Australia is packed with the kinds of inspiring sights and iconic images that grab a Globetrotter’s imagination and don’t let go. Of course, sometimes you might wish it was packed a little tighter. Getting between Aussie icons like the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Twelve Apostles becomes more challenging when you factor in 9+ hour driving times. At almost 12 hours between Sydney and Melbourne, train travel isn’t such a hot option either (though a luxury Outback journey on the Ghan or Indian Pacific is a whole other story).
If you just want to see the hot spots, Australia is a flying destination. That’s where Virgin Australia’s extensive domestic network comes in. With 81 routes within Australia from Sydney alone, the airline provides an easy way to connect your iconic Australia stops quickly.
Comfortable as it might be (particularly aboard Virgin Australia’s 777-300ER flights from Los Angeles), it’s a long flight to Australia, so you’ll want to make the most of your time. Here’s a sample 2 week itinerary ideal for Australia first timers that’s easy to put together with Virgin Australia.
Melbourne (4 or 5 days)
Virgin’s Los Angeles to Melbourne flights arrive just after 8am, giving you ample time to clear immigration and check in to your hotel, or at least drop off your bags. Melbourne is all about lifestyle and urban exploration. Food, coffee, nightlife, sport, fashion, music, theatre… Melbourne lays claim to being Australia’s capital of them all, and it’s a hard claim to dispute.
You’ve had a long flight, so today takes things fairly easy. Start with a quintessential Melbourne brunch in Centre Place, arguably the tastiest of the city’s famous laneways. It’s also a prime spot to begin a tour of the city’s Arcades and Street Art, which can be as long or as short as you need. Just make sure you stop by Hosier Lane, the city’s most famous graffiti wall. Melbourne spoils for choice when it’s time for dinner, choose from hundreds of restaurants in the city. If you’d instead like to combine dinner with a walking tour, take a degustation tour that allows you to sample three top notch local restaurants. Follow it up with cocktails at a local favourite like Madame Brussels, or the Butterfly Club.
The following day, hit the city’s south side, starting at Federation Square. Step into NGV Australia for some cutting edge Aussie art, or check out the Australian Centre for the Moving Image for a snapshot of local TV and film history. For top notch international art, head to the National Gallery of Victoria on the southern side of the Yarra, arguably the best art museum in the country. Consider booking an organized afternoon tour so you can quickly reach those sights in the suburbs. These include Port Melbourne, St Kilda Beach, Brighton’s famous bathing boxes, and the Botanical Gardens. When you’re done, pay your respects over sunset at the Shrine of Remembrance. If you’re still feeling adventurous, zip to the top of Eureka Skydeck for a stellar night-time view.
Satisfied with Southern Melbourne? Devote your third day to the north, starting at the city’s favourite grazing ground, Queen Victoria Market. Cobble together a delicious breakfast, finished off with a velvety flat white. Then steel your nerves for a visit to Old Melbourne Gaol, former, and sometimes final “home” of some of Australia’s most infamous historic figures including bushranger Ned Kelly. For lunch, head to either the oldest Chinatown in the western world, or Lygon Street, Melbourne’s famous Italian district. Either puts you within easy reach of Melbourne Museum – the largest in the southern hemisphere – and the Royal Exhibition Building at Carlton Gardens. If you’d prefer to shop, head straight for the Bohemian streets of Fitzroy, particularly Brunswick Street for unique souvenirs, tasty treats, a dash of revolutionary politics, and hopping all night nightlife.
A fourth day in Melbourne is perfect for a day trip – but choosing just one isn’t so easy! The Great Ocean Road takes you to the ever (slowly) changing Twelve Apostles rock formation. Phillip Island never fails to delight with its nightly Little Penguin Parade, while Sovereign Hill is a living museum devoted to Victoria’s (literally) rich Gold Rush past. If you’re looking for more of a niche experience, consider a wine trip to the Yarra Valley, a tour of the Mornington Peninsula, or an Australian safari, tracking kangaroos and koalas in the wild with an expert guide. You might even plan an extra day in Melbourne and take two day trips, or extend your Great Ocean Road journey overnight.
