Planning Australia trip - tips

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

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Planning a trip to Australia, but not sure where to start? This article is for you!

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 the 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 plan Australia trip and make a good trip itinerary. Find out!

How to Plan a Trip to Australia – Our Experience & Tips

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. Read on!

Sydney Opera House and Harbour as seen from the water
Sydney Skyline and the Opera House
 

Planning Australia trip – what you need to know in advance

Below you can find some essential tips that will help you plan a trip to Australia. Not just any trip, but a really well-thought-of bucket-list trip that you always dreamt of. Take a look!

How to prepare a good travel plan for Australia

Before you start planning your Australian trip itinerary, you have to figure out the following:

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

1. What do you want to see and do in Australia

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 snorkeling? Do you want to visit some cities, or maybe none at all? Or maybe you are mostly interested in the beautiful nature and diverse wildlife?

For most people, it’s a combination of all. Still, you have to set priorities.

When we were preparing our trip to Australia with children, we were also struggling to come up with a good plan. We wanted to see as much as possible, but also had to try to estimate how much sightseeing a three- or a five-year-old can actually handle.

In the end, we chose nature destinations and limited city visits to just two days in Sydney and one in Melbourne. Wildlife is one of the most important factors for us when traveling with kids, and so we added Kangaroo Island, Tasmania, 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 wants to consider, especially if you are passing near such a place anyway.

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

Children chasing wild kangaroos in the Grampians NP Australia
Chasing wild kangaroos in the Grampians NP, Australia
 

2. What is the best time to travel to Australia?

You can travel to Australia at 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. Just 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 help you decide where to go in Australia and when:

  • 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. Here you can find our suggested Darwin itinerary.
  • 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 in Australia’s Red Center
 

3. 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 traveled 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 a 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.

TIP: Domestic flights are not necessarily the more expensive option, in fact it can be cheaper to fly than to spend days on the road. The 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 fewer hours driving and more sightseeing!

The Great Ocean Road coastline near the Twelve Apostles Australia
Great Ocean Road
 

4. 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. These are the very best places to keep in mind when planning a trip to Australia.

However, these places are also very far from each other. So it’s not really feasible to see them all if you only have a week or two. Try to pick at least two of these top spots – 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
Different view of Uluru, the Ayers Rock
 

So, these are our main tips for planning a trip to Australia. To summarize: 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 the budget is a very important factor as well, but leave the money worries for later, after you figure out your trip itinerary.

Whether you’ll love Australia depends so much on how well you’ll prepare your trip. This is the most important step, so take your time and plan well!

TIP: If you are looking for ideas on where to go in Australia, check this post with our 5-week Australia itinerary. It covers some of the most beautiful regions, some of the must-see places in Australia. 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.

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

If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!

Planning Australia trip - practical tips and recommendations #Australia
 

Comments

  1. Just got back from two weeks in Australia and had an amazing time.

    The itinerary we followed was pretty go-go-go, and therefore not for everyone, but I’m glad we did it because we saw so many great things and met so many interesting people.

    Day 1 – arrived Sydney late afternoon, had dinner, walked Circular Quay
    Day 2 – Sydney (Darling Harbor attractions, Bondi Beach)
    Day 3 – Sydney (Harbor Bridge Climb, Taronga Zoo)
    Day 4 – Blue Mountains day trip
    Day 5 – flew to Melbourne, Hanging Rock (morning) and Melbourne parks/waterfront (afternoon)
    Day 6 – starting from Melbourne, drove the Great Ocean Road (stops at Bell’s Beach, Split Point Lighthouse, Apollo Bay, 12 Apostles) and did a helicopter flight over the 12 Apostles. Back in Melbourne by dinner time (VERY fast day).
    Day 7 – flew to Ayers Rock, started 2.5 day/2 night camping trip, hiked around Uluru
    Day 8 – camping, hiked Kata-Tjuta’s Valley of the Wind
    Day 9 – camping, hiked Kings Canyon Rim Trail, arrived Alice Springs before sundown
    Day 10 – Alice Springs, flew to Cairns (via Brisbane)
    Day 11 – Cairns, snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef
    Day 12 – Cairns, Kuranda Scenic Railroad out to Kuranda, Koala Gardens, Skyrail back to Cairns, flew to Brisbane, drove rental car to Hervey Bay (LONG day)
    Day 13 – Drove 4 wheel drive vehicle on Fraser Island
    Day 14 – flew back to Sydney, shopping in Darling Harbor, late evening in George Street
    Day 15 – flew home

