This 19-day trip along Australia's gorgeous east coast is perfect for outdoor lovers. Begin in the tropical paradise of Palm Cove, with lush rainforests, pristine beaches, and the Great Barrier Reef as your backdrop. Then, fly to Brisbane, where you'll explore the city before beginning your epic road trip. Make several stops, including three days in Byron Bay, en route to your final destination: Sydney. This active itinerary is packed with kayaking, cycling, hiking, and surfing for an adventure of a lifetime.


  • Road trip along the east coast of Australia, from Brisbane to Sydney
  • Spend a day snorkeling with tropical fish on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Take a guided rainforest hike to get to waterfalls in two national parks
  • Go kayaking in Byron Bay and look for marine life, including dolphins
  • Join a lunch cruise on Sydney Harbour, then climb the iconic bridge

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cairns, Transfer to Palm Cove Palm Cove
Day 2 Full-Day Outer Reef Experience Palm Cove
Day 3 Full-Day Ngana Julaymba Dungay Cultural Tour Palm Cove
Day 4 Full-Day Mossman Gorge Adventure Tour Palm Cove
Day 5 Fly to Brisbane, Kayak Tour Brisbane
Day 6 Half-Day Brisbane Bicycle Tour Brisbane
Day 7 Full-Day Australia Zoo Guided Tour Brisbane
Day 8 Full-Day Private Springbrook Rainforest & Waterfall Tour Brisbane
Day 9 Drive to Byron Bay, Free Time Byron Bay
Day 10 Full-Day Byron Hinterland Tour Byron Bay
Day 11 Guided Kayak & Dolphin Tour Byron Bay
Day 12 Drive to Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour
Day 13 Drive to Port Macquarie Port Macquarie
Day 14 Drive to Sydney, Free Time Sydney
Day 15 Guided Bike Tour, Sydney Opera House Tour Sydney
Day 16 Full-Day Blue Mountains Deluxe Day Sydney
Day 17 Sydney Harbour Lunch Cruise, Twilight Bridge Climb Sydney
Day 18 Private Surf Lesson at Bondi Beach Sydney
Day 19 Depart Sydney  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cairns, Transfer to Palm Cove

Spend your first day enjoying the tropical beaches of Palm Cove

Welcome to the Australian tropics! This morning, you'll arrive in Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, where a private driver will meet you for the 25-minute transfer to your hotel in Palm Cove. This luxurious but laid-back tropical beachside village sits between the ancient Daintree Rainforest and the sparkling waters of the Coral Sea. Spend a relaxing afternoon soaking up the beaches, winding pathways, colorful boutiques, and restaurants. 

Later, head for a waterfront sundowner along the melaleuca-lined esplanade and take ocean vistas to Double Island. Then dine on freshly caught seafood at a beachfront restaurant, or go more casual with takeaway fish and chips under a pine tree. Go for a walk along the jetty and watch locals fish for their catch of the day to end your first day in paradise.

Day 2: Full-Day Outer Reef Experience

Go snorkeling and more in the Great Barrier Reef from the Marine World platform

Today, you'll dive into one of the world's great natural wonders with a private full-day excursion to the Great Barrier Reef. The world's largest coral reef system offers an impressive diversity of marine life, with 1,500 species of fish, 30 species of whales and dolphins, and six species of sea turtles. Made up of over 2,900 different reefs and 900 islands, the protected area spans over 1,430 miles (2,300 km). Pack your swimsuit and sunscreen and head to the Reef Fleet Terminal to board your vessel.

You'll sail out to the all-weather Marine World platform, which caters to all activity levels. You can snorkel in the sheltered coral lagoon or join the marine biologist on a guided snorkel safari. Enjoy the reef from the semi-submersible reef viewer, glass bottom boat, or the underwater observatory. Across the day, you'll meet colorful fish, sea turtles, rays, and even sharks. The Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and is an essential ecosystem for the world's oceans, providing vital habitat and protection for marine life. 

