Planning a Trip to the Land Down Under?

Friends probably ask me for Australia travel advice more than they do for any other country.  I lived in Sydney for 5 glorious months during college and I absolutely loved it.

So, where to start?  Watch this on repeat, obviously.

Are you excited yet?  Of course you are.  Alright, the next thing to do is figure out how to spend as much time in Australia as possible.  I wince when people tell me that they’re planning a week-long or 10 day trip.  You’ll need more time!  Remember, it takes a REALLY long time to get there (nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Sydney are about 15 hours) and they are pretty darn expensive, especially during the southern hemisphere’s summer months.  More importantly, there’s way too much to see and do!

When planning your itinerary, consider my top 5 Australian cities and the best things to do there:

1.  Sydney: You’ll need at least 5 or 6 days in this city alone.  (Yes, it’s that awesome.)  It’s the perfect combination of a cosmopolitan city surrounded by world class beaches.

Sydney Opera House

You must:
– Surf in Bondi Beach
– Hike from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach (or vice versa)
– Take a ferry from Circular Quay (pronounced “KEY”) to Manly Beach
– Get drinks at the Coogee Bay Hotel beer garden
– Go out at night in King’s Cross
– Go on a pub crawl in The Rocks
– See any of Sydney’s rugby teams (there are 3 different types of rugby and 3 different teams:  the Roosters – Rugby League, the Waratahs – Rugby Union, and the Swans – Aussie Rules Football.  Don’t know anything about rugby?  No worries, the fans around you will be happy to explain what’s going on.)

Day trips:
– visit the Blue Mountains for good hiking
– do a tour of the Hunter Valley wine region

Overrated:
Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb (although you can renew your vows up there!)
Opera House Tour.  My parents insisted that I did it because they didn’t get a chance to do it themselves.  It was bor-ing.

2.  Melbourne: There’s tons of great culture here, and you’ll probably want to hang around for at least 4 days.

The Twelve Apostles via Ashup

The Twelve Apostles via Ashup

You must:
– Rent a car and drive along the Great Ocean Road for at least one full day.  Try to plan on arriving at the “12 Apostles” at sunset.
– See an Aussie Rules football game (a.k.a. footy)
– Stay at a cute hotel in the St. Kilda district
– Plan a trip to Phillip Island to see the penguin parade at night.  (I never did this because I unfortunately wasn’t there during the right season, but my parents really loved it!)
– Check out Federation Square
– Shop at the Queen Victoria market

3.  Cairns: Popular access point for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).  Depending on how much beach time you want, and whether you are going to other cities along the GBR, you’ll probably want around 3 days here.

Cairns Lagoon via Photnart

Cairns Lagoon via Photnart

You must:
– Take day cruise(s) out on the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel/scuba
– Check out the nearby town of Port Douglas for wildlife/rain forest tours

4.  Whitsundays/Hamilton Island: Incredible beach destinations along the GBR, and perfect for honeymooners.  You should stick around for at least 3 or 4 days.

The Whitsunday Islands via Ester Inbar

The Whitsunday Islands via Ester Inbar

You must:
– Take a multiple day cruise/sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands.  The best way for you to do this is probably to fly onto Hamilton Island (very shmancy – I never went there myself) and plan a trip from there.  The alternative is staying near Airlie Beach (on the mainland) and planning a sailing trip from there.  Whitehaven beach is HEAVEN.  Do a Google image search for “Whitehaven Beach” right now.  Yes, it is that beautiful.

5.  Byron Bay: Cool beach town popular with Aussies and international tourists alike.  Not too far away from Sydney.  You only need around 2 or 3 days here.

Starbuds Coffee in Nimbin

You must:
– Hike to the Cape Byron lighthouse (the most eastern point of Australia)
– Surf/sun/kayak on any of the beaches
– Looking for a “unique” day trip (emphasis on “trip”)?  Sign up for Jim’s Alternative Tour to see Nimbin, a tiny hippie village.  It’s like the Haight-Ashbury district on steroids and every Phish concert in history rolled into one experience.  Maybe not appropriate for honeymooners, but just thought I’d throw it out there.
– If you come here from Sydney, fly into Ballina Airport.  From anywhere else fly into Gold Coast airport and take a (1 hour) bus south to Byron.
– Get drinks at the Beach Hotel’s beer garden at night
– If you want to party like you’re still in college, you can dance on the Tables at Cheeky Monkeys and Cocobangas.  Again, not very “honeymoon-like,” but maybe that’s what you’re into!

This is obviously just a quick rundown of some of my favorite places in Australia, and I can pretty much go on forever on each city alone.  If you have any specific questions about planning a trip to Australia, you can feel free to ask!

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