Fitzroy Reef Lagoon, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland © Tourism and Events Queensland
The ultimate trip to Australia
Experience the best of Australia on the red sands of Uluru, in the aquamarine waters of the Great Barrier Reef, and along Sydney’s expansive coastline.
This cross-country itinerary allows you to experience Australia’s rugged natural beauty, diverse culinary offerings and ancient tradition of storytelling, all while encountering some of its most iconic landmarks. As you explore Sydney’s Bondi Beach, Uluru’s vast red outback and the Great Barrier Reef’s unmatched beauty, you’ll not only witness incredible icons but also settle into the Australian way of life.
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: 11 days
- Distance: 5,200 kilometres (3,230 miles)
- Transport: plane, car and boat
- Nearest major cities: Sydney, Alice Springs, Cairns, Brisbane
- Price: $$$$
Day 1: Take a dip at Bondi Beach
Welcome to sunny Sydney, a city that knows the secret to true balance. Where else can you start the morning with a surf and an Acai bowl, don workout gear to lunch, and then get all dressed up for an indulgent night out on the town, all in the same day?
Begin your morning with breakfast and coffee at Bills Bondi, a Sydney establishment since Bill Granger first opened up in the inner city suburb of Darlinghurst back in 1993. Walk off your ricotta hotcakes with a stroll along the spectacular clifftops between Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte beaches; a round trip should take about 1.5 hours. Then finish with a steam and a dip at Bondi Icebergs pool, or a surfing lesson with the friendly crew at Let’s Go Surfing at Bondi Beach.
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, a tradition that’s existed for over 60,000 years in this country, stretching back to the origins of Aboriginal culture. You’ll also learn about the history of this landscape and visit significant Aboriginal sites.
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, or scoot off to your pre-booked Aboriginal Blue Mountains Walkabout tour. Aboriginal owned and guided, this tour will walk you through some of the area’s most sacred sites while reciting ancient dreamtime stories.
Day 4: Fly to the outback town of Alice Springs
Wake up for an early morning three-hour flight from Sydney to the beating heart of the outback, Alice Springs, and spend the day exploring this unique and fascinating town.
Surrounded by red dirt and hauntingly beautiful mountain ranges, Alice itself is quite compact and built on relatively flat terrain, making it great for walking about. Stroll through the pedestrian-only main street, Todd Mall, exploring its many shops, cafés and art galleries. Visit Araluen Arts Centre, a reputable Aboriginal art gallery that is home to works by one of Australia’s most famous Indigenous artists, Albert Namatjira. Then head to the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, a 20-minute walk from town, to see native flora and have some lunch at its rustic outdoor eatery, the Bean Tree Cafe.
Day 5: Discover Uluru
“Seeing Uluru for the first time was really awesome. We had the very special experience of meeting with Sammy Wilson, a local Anangu Traditional Owner. Listening to the local Indigenous people speaking with us about the cultural and spiritual significance of Uluru was fascinating and inspiring.”
Alice Springs is the perfect base to explore the natural wonders of the Red Centre. Join a tour company such as Emu Run, which offers tours from one to four days long, or hire a car of your own to set off on a true Aussie adventure.
Head to Uluru first, a rock formation created entirely from sandstone half a billion years ago. It stands at 348 metres (1,141 feet) high and has a circumference of 9.4 kilometres (5.8 miles). But beyond the geology, it is a spiritual landmark for the local Anangu people. Uluru is inseparable from Tjukurpa, or traditional law, with the stories of the creation ancestors still visible around the rock. Learn about these stories with an Aboriginal-led tour, like the one offered by SEIT Outback, or sign up for a dot painting experience led by one of the local artists from Maruku Arts.
Day 6: Experience Field of Light and Kata Tjuta
Experience the ever-changing palette of Uluru at sunrise with a tour of the acclaimed art installation Field of Light, set glittering at the base of Uluru. You’ll get a complimentary ticket with your Tali Wiru experience, or you can book directly.
Then take the road 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of Uluṟu to reach Kata Tjuta, a natural wonder of 36 domes covering more than 20 square kilometres (7.7 miles). Kata Tjuta is an extremely important site for Anangu men, and while everyone is welcome to explore the walking tracks, the stories and cultural knowledge associated with these rock formations are not shared with visitors. You can walk among the domes 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: Fly to the tropical city of Cairns
Take the 2.5-hour flight from Ayers Rock Airport to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. But before you rush off, be sure to explore the brilliant cafés, bustling markets and beautiful beaches nearby.
Cairns has a thriving café scene, with many trendy ones dotted along Grafton and Spence streets. Tuck into a hearty brunch of chilli eggs and a coconut latte at Caffiend, then mingle with the locals at Rusty’s Markets (Friday to Sunday) where you can stock up on fresh local produce, including exotic fruits, dairy and seafood, from more than 180 stalls.
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 day cruise with operators such as Passions of Paradise or Quicksilver Cruises to snorkel and dive among vivid coral gardens and colourful fish. For a longer stay, you can book a three-day liveaboard dive and snorkelling cruise with ProDive Cairns. Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel combines a full-day Great Barrier Reef cruise with Indigenous cultural storytelling from traditional owners with historical connections to the sea country visited. The cruise offers a rare educational opportunity to explore the reef with sea rangers whose north Queensland sea country stretches from the Frankland Islands to Port Douglas. Book a scenic flight to get a bird's-eye view of the Great Barrier Reef.
Day 9: Take in spectacular scenery at Daintree National Park
Today, immerse yourself in the spectacular scenery that is the Daintree Rainforest, a unique place where lush tropical rainforest meets white sandy beaches. 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.
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. 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, sampling bush foods and exploring forests and gorges through Aboriginal eyes.
Day 10: Back to city life in Brisbane
Enjoy the city’s cultural highlights with a spot of museum-hopping. Start at Brisbane's City Hall to see the fascinating Museum of Brisbane, featuring boundary-pushing interactive multimedia works. Then walk the Kurilpa Bridge – a modern, multimillion-dollar artful masterpiece in itself – to Brisbane's primary arts precinct, South Bank. Here you'll find the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), the Queensland Museum, and as you walk further south along South Bank, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Choose one that takes your fancy to explore – none will disappoint.