Putting together a three week itinerary for Australia is not an easy task. As there are so many amazing things to do and such big distances to cover - you have to select your areas carefully. There are so many places we could have included, but in keeping with our blog this itinerary is for those who love the outdoors, wildlife and seeing those bucket list places in Australia.
Day 1 - 3: Sydney
You'll either fly into Sydney or Melbourne, so for the sake of this blog we'll go with Sydney.
This harbourside city has so many amazing things to do and is a great place to shake off the jetlag.
The cheapest and most frequent flights to Australia are via South-East Asia. You can get some incredible bargains with the budget routes from both Singapore (Scoot) and Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia).
From the airport, the options into town are limited. The best option is to pre-arrange a shuttle bus as this is the cheapest way. You can now catch an Uber, but otherwise you have to pay a hefty fee for a taxi (normally $50) or an inflated train fare ($16 when it would otherwise cost $4).
Best things to do in Sydney
The Bondi - Coogee Walk
If you want to see some of the many amazing beaches in Sydney, then this is the one thing you should do. Starting at the iconic Bondi Beach, this easy 5.5km walk passes several beaches, offering stunning clifftop views all the way to Coogee. You can stop and take in one of the quieter beaches along the way for a dip or a coffee and finish for a spot of lunch at the Coogee Pavilion. If you're lucky, you may even spot a whale (May to October) or dolphins.
Take in the world famous views from Circular Quay
You can't leave Sydney without seeing the best views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Head to Circular Quay and stroll around this incredible part of the harbour to take in the views. Our favourite spots are the coffee shop at the top of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the view from Hickson Road Reserve.
Take a day trip to the Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains offer incredible views of the Australian countryside and are just an hour and a half from Sydney. It's a fantastic place for hiking, but non-hikers will love the views from the Three Sisters and the boardwalks at Scenic World. We'd suggest taking more than a day, but on a tight itinerary it's still worth heading there for a day trip. For ideas on what to do in the Blue Mountains try this guide.
Try some Aussie coffee
This may sound odd but trust us, Australia's coffee is incredible! We didn't expect it either, but we were blown away when we first tried it. You'll unlikely encounter a bad cup and prices are universal. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Sydney for some great coffee shop options.
Go whale watching
Sadly, this is only an option in the winter (May to October), but it's well worth doing. It takes less than half an hour before you are out the harbour and should get your first glimpse of a whale. You'll likely also see seals too. We were lucky enough to see several whales breach and put on a great show whilst on one of these trips. If you aren't so lucky and don't see any, you will get another go free of charge.
This only runs between the end of May and start of June, but if you're here at this time you'll be lucky enough to see the whole of Sydney bathed in light and some fantastic shows in the evening. Vivid can be a busy festival, but seeing the Opera House lit with projections is a highlight of the year in Sydney.
Where to Eat
High End - Shangri-La, Circular Quay. For epic views and fine dining.
Seafood - The Boathouse on Black Wattle Bay, Glebe. For incredible seafood and the best Snapper Pie you'll ever have.
Budget - Mamak, Chinatown. Mamak is a great Malaysian restaurant offering great street food. It's the most affordable place in the city.
Where to Stay
- Midrange - The Cambridge Hotel, Surry Hills. Good location, very comfortable accommodation.
- Budget - The Devere, Kings Cross. Clean, but basic. The De Vere is a great value, no frills option for someone who wants a private room which isn't too pricey.
The Great Barrier Reef
After starting in the city, our three week itinerary of Australia will take you to see what Australia's really about, the incredible nature. Starting in Queensland, the Sunshine state has a magnificent coast line and is home to the world famous Great Barrier Reef. However, it delivers so much more than that...
Day 4 - 6: Whitsundays
The Whitsundays are a group of paradise islands off the coast of Queensland and are stunning. A few days here and you'll see one of the world's best beaches, the photogenic heart reef and an island where golf buggies are the main form of transport!
It's a great place to relax in picture postcard tropical paradise. It's not cheap, but the price is well worth it!
