This 15-day Australia tour and partial road trip combine the best of the tropics with the Top End and the vast plains of the outback. Start with some beach time and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, then fly to Darwin, where the real adventure begins. Connect with Indigenous culture and crocodiles, then fly to Australia's red center, where the Uluru monolith lies. Experience the best of the desert, from spectacular sunrises to starry desert dinners, before your final night in Sydney.


  • Spend a day snorkeling among tropical fish and coral on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Explore Indigenous culture and see crocodiles in the Top End's national parks 
  • Witness the beauty of the outback with a sunset dinner overlooking Uluru Rock
  • End the adventure in Sydney with a waterfront drink at the Sydney Opera House

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cairns, Transfer to Palm Cove, Free Time Palm Cove
Day 2 Full-Day Tour of the Great Barrier Reef Palm Cove
Day 3 Full-Day Classic Kuranda Tour Palm Cove
Day 4 Fly to Darwin, Collect a Rental Car, Explore Darwin
Day 5 Darwin City Sights Tour Darwin
Day 6 Gourmet Lunch Tour, Jumping Crocodile Cruise Darwin
Day 7 Drive to Jabiru in Kakadu National Park, Explore Ubirr Rock Art Jabiru
Day 8 Drive to Cooinda with Optional Stops & Activities Cooinda
Day 9 Yellow Water Sunrise Cruise, Drive to Darwin via Litchfield National Park Darwin
Day 10 Fly to Alice Springs Alice Springs
Day 11 Drive to Kings Canyon via the Mereenie Loop Kings Canyon
Day 12 Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Drive to Uluru Uluru
Day 13 Uluru Sunrise & Kata Tjuta, Sounds of Silence Dinner Uluru
Day 14 Explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Fly to Sydney Sydney
Day 15 Depart Sydney  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cairns, Transfer to Palm Cove, Free Time

Spend your first afternoon lazing beneath the palms at Palm Cove
Spend your first afternoon lazing beneath the palms at 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. Here, you can soak in a pristine stretch of sand, winding pathways, colorful boutiques, and award-winning spas and restaurants. Check into your resort, then set out to spend the afternoon at the beach or unwind with a spa treatment.

Later, head to one of the bars along the esplanade and take in ocean vistas to Double Island with a refreshing drink in hand. 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 Tour of the Great Barrier Reef

Cruise to a pristine reef location for an exciting snorkeling adventure of the Great Barrier Reef

Board a high-speed catamaran for a full-day cruise to the Great Barrier Reef, arguably Australia's best natural attraction. The UNESCO-protected site is the world's largest coral reef and one of Earth's most complex natural ecosystems. The reef comprises more than 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays and supports abundant marine life, which you'll get to explore today. One of the world's most sought-after destinations, this bucket list snorkel experience is one you'll remember forever.

Your aquatic adventure begins with an informative briefing by an eco-guide before snorkeling around a pristine Great Barrier Reef location. Pause for a hot and cold buffet lunch, freshly prepared by the onboard chef, before moving to a second destination for another snorkel and swim. Afterward, return to the mainland and transfer back to Palm Cove.

Day 3: Full-Day Classic Kuranda Tour

Kuranda Scenic Railway
The train stops at Barron Falls so you can take in the views of the valley and waterfall

Today, you'll explore the UNESCO-listed Kuranda Rainforest and catch glimpses of native Australian wildlife on a full-day tour. This morning, you'll take a ride on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway up to the mountain village of Kuranda, located about 15 miles (25 km) inland. The train snakes along hillside tracks and through 15 tunnels. It offers spectacular views of waterfalls, cane fields, and the Barron Gorge as you rise from sea level to 1,072 feet (327 m). Explore the rainforest village and its colorful Heritage Markets, which offer an array of locally-made souvenirs.

Then, tour the Rainforestation Nature Park in a rugged vehicle that offers another vantage point on the forest, and visit the koalas, kangaroos, and other creatures at the Koala and Wildlife Park. Stop for lunch in town, then learn about Australia's Indigenous culture with the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience. Finally, return via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and glide over the canopy of one of the world's oldest rainforest ecosystems. See the only place on earth where two World Heritage sites meet. 

