Travel from city to sea, rainforest, and outback on this well-rounded tour of Australia, starting in Sydney and visiting its most iconic sites. Head to Port Douglas, where you'll discover marine life near the Great Barrier Reef. Explore Kuranda and its rainforest to mingle with butterflies at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. Watch the sunset behind Uluru, then dine under the desert stars. Finish up your journey in eclectic Melbourne and take a hot-air balloon ride over wine country.


  • See the most famous monuments in Sydney and explore the Blue Mountains
  • Snorkel around the Great Barrier Reef and discover this aquatic wonderland
  • Take the Kuranda Scenic Railway up to the tropical rainforest village of Kuranda
  • Watch the sun set behind Uluru (Ayers Rock) before dining under the stars

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Sydney Sydney
Day 2 Morning City Tour of Sydney, Sydney Opera House Tour Sydney
Day 3 Day Trip to the Blue Mountains Sydney
Day 4 Free Day in Sydney Sydney
Day 5 Fly to Port Douglas, Optional Activities Port Douglas
Day 6 Full-Day Barrier Reef & Coral Cays Boat Tour Port Douglas
Day 7 Free Day in Port Douglas Port Douglas
Day 8 Day Trip to Kuranda Village & Rainforest Tour Port Douglas
Day 9 Fly to Uluru, Sounds of Silence Dinner Uluru
Day 10 Full-Day Cave Hill Tour Uluru
Day 11 Fly to Melbourne, Melbourne Self-Guided Cultural Tour Melbourne
Day 12 Tour of Melbourne's Laneways & Arcades, Discover Melbourne's Sports Scene Melbourne
Day 13 Full-Day Phillip Island Tour & Penguin Plus Viewing Platform Melbourne
Day 14 Morning Yarra Valley Balloon Flight & Wine Tour Melbourne
Day 15 Depart Melbourne  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Sydney

Welcome to Sydney
Sydney Harbour at twilight
Welcome to Sydney! Often mistaken as Australia's capital (that would be Canberra), this city feels like the country's central metropolis. This is due to its distinctive city sights, historic neighborhoods, world-class culinary and nightlife scenes, prime waterfront location, and an array of pristine beaches (well over 100). Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel, where you can take some time to relax and unwind.
If you have the energy, head out and explore the city. Visit Sydney's beautiful harbor and enjoy a drink at a waterfront bar amid stunning city views. If you're feeling adventurous, take a surf lesson at the famous Bondi Beach or go swimming in the tranquil waters of Coogee. Travel to historic neighborhoods such as The Rocks or browse the markets, boutiques, cafés, and pubs of upscale Paddington, whose lovely terrace houses date to the Victorian era. Try one of Sydney's countless restaurants before taking on the city's legendary nightlife when the sun goes down.

Day 2: Morning City Tour of Sydney, Sydney Opera House Tour

Sydney Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Today starts with a four-hour walking tour highlighting Sydney's landmarks and lesser-known gems. Enjoy magnificent views of Harbour Bridge as you visit historic neighborhoods, including trendy Oxford Street. You'll arrive at the coast and take a superb cliff walk around the beachside suburbs of Tamarama and Bronte. Return to the city via scenic waterfront areas such as Double Bay and the sandstone rock outcroppings of Lady Macquarie's Chair, offering exceptional harbor views. The tour concludes at Darling Harbour.

In the afternoon, you'll see inside the world's most recognizable sails with a backstage tour of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Sydney Opera House. Learn how this iconic architectural feat came into existence against impossible odds to become one of the world's most famous performing arts centers. Your guide will take you on an unforgettable journey, engrossing you in a story to rival any opera plot with its dramatic twists and turns.

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 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 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. In the afternoon, you'll return to your hotel in Sydney.

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. Take a leisurely ferry ride around the harbor or visit Taronga Zoo to see tigers, gorillas, and 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 and is home to 27,000 plants from around the world. You could spend the day at the coast and discover hidden-gem beaches and coves like the lagoon oasis of Wattamolla Beach or head outside the city for a bushwalk (hike) in a nature reserve and learn a bit about First Nations history.

