Quick Tour of Australia
An Australian Travel Planner’s View on Time and Distance
This Quick Tour of Australia will try to give you our philosophy on maximising your experience Downunder.
Australia, although an island, is also a continent, some 4,500 kilometres (2,700 miles) across and about the same distance from North to South when you include Tasmania.
You might want to keep these distances in mind when thinking about driving in Australia. We strongly suggest that in most cases you fly between major areas (unless you prefer to travel by rail and take more time) and then hub out from major centres to explore features and environments.
For the sake of simplicity, we have divided the country into 10 main Areas, each accessible through a central city or cities and each of which exhibits their own individual Australian character and style.
We have listed Sydney and its area as the first and we then put the Areas in order that we would visit them if we were there showing you around.
Most trips to Australia are 3 to 4 weeks in duration and we will suggest the minimum number of days in each area as if it were a part of a 35 day experience. You cannot, obviously, visit all of Australia in any depth in 30 days and so we will leave it to you to make your own decisions as to the length of time you ultimately allocate to any particular area.
We are listing the Areas in order of our own preferences and have done so to suggest how to get the best from what will always be limited time in Australia. Some things will interest you more than others, and you might obviously allocate more time in this Area and less in another. By covering the first four Areas only, you will have come to grips with the essential variety of Australia and will widen the experience as you include other Areas.
If you have only 15 – 21 days then you can do the first four Areas without undue hurry, though you might want to substitute another Area for any of our first four suggestions.
You may, or may not agree with us, but we hope this Quick Tour of Australia gives you some food for thought. We have recently been there and feel our current knowledge is what is most helpful and needed.
Area 1 – Sydney – Quick Tour of Australia
Sydney, Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and North New South Wales Coast – Allow 3 to 5 Days
Sydney is a great city in which to spend a few days coming to grips with the urban Australian and is justly famous for its spectacular harbour. The city is truly a great place to explore and there is a lot to do.
The historical center of the city is the area around Circular Quay, with the Opera House on one side and the Harbour Bridge on the other. The Historic Rocks district is beside the Quay and under the shadow of the Bridge itself…you should always consider staying near this area where possible.
The transport systems of Harbour Ferries, Bus and Light Rail are all excellent and you can access all areas of the city using these. Alternatively, take tours or day trips to selected areas to widen the experience. You can visit the Blue Mountains on a day trip or can stay overnight in a number of fine hotels or lodges. The Hunter Valley wine area, similarly can be explored on a day trip from Sydney or at a more leisurely pace by staying overnight at one of the accommodations in the area.
If you really want to drive between two major Australian cities, our suggestion is to do it North from Sydney, following the coast to Brisbane. Another alternative is to head south to Melbourne, via Canberra and the wine country. Be aware that either drive is 10 hours non-stop and that you should allow at least 3 days to do it at a leisurely pace.
Area 1 – Continued – Canberra – Quick Tour of Australia
Canberra and The Snowy Mountains . Allow 2 to 3 Days.
Politicians the world over deem it necessary to create Capital cities and Canberra is Australia’s monument to the will of politicians.
The Federal Houses of Parliament are worth seeing, but Canberra’s real gem is its War Museum. It is quite possible to visit Canberra as a day trip from Sydney by either coach or catching the XPT Train, but if you wish to spend time there we offer several excellent hotels. We in no way wish to denigrate Canberra as a city, but you should be aware that its purpose is largely to provide a seat of Federal Government for Australia and that what you see will reflect that purpose.
The Snowy Mountains can be accessed from Canberra (and equally well from the area north of Melbourne). If you decide to go there, please be aware that these are not mountains in the true mountaineering traditions of Asia, North America or Europe. The Snowy Mountains’ fascination (as in “The Man From Snowy River”) lies in the area and its people. These can be accessed from either Canberra or from an area three hours drive north of Melbourne.
Area 2 – Tasmania – Quick Tour of Australia
Tasmania – Australia’s Island State – Allow 5 to 6 days.