    Yes, this is an itinerary that will wear you out. If you like to relax at the pool or spend hours sipping on a drink, this plan is definitely not for you.

    Incidentally, Uber is a thing in Australia, and the drivers can be quite knowledgeable and interesting. An easy way to get a few minutes of nice conversation with a real Aussie on a near-daily basis. And we got a dinner recommendation from one that was spot-on.

    If you jump around like I did, prepare to fly. Australia is just too big, and, even though many of the roads are very good, the speed limits are quite low. We’re used to seeing destinations 120 miles apart and thinking “two hours;” in Australia, it’s more like “three hours.”

    Jurga is correct when she writes: “better go to fewer places that are really worth it than to many places which are not as worthwhile.” You might think I didn’t follow that advice, but I sorta did. Although there were places I would liked to have spent more time, there’s nothing I would cut to get it. To me, all the places I visited were worthwhile.

    I’d heartily recommend Australia as a vacation destination to anyone.

    1. Author

      Hi Andy, thanks for sharing your experience. I am sure it will be very helpful to others. Funny enough, I just recommended a very similar, but somewhat shorter itinerary to someone else. 🙂
      I think your trip looks very good indeed and you covered most of the ‘musts’ in a short time. Flying in between all these places is the best way to do it indeed because otherwise, you waste too much time driving around rather than sightseeing in the best places.
      Happy travels!

  2. Hello
    We have two 18/20 yrs with us traveling and have about. 8-10 days. Our interest is wildlife, nature, beach and cities.

    What is your best advice to how much we can cover without driving too much. We dont mind flying in-between. Starting in Sydney.

    My son wants to visit Perth. Any thoughts on that? Is January a good month to visit?

    1. Author

      Hi Sunita, if you have just 8-10 days, I think that I’d skip Perth unless it’s a must for you – it will take you too long just to get there and back. Unless, you can maybe end your trip there and fly home from Perth – in that case, it could be done I suppose.
      If you don’t go to Perth, here’s a quick ‘see as much as possible’ in a short time itinerary for you:
      Day 1 – Arrival in Sydney and explore the city
      Day 2- Blue Mountains day trip (something like this or similar)
      Day 3 – Sydney
      Day 4 – Fly to Melbourne and visit the city
      Day 5 – Great Ocean Road day trip (something like this or similar)
      Day 6 – Fly to Alice Springs and if you have the time visit West MacDonnell Ranges
      Day 7 – Drive to Ayers Rock and visit Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the drive is about 6 hrs, so start early)
      Day 8 – Visit the places that you haven’t seen yet and drive back to Alice Springs
      Day 9 – Fly to Cairns
      Day 10 – Take a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef (something like this or similar)
      Day 11 – fly home

      As you can see, even this is quite rushed. Furthermore, I am not sure if there are direct flights from Alice Springs to Cairns. If you have to fly via Brisbane, it will take you the whole day… You could also decide to skip one of these regions – either Cairns with the Great Barrier Reef or the Red Center wih Uluru – that would make your trip a bit more relaxed and would give you more time to explore.

      There are just too many options and Australia is huge. I think you would enjoy it more if you go somewhat slower.

  3. I am planning a trip to Australia this post is informative, but I just want to know is it safe to travel with a girls group?