Melbourne: Penguin Parade with Penguins Plus Full Day Tour
Melbourne: Sovereign Hill Full Day Tour
Melbourne: Yarra Valley Private Tour
Melbourne: Mornington Peninsula Ultimate Full Day Tour
Cairns (3 or 4 days)
Synonymous with tropical North Queensland, Cairns is the obvious (though not the only) choice for Globetrotters looking to explore the Great Barrier Reef on their Australia vacation. One huge benefit to staying here is the well-developed tourist infrastructure. In short, Cairns isn’t just a sleepy gateway to the reef. The city and the interior hinterland offer a great land-based vacation as well. Your Virgin Australia flight from Melbourne arrives in the morning. If you’re up for a thrill, you might have time for white water rafting on the Barron River. If you’d prefer a more cultural introduction to North Queensland, consider Tjapukai by Night, an immersive 3 hours of dinner, dance, and indigenous culture that invites you to learn about and interact with the native Bama people.
Take note, if you’re visiting Cairns in Australia’s summer, this is the wet season. It will almost certainly rain during your stay, however, this is usually limited to short, heavy, largely predictable downpours late in the afternoon. Plan your days with these in mind. Summer days here can be hot and muggy, so these cooling showers are usually pretty welcome when they hit.
There are more ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef than we can hope to list here, with cruises at every price point with varying degrees of activity. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or a first-time snorkeler, you’ll find the perfect way to see the reef’s colourful residents up close, or you can stay dry in a glass bottomed boat or viewing area. For a more well-rounded view of the reef, opt for a cruise that gives you time on Green Island, a beautiful 6000 year-old coral cay, or tropical Fitzroy Island.
After a day on the water, spend at least a day inland. Kuranda is a hugely popular day trip, with good reason. Besides being a gorgeous rainforest village in its own right, you’ll travel via the scenic railway and Skyrail, offering two unique perspectives on this beautiful hinterland. The chance to hold a koala and see other native wildlife completes the experience. If you’d prefer a wilder taste of North Queensland, join a trip that takes you to the Daintree rainforest, ideally with a stop in the lovely town of Port Douglas. Give yourself an extra day in Cairns if you’d like to do both.
Skyrail Cableway zips through the tropical Kuranda rainforest, Queensland, Australia
Sydney (4 or 5 days)
One Australian experience I never get tired of is glimpsing Sydney Harbour on my plane’s descent into Sydney Airport. Once you’ve checked into your hotel, stretch your legs with a walk through Sydney’s Hyde Park and Botanical Gardens until you reach the waterfront. Here, you can follow the shoreline west to a late afternoon view of the famous sails of Sydney Opera House, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge looming just behind. Settle in for dinner at one of the many restaurants overlooking the harbour at Circular Quay, or in the nearby Wharf or Barangaroo districts.
After a taster, yesterday, embark on a tour of the historic Rocks district, the Sydney Opera House, or both, on a morning Sydney city tour. This also takes you to Darling Harbour and famous Bondi Beach, along with some of the wealthy hotspots of waterside Sydney. With time and energy remaining, maybe take in one of the city’s world-class museums such as the Australian Museum, or the Art Gallery of New South Wales. If you’d rather soak up the energy of a local neighbourhood, trek out to Newtown, the city’s eclectic Bohemian and student quarter for top notch Thai cuisine and all night entertainment.
Devote at least one day to exploring Sydney on the water. Invest in a Hop on Hop off Harbour Explorer pass, which allows easy travel between Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Watson’s Bay, Manly, and other memorable stops. Don’t dismiss Taronga Zoo either, where the giraffes enjoy a multi-million dollar view. If you fancy doing something just a bit special, consider a long lunch or dinner cruise, combining the beauty and guided commentary of the harbour with dining at some of Sydney’s most famous restaurants.
With a fourth day in Sydney on your trip to Australia, either dig deeper, or spread your wings. You can explore some of the city’s more colourful neighbourhoods including Bondi (it’s more than just the beach), or give your taste buds a day out to remember on a Sydney culinary tour. Alternatively, take advantage of one of the city’s many day trips. The Blue Mountains is a classic day out in the Australian bush with highlights such as the Three Sisters, though wine lovers may prefer a day in the Hunter Valley. To immerse yourself in an experience unique to Sydney’s heritage, consider heading into Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park with an Aboriginal guide. You’ll learn about the indigenous and colonial history of the region, see its most beautiful natural sights, learn about important rock carvings in the park, and see some of the local wildlife. This trip even takes in some Aboriginal sites you can only see from the water, while teaching you some of the skills that have served the local indigenous people for generations.
Sydney is Australia’s glamour city, packed with history and world class sights, so consider scheduling an extra day here or spend a night in the Hunter Valley or Blue Mountains.
With so many Australian destinations and even more ways to explore them, there’s a lot more Downunder to discover with Goway and Virgin Australia.
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