On this three-week trip of a lifetime, you'll experience the highlights of Australia's eastern and southern coasts. It will take you from Sydney's iconic Opera House up to the famous Great Barrier Reef and down to Melbourne for wildlife excursions, and even a hot-air balloon ride over wine country. As if that isn't enough, you'll jet off to New Zealand for adventures in its unspoiled wilderness, including visiting glowworm caves, volcanic valleys, glacial fjords, and much more.


  • Tour Sydney's famous landmarks and take a trip to the rugged Blue Mountains
  • Snorkel and dive around coral islets at the Great Barrier Reef
  • Stroll the historic laneways of Melbourne and take a balloon ride over wine country
  • Visit cities, Maori villages, and even "Hobbiton" on New Zealand's North Island
  • Go hiking, off-roading, and river rafting on New Zealand's South Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Sydney, Optional Activities Sydney
Day 2 City Tour of Sydney, Visit the Opera House Sydney
Day 3 Day Trip to the Blue Mountains Sydney
Day 4 Free Day in Sydney Sydney
Day 5 Sydney to Port Douglas, Optional Activities Port Douglas
Day 6 Barrier Reef & Coral Cays Boat Tour Port Douglas
Day 7 Free Day in Port Douglas Port Douglas
Day 8 Day Trip to Kuranda Port Douglas
Day 9 Port Douglas to Melbourne, Optional Activities Melbourne
Day 10 Laneways & Arcades Tour, Optional Activities Melbourne
Day 11 Yarra Valley Balloon Flight & Wine Tour Melbourne
Day 12 Phillip Island Tour & Penguin Parade Melbourne
Day 13 Melbourne to Auckland, Optional Activities Auckland
Day 14 Day Trip to Waitakere Ranges Auckland
Day 15 Auckland to Rotorua, Waitomo & Hobbiton Tour Rotorua
Day 16 Day Trip to Waimangu Valley & Maori Cultural Experience Rotorua
Day 17 Rotorua to Queenstown, Optional Activities Queenstown 
Day 18 Macetown 4WD Tour, Skyline Gondola Ride Queenstown 
Day 19 Jet Boat Adventure & River Safari Queenstown 
Day 20 Milford Sound Bus & Boat Tour Queenstown 
Day 21 Depart New Zealand  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Sydney, Optional Activities

Welcome to Sydney
Welcome to Sydney

Get ready to enjoy Sydney, a city that ticks all the boxes of any great global metropolis: prime harborfront location, iconic landmarks, copious beaches, and great shopping, nightlife, and culinary scenes. Upon arrival at the airport, a personal driver will transfer you to your hotel. If you aren't too tired after the flight, you can venture out and explore this city of over five million people on your own. 

To start, head to the waterfront and soak up the lively atmosphere of Darling Harbour. You can also walk across Harbour Bridge for great views of the iconic Opera House. Nearby are the cobblestone laneways of The Rocks, Sydney's oldest neighborhood. Sunseekers needn't feel left out, either, as there are over 100 beaches in Sydney. Head to famous Bondi Beach for a surf lesson, or swim in the calmer waters of Coogee. Afterward, dine on fresh seafood or eclectic international fare before taking on Sydney's legendary nightlife.

Day 2: City Tour of Sydney, Visit the Opera House

Go behind the scenes at the Sydney Opera House

Start this morning with a four-hour guided walking tour of Sydney's highlights. Visit the main shopping district to browse designer shops and shopping malls like the 19th-century Queen Victoria Building. Then, stroll through Sydney's trendy LGBTQ hub of Oxford Street to the historic neighborhood of Paddington, known for its distinctive terrace houses dating to the Victorian era. Eventually, you'll arrive at the coast and enjoy walks around the coastal suburbs and star beaches like Bondi.

After the city tour, head to the most famous building in the country: the Sydney Opera House. Construction on this masterpiece of 20th-century architecture (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) began in 1959 and took over 20 years to complete. Today, it's a multivenue performing arts center that presents more than 2,000 shows to over 1.5 million audience members each year. On an hourlong guided tour, you'll go inside to learn all about the building's history and design, plus visit the main public spaces. 

