This tour of Australia's east coast is ideal for travelers drawn to the sun and sea. You'll start with a few days in Sydney cruising around the harbor and tasting wines in the nearby Hunter Valley. Then pick up your rental car and drive north along the Legendary Pacific Coast—a 621-mile (1,000 km) route from Sydney to Brisbane—with overnight stops in cool surf towns like Byron Bay. Catch a flight to Cairns, where you'll snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef to finish the adventure.


  • Get an inside look at the iconic Sydney Opera House during a guided tour
  • Choose your own adventure on the road with stops at beaches and working farms
  • Go back in time to the 19th century during an Indigenous dinner experience 
  • Spend your last few nights of the trip in a dreamy beach town called Palm Cove 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Sydney, Harbor Experience Cruise Sydney
Day 2 City Highlights Tour, Sydney Opera House Tour Sydney
Day 3 Full-Day Wine Tasting Adventure in the Hunter Valley Sydney
Day 4 Pick Up Rental Car, Drive from Sydney to Port Macquarie Port Macquarie
Day 5 Drive from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour
Day 6 Drive from Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay Byron Bay
Day 7 Drive from Byron Bay to Brisbane, Aboriginal Dinner Experience Brisbane
Day 8 Transfer to Palm Cove Palm Cove
Day 9 Full-Day Marine World Outer Great Barrier Reef Palm Cove
Day 10 Full-Day Kuranda Rainforest Tour Palm Cove
Day 11 Transfer to Cairns, Depart Australia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Sydney, Harbor Experience Cruise

Commence your adventure with a boat cruise around Sydney Harbour

Welcome to Sydney! A private driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel in the city center. Though it's tempting to rest after the journey, you'll likely catch a second wind once you're in the midst of Australia's largest metropolis, with world-class attractions, historic neighborhoods, and pristine beaches (well over 100) waiting to be explored.

A great place to start is the Sydney Harbour, where you'll find many of the city's most famous sights. Here you can hop aboard a scenic 1.5-hour cruise that will take you alongside iconic sights like the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. On the cruise, you'll also pass national parks, golden beaches, and secluded bays. Relax on the deck and marvel at these stunning views with a refreshing drink in hand (available at the onboard bar). As an added convenience, listen to colorful commentary from a virtual guide from your smartphone.

Day 2: City Highlights Tour, Sydney Opera House Tour

If visiting The Rocks during the weekend, stroll through the open-air market

Today is an exciting day in Sydney that combines two guided tours! Start the morning in The Rocks area to learn about early convict history while enjoying magnificent waterfront views. Your guide will show you shopping opportunities at the five-floor Queen Victoria Building and trendy Oxford Street. Continue through elegant Paddington with its terrace houses before arriving at the Pacific Ocean, where you'll see the coastal cliff walk around Tamarama and Bronte.

Next, head to Bondi Beach, where you can visit the beachfront promenade and enjoy a coffee or refreshing drink. See bronzed Aussies soaking up the sand and waves, then visit Sydney's best panoramic view at Dover Heights. Return to the city center via Double Bay, Kings Cross, and Mrs. Macquarie's Point for a final stunning viewpoint over the harbor. 

After lunch, you'll take another kind of tour—this time inside Sydney's UNESCO-listed opera house. This one-hour excursion covers the history of the famous structure and its design elements, plus the main public spaces. Working with state-of-the-art audio-visual components—in which images are projected right onto the building—your guide will take you on an unforgettable journey with enough twists and turns to rival an opera plot. 

Day 3: Full-Day Wine Tasting Adventure in the Hunter Valley

Take in Australia's bucolic vineyards sprinkled across the Hunter Valley

After breakfast in Sydney, prepare for a full-day adventure in the Hunter Valley, Australia's oldest and best-known wine region! Soaked in history, the area offers over 150 top-class wineries, 65 restaurants, and a number of gourmet shops and boutique breweries, so there's plenty to see, eat, and drink.

