Combine the best of Australia's big cities with wildlife excursions and nature tours to create an 11-day adventure you won't soon forget. See the highlights of Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide by foot and bike, take road trips down the scenic southern coast and hop over to a protected island home to kangaroos, koalas, and wallabies. Then jet off to tropical Cairns to explore the coral islands at the Great Barrier Reef and the ancient rainforests at Daintree.

Highlights

  • Tour Melbourne and take a ride down the scenic Great Ocean Road
  • Visit the stately colonial city of Adelaide and enjoy its festivities and gastronomy
  • Take a boat to Kangaroo Island and see wild animals in their natural environment
  • Explore the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree, Queensland's hallmark national parks

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Melbourne, Optional Activities & First Nations Heritage Melbourne
Day 2 Morning Laneways & Arcades Tour, Best of Melbourne by Bike Melbourne
Day 3 Great Ocean Road Trip Melbourne
Day 4 Melbourne to Adelaide, Optional Activities Adelaide
Day 5 Kangaroo Island Wildlife Tour Adelaide
Day 6 Adelaide to Sydney, Guided Bike Tour Sydney
Day 7 Hike the Harbour Bridge, Optional Activities Sydney
Day 8 Sydney to Cairns, Rainforest Adventure & Nocturnal Wildlife Tour Cairns
Day 9 Great Barrier Reef Tour to Green Island Cairns
Day 10 Daintree Rainforest Tour & 4WD Adventure Cairns
Day 11 Depart Australia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Melbourne, Optional Activities & First Nations Heritage

Melbourne's soaring skyline

Welcome to Melbourne, the capital of the Australian state of Victoria and its largest city. Upon touching down at the airport, your driver will transfer you to your hotel. After settling in, you can head out and explore. This city of over five million people is a melting pot of diversity and a paradise for lovers of fine food and wine. In Melbourne, hidden enclaves and back-alley laneways hold the keys to the most exciting nightlife, trendiest boutiques, and liveliest bars in the city.     

To get to the heart of Melbourne, it's best to start with a deep dive into the city's First Nations culture. A great option is to visit the Koorie Heritage Center. A First Nations-owned and managed organization, the Koorie Trust offers an immersive, urban-Aboriginal experience. Start at Federation Square, Melbourne's premier culture and arts venue, where you'll view the Trust's collection of artworks and artifacts. Then meet a local guide for a cultural walk along the Birrarung (Yarra) River to witness art installations and significant historical sites that date back thousands of years.

Day 2: Morning Laneways & Arcades Tour, Best of Melbourne by Bike

Tour Melbourne's trendy (and historic) laneways

This morning you'll enjoy a stroll through Melbourne's beautiful laneways. On this small-group tour, your guide will take you to quintessential shopping arcades and back-alleys like the Block Arcade, Centre Place, and AC/DC Lane, where the spirit of rock and roll is alive and well. Marvel at cutting-edge street art, browse the boutiques of local fashion designers and pass the city's coolest wine bars and pubs. You'll also stop at some quirky cafés and experience Melbourne's famed coffee scene plus sample artisanal chocolates.

Later in the afternoon, embark on a 4.5-hour bicycle tour of the city's famous sights and landmarks. Examples of the locales you'll visit include the Yarra River, Flinders St Station (Australia's oldest train station, which dates to 1909), the National Gallery of Victoria, the MCG, and Queen Victoria Market. This expansive commercial center has been in operation since 1878 and covers about 2.5 acres (1 ha), making it the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere.
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Day 3: Great Ocean Road Trip

Clifftop views over the Twelve Apostles

Wake up early and embark on a full-day road trip along one of the most scenic coastal routes in the world: the Great Ocean Road. This stretch of highway runs 150 miles (240 km) down Victoria's southwest coast, passing national parks, limestone rock formations, seaside bluffs, coastal mountain ranges, and incredible beaches. You'll have ample time to stop and enjoy the highlights throughout the excursion.

During the drive, keep an eye toward the coast, as you're likely to spot whales and dolphins; on the inland side, you might even see echidnas and bandicoots. Stop for lunch at Apollo Bay, a tranquil seaside town in the rolling coastal hills. You can also stretch your legs on a forest hike through the mountains of the famous Otway Ranges. After visiting the romantic cove at Loch Ard Gorge, cap the adventure at the Twelve Apostles, a group of incredible limestone rock formations rising out of the sea. Afterward, you'll return to Melbourne.

Day 4: Melbourne to Adelaide, Optional Activities

Adelaide
Parkland and green space abound in Adelaide

At the appropriate time today, your driver will transfer you from your hotel to the airport for the 1.5-hour flight northwest to Adelaide. Upon arrival, another driver will pick you up and take you to your hotel in the city. Then you'll have the day free to discover Adelaide on your own. This former British colonial hub is laid out in a grid pattern on the lovely River Torrens and is surrounded by green parklands. It's a progressive city famous for its many festivals as well as its fine food and wine.

You can start by stopping at some of the city's historic buildings. Highlights dating to the 19th century include the Town Hall and the French Gothic St Peter's Cathedral. For more culture, visit the Art Gallery of South Australia to browse some 47,000 artworks on display from around the world. But Adelaide is probably most famous for its gastronomy. It's located at the doorstep of wine country and is overflowing with multi-cultural restaurants and cool bars. Head out to the vineyards on a wine tour, or book a table at the hottest new fusion eatery.

