So you’ve only got 2 weeks to see Australia? Here’s how to make the most of it!
A couple of years ago I met a Canadian girl at a bar in London, she picked up my accent and said "oh you're Australian! I just got back from there" smiling I replied "did you love it?" an awkward silence followed and then she said "no, I hated it" For a few seconds I was stunned! I'd literally never heard anyone say that before. To the contrary people usually rave about Australia and don't understand why I would leave! but not this girl. I asked where she went and her answer made it all clear... "Canberra". Long story short don't go to Canberra, seriously just don't. It has zero culture and must be the most boring place in Australia. That poor girl flew from England to the other side of the world and spent 2 weeks in Canberra! No wonder she hated her experience.
I'll be straight with you and say that 2 weeks is not nearly enough time to see it all, there's no magic answer hidden among these words. It's a vast country and if you want to cover the whole lot I'd suggest giving it 6 weeks minimum, 8 weeks ideally. But with 2 weeks up your sleeve you can still visit a good chunk of the great southern land! Below is the itinerary I suggest you follow or at least use as a base to squeeze in as much as possible while you're there. I've tried to incorporate popular attractions as well as a few places off the beaten track to give you a true taste of Aussie culture. The itinerary is very beach focused but that's half the reason you're going right?!
Where to fly in and out of: Fly into Sydney and out of Brisbane. If you've already booked your return flights in and out of Sydney don't worry! you can make it work, it will just mean cutting out one overnight stop to allow enough time for driving back. Alternatively you can arrive in Brisbane and get a cheap 1 hr flight back to Sydney but you will need to book this in advance. Australia's budget airline is 'Jetstar' www.jetstar.com.au
Getting around: Hire a car and buy a simple tent. A small one or two man tent will be very compact but if you can't fit it into your luggage visit BCF when you arrive www.bcf.com.au to pick up your camping gear. You might spend $200 on camping equipment but when it's all said and done you'll have saved alot more than that in hotel costs! If tents aren't your thing, hire a campervan. Australia has a BIG camping culture, it's really the best way to see the country. If hiring a car/camper is out of your budget you can get trains and/or buses between places, but to be honest you'd end up spending almost as much money on public transport as you would on hiring a vehicle anyway! you'll have so much more fun road tripping and the obvious benefit is having the freedom to stop whenever and wherever you like along the way.
Where to stay: As above, camping is the most authentic and conveniently also the cheapest way to accommodate yourself. Everywhere you go you'll find a camp ground/caravan park to pitch your tent or park your camper for the night. If you're visiting during the summer or other school holiday periods such as Easter I suggest calling ahead to book your spot as camp grounds will be busy. FYI it's illegal to sleep in your car/camper on the side of the road in Aus, but hey if you find a spot where you can get away with it why not? I've done it before in a beach parking lot! For a camp site you'll pay on average $15 - $20 per night, for a campervan it will be more expensive at around $30 per night. As I mentioned above a simple tent will suffice, but make sure it's waterproof and comes with tent pegs. You'll also need a blow up mattress, a basic air pump and a sleeping bag. Most campgrounds will have BBQ areas where you can cook your meals, and a shower/toilet block at your disposal. If however you decide to rough it and stay amongst the wilderness or park in random spots to sleep for the night there will be no amenities so you'll also need a basic gas cooker + a small gas bottle. There's no need for fancy camp showers, you can wash yourself in the ocean! but a torch and a hammer are kind of necessary. A camp chair is a good item to have too. See http://www.campingessentialslist.com/ for basic camping essentials and other unnecessary but handy camping gear to take if you can fit it in your pack.
What to eat; Sydney has a BIG cafe culture so while you're there call into any cafe and you'll be treated with great service, food, and coffee - yes, Australia has amazing coffee! Avo on toast is a favourite for Aussies so you'll always find some inventive smashed avo on toast variation on the menu. Eggs benedict in different variations is popular too ie; with salmon & avo instead of ham. Other delicacies you've got to try are Kangaroo steak which is actually better than you might think! Lamington, a vanilla sponge cake rolled in chocolate and then rolled in coconut - so good. And quite possibly the most iconic Aussie food (besides vegemite) that you've got to try is a Meat pie with mashed potato, mushy peas and gravy on top. Yum!
