Australia is a big country as well as continent and almost considered to be multicultural entity united in a certain nation. Beside its state that it is a nation, Australia is also perform as land with gigantic shape. Goes with boundaries nothing but ocean, Australia owns several national parks both in land and ocean.
If you are trying to visit Australia purposely on vacation, it may require you at least a month long. With such length period of visit, I cannot guarantee that you will be able to reach every corner of the land. It is due to Australia, with numerous national parks, has ability to paralyze whoever come to spend holiday. Instead of planning for a week, itinerary goes for a month with prolong attempt in second visit.
We get a lot of emails from our readers who want to visit Australia but they only have a few weeks vacation time and so ask our advice on where to go and what to see in Australia. This post how to travel Australia in three weeks will answer a lot of their questions. Three weeks, are probably smallest assumption that in this period of time, you can optimize your stay in one place and quickly move to another, so you can get visible sight of each state and attraction.
If this is your first time planning a trip, these are the places in Australia I would suggest to see the highlights and make the most of your time traveling in Australia. During our road trip around Australia we met a lot of people visiting Australia for a short period, most of them on a tour. If you prefer to travel independently like us, travel is a big industry and it’s easy to go it alone.
If you follow this three week Australia itinerary, you’ll get to visit Australia’s two best cities, Sydney and Melbourne. Beside, the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, Uluru, the Outback, see wildlife, and the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road are also came to an end of journey.
I understand the desire to see as much as possible, particularly if you are visiting from the USA where most of you only have a standard two-week vacation. But Australia is a vast country, almost the same size as the USA. Can you imagine doing all of the US in three weeks? It’s impossible, especially when you add in flying and driving times.
I will probably give you quick advices to make short visit but valuable in one place. With these itinerary arrangement that is not set in stone. Please use it as a guide and adjust it to suit your needs, based on time frame and budget you own from home country. Take what you like, and leave the rest.
Days 1, 2, 3 : Visit Sydney
When you visit Australia you can’t miss notorious city of Sydney. Besides being Australia’s largest city, there are many reasons why Sydney is the most frequently visited. The stunning harbourside location, the iconic beaches, excellent restaurants, fantastic cafes and pubs, world heritage sites, terrific shopping, incredible festivals, a multicultural population, and good year round weather particularly during summer season when sky is in sunny phase and you can see clearly on the Circular Quay. So don’t just use Sydney as a gateway to Australia, with so much to see and experience give yourself three days. Trust me, Sydney won’t let you leave unhanded.
How to get into Sydney when you arrive at the airport:
Get in to the Sydney Airport Link Train which takes 15 minutes (adult $17, child $14). Get yourself an Opal Card which is a smart card you top up for certain amount of money (local Australian money, AUD). You can use it for paying multiple public transportation fares such as trains, buses, ferries and light rail.
The airport link is expensive, so sometimes an Uber works out to be about the same price and is more convenient. You can estimate the price before you request it to double check. Once you’re in the city, I suggest you to book accommodation days in advance. In the Sydney CBD you have centrally located to make the most of your visit from very strategic standpoint. And several of Sydney’s highlights can be taken in for free or cheap simply by walking around.
Things to do in Sydney
- Walk around Circular Quay : this is the best place to start your visit is in Circular Quay, the main transport hub of Sydney Harbour and where two of Australia’s most famous landmarks reside; Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Consider to take an hour tour of the Opera House. Otherwise, just wander around and take your “I was here” photo.
- Royal Botanic Gardens : you can’t beat the serenity and harbour views from these gardens. Have a picnic or take a walk and admire the many different types of plants and city views.
- Explore The Rocks District : The Rocks District is a historical area of Sydney and traveller’s favourite part of the CBD. It’s home for Sydney’s oldest pubs, cobblestone streets, weekend markets, and views of the harbour.
- Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge : climbing one of the most famous bridges in the world is a once in a lifetime. Take either a dawn, day, twilight, or night climb and take in the breathtaking views.
- Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge : a cheaper option than climbing is to simply walking across the bridge for free and take in the same views on a lower level. Or visit the Pylon Lookout for $11 and get fantastic views plus 3 levels of exhibits to learn about the history of the Bridge.
- One of my favourite free things to do in Sydney is visiting Bondi to Coogee Coastal walk. A stunning coastal walk and the perfect way to spend a gorgeous few hours in Sydney.