Day 3: Full-Day Ngana Julaymba Dungay Cultural Tour

Sample the native food, or bush tucker, of the Kuku Yalanji people
Today, you'll discover the history, culture, and traditions of the Indigenous people. Learn about the Kuku Yalanji people's special relationship with the surrounding land, and explore rainforest and coastal habitats with a local guide, discovering different foods and natural medicines. Sample seasonal native food called bush tucker, look for shellfish, and learn traditional hunting techniques, including the art of spear throwing. Complete your adventure with a swim in a pristine freshwater stream before returning to Palm Cove.

Day 4: Full-Day Mossman Gorge Adventure Tour

Mossman Gorge
Venture into the wilds of Daintree National Park, the world's oldest tropical rainforest

Immerse yourself in the rainforest when you travel inland to Mossman River for a one-of-a-kind private experience today. Mossman Gorge is the gateway to the UNESCO-listed Daintree National Park, which is estimated to be 135 million years old. First, you'll meet more members of the Kuku Yalanji people and participate in a traditional smoking ceremony. Enjoy a morning tea with freshly baked damper (a rustic Australian bread), then set off on a 90-minute walk through the beautiful rainforest, where you can pause to take a swim in tranquil waterholes or the gorge. 

After a well-earned lunch, it's time for River Drift snorkeling. You'll literally go with the flow as you drift down the crystal-clear river while admiring what lies beneath. Learn about the local history, flora, and fauna from your guide while looking at freshwater fish, turtles, butterflies, birds, and the elusive platypus. After, you'll return to your accommodation at Palm Cove.

Day 5: Fly to Brisbane, Kayak Tour

Brisbane Skyline
Paddle around the curves of the Brisbane River while admiring the big city

Fly two hours south today to get to the capital of the "Sunshine State," Brisbane. Australia's third-largest city has everything, whether you enjoy art, culture, history, or nature. Take a transfer to your hotel, drop your bags, and make your way to South Bank, across the river from the CBD (Central Business District). The Cultural Center offers world-class galleries, entertainment, and a sprawling riverfront parkland with an attractive human-made beach. Wander along the riverfront toward Kangaroo Point, where you'll come across the Riverlife Adventure Center.

Kayaking the Brisbane River is a great way to see some of Brisbane's most famous sights. Soak up the sunshine and see the city from a fresh perspective as you paddle along the winding curves of the river with a fully-qualified guide. While on the water, you'll learn all the tips and tricks to get you kayaking like a pro! Depending on the tide times, your kayaking trip will take you either toward the Story Bridge or South Bank. After, take a ferry across the river to Howard Smith Wharves, where you'll find a huge beer hall and trendy restaurants with river views.

Day 6: Half-Day Brisbane Bicycle Tour

Brisbane Bicycle half day tour (Morning)
Today's cycling tour cuts a lap of the inner city, showing you downtown and suburbia

After paddling across Brisbane yesterday, today you'll pedal over the city! Your cycling tour starts from the South Bank Parklands. You'll pump your legs over to Kangaroo Point, then cross the iconic Story Bridge into New Farm, a charming inner-city suburb. Ride down tree-lined streets to New Farm Park, a gorgeous riverside picnic hotspot. Pedal past the heritage woolstores of Teneriffe and along the waterfront by Brisbane's finest riverfront restaurants. Enter the City Botanic Gardens to see sculptures and plants, then finish at the Wheel of Brisbane.

The rest of the day is yours to enjoy at your pace. If you haven't done so already, take a dip at Streets Beach—Australia's only inner-city human-made beach—or shop up a storm on Queen Street Mall. Those who chase adventure could strap on a harness and tackle the Story Bridge Climb. As you'd expect, the views from the top are spectacular, especially at sunset.

Day 7: Full-Day Australia Zoo Guided Tour

Australia Zoo
Find out why saltwater and freshwater crocodiles are so misunderstood at Australia Zoo
Plan your trip to Australia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Meet more of Australia's native wildlife with today's adventure to Australia Zoo. Made famous by Steve and Terri Irwin, of Crocodile Hunter fame, the zoo is now a living legacy of Steve and his wildlife conservation efforts. A guide will take you an hour north to the park, which is home to over 1,200 native and exotic species of wildlife. Here, you'll come close to plenty of Australia's weird and wonderful fauna, and your guide will share facts and stories about each species. there will be plenty to learn from your tour guide during this visit.

