There’s a lot of Australia to cover, so it pays to be prepared. If you only have a few weeks to make your way around this wide, wonderful and wild country, don’t worry: here are three 14-day itineraries beginning in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne that will help you experience the very best of this island nation.
If you’re flying into… Sydney
Explore the city (five days)
For all its harbour landmarks, Australia’s most populated city may feel familiar but there are plenty of once-in-a-lifetime places you haven’t seen plastered on a postcard. Easily tackled with a half day, explore the harbour beyond its busy port of Circular Quay – take a kayak out or venture to the sleepy sands of Balmoral for a different view of the water. Pop into Paddington, a suburb lined with charming heritage townhouses sliced between cafes and fashion boutiques (Ellery and Scanlan Theodore have homes here), for a classic gastropub grub. and a taste of inner city life.
Not done with the water? Settle onto the sand at one of Sydney’s less crowded coastal stretches such as Red Leaf or Freshwater (north of the Bridge) and pretend you’re a resident.
Then escape to the sleepy north (three days)
Byron Bay – and the glistening green sprawl of hinterland that hugs it – still openly flaunts its bohemian roots while managing to establish itself as a destination du jour for big city dwellers aching for a break. A trip here doesn't have to so much about touristy sightseeing but more focused on experiencing a different pace in line with the locals: surf, coffee, surf some more. It's a mix of palm-fringed spa stays and farm-to-table eateries flush with organic options, happily neighboured with boutiques spruiking crystals and surf wax. Don't forget to take a turn about the nearby character towns of Bangalow and Newrybar and that seachange fantasy is certain to strengthen.
Stop into a little island paradise (three days)
From Brisbane airport – two and a half hours drive north of Byron Bay – board a one hour and 50-minute flight to the World-Heritage-listed jewel of Lord Howe Island.. Wanderers, as well as water sports and nature enthusiasts, will be captivated by the untouched wilderness that reaches to every edge of the island, with lush tropical tangles hugging craggy cliffs and coral reefs crowded with vibrant marine life. Hire a bike or simply explore by foot: the only clock you’ll need on Lord Howe (which is a manageable 15 square kilometres) is the rising and setting of the sun. Heading back to Sydney is only a two-hour flight away.
Take a trip out of the city (two days)
If your spirit of adventure is still strong, consider spending a few days ‘out of town’, as the locals do. The Hunter Valley region – three and a half hours’ drive north of Sydney – is a collection of quaint towns and rolling vineyards, perfect for a two or three-day jaunt for a sample or two of award-winning plonk.
If you’re flying into… Perth
Get to grips with Perth (four days)
Left to its own devices on the rippling west coast, what Perth lacks in big city swagger it makes up for with its own brand of coastal cool. Window-clear water can only be confirmed as real by dipping a toe, the growing craft beer scene begs for a willing sampler and there are increasing examples of Australia’s serious food scene (the wine-heavy Tiny’s is a great place to start), so you’ll find plenty to do in a clutch of five or so days. Perth’s best beaches – such as Scarborough, Trigg and Cottesloe – are great half-day excursions and any time you can dedicate to walking a portion of the Bibbulman Track that hugs the coast is time well spent.
Make friends with wildlife (one day)
From Barrack Street Jetty in Perth’s main harbour, it’s a 90-minute journey to Rottnest Island, where the colour of the coast defies imagination and the locals are furry and friendly. The effervescent quokka is native to the island and you’ll want to keep an eye out for their smiling faces.
SEE ALSO: Australia’s Best Secret Beaches
Meet the mighty whale shark (four days)
The dotted whale shark suffers from a bit of misbranding – this gentle giant isn’t a shark at all, it’s actually the world’s biggest fish. Its non-shark status hardly diminishes the wonder of wading through the pristine waters of Ningaloo Reef next to one with an open gaping mouth, however: this encounter remains one of the most exhilarating in the country. You’ll find them bobbing an hour and half hour’s drive south of Exmouth – which is less than two hours flying time from Perth.
Sip on the state’s best (four days)
The south-west corner of Western Australia has a cluster of wine regions waiting to be languidly explored. It’s less than three hours drive south of Perth, for instance, before you’ll stumble upon Margaret River – a coastal clique of vineyards that benefit from the cool temperatures blowing off the Indian Ocean. Make this area your base, or venture further afield: there are equally great drops to be found in Swan Valley and Southern Forests areas.
If you’re flying into… Melbourne
Get lost in a maze of laneways (four days)
A bird’s eye view of Melbourne suggests it’s a city of order and constraint but exploring its grid-like laneways and covered passages reveals another story. Melbourne is one of few cities where getting lost is the actual aim – you just never know what new alleyway mural or secret bar you might happen upon. Prepare your wallet for a workout too: boutique shopping in Melbourne is world-class and many a beloved label, such as Toni Maticevski and Macgraw, makes the city its base. It’s also a great starting point for day trips to the Mornington Peninsula, where any level of hikers can find a path to meander.
Wander through wine country (two days)
A well-rounded wine culture runs through the veins of the state’s capital and it’s little wonder, considering its doorstep is laced with plonk-producing gold. The Yarra Valley, in particular, has some spectacular scenery with its hills blanketed in vineyards of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir varietals.
Tick off that bucket list (three days)
Stately and stoic despite consistent exposure to the thrash of elements, the Twelve Apostles (in name, no longer in nature) are the crowning glory of the Great Ocean Road. Certainly, their imposition is striking but it’s their choice of standing ground – littered parallel to the blunt edges of Victoria’s south coast – that truly impresses. Take an ambling three days to make your way back to the big smoke via the great road itself – stepping through the wild surrounds of the Great Otway National Park or trying out your surfing skills on the shores of Lorne.
See another side (five days)
Separate in both geography and landscape, the rugged reaches of Tasmania appears to have more in common with our neighbour New Zealand than the desert-strewn mainland. A flight across to Hobart from Melbourne takes a touch over an hour. Here, a seemingly sleepy city will carefully unfold its unusual secrets: MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) is already a national institution for one, there's a quietly riotous food scene and some natural beauty within easy reach (nearby Mount Wellington affords some spectacular views).