Day 3: Day Trip to the Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters rock formations, in the Blue Mountains
The Three Sisters rock formations in the Blue Mountains

About a two-hour drive inland from the urban jungle of Sydney are the dramatic Blue Mountains, a region known for rugged cliffs, eucalyptus forests, and cascading waterfalls. Lace-up your hiking boots for a full-day, small-group excursion to see the best of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. After transferring here, you'll visit a working farm and meet local wildlife like kangaroos, emus, wombats, and koalas. Then, hike across valleys and sandstone ridges to viewpoints of the towering Three Sisters rock formations.

As you reach Govett's Leap, one of the country's most famous lookouts, marvel at the sweeping vistas across Grose Valley, Australia's answer to the Grand Canyon. Your final stop is 3,280 feet (1,000 m) above sea level at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden. Here, you'll see hundreds of international plant species and the exotic critters that call this sanctuary home, including various birds, reptiles, and insects.

Day 4: Free Day in Sydney

Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden
Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden

Today is yours to enjoy Sydney at your own pace. One popular pastime is a leisurely ferry ride around the harbor. Or you can visit Taronga Zoo to see tigers, gorillas, and (of course) koalas. For a nature walk, take a stroll through the Royal Botanic Garden. This 74-acre (30 ha) urban green space is Australia's oldest botanic garden (it opened in 1816) and is home to 27,000 plants from around the world. Afterward, splurge on a multicourse dinner at one of Sydney's five-star restaurants overlooking the water. 

Or, spend the day at the coast and laze on the beach. Venture beyond Bondi to discover hidden gems like the lagoon oasis of Wattamolla Beach. You can also head outside the city for a bush walk (hike) in a nature reserve to learn a bit about First Nations history. No matter what you decide, there's no shortage of activities to keep you busy in this city.

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Day 5: Fly to Port Douglas, Optional Activities

Four Mile Beach, in Port Douglas
Four Mile Beach, in Port Douglas

In the morning, you'll transfer from your hotel to the airport and board a three-hour flight to Cairns, on Australia's northern coast. Upon arrival, a private car will be waiting to transfer you to Port Douglas. Located in northeastern Queensland, this resort town on the Coral Sea is a base for excursions to Australia's famous Great Barrier Reef. It's the perfect locale for travelers who want a tropical escape in a relaxed environment.

After checking in to your hotel, spend the rest of the day browsing Port Douglas' charming boutiques, dining in its al fresco restaurants, and taking excursions to the reef's coral cays (islets). Also, a visit to Four Mile Beach is essential. Here, you can laze on the golden sands of this palm-fringed crescent beach without a care in the world. Port Douglas is also a popular base to explore the Wet Tropics national parks, Daintree Rainforest, and the scenic coastal headland Cape Tribulation.

Day 6: Barrier Reef & Coral Cays Boat Tour

Spend a day on the Great Barrier Reef

Your full-day Barrier Reef adventure starts with an early departure from the marina in Port Douglas. Relax on the deck of a yacht as it sets sail to the pristine white sands of Mackay Coral Cay and epic snorkeling spots around Undine Reef. Getting there is half the fun, as this sailing trip follows the stunning coastline and features views of the Daintree Mountains' soaring peaks. Once at the protected sites, you'll explore the coral reef system on a guided snorkeling tour led by a qualified marine biologist.

You can also enjoy a coral-viewing tour on a glass-bottom boat. It passes premium reef sites showcasing abundant marine life among the beautiful corals. These include tropical fish, turtles, and even giant clam gardens. You'll return to the marina in Port Douglas. 

Day 7: Free Day in Port Douglas

Take a day trip to Cape Tribulation
Take a day trip to Cape Tribulation
Today is yours to spend a relaxing day exploring all that Port Douglas has to offer. Perhaps travel to nearby coastal villages and palm-fringed beaches like Trinity and Clifton. Or opt for a 4WD tour of Daintree and explore the oldest rainforest ecosystem on Earth. Continue to other natural wonders like the stunning Cape Tribulation coastal headland. To see aquatic animals, travel to nearby Cairns and visit its Aquarium, which is home to various species of sharks, rays, sea turtles, eels, and others.