In the evening, splurge on a multicourse dinner at one of Sydney's five-star restaurants overlooking the water. Then, head to one of the many rooftop bars around the city to enjoy delicious handcrafted cocktails amid stunning panoramic views. No matter what you decide, you won't run out of activities to keep you busy in this dynamic city.

Day 5: Fly to Port Douglas, Optional Activities

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

You'll fly to Cairns this morning before reaching Port Douglas in northeastern Queensland. Upon arrival, a driver will transfer you to your hotel, and the rest of the day is free to explore. This resort town on the Coral Sea is the base for excursions to Australia's famous Great Barrier Reef. It's also a perfect destination for those who want a tropical escape.

You can spend the day browsing Port Douglas' charming boutiques, dining in its exquisite alfresco restaurants, and taking excursions to the postcard coral cays (islets) of the nearby Barrier Reef. Visit Four Mile Beach, where you can relax on the golden sands of this palm-fringed crescent beach without a care. Port Douglas is also a great starting point to explore the Wet Tropics National Park, Daintree Rainforest, and the scenic coastal headland Cape Tribulation.

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

Day 6: Full-Day Barrier Reef & Coral Cays Boat Tour

Explore the Great Barrier Reef
Explore the Great Barrier Reef

Your Great Barrier Reef adventure starts with an early departure from the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina in Port Douglas. Kick back and relax on deck as you sail along a stunning coastline to reach the outer reef, Mackay Coral Cay, with its pristine white sand and epic snorkeling spots at Undine Reef. You'll enjoy views of the Daintree Mountains' soaring peaks on the way.

Once at the protected site, take a guided snorkeling tour led by a marine biologist and discover an underwater world brimming with exotic life. Swim next to sea turtles as they glide gracefully through the water and marvel at the 1,500 fish species that inhabit this marine park. These include everything from sergeant majors and parrotfish to moray eels and reef sharks. You can also enjoy a coral-viewing tour on a glass-bottom boat as you sit in the cabin below deck. Watch fish feeding in colorful coral gardens formed over thousands of years through large windows on all sides.

Day 7: Free Day in Port Douglas

Port Douglas - Marina
Port Douglas Marina
Spend a relaxing day exploring all Port Douglas has to offer. Perhaps travel to nearby coastal villages and white sandy 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 the nearby city of Cairns and visit its aquarium, which is home to various species of sharks, rays, sea turtles, eels, and many others.

Day 8: Day Trip to Kuranda Village & Rainforest Tour

Ride the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Ride the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

In the morning, you'll leave from Cairns for a ride on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway to the mountain village of Kuranda, located about 15 miles (25 km) inland. The train snakes along hillside tracks built by the early settlers and offers breathtaking views of waterfalls, the cane fields of Cairns, and the Barron Gorge as you rise from sea level to 1,072 feet (327 m).

Once you reach Kuranda, explore this rainforest village and its heritage markets, known for their colorful and unique arts and crafts. Head to Kuranda Koala Gardens and cuddle a koala, or visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, where you'll be surrounded by over 1,500 of these beautiful creatures as they flutter around you. Return to Cairns via a 90-minute trip on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Snap plenty of photos as you glide over the canopy of one of the world's oldest rainforest ecosystems. 

Day 9: Fly to Uluru, Sounds of Silence Dinner

Sunset over Uluru
Sunset over Uluru

Meet your driver at your hotel for private transport to the Cairns Airport, where you'll fly to Uluru. Upon arrival, a driver will take you to your resort. The spiritual heart of Australia's Red Centre desert plains, Uluru (Ayers Rock), is a large sandstone rock formation in the southern part of the Northern Territory. This region is home to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, whose two major features are the Kata Tjuta and Uluru rock formations. Uluru is the country's most recognized natural wonder, home to the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara tribes, the area's traditional landowners.

