Check out our itinerary to help inspire and plan your own trip to Australia. Our journey took us on a long drive through The Outback – from the southern city of Adelaide, through the Red Center, all the way to the northern city of Darwin and into the nearby Kakadu National Park. But it didn’t end there, we then flew to Queensland to explore Cairns and The Daintree and even spent 3 days living aboard a boat on The Great Barrier Reef while SCUBA diving.
The Goal of Our Trip to Australia
We decided we were going to plan a trip focused on exploring the Australian Wilderness. Creating an itinerary that focused on the down and dirty, taking us from the very bottom to the very top of Australia by way of The Outback. We also decided to include The Great Barrier Reef in our trip since it is considered one of the Natural Wonders of the World.
Originally we were expecting to do a 2 week trip in Australia but between driving through The Outback and making our way to The Great Barrier reef we ended up having to extend the trip to 3 weeks. This extra week allowed us to get all the way through The Outback (12 days) and then fly to Cairns to enjoy 3 days diving the Great Barrier Reef with a few extra days to explore the area.
The entire trip was a blast from start to finish. Even the long bus rides through The Outback were chalk full of good memories. We met so many amazing people along the way, and made a number of new friends from all across the world. It really was a trip of a life time.
Our Itinerary For Traveling to Australia
From Sydney to Adelaide to The Red Center (Alice Springs)
Our first week started in Sydney for a brief hello with family, and from there we hopped on a plane to Adelaide to start a 5 day bus & camp tour of The Australian Outback. The tour – by The Groovy Grape – was an absolutely fantastic experience. Our guide was great, and the rest of the people from the tour were all incredibly nice.
The bus tour we picked, starts in Adelaide and takes you to Alice Springs over the course of 5 days. On the way, we stopped at Alligator Gorge, Coober Pedi, Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), and King’s Canyon. It included camping under the stars in swags and a few nights in small bunk bed style lodges. For less than $800 for 5 days including food, transportation, park entries, a guide service, and room/board – it was worth every penny. Seeing the The Red Center by bus tour (whether you start in Adelaide or Alice Spring) is by far one of the best and most organized ways to do it.
Flying in to Adelaide in the morning, we immediately headed to our hostel to check in – leaving us with almost a full day to explore. We heard one of the best sights in Adelaide is Mount Lofty so we decided to hop on the bus to take us to the trail head of Waterfall Gully & Mount Lofty Summit. From there we began our trek to the summit of Mount Lofty, seeing the numerous waterfalls and even wild kangaroos along the way. We reached the top in time for a beautiful sunset and then made our way back.
In total we hiked 11 miles. The bus that runs directly to/from the top of Mount Lofty was no longer running by sunset, which forced us to retrace our steps to hike back to the main bus line.
Our day began bright and early – getting picked up for our 5 day bus tour to The Red Center. After everyone was collected, we were out on the open road. Our first stop was Alligator Gorge – a beautiful and misnamed section of The Ouback. We spent a few hours hiking through the gorge to marvel at its beauty. This would also mark our first taste of the famous red dirt of the Australian Outback. We ended our day at a small lodge out the in boonies, where had it not been so cold, we would have had the option to sleep outside in swags.
Another early start, we hopped on the bus for a long drive to the town of Coober Pedi. Translated to “White Man’s Burrows,” Coober Pedi is a small opal mining town situated in the hot and arid Outback. Because of the heat, majority of the town is dug into the ground. A Coober Pedi house (burrow) often has dirt ceilings and walls and lacks any windows (except for the front entryway). However it does not lack for any of amenities of a typical household – including flooring, bathrooms, and full kitchens. One of the main reasons people live under ground is because these burrows maintain a cool 60-70 degrees solely from the natural insulation of the surrounding earth.
Another early day and another long drive continuing our way north. As we reached the beginning of The Red Center, our first stop was a beautiful range of large domed rock formations called Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). It’s not enough to just see Kata Tjuta, it is something you really must hike through to really experience all of its beauty. As you hike through the range, you’ll soon learn why it’s called The Valley of the Winds – as a strong breeze was fairly constant once in between the rocks.