If time allows, you might venture into a charming mountain village called Montville, where you can wander the main street and enjoy afternoon tea. Or you could pop by the white sandy beaches of the Sunshine Coast before for a quick swim returning to the city. 

Day 8: Full-Day Private Springbrook Rainforest & Waterfall Tour

UNESCO Springbrook Rainforest & Waterfall Tour - Full Day Private Tour
See why Springbrook National Park's Best of All Lookout received its name

This morning, you'll journey out of the city and into the heart of the UNESCO-listed ancient Gondwana Rainforest in Australia's "Green Cauldron." Set on a high plateau, atop the remains of an ancient 23 million-year-old volcano, Springbrook National Park lies 62 miles (100 km) south of Brisbane and covers 16,617 acres (6,725 ha). On today's full-day tour, you'll explore this area of important ecological significance and outstanding natural beauty as you travel through lush valleys, hike behind cascading waterfalls to panoramic views, and spot a wide range of rare wildlife.

After lunch, drive through the spectacular Numinbah Valley to discover the famous Natural Bridge—an amazing rock formation where water tumbles through the open roof of a basalt cave formed over millions of years. When your adventure draws to a close in the afternoon, a transfer takes you back to Brisbane, where the rest of the evening is free.

Day 9: Drive to Byron Bay, Free Time

Byron Bay - Cape Byron Aerial View
Coastal beauty and nature collide with a buzzing yet laid-back town at Byron Bay

Today, you'll collect a rental car and hit the road south toward the state of New South Wales and the famous town of Byron Bay, which is Australia's most easterly point. The easy, direct route rips down the highway in two hours, but along the way, you could stop at the theme parks of the Gold Coast or have lunch at Coolangatta Beach, close to the border. 

Or, head straight for Byron Bay and explore. The coastal town seems to attract people from all walks of life, from surfers and brewers to artists, musicians, yoga teachers, and wellness gurus. The result is an eclectic, vibrant community with no shortage of things to do or ways to spend your day. This afternoon, you could go surfing, kayaking, or hiking, or visit numerous art galleries and boutiques in town. Seek out a yoga studio, day spa, or wellness center. Or simply relax and enjoy a laid-back healthy meal at one of the trendy cafés in town. How you spend your free afternoon is entirely up to you.

Day 10: Full-Day Byron Hinterland Tour

Byron Bay Hinterland - Minyon Falls
Explore the Byron Bay hinterland and hike to the base of Minyon Falls

After breakfast, a local guide will collect you for a Byron hinterland experience. With today's full-day tour, you'll explore the natural wonder of the UNESCO-listed Nightcap National Park. Embark on a two-hour, 2.5-mile (4 km) trail to the base of Minyon Falls, where you can swim in the icy freshwater pools or soak up your surroundings. After, arrive at the oldest white settlement in the Byron Bay area—the charming village of Bangalow, which has existed since 1840.

Bangalow has a fascinating mix of local shops, galleries, and cafés. Here, you'll stop for a barbeque-style lunch and catch your breath after the hike. Then, wave goodbye to Bangalow and continue along winding roads that weave a path across the beautiful Byron hinterland. You'll pass through small towns and historic villages that dot the countryside, stopping at viewpoints or points of interest to stretch your legs and snap photos. At the end of the day, you'll return to Byron Bay.

Day 11: Guided Kayak & Dolphin Tour

Byron Bay - Kayak Tour
Paddle around the coastline of Byron Bay while chasing dolphins

You'll get out on the water this morning on a three-hour guided sea kayak tour. Paddle out through the surf around Cape Byron and later ride some of Byron's famous waves. Feel the thrill of paddling your kayak with dolphins, turtles, and whales that frequent the waters near Byron Bay. Whether you're a novice or an experienced kayaker, your adventure will include paddling the magnificent protected bay, surfing the waves, and encountering abundant marine life. On return to the beach, relax and enjoy all the Tim Tams you can eat! 

