Experience iconic Australia: Sydney's expansive coastline, the red sands of Uluru and the colours of the Great Barrier Reef.
What to expect
- Explore Sydney like a local
- See the sun rise above Uluru
- Explore the colour and marine life of the world’s largest coral reef
- Time: 10 days
- Distance: 5,200 kilometres (3,230 miles)
- Transport: plane, car and boat
- Nearest major city: Sydney
- Price: $$$$
This iconic Australian itinerary allows you to experience the country's diverse natural beauty, including Bondi Beach in Sydney, the rugged Australian outback at Uluru and the unmatched beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.
Day 1: Take a dip at Bondi Beach
Welcome to sunny Sydney. Begin the day with a stroll along the spectacular clifftops between Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte beaches. A round trip should take about 1.5 hours. Finish with a dip at the Bondi Icebergs pool or a surfing lesson at Bondi Beach. You can then sit down for lunch at one of Bondi's many cafes, such as The Bucket List, where you can enjoy a bucket of prawns overlooking the beach. In the afternoon, take the bus up the hill from Bondi Beach to the shopping precinct of Paddington, where you can browse the fashion boutiques of some of Australia's best designers, such as Camilla and Marc, Lee Mathews and Scanlan Theodore. Stop for coffee at Sonoma Cafe down Glenmore Road.
Day 2: Head out on Sydney Harbour
Home to the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, green foreshore and Aboriginal heritage, there's no shortage of ways to explore Sydney Harbour. Wake early to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge for breathtaking views across the harbour. Afterwards, meander through The Rocks, Sydney’s historic quarter. On weekends, local artisans set up shop at The Rocks Markets, where you can pick up unique souvenirs to take home. Immerse yourself in Australia's Aboriginal culture on a walking tour of The Rocks, where you'll hear Dreamtime (creation) stories, learn about the landscape and visit significant Aboriginal sites.
Art lovers should leave time to explore the Museum of Contemporary Art, which sits on the Circular Quay side of The Rocks. Alternatively, take a cultural tour of the Royal Botanic Gardens, located just behind the Sydney Opera House. On an Aboriginal Heritage Tour, you'll explore culture through the use of plants, artefacts and bush foods. In the afternoon, catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, a 30-minute ride. With a long, sandy surf beach and lively esplanade, Manly is a wonderful spot to experience laid-back Sydney life. Relax over dinner at Manly's Queen Chow, which serves up Cantonese cuisine on the water's edge.
Day 3: Nature and old-world charm in the Blue Mountains
Just under a two-hour drive west of Sydney are the Blue Mountains. Catch a train, bus or day tour to Katoomba to see the impressive rock formation, the Three Sisters. Scenic World in Katoomba features a cableway, a walkway over the rainforest canopy and a glass-floored skyway. Suspended 270 metres (886 feet) above ancient ravines, this is an unparalleled way to view the mountain range in all its blue-hued glory. You can spend a few hours at Scenic World, then come back down to earth with a visit to the neighbouring village of Leura, which is pretty and charming and just the spot for some afternoon tea and shopping. It has friendly cafes, antique shops and a must-visit candy store. Head back to Sydney for the night.
Day 4: Adventure calls at Alice Springs
Catch a three-hour flight from Sydney to the heart of the outback, Alice Springs, and spend the afternoon exploring this unique and fascinating town. With its flat terrain and compact size, Alice Springs is perfect for walkers. Head to the historical Telegraph Station, dating back to 1872, or the Olive Pink Botanic Garden closer to town. Visit reputable Aboriginal art galleries, such as Araluen Arts Centre and Ironwood Arts, where you’ll see artworks synonymous with the Red Centre of Australia.
Wildlife lovers will want to visit The Kangaroo Sanctuary Alice Springs, a 188-acre (76-hectare) sanctuary that cares for orphaned baby kangaroos as well as full-grown kangaroos. You'll need to book a tour to visit, and tours take place in the afternoon when the animals begin to wake up from their daytime sleep. On the three-hour sunset tour, you'll meet some of the many resident roos and even hold a baby kangaroo.
