Explore the East Coast of Australia at your own pace on this 20-day self-drive tour. Stop in Sydney and the beautiful Gold Coast, learn to surf, and go hiking in the rainforest in Queensland. See unique Australian animals in the many nature preserves and enjoy the sun-soaked beaches on the coast. Snorkle to see the Great Barrier Reef, venture to the Australian outback to visit a sacred site, and go white-water rafting as you experience all Australia has to offer.


  • Explore the cosmopolitan city of Sydney 
  • Learn to surf at the iconic Burleigh Heads surfing destination
  • Go snorkeling and see the Great Barrier Reef 
  • Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Queensland rainforest
  • Experience sunrise and sunset over sacred Uluru

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Sydney Sydney
Day 2 Sydney City Sights: Ferry Eco Hopper Pass & Sydney Opera House Sydney
Day 3 Sydney Free Day (Explore with your Ferry Pass) Sydney
Day 4 Blue Mountains Hiking Day Trip Sydney
Day 5 Sydney to Newcastle Newcastle
Day 6 Explore Newcastle Newcastle
Day 7 Sandboarding in Port Stephens Port Macquarie
Day 8 Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour
Day 9 Coffs Harbour to Gold Coast Gold Coast
Day 10 Explore Gold Coast Gold Coast
Day 11 Gold Coast & Australia Zoo, Brisbane Brisbane
Day 12 Brisbane Free Day Brisbane
Day 13 Brisbane to Cairns Cairns
Day 14 Cairns, The Great Barrier Reef Cairns
Day 15 Cairns Free Day Cairns
Day 16 Cairns, Kuranda Scenic Railway Skyrail Cairns
Day 17 Cairns to Uluru (Ayers Rock) & Sunset Tour Uluru
Day 18 Day at Uluru, Uluru Sunrise & Kata Tjuta Uluru
Day 19 Uluru to Sydney Sydney
Day 20 Depart Sydney  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Sydney

Welcome to Sydney
Welcome to Sydney

Welcome to Sydney! Your tour representative will be waiting to transfer you to the hotel. Meet with a local host to go over your itinerary, then the rest of the day is yours to enjoy.

Day 2: Sydney City Sights: Ferry Eco Hopper Pass & Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

In the morning, enjoy a city sights tour to see many notable sights, such as the historic Rocks neighborhood and Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, for sweeping views of the harbor. Continue past Kings Cross and Double Bay to Watson's Bay and famous Bondi Beach for free time in the sun. Return to your hotel early afternoon for a quick rest, then head to the main entrance of the Sydney Opera, where you'll meet a private guide for a 1-hour exclusive tour of the stories, history, and magic of the incredible building. 

Afterward, make your way over to Circular Quay Wharf and pick up your 48-hour eco hopper pass, which you'll use to visit other nearby locations tonight and tomorrow. Popular stops with the eco-pass include Manly Beach( the birthplace of Australian surfing), Watsons Bay (the ancient fishing grounds of the Cadigal Indigenous people), Rose Bay, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Pyrmont Bay, North Sydney, Fort Denison (entry fee required) and Q Station.

Pass underneath the Sydney Harbor Bridge and see Fort Denison. The Sydney Harbor Eco Hopper ferry is the best way to see 360-degree panoramic views of its iconic landmarks from the water.

Day 3: Sydney Free Day (Explore with your Ferry Pass)

Sydney Bridge Climb
Sydney Bridge Climb

Spend the day exploring the city on your own. Your ferry pass is good for another 24 hours, so head out to check out the sights you missed yesterday. If you want to explore Sydney's shore on foot, walk along Rose Bay to Watsons Bay on a scenic coastal walking track. You'll pass secluded beaches, beautiful parks, and picturesque bays while enjoying panoramic views of the city. Some of the walk's highlights include Milk Beach, Parsley Bay, Nielsen Park, and the Hermitage Foreshore Track that runs from Bayview Hill Rd (just north of Rose Bay) to Nielsen Park.

The walking trail starts at the Rose Bay ferry wharf. From there, head north past Lyne Park. At Dumaresq Reserve, you'll find the public steps that lead to New South Head Road, then turn left onto Tivoli Avenue and follow the signs for Hermitage Foreshore Walk.

The trail takes you through the bushland along the coastline, next to a series of quiet beaches, each one more secluded than the last. Stop at your favorite for a private picnic and to take in the views. 

Day 4: Blue Mountains Hiking Day Trip

The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains
The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains

Start your morning with an early pick-up from your hotel for a day trip to the Blue Mountains. Enjoy a self-guided 2-hour hike as you explore the remote region, with a full loop of the blue mountains and a packed picnic lunch. 

Day 5: Sydney to Newcastle

Fort Scratchley, Newcastle
Fort Scratchley, Newcastle

Check out of your accommodation in the morning and pick up your rental car. Today is the first morning of your drive along the legendary Pacific coast from Sydney to Brisbane. The city of Newcastle is located about two hours from Sydney. Stop here for the day to see the beautiful beaches, great museums, secluded swimming spots, and great cafés. 

