Australia is basically in the middle of nowhere so if you want to see this massive country, you really need time to do it. Even spending a month there isn’t long enough! I had just under 4 weeks to spend in this beautiful country and while I did a ton, there were definitely some must see places I missed.
But I still felt like I saw so much of the country without rushing. It’s always difficult to really see everything when you have limited vacation time. And is it really worth seeing a place if you’re only there for 24 hours or less?
Here’s how I spent my (just under) 4 weeks in Australia.
Where I Started: Sydney
Where I Ended: Perth
Stops In Between: Cairns, Whitsunday Islands, Uluru, Melbourne
First Stop: Sydney
Time Spent There: 3-4 Days
Trust me, you do not need more than 3-4 days in Sydney. I didn’t love the city and it reminded me of every other major city in the world. It, of course, shouldn’t be missed when traveling to Australia, but don’t spend too much time there! Especially if you only have a month.
What To Do:
Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach Walk: This beachfront trail is roughly 3.5 miles along easy terrain and takes about two hours in total. It’s a great activity for a sunny afternoon but was just enjoyable on a cloudy day.
Taronga Zoo: There are many spectacular animals at Sydney’s famous zoo from kangaroos to rhinos. The view has beautiful views of the Sydney harbor. After not really enjoying my time in this east coast city, I fell in love with it that day. Seeing the bright white of the Opera House against the clear blue sky had me smiling all afternoon.
Harbor Bridge Climb: Mary-Kate and Ashley inspired me to do the Sydney BridgeClimb and even though I did it on one of the rainiest days of the year, it was still worth it! It’s a fun experience with tons of history about the city as well as stunning views.
Blue Mountains: For a hiking adventure, check out the Blue Mountains. Located about two hours from the city, many say it’s the highlight of their time in Sydney.
Manly Beach: For a slightly quieter beach experience, take the ferry to Manly Beach. Don’t miss the popular lighthouse walk and be sure to watch for whales off the shore!
Second Stop: Cairns
Time Spent There: 5 days
Cairns itself is not a very pretty city. I wouldn’t even call it a city. It’s more of a beach/resort town. It’s filled with t-shirt shops, beachfront bars and travel agents. Most tourists come to Cairns for one reason and one reason only: the Great Barrier Reef. If you’re looking for some outdoorsy activities in Australia, Cairns is the place to find it.
What To Do:
Great Barrier Reef Diving Trip: You should not leave Australia without seeing the Great Barrier Reef. Even though the reef is crumbling from climate change and too much tourism, it’s still amazing! Especially to someone like me who doesn’t snorkel or dive often. Most day trips are between $150 and $250 with an added cost for a scuba dive. Even if you’ve never dived before, I would recommend doing the intro dive. When in the Great Barrier Reef, right? You can read more about my experience here.
Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation: Just an hour north of Cairns, explore one of the oldest rainforests in the world. There are tons of activities including horseback riding, crocodile cruises, 4 wheeler tours and more.
Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls: Head to the Atherton Tablelands for some waterfall chasing. You’ll see spots like Millaa Millaa Falls where Herbal Essences shot one of their most popular commercials. Don’t forget to get your famous hair flip photo under the falls! Even though the waterfalls aren’t super “impressive,” it was a really fun day of seeing some of the countryside outside Cairns. I also loved exploring them with Barefoot Tours. I highly recommend them if you’re looking for a day trip!
Kuranda Railway and Cable Car: Take the scenic railway up to Kuranda, a historic village in the Atheron Tablelands. There isn’t a ton to do in the village other than shop for souvenirs. Hop on the skyrail and stop to view the waterfalls along the way down to Cairns. This can easily be done as a half day trip.
Skydive at Mission Beach: You can skydive almost anywhere in Australia but one of the most famous spots is Mission Beach, about 2 hours south of Cairns. You’ll see the Great Barrier Reef from above during your free fall and you can land directly on the beach!
Bunnings Sausage Sizzle: One of the foods you will hear many locals talk about throughout Australia is a sausage sizzle from Bunnings. Bunnings is their hardware store. For my fellow Americans, it’s Home Depot. Outside of each store there’s a barbecue set up. I had a local take me in Cairns and it was actually really good! A little ketchup, some onions, a slice of white bread and a sausage. Delicious! And I loved being able to tell other locals I had a Bunnings sausage sizzle!
Lagoon: You can’t swim at the beach in Cairns and you wouldn’t want to! It’s dirty and filled with crocs. But just next to the beach there is a massive pool called the Lagoon where you can go for a free swim and sunbathe.
Third Stop: Whitsunday Islands
Time Spent There: 3 Days
I was told the Whitsunday Islands were overrated and boy, were people wrong! They are absolutely stunning. Photos do not even do them justice! The islands are a bit difficult to get to. They’re located off the coast of Airlie Beach which is about halfway between Cairns and Brisbane. But they are WORTH IT, people!
I recommend doing an overnight boat trip through the Whitsunday Islands. The islands are a little over 2 hours from the shore of Airlie Beach so you really don’t get the full experience doing a day trip.
I do not recommend paying for a dive in the Whitsundays. A cyclone in May 2017 ruined the reef and it’s now basically just crumbled coral on the bottom of the ocean. It’s really quite sad.
Fourth Stop: The Outback
Time Spent There: 5 Days
If you go to Australia and don’t experience the famous Outback, did you really go to Australia? I think not! The country’s Red Center is exactly as the name describes. It is covered in bright red sand and is in the dead center of the country, making it difficult to get to. With only a month in Australia, you really need to fly to Alice Springs or Uluru. Taking a bus from Adelaide or Darwin or even Brisbane is going to take up way too much of your trip. If you only have a month to travel around Australia, just splurge and fly there. The Outback experience is worth it!