- Catch the ferry to Manly. A cheap way to experience beautiful Sydney Harbour with stunning views of the city is to catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly beach and back. In Manly, walk down the palm tree-lined Corso towards the beach for an ice-cream, walk around to picturesque Shelly Beach, or grab a cold beer at Manly Wharf Hotel. Time your return ferry trip back to the Quay to coincide with the sunset behind the harbour bridge.
- Surry Hills : walk around one of Sydney’s most artistically-vibrant neighbourhoods with old terrace homes, a great mix of cafes, restaurants, wine bars and pubs. Wander Crown Street, Bourke street and Cleveland streets.
- Darling Harbour : lively harbourside precinct just a 10-minute walk from the CBD and has cafes, bars, restaurants, a large kids playground and a program of fantastic free Sydney entertainment every week.
- Walk through Hyde Park : Australia’s oldest park and the city’s central open green space. The park contains St Mary’s cathedral plus numerous monuments and statues, and the central pathway through the park is an impressive fig-lined road.
- Hit the beaches : Sydney is famous for its beaches, which are great free things to do in Sydney. From the Northern Beaches to the Eastern Suburbs you have many great beaches to explore. Our favourites: Bronte and Coogee in the eastern suburbs. And you must visit famous Bondi Beach at least once. Manly, Freshwater, and Palm Beach on the northern beaches.
- Taronga Zoo : Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo which is situated in a natural bushland setting with spectacular views over the harbour. A wide variety of Aussie and international animals with keeper talks and animal encounters makes for a great half-day as a family outing.
- Sydney Tower : for $18 go up to the top of Sydney Tower, city’s tallest free-standing structure with approximate height 309 m (1,014 ft) above the CBD average ground level. It has an observation deck with awesome views of the skyline.
- Art Gallery of NSW : free to enter and one of Australia’s leading art museums with collections of Australian, Aboriginal, European, Asian and contemporary art.
Where to stay in Sydney
Budget accommodation in Sydney:
- Sydney Harbour YHA, in the Rocks District.
- Sydney Central YHA which is located close to Central Station.
- Wake Up that lay also close to Central Station.
Mid-Level accommodations in Sydney:
- Travelodge Phillip Street
- Four Points by Sheraton Darling Harbour
- Vibe Hotel CBD
- The Grace Hotel
Luxury accommodation in Sydney:
- Shangri-La Hotel Sydney
- Sydney Harbour Marriott
- Four Seasons Sydney
- Park Hyatt Sydney
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Days 4, 5, 6 : Visit Cairns
Catch a flight from Sydney to Cairns with 3 hour flight and check into your accommodation in Cairns, Australia’s one of biggest city with tourist town and friendly environment. It is gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is vibrant with plenty of restaurants and cafes to keep you happy.
The weather is typically amazing, you can walk around at night and have plenty to do, and the days are filled with an enormous amount of choice to explore the surrounding regions. Whilst Cairns is mostly about getting out on the Great Barrier Reef, the surrounding hinterlands and nearby rainforest are definitely worth exploring.
Things to do in Cairns
- Swim at the Cairns lagoon : the cruelty of the north is you get hot summers but you can’t swim in the beaches, they’re full of stingers jelly fish that can seriously harm you, even kill you. There’s also a few crocs around. The main beach in Cairns is also more of mud. Not to fear, the man-made Cairns lagoon gives you exactly what you need. Crystal clear waters, beach views and life-guards. It’s a cool place to laze around and read your book.
- Great Barrier Reef : a true wonder of the world stretching for 2,300km long and consists of 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs. It’s the world’s largest coral reef and the largest living structure on the planet. There are many options for getting out on the reef, some of the main operators are Reef Magic Cruises, Quicksilver Cruises, and Reef Experience.
- Green Island : a coral cay surrounded by white sandy beaches and magnificent coral reefs. You can snorkel straight off the shore and there’s a nice boardwalk through the forest to the other side of the island.
- Rusty Farmer’s Market : a bit of a Cairns institution and one of the cheapest farmers’ market available for grocery products in Australia.
- Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park : Tjipukai is famous of Its simplicity and the down to earth, way the local people share their culture with visitors. We watched dance shows, made a fire with sticks, and got up on stage and danced and sung with them, learned about bush medicine and food, and had a chance to throw boomerangs and spears.
- Walk or cycle the Cairns Esplanade : take a stroll along the Esplanade in Cairns, watch the sunrise then grab breakfast at one of the busy cafes and restaurants that line the strip.