See Fort Scratchley, originally built by the British in the 19th century to fend off a possible Russian attack. The historic fortifications are now a fascinating museum perched above Nobbys Beach, and its tower offers a great vantage point over the ocean. 

Go swimming in the Bogey Hole, built by convicts in 1820. These days it's the city's favorite swimming spot, with bathers crowding into the water near King Edward Park for a dip away from the waves. Visit the Hunter Valley, home to more than 150 wineries that produce world-renowned Semillon, as well as high-quality Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Stroll along the Newcastle Memorial Walk along the rugged coastline to stop at Merewether Beach, enjoy a picnic in Dixon Park, have a dip in the recently renovated (and kid-friendly) ocean baths, or simply enjoy a cold beverage at the Beach Hotel. 

Day 6: Explore Newcastle

Rose Garden at Twilight
Rose Garden at Twilight

Enjoy a whole day exploring Newcastle. Visit the koalas, kangaroos, and more at the Blackbutt Reserve. Enjoy a picnic, or guided tour, or appreciate the wildlife exhibits at your own pace. Try your hand at surfing at the beautiful Dudley Beach, or hike through Glenrock Conservation Reserve, a beautiful and relatively easy walk down to the Glenrock Lagoon and the beach. 

Day 7: Sandboarding in Port Stephens

Sanding Boarding in Port Stephens
Sanding Boarding in Port Stephens

In the morning, check out of your accommodation in Newcastle and make your way to Port Stephens, an easy 30-minute drive. Today's highlight is sandboarding on the famous Stockton Sand Dunes, the largest moving dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. You'll have the help of professional staff to figure out how to use your sandboard and make sure you find the best dunes for sliding. 

In the afternoon, continue your road trip up to Port Macquarie, a 2.5 drive away. 

Day 8: Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour

Tacking Point Lighthouse
Tacking Point Lighthouse

Coffs Harbour is located about two hours north of Port Macquarie, so spend the morning exploring the area before setting off to your next destination. Take a journey back in time at the 19th-century Roto House, go for a camel safari walk on Port Macquarie's beautiful southern beach, and enjoy the beautiful plants in the Diamond Waters Gardens and Treehouse Retreat. Walk through the rainforest and see rare and amazing plants, including giant king ferns, bromeliads, cycads, and rare strelitzias. Bring your picnic for a relaxing and serene morning. 

See panoramic views of the coast from the 19th-century Tacking Point Lighthouse, learn about Port Macquarie's history in the City Museum, pick tomatoes and strawberries at Ricardoes Farm, and drive through a towering eucalyptus forest to reach the Bago Maze and Vineyards. The two-meter high maze hedge makes for a fun afternoon, and the Bago Wine and local cheese platter are a welcome reward when you're done. 

Walk along the town beach break wall to see stunning views of the Hastings River and enjoy the colorful graffiti on the rocks. Sunsets and sunrises are truly magic from this break wall, and the sight of dolphins playing in the river is a regular occurrence. 

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

Day 9: Coffs Harbour to Gold Coast

Gold Coast
Gold Coast

The next stop on your journey is the Gold Coast, approximately 4 hours of driving away. Stop at Byron Bary, a local favorite, and visit the Cape Byron Lighthouse. You'll see sea turtles and dolphins from the lighthouse if you're lucky. Byron Bay offers a great variety of local cafés and old-school pub-style lunch (available at the Beach Hotel). Enjoy shopping and stretching your legs on the beach before finishing your drive on the Gold Coast. 

Day 10: Gold Coast

Burleigh Heads
Burleigh Heads

Enjoy a full free day on the coast. Take surfing lessons at the iconic surfing destination, or spend a day in Burleigh Heads—another local favorite. Other options include a visit to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, a hike up Q1 (the highest point on the Gold Coast), or a visit to Mount Tambourine National Park

There are tons of great bars in the area, so check out some of the following for a fun night out: 

  • Justin's Lane Rooftop & Bar - enjoy funky vibes & amazing cocktails on the rooftop 
  • Nightjar - Hidden off the main road, you'll need to walk down the alleyways to discover this little gem
  • Burleigh Pavillon - cocktails at sunset right on the beach
  • Rick Shores - located under the Pavillion, a bit more fine dining - enjoy a variety of Asian flavors and the famous Moreton Bay Bug roll
  • Burleigh Hotel - if you're looking for where the locals hang out, this is the spot. Enjoy a classic Aussie pub meal and a good old time

Day 11: Gold Coast & Australia Zoo, Brisbane

Australia Zoo
Australia Zoo

Get an early start this morning for your trip to the Australia Zoo, about 2.5 hours away from the Gold Coast. This zoo is famous worldwide for its awesome exhibits and gasp-inducing wildlife shows. See the serious wildlife action at the Crocoseum and watch the world-famous Wildlife Warriors show to see saltwater crocodiles, birds, and snakes. Visit the wildlife hospital to learn about rehabilitating animals or get up close with an Australian animal. 

After the full day, make your way to Brisbane and check into your accommodation. Your evening is free. 

