Planning Australia trip - tips

Planning Australia Trip: Where to Start, When to Go, What to See


Australia is one of those countries that everybody dreams of going to one day. But then the day is finally there and you have not a slightest idea on where to start. Don’t rush to the travel agency just yet! First, figure out what YOU want so that your dream trip becomes a reality! Below you can find some advice on how to make a good trip itinerary.

We were lucky to have had an opportunity to travel to Australia twice: once as a couple in 2003, and ten years later, in 2013, with our three kids of 3, 3, and 5 years old.

Our first trip to Australia and New Zealand ten years ago was also our first road trip, and there were lots of things we didn’t know. We just booked the most popular road trip and relied on the road book we got from our travel agent. We saw many amazing places, yet we were disappointed. We went to New Zealand on the same trip as well, and we loved every single day there. So what went wrong in Australia?

We knew that Australia is huge and that driving times can be long. What we didn’t know is that it is really boring on the road most of the time with not much to see in between the places which are well worth visiting. We saw so many dead kangaroos on the road and black burned forests that it was even depressing with moments… We visited quite some towns along the Eastern Coast which were really not worth it – at least not for someone who only has 3 weeks in Australia.

So when we were preparing our trip with kids, we knew that we had to make an itinerary in such a way that it would be fun for the whole family. We were not going to make the same mistake twice!

So here are some general tips and recommendations to help you plan your dream trip Down Under.

Sydney Opera House and Harbour as seen from the water

Sydney Skyline and the Opera House


Planning Australia trip – all you need to know before you start

How to prepare a good travel itinerary for Australia

Before you start with an itinerary, you have to figure out the following:

  • What are your INTERESTS. If traveling with kids, make sure to take their interests into account as well
  • WHEN do you want to go
  • HOW MUCH TIME do you have
  • WHERE – which places do you definitely want to see

What are your interests?

The very first thing you have to figure out is what do you expect from your trip to Australia. Do you want to see the beaches, go diving or snorkelling? Do you want to visit some cities, or maybe none at all? Maybe you are mostly interested in the beautiful nature and diverse wildlife? For most people, it’s a combination of all.

When we were preparing our trip to Australia with children, we were also struggling to decide on how much sightseeing a three or a five year old can actually handle. We chose for nature, and limited city visits to two days in Sydney and just one in Melbourne. Wildlife is one of the most important factors for us when traveling with kids, and so we added Kangaroo Island and some other locations to our itinerary. We also visited a few wildlife sanctuaries so that the kids could cuddle a koala, feed a kangaroo, and touch a Tasmanian devil. We didn’t go to a zoo or a theme park as it was not in our interest and also didn’t fit our itinerary, but it might be something you as a family want to consider, especially if you are nearby such a place.

You are the one who knows your family and their interests best. Make sure the trip is fun for everybody!

Children chasing wild kangaroos in the Grampians NP Australia

Children chasing wild kangaroos in the Grampians


What is the best time to travel to Australia?

You can travel to Australia any time of the year as long as you choose the right places in the right season. You can either decide on what you want to see and then find out when it’s the best time to go there OR you can select the places to fit your holidays. Do some research before you book. Remember that the best times are also the busiest times, so book early and be prepared to pay more. If possible, avoid Christmas and Easter vacations.

Here is a short destination guide to get you started:

  • Sydney can be visited all year round.
  • North Australia (Darwin area) is not a good idea in Australian summer as it is also the wet season and the roads are often impassible. The best time to visit is May to October.
  • Southern Australia (Melbourne area, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island…) is probably best visited in the warmer months. By the way, we loved Kangaroo Island – here you can read more about our visit to Kangaroo Island with kids.
  • Tasmania is a summer destination, unless you don’t mind the cold and the wind, or want to go skiing.
  • Red Centre (Alice Springs, Uluru) – can be visited all year round, but it’s VERY HOT and can be very wet in Australian summer months. It’s a good destination in winter when Europe and the US have long summer holidays, but it will be much busier as well. Here you can find more information about visiting Australia’s Red Centre.
  • Queensland (The Great Barrier Reef and the East coast between Cairns and Brisbane) is warm all year round, but the summer months are also the wettest. Tropics can be beautiful when it rains.
  • South-Western Australia (Perth area) is probably best in spring or autumn. Summers are hot and winters – wet.
Beautiful red rocks of Kata Tjuta, also called the Olgas in Australian outback

Kata Tjuta or The Olgas


How much time do you need in Australia?

It’s very important to understand that you cannot see everything in Australia unless you have unlimited time and budget. So be selective when you choose where to go.

The first time we travelled to Australia we had 3,5 weeks and we did a road trip from Cairns to Sydney. Despite the fact that this tour is presented as the most popular way to see Australia by most of the travel agencies, I wouldn’t do it again. I know more people who had similar trip itinerary and they were all disappointed. Driving time is much too long on this trip, you spend hours in the car, and it’s not like you see the most amazing landscapes or landmarks every day.

