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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 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 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 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 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 our tips for traveling to Australia with kids.

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

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
 

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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!

Tess

Monday 28th of March 2022

Hello Jurga,

We are planning to visit Australia and New Zealand in June and spend 5 days in each country. We would appreciate your help creating an itinerary for us taking into account that we have a 15-year old who is interested in nature and wildlife and also "thrill" activities. We would be happy to join a tour group since my husband isn't comfortable driving in another country.

Thank you in advance! Your website is a treasure trove of useful tips and info!

Tess

Thursday 31st of March 2022

Dear Jurga,

Thank you for your feedback. We are from the US. Since we are already making the trip across the Pacific, might as well visit the 2 countries, even if we just focus on the capitals with out-of-town excursions.

Jurga

Monday 28th of March 2022

Hi Tess, unfortunately, I really have no time to create individual itineraries for our readers. Also, 5 days in Australia or in New Zealand is really too short. I'm not sure where you are traveling from, but if it's a far trip, it's even crazier. Also take into account that June is 'winter' in the southern hemisphere - for most places, it's no big deal, but e.g. the mountains on the south island in NZ will likely have snow. I think I'd rather concentrate on just one country (in June, probably Australia) and visit 2-3 regions, flying between them. If you don't want to drive I'm sure you can find companies that offer some kind of a 10-day Australia group tour. Or you just book your own flights and take organized day trips from there. For example: Spend 3-4 days in Sydney, taking a day tour to the Blue Mountains. If you are looking for 'thrill' activities, you can book a tour to climb the Harbor Bridge in Sydney - it's an unforgettable experience. We did this at twilight years ago and it was amazing! + 3 days in Alice Springs taking a 1-day tour to Uluru and 1-day tour to West MacDonnell Ranges + 3-4 days in Melbourne taking a 2-day tour for the nicest places nearby. You can also visit the Great Barrier Reef instead of the Red Center. There are many options. Good luck with the planning!

Sandy

Sunday 13th of March 2022

Hi there. Australia is last on my bucket list and I am planning it so I will be in Sydney for New Years Eve. I stay in hostels when I travel. I was talking to someone at one who sent me a link for travelling in Australia where it had a whole list of things you are wanting to do there (activities), and from there, you submit and it generates the list of places in Australia to go experience these activities. I thought I bookmarked the page, but when I click on what I thought was it, it is not there. Does anyone know of the site I am looking for that does this? If so, could you please post a link for it here? Thanks in advance.

Jurga

Monday 14th of March 2022

Hi Sandy, sorry, but I can't help you with this. Looks like a strange way to plan a trip - focusing on activities rather than places you actually want to see. But I guess it could be fun if that's the purpose of your trip. Good luck with the search!

Lori

Tuesday 31st of August 2021

We are planning a trip to Australia in 2026 and we are taking our 2 kids. They will be 11 and 10 by then. What would be some cool places to go?

Jurga

Wednesday 1st of September 2021

Hi Lori, Australia is huge and there are tons of amazing places to visit. So much depends on when you go and how much time you have. We have an article with our 5-week Australia itinerary that we did with our kids. It's split a bit per region, giving you a good idea of the best regions to visit and the most popular things to do there. Ideally, you choose a few main areas that you want to visit (e.g. around Sydney, Melbourne & Great Ocean Road, Red Center, etc.), then fly to those places and spend at least a few days road-tripping there. Making a long road trip covering big distances is not the best use of your time, unless you have months and months to do that. Having said all that, some of our personal places in Australia were the Red Center, Kangaroo Island, and also Sydney and the area around the Great Barrier Reef. Great Ocean Road and Melbourne, plus the Grampians National Park was also very nice with kids, also because we saw tons of wildlife there. We weren't as impressed with Tasmania as much as we thought we would, but maybe it's simply because we visited it after seeing so many other amazing places. But for wildlife, it's also an excellent choice. Good luck with the planning and try not to 'see it all' - Australia is so vast and you'll enjoy it more if you pick just a few areas and explore deeper.

Cameron

Monday 7th of June 2021

Hi, I have been interested in going to Australia for a few years now, but unfortunately, I have never been able to set the time to plan it. How much time in advance would you recommend I make arrangements for a trip to Australia? (i.e. how much time before I actually go to Australia should I make plans?)

Cameron

Tuesday 8th of June 2021

@Jurga, Yes, this was very helpful! Thank you so much!

Jurga

Tuesday 8th of June 2021

Hi Cameron, to start with - now it's not the time yet to start planning a trip yet as it's not at all clear as to when Australia will reopen its borders. So keep an eye on that first. But apart from that, you can plan the trip last minute or you can plan it about a year in advance (flights usually start selling about 11 months upfront). It all depends on you and also on how flexible you are. If you are traveling during school holidays, have a limited budget or time, then it's always better to plan well in advance. If, however, you can travel in the quieter periods and are flexible, then you can just wait until a few months before the trip. If you wait too long, you'll likely pay a lot more for the flights and some accommodations might be sold out, so I wouldn't leave it until the very last minute either. Let's say about 8-11 months in advance if you aren't very flexible, and 2-4 months in advance if you are flexible and don't travel during the most popular times of the year. Also, nothing stops you from planning an itinerary long before you actually start booking anything. That way you have a better idea of what you want to do, and which time of the year would be best for that area so that when you are ready to book a trip you already know what to look for. Hope this helps.

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