This 19-day Australian adventure combines the mega-metropolis of Sydney with the laidback surf towns on the east coast, the reefs and rainforest of Cairns, and the ancient mystique of Uluru. Start with Australia's biggest city before making your way up to Brisbane, stopping en-route to see whales and dolphins, explore tropical forests, and visit relaxed beachside towns. Round it off with a trip up to Cairns & into Australia's Red Center to marvel at some of the world's greatest natural sites and uncover the secrets of the oldest living culture.

Highlights

  • Spend a few days exploring the streets & beaches of Sydney
  • Go on an east coast self-drive adventure from Sydney to Brisbane
  • Check out the tropical fish & coral on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Take a ride in the Sky Rail across the world's oldest rainforests
  • Watch the sun rise and set over Uluru, in Australia's Red Center

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Sydney Sydney
Day 2 Free Day in Sydney Sydney
Day 3 Sydney Bus & Ferry Sightseeing Tour Sydney
Day 4 Blue Mountains & Australian Wildlife Day Trip with River Cruise Sydney
Day 5 Sydney to Newcastle (Self-Drive) Newcastle
Day 6 Newcastle to Port Stephens (Self-Drive) Port Stephens
Day 7 Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour (Self-Drive) Coffs Harbour
Day 8 Coffs Harbour to Gold Coast via Byron Bay (Self-Drive) Gold Coast
Day 9 Gold Coast to Brisbane via Australia Zoo (Self-Drive) Brisbane
Day 10 Free Day in Brisbane Brisbane
Day 11 Fly from Brisbane to Cairns Cairns
Day 12 Great Barrier Reef Tour Cairns
Day 13 Free Day in Cairns Cairns
Day 14 Kurunda Scenic Railway, Kurunda, & Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Cairns
Day 15 Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Park Day Trip Cairns
Day 16 Fly from Cairns to Uluru, Sunset Tour Uluru
Day 17 Uluru Sunrise & Field of Light Uluru
Day 18 Fly from Uluru to Sydney Sydney
Day 19 Departure from Sydney  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Sydney

Marvel at Sydney's iconic Opera House
Marvel at Sydney's iconic Opera House

Welcome to Australia! After you arrive at Sydney Airport, you will be met by your private driver who will take you to your hotel in the city center. The rest of the day is yours to spend at leisure.

Head out exploring, go sightseeing, check out the neighborhood or just relax in the hotel or in one of the bars or cafes that line the streets of Australia's biggest city. If you need to blow off some cobwebs after a long journey you could even tackle the urban coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach. Whatever you feel like doing, this bustling cosmopolitan city has something to offer everyone.

Day 2: Free Day in Sydney

After a long day exploring head to a rooftop bar for sunset drinks
Find a rooftop bar in Sydney for amazing sunset views over the city

Spend your first day in Sydney on a self-guided tour taking in all the sights of this big and beautiful city. Tomorrow you'll be going on a Hop-On Hop-Off bus and ferry tour around, so you can take it a little slower paced today. You might want to relax on the beaches and watch the surfers, or head to the Sydney Harbour Opera House and grab a drink at Circular Quay, or take a wander around Kings Cross and China Town, where you can sample a little of the food that Sydney is famous for.

If you're feeling fancy or feel like celebrating your first full day in Australia in style, you can even opt to take to the water and board a luxury private yacht and cruise around Sydney Harbour drinking champagne—the choice is yours.

Day 3: Sydney Bus & Ferry Sightseeing Tour

Explore Sydney's beautiful beaches
Your bus & boat trip will take you to some of Sydney's best beaches

Today, head out on a sightseeing tour of Sydney on a Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus and Harbour Explorer Rocket Ferry around the city. With buses and ferries running every hour or so for most of the day, this combined tour gives you the freedom to explore the city at your own pace.

The Hop-On Hop-Off bus ticket will take you on a sightseeing tour through the city and Bondi Beach, with over 30 stops where you can get off and choose to explore further, such as the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanic Garden, and includes a free walking tour of The Rocks

You can also use the ferry pass to explore up to 11 famous harbor precincts, including Circular Quay, the Luna Park heritage-listed amusement park, the historic Darling Harbour, Taronga Zoo, the northern suburb of Manly, Camp Cove Beach in Watson's Bay, and tiny Shark Island.

Day 4: Blue Mountains & Australian Wildlife Day Trip with River Cruise

Explore the Blue Mountains on a day trip from Sydney
Explore the Blue Mountains on a day trip from Sydney

Set off on a day-trip from Sydney to explore the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park. Home to over one million hectares of dramatic cliffs, deep canyons, rainforest, and wildlife, the Blue Mountains is an unmissable stop on your east coast adventure.

