Best of Australia
- 2 weeks
Two weeks to explore one of the largest countries on the planet will never be enough, but if you plan carefully and don't mind flying between stops, you can get a taste for Australia's greatest hits.
Fly into Sydney to explore one of the world's most charismatic cities – wander about the long and lovely waterfront, tour the Sydney Opera House and take a ferry to Manly, all the while enjoying outstanding museums and great food. After a minimum of three nights, fly directly to Yulara to spend four days exploring Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – both Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) deserve as much time as you can give them – including a night in Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park.
With a week left, you're headed for the Top End. Fly to Darwin and head straight out to Kakadu National Park – three days is a minimum to see the rock art, take the river cruises and enjoy the fabulous wildlife. Return to Darwin, then jump on a plane to Cairns, from where you can spend your last few days diving or snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef.
Adelaide to Darwin
- 2 Weeks
This classic 3000km dash up the Stuart Hwy takes you into Australia’s desert heart.
From the eat-streets and old stone pubs of Adelaide, head north to the Barossa Valley for world-beating red wines. Next stop is rust-coloured Flinders Ranges National Park: Ikara (Wilpena Pound) jags up from the semidesert.
Just off the Stuart Hwy are the opal-tinted dugouts of unique Coober Pedy. Continuing north into the desert, the Lasseter Hwy delivers you to iconic Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The gaping chasm of Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon) is 300km further north.
Overnight in the desert oasis of Alice Springs, then continue north (consider flying) to the wetlands and rock-scapes of World Heritage–listed Kakadu National Park and the waterfalls and swimming holes of Litchfield National Park.
Gone are the days when Darwin was just a redneck outpost: these days the city is very multicultural, as a visit to the fabulous Mindil Beach Sunset Market will confirm. Don't miss the quirky Deckchair Cinema and excellent Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
Perth to the Kimberley
- 3½ Weeks
Feeling adventurous? Steer your 4WD north from Perth…and keep going till you hit Darwin! You'll need your own wheels to get around.
After exploring the west's capital of Perth, the next stop is otherworldly Nambung National Park, followed by Kalbarri with its soaring sea cliffs and incredible gorges. Commune with dolphins at Shark Bay's Monkey Mia, then hug the coast for superb snorkelling at Ningaloo Reef.
Inland are the ironstone hues of the Pilbara. Cool off at tranquil Millstream Chichester National Park then plunge into the gorges at Karijini National Park. Down a beer at Marble Bar, then follow a coastline known as the Big Empty all the way northeast to Broome: watch the camels on Cable Beach at sunset. Nearby Dampier Peninsula beckons with pristine beaches and camping in Indigenous communities. From here, veer east into the Kimberley along legendary Gibb River Road, with wilderness camps and waterfalls en route.
Restock in Kununurra before heading south on the Great Northern Hwy to the sandstone domes of Purnululu National Park. Take the exquisitely lonely Duncan Road into the Northern Territory: once you’re on the asphalt, Darwin isn’t far away.
Sydney to Melbourne
- 1 Week
Most people fly into Sydney, Australia's biggest city. But don't miss Melbourne, Sydney's arty rival, approximately 1000km to the south.
Check out Sydney from its sparkling harbour: the gorgeous Sydney Opera House and colossal Sydney Harbour Bridge are unmissable. For a bird's-eye view, tackle the Bridge Climb over the great grey arch. Feel like a swim? Bondi Beach's backpackers, beach breaks and bikinis make for a quintessential Australian experience.
Heading south, zip through Royal National Park to the elevated Grand Pacific Drive, continuing to Wollongong and the lovely coastal town of Kiama. Nearby, the Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk and Zipline traverse the rainforest canopy.
Continuing south, meander through Ulladulla, Narooma and the aptly named Eden near the Victorian border. The road from here to Melbourne is low-key: spice things up with some blissful bushwalks and beaches at Wilsons Promontory National Park.
Melbourne is a burgeoning bayside city famous for the arts, Australian Rules football and coffee. Wander the laneways, mooch around the galleries, grab a pub dinner and catch a live band.
Brisbane to Byron Bay
- 1 Week
Strap a surfboard to the roof rack and cruise into your very own Endless Summer. Driving will enable you to do this in a week, but there is plenty of transport and tours up and down the coast.
Once a sleepy river town, Brisbane is booming, growing so fast that it can be difficult to navigate. Its urban charms (great restaurants, arts scene, coffee and bars) meld seamlessly with the natural environment (cliffs, parklands and the serpentine Brisbane River). Spend two nights here.
Heading south to the Gold Coast, the cityscape of Surfers Paradise rises on the horizon. There are as many apartment towers here as shades of fake tan: check it out if you like casinos, theme parks and boozy backpackers. More low-key are the surfie town of Burleigh Heads and the surf life-saving mecca Coolangatta. A couple of days by the beach should give you a taste.
Despite big summer (and Easter) crowds and big development money, Byron Bay in northern NSW remains a hippie haven with great pubs, restaurants, beaches and the famous Pass point break. Don't miss inland day-trips to pretty Bangalow and Australia's near-mythical alternative-lifestyle hangout, Nimbin.
