If you’re travelling to Australia, a 2 week itinerary will be just enough to see some the highlights in the vast land, from the sails of the Opera House in Sydney, to the windswept Twelve Apostles along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. Given the amount of ground to cover, this itinerary for 2 weeks in Australia necessitates lots of flights and does not include Western Australia – for that you’ll need at least 3 weeks or better yet, a whole month. Australia is a big country!
2 weeks in Australia: Days 1-3 | Sydney: City Charms
The first few days of your 2 week trip to Australia should start with a visit to Sydney. A couple of days in Sydney will give you a taste of Sydney’s top ten. There is plenty to see and do here, including a visit to the emblems of the city – the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. If the weather is fine, you can even attempt a climb up the Harbour Bridge, or for something more cost friendly with views that are almost as good, take a walk across the Harbour Bridge instead and climb the pylons. Afterwards, spend an hour or so wandering around the cobblestone streets of The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest area, which is where the first settlements started. Make an appointment to view Susannah Place Museum, a diminutive museum in the heart of the Rocks which recreates the lives of mid-19th century Sydneysiders.
On your second day, pack your cossies, or swimwear, and head to iconic Bondi Beach, an expanse of golden sand and blue surf. The beachfront promenade usually throngs with beautiful people. Grab a juice or flat white coffee and find a comfortable spot to people watch. If you visit on the weekends there are markets in the grounds of the public school, to the north of the beach. Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, people watching and chilling on the beach, head south along the promenade to the start of the Coastal Walk, which leads from Bondi all the way to Coogee Beach. The Walk offers amazing seaside views, going past Tamarama, Bronte, and Clovelly Beach. Along the way you’ll see Waverley Cemetery, stunning rock cliffs, a bowls club and surfers aplenty, before ending up in busy Coogee where you can stop for lunch or dinner at the Pavilion, on the northern end of the beach.
Wrap up your Sydney stay with a visit to one of Sydney’s museums, like the Australian Museum, located near Hyde Park. Afterwards, check out St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney’s largest Catholic church, before having a picnic in the grounds of the Domain. Nearby is the Art Gallery of NSW, which has a decent permanent collection and interesting rotating exhibits. For those more inclined to the outdoors, take a dip in the Boy Charles pool, with views of the water and of Garden Island, Sydney’s military base. Wrap up your 3 days in Sydney with a trip to the shops of Queen Victoria Building or the Strand Arcade, where you’ll find wares from local designers.
There’s plenty of accommodation options in Sydney, but if you want something cool and quirky, the QT Hotel is your best bet. Located in the heart of the CBD, the hotel has been refurbished from the old Gowings building and is filled with character. Harbourside hotels like the Pier One Sydney Harbour boast stunning harbour views, but it comes with a price. Another option is to book a room with AirBnB in one of Sydney’s local suburbs, like Surry Hills or Newtown, or, if you want to feel like a surfer for a few days, at Bondi Beach.
2 weeks in Australia: Days 4-6 | Cairns: Big Blue
From Sydney, fly up to Cairns, the jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest living organism which is visible from space. Whether you are a diver or a snorkeler, a trip out to the reef is an amazing experience. Getting to the reef from Cairns will take between 2-3 hours. There are plenty of options to choose from, whether you are looking for a daytrip or a liveaboard for a few days. I went on a 3 day liveaboard on the MV Kangaroo, which caters equally for divers, snorkelers and sunseekers.
I remember the scent of the sea, wind in my face and the sun at my back as we lazed on the bow of the MV Kangaroo as she sliced through open water. There is a magnificent sunset, and a glass calm sea.
If you prefer to spend the majority of your time landside, opt for a daytrip to the reef on your first day here, then take the 2.5 hour drive up (or book a tour) to tropical Cape Tribulation instead. Wild and jungly, with picture perfect isolated beaches, Cape Tribulation is one of Australia’s most visited attractions. You can stop and stay in Port Douglas, which offers accommodation and restaurants. There’s even crocodile spotting opportunities on the Daintree River.
There’s plenty of hostels and budget accommodation choices in Cairns, which are cheap and cheerful. The best of them come with pools, though if you’re hoping for sleep, choose one without an onsite bar. If you have enough travellers in your group, try the Il Palazzo Boutique Apartment, with free parking and Wi-Fi and located in the heart of the CBD.