If you are going to explore the Southeast area of Australia and want to get into the countryside, then Tasmania is the place to do it. This island State offers extremely diverse scenery and the opportunity to get among real Australians and see how they actually live. Do your city experiences in the major centres such as Sydney or Melbourne, but get into the countryside in Tasmania.
This is one of the best places in Australia in which to self drive and explore on your own and there are many excellent, small accommodations from which to choose. If you do not want to drive, you can hub out of the major cities of Hobart and Launceston by taking Day Trips to the different areas and features. We highly recommend flying into Hobart as you enter Tasmania and flying out of Launceston as you leave.
Area 3 – Melbourne -Quick Tour of Australia
Melbourne, The Yarra Valley, Great Ocean Road,
The Grampians and Ballarat – Allow 3 to 4 Days
Much of the countryside around Melbourne is very similar to Tasmania in nature, so we suggest that you concentrate on the areas of real difference, the city itself, the Great Ocean Road, Ballarat and the Yarra Valley wine areas.
Melbourne is a great city in which to walk and has wonderful shopping areas downtown. Situated at the head of a large bay, it feels like it is on the ocean when you are “Bayside”, and it also enjoys the charm of being set on the Yarra River. The city has a distinctly European feel about it.
In keeping with its European ambiance, Melbourne has excellent public transport (its Tram – streetcar – system must rank as one of the best in the world) and its cosmopolitan background is reflected in the many ethnic restaurants and attractions in the city.
It is Australia’s third oldest capital city (having been settled from Launceston in Tasmania) and is a very easy city to get around using the public transport. We suggest not renting a car if you are planning to stay only in the city itself.
An absolute must if you are into unusual restaurants is the Tramcar Restaurant, a streetcar that serves excellent food and wines while cruising around the city streets. Bookings are essential.
Area 4 – Cairns – Quick Tour of Australia
Cairns, Daintree Rainforest, Kuranda and Port Douglas. Allow 4 to 6 Days
Cairns is the gateway to the Northern Barrier Reef and many of its islands (see Area 5 below), and is also the centre of an interesting tropical and agricultural area and near a great deal of excellent rainforest. The Tjapukai Aboriginal Complex just near Cairns also gives you a good opportunity to come to grips with Australian Aboriginal Culture.
Cairns itself is mainly an accommodation centre and serves as the focal point for day trips out onto the Reef, up to Kuranda and to the Daintree Rainforest. You can get up really close to a lot of wildlife in the wild in perfect safety with the right outfitter.
To get a good feel for what tropical Australia has to offer in a general sense, day trips to various areas will suffice, but to really come to grips with the rainforest it is a good idea to spend a few nights up in the Daintree itself.
Sea fishing is great on the Reef out of Cairns. Light and heavy tackle … and some of the best Marlin fishing in the world.
If you are not really into scuba diving or serious snorkeling, then a day trip to the Reef from Cairns will usually be enough. If you are a serious diver, do it right and spend time on a dive boat or spend some time on one of the dive-oriented Islands.
Area 4 – Continued – Great Barrier Reef – Quick Tour of Australia
The Great Barrier Reef and Island Accommodations. Allow 2 to 4 Days.
The Barrier Reef is the largest Coral Reef in the world and stretches some 3000 kilometres (1800 miles) from the Northern tip of Australia to just north of Brisbane.
It is worth remembering that in places, the Reef is almost 300 kilometres (180 miles) wide and that it is not just a matter of paddling a little way off shore to see it.
If you wish to explore the Reef in more depth, an ideal way to see it is to spend some time on any one of the Barrier Reef islands.
Each island has its own individual character and offers differing styles of accommodation and activities which can include spectacular diving in the North to the wind swept beauty of an island made entirely of sand, in the South.
We feel it is wise to select an island that matches your accommodation requirements and your interests. We can discuss this with you.
Area 5 – Adelaide – Quick Tour of Australia
Adelaide, The Barossa Valley and Kangaroo Island. Allow 5 to 6 Days.
Adelaide is an interesting, cultural city and is the gateway to excellent wine areas in the Barossa Valley to the north and the Southern Vales to the south. If you are a serious wine buff, it is extremely easy to spend 3 or 4 days in these two regions alone.