Day 4: Fly to Darwin, Collect a Rental Car, Explore

Transfer Accommodation - Airport
Finish the day with a sunset view from Mindil Beach in Darwin

It's time to swap the tropics for the Top End today. Take a private transfer back to Cairns airport for your 2.5-hour flight to Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory. On arrival, collect a rental car and check into your accommodation. Darwin is a tropical city that's all about outdoor living. Drop your bags and set out to the Waterfront Precinct, then wander toward Parliament House and the historic wharf precinct where Japanese bombs fell during World War II.

If you follow the Heritage and Cultural Trail, you'll retrace the steps of early settlers, explore Darwin's maritime history, and see sacred sites of the Larrakia people, the traditional Indigenous owners of the land. Cool off at the waterfront park, then—if it's a Thursday or Sunday evening—dive into Southeast Asian flavors at the bustling Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Otherwise, you could enjoy the sunset at the waterfront Darwin Ski Club or at a local microbrewery or distillery such as The Trader Bar, Six Tanks, or One Mile Brewery.

Day 5: Darwin City Sights Tour

George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
Take your time wandering through the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens with your guide

This morning, you'll join a half-day tour to explore Australia's tropical capital. Your local guide will first visit the Darwin Aviation Museum, teaching you about Darwin's aviation history. You'll see a B-52 Bomber from the United States Air Force and watch clips of the historic air raid on Darwin. Afterward, you'll trade history for culture at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where you'll find a number of collections, including one on Indigenous art.

The half-day tour will finish up at the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, where you'll learn about the gardens' natural and cultural history, and wander by beautiful orchids, bromeliads, cycads, and palms before parting ways. The rest of the afternoon is yours to enjoy at your pace. You could find lunch overlooking luxury homes and swaying sailboats at Cullen Bay Marina, then visit the nearby Myilly Point Heritage Precinct to see the tropical architecture of cottages built in the late 1930s.

Day 6: Gourmet Lunch Tour, Jumping Crocodile Cruise

Taste your way around Darwin on a foodie walking tour

The best way to understand a city is through its food! On a three-hour walking tour, you'll taste your way across Darwin this morning. You'll stop at a rotating list of restaurants—such as Hanuman, Aboriginal Bush Traders, Moorish, Ruby—and more. Taste a range of dishes that represent the city, where Darwin chefs often emphasize locally sourced ingredients. Your foodie guide will also highlight unusual cultural and historic landmarks, such as street art incorporating augmented reality technology.

This afternoon, you'll float down the scenic Adelaide River to witness the raw power of saltwater crocodiles on a wild crocodile cruise. See their strength as these mega crocs launch themselves out of the water in a thrilling display of hunting prowess. Your experienced guide will share stories and facts about these prehistoric predators as you observe them in their natural habitat. After the one-hour cruise, return to Darwin for an evening at leisure.

Day 7: Drive to Jabiru in Kakadu National Park, Explore Ubirr Rock Art

Kakadu - Water Buffalo
Look out for water buffalo on the drive into Kakadu National Park
Plan your trip to Australia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

You'll jump behind the wheel this morning and make tracks for Kakadu National Park! As Australia's biggest national park, Kakadu offers plenty of billabongs, waterfalls, and wetlands to keep you busy. Keep your eyes peeled for water buffalo that have been sighted on the Kakadu Highway on your 3.5-hour drive in. En route, you could detour to reach some of Kakadu's famous swimming holes and waterfalls. Arrive at Jabiru, the main township in Kakadu National Park in the afternoon. After checking in, drive north to explore the East Alligator (Erre) region, northeast of Jabiru.

See several of Kakadu's habitats this morning with a walk along the one-hour Bowali Track, which links the Crocodile Hotel to the Bowali Visitor Center. Nearby Ubirr Indigenous Rock Art Site is home to one of the world's most remarkable rock art collections. Follow the 0.6-mile (1 km) circular track and look out for local species like the Tasmanian tiger. Climb 820 feet (250 m) to reach Ubirr Rock's ledge in time for a sunset panorama of Arnhem Land and the Nadab floodplain. 