Day 12: Brisbane Free Day

King George Square City Hall, Brisbane
King George Square City Hall, Brisbane

Spend the day enjoying Brisbane at your own pace. Pick from the following suggestions to make the most of your time: 

  • Make your way to Queen Street Mall and shop till you drop 
  • Check out the local Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art in South Brisbane 
  • Spend some time and get up close with one of the 130 koalas at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the world's largest koala sanctuary 
  • Explore the city's many eclectic neighborhoods, from the melting pot nightlife of Fortitude Valley, street art of South Bank, heritage pubs of Woolloongabba, old-fashioned homes and brunch spots of Paddington, bohemian and quirky West End, and craft beer of Newstead 

Day 13: Brisbane to Cairns

Cairns Lagoon
Cairns Lagoon 

In the morning, drop off your car at the Brisbane airport and connect to your flight to Cairns. Arrive in tropical Queensland, where the rainforest meets the sea, then meet your shuttle to transfer to your accommodation. 

Later in the day, pick from a few of the following activities to explore the area: 

  • Visit the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, a restaurant  in an indigenous cultural center, to enjoy local food and learn about the culture 
  • Explore the Australian Butterly Sanctuary, listed on the Guinness Book of Records as Australia's largest butterfly exhibit 
  • Take a dip in the refreshing Cairns Lagoon, a swimming pool right in the center of the city 

Day 14: Cairns, The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef

Jump aboard a high-speed catamaran for a full-day cruise on the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's most incredible natural landmarks. The world's largest coral reef stretches along the coast and contains a rich abundance of marine life, reef systems, coral cays, and hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with incredibly beautiful sun-soaked golden beaches. 

Thanks to its incredible beauty, the reef is one of the world's most sought-after tourist destinations, but climate change, pollution, and over-use have taken their toll on the reef. These days your operators are careful to be environmentally friendly in an effort to preserve the reef for future generations. 

Spend the morning on the water enjoying a buffet lunch, then return to your hotel in the late afternoon. 

Day 15: Cairns Free Day

The famous Jindalba Boardwalk
The famous Jindalba Boardwalk

Today is a free day to explore this tropical paradise. For a once-in-lifetime experience, take a 4WD tour into the magical Daintree National Park. 

Other options for the day include white water rafting on the Barron River, renting a bike to explore the area on your own, exploring Australia's animals & nature at the Cairns Aquarium, Hartley's Crocodile Adventure Park, the Atherton Tablelands, or the Cairns Botanic Garden. In the evening, go shopping for souvenirs and have dinner at the Cairns Night Markets

Day 16: Cairns & Kuranda Scenic Railway Skyrail

Skyrail, Cairns
Skyrail, Cairns

In the morning, make your way up to Kuranda Village, using the Skyrail to traverse the rainforest treetops through the world's oldest continually growing rainforest. Once you reach Kuranda, spend some time browsing the local markets and cafés, and stroll through the amazing Birdworld Aviary and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, home to over 1,500 free-flying tropical butterflies. 

Get close to the unique Australian wildlife at the Kuranda Koala Gardens and cuddle a Koala for the hug of a lifetime. End your experience with a ride on the scenic railroad, built more than 12- years ago, from historic Cairns to Kuranda. The route features spectacular views of the steep walls of Barron Gorge National Park through hand-carved granite tunnels and past roaring rainforest waterfalls. 

Day 17: Cairns to Uluru (Ayers Rock) & Sunset Tour

Uluru Sunset
Uluru Sunset

In the morning, transfer to the Cairns Domestic Airport for your flight to Uluru (Ayers Rock). Arrive, then meet a transfer shuttle transfer to your accommodation. 

Spend the afternoon discovering the region on a tour of the incredible Uluru and Kata Tjuta (also known as the Olgas) the two major features of the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. The site is sacred to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu, the area's aboriginal people. 

Enjoy a glass of champagne and watch the sunset show as the sun sets over Uluru. 

Day 18: Day at Uluru, Uluru Sunrise & Kata Tjuta

Fields of Lights Installation - Uluru
Fields of Lights Installation - Uluru

Wake up in the outback and enjoy the early morning light in the desert. Head to the sunrise viewing area near Uluru to watch the incredible spectacle of the first sunlight as it creeps across the desert plains. Enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee as the morning sunshine slowly changes the color of the landscape around you. 

Return to your accommodation to enjoy the rest of the day on your own time. Options for the rest of the day include joining an astrological tour to explore the stars of the Southern Hemisphere or a Sound of Silence dinner, an incredible dining experience with a view of the Uluru monolith in the background. 

Day 19: Uluru to Sydney

Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach

Return to Sydney on a domestic flight and enjoy the rest of the free day on your own. 

Day 20: Depart Sydney

Sydney Opera House & Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House & Harbour Bridge

Spend a relaxed morning unwinding and reflecting on your trip before returning to the airport for your connecting flight home. 

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Australia? Check out these other Australia itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 


Map of Ultimate Australia Self-Drive Tour - 20 Days
Map of Ultimate Australia Self-Drive Tour - 20 Days