Kangaroo Island provides an opportunity to get among Australian wildlife in an area that is relatively untouched by human traffic and offers some excellent coastline, National Parks and animal refuges. It is possible to visit Kangaroo Island on day trips flying from Adelaide and also to stay on Kangaroo Island itself.
A visit to Kangaroo Island will get you right off the beaten track – you can do it as part of the large bus groups, or arrange it independently with quality accommodation and small group or private tours to experience the wildlife in the wild.
Area 6 – Brisbane – Quick Tour of Australia
Brisbane, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast, and Lamington National Park. Allow 2 to 3 Days.
This is an area of balmy sub-tropical climate with the theme parks and attractions of the Gold Coast vying with the beauty of the Lamington National Park inland. The southern Barrier Reef can be accessed through this area and these southern islands provide an excellent alternative the tropical islands to the far north during the summer months (January – April).
The Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise is a very westernized coastal strip of highrise hotels, resorts and apartment buildings and is interesting if you are into beaches and lazing around.
The Lamington National Park area is a fine example of sub-tropical rainforest and is worth exploring for its wildlife, birdlife and scenery.
Area 7 – The Red Centre – Quick Tour of Australia
Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta, Alice Springs and Kings Canyon. Allow 2 to 4 Days.
You can visit the Red Centre and see the major icons, Ayers Rock (Uluru), The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) and the desert in about 3 Days. It is not recommended that you attempt to drive to this area from any coast unless you are allowing at least a week for the drive.
If you want to get out into the desert on a safari trip with a small group, there is some spectacular scenery and a chance to get away from it all, but be aware that in the summer (Dec-Apr) it is extremely hot (up to 40 degrees C- or 110 Farenheit).
Having said this, if you really want to get out into the back of beyond and experience a vastness that is unique, then this is the place to do it. We suggest that if going out here that you pre-reserve your tours and activities with us to make sure that you are not left behind on the day.
Area 8 – Darwin – Quick Tour of Australia
Darwin, Kakadu, Litchfield Park and The Tiwi Islands. Allow 4 to 6 Days.
This is “Crocodile Dundee” territory. As you go north, the Red Centre of Australia has gradually given way to the tropical countryside that is the home of the Kakadu National Park and the Litchfield National Park. These Parks are part of the spectacular, pristine tropical wilderness areas accessed through Darwin.
There are many opportunities to visit the National Park areas on both accommodated and camping safaris at many levels of comfort. You should be aware that the wet season is from January to April and that you are probably going to experience a lot of rain if you go at this time of year.
It is possible to rent a car or 4 Wheel Drive and navigate on your own, but there is a good argument that you are likely to see and learn more as part of a trip that is under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable guide.
Area 9 – Perth – Quick Tour of Australia
Perth, Monkey Mia and Margaret River – Allow 3 to 4 Days</h3>
Bearing in mind that you are traveling a similar distance from New York to Los Angeles, London to Cairo, or Tokyo to Bangkok when you fly from Sydney to Perth, you might want to consider this Area carefully.
Perth and its surrounds have a lot to offer, but it will take almost a day to fly there and a day to fly back from the east coast of Australia and you should keep this in mind when planning… one might need to consider the point at which one is reaching that of diminishing returns as regards experience.
The Indian Ocean laps onto beaches that are unrivaled for shear pristine beauty in this part of the world and the cooler areas of the Margaret River to the south are producing some excellent wines and provide interesting rural areas. The trip north to Geraldton and Monkey Mia covers some unique areas and the coastline up here is worth visiting.
It is always worth balancing the feasibility of including Perth and the surrounding area against the total Australian trip.
Conclusion – Quick Tour of Australia
We hope this Quick Tour of Australia has given you some idea as to what you might expect in approaching your Australian trip.
Please do not let us discourage you from visiting any Area or attraction that you might wish to visit. We have tried merely to put things into perspective as we see it as Australians who continually research Australia and have been to the places (recently) you want to visit. We want you to evaluate your options and assist to plan your trip effectively. Having a successful trip is what it is all about! We look forward to working with you.
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