Taking the “Loca” LOKA Tour of Australia’s East Coast

We booked our trip up Australia’s east coast before we even left New Zealand. Our friends at the Travel desk in the Base Hostel in Queenstown advised us to book what we definitely wanted to do in advance instead of waiting just in case anything filled up during the popular summer holidays. 

We ended up booking three weeks worth of travel, accommodation and tours from Byron Bay up to Cairns before we even left Queenstown. After finally getting to experience it all, we can honestly say we had the time of our lives. Major thanks to Jules & Nick, who both seriously hooked it up for us. If you’re in Queenstown and looking to book tours in NZ or AUS, we definitely recommend you go talk to them.

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The method to our east coast madness was to take a LOKA bus/train tour from start to finish. We took the Kat Tour (pictured above), but there a ton a options to choose from. This is one of the two most popular travel options for people (and by people I mean backpackers) looking for a tour/travel combo, the second is Greyhound. Both companies can book tours for you in each location and give you the flexibility to hop-on, hop-off as you like. 

The key difference, as we understand it, is that LOKA makes use of the train system as well as buses, Greyhound operates with just their own buses. We both agreed that, while the trains are very nice and comfortable, the idea of just not having to get on and off constantly to switch from one to the other would’ve been nice. Definitely check out both options to see which you’d like better, but either will get you where you want to go. 

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If you know your time frame and your budget and you don’t want to rent your own car, another great alternative, these two companies are your best bet. If you can, especially during popular travel times (for us, our December dates coincided with school break in AUS so you can imagine), book your pick-ups and tours in advance and then just show up. 

LOKA runs buses nearly every day at all major stops on the east coast and everyday at the most popular ones. Check out their schedule online and make sure you reconfirm your pick up locations a day in advance with your driver. That’s about all you need to do! 

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When the drivers pick you up they deal with everything between your start and final destination. This includes train tickets, stops, and door-to-door stops at different hostels along the way to collect and deposit people. Everyone we met who worked for LOKA was incredibly nice and helpful with any questions we had. The buses were clean and cool and everything ran smoothly. Yeah, the hours are a little nuts (hello, 4 a.m. wake up), but it’s called budget travel for a reason people!

From start to finish, our LOKA tour included:

  • Byron Bay

  • Brisbane

  • Noosa (Fraser Island)

  • Rainbow Beach

  • Emu Park

  • Airlie Beach (Whitsundays)

  • Magnetic Island (this stop included the ferry to get to and from the island)

  • Cairns

We booked through Base Travel, so our tours weren’t booked through LOKA itself, but you can book through most hostel travel desks or just do it yourself! LOKA is a great way to get around the east coast without a car and doubles as an excellent way to meet cool people looking to do what you’re doing. 

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Going Out in Queenstown

Our explorations in New Zealand took us up and down mountains, into the ocean, and down some of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever seen. It also took us to a lot of bars. Let’s be real, we’re exploring the world with the young, fun, and single and we’ve been living it up. Drinks are reasonably priced throughout New Zealand (or free, LADIES) and in general the atmosphere is always fun and accessible. We took full advantage. 

From whiskey slaps in the Coromandel to a beer pong competition in Wellington to bar hopping with two brothers dressed as Luigi in Wanaka, we’ve picked up a story or two. Many won’t be shared here (sorry, I bet you were really curious), but one thing we decided to share is our experience going out in Queenstown. 

Other than Wanaka, Queenstown is the place where we’ve spent the most amount of time in one place. We came here ready to party and that’s exactly what we did. Yes, yes, we hiked and explored and did many fun nature things as well. MJ’s got you covered on those posts. I’m going to take you through the messier side of the story. 

We spent our time in Queenstown at a hostel called Base Queenstown. Base and Nomads are hostels that operate under the same umbrella and you can find them all over New Zealand and Australia. They’re typically one of if not the cheapest option, tend to have awesome locations, and always have a bar underneath or next door. 

We stayed at Base in Auckland, Wanaka, and Queenstown. Auckland we didn’t love, but we had a blast at both Wanaka and Queenstown. 

These are hostels I’d recommend for people who are looking for somewhere easy to base (haha) themselves out of when they know they’re looking to meet people and party. The bar is loud and you can definitely hear every word until 3 a.m. on the first floor, but the easy solution is to go join in. If you’re looking to relax and enjoy the more natural side of Queenstown, this isn’t your place.

Without further wait, here is the list of all of the bars we went to while we were in Queenstown and what we thought of them:

Loco: this bar is right underneath Base Queenstown. It’s themed every night of the week and if you’re staying at Base you can get a free drink voucher for each night. They have live music in the evenings and switch it up to greatest hits style music later in the evenings. We typically started or ended our nights here, it tended to get kind of crowded in the middle. They seem to pull some bigger names music-wise too, so if you’re in town see who’s playing.

Rhinos: this smaller bar was one of MJ’s favorites (duh) because it’s a ski bar. All the TVs feature slope victories and fails and the walls are covered with decals from some of the greatest places too shred around the world. Drinks were reasonable and music was great. It wasn’t really crowded when we went so we left on the early side, but our two friends who were with us and went on another night said it could really pick up. A bit of this is always luck of the draw.

Cowboys: We really digged this place. It’s western themed (obviously) and may have one of the few, if not the only, mechanical bull in New Zealand. It was out of order when we went so, no, we did not get the chance to make America proud of something again. The bar is huge and each time we went it was packed. They have FREE table top shuffle board and FREE pool. Needless to say we were there for a while. Music is oldies but goodies. 

Bungalow: This was probably the most club-esque place we checked out. It’s open until 4 a.m. and features darker decor and a more deep housey playlist. It’s a fun place, but felt a little out of place in Queenstown, at least for us. 

Barmuda: This bar was definitely playing to a more upscale crowd than what we were looking for. The bar is beautiful, backlit and packed with every kind of liquor you could want, and they have an outdoor area as well as a lounge-type section. We didn’t stay long here because it was a little more low key than we were at the time, but it would be a nice place for a “let’s go get a drink” date or to start off the night.

Surreal: This three story bar is really cool. They play different music on each floor, the first two each have their own bar, and the upstairs is a rooftop, which I’ve sorely been missing since my Miami days area over (for now). Once the upstairs closes the downstairs gets pretty packed and it gets almost rave-like. This was the scene of my first margarita since leaving home and while I definitely got a weird look from the bartender it was a great drink.

1864: Similar to Barmuda, this is somewhere I’d definitely say is more date night/drinks after work than “the first three bars were great but now I’m ready to really turn up the night,” but maybe that was just the time of day/day of the week I went. They have a beautiful outdoor area that’s lit with string lights and the drink menu is great. 

Disclaimer: we obviously didn’t make it to every bar in Queenstown, we were rocking with a limited time frame and we did the best we could. 

Tip: if you’re looking to party in Queenstown, stay at Base or Nomads and then ask one of the lovely humans that works there for recommendations. They served us well.

CHEERS!