Take in Australia’s famous natural wonders on this 10-day trip across the country.
By Cole Latimer
What to expect
- Visit the vibrant cities of Brisbane, Cairns and Perth
- Snorkel the breathtaking Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef
- Experience tropical rainforests and glistening beaches
- Time: 10 days
- Distance: 8,439 kilometres (5,244 miles)
- Transport: plane and car
- Nearest major city: Brisbane and Perth
- Price: $$$$
Explore the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef in Queensland on Australia’s east coast before crossing the country to Western Australia where sandy beaches, abundant wildlife and Australia’s lesser-known gem, Ningaloo Reef, await. This 10-day adventure – greater than the distance between London and New York – will be the trip of a lifetime.
Day 1: Begin your journey in Brisbane
Start your journey in Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland. See the city from above and get your pulse racing by climbing to the top of Story Bridge, which was built in 1940 and towers 80 metres (262 feet) above Brisbane River. The fully guided two-hour tour allows for plenty of awe-inspiring views over the river and city skyline. Next, head to South Bank, a popular precinct along Brisbane’s southern river bank. Here you can enjoy lunch at acclaimed eateries such as Stokehouse Q and swim at Streets Beach, a man-made freshwater lagoon. After lunch visit the nearby Queensland Art Gallery-Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), which is home to Australia’s largest gallery of modern and contemporary art. The galleries are architectural wonders themselves and include two spaces devoted to Aboriginal works. In the evening head to Eagle Street Pier and choose from some of the city’s best restaurants, including Pony and Saké.
Day 2: Travel north to Cairns
Begin your Brisbane day in the bustling neighbourhood of Fortitude Valley, a short stroll from the city centre, where you can tuck into a spanner crab omelette or house-spiced granola at Gerard’s Bistro. Leaving Brisbane, fly just over two hours to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest in northern Queensland. Numerous flights depart daily on Australia’s domestic airlines (Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tigerair). Once you’ve arrived in Cairns, a visit to the rainforest village of Kuranda is a must. The journey to and from the village is an incredible experience in itself. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is a 90-minute gondola journey (leaving from a terminal 15 minutes north of Cairns) that moves above the rainforest canopy allowing for spectacular views. Once in Kuranda, explore the daily local markets, quirky boutiques and perhaps call in to one of the wildlife parks or the butterfly sanctuary. A return to Cairns is just as impressive on the Kuranda Scenic Railway – a two-hour train journey that traverses dense rainforest, rugged mountains and the stunning Barron Gorge.
Day 3: See the colours of the Great Barrier Reef
Today, it’s time to experience one of the wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef. There are many ways to see the world’s largest reef system, which comprises 3,000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral cays. Book a day cruise to the outer reef with operators such as Quicksilver, Sailaway and Reef Magic and you can snorkel, dive, see coral and fish up close and enjoy a delicious lunch. There are several types of vessels – large and small – each catering to different budgets and experience types. You may even like to stay overnight on the reef itself by joining the ultimate sleep out experience with Sunlover by Starlight. Alternatively, see the Great Barrier Reef from a different perspective by taking a scenic flight with GBR Helicopters. Back on land, end the day with an al fresco dinner on The Esplanade – The Raw Prawn is a local favourite.
Day 4: Discover the Daintree Rainforest
Watch the sunrise over the ocean before you hit the road en route for the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest, roughly a two-hour drive north of Cairns. Older than the Amazon, the Daintree Rainforest is a living museum of flora and fauna dating back at least 135 million years and is 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. Follow one of the many rainforest walks from the Daintree Discovery Centre or join a gentle wildlife cruise down the Daintree River to spot estuarine crocodiles, birds, frogs, snakes and lizards. Don't miss the guided Dreamtime Walk from the Mossman Gorge Centre. Led by the local Aboriginal people, you'll be welcomed by a traditional smoking ceremony before learning about Kuku Yalanji culture and traditions as you stroll through the forest.
Beyond the trees, the Daintree also offers beautiful beaches with shallow, warm, tropical waters. 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 connect.