Darwin & Kakadu
- 2 Weeks
This route gets you to the heart of the Top End, from multicultural Darwin to the great national parks of the north – visit some of these and you've seen some of Australia's most beautiful wild places.
Gone are the days when Darwin was a brawling frontier town full of fishermen, miners and truck drivers blowing off steam. These days it's all about outstanding museums, galleries of Indigenous art and great food.
A few hours south on the Stuart Hwy, Litchfield National Park is famous for its plummeting waterfalls, bushwalks and cooling swimming holes, and is worthy of at least two days. From here, backtrack 50km north then head east into World Heritage–listed Kakadu National Park, a wetland with amazing rock outcrops adorned with equally amazing, millennia-old Aboriginal rock art as well as a full suite of native Australian wildlife. Spend four days here and make sure you pop across the croc-rich East Alligator River to Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) for great Aboriginal art.
Further south, spend a day in Katherine, the regional 'big-smoke' (make sure you have a meal at Marksies Camp Tucker) before ending up in Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, where the Katherine River cuts its way through 13 jagged ravines.
Perth & the Southwest
- Two Weeks
In Western Australia (WA), combine the best of the country's lush southwest with a taste of the bare and beautiful outback.
Start in Perth and exhaust all of your urban urges in the great pubs, galleries, bars and restaurants. Be sure to fit in an afternoon in the cruisy port of Fremantle, south of the city. Then head south via the stunning beaches of Cape Naturaliste, before camping out in Margaret River (a three-hour hop from Perth). Go surfing and winery-hopping before continuing south to Augusta and magnificent Cape Leeuwin, where whales drop by. Meander through the giant old-growth forests of the southwest and rest a while in Albany with its historic architecture and world-class diving. Follow the southern coast to Esperance, where you can visit seals, penguins and seabirds in the Archipelago of the Recherche.
With around ten days under your belt, bid the coast farewell and head north to the iconic outback gold-mining town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, roughly four hours away. Play 'wild west', succumb to hedonism and buy a miner a beer. From here it's under seven hours' drive along the Great Eastern Hwy back to Perth, where the ocean beckons beyond the beaches of Scarborough and Cottesloe.
Sydney to Cairns
- 4 Weeks
Hugging the east coast between Sydney and Cairns for 2864km, this is the most well-trodden path in Australia. You could do it in two weeks, but why not take four and really chill out.
Start with a few days immersed in the bright lights and glitz of Sydney, then meander north along the Pacific Hwy through central and northern New South Wales (NSW). Hang out in the Hunter Valley for some fine vino-quaffing, and stop to splash in the sea at family-friendly Port Stephens and Coffs Harbour, home of the iconic, kitsch Big Banana. Skip up to Byron Bay for New Age awakenings and superb beaches, then head over the Queensland border to the party-prone, surf-addled Gold Coast. Pause in hip Brisbane then amble up through the Glass House Mountains and hippie Eumundi to affluent Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.
The Bruce Hwy traces the stunning coast into Far North Queensland. Spot some passing whales off the coast of Hervey Bay and track further north to the blissful Whitsundays archipelago, the coral charms of the Great Barrier Reef and the scuba-diving nexus of Cairns.
- 4 Weeks
From Sydney to the outback, all the way out west and back again – this route is something of an Australian epic and covers many of the country's highlights in one busy month.
Bid a fond au revoir to the bright lights, bars and boutiques of Sydney and take an internal flight to Alice Springs in desert-hot central Australia. Check out the outstanding Alice Springs Desert Park, then tour south to the astonishing Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Uluru gets all the press, but Kata Tjuta's boulders are actually higher (and less crowded).
Back in Alice, hire a car and scoot north along the Stuart Hwy to emerging, rough-and-ready Darwin. En route, paddle a canoe or take a cruise at gorgeous Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, and check out some crocodiles and ancient Aboriginal rock-art galleries at Kakadu National Park.
From Darwin, hop on another flight to visit Perth – a confident city that sets its own agenda – and the soulful old port town of Fremantle nearby. Continuing south, wine away some hours around Margaret River until you're ready to tackle the flat immensity of the Nullarbor Plain − if you're not up for the epic drive to festival-frenzied Adelaide, the Indian Pacific train ride is unforgettable.
Check out the world-class wine regions around Adelaide (the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale are both an easy drive), or head east along the impossibly scenic Great Ocean Rd to sports-mad Melbourne. Don't miss a game of Australian Rules football or cricket at the cauldron-like Melbourne Cricket Ground.
If you have a few extra days, take the car ferry across to Tasmania. Australia's divine island state preserves some of the country's oldest forests and World Heritage–listed mountain ranges: Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park is accessible and absolutely beautiful.
Back in Melbourne, continue along the Victorian coast to the penguins and koalas on Phillip Island and white-sand seclusion of Wilsons Promontory National Park. Spend a couple of days somewhere along Ninety Mile Beach then cruise up the southern NSW coast to idyllic Jervis Bay (spot any whales?). Back in Sydney, there are so many beaches you're sure to find a patch of sand with your name on it.