- White Water Rafting : down the Tully River, or the Barron River in Barron Gorge National Park with raging thunder adventures, you can ride the river stream while splashing water with family.
- Visit Kuranda : one of the most popular things to do in Cairns is riding the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway up to the hinterland town of Kuranda and then taking the Scenic Railway back down.
- Atherton Tablelands : about an hour south-west of Cairns, spend a day exploring this region, we especially loved the waterfall circuit. Pick up a rental car as you’ll be needing one anyway over the next few days in the next section of my suggested itinerary.
Where to stay in Cairns
Budget accommodation in Cairns:
- The Northern Greenhouse
- Cairns Central YHA
Mid-level accommodation in Cairns :
- Cairns Plaza Hotel
- Cascade Gardens
Luxury accommodation in Cairns
- Pullman Reef Hotel Casino
- Shangri-La Hotel The Marina
Days 7, 8, 9 – Road trip Cairns to Cape Tribulation
If you haven’t got one already, now it’s time to pick up your rental car for your a three day loop drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation via Port Douglas and take in the best that Tropical North Queensland. It’s one of the most enchanting regions in Australia. I don’t suggest you do this drive as a day trip from Cairns though, it’s 140 kms one way and will be too rushed, so either stay at Port Douglas and do a day trip from there (85 km’s one way) or stay within The Daintree and explore.
Road trip from Cairns to Port Douglas is one of Australia’s most scenic coastal roads, you’ve got the rainforest on one side and the Great Barrier Reef on the other. If you were to drive from Cairns to Port Douglas without stopping it would only take you one hour, but consider stopping at Palm Cove along the way.
Palm Cove is a colourful village and considered to have one of Australia’s most idyllic beaches (there’s a designated swimming area during stinger season). There’s a beachfront playground for children and a gorgeous esplanade to stroll back and forth along for coffee, gelato or endless restaurants to dine in.
If you don’t head straight to the Daintree, Port Douglas is a fantastic place to base yourself and explore more of the tropical north. And it’s also another good base to head out on to the Great Barrier Reef.
Things to See and Do in Port Douglas:
- 4 Mile Beach – swim, walk, or laze under a palm tree.
- A day on the Barrier Reef, it almost nothing equalize the beauty of Great Barrier Reef which has stunning both underwater attraction with diving, or just surface water swimming while snorkelling.
- Sailaway Reef and Island Tours : take a sunset cruise, afternoon cruise, or full day cruise.
- Mossman Gorge : the south-most of the Daintree Rainforest. It’s ancient and pristine. A boardwalk takes you to the Mossman River and a beautiful swimming area.
- Lady Douglas River Cruise : cruise down Dickson Inlet on an iconic riverboat.
- Flames of the Forest : dine in the rainforest and have an aboriginal cultural experience.
- Hartleys Crocodile Adventures : one of the best places to see crocodiles and local wildlife.
- Sunday Markets : at its best vibe, Sunday market is where you can find any local foods as well as get socially interaction atmosphere.
Where to eat & drink at Port Douglas:
- Surf Club Bar and Bistro : local’s favourite for lunch, dinner, coffee and drinks.
- On the Inlet : Great location where you can meet and feed George (a 250 kg Groper fish).
- Yacht Club : Fantastic location and seafood. Great value meals and well-priced drinks.
- Courthouse Hotel : It’s an absolute must for beer and fresh prawns.
- The Tin Shed : Watch the boats come in late afternoon and enjoy the cheapest drinks in town.
- Salsa Bar : Excellent ambiance and food. Fantastic cocktails and margarita jugs.
Where to Stay in Port Douglas:
Budget accommodation in Port Douglas:
- Port Douglas Backpackers
- Global Backpackers
Mid-level accommodation in Port Douglas:
- Port Douglas Retreat
- Outrigger Apartments
Luxury accommodation in Port Douglas:
- Coconut Grove
- Sheraton Mirage
The Daintree Rainforest
At 110 million years old, the Daintree Rainforest is possibly the oldest existing rainforest in the world, even pre-dating the Amazon. It’s World Heritage listed and sits smack bang along side the Great Barrier Reef, the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet. It’s a must visit part of Australia. From Port Douglas, the furthest north we have been in spectacular Cape Tribulation, only 85 km away. Cape Tribulation is a headland located within the Daintree.
Things to do in the Daintree Rainforest:
- Cape Kimberley : the first beach you come to in Daintree National Park.
- Alexandra Lookout : stop here for beautiful views out over the Alexandra Range and Snapper Island.