This evening, you'll experience dinner under the star-filled, outback sky on a remote dune, enjoying views of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the fabled Uluru monolith. As the sun fades behind the dunes, you will feast on gourmet "bush food" with native ingredients. After dinner, gather around the fire and gaze at the stars while a First Nations host discusses the significance of these constellations to First Nations people. When the evening winds down, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 10: Full-Day Cave Hill Tour

Olgas Or Kata Tjuta held sacred on Pitjantjatjara Lands
The Olgas or Kata Tjuta are held sacred on Pitjantjatjara Lands

Today, you'll take a 4WD into the desert of the Pitjantjatjara lands of Central Australia to visit Cave Hill. An Anangu host representing the traditional owners of Cave Hill will be waiting to greet you. View magnificent ancient cave paintings depicting the songline of the Seven Sisters Tjukurpa. A songline is a storyline that puts all geographical and sacred sites into place in First Nations culture. You'll discuss Tjukurpa and other songlines and learn their relevance to Anangu's life in the desert.

Next, climb to the top of Cave Hill to admire a 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, including Uluru, Mount Conner, and the imposing Musgrave Ranges. You'll also learn the ways of traditional food gathering and the preparation of desert "bush tucker" delights.

Day 11: Fly to Melbourne, Melbourne Self-Guided Cultural Tour

Melbourne's riverfront
Melbourne Station

Fly to Melbourne today, and a private driver will be waiting to take you to your hotel. After you've checked in, spend the day exploring this eclectic metropolis at your own pace. Melbourne is Victoria's largest city and capital, and it's declared the cultural capital of Australia. This city of over five million people is a melting pot of diversity and a paradise for lovers of fine food and wine. It's a gateway to unspoiled national parks and home to stunning coastlines and beaches.

The most efficient way to explore Melbourne's many cultural offerings is to hop on the City Circle, a free tram running throughout the central districts and the waterfront. 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 city views, head 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 rare and remarkable plants. 

Day 12: Tour of Melbourne's Laneways & Arcades, Discover Melbourne's Sports Scene

Melbourne City
Pedestrian arcade in Melbourne

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 some cafés to try Melbourne's famed coffee and artisanal chocolates at a local tasting.

This afternoon, if you're a sports lover, you'll find much to do in Melbourne, the sporting capital of Australia. From football and Formula 1 Grand Prix to tennis and cricket, the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG) is home to it all. MCG is the biggest cricket stadium in the world, so check out an event there or even book a private tour of the venue. For those looking to explore more of Melbourne, the afternoon is yours to relax or wander through the city.

Day 13: Full-Day Phillip Island Tour & Penguin Plus Viewing Platform

The Penguin Parade at Phillip Island
Sunset at Phillip Island

Today, you'll tour Phillip Island, located 90 minutes south of Melbourne. Make a stop en route at Moonlit Sanctuary Conservation Park to see endangered wildlife like kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and an array of colorful birds and reptiles. Phillip Island is home to the world's largest colony of little penguins, weighing just over 2 pounds (1 kg). Optional activities include visiting Woolamai Beach to see surfers riding the waves. Or head to the western corner of the island for magnificent views of the Bass Strait and the Nobbies, a rocky headland home to the largest colony of fur seals in Australia.

At dusk, you'll reach the Penguin Plus 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 shuffle back from the sea to their burrows, greeting their partners and neighbors as they arrive. As you observe this spectacle, you'll learn much more from a ranger guide. Afterward, you'll transfer back to Melbourne and return to your hotel.

Day 14: Morning Yarra Valley Balloon Flight & Wine Tour

Yarra Valley - Hot Air Balloon
Yarra Valley, Hot-Air Balloon

The day starts with a drive from Melbourne to Balgownie Estate, an award-winning winery with spectacular views. From here, take a hot-air balloon ride floating over the Yarra Valley wine region and gaze out over the picturesque vineyards and the majestic Yarra River. Once you've landed, enjoy a hearty champagne breakfast to toast the morning's adventure. Next, it's off to Yering Station Winery to enjoy a day of wine tasting at four distinct world-class wineries. Your tour finishes with a sumptuous vineyard lunch before returning to Melbourne.

Day 15: Depart Melbourne

Conclusion of your Trip.
Farewell Australia! 
It's time to say goodbye to Australia. Meet your driver at the hotel for a private transfer to the airport. Safe travels!

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Map of Explore Australia: City, Reef, Rainforest & Outback - 15 Days
Map of Explore Australia: City, Reef, Rainforest & Outback - 15 Days
Written by Liz Neal, updated Aug 28, 2023