With a 24-hour flight just to get to the continent, narrowing down what to actually do in Australia seems impossible. So, on my recent visit, I didn’t. With my husband, parents, and siblings in tow, I planned an ambitious 10-day trip (during Australia’s winter, no less!) around New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and Victoria.
If you’re a similarly ambitious adventurer who wants to make the most of their limited time down under, read on. Here’s the ultimate itinerary to hit 10+ cities in your 10 days in Australia.
Australia. The land down under. Home to natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, and unique animals such as the kangaroo and the quokka. Nation of incredible brunches, vibrant cities, and more than 11,000 beaches. A culture more obsessed with avocados than California is. On my recent visit, although I wasn’t able to see it all, I was able to see 10 Australian cities in 10 days with my family. And we loved every minute of it.
1) Sydney, New South Wales
Naturally, our first stop in Australia was to the iconic city of Sydney, and it should be yours as well. Practically speaking, it is one of the more easily accessible cities with direct flights from multiple places in North America. Sydney has a number of impressive landmarks and delicious foods.
From the famous Opera House to the beautiful Bondi Beach, Sydney is a must-see for anyone on her first trip to Australia. Chow down on one of the tastiest brunches of your life at Cuppa Flower. Stroll along the beautiful coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee.
Wander the Royal Botanic Garden around Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, and gaze out at an unparalleled view of the Opera House, perfectly framed by the Harbour Bridge. Be sure to stay near the Rocks in Sydney to explore the harbor area and for quick access to the Opera House!
2) Katoomba, New South Wales
Katoomba is the chief town for access to the iconic Blue Mountains in New South Wales. Just 110 km west of Sydney, Katoomba can be accessed via train or car. It is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Sydney. You can squeeze this into a morning or afternoon, but I highly recommend taking your time. Give yourself at least a full day to explore, or even spend the night there.
Immerse yourself in local art galleries or embark on one of the many famous hikes. You can even explore a brightly lit glow worm cave! Be sure to take some time to gaze out at the Three Sisters rock formations and learn all about the aboriginal legend behind them.
3) Byron Bay, New South Wales
On our third day, we took a quick one-hour flight from Sydney to Ballina Byron Gateway Airport to explore the adorable town of Byron Bay. We contemplated making the 10-hour drive from Sydney but decided on a $100 USD Jetstar flight as we had limited time.
Once you touch town in Ballina, rent a car and stop by The Farm for a delicious and organic farm-to-table meal. After you’ve settled into your accommodations, stroll through the town until you reach the beach.
Rent bikes or drive up to Cape Byron Lighthouse to see Australia’s most powerful lighthouse. You’ll even be able to cross the easterly most point of continental Australia off your bucket list. Dine at the delicious Mez Club for dinner.
Before you leave in the morning, make sure to grab an early breakfast at The Byron Bay General Store, which was easily my favorite brunch in Australia. The smoothie bowls, burgers and vegan waffles are all to die for!
4) Sunshine Coast, Queensland
The Sunshine Coast is a charming stretch of beautiful beaches and rural hinterlands. We drove north from Byron Bay. It was roughly a three-hour drive, but it also goes through the Gold Coast and Brisbane if you want to stop in one of those cities! Start your morning with a stroll through the beautiful Buderim Forest Park to the breathtaking Serenity Falls, only a 10-minute drive from Mooloolaba.
After some morning exploration, I recommend stopping by the Velo Project for an unforgettable avocado smash. If you want more hiking adventures, consider climbing some of the Glass House Mountains. Be sure to do Mount Ngungun right before sunset for a breathtaking view of Mount Beerwah silhouetted by Mount Coonowrin. Time permitting, make the drive north to Noosa to experience one of the cutest beach towns you’ve ever seen.
5) Noosa Heads, Queensland
Noosa Heads is a charming beach community that reminds me strongly of Laguna Beach in California. Just a 35km drive north of Sunshine Coast, Noosa is worth the journey for its beaches alone. We only spent an afternoon here, but you could easily spend a day or two.
After grabbing a burger and frozen custard at Betty’s Burgers and perusing the local shops, hike up to Noosa National Park. Splash around the Insta-famous Fairy Pools, and try your luck at spotting a koala in groves of Eucalyptus trees!
6) Cairns, Queensland
After you’ve driven up and down the Sunshine Coast, it’s time to head to the Brisbane Airport. Here, hop on a flight from Brisbane to Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef. While Cairns is the most obvious gateway to this 2,300km-long ecosystem, it’s not the only launch point for reef tours. We enjoyed our time here, but as far as the town is concerned, I think a half day will suffice to explore.