2 weeks in Australia: Days 7-8 | Darwin: Green Waterfalls
From Cairns, fly into Australia’s Top End. Darwin is a good base for visiting Kakadu National Park, and the best way to see the park is to go camping. In the wet season, Kakadu is an expanse of still waters through which salt water crocs slip silently. The waterfalls are most full and the park most beautiful during the wet, but it can also be the hardest time to travel as rains can wash roads away. You can drive to Kakadu yourself, but the best way to experience this wild, rugged place is to camp out near Jim Jim Waterfalls. Book a tour if you prefer to have someone else handle the logistics.
Kakadu is a bird lover’s paradise. There are flights of black and white magpie geese and the stately, high stepping walk of brilliantly white great egrets. Jacanas, or jesus birds, walk on water and everywhere there is the sound of life. Flocks of scarlet tailed black cockatoos feather desiccated gum trees, cawing their joy at the tall blue sky. The flood plains are beautiful – a wide, endless expanse of spilled water and lush grasses. If you’re lucky you may even spot wild horses, or brumbies, or dingos.
If you travel to Australia you should pay your respects to the traditional owners of the land. Visit with a local guide, who can tell you about the aboriginal paintings at the escarpment at Ubirr. The view from the top of the escarpment is breathtaking, overlooking the flood plains which stretch out in an endless sea of golden and green light. A hike around Ubirr is a fantastic way of absorbing the landscape of warm, red rock and rugged cliffs, or you can trek to a waterfall like Motorcar Falls where you can swim in dark green plunge pools and watch the spray of waterfalls catch the light and make rainbows. Make sure you read nearby signs – saltwater crocodiles have occasionally been found in these inland pools.
If you choose to book a camping tour to Kakadu, your accommodation will already have been sorted out. If, however you prefer to be based in Darwin, make your reservations early. Try the Mantra on the Esplanade if you have kids, or the Vibe Hotel Darwin Waterfront, with modern rooms and free wifi.
2 weeks in Australia: Days 9-11 | Alice Springs: Red Heart
Fly from Darwin to Alice Springs, where the air is still and dusty. Here the horizon glimmers softly in a flat, thin land. Alice Springs is a 5 hour drive from the main attraction in this area – Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock. You can rent a car and drive, but for a proper outback experience, book a camping tour. There is a fully serviced campsite near Kings Canyon, with barbecues and showers. Camping under a tall sky in the red dirt while a fire crackles and the stars wheel above is the only way to experience Australia’s red heart.
There is pale movement in the mulga trees by our site – a pair of dingos slink by, washed silver in the bright light of my torch as their howls wing up into a night speckled with diamond stars.
Take a hike around Kings Canyon and visit the Lost City, where the landscape is dominated by rounded domes of sand and mud. Other attractions include the tranquil Garden of Eden and Kata Tjuta – 36 huge rounded rocks lying to the west of Uluru. Uluru itself is huge and overwhelming. One solid, single rock, you can walk around its base which winds 10km around, passing the Mujitulu waterhole, with its dark green waters. Respect the local custodians of the land and refrain from climbing it.
You can stay in Alice Springs, but keep in mind that getting to Uluru will take quite a drive, so it might be best to stay a night in Alice Springs and another night at Uluru. In Alice, stay at the Aurora Alice Springs, which has a pool and wifi. If you prefer luxury digs to camping, book a room at the 5 star Desert Sails, or plump for another option at the Ayers Rock Resort, which offers different accommodation types.
2 weeks in Australia: Days 12-14 | Adelaide to Melbourne: Great Ocean Road
With your 2 weeks in Australia winding up, take your last flight from Alice Springs to Adelaide. Pick up a rental car and drive south, with the sunset at your backs, heading towards rolling green hills and sandstone stacks. A road trip on the Great Ocean Road from Adelaide to Melbourne is the perfect way to cap off your trip. Give yourself enough time to stop at the country towns on the way and check out any local attractions that take your fancy, working up from attractions like the Pink Lake near Tailem Bend, to the lush green landscapes of Otway National Park, to the highlight of the Great Ocean Road – the Twelve Apostles near Apollo Bay.
Finish your road trip in urbane, hip Melbourne, full of cafes and culture. There are laneways filled with artwork and graffiti in Hosier Lane, hidden bars to explore, as well as great restaurants and cool performances to discover. As night descends, make your way to Bennett Lane’s jazz, which is a venue in a repurposed old soup kitchen with blue walls.
There’s plenty of choices in Melbourne, ranging from cute hipster AirBnB rooms to even more hipster boutique hotels, like the Adelphi Hotel, where the location couldn’t get better, right in Flinders Lane, filled with shops, restaurants and bars. If you’re looking for a quieter spot, try the Prince Hotel, which is a restaurant cum bar cum hotel in St Kilda, Melbourne’s trendy beachside suburb.