Your first stop is the Binnorie Dairy, one of Australia's premier soft cheese producers, where you can enjoy samplings from a selection of products made on-site. Next, you'll visit two premium boutique wineries and taste a range of wine varietals. Then drive to the Wine House, a one-stop cellar door and restaurant showcasing over 40 wines from boutique winemakers. You'll have the opportunity to taste four wines that match your lunch courses. Your final tour stop is Hunter Distillery, the only certified organic distillery in the wine region. Here you can taste up to six products from the extensive range of spirits and liqueurs. 

Day 4: Pick Up Rental Car, Drive to Port Macquarie

Take a free tour of the Koala Hospital and Wildlife Park in Port Macquarie

This morning, you'll pick up your rental car in Sydney and begin a self-guided drive north to Port Macquarie. It's a four to five-hour journey if you drive direct, but the trip can take longer if you allow time for scenic stops along the way. Consider a break to stretch your legs in Newcastle, bordered by a stunning coastline with beautiful beaches. Meanwhile, Stockton Beach is situated at the southern end of Newcastle Bight, with a sweeping expanse of dunes and vistas that stretch all the way to Port Stephens.

Once you get to Port Macquarie, you'll have the rest of the day to explore this busy town with beautiful beaches and great restaurants. You can cruise with the Hasting River Cruises, a camel safari along the beach, or enjoy the lengthy Sea Acres Rainforest Boardwalk. Another option is to visit the Koala Hospital and Wildlife Park, which offers free Koala Hospital tours every afternoon.

Day 5: Drive to Coffs Harbour 

Stop as much as you'd like to explore beaches and scenic lookouts

Take your time getting on the road this morning as you head to Coffs Harbour since the route is shorter than yesterday (about two hours direct). You'll travel along a scenic way called the Legendary Pacific Coast Drive, and if time permits, visit Crescent Head, a seaside village located east of Kempse with a great surfing beach.

Nearby is Hat Head National Park and many other beautiful beaches, such as Goolawah, Main Beach, and Racecourse Beach. Alternatively, you can visit South West Rocks and Scott's Head along the way—an ideal family beach retreat perfect for year-round swimming. History buffs will want to check out Trial Bay Gaol, built in the 1880s to house prisoners and then as an internment camp for Germans and Austrians living in Australia during World War II. Meanwhile, Smoky Cape Lighthouse is one of New South Wales's oldest and tallest lighthouses.

When you get to Coffs Harbour, you'll find one of the busiest and largest towns along this stretch of the Pacific coast. Discover spectacular views from the lofty Forest Sky Pier at Sealy Lookout, a short drive from the city through hillside banana plantations. Or head to the emerald rainforest, where there are walking trails of various lengths. You can also marvel at colorful clownfish and venomous lionfish at the Solitary Islands Aquarium or walk among hundreds of fluttering butterflies in the Coffs Harbour Butterfly House

Day 6: Drive from Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay

The boho-chic town of Byron Bay is a mecca for surfers

Today you'll make your way from Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay—a three-hour route if you drive direct. Of course, you may want to make some stops as you travel north along the Pacific Highway, especially to see the beaches that attract many Australians to the region for their holidays. Some good ones to consider include Sapphire Beach, Emerald Beach, Sandy Beach, Woolgoolga Beach, or Corindi Beach, where you can soak up the sun and enjoy the coastal views.

Farther along the Pacific Highway is Yamba, a relaxed town with many cafés, restaurants, and landmarks, including the Yamba Lighthouse, built in 1880. You can also stop in Ballina, a popular holiday destination that offers family-friendly beaches and other attractions. Walk along the historic riverfront trail and learn about the significance of local art pieces; stop in at the museums, or grab a coffee at one of Ballina's cafés. You may even see dolphins.

Make sure to save time for Byron Bay with its beautiful natural attractions, cool cafés, and boho-chic boutiques. Stop by Main Beach, Clarkes Beach, and Wategos Beach, as well as Cape Byron Lighthouse and Minyon Falls. You can also kayak with dolphins or head for the Cape Byron Walking Track, a hiking loop through the rainforest with stunning ocean and hinterland views.