- Daintree Discovery Centre : do the self-guided audio tour and aerial walkway.
- Cow Bay
- Maardja Botanical Walk : the 540m boardwalk follows the creek through a section of rainforest and past the eerily twisting roots and vines of the mangroves to a lookout over Noah Creek.
- Cape Tribulation : the prettiest of the beaches in the Daintree. Walk along the beach and then back up to the Kulki boardwalk.
- Dubuji Boardwalk : the 1.2km boardwalk winds its way through the mangroves, shaded by it’s canopy of enormous fan palms, strangler figs and vines leading down to Myall Beach.
- Myall Beach
- Kayaking at Cape Tribulation : it is just something else, riding kayak in smooth water body especially with mate or spouse.
Where to eat & drink in the Daintree:
- Mason’s Cafe : the burgers are legendary. Pick your animal: wild boar, emu, crocodile or kangaroo as main ingredient, definitely it has formed in a slice of patty.
- Daintree Ice Cream Company : for $6 get a bowl of ice cream with four scoops. The flavours depend on what they’ve made at that time based upon the exotic fruits that have been harvested from the orchard.
- Thornton Beach Cafe : nice spot to stop for lunch or breakfast right on Thornton Beach.
Where to Stay in the Daintree Rainforest :
Budget accommodation in The Daintree (there are many accommodation provide by YHA property which concern on low budgeting ones) :
- Cape Tribulation YHA
- Cape Trib Beach House
Mid-level accommodation in The Daintree:
- Daintree Cascades
- Coconut Beach House
Day 10 Visit Alice Springs
Return your rental car to Cairns airport then fly to Alice Springs and visit Australia’s most famous Outback town and begin your Outback adventure (Qantas and Virgin Australia fly direct). Alice Springs is a thriving, spirited outback centre famous for the personality of its locals and contemporary and traditional art as the natural wonders.
Framed by the MacDonnell Ranges and the desert landscape, Alice has all the conveniences of a modern township imbued with a rich living Aboriginal tradition and European explorer history. Spend a day or a week exploring the sites of Alice Springs.
Pick up a 4-wheel-drive rental car in Alice Springs for the next five days of exploring Central Australia.
Things to do in Alice Springs :
- Telegraph Station Historical Reserve : learn about the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line from Port Augusta in South Australia to Darwin. Onsite cafe and walking and cycling tracks.
- School of the Air visitors centre : learn about the world’s largest classroom, covering more than 1.3 million square kilometres.
- The Kangaroo Sanctuary : Get up close with kangaroos at the home of Brolga, star of the documentary series Kangaroo Dundee – BBC UK / Nat Geo USA. Do the guided sunset tour.
- Royal Flying Doctors Service Museum : learn about one of the largest aeromedical organisations in the world, providing extensive primary health care and 24-hour emergency service to people over an area of 7.3 million square kilometres.
- Desert Park : see the animals that live in Central Australia’s habitats. Here you can see any native Australian animal directly on the site of its natural habitat.
- Anzac Hill : for a panoramic view of the town. Sunrise is the perfect time as you watch the sun slowly rise to light up the MacDonnell Ranges and beautiful desert town below.
Where to Stay in Alice Springs :
Budget accommodation in Alice Springs:
- Alice Springs YHA
- Alice’s Secret Travellers Inn
- Alice Lodge Backpackers
Mid-level accommodation in Alice Springs:
- Desert Palms Alice Springs
- Elkira Court Motel
- Aurora Alice Springs
High-end accommodation in Alice Springs:
- Chifley Alice Springs Resort
- Quest Serviced Apartments
Days 11 – 15 Visit Uluru & Red Centre Way :
The Red Centre Way is one of the Australian Outback’s great drives, stretching from Alice Springs to Uluru and taking in the stunning landscapes of Kings Canyon and Ormiston Gorge.
Day 11 – Visit Alice Springs to Glen Helen Homestead :
Today’s drive is approximately 177 km’s from Alice Springs to Glen Helen Homestead taking in some of the best scenery in Central Australia along the West MacDonnel Ranges.
Things to see & Do in the West MacDonnel Ranges:
- Simpsons Gap (23 km from Alice Springs via Larapinta Drive) is a prominent waterhole is an important spiritual site to the Arrarnta Aboriginal people. At dawn or dusk, Simpsons gap is renowned as a place to see Black-footed Rock-wallabies along the gap’s short walking track.
