Three weeks on the east coast of Australia is enough to cover all the highlights and much more. On this itinerary, you'll experience First Nations culture, embark on coastal road trips, take a balloon ride over wine country, hike the famous Blue Mountains, and tour the highlights of Sydney—and that's only the beginning. The adventure continues with surfing in Byron Bay, relaxing on the Gold Coast, exploring the outback, and sailing around the Great Barrier Reef.


  • Experience the highlights of Melbourne and drive the Great Ocean Road
  • Take to the skies in a hot air balloon ride over the Yarra Valley
  • Visit Sydney's iconic landmarks like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge
  • Go surfing in Byron Bay and tour the outback's famous Scenic Rim
  • Travel to the beaches of the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Melbourne, First Nation's Heritage Melbourne
Day 2 Great Ocean Road Trip Melbourne
Day 3 Balloon Ride Over the Yarra Valley & Wine Tour Melbourne
Day 4 Fly to Sydney, Optional Activities Sydney
Day 5 Sydney Walking Tour & Harbour Bridge Hike Sydney
Day 6 Hike in the Blue Mountains Sydney
Day 7 Fly to Byron Bay, Tour Cape Byron Byron Bay
Day 8 Surf Lesson in Byron Bay, Optional Activities Byron Bay
Day 9 Cape Byron Kayak Tour, Transfer to Gold Coast Gold Coast
Day 10 Gold Coast Optional Activities, Visit Mount Tamborine  Gold Coast
Day 11 Day Trip to Lamington National Park & Vineyard Tour Gold Coast
Day 12 Transfer to Brisbane, City Bike Tour Brisbane
Day 13 Brisbane Optional Activities, Koala Sanctuary Brisbane
Day 14 Scenic Rim Outback Tour Brisbane
Days 15-16 Fly to Airlie Beach, Overnight Whitsundays Sailing Trip Airlie Beach
Day 17 Whitsundays Scenic Flight Airlie Beach
Day 18 Fly to Cairns, Optional Activities Cairns
Day 19 Outer Barrier Reef Cruise Cairns
Day 20 First Nations Culture & Rainforest Tour Cairns
Day 21 Depart Australia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Melbourne, First Nation's Heritage

Welcome to Melbourne
Welcome to Australia! You'll be arriving in the far south, in the city of Melbourne. The capital of the Australian state of Victoria is starting to become a major fixture on the global travel map. This is due in no small part to its rich culture, great food, historic landmarks, and world-class sports scene. Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer by shuttle to your hotel in the city. 
After check-in, you can embark on a self-guided tour to experience the city's rich First Nations culture. It starts at the Koorie Heritage Center, an Aboriginal-owned and managed organization that offers visitors an immersive and educational experience. You'll also visit Federation Square, Melbourne's premier culture and arts venue, to view the collection of First Nations artworks and artifacts on display. Then, you can meet up with a local guide for a cultural walk along the Birrarung (Yarra) River to witness unique art installations and significant historical sites that date back thousands of years.

Day 2: Great Ocean Road Trip

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road

Wake up early for an epic road trip along one of the most beautiful coastal routes in the world: the Great Ocean Road. This stretch of highway runs 150 miles (240 km) down Victoria's southwest coast, passing national parks, limestone rock formations, seaside bluffs, coastal mountain ranges, and incredible beaches. This is a full-day trip in which you'll have ample time to stop and enjoy the highlights. 

Throughout the drive, you'll be treated to incredible scenery both on land and in the water. Off the coast, you're likely to spot whales and dolphins; on the inland side, you might see echidnas and bandicoots. Stop for lunch at the seaside town of Apollo Bay, and stretch your legs on a forest hike through the famous Otway Ranges. You'll also visit the romantic cove at Loch Ard Gorge before finishing the adventure at the Twelve Apostles, a group of ancient limestone rock formations rising up out of the sea. Afterward, you'll return to Melbourne.

Day 3: Balloon Ride Over the Yarra Valley & Wine Tour

Flight over the Yarra Valley
Soar over the Yarra Valley

This full-day tour begins with a drive from Melbourne to Balgownie Estate, an award-winning winery with spectacular views. Here, you'll hop in the basket of a hot-air balloon and soar to new heights as the morning sun kisses the green vineyards and rolling hills of the Yarra Valley. As you float over Melbourne's stunning wine country, relax and take in the views of these incredible landscapes and the mighty Yarra River that snakes through them. 

Upon landing, head back to Balgownie Estate for a champagne breakfast. Afterward, drive south to Yering Station Winery for a tour and then continue to enjoy tastings at four premium wineries. Your last stop is back at Balgownie, where you'll sit down for a gourmet lunch before returning to Melbourne.