Day 8: Drive to Cooinda with Optional Stops & Activities

Nawurlandja lookout walk
Stop and enjoy the peace and quiet along the 40-minute Nawurlandja Lookout walk

Tonight's accommodation in Cooinda is just a 45-minute drive away, so you'll spend most of today exploring the best of Kakadu National Park. On your way, detour to the Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) walk and discover why Kakadu is a UNESCO World Heritage known for its outstanding cultural values. With its distinct rock paintings, this site documents life in the region from 20,000 years ago to the first contact with European explorers. This one-mile (1.5 km) walk is an outdoor cultural museum where paintings, shelters, and artifacts present traditional life.

Nearby, stop at Nawurlandja Lookout for a short 40-minute walk where you'll be rewarded with world-class views across Anbangbang Billabong to Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) and the Arnhem Land escarpment. Continue to the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, developed by the Indigenous traditional owners of Kakadu. Here, artifacts illustrate the stories that the traditional owners wish to share with visitors. If you're keen to keep exploring, you could hike a two-hour path to Gunlom Falls, where a natural infinity pool promises an idyllic dip—it's also an unbeatable picnic spot. 

Day 9: Yellow Water Sunrise Cruise, Drive to Darwin via Litchfield National Park

Yellow Water Cruise
Float peacefully along Yellow Water Cruise Kakadu's most famous wetland as the sun rises

You'll boat along Kakadu's most famous wetland this morning at dawn with Indigenous-owned Yellow Water Cruises. Yellow Water is part of the South Alligator River system, close to Cooinda, and the river system is located in its entirety within the park. Look for crocodiles and eagles, and admire the sunrise reflecting on the tranquil waters as you float around in the early hours. Then, it's time to hit the road, traveling southwest through Kakadu and toward Litchfield National Park, a 580-square-mile (1,500 sq km) reserve of tumbling waterfalls and crystal-clear natural pools.

On the 3.5-hour drive, pass Pine Creek, a former gold rush town full of historic character. After another two hours, you'll reach Litchfield. This park gives you the chance to swim in cool, crocodile-free waters at Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole, Sandy Creek Falls, Wangi Falls, or Cascades. Take your pick from those, plus choose one of many great hiking trails, from easy one-mile loops to the 24-mile (39 km) Tabletop Track. When you're ready, continue 90 minutes north to Darwin. Consider pulling into the Humpty Doo Hotel for dinner in a classic outback town of the same name.

Day 10: Fly to Alice Springs

Alice Springs
Spend a night in Alice Springs, a remote town known for its Indigenous culture

This morning, head to the airport for your two-hour flight to Alice Springs. Make sure you leave enough time to return your rental car. On arrival in Alice Springs, collect a rental car and prepare for your great outback adventure. Known to the locals as "Alice," this town embodies the quintessential Australian spirit, from the ancient desert location to the Indigenous culture woven into the fabric of life here.

The rest of the day is yours to explore Alice Springs at your leisure. For a taste of local culture, head to the Araluen Cultural Precinct, which houses an art gallery and museum showcasing the region's history and Indigenous art. The Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum shows the essential work of the aerial medical service. Or visit the Kangaroo Sanctuary and meet rescued orphaned baby and adult kangaroos.

Day 11: Drive to Kings Canyon via the Mereenie Loop

Adventure lovers can detour on the unsealed and less-traveled Mereenie Loop

When you're ready this morning, it's time to explore Australia's Red Center! While the road is completely sealed on the 3.5-hour drive between Alice Springs and Kings Canyon, today, you can opt to add in the adventurous Mereenie Loop. This unsealed dirt road is a "must-do" for adventure lovers traveling through the desert. It takes you along the less traveled road through some beautiful landscapes in the Central Australian Outback. You might even see a handful of wild camels or dingoes along the way.