Day 1: Sydney. While you're there take a walk along the Harbour and through the Botanical gardens. You can cover the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House & Botanical gardens all in one long walk, it's beautiful. Climbing the Bridge is over-rated, I suggest skipping it and saving the cash. Like the Eiffel Tower it's glorious to look at but you can't see it if you're on it so what's the point?! If you've still got time up your sleeve that day take a stroll along Darling Harbour. There's some stunning Chinese gardens in the area and Sydney's aquarium is also nearby, it's pretty impressive and well worth checking out. Why not stop for dinner by the water while you're there? 🙂
Day 2: Sydney. If you like the outdoors & hiking day two in Sydney could see you exploring the Blue Mountains National Park. The Blue Mountains are a short 1 hour drive from Sydney, you can drive it yourself or there are numerous tour companies who offer day trips, here's one of them; https://www.viator.com/tours/ If that doesn't tickle your fancy why not do a harbour cruise for lunch? you get fantastic views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge out on the water! if you do this at sunset you'll be treated with spectacular views. You could also go and relax at infamous (and rightly so!) Bondi Beach, it's a 20 min drive from central Sydney or a 30 min tram ride. I suggest taking the tram as like any major city, traffic is a nightmare! There's also Taronga Zoo which is a short ferry ride across the Harbour. I wouldn't usually recommend a zoo as I don't tend to agree with wild animals being kept captive but Taronga is spacious, stimulates natural habitats, and the animals are really well looked after so I feel ok about promoting it!
The Blue Mountains
Day 3: Drive Sydney to Seals Rocks. The journey should take about 3.5 hours, stop at Newcastle for lunch and a swim if it tickles your fancy! Newcastle has some beautiful beaches, Red Head being one of my favourites. If you want to try one of those delicious meat pies I mentioned above, go to Harry's cafe on wheels. It's a trailer turned cafe parked on the side of Newcastle's main road, if you can't find it just ask any of the locals! The bay area which consists of 5 beautiful small bays is also en-route so if you have a spare day and want to break the journey up it's definitely worth stopping over for a night. Shoal Bay is the most beautiful in my opinion! the sand is soft and the water a striking turquoise that melts into a deep blue.
Shoal Bay camping - http://www.shoalbayholidaypark.com.au
Seal Rocks camping - http://www.treacherycamp.com.au/camping/
Day 4: If you have opted to spend a night at Shoal bay, take the time to hike up Mt Tomaree before you leave. It's not too arduous and will only take an hour or so to walk up and back down, the views are amazing! If you've gone straight onto Seal Rocks spend the afternoon enjoying the beautiful beaches.
Shoal Bay. Mt Tomaree is the large hill you can see
Day 5: Seal rocks. While you're here it's worth driving to the nearby town of Booti Booti and exploring the stunning beaches in the area, it's a short 30 minute car trip away. Booti Booti National Park is also in the area and well worth venturing into. Besides that, Seal Rocks is a great place to simply relax amongst Australia's unique flora and fauna.
Day 6: Drive Seal rocks to South West rocks. Stop for lunch in Port Maquarie where you can also take the coastal walk from the town centre to Tacking Point Lighthouse which has incredible views over the ocean. You're likely to spot a pod of dolphins swimming past and if you're lucky maybe even a whale! Billabong zoo is also in the area, it's home to a Koala breeding centre so if you'd like to get up close to one of Australia's most iconic creatures go check it out.