Day 4: Fly to Sydney, Optional Activities

Welcome to Sydney
Welcome to Sydney
In the morning, transfer to the airport and board the 1.5-hour flight to Sydney, Australia's most popular metropolitan destination. Often mistaken as Australia's capital (that would be Canberra), this city is overflowing with iconic landmarks, historic neighborhoods, and over 100 golden beaches. That's to say nothing of its world-class culinary and nightlife scenes. Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel, where you can relax and unwind.

Later, you can head out and explore. Visit Sydney's iconic harbor and enjoy a drink at a waterfront bar. If you're feeling adventurous, take a surf lesson at famous Bondi Beach, or, for a quick swim, head to the tranquil waters of Coogee. Travel to historic neighborhoods and lose yourself in the cobblestone laneways of The Rocks, or browse the boutiques, cafés, and pubs of upscale Paddington, with its distinctive terrace houses that date to the Victorian era. And when the sun goes down, book a table at one of Sydney's delectable five-star restaurants before taking on the city's legendary nightlife.

Day 5: Sydney Walking Tour & Harbour Bridge Hike

Hike up the Harbour Bridge
This half-day walking tour starts early and covers the highlights of Australia's largest city. Visit the business district and step inside the 19th-century Queen Victoria Building, a massive five-level shopping mall. Then, head to Sydney's trendy LGBTQ hub of Oxford Street before ambling along coastal bluffs in the suburbs of Tamarama and Bronte. You'll also stroll the promenade at Bondi Beach as you enjoy a coffee or cool drink. After marveling at the panoramic coastal views at Dover Heights, return to the city via Mrs Macquarie's Chair, where you can enjoy one last magical viewpoint over the harbor.
Later, you'll actually ascend one of Sydney's historic landmarks on a hike up the iconic Harbour Bridge. This three-hour tour is organized by BridgeClimb Sydney, which has been leading guests up the bridge since 1998. The adventure commences when you strap on your safety gear and follow your experienced climb leader on an ascent 439 feet (134 m) above sea level. Along the way, you'll be treated to 360-degree views of the city, including east to the Sydney Opera House and out west to the Blue Mountains. At the end of the climb, you'll have the rest of the day free.

Day 6: Hike in the Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters rock formation in the Blue Mountains
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Start today with a hearty breakfast before setting out on a full-day tour of the Blue Mountains. Located about a two-hour drive inland from Sydney, this region is famous for its sandstone cliffs, eucalyptus forests, and plunging waterfalls. This is a small group tour in which you'll get to hike around the major highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon arrival, you'll visit a working farm home to endemic wildlife like kangaroos, emus, wombats, and koalas. Then, hike across valleys and sandstone ridges to viewpoints of the towering Three Sisters rock formations.

During the excursion, you'll stop at plenty of viewpoints to snap great photos. One of the best is Govetts Leap, where you can marvel at the sweeping vistas across Grose Valley, a vast and beautiful river gorge. Before returning to Sydney, you'll visit the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden and see hundreds of international plants like rhododendrons, sassafras trees, giant sequoias, and more.

Day 7: Fly to Byron Bay, Tour Cape Byron

Wategos Beach, Byron Bay

Transfer to the airport this morning and hop on a plane for the 1.5-hour flight north to Byron Bay, a coastal retreat known for its great beaches and dive sites. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel and can spend time enjoying the area. This laidback surf town is a melting pot where well-heeled vacationers mix with barefoot backpackers and high-end resorts coexist with counterculture attitudes.

The best way to experience the town is to grab a coffee and take a stroll down the Cape Byron walking track, an easy 2.3-mile (3.7 km) loop (fun fact: Cape Byron is both the easternmost point of the town and Australia). Bring your towel for a dip at Wategos Beach and then walk to the lighthouse. Here, you'll enjoy a panoramic view of the horizon, which is most magical at sunrise.

Day 8: Surf Lesson in Byron Bay, Optional Activities

Learn the art of wave riding in Byron Bay

Byron Bay is first and foremost a surf town, so this morning you'll be doing like the locals and hitting the waves. This 2.5-hour activity is best suited to beginners, and you'll be accompanied by one of the top surf coaches in the area. It's a small-group lesson (maximum seven people) in which you're guaranteed to have an unforgettable experience. The first part is instructional as you'll learn basic safety rules, athletic warm-ups, how to paddle, and how to stand up on the board. Then you'll hop in the water and spend the rest of the time carving waves.

Once you're back on land, you'll have the rest of the day to enjoy Byron. Besides hiking along the scenic coastal trails, you can travel just outside town and visit the breathtaking hinterland rainforest. Byron is also known for its world-class food and drink scene. Check out the Roadhouse, which is a café by day, and a small bar serving wood-fired pizza at night. Perhaps sample locally made beverages at the Bucha Shed, Australia's first alcoholic kombucha bar. For harder drinks, visit the Byron Bay Brewery and Cape Byron Distillery, the latter of which produces botanical-infused gin.