For nighttime entertainment, have a burger and a cold craft beer at the bohemian pub-restaurant, Monte's Lounge.
Day 5: Discover the Red Centre
Alice Springs is a great place to join a tour (companies such as Emu Run offer tours from one to four days). Or you could hire a car to explore the Red Centre. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a four to five-hour drive south-west of Alice Springs and includes both Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) and the 36 domes of Kata Tjuta (formerly the Olgas). Spend your first night in the Red Centre in style, with the once-in-a lifetime Tali Wiru dining experience at Ayers Rock Resort. The evening includes champagne and canapés as the sun sets, followed by an intimate four-course dinner with matching wines. Stay at the resort or glamp (camp in luxury) at the Longitude 131° luxury wilderness camp, and book a tour to view the acclaimed art installation Field of Light, set glittering at the base of Uluru.
Day 6: See the dramatic landscapes at Uluru
Experience the ever-changing palettes of Uluru and Kata Tjuta at sunrise on the Desert Awakenings tour. Once the sun comes up, your guide will take you to the base of Uluru, where you’ll stop at spots significant to the local Aboriginal people, including the Mutitjulu Waterhole, ancient rock paintings and the Cultural Centre. Take the road 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of Uluṟu to reach Kata Tjuta. Walk among the 36 domes of this sacred site on the easy Walpa Gorge Walk, or tackle the four-hour Valley of the Winds Walk right into the heart of the landscape.
Day 7: Be immersed in Aboriginal culture in Cairns
Take the 2.5-hour flight from Ayers Rock Airport to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Head to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, just a 15-minute drive out of Cairns, and be immersed in Australia’s Aboriginal culture with authentic music, dance and storytelling. In the evening, stroll along Cairns Esplanade before sitting down to dinner at The Raw Prawn seafood restaurant, Tamarind at the Reef Hotel Casino or Salt House, overlooking the water.
Day 8: Explore the world’s largest reef
Stretching 2,300 kilometres (1,430 miles), the Great Barrier Reef has more than 3,000 coral reefs, 900 islands and 1,500 species of fish. There are plenty of ways to experience the reef. Book a snorkel tour, scenic flight, or even a sleepover at sea. While you're here, you can take scuba lessons, snorkel with the sea turtles, embark on a scenic helicopter flight over the reef and more. The trip to the outer reef from Cairns takes about two hours.
Day 9: Take in spectacular scenery at Daintree National Park
Head 2.5 hours north of Cairns by car (self-drive or on a tour) to explore the mighty World Heritage-listed Daintree Wilderness Area. Older than the Amazon, the Daintree Rainforest is a living museum of flora and fauna dating back at least 135 million years. The Daintree's incredible variety of wildlife includes more than 400 species of birds, the most famous of which is the large, flightless and endangered southern cassowary. And the scenery is spectacular: lush tropical rainforest meets white sandy beaches with fringing coral reefs. See the rainforest from horseback while you're riding along the beach, or take the Aerial Walkway to the Canopy Tower at the Daintree Discovery Centre. Join Walkabout Cultural Adventures or Adventure North Australia to immerse yourself in Kuku Yalanji traditions, including learning to throw a spear, mud crabbing, samping bush foods and exploring forests and gorges through Aboriginal eyes.
Day 10: Back to city life in Brisbane
From Cairns, fly just over two hours to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. Get your pulse racing by climbing to the top of the Story Bridge, which towers 80 metres (262 feet) above the river. It takes a couple of hours to get up and down with a tour company. Next head to South Bank, where you can spend the afternoon exploring the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Have dinner at one of Brisbane’s most awarded and innovative restaurants, Urbane. Make sure you book ahead to enjoy the degustation menu.
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