- Standley Chasm (40km) – When the sun’s light shifts across the cleft, the walls of Standley Chasm glow golden, orange and red. There’s a pretty 15- 20 min walk along the creek beside rare ancient cycads, and where spring-fed pools give the valley floor a lush, tropical oasis feel. Onsite cafe.
- Ellery Creek Big Hole (57 km) : a favourite swimming hole for the locals and a great spot for a picnic.
- Ochre Pits (22 km from Ellery Creek) : brightly coloured small cliffs that local Arrarnta Aboriginal people have used for thousands of years for their ceremonial paint. The layers of white, yellow and red ochre of the cliffs are so rich and earthy.
- Ormiston Gorge (24 km) : the biggest and prettiest swimming hole. It’s also the most popular. There is a kiosk open here and apparently serves a phenomenal ice coffee.
- Glen Helen Gorge (11 km) : The permanent waterhole at Glen Helen Gorge is a favourite home to many species of desert wildlife and lies at the headwaters of the Finke River, where you can walk along the riverbed between the gorge walls to see fabulous cycads. The traditional owners believe Glen Helen Gorge is the home of an ancient and powerful Rainbow Serpent.
Stay overnight at Glen Helen Homestead Lodge which offers motel room type accommodation for families or singles plus caravan and camping sites. There’s a restaurant, bar, fuel (diesel & unleaded) and a swimming pool.
Day 12 – Visit Kings Canyon
Enjoy breakfast out on the deck at Glen Helen Homestead. The views out over the West Mac ranges are stunning and it is very serene watching the eagles soar quietly above looking for their own break. Depart Glen Helen and drive 225 km along the Mareenie Valley Road and overnight at Kings Canyon Resort. Make sure you have a full tank of fuel, water and food supplies. This section of road is unsealed and can be badly corrugated, that’s why we suggest a 4×4 vehicle for clearance and comfort and control not because it’s technical off-road driving. Some people drive this in a 2WD.
Kings Canyon Resort offers comfortable lodging and hotel style rooms plus camping and caravan sites. Facilities include 2 restaurants, 2 swimming pools, and a petrol station.
Hiking Kings Canyon. Iconic Kings Canyon is just 7 km from the resort. The 5.5km Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Watarrka National Park offers spectacular views of the canyon and stunning dome shaped rock formations and the colours change as the sun continued its journey up. We did it at sunrise with our three and six-year-old daughters, with the only steep part of the walk being the climb to the top at the beginning.
Kings Canyon to Uluru (town of Yulara). The drive from Kings Canyon to Yulara, the main town at the gates into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park where all the accommodation and shops are, is 300km.
Days 13, 14, 15 – Visit Uluru
Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock, is the spiritual heart of the country and a must see when you visit Australia. You’ve probably seen hundreds of photos and TV commercials of Uluru, but it’s a place you have to see and feel, for yourself. Made of arkosic sandstone, Uluru stands 348 metres high and is taller than The Eiffel Tower and 2.5 times the height of Sydney Harbour Bridge. We highly recommend you don’t fly in and out in a hurry, Uluru needs more than one night to appreciate its beauty.
Things to do at Uluru:
- Sunset : the are several lookout spots for sunset and every lookout offers a different perspective of the vibrant and ever changing colours. The most popular sunset spot is the official Uluru Sunset Lookout about 10 kilometres down the road through the entrance gates of the park (entry fee $25 for three days).
- Uluru Sunrise : we dragged the kids out of bed at 5.am each day and jumped in the car for the 20-minute drive from Yulara into the park (sunrise was around 6.20am). For our first Uluru sunrise, we headed back to the Talinguru ‘Nyakunytjaku’ lookout. Be warned, this is where hordes of people and tour buses converge and was very busy even in the off-season.
- Tips : for a great Uluru sunrise silhouette, on another morning we headed back to the sunset lookout spot as you get the rock blocking the sun as she rises. Whilst everyone heads to the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku lookout for sunrise, we had this sunset spot all to ourselves.
- Base walk : the loop walk is 10 kms around the base and it took us 3.45 hours with a three and seven-year-old and taking lots of photos. The walk is completely flat, just remember you’re in the Outback so it’s best to start early at first light to beat the heat. The park opens daily at 5am and we suggest starting at the Kuniya walking point and heading anti-clockwise. Take lots of water, snacks and short breaks.
