Interactive Trip Planner – Path to Australia

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a trip I recently won to Australia, sponsored by . We have long wanted to visit the antipodes, but never had the opportunity. This is our chance to finally explore as much of the continent as possible. This is where we need your help.

The first part of the trip is already planned for us; an exciting tour of Australia’s Red Center via campervan. We’re going to be trekking all over the Northern Territory, experiencing as much as we can. But other than the fact that Ayer’s Rock or Uluru or whatever it’s called is there, I know nothing about this part of the Northern Territory and I need your help.

Not only do I need your help with the Northern Territory, but I need help planning the rest of our trip. We’ll be there for a couple of weeks, but it has recently come to my attention that Australia is quite large. One would say huge, even. I have no misguided notion that we’ll be able to do and see everything on our greatest hits list; I’m ok with that. Where I’m having some difficulty is trying to figure out which ones to choose. Do we head up to Queensland and spend some time on the Great Barrier Reef? Do we spend the balance of our time exploring Sydney, Melbourne and the Boomerang Coast? Or so we turn everything on its head and venture west towards Perth?

You see the problem.

And so, in the spirit of my regular feature the “Interactive Trip Guide,” I’m looking for you all to fill in the gaps on our trip planning. I know it’s asking a lot, but I have faith in you all.

So please leave a comment and either tell me where we should go in the Red Center, or give me your best suggestions for what other parts of Australia should be included in a first-timer’s visit.

We will read everything and plan according  – so please help us out!

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By: Mike

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on , and

15 Responses

  1. FrenchTwistDC

    OK, so my parents and I drove (yes drove) from Darwin to Sydney via Ayer’s rock. I don’t recommend. There’s not much there but red earth and dead kangaroos on the side of never ending roads. Ayer’s rock is really cool though. We did the great barrier reef and loved it. Then again, we’re divers though… definitely in my top 5 of best diving destinations (top 3 even after Maldives and Red Sea…)

    Reply
  2. Pam Stucky

    Australia! My first love. It’s been so long since I’ve been, and you’re right. It’s huge. You wouldn’t try to do the U.S. in two weeks, and trying to do Australia in two weeks isn’t much different. I have not been to the west coast (must get down there sometime!), only to Far North Queensland and down around the Sydney area. One of the best things about Australia is all the place names – Warrumbungle, Coonabarabran, Millaa Millaa, they’re all delectable. But the places themselves are even better.

    I wrote this article on Far North Queensland, and never did anything with it, so I’m just going to copy and paste it for you here. It’s definitely worth a visit, and also spend some time in Cairns (pronounced “Cans” – sort of).

    So here’s what I wrote:

    Tropical primordial rain forests. Spectacular coral reefs. Unique flora and fauna. The floods of Queensland have brought the area to the world’s attention, but the stories have not told the full tale of the area or its beauty. Especially now, when the state desperately needs tourist funds to help its people rebuild, any trip Down Under deserves a stop in Far North Queensland. What to see and do?

    • The Great Barrier Reef. One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the reef stretches 2000 km down the Queensland coast. For best views of more than 3000 species of fish, coral, sharks, seaweed, echinoderms, and turtles, dive in and find yourself surrounded by yellow and blue surgeon fish, orange and white clownfish, and giant clams, a full meter across! Whether you prefer to scuba, snorkel, or view the reef from a glass-bottomed boat, you can easily find a guide ready to accommodate your needs.

    • Rain forest hikes. One hike among many, the Nandroya Falls circuit in the Palmerston section of the Wooroonooran National Park will take you on about a 3-hour trip, with a stop at the falls halfway in. Look closely and you may see a sclaginella plant, one of the oldest plants on Earth that still survives today, or a perdiacae tree, from our planet’s most primitive family of flowering plants. The symphony of the birds, the whisper of the wind, the lushness of the forest, all combine to create the illusion that you’re visiting a time long forgotten.

    • Kuranda Scenic Railway. If a hike in the rain forest sounds too rugged, try this travel railway instead. The route passes through the oldest part of Cairns, alongside rivers and sugarcane fields, through lush valleys and mountain tunnels, and by the rugged Stoney Creek Gorge and Barron Falls.

    • Kuranda. “The Village in the Rain Forest” awaits you at the end of the railway. At the Kuranda Wildlife Noctarium you’ll see what goes bump in the dark, including possums, sugar gliders, and spectacled flying foxes. If the flying foxes intrigue you, check with the Kuranda Visitor Information Centre to see if the rescue and rehabilitation center BatReach will be open when you’re there. Be sure to make a stop at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Australia’s largest butterfly enclosure, to see more than 1,500 butterflies including Australia’s largest endemic butterfly species, the Cairns Birdwing. If you take your trip on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Sunday, don’t miss the open-air Kuranda Market, where local artisans and fruit producers sell their goods and products. The indoor market is open every day.

    • Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. For an impressive showcase of indigenous culture, take the Skyrail from Kuranda to this park, where you can experience a theatrical rendition of the Dreamtime, an Aboriginal spiritual legend of Australia’s beginnings, at the Creation Theatre. You can also watch a hunting and weapons demonstration, try your hand at spear and boomerang throwing, and learn how to play a didgeridoo.

    Okay and now I’m back in real time again, article is finished. I would say Sydney is worth a visit, but there’s a big rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. If you had time I’d say to do both, but with a short visit just pick one. Sydney is popular, and for good reason. It’s a fabulous, vivid, thriving city with a great history. And gooorrgeous beaches!!

    I think it’s been far too long since I was in Australia for me to give any more advice than that … I think I need to go back too! Can’t wait to hear your trip reports!!

    Reply
  3. Caz Makepeace

    With just a couple of weeks you do have to narrow it down. I guess it all depends on what you really want to see. As much as I love Perth and the West Coast with that limited time, I would skip that area. (ow I think someone from WA just threw a dagger at me) WA is just so big and spread out. It would take too much time getting between the places worthy of seeing.

    Great Barrier Reef is always a good idea and further up the QLD coast you have Daintree Rainforest. You could explore that region and then do a couple of days in Sydney and even Melbourne if you wanted. If you look out for some cheap flights you could easily explore these areas. Watch jetstar.com on Fridays for their Friday Frenzy fares where you can pick up cheap flights.

    You really have to plan it well to avoid those long drives to get from one worthy destination to another. I hope that helps some. Let me know any more questions you have

    Reply
  4. Linda Fairbairn

    It looks like we’re all agreed here!
    With two weeks (is that including the NT sector?!!!) it would be best to fly between the areas you want to hone in on –
    Having seen the wonderful red rugged centre a perfect contrast would be to fly to Cairns to see the colours of the Barrier Reef, and the lushness of the rainforest ~
    Then on down to Sydney to see a classic Aussie beach or two and a few city sights 🙂

    Reply
  5. Gail K

    What time of year are you going to Australia? Being that their seasons are the reverse of ours, I would definitely take that into account. I wouldn’t want to try swimming if the water/air temperature is going to be cold because it is wintertime. But, I know so little about Australia, that I don’t even know how cold their winters get so my comments may be useless.

    I do know that my aunt and uncle recently traveled to Australia for 2 weeks and stayed mostly in the Sydney area with a short trek to see Ayer’s rock and a few other sights. They also went to New Zealand for a few days before flying home since they were so close which was a good idea. Especially if you don’t know when (or if) you’ll ever be able to return to that area of the world again.

    Reply
  6. Mike

    Thanks everyone, these are great tips and pretty much echo our own initial thoughts. The big question is whether or not to include Cairns on the loop… (insert Law and Order ‘duh-duh’ sound)

    Reply
    • Sara

      Hi Matt,

      Congrats on winning the trip! I’ve heard that Cairns and the northern region from Brisbane on up experienced some very rough weather recently, including flooding and a lot of damage from cyclones. I strongly suggest you check and see what was hit.

      That being said…I visited Cairns two summers ago and didn’t enjoy it at all. We used it as our gateway to the Great Barrier Reef – which was one of my top three travel experiences ever – but the town itself was very….boring. It’s inundated with backpackers and is great for budget travelers. It just wasn’t much fun.

      Instead, we hopped a bus up to Port Douglas, which is about 40 minutes north. It was much more our speed. Very laid back; beautiful long, nearly empty beach (we were there in June); great restaurants and food; and fairly close to where the Crocodile Hunter lost his life.

      I wouldn’t visit Cairns again. But I am longing to purchase an apartment in Port Douglas and use it to escape the Minnesota winters.

      Cheers!
      Sara

      Reply
  7. Jessica

    I wouldn’t bother driving between places, there is not a hell of a lot to see. I lived in Perth for awhile, but if your only there for a short time, dont bother, while it is beautiful and all there is not a heck of a lot to see. Instead do a drive from Brisbane to Melbourne. Take the 2 weeks to do it. Along the way you can do the Gold coast theme parts, Brisbane maybe for a day or two, then down to Byron Bay, Port Macquire, Sydney, spend a couple of days in Sydney and see the opera house, visit the rocks market and take the Manley ferry (just not when its rough, I do not recommend that!). Go via Canberra on the way to Melbourne. Or If you want to do Cairns start there and end at Sydney. The hinterland of the gold coast is apparently worth seeing to. Up that way (Sydney and north) is probably the most to see and do. The rest of Australia is pretty much sugar cane, sugar cane, sugar cane, gum tree!, sugar cane…

    Reply
  8. Jessica

    That was supposed to be theme parks not theme parts….

    Reply
  9. Spencer

    Lucky you! I am very jealous. If you have time I would suggest going to Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast. Its beautiful there. (When the sun is shining!).