Best things to do in the Whitsundays
Take a helicopter over the heart reef
This is a budget buster, but there's few experiences in life like seeing the Great Barrier Reef from the air. You can also do this from Cairns, but we'd highly recommend doing this from either Hamilton Island or Airlie Beach. The Whitsundays offers the opportunity to see the postcard favourite Heart Reef
Snorkel at Reefworld or Bait reef
Whilst we aren't fans of tours, the trip out to Reefworld was a lot of fun and a great choice for families or less confident snorkelers. We had a wonderful time taking our niece and nephew and having an area of reef that was roped allows you to stop for breaks and feel secure no matter what your ability. It's a great spot to spot turtles, we saw several. If you prefer a more intermediate option try snorkelling at Bait reef.
Golf Buggy is the transport of choice on Hamilton Island and it's great fun just cruising around without a car in sight! This beautiful island is the perfect place to base yourself for a Whitsundays trip and we loved exploring the whole island by golf buggy.
Find new levels of white sand at Whitehaven Beach
It's hard to really describe just how amazing the views are at Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. We've been to a lot of tropical islands, but we've never seen sand so white and water so vibrant as it is at Whitehaven. Make sure you do the short walk up to Hill Inlet. We'd recommend the full day trip as the half day versions are quite rushed - although enough if you don't want too long on the beach which is very exposed.
Have a sundowner at One Tree Hill
After a busy day, there's no better place to chill than One Tree Hill with a drink in hand. The views of the surrounding islands are beautiful and it's the perfect place to take in the changing colours in the sky at sunset. The bar sells cocktails for $10 a pop.
Where to stay
- Reef View Hotel - If you like your hotel with a view, then the Reef View is for you. It's a stone's throw away from Catseye Beach and is a magical place to be at sunrise or sunset.
- Pinnacles (Airlie Beach) - If you want to save some money, then you can stay at Airlie Beach. Pinnacles Hotel is fabulous and much better value than anything on Hamilton Island. It offers a stunning infinity pool, but if you can we'd strongly recommend staying on Hamilton Island.
Day 7 - 10: Cairns
A lot of people associate Cairns with the Great Barrier Reef, but it's so much more than that. From this city you can see pre-historic rainforest, wildlife that looks like something from the Jurassic era, as well as some of the best waterfalls in Australia.
Personally, we found the stretches of reef in the Whitsundays to be better than from Cairns, but it's worth seeing the reef from both places if money permits.
Qantaslink operates daily flights from Hamilton Island to Cairns.
Best things to do in Cairns
Explore the oldest living rainforest in the world: Daintree
The Daintree isn't just your usual rainforest, it's the oldest in the world, and has remnants from when the continents were still one (Gondwana). The Daintree Discovery Centre has a great canopy walk as well as several boardwalks to take it all in. We'd also recommend doing one of the walks just up the road from the Discovery Centre at Jindalba which are a great place to spot cassowary and are also free of charge. Just watch out for the wild pigs which can be quite aggressive.
See where two UNESCO world heritage sites meet: the reef meets the rainforest at Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation offers the chance to see a beautiful beach and the Great Barrier Reef as well! It's a great place to relax and take in the pristine wilderness. Just don't swim, there are salt water crocs in the sea! There are also several more walking trails which you can access from Cape Trib.
Go searching for Cassowaries
We've written about Cassowaries before, but it's hard to really comprehend how weird this animal looks! It's a flightless bird (like an emu) with a horn and a bright blue and red neck. Although we never got lucky, the Daintree is one of the best places in Australia to see this animal. Keep your eyes peeled, especially if you see lots of blue berries on the ground which is one of their favourite food types.
See some of Australia's best waterfalls
The Atherton Tablelands have some of our favourite waterfalls in the whole of Australia. Along the same stretch of road you can see several of them, and if you go early enough you'll have them to yourself. Elinjaa and Millaa Millaa are two of our favourites.
Where to stay in and around Cairns
- Silky Oaks Lodge - If you have the budget and fancy a little luxury in the rainforest, then head here. It's in Mossman (about 84km or 1 hour 20 from Cairns) and is the perfect place to relax and stay in a truly unique accommodation. It's one of our favourite places to stay in Australia.
- Canopy Tree Houses - Fancy staying in a tree house that has endangered animals such as Cassowaries and Platypus nearby? If your answer is yes then Canopy Tree Houses is not to be missed. The experience is truly a once in a lifetime, and we've never stayed anywhere like it.