Day 8: Day Trip to Kuranda

The Kuranda Scenic Rail
The Kuranda Scenic Rail

This full-day tour commences with a transfer from your hotel to Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. At this station, you'll hop aboard a gondola and ascend over Barron Gorge to the rainforest village of Kuranda. Upon arrival in Kuranda, you'll have free time to explore this fascinating village. Its Heritage Market operates seven days a week and is 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 Port Douglas. As you descend the mountains, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the tropical rainforest and across the cane fields of Cairns. Upon arrival at Freshwater Station, you'll return to your hotel in Port Douglas.

Day 9: Fly to Melbourne, Optional Activities

Melbourne's riverfront
Melbourne's riverfront

In the morning, your driver will transfer you to the airport for the 3.5-hour flight south to Melbourne, the capital of the Australian state of Victoria. You might be surprised to learn that Melbourne has been voted the cultural capital of Australia. This city of over five million people is a paradise for foodies and the gateway to unspoiled national parks and a stunning coastline. Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel in the city. When you're ready, you can head out and explore.

The most efficient way to experience Melbourne's highlights is to hop on the City Circle, a free tram that runs throughout the central districts. On these routes, you can visit attractions like the neo-Gothic St Paul's Cathedral, the neoclassical Parliament House, and the 19th-century Royal Exhibition Building. For great views of the city, head over to the Shrine of Remembrance, a stately war memorial adjacent to the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. This 89-acre (36 ha) botanical garden contains more than 8,500 species of plants from around the world. 

Day 10: Laneways & Arcades Tour, Optional Activities

Melbourne's famous laneways
Melbourne's famous laneways

This morning begins with a small-group tour of Melbourne's historic laneways, back streets, and arcades. Visit quintessential shopping arcades and laneways like the Block Arcade, Centre Place, and AC/DC Lane, where the spirit of rock' n' roll is alive and well. Discover the history of these locations while marveling at cutting-edge street art, browsing boutiques of local fashion designers, and stopping at cafés to try Melbourne's famed coffee and artisanal chocolates. 

In the afternoon, sports lovers can enjoy a Melbourne tour showcasing why this city is the sporting capital of Australia. The Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Precinct is ground zero of it all, as here you'll find venues hosting everything from football and Formula 1 to tennis and cricket. Also, here is the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG), the biggest cricket stadium in the world. To skip the crowds, book a private tour—you might even spot some of the nation's top cricketers during a training session. 

Day 11: Yarra Valley Balloon Flight & Wine Tour

Flight over the Yarra Valley
Flight over the Yarra Valley

This full-day tour of Melbourne's stunning Yarra Valley wine country starts early with a drive north to Balgownie Estate, an award-winning winery and luxury resort. Here, you'll hop in the basket of a hot-air balloon and enjoy the views from above. Watch as the morning sun kisses the valley's green vineyards and rolling hills and reflects off the winding Yarra River.

Upon landing, head back to Balgownie Estate for a Champagne breakfast to compliment the morning's adventure. Afterward, drive south to Yering Station Winery for a tour and continue with a day of tastings at four premium wineries. Your last stop is back at Balgownie, where you'll enjoy a gourmet lunch before returning to Melbourne.

Day 12: Phillip Island Tour & Penguin Parade

The Penguin Parade at Phillip Island
The Penguin Parade at Phillip Island

This full-day tour takes you to Phillip Island, located 90 minutes south of Melbourne, where you'll witness the evening ritual of the Penguin Parade. On the way there, stop at Moonlit Sanctuary Conservation Park to see endangered wildlife like kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas. Then, continue to Phillip Island, home to the world's largest colony of little penguins (Eudyptula minor). Embark on optional activities like a visit to the Nobbies, a rocky headland that's home to the largest colony of fur seals in Australia.

At dusk, you'll head to a viewing platform to witness the natural phenomena of the Penguin Parade on floodlit Summerland Beach. It's an incredible sight as thousands of little penguins waddle back from the sea to their burrows, greeting their partners and neighbors as they arrive. Afterward, you'll transfer back to Melbourne and return to your hotel.