- Cycle the base : if you’re not up to walking the 10.6 kilometres around the base, a great alternative is to hire bikes from Outback Cycling ($30 for three hours) or bring your own and bike it. We had a tag-along for Kalyra who enjoyed the relaxation of letting daddy do most of the peddling, and little Savannah took in the sights in a baby seat on the back of Caz’s bike.
- Free Ranger Guided Mala Walk : your third option if you don’t want to walk or bike the whole 10.6 kilometres of Uluru is to participate in the two-kilometre return walk (1.5 hours) free ranger guided Mala walk.
- Sunset drinks with AAT Kings : A fitting farewell to our time at Uluru was sipping on a few glasses of champagne with the folks from AAT Kings as the sunset over the rock.
- Sunset Camel Ride : one of the unique ways to take in Uluru is on the back of a trusty camel. Our kids, and us big kids, absolutely loved this experience with Uluru Camel Tours.
On our bucket list is the Sounds of Silence dining experience under the stars (when the kids are a bit older) and a helicopter flight sounds amazing too.
Exploring Kata Tjuta. Kata Tjuta is just 50km’s up the road from Yulara and is equally as impressive as Uluru. Formerly known as The Olgas, this group of large ancient rock formations consisting of 36 ochre-coloured domes are spread over an area of more than 20 kilometres. The sandstone domes are believed to be around 500 million years old. Hot tip – for another brilliant sunrise silhouette of Uluru head to the Kata Tjuta dune viewing area.
Walks at Kata Tjuta:
- The 2.6 km Walpa Gorge walk is the shorter and easier of the two walks.
- The longest trail is the 7km Valley of the Winds Walk.
Where to stay at Yulara :
Budget accommodation at Yulara, Uluru:
- Outback Pioneer Lodge
- Ayers Rock Campground
Mid-range accommodation at Yulara, Uluru:
- Sails in the Desert
- Desert Gardens Hotel
- Emu Walk Apartments
Luxury accommodation at Yulara, Uluru:
- Longitude 131
Uluru to Alice Springs. The drive from Yulara back to Alice Springs is 447 km via the Lasseter Hwy and National Hwy 87. Alternatively, instead of driving back to Alice Springs and catching a flight to Melbourne, you could do a one-way drop off of your rental car at Ayers Rock Airport, which you can do through RentalCars.com and fly to Melbourne from there. You just need to weigh up the cost of a one-way rental drop off versus return and the different flight prices to Melbourne from either Alice or Ayers Rock. Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia fly direct to Melbourne from Ayers Rock Airport.
In fact, if you won’t to shorten this whole itinerary and skip Alice Springs and the Red Centre Way, you can fly direct from Cairns to Ayers Rock Airport, then onto Melbourne. Just an option, or a way to add extra days at the other locations.
Days 16, 17, 18 – Visit Great Ocean Road
Pick up your rental car from the airport and hit the Great Ocean Road, famous in Australia and around the world as one of the best drives on the planet. Beginning one hour outside of Melbourne in the town of Torquay, it stretches over 250 kilometres to Warrnambool, and attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Whilst the tour buses crazily drive this in one day, don’t just rush to the 12 Apostles for your tourist snap. Slow down and appreciate all it has to offer. Visit all the rock formations and towns, walk on a beach and in the rainforest, see a waterfall and wildlife, sit at a lookout and be present. I recommend a minimum of three nights / two days overnighting in Lorne, Apollo Bay and Port Campbell along the way.
Hot Tip : drive from Torquay to Warrnambool (East to West). That way you’ll be on the left side of the road closest to the ocean and you’ll be able to pull over easier to all view points.
Things to do on the Great Ocean Road
- Torquay (104 km’s from Melbourne) : Bells Beach is one of Australia’s most famous surfing beaches. Visit the Australian National Surfing Museum. Do a section of the Surf Coast Walk.
- Anglesea (18 km) : get some sun on Anglesea’s main beach, a wide sandy expanse beside the Anglesea River. Walk along the rugged coastline or head inland beside the Anglesea River on the 44-kilometre Surf Coast Walk.
- Aireys Inlet (9 km) : Split Point Lighthouse was built in 1891 and is perched on the cliffs 70 metres above sea level. Walk along surrounding cliff top tracks to see rocky reefs, rock pools and sheltered coves (keep your eye out for whales in season).