    1. Author

      Hi Saba, Australia is a wonderful country that is just as safe Europe, US, or Canada… Just like anywhere else, you should take simple precautions, but we never experienced anything during our trips Down Under that would have made us feel unsafe. We didn’t even run into any dangerous animals in the Outback…
      Enjoy your trip!

  4. Jurga,

    Have you traveled to the US State of Utah and if so how does the Red Centre area compare with red rock and desert landscape of Arches National Park?

    1. Author

      Hi Jon, we visited Arches and Moab area as well, and there are indeed some similarities. Some landscapes are very similar, the other places – not at all. In Australia, you have red sand dunes for miles and miles, gorges, and some wildlife. If you go a bit off the main tourist areas near Uluru, there are way fewer tourists than anywhere in the US.
      If you like Moab area, you’ll love the Red Center.

  5. Hi-
    I am just starting to plan a trip for my husband and I, and happened across your site.
    My head is spinning with all of the amazing things to see. I’ve narrowed it down to The Great Barrier Reef (we are huge fans of scuba diving), Uluru Rock, The Great Ocean Road, Kangaroo Island and Sydney.
    However, looking at a map and your tips, this looks like a 3 month journey and we have 3 weeks. What would you recommend?
    Thank you for your insight.

    1. Author

      Hi Lorrie, I think you can do it in 3 weeks if you just focus on the highlights and fly in between. Here’s a suggested itinerary that gives you an idea how it can be done:
      Day 1-3 So, let’s say you start in Sydney (2 days in the city) and visit the Blue Mountains as a day trip (no rental car needed if you take a tour).
      Day 4-6: Fly to Melbourne, visit the city (1,5 days) and take a day trip to the Great Ocean Road. This is about 3 days.
      Day 7-12: Fly to Adelaide and visit Kangaroo Island (rent a car). Go back to Adelaide for your next flight.
      Day 13-18: Fly to Alice Springs (rent a car) and visit the Red Center and Uluru-Kata Tjuta NP.
      Day 18-21: Fly to Cairns and visit the Great Barrier Reef.

      You can adjust this a bit and spend a bit less time on Kangaroo Island or in the Red Center, but this gives you an idea of how to plan your time.
      Hope this helps.

  6. Hi Jurga,

    I’d love to hear about your good and bad expierences in the eastern side of Australia. If you ever find time to write about it, I’d glady read about it!

    Jean Walter

    1. Author

      Hi Jean, our trip to the Eastern side of Australia dates back from 2003, so I’m not going to be writing about it. We had very mixed feelings with that part of Australia as it involved much too much driving with few really nice places in between. We drove all the way from Cairns to Sydney and if I were to do it again, I’d just stay at the nicest places and fly in between – much better use of your time.
      This might also have to do with the fact that immediatly after that we visited New Zealand and it was much more impressive – we loved every minute of it and so it’s possible that it influenced our opinion about that part of Australia as well.

      Our second trip to Australia was much better as we flew all the big distances and had more time to explore the places that were worth it the most (here you can find our Australia itinerary).

      Now, back to the Eastern side. We absolutely loved Whitsunday islands – we took a day trip from Airlie Beach, something like this tour (I can’t remember the company we went with anymore).
      Another place we really loved was O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. It was quite a drive to get there and we stayed 2 nights, and wished we had booked longer. It’s a place that we still talk about with very fond memories, even after so many years. Treetop walk, wild parrots, incredible views from a swimming pool – amazing place! One of the few places I’d love to revisit if we go back to that part of Australia. It’s not too far from Brisbane and Byron Bay – both popular stops along the coast. We also loved Noosa National Park – just a bit above Brisbane, so also possible to incorporate in the same itinerary.
      Also Fraser Island nearby is said to be absolutely worth a trip and we had planneda a day trip there from Hervey Bay, but then I was really sick that day and we never got there…
      That’s pretty much all that I remember as places that are worth your time the most. Many others were nice to see, but not WOW and not something to travel to the other side of the world for (or at least that’s how we felt at that time).
      My other favorite places in Australia are actually the ones we visited during our second trip (the itinerary I shared above). I spent weeks and weeks planning that trip, researching it, and it was much more rewarding – we drove less and saw more. Kanagroo Island, Red Center, Tasmania, and also the area around the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians NP – I’d go back to any and each of these places in a hearbeat.
      Hope this helps a bit. I know how overwhelming it is to plan a trip like that – you want to see it all, but the country is huge, so it’s really not possible. First, decide on how much time you want to spend there, then split it into several ‘blocks’ per area and plan to spend 3-7 days in each place, flying in between.