Then, the rest of the afternoon is yours to relax and soak up the chill vibes of Byron Bay. 

Day 12: Drive to Coffs Harbour

Seafood Coffs Harbour Self Drive
Order seafood, such as locally caught kingfish, for dinner in Coffs Harbour

Enjoy a relaxed breakfast in Byron, then hit the road 148 miles (239 km) south toward Coffs Harbour. Along the 2.5-hour drive, you could stop at Bundjalung National Park for tranquil river scenery, quiet beaches, and freshwater lagoons. Close by, Yamba would make a great lunch stop. The relaxed town has great cafés and restaurants, and you can walk to the Yamba Lighthouse, built in 1880. Around 20 minutes north of Coffs, you might like to stop at Emerald Beach. Eastern gray kangaroos are often spotted nibbling grass along the Look At Me Now Headland Walk.

Finally, you'll reach Coffs Harbour, a relaxed coastal resort town that's known for its banana plantations. Here, mountains tumble down to the sea, and the subtropical climate makes it a popular destination for sun-seekers and holidaymakers. Check into your accommodation, then set out to explore the coastal town and snap a photo with the Big Banana monument. As you'd expect, fresh local seafood is big here, so grab an early dinner from the Coffs Harbor Fishermen's Co-op or try one of the chic restaurants in town.

Day 13: Drive to Port Macquarie

Coffs Harbour to Port Macquarie Self Drive
Stop at a few beaches on the drive between Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie

This morning, you'll continue on the road south to Port Macquarie, a two-hour drive away. This coastal town is known for its beautiful beaches, lush rainforest, and historic sites, including the Tacking Point Lighthouse and the Port Macquarie Museum. Follow the Pacific Highway (A1) and along the legendary Pacific Coast Drive. Drop into creative Nambucca Heads for a quick lunch and to browse galleries and markets. If you have the time, take a river cruise on the Nambucca River and enjoy Devonshire morning tea or barbecue lunch while taking in the sights.

En route, you can squeeze in stops to historic Trial Bay Gaol, built in the 1880s, and Smoky Cape Lighthouse. Visit Crescent Head, a quaint seaside village, or explore Hat Head National Park and nearby beaches, such as Back Beach, Goolawah, Delicate Nobby, Main Beach, and Racecourse Beach. Plan to arrive in Port Macquarie in the late afternoon. 

Day 14: Drive to Sydney, Free Time

Sydney - Harbour
Try sandboarding down the giant dunes at Stockton Beach in Port Stephens

It's your final morning on the road! The last stretch of your east coast road trip is a 4.5-hour drive that takes you past Newcastle and the Central Coast to Sydney. En route, you might consider a pit stop at Forster and its One Mile Beach or spend a few hours at Port Stephens, a lovely seaside town home to a large pod of dolphins and amazing sand dunes where you can go sandboarding. The dunes are part of the expansive Stockton Beach, situated at the southern end of Newcastle Bight, with views stretching back to Port Stephens.

Finally, travel over the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and into the heart of the city. You've made it to Sydney! On arrival in the buzzing big city, check into your accommodation and drop off your bags before returning the rental car. If you have the energy after the drive, refresh and step out to explore the city. Visit Sydney's iconic harbor and enjoy a drink at a waterfront bar amid jaw-dropping city views, then book a table at one of the city's brilliant 5-star restaurants where you can take in the sunset.

Day 15: Guided Bike Tour, Sydney Opera House Tour

Get ready for a ride
Cycle to Sydney's top sights before taking a tour of the Opera House

Today, you'll explore the best of Sydney, starting with a guided bike tour. Jump in the saddle and pedal past Circular Quay, the Royal Botanic Gardens, the piers at Walsh Bay, Darling Harbour, the Anzac War Memorial, Chinatown, and Hyde Park with a cycling guide who will share tales of the city as you roll around. Pause for a refreshing drink together, then say your farewells.