Start your tour with a visit to the famous Three Sisters rock formation before visiting Echo Point and Scenic World, where you can see the vastness of the Blue Mountains up close with an optional trip on the Scenic Railway, Cableway, or Skyway. 

Then, make your way to Leura Village for lunch and then onto the wildlife park, where you can get up close with koalas, and come face to face with kangaroos, wombats, and dingoes. From there, visit Homebush, the venue of the 2000 Olympic Games, where you can opt to join a river cruise back to the city along the Parramatta River to Darling Harbour or Circular Quay, or hop on the coach to be taken straight to your hotel.

Day 5: Sydney to Newcastle (Self-Drive)

Check out the coastal scenery as you drive to Newcastle
Check out the coastal scenery as you drive to Newcastle

This morning, make your way downtown to pick up your hire car and begin your journey up the east coast toward Newcastle. Roughly a two-hour drive north of Sydney on NSW's northern beaches, the city of Newcastle is one of the hippest and most up-and-coming areas in Australia at the moment, with pristine beaches and a flourishing culinary and arts scene. 

Spend your day here exploring the waterfront bars, cafes, and restaurants, or exploring the art galleries and shops. You could even go for a drive around to see some of the more remote beaches and lush countryside that surround this new capital of cool. 

Travel Time: 2 hours
Travel Distance: 100 miles (160 km)

Day 6: Newcastle to Port Stephens (Self-Drive)

Go whale watching between May & November
Go on a whale-watching cruise in Port Stephens between May & November

Enjoy a relaxing breakfast in one of Newcastle's top cafes before heading up north to Port Stephens in the Hunter Region. Lying within the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park, Port Stephens was visited—and named by—Captain Cook, who passed by here on his 1770 exploration of Australia. 

If you visit between May and November, Port Stephens is a great spot for dolphin and whale watching from the shore or on boat trips. In the summer months, the warm waters are perfect for snorkeling tours, where you'll be able to come face to face with a wide variety of unique and colorful marine life, including the Passion Flower Feather Star, Pineapple Fish, White's Sea Horse, Eastern Fiddler Ray, and the Crested Horn Shark. If you have time, climb nearby Mount Tomaree for panoramic views over the jungle peaks, white-sand beaches and turquoise oceans of this relatively unknown hidden gem on the well-traveled east coast.

Travel Time: 1 hour
Travel Distance: 37 miles (60 km)

Day 7: Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour (Self-Drive)

Enjoy the sunset colors over the pristine beaches
Enjoy the sunset colors as you arrive into Coffs Harbour this evening

After breakfast, it's time to hit the road again as you make your way north from Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour. Enjoy the views of the countryside on the four-hour drive along the coast and inland through the forests.

Opt to stop en-route to check out Port Macquarie and the quaint historic town of Bellingen, or just head straight through to Coffs, where you'll find pristine beaches, the Big Banana theme park, the Coff's Harbour Jetty, and Muttonbird Island, which you can reach by walking along the breakwater from the harbor. If you visit between May/June and November you might even be able to see whales from the viewing platform.

Travel Time: 4 hours
Travel Distance: 240 miles (387 km)

Day 8: Coffs Harbour to Gold Coast via Byron Bay (Self-Drive)

Make your way to Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast
Make your way up to the Gold Coast via Byron Bay

Set off early as you drive from Coffs Harbour to the sleepy, surfing mecca of Byron Bay and onto the Gold Coast. About 3-hours drive north from Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay is at the easternmost point of mainland Australia. These days, it's most well known for its surf breaks, relaxed vibes, and laidback cafe culture. Head out to visit the Cape Byron Lighthouse, and if you have time, stop to check out the Nightcap National Park and Minyon Falls before making your way up to Queensland's Gold Coast where you will spend the night.

Travel Time: 4 hours
Travel Distance: 206 miles (332 km)

Day 9: Gold Coast to Brisbane via Australia Zoo (Self-Drive)

Meet the animals at Australia Zoo
Meet the animals at Australia Zoo

Today's itinerary starts with a three-hour drive up the east coast from the Gold Coast to Australia Zoo, where you will spend the day exploring before finishing up in the hip and happening city of Brisbane. 