During my time in the Outback, I chose to do a two night, three day tour with Adventure Tours. When I have limited time to spend in a place, I find that tours are the easiest way to see everything quickly. I don’t have to waste time getting lost or losing track of a schedule. Also, it’s a great way to meet people when traveling alone
What To Do:
King’s Canyon Rim Walk: This 6 km walk (a little over 3 miles) is a fairly easy hike through some of the most unique terrain you’ll see in Australia. Bring water and start early! It gets HOT in the Red Center by 9 a.m. And who doesn’t love hiking with the sunrise!?
Field of Light: Open until March 2018, the famous Field of Light art installation is 50,000 colorful lightbulbs in the middle of the desert just beyond Uluru. With only 30-40 people inside the exhibit at one time, it makes for a beautiful, quiet evening in the Outback.
Kata Tjuta Walk: Kata Tjuta is the cousin to famous Uluru. The Karu lookout walk is a shorter, flatter hike compared to King’s Canyon and takes just an hour round trip.
Watch the Sunset on Uluru: On a bright, clear night, watch as Uluru changes colors under the setting sun. Bring along a bottle of champagne to toast your time in the Outback!
Ayers Rock Cultural Center: There is a TON of history in Uluru. The indigenous people consider it sacred and the stories they have about it are fascinating. Definitely spend some time learning about the culture.
Alice Springs: There is more to do in Alice Springs than in Uluru but it’s still the middle of the Outback so don’t expect a large city! I was sad to have missed Alice Springs on my trip to Australia. But if you’re looking for a little more action than what you get in Ayers Rock, definitely add Alice Springs to your itinerary! If you time it right, you can fit it in during a month long trip.
Fifth Stop: Melbourne
Time Spent There: 5 Days
Melbourne was my absolute favorite city in Australia! First of all, it was the most livable city in my opinion. I could picture myself drinking delicious coffee in the famous alleyways on my lunch break. And second of all, there’s tons to do in and around the city!
Sip a Flat White in the Laneways: Throughout the city you’ll find cobblestone alleyways that have become food and cafe hot spots. Melbournites are coffee snobs and I completely understand why. I drank 2-3 coffees a day during my stay. The coffee is THAT good!
Take a Run Around Yarra Park: Explore the Botanic Gardens of Yarra Park, Melbourne’s equivalent of Central Park.
Brighton Beach: Located in the town of Brighton, head to the beach to see the famous Brighton Boxes. After checking them out, walk through the town for some boutique shopping.
Take in a Footy Game: If you happen to be in Melbourne during the early autumn to late winter, check out an AFL game. The Australian Football League is referred to as “footy” by Australians and is as intense, if not more, than the NFL in the States! AFL fans are incredibly passionate.
Great Ocean Road: The Great Ocean Road is a beautiful oceanfront drive along Melbourne’s coast. It’s actually quite a LONG drive and I don’t recommend doing it by yourself. Especially if you’re not used to driving (like this Manhattanite) and are traveling by yourself on the opposite side of the road from what you’re used to. Each turn of the drive is more stunning than the last and you’ll want to pay attention to the landscape, not keeping yourself safe! Even though it was a long, 12 hour day, the Great Ocean Road tour with Autopia Tours was a highlight of my time in Melbourne!
Shopping: Melbourne is quickly becoming known as the fashion capitol of Australia. They have everything from H&M to Gucci. Spend an afternoon window shopping along Bourke Street. If you’re there around Christmas, get in line early to see the themed displays in Myer’s windows.
Wine Tour in the Yarra Valley: While it’s not known as the best wine in Australia, the Yarra Valley just outside Melbourne is easy to get to and still has some delicious wine. You’ll find many day tours (I enjoyed mine with Dancing Kangaroo) but it’s also easy to travel around the wine region yourself. Don’t leave the Yarra Valley without a stop at the Yarra Valley Dairy for a cheese tasting. And you’ll want to end your day with gelato from the Chocolaterie!
Last Stop: Perth and Margaret River
Time Spent Here: 6 Days
Located on the west coast of Australia, Perth isn’t a city many tourists visit. I included it in my itinerary because I wanted to visit my friend Mel who I met in London while I was backpacking back in 2014! It’s always fun to experience a new place with a local and Mel gave me a great food and drinks tour of the city.
Western Australia has some of the most impressive beaches in the entire country. If you can add in some extra time to your month long itinerary, consider adding in more time on the west coast. I wished I had been able to visit Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef. Many people in WA told me they were not to be missed. Guess I will have to go back!
What to Do:
Rottnest Island: Have you ever heard of the Quokka? It’s a rat like animal that ONLY lives on Rottnest Island. Make sure to be on trend and grab a selfie with a smiling Quokka before you leave the island. No cars are allowed on Rottnest so rent a bike and spend the day exploring the different beaches and snorkel spots. Note that Rottnest is about a 45 minute ferry ride from Perth.
Elizabeth Quay: Walk along the waterfront in Elizabeth Quay or grab lunch at one of the riverfront bars.
Margaret River: Located about a 3 hour drive south of Perth, Margaret River is known for beautiful beaches and delicious wine country. Spend at least one night in this jaw dropping region.
City Beach: For an easy beach trip, grab an Uber (or drive yourself if you rent a car!) to City Beach just north of the city center.
In just under 4 weeks in Australia, I was able to experience cities, beaches and the Outback and felt like I got a real feel for the country’s culture. Also, I didn’t feel rushed which is always super important while traveling. I like to see as much as I can but I also want to enjoy my trips!
I know if and when I go back I’ll add in more stops in Western Australia, Brisbane and Byron Bay. There is always more to explore no matter where you go. That’s why we all live a life of travel, right!?