- Lorne (20 km) : a picturesque town situated right on the Great Ocean Road. Great cafes, unique shops boutiques, galleries and Otway National Park is on your doorstep. Enjoy a walk on the beach, a bike ride along the foreshore out to the pier, have a coffee at Lorne Beach Pavilion and try a burger from ‘The Bottle of Milk’. Teddy’s Lookout is a short drive up the hill behind Lorne. Drive up to the picnic area at the end of George Street and walk a short distance to enjoy the spectacular views of the Great Ocean Road from the lookout.
- Lorne to Apollo Bay Drive : it is a favourite stretch of road along the GOR. Be prepared to stop for photos a lot. This stretch of road has some of the most picturesque scenery in the region. It hugs the cliff-face as it winds through the Great Otway National Park and rolling farmland.
- Apollo Bay (47 km’s from Lorne) : seaside village halfway along the Great Ocean Road and surrounded by Otway National Park State Forest. Mariners Lookout offers panoramic views of Apollo Bay’s town centre, the harbour and beaches up and down the coast, located at the northern end of town off Marriners Lookout Road. Climb aboard a kayak, get up close to local seal colonies or sign up for a deep sea fishing adventure. There are sunset beach rides on horseback, gift shops, galleries and tea houses along with countless culinary delights offering. Fishing is an important local industry so seafood is always on the menu.
- Otways National Park : head into the Otways and immerse yourself among tall trees and giant tree ferns, and beautiful waterfalls – Triplet Falls is a highlight. The walk is about a 1 hour return loop. And the 2km Shelley Beach Circuit Walk is one of the best short walks on the Great Ocean Walk.
- Kennett River : want to see koalas in the wild? The best koala viewing spot is Kennet River, along the Grey River Road, just in the middle of town. Otway Lighthouse Road is another popular spot. Just look for the crowds of people and follow their gazes up for quick koala spotting.
- Twelve Apostles (87 kms from Apollo Bay) : Port Campbell National Park is home to these massive limestone structures tower 45 metres above the ocean and were formed some 20 million years ago. There are only eight remaining (the rest have fallen) and forming the backdrop are these magnificent cliffs up to 70 metres high. Hot Tip – get there for sunrise or sunset so you miss the hordes of people and tour buses that arrive around lunchtime (we stayed overnight in Port Campbell, 15 km drive and drove back for sunset).
- Gibson Steps : just down the road from the Twelve Apostles Visitors Centre are the Gibson Steps. Walk down these steps on to the beach for a close-up view.
- Loch Ard Gorge – a few minutes drive west of The Twelve Apostles. Named after the ship Loch Ard, which ran aground on nearby Muttonbird Island at the end of a three-month journey from England to Melbourne.
- The Grotto : is basically a sinkhole. Take the steps down the cliff face to the bottom and look through and you’ll get visibility of the ocean beyond a pool at low tide. Pretty cool.
- London Arch (London Bridge) : formed by a gradual process of erosion and originally was a complete double-span and attached to the mainland. The arch closer to the shoreline collapsed unexpectedly in 1990.
- The Arch : this naturally sculptured arch stands 8 metres high and is located 6km west of Port Campbell.
- Bay of Islands : head a little further south to Peterborough and you’ll discover the mystical Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs. Almost as beautiful as 12 Apostles, yet rarely talked about.
The direct drive back to Melbourne from Warrnambool is 255 km or approximately 3 hrs, via the Hamilton Hwy/B140 and M1. Drop off your rental car at the airport and make your way into the city.
Melbourne Airport is located 25 km from the City Centre. The Sky Bus offers a regular shuttle service 24/7 direct to Southern Cross Station in the city ($19 one way). They also offer a hotel drop off and pick up service.
Days 19, 20, 21 – Visit Melbourne
Melbourne is lovely place, it is probably Australian favourite city and feels very European. The downside is it comes with the four-seasons-in-one-day weather patterns. There really is something for everyone in Melbourne, no matter what your budget or tastes are. Also, it is a well known fact among Australians that they make the best coffee in the country.
Things to do in Melbourne
- City Circle Tram : jump on the free city circle tram service (route 35) that operates within Melbourne’s CBD and passes major tourist attractions. The loop takes about 45 minutes and you can get off at any one of the many stops to explore more on foot, and is the best way to get around to many of Melbourne’s inner city highlights.
- Federation Square : Fed Square occupies a whole urban block right on the banks of the Yarra River and directly opposite Flinders Street Train Station and St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the city. There’s museums, galleries, restaurants, bars, festivals and fun. And the Melbourne Visitor Centre is located underground. Such a cool urban square.
