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

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

Planning a trip to Australia, but not sure where to start with the preparations for your dream vacation? 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, and ten years later, 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 itinerary 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 very long. What we didn’t know is that it is really boring on the road most of the time. Often, there is 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 second Australia 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 Australia vacation. 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 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 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 day in Melbourne. Wildlife and nature are the most important factors for us when traveling with kids, and so we added Kangaroo Island, Tasmania, Great Ocean Road, 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 vacation 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, Great Ocean Road, Kangaroo Island…) is probably best visited in the warmer months. By the way, we absolutely loved Kangaroo Island! Here you can read more about our visit to Kangaroo Island.
  • Tasmania is a summer destination unless you don’t mind the cold and the wind, or want to go skiing. The best time to visit Tasmania is between November and March. Here you can find more info about things to do in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • Red Centre (Alice Springs, Uluru) – can be visited all year round, but it’s VERY HOT and can be very wet in the 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. The best time to visit the Red Center is from May to September.
  • 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. The best time to travel to Queensland is from May to October.
  • South-Western Australia (Perth area) is probably best in spring or autumn. Summers are hot and winters – wet. Locals say that August and September are the best months to visit Perth.
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, the 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 out our tips for traveling to Australia with kids.

READ ALSO: Top Places to See on the Great Ocean Road

If you found this post helpful, 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
 

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Janice Muse

Monday 21st of November 2022

Hi! My husband and I are seniors (72 & 68) from California, traveling to Australia for the first & only time. We have our flights (3/29-4/23) & cruise booked but also want to see more of Australia than the 7 day cruise (starting 4/2) in & out of Brisbane. My husband thinks we can see alot cheaply on a greyhound bus but that concerns me. What do you suggest? Could we join a tour group or have a local travel agent help us? Thanks, Jan

Jurga

Monday 21st of November 2022

Hi Janice, you can find some nice day tours from Brisbane, but you won't be able to see much of Australia from there. It's a huge country. If you want to explore more, you should fly to the areas that interest you the most and spend at least a few days in each place. Depending on which area you visit, you can stay in the bigger cities and can see a lot by taking day tours (e.g. go to the Blue Mountains from Sydney or visit Great Ocean Road from Melbourne). Alternatively, rent a car and make a road trip (here or there). But keep in mind that the distances are very big, so it's always better to fly in between the areas that you want to see and rent a car just for a few days for that specific area. I wouldn't know how you could see a lot of Australia in a short time by choosing to travel by bus. There are bus tours, but most of them are day tours like the ones I linked to above and not really multi-day tours. And if you just take regular buses between the towns, you won't see much. Take a look at our Australia itinerary for some suggestions for different parts of Australia. We did that trip by flying + renting a car at all those places. Once again, if you don't want to drive, you can find day tours. So let's say, you go to Sydney for 3-5 days, spend 2-3 days in the city and then take a few organized day tours. The same with Melbourne or Adelaide, etc. Hope this helps. Good luck with the planning!

Kay

Thursday 17th of November 2022

Hi! My husband and I were asked by his brother and wife to go on a cruise out of Sydney, beginning of February, 2024...so we have plenty of time to plan. We would be flying into Sydney from Los Angeles. The "itinerary" for the land part of the cruise has us flying to Uluru to see Ayers Rock at night and then in the morning, then flying to Darwin for a night or two, then to Cairns to experience the Great Barrier Reef, then back to Sydney. We then see some sights that day before getting on the ship to travel to New Zealand's 7 ports and back to Sydney. My question is: Is it worth it to travel by air these 3 sites or should my husband and I just stay in Sydney to really experience that area with maybe a flight to The Great Barrier Reef? If I could, I would cancel the part to Darwin, but I can't. Our relatives will definitely do the land tour part. We are just wondering if all of those plane flights are worth it? We probably will never get back again as we are 60 and plan to hopefully see other places in the world. Thank you, Kay

Jurga

Friday 18th of November 2022

Hi Kay, it's only you who can answer this question and so much depends on how much time you have for each place. From what I understand, you are going to Darwin anyway and also Cairns/GBR is in the plans, so the only question is whether Uluru is worth it. If you only fly there to see Uluru and fly back a day later, then I really don't think you'll enjoy it much. It's a long flight from anywhere + a very long drive from Alice Springs to Uluru and then back again (+-5 hours each way). If, however, you have at least a few days for that area and also visit West McDonnell Ranges and Kings Canyon, then yes, it's definitely worth it. It's one of the most special places you can visit in Australia. You can find more info in our Red Center itinerary. If you have plenty of time, then plan more time at each of these areas and explore deeper - you'll enjoy it more. But if you only have 1-2 days for each area, then I'd concentrate on fewer places instead. Hope this helps. PS See if you can fly to Darwin or to Cairns from LA and then make your way to Sydney towards your cruise - that would save you some time and a few flights. Good luck with the planning!