    Reply
  10. Lisa

    Matt, you are going to be in Oz for 2 weeks, but how long is the Northern Territory portion of your trip? Depending on how much time you have after that, then it’s easier to say where you should consider going next and for how long. As you know, fitting too much in will just dilute your experience in Oz so I would recommend picking 2 destinations, possibly 3 on your first visit. You’ll be sure to love the whole experience so much you’ll be planning your 2nd trip in no time to fit the rest in! 🙂

    As you will no doubt be flying out of Sydney I would recommend definitely including Cairns in your itinerary. You don’t necessarily need to stay/overnight in Cairns as there are so many wonderful places where you can base yourself – Cairns is the gateway to the region as it’s where the national and international airport is. Cairns is a great little city to base yourself as it’s a central point for many of the amazing activities that can be had in the region, however its not for everyone. Some prefer the more quieter and relaxed townships of Palm Cove or Port Douglas – these are all within an hours drive of Cairns and transfers are possible to every destination. If snorkelling or diving the Great Barrier Reef is on your “must do” list then you can experience it from any of these locations. You can also do a liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef and spend a night or 2 out on the reef if you want some extended time out there.

    The Great Barrier Reef really is truly amazing and if it’s one of those things you have always wanted to see, then I say definitely include it in your itinerary – to do this you must include Cairns in the itinerary. If it helps, I can assist with some recommendations depending on what sort of experience you are looking for.

    The GBR is one of the major draw cards to our region, however many people forget that we also have the Daintree/Cape Tribulation World Heritage listed rainforest. This rainforest is the oldest living rainforest in the world and is a truly magical spot. It is also the only place in the world where 2 world heritage listed icons sit side by side. Cape Tribulation is the place where the rainforest meets the reef, literally….. the rainforest touches the beaches and is a must see if you are visiting the area. Get up to Cape Tribulation and go Jungle Surfing! This is ziplining over the rainforest canopy where you have the most amazing views over the Daintree rainforest and out to the Great Barrier Reef. Jungle Surfing recently won best Tourist Attraction and best Adventure Tourism product in AUSTRALIA at the recent Qantas Tourism Awards, this is the National Tourism Awards hosted by Tourism Australia.

    This whole region really is a mecca for outdoors and adventure activities so if you are wanting some fun outdoor action I think you would really love this destination. You can go skydiving, hot air ballooning, ATVing, horse riding, bungy jumping, hiking, white water rafting, sailing… and the list goes on! The rafting is amazing as it’s in a gorge that is completely surrounded by rainforest – a day on the Tully River is a must do for those who like this type of activity and its some of the best rafting in Australia.

    Ok, I have spoken enough about our region – check out this website for all you can do

    As there are direct flights from Uluru and Alice Springs to Cairns you could do the Northern Territory, fly to Cairns, spend at least 4 full days (5 nights) in the region and then fly down to Sydney before returning home.

    Anyway, there you have it, my recommendation – feel free to drop me an email if you want any further info on the region. I work for the regional tourism authority (@CairnsGBR) and am happy to help out 🙂

    Cheers
    Lisa
    @chippy2u

    Reply
  11. Vi

    If you have only two weeks, I would stay in NT and would leave the rest of Australia for your next trip.
    Here is my list of places you can see by driving from Uluru to Darwin: Litchfield NP, Kakadu NP, Nitmiluk NP, Mataranka Hot Springs,Devils Marbles, Watarrka NP (Kings Canyon), West Macdonnell NP, East MacDonnells.

    Reply
  12. Amanda

    Hi Matt,

    We LIVE and work in the Red Centre (note the different spelling – this is how it’s spelled in Australia). We could easily fill up 2 weeks for you in and around the Centre!
    Not sure if you’re been here yet, but would love to catch up.

    Here’s a suggested itinerary:

    Kings Canyon from Uluru, then travel via the Red Centre Way to Alice Springs. Spend 3 days doing this, turning off at Gosse Bluff (Tnorola) and visiting places like Glen Helen Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole & Standley Chasm (there’s lots more!).

    Spend 2 days in Alice Springs: visit the Alice Springs Desert Park (this is an amazing experience!), the Royal Flying Doctors, School of the Air, Old Telegraph Station and the town itself (email and we’ll have a beer with you!).

    Drive up the Stuart Highway. Visit the Devil’s Marbles. Overnight at Tennant Creek. Drive on to Katherine. On the way, stop at Mataranka Hot Springs and Daly Waters Pub (very famous outback pub) – spend a day visiting Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge). Stay two nights.

    Drive on to Darwin OR head out to Kakadu before you get to Darwin.

    Ho

    Reply
  13. Careful traveller

    Do not forget about travel safety issues when you plan your travel to Australia. It is safe, rich and beautiful country but extreme weather, wildfires and natural disasters occur there. Take into consideration possible travel dangers and prepare for travel according to list of these travel dangers. Be prepared and enjoy your travel!

    Reply
    • Mike

      Thanks, we’ve since been there and were very safe and had a great time!

      Reply

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