Experience the world-class cities, awe-inspiring natural wonders, and rich First Nations culture of Australia on this 12-day highlights tour. The adventure kicks off in Sydney with visits to iconic locales like the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and Bondi Beach. Fly to Uluru for tours of the sacred Red Centre desert landscapes before ending the trip in tropical Cairns, where you'll explore the corals of the Great Barrier Reef and venture deep into the rainforests of Daintree National Park.


  • Tour Sydney's Opera House and take a surf lesson at Bondi Beach
  • Discover ancient First Nations culture on a visit to the Uluru rock monolith
  • Snorkel and dive at the far reaches of Australia's Great Barrier Reef
  • Fish with First Nations locals and venture into the ancient rainforests at Daintree

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Sydney, Optional Activities Sydney
Day 2 Sydney Opera House, Bondi Beach & Taronga Zoo Tour Sydney
Day 3 Urban First Nations Cultural Tour, Afternoon City Tour Sydney
Day 4 Fly to Uluru, Sacred Sites & Sunset Viewing Uluru
Day 5 Sunrise Tour of Uluru & Kata Tjuta Hike, Camel Tour, Field of Light Dinner Uluru
Day 6 Kings Canyon Rim Walk Uluru
Day 7 Fly to Cairns, Cairns Aquarium Cairns
Day 8 Free Day in Cairns Cairns
Day 9 Outer Barrier Reef Cruise Cairns
Day 10 First Nations Fishing & Daintree National Park Cairns
Day 11 Full-Day Kuranda Rainforest Tour Cairns
Day 12 Depart Australia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Sydney, Optional Activities

Blue skies over Sydney Harbour

Welcome to Sydney! Often mistaken as Australia's capital (that would be the much less heralded Canberra), this city nevertheless feels like the country's central metropolis. This is due to its iconic landmarks, historic neighborhoods, world-class culinary and nightlife scenes, and the dizzying array of 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.

Later, you can head out and explore. Visit Sydney Harbour and enjoy a drink at a waterfront bar. If you're feeling adventurous, take a surf lesson at famous Bondi Beach, or, for a calmer pastime, swim in the tranquil waters of Coogee. Travel to historic neighborhoods and lose yourself in the cobblestone laneways of The Rocks, or browse the markets, boutiques, and cafés of upscale Paddington. And when the sun goes down, book a table at one of Sydney's delectable five-star restaurants before taking on the city's legendary nightlife.

Day 2: Sydney Opera House, Bondi Beach & Taronga Zoo Tour

Enjoy the golden sands at Bondi Beach

The day starts with a tour of the Sydney Opera House, a multi-venue performance center, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Learn about its storied history and see its inner workings, allowing the venue to present over 2,000 shows to over 1.5 million audience members each year. Next, visit famous city sights like Hyde Park, St Mary's Cathedral, and the Parliament House before ending up at Mrs Macquarie's Chair. This rocky outcropping features magnificent views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Continue through the harborfront suburb of Woolloomooloo, the nightlife district Kings Cross, and upscale Paddington as you make your way to the world-famous Bondi Beach. Stop here to laze on the golden sands or stroll along the coast. Afterward, hop on a ferry to Taronga Zoo. Located on the shores of Sydney Harbour, this massive zoo is home to over 4,000 animals, including tigers, gorillas, and (of course) koalas. After the zoo, you'll have the rest of the day free.

Day 3: Urban First Nations Cultural Tour, Afternoon City Tour

Learn about Aboriginal history in Sydney's Botanic Garden
Learn about First Nations history in Sydney's Botanic Garden

Learn about the world's oldest living civilization on a five-hour First Nations culture tour led by a member of the Bundjalung nation. It begins at the Royal Botanic Garden. Here, you'll meet your guide and, after a welcome ceremony, embark on a walking tour of the gardens. You'll learn about the history of the plants here, with a particular focus on indigenous bush food. Afterward, visit an authentic First Nations art gallery to see works from some of the most remote First Nations communities in the country.