Day 9: Cape Byron Kayak Tour, Transfer to Gold Coast

Byron Bay - Kayak Tour
See Byron Bay on a kayak
Wake up early and hit the ocean again with a three-hour kayak ride around Cape Byron. This is a guided tour and is perfect whether you're an experienced kayaker or a novice. Feel the exhilaration as you paddle out along the coast and spot turtles and dolphins in the water. If you're lucky, you might even glimpse humpback whales, which pass the headland of Byron from May to November.
Afterward, you'll hop in a car and transfer an hour north, crossing the border from the state of New South Wales into Queensland. Your destination is the Gold Coast, a holiday destination popular with families and sunseekers due to its long beaches, fun theme parks, and great dining and shopping. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel.

Day 10: Gold Coast Optional Activities, Visit Mount Tambourine

The beaches of the Gold Coast

For the first half of today, explore the Gold Coast on a self-guided tour. There are many fine stretches of sand in this beach mecca, with the most famous being Surfers Paradise. As its name suggests, the surf conditions are great here, with sections ideal for both beginners and experts. But it's also a good beach for swimming or simply lying out with a good book. After spending time in and around the water, head to one of the chic oceanfront eateries to sample some modern Australian cuisine.

Later, you'll take a leisurely drive through the Gold Coast's hinterland with a guided tour that follows rainforest roads through Mount Tamborine National Park. This mountain plateau is blanketed in lush rainforest and eucalyptus woods and is filled with deep gorges, mountain streams, and tranquil waterfalls. Enjoy this scenery on a rainforest walk in which you'll see various animals like pademelons and land mullets. The area is also a popular wine region, which you'll discover during a tasting. Follow this with an art walk to browse local paintings and crafts. 

Day 11: Day Trip to Lamington National Park & Vineyard Tour

Lamington National Park

In the morning, head inland from the Gold Coast for a six-hour visit to Lamington National Park. It's a great place to enjoy some hiking, as there are many trails crisscrossing the mountain ridges and valleys here. It's an incredible ecosystem filled with native rainforests and exotic birds, including a variety of parrots. Cap the experience with a visit to a winery and alpaca farm where you can enjoy a glass of champagne as you look out to incredible views of the Scenic Rim

Afterward, return to the Gold Coast, where you can spend the rest of the day however you like. If you aren't too tired, head out for a stroll along the Burleigh headland walk, which runs 1.5 miles (2.3 km) around a national park and offers stunning coastal views. Another option is a visit to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can feed a kangaroo or cuddle a koala.

Day 12: Transfer to Brisbane, City Bike Tour

Spend the day exploring Brisbane

Enjoy a final breakfast on the Gold Coast before continuing your journey north to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. While the drive there typically only takes an hour, you can stop for some optional sightseeing on the way. Perhaps even return to Mount Tamborine for another nature hike.

Once in Brisbane, you'll transfer to your hotel and will have time to rest. How you spend the rest of the day is up to you. This modern and diverse metropolis has a friendly and relaxed culture, with theaters, museums, and a great international dining scene. There's always something to do here, be it river walks, visiting one of the city's many parks, or browsing the malls and boutiques of the shopping precincts. Also, don't forget to climb Mount Coot-Tha—an excellent spot for panoramic views of the city.

Later in the day, you'll get to zip around Brisbane's highlights on a bicycle. The tour leaves from South Bank, the cultural heart of the city. The route passes through scenic Kangaroo Point and continues over the iconic Story Bridge. Along the way, you'll visit the leafy suburb New Farm, the historic enclave of Teneriffe, and ride out to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens before finishing back in South Bank.

Day 13: Brisbane Optional Activities, Koala Sanctuary

City Beach
Streets Beach, Brisbane

Today is yours to explore Brisbane at your leisure. A popular activity is to take the free ferry to trendy South Bank and visit Streets Beach, Australia's only inner-city, man-made beach. Alternatively, immerse yourself in the culture at major institutions like the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Art Gallery, and Gallery of Modern Art

In the afternoon, take an hour-long boat cruise to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. During the trip, your captain will keep you entertained with commentary regarding local history and culture. Eventually, you'll arrive at Lone Pine, the world's largest koala sanctuary (there are more than 130 koalas on site). Here, you can cuddle with these adorable marsupials and snap plenty of photos. Afterward, kick back and relax on the ride back to Brisbane.

Day 14: Scenic Rim Outback Tour

Lake Moogerah in the Scenic Rim

On today's full-day guided tour, you'll discover a hidden gem of the outback that few tourists ever see. This region comprised of forested mountain ranges is located a mere hour south of Brisbane, yet it feels worlds away. It boasts six national parks home to rainforests, lakes, farmland, and even wineries. During the tour, you'll visit the Scenic Rim's cattle country, stop at Lake Moogerah and its famous dam, go wine tasting, and take a stroll through lavender fields (May through September). There's also the option for a mountain forest walk. At the end of the day, you'll return to Brisbane and your hotel.