This afternoon, prepare to peek beneath the sails of a 20th-century architectural masterpiece, the famous Sydney Opera House. With its sleek vaulted shells, this expressionist marvel is a testament to human imagination and was the brainchild of Danish architect Jørn Utzon. Today, you'll step inside this global icon, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and performing arts venue, to see its inner workings. Learn about the history of the Opera House and its design elements as your guide shares entertaining stories and takes you to off-limit areas. After, grab a drink at the waterfront Opera Bar.

Day 16: Full-Day Blue Mountains Deluxe Day

The Three Sisters rock formations, in the Blue Mountains
Visit lookout points in the Blue Mountains, including the Three Sisters rock formations

Set off on a full-day guided adventure to the Blue Mountains. Your day begins with a trip to a farm called Calmsley Hill, where you'll come in contact with kangaroos, emus, wombats, and koalas. Sip a cup of tea here and wander the tranquil surroundings. The journey continues to the remote Eaglehawk Lookout to experience the Three Sisters rock formation in all its glory. Watch as the sunlight brings out magnificent colors that change throughout the day. You'll then stop at Blackheath for a relaxing two-course lunch.

After lunch, the nature exploration continues. Take in the views from a handful of lookouts and venture to Govetts Leap to admire the beautiful waterfall and views across the Grose Valley, which is known as Australia's Grand Canyon. Stop briefly to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine or orange juice at the delightful Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens, where you'll enjoy sweeping views across to Sydney. Then, it's time to return to the city via the Bells Line of Road.

Day 17: Sydney Harbour Lunch Cruise, Twilight Bridge Climb

Cruise the harbor in style
Relax and enjoy views of Sydney Harbour during a lunch cruise, then climb the famous bridge

You'll board a boat this morning for a leisurely lunch on the water. Over four hours, you'll zip across the harbor, taking in the most famous sights and lesser-known coves as your crew shares insightful commentary. Enjoy a delicious Australian-style barbecue lunch with locally produced wines and beers as you sail. Bring swimwear, as there'll be time for a dip in the harbor, plus you can go kayaking or try fishing!

Return to your hotel and refresh ahead of this evening's thrilling adventure. As dusk hits you'll ascend the summit of the world's largest steel arch, the Sydney Harbour Bridge. With a twilight BridgeClimb, you'll experience spectacular 360-degree views as you walk across catwalks, ascend ladders, and celebrate from the top of the famous "coathanger," which reaches 439 feet (134 m) above sea level. Return to the ground and seek out dinner at one of Australia's top restaurants: Quay, Aria, or trip a.

Day 18: Private Surf Lesson at Bondi Beach 

Bondi Surf Lesson
Join a private surf lesson at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach is one of Australia's most iconic surfing spots making it an ideal place to join a surf lesson! Under the guidance of a private surf coach, you'll learn the basics of paddling, popping up, and catching your first wave in a safe and supportive environment. Feel the rush of adrenaline as you stand up and surf the crystal-clear waters at one of Australia's most famous beaches. After your 90-minute lesson, dry off and enjoy the rest of your final day in Australia as you please.

A good option to consider is walking from Bondi to Coogee along a 3.7-mile (6 km) coastal trail with plenty of views. It usually takes two to three hours to complete, depending on how often you stop, as there's the temptation of a swim at every beach you pass! Begin at Bondi Beach, pass the Bondi Icebergs swimming club, marvel at 2,000-year-old traditional Indigenous rock carvings at Marks Park, grab a coffee at Tamarama Beach, walk past the heritage-listed Waverly Cemetery, see Gordons Bay, and finish at Coogee Beach

Day 19: Depart Sydney

Depart Australia
Until next time, Sydney!

Sadly, your great Australian adventure comes to an end today! At the appointed time, a private driver will transfer you to Sydney's airport in time for your flight home. 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 19 days in Australia, or discover the best time to visit Australia.


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Map of Australia's Active Great Barrier Reef & East Coast Road Trip - 19 Days
Map of Australia's Active Great Barrier Reef & East Coast Road Trip - 19 Days
Written by Liz Neal, updated Jul 16, 2024