- Shopping : the city laneways, especially between Flinders, Elizabeth, Bourke and Swanston Streets are terrific. Little Collins Street is also very good for relieving you of some of your cash. Also check out Prahran and Chapel Street which runs from the Yarra River in the north to Brighton Road in the south, traversing the suburbs of South Yarra, Prahran, Windsor, St Kilda and St Kilda East.
- St Kilda : jump on a tram and head to this seaside escape. It’s the closest and easiest beach to get to from the city, just 6km away, and it’s Melbourne’s most famous beach. There’s outdoor dining and bars, many with bay views, and the sunsets are pretty special. Acland Street is the place to go for cafes and restaurants, but also for the famous cake shops. West Beach Cafe is right on the sand and Jerry’s Milkbar is a converted milkbar with a little playground out the back and awesome banana bread. Check out Carlisle St in St Kilda East, easy walk from Acland St. Less touristy, a bit grimey, but lots of character and great cafes.
- See penguins at St Kilda Pier at dusk : why go to Phillip Island for the penguin parade when there is a free one right in the city. The fairy penguins come in and bring smiles to everyone who sees them.
- Queen Victoria Market : who doesn’t love a good open air market? The Queen Vic Markets has something for everyone. Grab some fresh produce and head to either Fitzroy Gardens or Carlton Gardens for a picnic.
- Wednesday Night Markets (summer months) : Queen Vic Markets come alive with great street food, with offerings from all over the world. It was like any night food market you’d find in Asia, buzzing with atmosphere and cheap (for Melbourne) street food. Live music and family friendly.
- AFL game : if you’re here during the AFL (Australian Football League) season, you must check out a game. The atmosphere in the massive MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) is unlike anything else in this country.
- Fitzroy : for the cafes and restaurants, not to mention all of the boutique shops, many catering for a hip crowd.
- Lygon Street : for all things Italian. We recommend Tiamo for great and affordable Italian. And Brunetti’s is a Melbourne institution for coffee, cakes and pastries.
- Laneways : Melbourne is famous for its laneways. Centre Place is a busy laneway between Flinders Lane and Collins Street and home to several vibrant bars, cafes, restaurants, boutiques, sushi bars and shops, as well as some of Melbourne’s best examples of street art and graffiti. As is Degraves Street. Hardware Lane has lots of great Italian. Royal Arcade is old and very beautiful (great chocolate shop too).
- Coffee : Melbournians are obsessed with coffee and make it better than most. Here’s a list of some best coffee spots on Lonely Planet and the Tourism Australia website.
- South Bank : a nice place to walk around on the Yarra River with great views back over the city, and endless dining and bar options.
- Riverland Urban Beer Garden : just down by Fed Square and next to the Yarra is a great spot for a beer and a meal in the sun and to watch the rowers on the river and overlooks the Princess’ Bridge. Feels like London in the summer. They have a kids menu too.
- Hosier Lane : a much celebrated landmark due to its sophisticated urban art (graffiti lined walls). A 2 minute walk from Federation square and runs between Flinders St and Collins St. Local and international artists use the walls as a temporary canvas for their works, and the art is very interesting to look at.
- Chinatown : if there’s a Chinatown in town, we’re there! Rarely are we disappointed, and our bank balance is always happy. One place in Melbourne we kept going back to was the popular Camy Shanghai Dumpling and Noodle Restaurant, not for the posh and fancy, it’s a genuine Chinese experience with below par service, but their dumplings were a highlight and cheap.
- Botanic Gardens : take the family for a picnic or sit on the banks of the Yarra and watch the world go by.
- Cycle the Bayside Foreshore : stretch the legs on a bike ride from St Kilda to Brighton Beach and check out the colourful bathing boxes.
- Eureka Tower : offers stunning views from the highest observation deck in the southern hemisphere, Eureka Skydeck at 297 metres/88 floors. I recommend going up just on sun down so you experience Melbourne by day and as it slips into night.
- Walk along the Yarra River and a BBQ on the river bank in Summer.
Where to stay in Melbourne
For a full list of the best accommodation in Melbourne that we researched.
Budget accommodation in Melbourne:
- Ibis Melbourne Swanston Street
- Melbourne Metro YHA
- United Backpackers
Mid-level accommodation in Melbourne:
- Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens
- Crown Promenade (Southbank)
- Jasper Hotel
Luxury accommodation in Melbourne:
- Grand Hyatt
- The Langham (Southbank)
- Crown Metropol (Southbank)