City, Rainforest, Reef & Rocks: First-Time Australia Itinerary in 14 Days

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Advisor - Chantel Lanier
Curated By

Chantel Lanier

  • Australia

  • Active Travel

  • Arts & Culture

  • Beaches

  • City Travel

  • Sightseeing

  • Entertainment

  • Bucket List-Worthy

A view of the Sydney opera house from across the water.
Curator’s statement

Aside from my family, Australia is one of the deepest loves of my life. It is an incredible country with friendly people, bustling cities, plenty of arts and culture, natural wonders, adventure sports and so much more. I firmly believe it's a place everyone should visit at least once in their lives! Below I've included my itinerary suggestions for a first-time trip to Australia. But be warned! Once you visit this amazing place, you'll be hooked and ready to plan a return trip. As a certified Aussie specialist, I'm here to help make your trip incredible.

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Day 1: Welcome to Sydney

Harbor with buildings in the background.

You'll likely be jetlagged, so it's a great idea to keep this day free of structured plans. If you're up for an activity, I suggest catching a ferry to Manly. You can find it at Circular Quay, Wharf 3. This will give you beautiful views of Sydney Harbour from the water and it will give you a chance to explore the cool town of Manly. The main pedestrian street is called The Corso and it's packed with shops, restaurants and bars.

Day 2: Relaxing day at Bondi Beach

Water on a rocky beach.

You're probably still adjusting to the time change, so you might want to have another low-key day in Sydney. My suggestion? Head to Bondi Beach! You can visit the world-famous pool at Bondi Icebergs Club, take a surfing lesson, go for a stroll along the beautiful trail from Bondi to Coogi, browse the local shops and more!

If you'd like to have a special dinner tonight, I recommend Bennelong. It's a delicious restaurant located within the Sydney Opera House and it's stunning inside.

Day 3: Sydney City highlights

A grassy field with buildings in the background.

Hopefully today you're ready to hit the ground running! No visit to this city would be complete without a tour of the stunning Sydney Opera House. This is a great way to start the day and it takes about an hour.

After your tour, take a walk through the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden. It's the oldest scientific institution in Australia, and it's simply beautiful! Make sure to pass by Mrs Macquaries Chair, which is known for having some of the best views of Sydney Harbor. This is a great spot to take some iconic photos.

Take a lunch break before heading to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can experience the bridge in one of two ways. I highly (HIGHLY) recommend the 3 1/2 hour BridgeClimb Sydney experience. You'll be secured to the bridge and then guided up gently sloping stairs to the very top. The views are incredible! If a climb isn't for you, you can simply take the pedestrian walkway across the bridge. The views from the other side are worth the walk!

Day 4: Take your pick of day trips

A koala sitting on tree.

Today is a great day to get out of Sydney and I've got two great ideas for you.

If you'd like to have a more active day that includes encounters with wildlife, I'd suggest taking a day tour that combines a trip to Scenic World in the Blue Mountains with a stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park. On this excursion, you can ride the steepest passenger train in the world, take an incredible cable car ride that gives you glimpses of Three Sisters and Katoomba Falls, feed kangaroos, take a picture with a koala and so much more!

If you'd like to have a more relaxing day, consider a day trip to Hunter Valley. This is one of Australia's wine regions and it's got great restaurants as well. You can go on a tasting tour of several of the area's wineries, enjoy a hot air balloon ride or take a cooking class. The possibilities in this area are endless.

Day 5: Fly to Cairns, transfer to Daintree Rainforest area

Wonderful Daintree fan palms growing on the edge of the jungle in Cairns Australia.

Today you can fly to Cairns and take a private transfer to the Daintree Rainforest area. I highly recommend a stay at Silky Oaks Lodge. It’s an incredible destination in and of itself. Regardless of where you choose, spend the afternoon settling into your accommodations and resting up for the remainder of your trip.

Day 6: Day tour of the rainforest & surrounding areas

Green plants and trees near waterfall.

A full-day tour is the perfect way to enjoy the complete spectrum of sights and experiences in this part of the world. A tour can pick you up at your accommodations and take you through the Daintree Rainforest, to Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation beach (where the reef and the rainforest meet) and more. This will be a busy but incredible day.