This was actually my favorite part of The Red Center. Despite the notoriety of Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), I much preferred our time in the lesser known, Kata Tjuta.
For the first time in quite a few days we got to sleep a little bit later than usual. Both Kata Tjuta and Uluru are in the same national park, so there wasn’t a lot of driving to be done to get to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock). There are a few ways to see and experience Uluru – from afar, hiking over the top of it, or hiking around it. Hiking over the top of Uluru however, is controversial due to it being a sacred site and right of passage for Aborigines.
Out of respect for aboriginal culture, we did not climb to the top of Uluru. Instead, we hiked around its circumference.
For the last day of our bus tour we stopped at King’s Canyon – an ancient sandstone formation of tall red rock faces cumulating into a vast and beautiful gorge. King’s Canyon is fairly close to Alice Springs, and is considered one of the iconic areas of The Red Center. Once there, we began a 3 hour hike around the rim for a spectacular view of the gorge below. We then proceeded to descend down in to the canyon to the Garden of Eden – a permanent waterhole surrounded by lush plant life. After our time enjoying the canyon, we were back on the bus making our final drive to reach Alice Springs, just in time for dinner.
From The Red Center to Darwin and into Kakadu
Once our tour of The Red Center came to an end, it was time to catch another bus tour to take us to Darwin. On the way to Darwin we stopped at The Devil’s Marbles, Eden Falls, and Katherine Gorge. We even had a quick stop to see the famous giant termite mound located in The Northern Territory.
Once we reached Darwin, we spent the night and hopped on our third and final bus tour – a 3 day trip through Kakadu. It included a boat ride in a crocodile infested billabong, and gorgeous views of Kakadu National Park. We also hiked out to few waterfalls (Twin, Jim Jim, and Maguk Falls) and enjoyed swimming in their pleasantly cool waters. Every night was spent camping under the stars in swags.
After 3 days in Kakadu, we were back in Darwin for our final evening before departing by plane to Cairns for the third and final leg of our trip.
The second bus tour was a condensed 2 day version of the more relaxed 3 day ride. Because of the rushed nature of our tour, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time in one place as we rushed to meet our deadlines. The first day we made our way to the town of Daily Waters to spend the night before making the final drive to Darwin. Leaving Alice we passed by the Tropic of Capricorn, and got a quick chance to take pictures and stretch our legs. From there we made our way to Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) where we explored these giant marble shaped granite boulders.
After about 45 minutes at Devil’s Marbles we continued north to Daly Waters for our overnight camp located right near the famous Daly Waters Outback Hotel (where we went for dinner).
After an early morning start, we made our way to Nitmiluk National Park, home to Katherine Gorge and Edith Falls. We took a short walk to Baruwei Lookout, with a picturesque view of the gorge below. Once we finished exploring the gorge, we stopped for a swim at the beautiful Edith Falls before making the final drive to Darwin.
Leaving Darwin, we headed to the Mary River wetlands, where we hopped on a billabong cruise and got up close and personal (but not too close) to a number of saltwater crocodiles in their natural habitat. From there, we headed into Kakadu National Park, arriving at Ubirr in time for sunset. After spending some time exploring Ubirr, we made our way to our camp site, where we spent the night in our swags while enjoying the gorgeous views of the stars above.
After another early morning start, we got some 4WD action on our way to see Twin Falls. We spent some time enjoying a quick rest before continuing on to explore the awesome wonder that is Jim Jim Falls. We viewed the falls from above before hiking down to the base where we enjoyed a refreshing swim in its pools. We spent the whole afternoon enjoying the scenery and waterholes before making the short drive to our camp.
With more amazing waterfalls to experience we headed to Maguk Falls to cool off with a dip in the plunge pools while enjoying the beautiful scenery all around. After our time at Maguk, it was time to turn around and make our way back to Darwin – arriving in the city just before sunset.