In the afternoon, embark on a 3.5-hour walking tour of Sydney. Visit massive shopping malls like the 19th-century Queen Victoria Building. Then, take a stroll through Sydney's trendy Oxford Street to the historic neighborhood of Paddington, with its distinctive terrace houses dating to the Victorian era. Arrive at the coast for a walk around the beachside suburbs of Tamarama and Bronte and north to Dover Heights, which offers incredible panoramic views from its coastal cliffs. On the way back to the city, you'll enjoy even more Instagrammable views over the harbor. 

Day 4: Fly to Uluru, Sacred Sites & Sunset Viewing

Uluru (Ayers Rock) at sunset

In the morning, a private car will take you to the airport, where you'll catch a 3.5-hour flight deep into the Australian outback to Uluru (Ayers Rock). This massive sandstone monolith is perhaps the most famous natural landmark in the country. After the transfer to your hotel, you'll have some time to settle in before heading out for a very special tour of the landmarks in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

In the company of a local guide, take a 6-mile (10 km) drive around the base of Uluru. Next, embark on a short walk to the Mutitjulu Waterhole. Located on the eastern side of Uluru, this vital water source is sacred to the First Nations people in the region. You'll then explore a number of caves and view ancient First Nations rock paintings as your guide interprets their meaning and significance.

At dusk, travel to the Uluru sunset viewing area, also known as the "sunset strip." Relax with a glass of wine and appetizers as you marvel at the changing colors of the rock. You'll be awe-struck watching the monolith turn from bright red and gold in the sunlight to various shades of pink and purple as the sun sets over the western horizon. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 5: Sunrise Tour of Uluru & Kata Tjuta Hike, Camel Tour, Field of Light Dinner

Hike the Walpa Gorge

Today's an early start, as you'll visit two major landmarks in Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park. It begins before dawn with a transfer to the Uluru viewing area. Here, you'll watch the first rays of the sun appear over the arid desert plains and turn the famous rock a fiery bright red. Afterward, drive to the 36 domes of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). Head out on a one-hour hike through Walpa Gorge, an area sacred to the First Nations people. The trail follows a creek between two tall domes and leads to an oasis home to evergreen shrubs.

Later, you'll take a camel ride across the arid Red Centre deserts. Transfer first to a local camel farm to meet these friendly animals and receive basic riding instructions. Then, hop on your camel and embark on a 45-minute journey against the backdrop of the Uluru monolith. You'll be led by a skilled cameleer who, throughout the ride, will tell you about the region's rich history while pointing out the unique flora growing in the desert.

In the evening, return to the desert for an unforgettable dining experience at an excellent vantage point looking out to the Uluru monolith. As darkness falls, the ground will come alive with over 50,000 glass spheres that light up in various colors. These LEDs are connected by optical-fiber cables and create the effect of tendrils of light spreading root-like across the desert. Amid this spectacle, you'll enjoy a three-course "bush tucker" meal of First Nations cuisine. Then, take a stroll along the glimmering pathways of the art installation. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 6: Kings Canyon Rim Walk

Kings Canyon Rim Walk
Viewpoints at Kings Canyon

Wake up before sunrise for a group tour to Kings Canyon, located in the heart of Watarrka National Park. It's a scenic three-hour hike across ancient Australian landscapes to the canyon, and upon arrival, you'll embark on the famous Rim Walk trail. As you ascend to the rim, you'll occasionally stop at prime viewpoints to marvel at the surrounding plateaus and peer down into the gorge to the ancient sandstone rock formations below. Time permitting, you can descend into the Garden of Eden, a green oasis home to some of the area's hundreds of plant species.

The Rim Walk takes approximately three hours to complete and is recommended for those with a good level of fitness, as it's rocky and steep in places. Alternatively, you can opt for an easier, shorter walk along the canyon floor. After lunch, you'll transfer back to Uluru.