In 3-4 weeks time you can see the Great Barrier Reef, some of the Eastern coast, Sydney and the Blue Mountains, plus some other places like, for example, the Red Centre or The Great Ocean Road. That means you have to fly instead of driving, and that you have to be more selective as to where you go.

Just on a side note, domestic flights are not necessarily the more expensive option, in fact it can be cheaper to fly than to spend days on the road (costs of car rental, fuel, accommodation, and food for the extra days will quickly add up), not to mention the precious time you save.

When you travel to the other side of the world for just a few weeks and you want to actually see some of this diverse continent, you better go to fewer places that are really worth it than to many places which are not as worthwhile. Spend less hours driving and more sightseeing!

The Great Ocean Road coastline near the Twelve Apostles Australia

Great Ocean Road


Top places you shouldn’t miss in Australia

In my opinion, you really should try to see Sydney, Great Barrier Reef, Uluru (Ayers Rock), and The Great Ocean Road. However, these places are very far from each other and it’s not really feasible to see them all if you only have a week or two. Try to pick at least two of them – that way you at least get a taste of what Australia has to offer.

If I had to choose just one place to go to in Australia, I would recommend the Red Centre (Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the Kings Canyon, West MacDonnell ranges…). It is so very different from all the rest and it’s also what makes Australia so unique. Of course, it’s just my personal opinion, but you really have to experience it in order to understand how special it is. Uluru is not ‘just a rock’.

Uluru or Ayers rock from a different perspective

Uluru – Ayers Rock


To summarise. Good trip itinerary stands or falls with these four factors: WHAT, WHEN, HOW LONG, and WHERE. Once you figure that out, the rest is easy.
It goes without saying that budget is a very important factor as well, but leave the money worries for later, after you figure out the itinerary.

Check this post with our 5-week Australia itinerary. Even if you don’t have as much time in Australia, you will get a good idea of what there is to see and how much time you need for each region.

If you are traveling to Australia with a family, check our tips for traveling to Australia with kids.

If you found this post useful, bookmark it for future reference. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!

Planning Australia trip - practical tips and recommendations #Australia

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  1. Actually we (2 family with 7-8 menbers) plan to drive travel from Sydney to Ade lade within 12 days, please recommend.

    1. Author

      Hi Lu, sorry, but I can’t recommend itinerary for this. I have no time to plan individual itineraries, that’s why I share our experiences and tips to help you plan a trip of your own. Here you can find some of our itinerary suggestions for Australia, it features Sydney, Blue Mountains, and the stretch between Adelaide and Melbourne, as well as Kangaroo Island. My recommendation is to fly bigger distances if you are short on time – it’s cheaper and it leaves you more time for sightseeing.
      Hope this helps.

  2. Thanks for these tips! We are flying with our two boys 3.5 and 6.5, in August. Going to Sydney and melbourne (I was born there, and lived there until I was 12). Trying to decide on one addition and considering Ularu or Kangaroo Island. Both kids love animals and wildlife.

    Will prob. be doing Phillip Island from Melbourne, Healsville Sanctuary also…
    Sydney, will try to squeeze in Blue Mountains, but don’t want whole trip to be about “getting there”…

    1. Author

      It’s a difficult choice indeed – Kangaroo Island is definitely better for wildlife, while Uluru has such a unique scenery… We visited and loved both places, you can’t compare them. Good luck with your decision!

  3. Thanks for these tips! We are flying with our two boys 3.5 and 6.5, in August. Going to Sydney and melbourne (I was born there, and lived there until I was 12). Trying to decide on one addition and considering Ularu or Kangaroo Island. Both kids love animals and wildlife.

    Will prob. be doing Phillip Island from Melbourne, Healsville Sanctuary also…
    Sydney, will try to squeeze in Blue Mountains, but don’t want whole trip to be about “getting there”….

    1. Author

      Sounds like you had a nice trip planned! I’ll try to answer some of your questions.
      You can see the highlights of Blue Mountains in just a day, so it’s doable as a day trip from Sydney. And definitely worth it! And there is a nice wildlife park on the way there too (Featherdale Wildlife Park). In that case you would probably need more than a day though, but I know that many day trips combine the two.
      As for Kangaroo Island vs Uluru. In August I think Uluru is better weather-wise as it’s not too hot and you can do some more hiking (check these posts for some ideas: Australia’s Red Centre Road Trip Itinerary With Kids and Kata Tjuta With Kids). While on Kangaroo island it will be quite cold and wet. On the other hand, you will definitely see much more wildlife on Kangaroo Island. Not sure if you saw this post – Best Things To Do on Kangaroo Island – check it out for some inspiration. It’s a tough choice, as both are amazing places and well worth a trip.

  4. This is a great post – really helpful guide to traveling in Australia. Have pinned it!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Soraya! Glad you found it useful.

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