Day 7: Enjoy your rainforest retreat

Bridge in rainforest

Particularly if you've chosen to stay at Silky Oaks Lodge, I would set aside this day to just enjoy the property. Have a leisurely meal in the open-air Treehouse restaurant, ask for a picnic basket and take it with you on a hike, lounge by the pool, visit the spa or take part in one of the many activities on offer. This is one of the most incredible resorts I have ever visited and I know you will not be disappointed with your experience here.

Day 8: Transfer to & enjoy the Palm Cove area

Beach with palm trees

Palm Cove is a great place to spend a few days. It's got plenty of beautiful resorts for couples or families. (Note that my recommendation, The Reef House, is adults-only. I've got some family-friendly options up my sleeve as well! Don't hesitate to reach out.)

If your transfer arrives in the early part of the day, I recommend relaxing at the beach, by the pool or checking out one of the local golf courses. (But keep an eye out for wallabies! When my husband and I golfed in Palm Cove, we saw them hopping all over the course.)

Day 9: Explore the Great Barrier Reef

School of fish and reefs under ocean.

There are so many ways to explore this breathtaking wonder. It's a bucket list dive for many people who are SCUBA certified. If that's not for you, consider visiting in a semi-submersible boat or going out on a snorkeling excursion. You can also charter a private boat if you'd like to customize your experience.

Day 10: Flexible Day - stay in Palm Coast or fly to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park area

Trees on a brown land with mountains in the back.

Some people want to spend more time exploring the Great Barrier Reef. If this is you, I recommend staying in the Palm Coast area for one more day. Others can't wait to get into the red center of Australia and start exploring the outback. If this is you, I'd go ahead and fly from Cairns to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park area for the next part of your journey.

Day 11: Flexible Day - fly to Uluru or explore the area

Brown rocky hills in a dessert with trees.

If you haven't already, take a private transfer to the Cairns Airport and fly to Ayers Rock Airport to reach the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park area.

(Cultural Note: Check out this link for some information on why you may hear this area referred to by different names.)

Tonight I highly recommend you enjoy the Sounds of Silence dinner. It’s a four-hour experience that begins with a gorgeous desert sunset and ends under the twinkling outback stars. You’ll enjoy canapes and wine, a three-course dinner, a didgeridoo performance and an astronomy talk. I’ll never forget seeing the rings of Saturn through a powerful telescope when I attended this dinner. It was truly magical.

Day 12: Visit Uluru and/or Kata Tjuta

A dessert landscape with trees and rocky hills.

If you’re up for an early morning 6.5-mile trek, join an Uluru base walk guided tour. You’ll learn so much about both the Indigenous and European history of the rock and its significance to the Mala people. It’s both truly stunning and very educational.

You’ll have a half day left to fill, and no shortage of things to fill it with. The Ayers Rock Resort compound has lots of great free options, from visiting a camel farm to learning about traditional bush food to checking out Indigenous art in the resort’s gallery.

Later, you may choose to visit Kata Tjuta on a guided sunset tour. It will likely include canapes and wine. You’ll return to the resort grounds in time for dinner. My suggestion is to visit the Outback BBQ & Bar. Here you choose and prepare your own cut of meat or fish, and then choose prepared sides and desserts to complete the meal. This is a very casual and fun way to wrap up your day

Day 13: Uluru back to Sydney

Warm winter dusk colors on Sydney harbor.

I recommend using the morning to do whatever you didn’t do yesterday - take a guided tour of Kata Tjuta, explore the resort grounds, or simply sleep in late.

Later today, depart Ayers Rock airport and fly back to Sydney to prepare for your outbound flight.

Day 14: Depart Sydney (and begin planning your next trip!)

City skyline at night.

After spending one last night in Sydney, you’ll depart on a flight back home. Hopefully you’ve fallen in love with Australia and are ready to plan a return visit to check out some other great places within the country. I’d love to help you!

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, Best Cocktail Bars in Barcelona. This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Australia.

Advisor - Chantel Lanier

Travel Advisor

Chantel Lanier

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Australia.