The Outback is one part of Australia you definitely shouldn't miss. The main attraction here is a landscape and environment that's unlike anywhere else on earth. It's the home of icons such as Uluru and Kings Canyon, but also has plenty more less well known gems too. Contrary to most people's belief, the Outback is far from lifeless and you can see iconic Australian wildlife on a regular basis.
Day 11 - 12 Alice Springs
Simply flying into Alice Springs is an adventure in itself as the view out the window looks like the surface of Mars. It's one of our favourite places in Australia and a great introduction to your Outback trip.
Qantaslink operate daily flights from Cairns to Alice Springs.
Best things to do in Alice Springs
Cuddle joeys and learn about the important work of the Kangaroo Sanctuary
Now's your chance to get up close to an Aussie icon and support the fantastic work that Brolga and Tahnee do at The Kangaroo Sanctuary. This couple have devoted their lives to rescuing orphaned joeys and giving them a second chance. You can cuddle a joey (Cat didn't want to hand back gorgeous Millie) and see the whole mob of kangaroos they have saved whilst strolling through the bush at sunset. It's an experience not to be missed.
You can't just turn up, you must go on one of their organised tours with Centre Bush Bus.
It you want to see some stunning Outback landscapes close to Alice Springs, then head to Trephina Gorge. It genuinely is one of the best things to do in the area as you walk atop deep red cliffs that overlook a dried river and the panoramic views are breathtaking. There are several walking tracks, if you only have time for one try the Trephina Gorge walk.
Ellery Creek Big Hole
The perfect place for sunset, or for a dip, Ellery Creek Big Hole is a must-do when in the West MacDonnell Ranges. It's a place of tranquility and beautiful reflections at the end of the day in a magnificent setting. It's an easy day trip from Alice Springs.
Cycle to Simpsons Gap
Simpson's Gap is an incredible place in it's own right, but cycling through the Outback to get there is magical. It's about 17km each way and will take a few hours to do, but it's one of the best ways to see the Outback at a leisurely pace.
Where to stay in Alice Springs
- Double Tree Hilton: The Double Tree is a no-frill hotel, but comes at good value (well for Alice Springs) and is clean and comfortable. It has a pool for a hot day and a decent Indian Restaurant as well. We love the free warm cookies on arrival.
- Squeaky Windmill: For some Outback glamping head to Squeaky Windmill. It's set alongside a huge red cliff and you will see kangaroos almost on your door step if you peek out early morning. It's just west of Alice Springs.
- Glen Helen Lodge: Glen Helen is over 130km from Alice Springs and whilst this accommodation won't win awards for its interiors, but its atmosphere can't be beaten. It's a great place to sit by the fire, listen to the live music and take in the phenomenal stars at night. This is a great way to break your journey between Alice Springs and Kings Canyon.
Day 13 - 14 Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon may not be the easiest of places to get to, but it's worth the effort. The canyon is a spectacular place to explore and its remoteness adds to the charm as you may see dingos, brumbies and camels during your drive.
There is no public transport to Kings Canyon, so it's only accessible by self-drive, and it's the road trip of a lifetime. It's about a 7-8 hour drive from Alice Springs.
Best things to do in Kings Canyon
The Kings Canyon Rim Walk
The 5.5km Rim Walk at Kings Canyon is not to be missed, offering phenomenal views from an stunningly unique place. Allow plenty of time for the walk as there are photo opportunities around every corner. We'd recommend going early morning as there is very little shade and the sun can be brutal. It's one of the best day walks we have ever done.
After a long day hiking around Kings Canyon, what better to come back to than a jacuzzi with an outback view? The Deluxe Spa rooms at Kings Canyon Resort all have their own jacuzzi and little slice of outback. However, you'll have to peel yourself away for...
Sorry, but you'll have to leave the jacuzzi to witness this. When we stayed in Kings Canyon, the sunsets were out of this world, creating unreal colour in the sky. Seriously, the photo above had to be toned down to make it look like it wasn't photoshopped!
You won't have to go far though as the resort has its own viewing platform.
Where to stay in King's Canyon
- Kings Canyon Resort - The place to stay at Kings Canyon is the Kings Canyon Resort. Just make sure you spend a little more to get that jacuzzi. It's an expensive place to stay and not what you would call value for money but that's quite typical of the Outback.