South West Rocks camping - http://mvcholidayparks.com.au
Day 7: South West rocks. Besides enjoying the stunning beaches go and check out Smoky Cape Lighthouse. It's located in Hat Head national park so you can spend the day exploring nature, perfect for adventure lovers! To get there hike through the national park starting at Little Bay walking track (ask the locals if you can't find it yourself) which will lead you to Gap Road. Follow Gap Road until you reach Green Island Firetrail Road, follow this road and it will take you to the Smoky Cape track which will lead you to the lighthouse! there's a cafe there for refreshments and a break. If hiking isn't your thing you can drive, just take Lighthouse road it's a short 10 minute drive from South West rocks.
South West Rocks
Day 8: Drive South West rocks to Byron Bay. The journey should take about 4 hours, Coffs Harbour is a nice spot to stop for lunch! or further along the route is a classic little Aussie beach town called Diggers Camp, if you stop here you might even be lucky enough to spot the local Emu's which live in the area!
Byron Bay camping - http://www.discoveryholidayparks.com.au
Day 9: Byron Bay. Enjoy the surfing culture of this amazing place, it's become quite touristy over the years but it still holds that old school hippie charm.
Day 10: Drive Byron Bay to the Gold Coast. This journey is a little shorter, with good traffic it'll only take an hour so you can stay in Byron for lunch and another dip at the beach!
Gold Coast Camping - http://www.goldcoasttouristparks.com.au/
Day 11: The Gold Coast. The Gold Coast is beautiful but busy! while you're there it's worth visiting Currumbin wildlife sanctuary where you can get up close to Australian wildlife, I'm talking cuddling koala's, rainbow lorikeets eating seed from your hand, and even hand feeding kangaroos! A couple of nice beaches in the area worth checking out are Kirra beach and Greenmount beach, but to be honest I think the best way to spend your time at the Gold Coast is at the theme parks! The three best parks are Wet n' Wild, Dream World, & Movie World. They are all a short 20 minute drive from the Gold Coast. There's also Sea World but I don't recommend going due to the ethics behind keeping orca's and dolphins captive, it's not right and I'll never endorse it. Tickets to the parks are expensive at $80.00 but worth every penny! especially Wet n' Wild. If you've only got time for one park I'd choose that one. If you've got a few extra days to spend here you can buy a 2 day pass which includes entry to 2 parks for $90.00 so you save a bit of money if you do it that way. See www.themeparks.com.au
Day 12: Drive Gold Coast to Rainbow beach. It's a 3.5 hour drive. Stopover in Noosa for lunch, it's beautiful!
Rainbow Beach camping - http://glhp.com.au/parks/rainbow-waters/
Day 13: Rainbow beach. I've seen ALOT of Australia but Rainbow Beach remains one of my favourite places, it's so close to nature and I just love it! kangaroos hop around leisurely going about their day, kookaburras wake you up in the morning with their raucous laughter and if you're lucky you might even spot a goanna! Fraser Island is just off the coast so if you've got a couple of days to spare DEFINITELY go and explore it. You'll need to get the ferry across, it departs from River Heads which is an hour and a half drive from Rainbow beach. Eli Creek (pictured below) is a must while you're there! and be on the look out for the local Dingoes.
Fraser Island camping - FREE! just pick a spot and Bob's your uncle.
Day 14: Drive Rainbow beach Southbound to Brisbane. Fly home!
If you have longer I suggest starting in Melbourne, spending a couple of days there and then flying to Sydney to begin your road trip North along the East Coast. If you have an extra week up your sleeve I'd suggest starting in Melbourne, driving from there to the 12 Apostles (an incredible formation of rocks) which is a 2 hour drive along one of the most beautiful routes in Australia, the 'Great Ocean Road' A heritage listed stretch of road that starts in Tourqay. You'll drive an hour from Melbourne to Torquay and from there another hour along the Great Ocean Road to the 12 apostles. From there, turn around and drive back the way you came, past Melbourne and northbound along the coast until you get to Brisbane. Yes you'll backtrack a little bit but trust me it'll be worth it! Stop along the way at Bells Beach for a swim if you fancy, it's an iconic surfers spot not far from Tourqay. The Otways National Park is worth exploring too if you've got the time! it's halfway along the route between Melbourne and the 12 Apostles.