Leave Alice Springs and head toward Glen Helen in the West MacDonnell Ranges. Stop for a swim at Redbank Gorge Pools, 12 miles (20 km) west of Glen Helen. If you have the time, buy an inner tire tube from Glen Helen Resort and splash your way through the gorge. Arrive at Kings Canyon in the afternoon. Enjoy the vast outback and head to bed early, as you'll be exploring the famous Kings Canyon Rim Walk at sunrise tomorrow.

Day 12: Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Drive to Uluru

Kings Canyon Rim Walk
Kings Canyon Rim Walk is a magnificent morning walk, best done before the heat of the day

Rise bright and early to tackle the Rim Walk, a 3.7-mile (6 km) circuit around Kings Canyon. It usually takes 3-4 hours to complete, depending on your pace. The walk starts with about 500 steep steps, but it gets easier from there! From the top, marvel at the incredible views and see the sandstone domes known as the Lost City. Next, stay up top or venture down into the picturesque Garden of Eden filled with lush greenery.

After exploring Kings Canyon, continue your 3.5-hour drive to Uluru's vast outback. Uluru is one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Feel a powerful presence when you see the 1,150-foot-high (348 m) monolith. UNESCO-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park holds a special cultural significance for the local Indigenous people, the Anangu. Just don't forget, a valid park pass is required for entry to the park. You can purchase a three-day pass online or at the entrance.

Day 13: Uluru Sunrise & Kata Tjuta, Sounds of Silence Dinner

Uluru Tour
Witness the sunrise change the color of the Uluru monolith

Wake early to watch a sunrise over Australia's iconic rock—the incredible sight of the morning light igniting Uluru a fiery bright red is worth the early alarm clock. You'll leave in the dark to reach Talinguru Nyakunytaku, the Uluru viewing area. Witness the first light appear over the arid desert plains of the Red Center as you enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. After, you'll explore the 36 domes of Kata Tjuta. From the base of Walpa Gorge, you'll wander past these unusual conglomerate rock formations, following a natural creek between two of the tallest domes.

This evening, experience the spellbinding Sounds of Silence dinner, eating under the desert sky, while a storyteller shares stories. Your journey begins on a lone sand dune with 360-degree views of the Uluru monolith, the Kata Tjuta domes, and perhaps the best sunset of your life. Enjoy a glass of sparkling wine and canapés, then savor a mouthwatering barbecue buffet of Australian delicacies, such as barramundi and kangaroo, while enjoying the quiet of the desert. A star talker will share tales as you finish with a warm drink or glass of port wine.

Day 14: Explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Fly to Sydney

Uluru - Base Walk
Walk around the base of Uluru on the 1.5-mile (2 km) Mala Walk

Start your last day in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park at the Cultural Center to learn more about the significance of Uluru to its traditional owners, the Anangu. Learn about Indigenous law, moral systems and culture, and the park's natural and human history. Next, take the 1.5-mile (2 km) Mala Walk route, which travels along parts of Uluru's base, through the caves where the Anangu's ancestors first settled, and past ancient rock art before arriving at Kantju Gorge.

Then, it's time to swap the sparse outback for buzzing Sydney. Drive to the airport in time to drop off the rental and board your three-hour flight. When you arrive in Sydney, you'll be greeted by your driver, who will take you to your city hotel. You'll be based within walking distance of many landmarks, including the world-renowned Sydney Opera House, so venture out to soak up the city. Pop down to the Opera Bar for a waterfront drink, then find a chic restaurant to celebrate your final night in Australia.

Day 15: Depart Sydney

Squeeze in one last Sydney activity before departure, if time allows

It's time to say goodbye to Australia! If you have time, you could explore the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens, jump on a ferry to cruise around the Sydney Harbour, or take a surf lesson at the famous Bondi Beach.

When the time is right, a driver will transfer you to Sydney's airport in time for your flight home. Safe travels!

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Australia? Check out these other Australia itineraries, explore different ways to spend 15 days in Australia, or discover the best time to visit Australia.


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Map of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Outback & Top End Road Trip - 15 Days
Map of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Outback & Top End Road Trip - 15 Days