Days 15-16: Fly to Airlie Beach, Overnight Whitsundays Sailing Trip

Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays

In the morning, you'll transfer to the airport for the 1.5-hour flight north to Airlie Beach. This coastal town in northeast Queensland is the gateway to the Whitsundays, a group of tropical islands famous for their turquoise waters and white-sand beaches. You'll experience this tropical paradise firsthand on a two-day, one-night sailing trip. This is a small-group cruise on a fun charter yacht that will take you around the islands for snorkeling around the reefs and visits to the famous Whitehaven Beach. At the end of the tour, you'll return to Airlie Beach.

Day 17: Whitsundays Scenic Flight

See Heart Reef from above
You've seen the Whitsundays by boat, now it's time to marvel at this tropical paradise from the air. In the morning, you'll hop on a plane for a scenic flight over the islands. Enjoy unparalleled views of the swirly white sands of Whitehaven Beach, then soar over the turquoise waters at Heart Reef. As you return to Whitsunday Airport, you'll pass other scenic spots like Bait Reef and the Hayman Island Passage.
Back at Airlie Beach, you'll have the rest of the day free. Lay out in the sun, stop at a local café, browse the open-air markets, and stroll the waterfront on the Bicentennial Walkway (keep your eyes peeled for turtles and dugongs along the way). Afterward, you can take a refreshing swim at Airlie Beach Lagoon, an artificial oceanfront lagoon with dedicated sunbathing spots. In the evening, enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants on the marina overlooking the water. 

Day 18: Fly to Cairns, Optional Activities

The Cairns waterfront

At the appropriate time, transfer to the airport and catch a 1.5-hour flight north to Cairns, the gateway to Australia's famous Great Barrier Reef. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and can then venture out into the city. This tropical paradise sits on the shores of Trinity Bay near some of Australia's most remarkable natural attractions. Besides the Barrier Reef, Cairns is close to another UNESCO treasure, the ancient rainforests of Daintree National Park. You'll have the day free to explore on your own, and one fun idea is to rent bicycles and take a ride along the waterfront.

Day 19: Outer Barrier Reef Cruise

Discover the Great Barrier Reef

Get ready for a full-day tour exploring the furthest reaches of the Great Barrier Reef! It begins in the morning when you board a catamaran and sail to the Agincourt Ribbon Reefs, located at the outer edge of the marine park. This small chain of ribbon reefs runs parallel to Australia's continental shelf and is widely regarded as having some of the best dive sites in the region. The crystalline waters of this outer reef provide optimum visibility for diving/snorkeling among the colorful coral gardens.

After swimming with sea turtles, tropical fish, and other aquatic animals, return to the deck of the catamaran for lunch. Then, you'll learn about the incredible biodiversity of this ecosystem from an onboard marine biologist. Afterward, the excitement kicks into high gear as you board a helicopter for a scenic flight. As you soar over the turquoise waters, you'll have an expansive bird's-eye view of what is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Or, if you prefer, you can marvel at this underwater kingdom while riding a glass-bottomed, semi-submersible boat. The cabin in which you'll sit is below deck, 3 feet (1 m) underwater, and here you can watch fish feeding in colorful coral gardens that have formed over thousands of years. When the tour is over, head up to the sundeck, grab a cool drink, and relax as you enjoy the ride back to the port in Cairns.

Day 20: First Nations Culture & Rainforest Tour

Visit Cape Tribulation 

After breakfast, you'll transfer to the rainforest where you'll meet a tribal leader of the Kuku Yalanji people. During this cultural outing, you'll learn how the area's traditional owners have lived in harmony with the environment of the Queensland coast for thousands of years. It begins with a guided walk as your guide shares knowledge about the rainforest ecosystem here, including how to forage for food and tips for making medicine from native plants. You'll also collect fresh shellfish on the beach and try spear-throwing. Capping the adventure is a visit to a freshwater stream to take a dip and cool off.

After the tour, you'll have the rest of the day free to continue exploring. Perhaps visit nearby Daintree National Park to see the oldest rainforest on earth. Continue to other natural wonders like the jade rivers at Mossman Gorge or the stunning Cape Tribulation coastal headland. Along the way, keep an eye out for exotic animals like kangaroos and cassowaries. To see aquatic animals, visit the Cairns Aquarium, which houses various species of sharks, rays, sea turtles, eels, and others.

Day 21: Depart Australia

Goodbye, Australia

Unfortunately, your three-week adventure in Australia is drawing to a close. After one last leisurely breakfast in Queensland, you'll transfer to the airport in Cairns for your onward flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Australia East Coast Adventure - 21 Days
Map of Australia East Coast Adventure - 21 Days