Day 15 - 16 Uluru
Uluru should be on everyone's bucket list. This red rock is the heart of Australia and no amount of hype can prepare you for this experience. The whole land turns to a dark red and there is a special feeling to the whole place.
Yulara (the main town at Uluru) is a four hour drive away from Kings Canyon. All the roads are in very good condition, so won't need a 4 wheel drive.
Best things to do
Sounds of Silence
One of the greatest meals we've EVER had (yep, ever!) is the Sounds of Silence; not for the food itself but for the whole experience. You're taken outside of Yulara to a patch of the Outback landscape a couple of kilometres from town. After an introductory aboriginal dance and champagne at sunset, you'll be whisked to dinner with a view.
We were lucky enough to have a view of Kata Tjuta when the sunset (simply magical). After dinner, the main event starts. The lights are turned off, and you'll be blown away by the Milky Way overhead! You'll be regaled with indigenous stories about the stars and the constellations and how they were used to navigate the land and seasons. You can see planets with the naked eye and even the moons on Jupiter when looking through the telescope.
It's not cheap, but it's something that will stay with you forever.
Uluru Base Walk
The base walk is by far the best way to see Uluru and understand what the fuss is about. This 10km loop is completely flat and will take you around the ever changing faces of the rock, including rock pools and crevasses, and some rock art though it is sadly quite damaged. It's amazing to see how different Uluru looks from each angle.
Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds trail
Uluru's next-door neighbour is not to be missed, offering an stunning walking trail that takes you through valleys and past incredible viewpoints. It's about 8km long and pretty flat, but go early to avoid the midday heat. If a particularly hot day is predicted they will shut the track by around 10am.
Where to stay in Uluru
- Desert Gardens Hotel - The Desert Gardens is a great choice for Uluru. Very clean, stylish and deluxe rooms have a good view of the rock.
- Emu Walk Apartments - The Emu Walk Apartments have just been refurbished and have their own kitchen allowing you to cook for yourself. Yulara has a very good supermarket so it's a great option.
Day 17 - 21 Adelaide & Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island isn't on everyone's itinerary, but it really should be. This island off the coast of South Australia is the last stop before the Antarctic and is home to pristine bushland, stunning beaches, incredible wildlife and up-close experiences with another Australian icon: the koala.
From Uluru you'll need to fly to Melbourne. From here you can get a Qantaslink flight to Kingscote (Kangaroo Island).
You will need to hire a car at Kingscote as there's no public transport on the island.
Best things to do on Kangaroo Island
Getting up close to a koala
The photo above was taken on Kangaroo Island and it's the closest encounters we've ever had with a koala. It's unreal just how close you can get and we saw them in multiple places including Hanson Bay, Flinders Chase National Park and kayaking down the Eleanor River.
A highlight of any trip to Australia.
Blue water like you've never seen before at Vivonne Bay
The water at Vivonne Bay blew us away. It's a stunning electric blue from a distance and incredible clarity make this unlike anywhere else. It also has an incredible white sand beach which had virtually no one on it when we visited in the height of summer.
See the Sea Lions of Seal Bay
At Seal Bay you'll get another fantastic wildlife experience; up close to beautiful Australian sea lions. You can only go on to the beach itself by tour, but the guides are incredibly knowledgeable and will give you heaps of information about these amazing animals and it allows for close up photos. You can view the seals from the board walk at no cost at all.
Getting off the grid
It's likely you'll see very few people in Kangaroo Island and big open roads are very common. It's also a place with little phone signal and internet, so it makes the ideal place to disconnect and relax. There's also plenty of great walks in places such as Flinders Chase National Park. You will see an incredible amount of wildlife, likely crossing the road just in front of you, so drive slowly! We saw kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and goannas all from our car.
Where to stay in Kangaroo Island
- Hanson Bay Cabins: There's only one place we recommend to stay in Kangaroo Island and it's Hanson Bay Cabins. The modern ones have 5 star views of the nearby Hanson Bay, a stunning stretch of coastline you can see from your bedroom and lounge window. The worst thing about the cabins are that they're so good, you'll struggle to leave. They have a full kitchen which is great as there aren't any restaurants nearby.
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Have we missed something from our ultimate itinerary? Have you been to any of our picks? Let us know in the comments below.