Day 5: Kangaroo Island Wildlife Tour

See kangaroos in the wild

Get an early start as you embark on a full-day wildlife excursion to one of South Australia's highlights: Kangaroo Island. It begins when you leave on a bus from your hotel for a scenic 1.5-hour ride south from Adelaide to Cape Jervis. Here, you'll board the ferry for the 45-minute crossing to the town of Penneshaw and embark on a 4WD tour of this island, a third of which is protected as wildlife reserves. See various animals in their natural environment, including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and platypuses.

You'll also stop at Seal Bay Conservation Park for a guided beach walk to see endangered sea lions as they frolic in the sun. After a picnic lunch, travel to the island's interior and keep an eye out for those koalas and even echidnas (spiny anteaters). Explore the spectacular beaches of the north, then stop to see kangaroos grazing on the open pastures. At the end of the day. catch the return ferry to the mainland and transfer back to Adelaide by bus.

Day 6: Adelaide to Sydney, Guided Bike Tour

Welcome to Sydney!
Sydney Harbour at twilight

At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to the airport, where you'll catch a two-hour flight to Sydney. After checking in, get ready to experience a city that ticks all the boxes of any great global metropolis: prime harborfront location, iconic landmarks, star attractions, copious beaches, and great shopping, nightlife, and culinary scenes.

In the afternoon, you'll see the city from two wheels on a three-hour guided bike tour. It hits all of the city's iconic sights and some that are off the beaten path. Highlights include the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park, Chinatown, Sydney Tower, Parliament House, Queen Victoria Building, Museum of Contemporary Art, and over 30 more great attractions. An extra treat is that halfway through the tour, you'll make a pit stop at a local pub for a quick pint.

Day 7: Hike the Harbour Bridge, Optional Activities

See Sydney from above as you scale the iconic Harbour Bridge

Today's three-hour tour is organized by BridgeClimb Sydney, which has been leading guests on climbs up the city's, iconic Harbour Bridge since 1998. After a safety demonstration, you'll strap on your safety gear and harness, then embark on a guided climb that takes you 439 feet (134 m) above sea level. Along the way, you'll be treated to 360-degree views of the city, including east to the Opera House and west to the Blue Mountains. At the end of the climb, you'll receive a photo, certificate, and cap. 

After the bridge climb, you'll have the rest of the day free to explore Sydney. One popular pastime is a 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. Or, spend the day at the coast and laze on a great beach like Bondi or the lagoon oasis of Wattamolla Beach

Day 8: Sydney to Cairns, Rainforest Adventure & Nocturnal Wildlife Tour

Start the adventure at Atherton Tablelands

At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up and transfer you to the airport, where you'll catch a three-hour flight north to Cairns. This gem of a city is located in the far north of Queensland, on the shores of Trinity Bay. Sitting just offshore is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's most popular diving sites. To the north lies another UNESCO treasure, the ancient rainforests of Daintree National Park. After checking in to your hotel, you'll embark on a rainforest excursion and nocturnal wildlife tour.

The adventure begins in Atherton Tablelands, a scenic highland region just south of Cairns. This biodiverse area features a range of ecosystems, including tropical rainforest and volcanic crater lakes. As you travel around, you can spot unique wildlife like Boyd's forest dragon (a tree-dwelling lizard) and flying foxes (fruit bats). At dusk, the nocturnal wildlife tour begins. First, head to the river to search for the elusive platypus. Then, after dinner, grab a spotlight and look for other exotic species like the northern leaf-tailed gecko. At the end of the tour, you'll return to your hotel in Cairns.

Day 9: Great Barrier Reef Tour to Green Island

Great Barrier Reef
A day on the Great Barrier Reef

Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime as you sail around Australia's legendary Great Barrier Reef. In the morning, a driver will pick you up and take you to the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal. You'll board a sailing vessel and embark on a nine-hour tour here. Upon arrival at Pinnacle Reef, you'll enjoy a swim, snorkel, or dive. The "bommies" (coral outcrops) and coral gardens here abound with marine life. With such great visibility, you can spot everything from sea turtles and clownfish to moray eels and dugongs.

After swimming around this underwater kingdom, you'll sail to nearby Green Island for a rainforest hike or spend that time sunbathing on the beach. Enjoy the reef and island for 4.5 hours before returning to the terminal. Once there, you'll return by bus to your hotel in Cairns.

Day 10: Daintree Rainforest Tour & 4WD Adventure

Discover the wonders of Daintree
Discover the wonders of Daintree

Embark on a full-day tour in Daintree National Park, home to the world's oldest rainforest ecosystem. You'll travel via Mossman Gorge, a beautiful river gorge, to Cape Tribulation, a scenic coastal headland. From there, continue to the mighty Daintree River, where you'll embark on an unforgettable river cruise. Then head up Mt Alexandra and experience the rainforest from a different perspective as you stroll over the treetops on an elevated boardwalk. During this tour, keep an eye out for exotic animals like the southern cassowary, a flightless, blue-headed bird.

Continue your journey in a 4WD vehicle 4 miles (7 km) down the scenic Bloomfield Track to Emmagen Creek. Enjoy a refreshing swim before returning to Cape Tribulation, where you'll have time for a short walk on the beach to a viewing platform. There, you can snap photos of the rainforest-covered mountains where they meet the coast. Afterward, cross the Daintree River by cable ferry on your way back to Cairns, where you'll be dropped off at your hotel.

Day 11: Depart Australia

Sunset over the Queensland coast
Alas, your grand holiday in Australia concludes today. At the appropriate time, a driver will pick you up at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map

Map of Highlights of Australia: Cities, Beaches & Wildlife - 11 Days
Map of Highlights of Australia: Cities, Beaches & Wildlife - 11 Days
Liz
Written by Liz Neal, updated Sep 20, 2022