Sailaway, Mackay Cay, Queensland © Sailaway Cape Tribulation
10-day coast to coast itinerary
Take in Australia’s famous natural wonders on this 10-day trip across the country.
By Cole Latimer
Explore the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest and the 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 – is the trip of a lifetime.
What to expect
- Visit the vibrant cities of Cairns and Perth
- Snorkel the breathtaking Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef
- Experience tropical rainforests and glistening beaches
- Time: 10 days
- Distance: 6,416 kilometres (3,987 miles)
- Transport: plane and car
- Nearest major cities: Brisbane and Perth
- Price: $$$$
Day 1: Begin your journey in Cairns
Arrive in Cairns, known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, via a direct domestic flight from Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. Settle into your accommodation, then get acquainted with Queensland time by taking a leisurely morning dip in the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. Sunbathe, people watch and read on the surrounding lawns, or take a stroll around the town centre, stopping at Oceana Walk Arcade for a spot of vintage shopping. Pause for a foodie fix at the trendy Caffiend, a café serving a seasonal menu with a focus on local produce.
Day 2: Take a day trip to Kuranda
A visit to the rainforest village of Kuranda is a must when in Cairns. 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 where you can snack on fresh Macadamia nuts and tropical fruit juices, then shop at the quirky boutiques for Australian opals and bohemian clothes. Cuddle a koala at the Kuranda Koala Gardens, explore the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, and learn about the local Pamagirri Aboriginal culture at Rainforestation Nature Park.
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’ll be able to 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. For those who want more, book a Reefsleep experience and enjoy an overnight experience on the reef itself, sleeping under the stars. Alternatively, see the Great Barrier Reef from a different perspective by taking a scenic flight with Nautilus Aviation. Back on land, refuel with seafood pasta at Instagram-worthy The Chambers.
Day 4: Drive to the Daintree Rainforest
Watch the sunrise over the ocean before you hit the road en route to Port Douglas, where you'll be picked up for your tour of the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. Older than the Amazon, the Daintree Rainforest is a living museum of flora and fauna dating back at least 135 million years. You'll hit all the highlights on your tour; enjoy guided rainforest walks, a stop at Cape Tribulation and a Cooper Creek boat cruise where you'll search for estuarine crocodile.
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 spectacular 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 to 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
"Freo is a real community, you always get stopped on the street for a g’day and wave or a chat."
Leave Perth early for the nearby port city of Fremantle, which boasts one of the best preserved 19th century port streetscapes in the world and 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 tour of Little Creatures.
Day 7 - 8: Spend two days exploring Exmouth
From Perth, fly approximately 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-kilometre (162-mile) coral reef fringes this glorious coastline, and its waters are rich with tropical fish, manta rays and the harmless whale shark. You’ll find a number of resorts and holiday cottages in Exmouth, 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 Guildford, 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. Visit Swan Valley pioneers Sandalford Wines, Mandoon Estate and Houghton, 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. Return to Perth for your final night.