Day 5: Cross the country to Perth
From Cairns it generally takes just over five hours to fly to Perth, the capital of Western Australia – don’t forget to set your watch back. 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. Here you’ll find the Western Australian Botanic Garden which features more than 3,000 species of native flora. During spring (September-November) the park is transformed with a wonderful display of wildflowers. For dinner head to Brookfield Place located off St Georges Terrace, which offers an innovative blend of heritage and high-rise buildings. Eat at Print Hall, a multi-level, brasserie-style restaurant, or Petition Kitchen, where you can find quirky share plates. Its wine list focuses on boutique producers that use biodynamic or organic practices. Afterwards visit Helvetica, a hidden bar with a great selection of whisky and cocktails.
Day 6: See Fremantle and Rottnest Island
Leave Perth early for the nearby 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, built as a jail in 1831 and the oldest public building in Western Australia, Fremantle Prison and the impressive Western Australian Maritime Museum. Foodies and craft lovers will be right at home at Fremantle Markets, while shoppers can find a range of local design shops and art galleries along Market and High streets. Beer aficionados will love the guided tours of Little Creatures and small batch brewer The Monk Brewery. Hop on a ferry for the 25-minute ride to Rottnest Island. Located 19 kilometres (12 miles) off the coast, the island is surrounded by aquamarine waters. As there are no cars on the island, Rottnest’s 63 beaches and 20 secluded bays are best explored on bicycle. Keep your eyes peeled for the resident quokkas, cute and curious marsupials with brown-grey fur. Enjoy snorkelling at Parker Point and Little Salmon Bay and go birdwatching for wedge-tailed shearwaters and osprey. Spend the night at Discovery Park's eco-friendly glamping tents nestled behind Pinky Beach, or catch the late afternoon ferry back to Fremantle.
Day 7 - 8: Spend two days exploring Exmouth
From Perth, fly just under two hours north to Exmouth, which will be your base for the next two days while you explore the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef. A 260-klilometre (162-mile) coral reef fringes this glorious coastline and its waters are rich with tropical fish, manta rays and the harmless whale shark. Turquoise Bay is a great place to try snorkelling for the first time, with its clear, shallow water brimming with colourful corals. For more snorkelling, head around two hours south of Exmouth to Coral Bay, where you can swim to the reef directly off the beach to find fascinating marine life including manta rays. Want to try scuba diving? There are a number of half and full-day diving tours to experience this breathtaking underworld.
Further south where the red earth meets the white sand, dolphins and dugongs can be hand fed at Monkey Mia and Shark Bay. Friendly, bottlenose dolphins regularly swim to Monkey Mia’s shore in the mornings, and feeding times occur between 7.30am and noon. At Monkey Mia you can also join a wildlife cruise to see dugongs and turtles. You’ll find a number of resorts and holiday cottages in Exmouth and Shark Bay, but for a luxury experience look no further than Sal Salis, which offers 16 safari tents tucked into the sand dunes beside the Ningaloo coast.
Day 9: Back in Perth
Fly back to Perth from Exmouth and spend your afternoon visiting Northbridge, a short 10-minute walk from the city centre. The area is known for its delicious global flavours, including Indian street food at Sauma and waffles at Superstar Waffles. William Street is great for one-off shops and eclectic gifts, including Ruck Rover and William Topp. Northbridge is also home to one of Perth’s hottest boutique hotels, Alex Hotel, which is located in among a batch of great restaurants and bars. For a culture fix, spend the afternoon exploring the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Western Australian Museum or the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA), or alternatively, you may prefer to just kick back on Cottesloe Beach and watch the sun set over the ocean. In the evening, discover Perth’s booming small bar scene, hitting Ezra Pound or live music joint The Bird.
Day 10: Sip wine in the Swan Valley
For your final day, head out to the Swan Valley, less than a 30-minute drive east from Perth and the closest wine region to any capital city in Australia. Explore the 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 & Crown Pub, still popular with the locals. Pick up a food and wine trail map from the Swan Valley Visitor Centre to explore Western Australia’s oldest wine region, largely developed by Croatian farmers that migrated to Australia after World War I. Visit Swan Valley pioneers Sandalford Wines and Houghton, which are now large estates, as well as boutique wineries such as Ugly Duckling Wines. Visit Lancaster’s renowned tasting shed for a selection of wines paired with local cheeses, then pick up gourmet treats from The House of Honey and Mondo Nougat and Chocolate. Return to Perth for your final night.
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