Katherine Kemiji-McDonald

Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

Hi Jurga. Great blog. I'm planning a trip to Australia for my 60th birthday at the end of January. We are tennis players and scuba divers...and wine lovers from San Francisco. I'd like one day at the Australian Open, two days in Melbourne, two days in Adeline visiting maybe two wineries, then 3 days diving and ending with 3 days in Sydney. Would that order work? Would you recommend something else? Thanks for your reply. All the best, Katherine

Katherine Kemiji-McDonald

Sunday 6th of November 2022

@Jurga, Thanks! I found it easy to book flights, so we will fly into Melbourne, spend five days there, one at the Australian Open, and one visiting the Yarra Valley on a day tour where we visit 4 wineries. Then we fly to Cairns for our diving adventure. We booked a live aboard for two nights and 3 days. After a day at the beach we fly to Sydney for 5 days including a day tour to the Blue Mountains. We're super excited. Thanks for your help. All the best, Katherine

Jurga

Sunday 6th of November 2022

Hi Katherine, yes, sure, this order could work, but you need to decide how to travel between the towns. For example, you could drive between Melbourne and Adelaide and add the Great Ocean Road, the Grampians NP, and maybe even Kangaroo Island to your itinerary. I'm just not sure if it's something I'd do with just 5 days (if I count right). It would probably be easier to just fly between the big cities. In that case, you could manage without renting a car and just do some day trips. For example, Great Ocean Road from Melbourne (there are day tours). From Adelaide, you could also take a day tour to Kangaroo Island. And from Sydney, you can book a day trip to the Blue Mountains. From Adelaide, you can also visit the wineries with tours (so you can taste wine and not have to worry about driving). See which places interest you the most and then spread your time between Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney based on what you want to see in/near each place. I'd probably do 3-4 days in each place, taking into account that you also spend time traveling in between.

Depending on your international flights and the timing of the Australian Open, you could also start with Sydney, then Melbourne, and then Adelaide, or vice versa. See what makes the most sense as there might be big price differences depending on where and when you fly. Hope this helps. Have a great trip!

Alex

Saturday 20th of August 2022

hey Jurga, read your blog and found it very interesting. Infact so useful that will not bother to look for other blogs. We are planning for 3 weeks - end December beginning January. Would it be too hot to do some of the destinations mentioned in your plan ( Uluru Rock for instance ). thanks - appreciate the good work. thanks.

alex

Monday 5th of September 2022

@Jurga, thanks - we are going to work on it and I will ask you more when I have specific questions. thanks

Jurga

Monday 22nd of August 2022

Hi Alex, we did this 5-week trip in November and it was already very hot in the Red Centre indeed. All the other destinations should be ok, some - like Tasmania or Kangaroo Island even really good at that time of the year. You can still visit Uluru, etc. but you’ll likely not be able to do much during the day. So no hiking, for example, but it can still be enjoyable depending on what you choose to see/do. Alternatively, visit the Great Barrier Reef instead. Good luck with the planning and have a great trip!

Naz

Friday 22nd of April 2022

Hi there,

Thanks for this blog post! My husband and I are hoping to visit his family in Melbourne, Australia (we live in Toronto, Canada) in September/October this year. Would two weeks be enough? And would you recommend just sticking to seeing places close to Melbourne or maybe taking short flights to other places to see them as well? Would love to visit the Great Barrier Reef but I know it's near Cairns and that's like a 30 hour drive from Melbourne :(

Jurga

Sunday 24th of April 2022

Hi Naz, whatever you do, don't drive such big distances - it's simpler and cheaper to fly. It's really not worth driving from Melbourne to Cairns if you have just two weeks in total. For the rest, there are gazillion ways to spend two weeks in Australia, so it's really difficult to recommend much without knowing your interests. If you want to take it easy, you could spend all that time in southern Australia. Visit Melbourne, the Grampians National Park, the Great Ocean Road, then visit Kangaroo Island, and end in Adelaide where you also have a nice wine region to explore. Or you could do 10 days in this area and e.g. 3-4 days at the Great Barrier Reef. Or - if you want to go really fast and see a lot - you can do 3-4 days around Melbourne, then Sydney, then the Red Center, and then the Great Barrier Reef (fly all the big distances). It all depends on what you want to see and how comfortable you feel moving around from place to place. Good luck with the planning!

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