*TIP* If you get back early enough, head to one of Darwin’s beaches to see the beautiful red sun setting over the ocean.
Exploring Cairns, The Daintree, and The Great Barrier Reef
Flying from Darwin to Cairns we landed early enough in the day to enjoy some sights of Cairns Proper before beginning our 3 day SCUBA live aboard with Pro Dive Cairns. For those 3 days were told all were going to do was “eat, sleep, and dive.” They were not joking. It was exhausting, but an absolutely amazing experience spending so much time exploring the world’s most famous reef.
We returned from our live board, and had a few more days to spend in Cairns. With so many options of things to do and explore we had a hard time narrowing it down. In the end we chose to go zip lining in The Daintree, spent a night in a rain-forest cabin, visited the Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat (you can hold a koala here), went on a night time mountain biking ride at the famous Bump Track, and ended it all with a day of white water rafting down the Tully River.
This part of our trip was by far the most active and fast paced section of the trip, and every moment of it was an absolute blast.
Arriving in Cairns just before noon, we spent majority of the day just enjoying the city and running a few errands in preparation for our dive trip starting the following morning.
Up before 5 AM, we went to meet our bus to take us to the dock where hop on the dive boat to spend the next 3 days diving The Great Barrier Reef. We chose Pro Dive Cairns because of great reviews and we loved every second of it. The food was great, the staff were all great, and the diving was even better.
If you’re not SCUBA certified you can get it done on the live aboard. If you are (we were) you are given a fair amount of independence from the get go. We did a total of 11 dives (2 at night) over 3 days. Before each dive, the dive master would explain the path (giving us headings for our compass) and set us loose. At first it was intimidating – was I good enough with my compass to not get lost? But as it turned out, we never got lost and no one on board ever had a problem. The complete independence we were given turned out to be a good thing as we moved at whatever pace we wanted to – limited only by our air and no-decompression limits.
The reef was absolutely beautiful, full of so many different types and formations of coral with fish everywhere. We saw so many different types of sea life it was never a dull moment! This included seeing sharks, clown fish, turtles, and even a giant Maori Wrasse Fish named Wally that liked to hang out under the boat.
Another full day of diving. We had a morning dive, an afternoon dive, and a night dive (our first). The night dive is when the sharks come out – which was a little intimidating at first. I somehow ended up being the very first person to jump into the water to begin our evening of diving. There was a shark circling near our boat, which made it a little unnerving, but fortunately the sharks really are more afraid of us than we are of them. As soon as I was completely submerged, any and all fear was gone.
On our third day of diving we squeezed in three dives – two early morning and one just before noon – before making our way back to shore.
Once back on land, we began our drive to The Daintree where we checked in at our cabin deep within the rain forest. After a delicious dinner we joined up for a complimentary 2 hour guided night walk through the rain forest before heading back to our cabin for a good nights sleep.
Day 16 - Zip-lining in Daintree // Wildlife Habitat at Port Douglas // Night Mountain Biking the Bump Track
We started with an early day of zip lining in the Daintee rain forest – which was a blast. However, our day in The Daintree was cut short as we had some many other things we wanted to do and not a whole lot of time.
From there, we headed to the Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat where we got to hold a koala and baby crocodile and even walk among many different species of kangaroos and wallabies, hand feeding them at our leisure.
After a few hours at the wildlife habitat, we grabbed dinner and then it was back to the habitat parking lot to meet up with Bike ‘N Hike Adventure tours. The evening would include mountain biking down the famous Bump Track on high quality Giant-brand bikes. I’ve never gone mountain biking before, but that didn’t stop us. The tour was absolutely fantastic! The track is an incredibly steep descent down, but the high quality suspension and brakes on the bikes we rode kept us safe. The tour was even better than we ever imagined and it almost made me go out buy my own mountain bike! I would highly recommend Bike ‘N Hike Adventure Tours to anyone.