Day 7: Drive from Byron Bay to Brisbane, Aboriginal Dinner Experience

Brisbane's modern skyline is your home for the night

Enjoy a leisurely morning in Byron Bay today—perhaps with a walk to Cape Byron Lighthouse—before heading north along the last section of the Legendary Pacific Coast drive. Consider stopping at a working farm called Tropical Fruit World to see the world's largest variety of tropical fruits. A café and retail shop also sells Australian natural beauty and skin care products. Continue to Tweed Heads, the last town in New South Wales, before you cross over the border into Queensland. You can stop for lunch at Coolangatta, the gateway to the Gold Coast. 

Plan your trip to Australia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Once you arrive in Brisbane, how you spend the rest of the day is up to you. This modern and diverse subtropical metropolis has a friendly and relaxed environment with parks, river walks, museums, and shopping. Don't forget to climb Mount Coot-Tha—an excellent spot for panoramic views of the city and Moreton Bay.

In the evening, join an interactive live theater experience celebrating the country's Indigenous history and culture. This is your chance to transport back to 19th-century Australia and witness history come alive as two cultures clash for the first time. During the performance, dine on a three-course traditional Australian meal with kangaroo and emu dishes. Afterward, you can chat with the performers during a meet and greet. 

Day 8: Drop off Rental Car, Transfer to Palm Cove

The town of Palm Cove is aptly named

This morning, you'll drop off your rental car at the Brisbane airport before your scheduled flight to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. On arrival, your driver will collect you from the airport and drop you at your hotel in the nearby town of Palm Cove—your home base for the rest of the trip.

Palm Cove is known for its luxurious yet laid-back vibe, and it has a stellar location between the Daintree Rainforest and the sparkling waters of the Coral Sea. The day is free, so unwind with a luxury treatment at a local spa after your flight. You could dine on freshly caught seafood at a beachfront restaurant or eat take-away fish and chips under a pine tree. After enjoying the mesmerizing views of the coral coast, visit the many boutiques and cafés, or take a walk along the jetty and watch locals fish for their catch of the day.

Day 9: Full-Day Marine World Outer Great Barrier Reef Tour

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system

Today is your chance to experience the Great Barrier Reef! Your full-day excursion commences with a transfer from your hotel to the Reef Fleet Terminal, where you'll board your boat vessel. This eight-hour tour includes quality time at the all-weather Marine World platform, which caters to various activity levels. You can snorkel on your own in the sheltered coral lagoon or join a marine biologist on a guided snorkel safari. Others may opt to observe the reef from the semi-submersible reef viewer, glass bottom boat, or underwater observatory. 

Day 10: Full-Day Kuranda Rainforest Tour

Ride the Skyrail for views of the rainforest

Today you'll join another full-day tour—this time in the rainforest. The adventure commences with a transfer from your hotel to Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. At this station, you'll hop aboard a gondola lift and ascend over the jungle canopy of Barron Gorge to the rainforest village of Kuranda. There are two stops en route to explore, including rainforest boardwalks and the CSIRO Interpretive Centre, which showcases Australian science history.

On arrival in Kuranda, you'll have free time to explore this fascinating village with its Heritage Market full of handmade arts and crafts. Optional activities include visits to Birdworld, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, and Kuranda Koala Gardens. At the scheduled time, you'll board the Kuranda Scenic Rail train line for the return to Palm Cove. Your Gold Class ticket (and preferential seating) means you can skip the long lines and ride in style while enjoying complimentary refreshments. As you descend the mountains, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the tropical rainforest and across the cane fields of Cairns.

Day 11: Transfer to Cairns, Depart Australia

Take one more sunrise beach walk before departure

Your grand holiday in Australia concludes today! Enjoy one more sunrise swim or beach stroll in Palm Cove before packing your bags. At the appointed time, a driver will collect you from your hotel lobby and drop you at the Cairns airport for your onward departure. Safe travels!

More Great Australia Itineraries 

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Australia? Check out these other Australia itineraries, explore different ways to spend 11 days in Australia, or discover the best time to visit Australia.


A note on diacritical markings: In order to support the best technical experience and search functions, diacritical markings have been omitted from this article.


Map of Australia's East Coast Road Trip & Great Barrier Reef Tour - 11 Days
Map of Australia's East Coast Road Trip & Great Barrier Reef Tour - 11 Days