      1. Hi Jurga,

        Thank you so much, for your reply! I bookmarked your places on maps. We were initially thinking about a roadtrip from Melbourne to Flinders Rangers via Adelaide. But as you mentioned it will be driving for a very long time so now we are looking for cheap flight.

        Thanks a lot!

  7. Hi Jurga! You mentioned doing a road trip in New Zealand and loving it. Could you give me some more information on that? I have a 14 day trip planned to Australia and was hoping to see Sydney, the Great Barrier Reed, and some spots in New Zealand. Thanks for your help!

    1. Author

      Hi Kristin, 2 weeks is such a short time. I really think you’ll enjoy it more if you just concentrate on one country. Australia is huge and in two weeks you’ll hardly scratch the surface.
      We spent 3,5 weeks in New Zealand and that was about enough time to see the main highlights of both islands. We’ve been to Australia twice, for almost 9 weeks in total, and still haven’t seen most of it…

      If you want to see the ‘best’ of Australia in two weeks, I’d look into combining Sydney, Great Barrier Reef, and the Red Centre. Maybe 3 days for Sydney and the Blue Mountains, then 5-6 for the Red Centre, and 3-4 for the Great Barrier Reef. Here you can find an itinerary from Alice Springs to Uluru. Fly from Sydney to Alice Springs and then to Cairns – don’t drive the big distances.

      Hope this helps.

  8. Just beginning our planning intending to travel next January or February. We plan to go for about 6 weeks intending to see New Zealand and hopefully a short South Pacific island cruise ( husband is a rugby fan).
    Thank you for your information it’s been really useful. I’ve pinned it to use when we’ve reached the narrowing down what we can feasibly fit in stage.

    1. Author

      Glad you found it helpful, Gina. Here you can find more ideas with some itinerary suggestions for Australia as well. Just don’t underestimate the driving distances. Also in New Zealand, you need at least 3 weeks to see the main highlights of both islands.
      Sounds like an amazing trip. Enjoy it!

  9. I was reading your info on Brugges as we are travelling there in April, and as an Australian wanted to check your thoughts on Australia.
    I live in Melbourne and I too love Kings Canyon the Olga and Uluru is just amazing, so glad you enjoyed.
    Thanks for the info on Bruges.

    Mandy

    1. Author

      Hi Mandy, glad you found the info on Bruges useful. And yes, we LOVED the Red Centre in Australia. Hope to return one day now that the kids are bigger and we could do more hiking.
      Enjoy Belgium!

  10. I have to plan a trip with my wife for 12days. Kindly let me know which cities to cover.

    1. Author

      Hi, it’s a bit hard for me to give any advice as I don’t know how you like to travel and what your interests are. You can find some itinerary suggestions in our Australia trip itinerary.
      Here’s just a quick suggestion for you. If you have just 12 days in Australia and are mostly interested in cities, then definitely don’t miss Sydney and Melbourne. You could split your trip in three parts and visit Cairns (Great Barrier Reef), Sydney, and Melbourne. You’ll have to fly between the cities.
      From Melbourne, make sure to visit the Great Ocean Road.
      From Sydney – the Blue Mountains.
      From Cairns, visit the Great Barrier Reef. If you have one more day in the area, you can also visit Daintree as a day trip as well.
      Hope this helps.

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

    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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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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