For our final day in Cairns, we had another early day where we decided to have a last hurrah by white water rafting down the class IV Tully River. We decided to go with Raging Thunder and chose their Xtreme option – which is the most thrilling path through the rapids and included rock jumping, rapid swimming, and raft surfing. We even tipped our raft over a few times just for fun. This is another must do if you’re headed to Cairns for an adventure.
In the end, we had an absolute blast in Cairns, and it’s the one place we went where I fully intend on returning. Every moment was fun, and it was jam packed with back to back amazing experiences you really won’t get anywhere else.
Back to Sydney and Returning Home
Sadly it was time for our trip to come to an end. We flew to Sydney to spend one last day visiting Sydney proper and seeing family. From there, it was back on a plane and back home – ending our Australian trip of a life time.
We arrived back in Sydney just in time for lunch, and spent the rest of day in Sydney Harbor checking out the Opera House and taking the ferry to Manly to check out its beautiful beach. We had planned to go surfing, but the weather just didn’t want to cooperate.
For our last day in Sydney we mostly just ran errands – picking up gifts to bring home for friends and family back home.
A long flight home, it was sad to leave Australia. The time we spent had been so much fun. It really was a trip of a life time. An experience I will never forget. And fortunately, I had my camera and GoPro with me the entire time to document it all.
Our Journey Through Australia
What We Packed
Below is a quick packing list for what we brought with us. You can go here to see our detailed pack list for traveling to The Outback in Australia.
- 32L Backpack – I use an ultralight style backpack from Gossamer Gear because most of trip revolved around camping and hiking.
- Daypack – Light and easy to pack away – I love my Osprey Daylight.
- Water Bottle/Hydration Reservoir – (2L) I carry my water in a reservoir for easy access.
- Dry Bag/Stuff Sack – This is a great waterproof sack to keep your stuff dry.
- Sleeping Bag – We did a bunch of camping so it made sense to bring our own. I used a women’s mummy bag rated for 26F and was plenty warm during the cold nights.
- Compression Sack – Stuff your sleeping bag into a compression sack and you’ll be amazed at how small it can get! I use Sea to Summit’s compression sack.
- Trail Running Shoes/Hiking Shoes – I like to hike with these shoes from New Balance (Women’s) (Men’s)
- Merino Wool Socks (4 pair) – I used these (Women’s) (Men’s). *Note* Don’t bring white socks to the outback.
- Long Pants (2 Pair) – I absolutely love these pants by Outdoor Research (Women’s) (Men’s) – would recommend them to anyone.
- Shorts (2 Pair) – I use these shorts made by Columbia because they’re lightweight and affordable (Women) (Men’s) – and I can’t bring myself to wear convertibles.
- Sandals/Flip Flops – You’ll want something to wear in the public showers if you’re camping, or use for the beautiful Australian beaches.
- T-Shirts (3) – Merino wool, or anything that’s a blend will serve you much better.
- Warm Jacket – Layering is your friend. I use The North Face’s Thunder Jacket (Women’s) (Men’s). Fleece are also a good option but don’t pack down nearly as well.
- Swimsuit – Depending on how far you are going, there are plenty of opportunities to swim up near Darwin and Kakadu.
- Beanie – For the cold nights camping in The Outback, I used a beanie to stay extra warm.
- Hat – Whether it’s a baseball cap, or a full brimmed hat, choose what works best for you.
- Sunglasses – You definitely don’t want to forget these!
- Camera + Memory + Charger – This is an adventure of a lifetime! You definitely want a way to capture all the amazing sights you’re about to see.
- Flashlight/Headlamp – I prefer headlamps over flashlights.
- Sunscreen – You’re going to be out in the sun all day enjoying it.
- Chapstick – It’s dry – your lips will thank you.
- Basic First Aid – Basic items include aspirin, ibuprofen, bandaids, Neosporin, and moleskin.
- Camp Towel – Instead of trying to cram a towel into your bags, bring a PackTowel.
- Fly Net – If you’re headed into The Outback during the summer/wet season, you’re going to wish you had this.