Located on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, Australia Zoo is owned by the late Steve Irwin's family and was made famous by his hit-show, The Crocodile Hunter. Nowadays, the zoo is home to a lot more than just reptiles and crocodiles, with a variety of tropical birds and mammals, including elephants, zebras, rhinos, giraffes, and cheetahs, as well as tigers, Komodo dragons, red pandas, and lemurs. There's also an area where you can feed and pet kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas.

After exploring the zoo, head back down the coast to Brisbane, where you'll check into your city center hotel. Spend the evening relaxing or go for a walk down South Bank and check out the city's plethora of dining and drinking options.

Travel Time: 3 hours
Travel Distance: 143 miles (230 km)

Day 10: Free Day in Brisbane

Spend the day exploring Brisbane
Spend the day exploring Brisbane at your own pace

After an action-packed few days, it's time to go exploring at your own pace. There are plenty of options to choose from, or you can just spend the day relaxing and wandering the streets of this laidback city. If you're feeling active, you could opt to join a half-day Brisbane City Cruise up the river with a stop off to visit the Lone Pine Sanctuary to see more Australian wildlife. Alternatively, take a tour of the city and head up to the Mount Coot-tha Lookout for amazing views over Brisbane and its surroundings.

If you fancy something even more active or just want to escape the city, you could also make your way from Brisbane to Noosa and spend the day there exploring the beaches and jungle before heading back down to the city for sundowners over the river. Or just make your way north to the northern suburbs, where you can see some amazing examples of Queensland tropical architecture and relax on the beaches.

Day 11: Fly from Brisbane to Cairns

Explore the beaches & esplanade in Palm Cove, Cairns
Take a stroll along the esplanade in Palm Cove, Cairns

This morning, drop your hire car off at Brisbane Airport and hop on a 2.5-hour flight north to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the world's oldest tropical rainforests. 

On arrival, transfer to your hotel and spend the afternoon at leisure. Cairns has plenty to offer, including the Esplanade, the Pier Market Place, and the City Botanic Gardens, the Rainforest Boardwalk through Centenary Lakes, and plenty of museums and galleries, including the Samurai Gallery, the only museum in Australia dedicated to the arts, armor, and arms of the Japanese Samurais. 

This evening, visit the Night Market and check out the city's variety of dining options before retiring back to your hotel.

Travel Time: 2.5 hours
Travel Distance: 1050 miles (1690 km)

Day 12: Great Barrier Reef Tour

Take a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef
Take a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef

You're in for a treat today with an epic full-day tour of the Great Barrier Reef, including snorkeling, a trip to an underwater observatory and in semi-submersible vessels, and a presentation by a marine biologist.

You will be picked up from your accommodation in the morning and taken up to Port Douglas where you will join the boat and enjoy morning tea as you cruise out to the outer reaches of the reef. After a reef presentation by a marine biologist you will get to go snorkeling on the reef, as well as visiting an underwater observatory to see the fish and coral up close and personal. You can also go down in a semi-submersible vessel to see the vibrant coral and learn about how the reef is changing.

Enjoy a buffet lunch and afternoon tea before you head back to Cairns in the early evening.

Day 13: Free Day in Cairns

Learn about Aboriginal culture at Tjapukai
Learn about Aboriginal culture at Tjapukai

Make the most of your free day in Cairns today by choosing a tour or sightseeing trip to suit you. Learn more about the area's rich Aboriginal culture and history on a Dreamtime walk at Tjapukai, or, if you fancy something a little more active and thrill-seeking, opt to go bungee jumping or white-water rafting on the Barron River. If that all sounds like a bit much for you, spend the day relaxing in Cairns or escape to the beaches to the north and south of the city center instead.

Day 14: Kuranda Scenic Railway, Kuranda, & Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Stop off at Barron Falls in Barron National Park
Stop off at Barron Falls in Barron National Park

Start your day with a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a historic train line that runs from Cairns across 37 bridges and through 15 hand-made tunnels up to the quaint town of Kuranda in the Macalister Range, 16 miles (25 km) away. Although construction on the railway started in 1886, it wasn't finished until 1891. Nowadays, the service runs solely as a tourist train, with carefully restored train carriages featuring rustic features and red leather seats, just like they would have a hundred years ago.

Spend the morning exploring Kuranda, before making your way back down to Cairns via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, a 4.5 mile (7.5 km) scenic cableway that runs above the Barron Gorge National Park all the way back down to Cairns. Soar above the treetops as you travel across the world's oldest tropical rainforest, the Wet Tropics, which is home to over 1200 different species of flowering plants, including 800 different rainforest trees. En-route, stop off at the two Rainforest Stations, Red Peak and Barron Falls, where you can explore the forest on boardwalks, enjoy amazing views from The Edge Lookout, visit the discovery center, and take a complimentary guided tour with a park ranger.

