Discover white beaches, coral reefs and World Heritage Listed sites as you spend ten days exploring Australia’s coast. This itinerary will have you crossing the country to take in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia’s iconic reef in Queensland, before heading to Western Australia to see the breath taking Ningaloo Reef, one of Australia’s best kept secrets.
Brisbane – Cairns – Perth
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Arrive into Brisbane and get your pulse racing by climbing to the top of the Story Bridge, built in 1940 and towering 80 metres above the river. The fully guided climbing tour is a thrilling experience allowing plenty of awe-inspiring views over the river and city skyline, and the chance to learn the colourful history of the Story Bridge's construction.
Next, head to South Bank, a recreational precinct that sits alongside the Brisbane River. Here you can explore the Epicurious Garden full of edible plants, jump on board the Wheel of Brisbane for 360 degree panoramic views of South Bank and beyond or alternatively head to the nearby Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Australia’s largest gallery of modern and contemporary art. The galleries are architectural wonders themselves, boasting a diversity of Australian and international art as well as two galleries devoted to contemporary Indigenous work.
For a stunning view of the Brisbane River and Story Bridge, head to Eagle Street Pier for dinner. The Pier is home to some of Brisbane’s best dining venues including Aria Restaurant, Black Bird Bar and Grill, Cha Cha Char, Pony and Saké.
Drive 90 minutes from Cairns to board the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway, for a spectacular and exciting two-hour journey through Barron Gorge National Park’s rugged mountains, past beautiful teeming waterfalls, over 40 bridges spanning sheer drops and through 15 tunnels. At Kuranda, jump on the Skyrail for amazing views over the lush rainforest, then spend time in the pretty Kuranda village.
Today it’s time to see the Great Barrier Reef. Drop into the Cairns Visitor Centre, a great place to start exploring the largest reef system in the world. Sign up for a scuba lesson, jump aboard a cruise and snorkel with the sea turtles, or go for a scenic helicopter flight and witness the magnitude of the reef. The trip to the outer reef takes about two hours.
You could stay overnight or longer on one of the many Barrier Reef islands. One of these is Hamilton Island, where you can go snorkelling or scuba diving, laze on white sand beaches, indulge in a day spa, take a scenic helicopter flight or play golf.
Alternatively Cruise Whitsundays has a unique tour, Great Barrier Reefsleep, where can stay overnight on their Reefworld pontoon after spending a day exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
Head north just under two and half hours from Cairns to explore the Daintree World Heritage Wilderness Area.
Older than the Amazon, the Daintree rainforest is a living museum of flora and fauna dating back at least 135 million years and the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest in Australia. It is also home to a number of rare and endangered species, including the Southern Cassowary and Bennett's tree-kangaroo. Even more appealing to visitors is its exceptional coastal scenery where tropical rainforest extends to white sandy beaches with fringing coral reefs.
See the rainforest from horseback at Wonga Beach. Explore a trail in the rainforest and canter along the water’s edge. Cruise the Daintree River to spot crocodiles, snakes and an array of birds and insects along its banks. Join the birds at the top of the rainforest with a walk along the Aerial Walkway to the Canopy Tower at the Daintree Discovery Centre.
Beyond the trees, the Daintree also offers beautiful beaches with shallow, warm, tropical seas. You’ll find them clustered in the north near Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. It’s the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet.
In the afternoon head to Kings Park, one of the world’s largest inner city parks offering splendid views over the Swan River and city skyline. Marvel at the native wildflowers blooming in spring, stroll across the Federation Walkway, and check out the giant boab tree transplanted from the Kimberley.
For dinner head to Brookfield Place located off St Georges Terrace, which offers an innovative blend of heritage and high-rise buildings. Here you will find Print Hall an airy brasserie style restaurant, the atmospheric Heritage Brasserie and Bar, while the Trustee specialises in bistro dishes with its adjoining Wine Vault sporting an extensive wine collection.
Leave Perth early for the port city of Fremantle, which boasts one of the best preserved 19th century port streetscapes in the world. It is just 30 minutes by car or train from Perth. There’s also a ferry option from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty.
Visit the Round House, the oldest public building in Western Australia, Freemantle Prison and the impressive Western Australia Maritime Museum. Foodies and craft lovers will love the 100-year-old Freemantle Markets while shoppers will enjoy a range of local design shops and art galleries along Market and High streets.
Hop on a fast ferry for the 25-minute ride to Rottnest Island. Located just 19 kilometres (12 miles) off the coast, the 1,900-hectare island is surrounded by aquamarine waters. With no cars, Rottnest Island has a laid back retro feel that’s perfect for a beach escape.
Rent a bicycle to tour the island and keep an eye out for the Indigenous quokka, a small-sized Indigenous kangaroo, as you explore Rottnest’s 63 beaches and 20 secluded bays. Enjoy snorkelling at Parker Point and Little Salmon Bay and go birdwatching for wedge-tailed shearwaters, osprey and other birds and watch the sunset from Wadjemup Lighthouse. From September to November keep an eye out for Humpback Whales.
From Perth fly just under 2 hours to Exmouth (Learmonth airport), which will be your base for the next two days exploring Ningaloo Reef.
The landscape between Western Australia’s Shark Bay World Heritage-listed area and the northern tip of Ningaloo Reef is as dramatic as it is remote and the waters are brim with lively fringing reefs that stretch across 260 kilometres (162 miles) of coastline.
Along with white-sand beaches, this region is most famous for its abundant marine life. Humpback whales breach off Exmouth while Turquoise Bay is a great place to snorkel. Around two hours south of Exmouth is Coral Bay which features coral gardens just metres from the beach. Observe juvenile reef sharks or swim with one of the ocean’s most gentle giants, the harmless whale shark, drawn to Ningaloo Reef’s plankton-rich waters between April and July.
Further south where the red earth meets the white sand, dolphins and dugongs feed at Monkey Mia and Shark Bay. While inland you will find the likes of goannas, kangaroos and emus.
Fly back to Perth from Exmouth and spend your afternoon visiting Northbridge for an art fix at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. While you’re there check out the Western Australia Museum, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) and the State Theatre Centre.
Head out to the Swan Valley, just a 30-minute drive from Perth and the closest wine region to a capital city in Australia. Explore the pretty National Trust town of Guilford, established in 1829 as the market town of the Swan River Colony. Enjoy self-guided walks around town to see Stirling Square shaded by ancient sugar gums as well as historic buildings including the Rose and Crown Pub, still a popular with the locals.
Pick up a food and wine trail map from the visitor’s bureau to explore Western Australia’s oldest wine region, largely developed by Croatian farmers that started migrating to Australia after World War I. Visit Swan Valley pioneers Sandalford Wines and Houghton, which are now large estates, and check out boutique wineries. Have lunch in one of the many delightful alfresco winery restaurants.
For dinner check out Perth’s inner city precinct of Mount Lawley (Beaufort Street), where you will find the Must Winebar which serves up provincial French style food or head to Mexican restaurant El Publico.
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