Day 13: Fly to Auckland, Optional Activities

Auckland's skyline
Auckland's skyline 

In the morning, your driver will transfer you to the airport for your 3.5-hour flight south to Auckland. Known as the "City of Sails," New Zealand's largest metropolis is located at the top of the North Island, and you won't find a better introduction to the country's world-renowned natural beauty and cultural diversity. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you for the ride to your hotel. Then, you can venture out and explore.

Besides its bustling urban center with chic waterfront promenades, the city, and surrounding areas are home to 26 regional parks featuring a diverse array of landscapes. These include everything from tropical rainforests to rugged coastlines and golden beaches. There are countless options for day trips here, including excursions to black-sand surf beaches, hiking ancient volcanoes, wine tours at nearby vineyards, and plenty more. 

Day 14: Day Trip to Waitakere Ranges

Day Trip to the Waitakere Ranges
Waterfall in the Waitakere Ranges

A 30-minute drive from downtown Auckland brings you to Arataki Centre, the gateway to the Waitakere Ranges. This 42,000-acre (17,000 ha) fringe of hills and subtropical rainforest separates Auckland from the surf beaches of the North Island's west coast. The peaks and plateaus offer breathtaking panoramic views from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean. At the Arataki Centre, you'll learn about the Māori tribe, who are caretakers of this land, as well as admire the traditional wood sculptures that stand guard here.

Then, along with an expert guide, you'll embark on an eco-tour of the area's hills, waterfalls, and beaches. It starts in the rainforest with a walk among this rare and distinct ecosystem—around 70% of New Zealand's native plants are found nowhere else on Earth. After the rainforest, you'll continue farther down to the rugged west coast. Here, you'll feel the soft, black sand beneath your feet as you stroll some of the most incredible surf beaches in the world. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel. 

Day 15: Luxury But to Rotorua, Waitomo & Hobbiton Tour

Tour the Waitomo glowworm caves

In the morning, you'll board a luxury bus for a full-day road trip from Auckland south to the lakeside town of Rotorua. Along the way, your driver/guide will impart some fascinating history of the region as you pass sites of interest and stop for side tours. The first is in the small town of Waitomo and the world-famous Glowworm Caves. Hop in a small boat for a ride through the Glowworm Grotto, an otherworldly limestone cavern illuminated in electric blue by thousands of tiny glowworms.

After lunch, get back on the bus and continue to the rural township of Matamata. The private farm here is famous as the shooting location for the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. On a guided tour, you'll visit the movie set for "Hobbiton" and learn how this section of farmland was transformed to bring the fictional Shire to cinematic life.

After the Hobbiton tour, drive to Rotorua and transfer to your hotel. This charming town is noteworthy for being a center of extensive geothermal activity. Geysers, bubbling mud holes, steaming vents, and sulfurous pools are found all over the area. The region is also steeped in First Nations history and is a great place to experience traditional Māori cultural tours and performances.

Day 16: Day Trip to Waimangu Valley & Māori Cultural Experience

Volcanic lake in Waimangu Valley

Venture into the Waimangu Valley and embark on a nature hike featuring incredible geothermal activity in one of the most recently created ecosystems in the world (the valley was formed only after a volcanic eruption in 1886). Afterward, transfer to Lake Rotomahana for a scenic 45-minute cruise that passes geothermal wonders like steaming lakeshore cliffs. The lake is also a wildlife refuge home to many black swans. After the tour, you'll return to Rotorua.

In the late afternoon, head to the outskirts of town and the Mitai Māori Village. This cultural center offers an authentic experience featuring the Te Arawa people, a Māori group who are the original inhabitants of the Rotorua lakes region. It kicks off with a powhiri (a Māori welcoming ceremony) involving tribal warriors in traditional dress, followed by a concert in which they tell their origin story through song, dance, and the famous haka. Then, enjoy an authentic hāngī dinner—a process where food is cooked over hot stones in a pit.

After eating, you'll embark on a guided bush walk to learn about the medicinal uses of the flora native to the region. It's through these methods that Māori tribes have survived and thrived since the 14th century. Eventually, you'll arrive at Te Puna a Tuhoe, a sacred puna (spring). Here, you'll be treated to the otherworldly sight of the area lit electric blue by the glowworms that reside on the banks.

