had a great few nights sleep here.
The best part of the hostel though, was the swimming pool. Surrounded by sun loungers and hammocks, this was where most of our time was spent (when we weren’t on the beach). Next to reception was the TV/lounge area, with a free, locked baggage storage room, and behind reception, there were bikes and surfboards available for hire. Bodyboards were free to use, so we took some out and had tons of fun at the beach. The free WiFi reached throughout the common areas, which was great for the one rainy day we had.
If you’re unable to stay at this hostel, don’t forget, there is also Byron Bay YHA just down the road. Book your stay here for Cape Byron YHA or here for Byron Bay YHA, and soak up the sun with the YHA family! We would definitely stay here again.
4. Noosa Heads YHA, Noosa, QLD.
Almost slap bang in the middle of the Australian East Coast, is the coastal surf town of Noosa. It’s one of the most sought-after beach holiday destinations for tourists and Aussies alike. Famous for it’s National Park, Everglades which you can kayak through, Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin’s family zoo) and is one of the best surf spots on the East Coast, there’s something for everyone here!
The Noosa Heads YHA building is also called Halse Lodge, which runs as a restaurant and bar to the public each evening, with accommodation available in the dorms above. The building itself is National Trust and Heritage Listed and was substantially rebuilt during the 1920s. It’s elevated position overlooking Noosa Heads and first-floor veranda give it a comfy, treehouse feel.
We stayed in a spacious 4-bed dorm, which included one locker for each bed. There was no air-con, as the rooms had vents for airflow and a large fan on the ceiling. Fortunately, there was also a second door that opened out onto the veranda, which was really convenient and could be left open to keep the room cool.
The restaurant and bar were a bit out of a backpackers price range, but they did offer specials for travellers, which we took advantage of. In the evenings most people would hang out on the veranda, or downstairs in the lounge area, where you could watch a movie, play pool or table tennis. During the day though, most people would use YHA’s free surfboard/bodyboard hire and head down the beach, which was only a short walk away.
If you’re heading to Noosa, you can book your stay at Noosa Heads YHA (Halse Lodge) here.
5. Airlie Beach YHA, Airlie Beach, QLD.
No East Coast itinerary is complete, without a sailing trip around the Whitsundays, and Airlie Beach is your gateway to these beautiful islands. Airlie Beach YHA is just off the main road, and only a short walk from the shops, lagoon and marina. The hostel has almost a motel style, with dorms around a central courtyard, where you’ll find a pool and customer parking spaces. On the ground floor are the communal areas – kitchen, lounge/TV room and table tennis. All rooms had air conditioning and were at a perfect temperature throughout our stay.
Our room was a spacious 8-bed dorm, where the bunks actually fit perfectly (unlike some other hostels where it looks like they’ve just been playing Tetris with the beds). Each bed had a large locker beside it (which could’ve fit your whole bag in it) and the room had an en-suite bathroom with a separate toilet. We also had french windows which opened out onto a balcony, overlooking the central courtyard.
It was a great place to stay in preparation for our Whitsunday sailing trip, and they had no issues looking after our bags for us (for a small fee of $5 a night) while we were gone. If you’re undecided about doing the Whitsundays trip, just check out these photos below, and see if you can still turn it down. After making the right decision to visit the Whitsundays, I hope you’ll also make the right decision and stay at Airlie Beach YHA. Click here for dates and prices.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you to stay, did we mention the world’s cutest dog is also a part-time receptionist at YHA Airlie Beach? You read that right. I formally introduce Caesar, an Australian Border Collie puppy. He can be found helping in reception or checking up on guests in the courtyard throughout the workday.
Why We Always Choose YHA Hostels
This may be a list of ‘Our Top 5 YHA Hostels Up The East Coast’, but there are plenty more out there for you to discover along the way. We prefer to stay in YHA hostels because they are consistently clean, safe, fun and have the most amazing staff.
Don’t forget, if you’re planning to hit a few of these hostels in one trip, it’s worth purchasing an ‘E-Pack‘. The YHA E-Pack is an accommodation voucher for 5, 10 or 15 nights, and allows you to stay at most YHA hostels across the country. We bought a 10-night pack and were able to confirm everything online and in advance, taking out all the stresses of backpacking in hostels.
We’re sure you’ll love staying at these hostels as much as we did! Make sure to let us know what other YHA hostels you discover in the land down under.
— Matt and Ally