As evening sets in, return to Cairns for another night in your city center hotel.

Day 15: Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Park Day Trip

Visit the magical Mossman Gorge
Visit the magical Mossman Gorge on your Rainforest Tour

Wake up early this morning for your full-day tour of Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Park. Your first stop is the Mossman Gorge Center where you will go on a guided tour through the world's oldest rainforest on the Gorge Boardwalk. Then take a boat trip down the Daintree River where you will see a wide variety of native wildlife and might be able to catch a glimpse of the elusive saltwater crocodile.

After a BBQ lunch in Noah Valley, go for a bushwalk to see some of the world's oldest flowering plants before making your way to Cape Tribulation Beach, where you can relax on the beach or go for a walk on the boardwalk. Then stop by the Daintree Ice Cream Company for a pick-me-up before making your way to the Alexandra Lookout for views over the Daintree River estuary, Snapper Island, and the Coral Sea. Return to Cairns in the early evening.

Day 16: Fly from Cairns to Uluru, Sunset Tour

Watch the sun set over Uluru, the iconic red rock
Watch the sunset over Uluru, the iconic red rock

Leave the tropical north far behind as you head to the airport to board your flight from Cairns to Uluru, in Australia's Red Center. Once you arrive, check into your hotel and spend the afternoon at leisure before meeting for sunset. If you're feeling active, opt to go on an outback excursion, with plenty of options like riding camels, biking trips, and guided walks to the base of Uluru (Ayer's Rock) and through the nearby National Park.

At sunset, make your way to the Uluru Sunset Viewing Area. They say Australia's Red Center has some of the best sunsets in the world, but watching the sun sink over Uluru is even more special, with all the colors illuminating the iconic red rock. As darkness sets in, don't forget to look up. Far away from any light pollution, the skies out here are perfect for stargazing.

Day 17: Uluru Sunrise & Field of Light

Watch the sunrise over Uluru and the Fields of Light
Watch the sunrise over Uluru and the Fields of Light

Get the day off to an early start with a pre-dawn pick-up to take you to the Field of Light. After a short audio commentary about the art installation, you will arrive at the site in complete darkness, before watching as 50,000 solar-powered globes of light illuminate the desert with a bright burst of color.

Made by the British artist Bruce Munro, who describes his vision as "a landscape of illuminated stems, that like dormant seeds in a dry desert, quietly wait until darkness falls, under a blazing blanket of southern stars, to bloom with gentle rhythms of light". The art installation is hosted by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, and all profits are reinvested into the Indigenous Land Corporation.

After marveling at the scale and beauty of this huge art installation, you will then make your way to the Sunrise Viewing Platform, where you can sip on a hot cup of tea or coffee as the sky starts to brighten and the sun slowly starts to pop up behind Uluru, flooding the landscape with golden light.  Watch both Uluru and Kata Tjuta turn amazing shades of orange and red as the sun's rays hit the ancient rocks.

Spend the rest of the day at leisure enjoying the sites of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, including an optional Aboriginal Dreamtime tour to see ancient rock art, 4WD adventures, bicycle tours, and wildlife safaris through the desert.

Day 18: Fly from Uluru to Sydney

You're free to spend your last day in Sydney however you wish
Spend your last day in Australia back in Sydney

Today, make your way to Uluru Airport to board your flight back to Sydney. Upon arrival, you will meet your driver who will take you to your hotel before spending the rest of the afternoon at leisure.

It's up to you how you want to spend your last day here in Australia. Relax on the beaches, go shopping, check out the foodie culture, visit a museum or two, wander through the Botanic Gardens, and take one last picture of the Opera House, before heading to a rooftop bar where you can have a drink as the sun sets over the city's iconic skyline.

Travel Time: 3.5 hours 
Travel Distance: 1765 miles (2841 km)

Day 19: Departure from Sydney

It's time to say goodbye to Australia

After a magical 19 days exploring the east coast and the Red Center, the time has come to say goodbye to Australia.

Depending on what time your flight is, you can spend the morning squeezing in some last-minute sightseeing or souvenir shopping, or just relax at the hotel before taking your transfer out to Sydney's Kingsford Smith International Airport where you will begin your onward journey.

Map

Map of Ultimate Australia: Sydney to Cairns & Uluru - 19 Days
Map of Ultimate Australia: Sydney to Cairns & Uluru - 19 Days