Day 17: Rotorua to Queenstown, Optional Activities

Welcome to Queenstown!
Welcome to  New Zealand's Queenstown

At the appropriate time, your driver will transfer you to the airport. Here, you'll catch a connecting flight south to Queenstown, located on the South Island's Lake Wakatipu at the base of the Southern Alps. This ruggedly beautiful region is known as the adventure-sports capital of the world, and not for nothing. Here you can enjoy hair-raising thrills that include sky diving, extreme bungee jumping, jet boating, ziplining, and more. After transferring to your hotel and checking in, you can explore the city.

Besides adrenaline-pumping adventures, Queenstown is an excellent base for exploring vineyards and historic gold-mining towns. The best way to appreciate the area's majesty is with a gondola ride high above the city. There are also hiking trails, mountain biking routes, and even a downhill luge track. Other great activities include a guided hike through Fiordland National Park and a scenic road trip into the mountains.

Day 18: Macetown 4WD Tour, Skyline Gondola Ride

Take a gondola to the best viewpoint in Queenstown

Hop in a 4WD vehicle this morning for a day of adventure and off-roading in the hills. You'll be following an old miners' wagon trail to Macetown, a historic mining settlement that dates to 1862 when gold was discovered in the Arrow River. You'll cross the Arrow as well as a few streams and creeks on your way to the town, and once there, you'll explore its relics. These include restored 19th-century structures, including a cottage and bakehouse. You'll even get to do some panning in the Arrow River and possibly catch gold fever yourself.

Upon returning to Queenstown, go for a ride on the Southern Hemisphere's highest cable car. Head to the edge of the city and board the Skyline Gondola, which will whisk you smoothly up 1,476 feet (450 m) to the viewpoint at Bob's Peak. On the ascent, watch as the city drops away below you and then enjoy the breathtaking 360-degree views from the top. Here, you can see all the way to Coronet Peak around the Remarkables mountain range and out to Cecil and Walter peaks on the other side of Lake Wakatipu.

Day 19: Jet Boat Adventure & River Safari

Canoe down the Dart River

This full-day tour begins in the morning with a transfer north into the wilds of Mount Aspiring National Park. Upon arrival, you'll hop in a jet boat for an adrenaline-pumping ride down the glacier-fed Dart River. Feel the excitement as you zip along this shallow waterway at high speeds while your daredevil captain performs exhilarating spins. After the thrills, you'll stop on the riverbanks for a stroll and to appreciate the surroundings. The unspoiled wilderness is incredible, featuring snowcapped peaks, glaciers, and alpine lakes.

Return to the water and continue at a more leisurely pace in an inflatable canoe as your local guide offers insight into the geology and history of the river. You'll break again at a beech forest for a delicious picnic lunch. Afterward, you can venture into the wilderness and hike to hidden streams and rock pools. Then, continue downstream to the settlement of Paradise. This region is so attractive that it has served as a shooting location for films, including "The Lord of the Rings." At Paradise, you'll board a bus and return to Queenstown.

Day 20: Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Bus & Boat Tour

See waterfalls at Milford Sound
See waterfalls at Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

Leave Queenstown early in the morning for a full-day bus tour to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi. The route will take you south along the shores of Lake Wakatipu and then west to the town of Te Anau. From there, continue the overland journey to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi. This fjord is a wonderland of snowcapped mountains, towering cliffs, rugged valleys, and native rainforests surrounded by plunging waterfalls and glacial lakes. Rest assured, there will be plenty of stops along the way for short walks and photo opportunities.

Upon arrival, you'll board a small catamaran and cruise the fjord's waters in style. You can relax indoors and enjoy the stunning scenery through the tall windows, or head to the upper deck and marvel at the incredible view in the open air. There will be many opportunities for wildlife spotting, and depending on the season, you should be able to glimpse penguins, seals, and even dolphins. Once the catamaran returns to the dock, you'll transfer back to Queenstown by bus.

Day 21: Depart New Zealand

New Zealand sunset
Alas, your adventure in Australia and New Zealand has come to an end. At the appropriate time, you'll hop on a shuttle from your hotel to the airport. There, you'll board a connecting flight onward to your next destination or back home. Safe travels!

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Written by Liz Neal, updated Jun 27, 2023