Day 7: Fly to Cairns, Cairns Aquarium

The Great Barier Reef, offshore of Cairns
The Great Barrier Reef, offshore of Cairns

At the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport for the 2.5-hour flight to Cairns, a gem of a city on the northern Queensland coast. When you arrive, a driver will be waiting to transport you to the hotel. You're in for a treat, as Cairns is the gateway to some of Australia's most famous natural attractions. 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 settling in, you'll visit the Cairns Aquarium, dedicated exclusively to the marine animals of the tropical Queensland region. There are over 16,000 aquatic species here, including sharks, sea turtles, rays, eels, and many others. Also at the aquarium are fascinating reef exhibits, animal presentations, live diver feeds, and touch-tank shows. It's an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the underwater world's most fascinating, elusive, and deadly creatures.

Day 8: Free Day in Cairns

Take a trip to Fitzroy Island

Take a full day to explore this tropical paradise on your own. Perhaps head just outside the city to tranquil seaside villages and palm-fringed beaches like Trinity and Clifton. Or opt for a 4WD tour of the Wet Tropics, during which you'll get to explore the oldest rainforest ecosystems on earth. Continue to other natural wonders on the coast, or head out to go snorkeling offshore islets like Fitzroy and Green Island.

Day 9: Outer Barrier Reef Cruise

Explore the Great Barrier Reef
Dive the Great Barrier Reef
Plan your trip to Australia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

This morning, you'll embark on the Great Barrier Reef experience of a lifetime. Board a high-speed catamaran and zip across the water to a reef at the outer edge of Australia's continental shelf. Then, dive off the boat and snorkel around an underwater world abounding with exotic marine 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.

Or, stay dry and view this underwater kingdom from the comfort of a semi-submersible craft. The cabin you'll sit in is below deck, 3 feet (1 m) underwater. Through large windows on all sides, you can watch fish feeding in colorful coral gardens formed over thousands of years. Other optional activities include scuba diving, snorkeling with a marine biologist guide, and helicopter flights over the reef. 

Day 10: First Nations Fishing & Daintree National Park

The inviting river at Mossman Gorge

After breakfast, embark on a full-day tour that will take you north of Cairns to Cooya Beach (Kuyu Kuyu), a traditional fishing ground of the Kuku Yalanji people. Here, you'll join one of the Kubirri Warra brothers on their beach for a walk among the mudflats and mangroves. Following this is an introduction to the traditional fishing techniques of these First Nations Australians, after which you'll join them to try and catch your own "tucker" (food).

Then, travel inland to nearby Mossman Gorge, the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park. After a traditional First Nations welcoming ceremony, you'll enter the rainforests of Daintree, the oldest in the world. Enjoy a leisurely hike across boardwalks and bridges that offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls. As you go, your guide will point out the various flora and fauna you pass. Afterward, you'll return to Port Douglas and your hotel.

Day 11: Full-Day Kuranda Rainforest Tour

See the rainforest from above

Today's full-day tour starts when you hop on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a train that runs from Cairns up into the Eastern Highlands to the town of Kuranda. Enjoy the ride on this historic route, which snakes along hillside tracks built by the early settlers and features 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).

Upon arrival, explore the rainforest village of Kuranda and browse its arts and crafts markets. There are also several notable activities here. You can board the World War II-era Army Duck amphibious craft for a jungle tour across land and water. Perhaps hike through the rainforest accompanied by an experienced guide who will point out the diverse flora and fauna. Afterward, visit the Koala and Wildlife Park to cuddle a koala and hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies.

At the end of the Kuranda portion of the tour, 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. Upon arriving back in Cairns, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 12: Depart Australia

Sunset over Sydney's Harbour Bridge
Unfortunately, your grand Australia adventure has come to an end. In the morning, a private car will pick you up and transfer you to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Highlights of Australia: Sydney, Uluru & the Great Barrier Reef - 12 Days
Map of Highlights of Australia: Sydney, Uluru & the Great Barrier Reef - 12 Days
Written by Liz Neal, updated Nov 7, 2022