Stop by the Esplanade for the Cairns Lagoon and grab a quick breakfast at Caffiend. Once you’ve done this, I suggest driving north to Port Douglas, or west to road trip around Tropical North Queensland. However, if you do choose to stay in Cairns, be sure to check out Kuranda Village.
7) Mareeba, Queensland
Tropical North Queensland deserves an entire article dedicated to its beauty alone. Here you’ll find lush rainforest, wild tree kangaroos, cascading waterfalls, and tea plantations. It is also home to the heritage-listed Paronella Park, built by Spanish immigrant José Paronella. I almost wish we had spent extra time in this area on our trip. But for the sake of this list, let’s talk about Mareeba.
This was one of my favorite small towns we visited while driving around Tropical Queensland. It’s tiny but charming in every sense of the word. Pop into the famed Coffee Works for lunch, and unlimited coffee/chocolate tasting, and pick up some souvenirs after you walk through their impressive coffee museum. Once you’re satisfied, make the 15-minute drive west to Granite Gorge Nature Park. Here you can hand-feed some of the most adorable rock wallabies you’ve ever seen.
8) Port Douglas, Queensland
An hour north of Cairns sits its sophisticated older sister, Port Douglas. If the purpose of your time in North Queensland is the Great Barrier Reef, this is an excellent place to stay. We chose Port Douglas as a home base for two nights and did a day trip to the outer Great Barrier Reef.
There are many great tour group options, but we selected Wavelength Reef Cruises. I highly recommend this company for informative, eco-friendly tours that will bring you to three sections of the reef in one day.
Besides being a departure point for the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas boasts beautiful beaches, limitless coffee shops, and easy access to one of my favorite spots in all of Australia: Mossman Gorge. Just a 20-minute drive west of Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge offers a taste of the Daintree Rainforest.
The Daintree is the oldest continuously surviving rainforest in the world (bet you thought that title belonged to the Amazon Rainforest!). Mossman Gorge is also home to the indigenous Kuku Yalanji people, who offer amazing insights and history for the local land.
9) Perth, Western Australia
After you’ve had your fill of tropical waterfalls and snorkeling, make the five-hour flight from Cairns to Perth for a taste of the capital city of Western Australia. I promise it’s worth it! Stop by King’s Park, one of the largest inner-city parks in the world (bigger than even New York City’s Central Park).
The main reason we fit Perth into our 10-day trip was that it was a short 30-minute ferry ride away from Rottnest Island. Rottnest Island is one of the only places in the world where you can meet wild quokkas! We spent one day in Perth and one full day on Rottnest Island. This might sound crazy, but it was a completely worthwhile adventure.
We booked tickets with Rottnest Express, the primary ferry provider to the island. This is your best bet for getting to the island as this is the company that shuttles island employees to and from the mainland. Make sure you play around with your dates and compare ferry prices when you book — some Tuesdays are significantly discounted.
Once you get to Rottnest, not only will you be greeted by a colony of quokkas, but you will find yourself staring at some of the most beautiful white beaches you’ve ever seen. Rottnest Island (known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar people) is an A-class reserve. This means it has the highest level of protection afforded to public land. It was also one of the last places in the world to switch over from manual to automated lighthouses. The island once sadly served as an aboriginal prison, but is now is dotted with cafes, hotels, a school, and a church.
Tip: Quokkas are very friendly creatures, and if you lie very still to the ground, they will most likely scurry on over to you to curiously see what you’re up to. For an unforgettable selfie, hold out your phone, and turn it upside down so that the camera is at the bottom of the phone. This will help catch more of the little quokkas’ bodies! Do not pet or feed the quokkas.
10) Melbourne, Victoria
Melbourne was voted the world’s most livable city many times in recent years. This beautiful spot in the State of Victoria was actually not on our original nine-day itinerary. But due to delayed flights and missed connections, we turned an unhappy situation into a happy 10th day of our trip. We had less than 12 hours in the city, but we made it count!
We stopped by Higher Ground for a delicious brunch, and then made our way over to Flinders Street. While you’re in Melbourne, you’ll feel like a hipster. Make sure to check out the State Library of Victoria, pop in some cute museums, and wander down adorable alleyways filled with cafes and street art.
AUSTRALIA AWAITS YOU
Wherever you’re from, I hope this post has inspired you to make the most of everything the beautiful country has to offer. While it is incredibly spread out, each region offers something unique, making it worth trying to fit in a visit. I can promise that when you look back on your whirlwind Australia trip, it will bring a smile to your face.
Have you been to any of these Australian cities? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Australia
- Road Trip Through Western Australia
- An Insiders Guide To Sydney
- 7 Things You Can’t Miss In Brisbane
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