Australia is a big place and the opportunities for exploration here are endless. A quick review of Australia’s eight States and Territories can help you decide where to focus your time on your first, second or tenth visit!
Map from Tourism Australia
Australia’s most northeastern state is also its second-largest (bigger than France!). It’s biggest draws claim Guinness Book of World Records status, such as the Daintree Rainforest (world’s oldest) and the legendary Great Barrier Reef (world’s largest). Whether you plan to dive, snorkel, or enjoy the view from a glass-bottom boat, the Reef is accessible to everyone and is an absolute must. The tropical cities of Cairns and Port Douglas are great access points for both attractions.
Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane, is quickly becoming known as “Australia’s New World City” for its impressive economic growth, livability, and lively atmosphere. An hour south of the city is the infamous Gold Coast, known as a surfer’s paradise and nightlife hotspot, while the area to the north is home to the Sunshine Coast and the remarkable Fraser Island.
Heart Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Photo by Virgin Australia
New South Wales
Located in the southeastern corner of the city, New South Wales is home to Sydney, the largest city in Australia. Make an obligatory photo stop at the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge before jet boating in the harbor, surfing Bondi Beach, bird-watching in the Royal Botanical Gardens, or dining in Circular Quay.
Sydney’s not the only standout in New South Wales. The majestic Blue Mountains are great for hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking, and the Snowy Mountains house Mt. Kosciuszko, one of the Seven Summits of the World. Alternatively, the Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s premier wine regions, known for its dry Semillion white wines and legendary Shiraz reds.
Hanging Rock, Blue Mountains, Photo by Tourism Australia
All things Victoria start at its cultural heart and capital city – Melbourne. Grab a flat white, espresso covered with velvety microfoam, and explore the city’s narrow laneways, which buzz with quirky bars, boutique stores, and pop-up art installations. Melbourne also hosts the Australian Open and frequent festivals and sporting events.
Outside of the city, watch the penguin parades on Phillip Island, discover the beauty of the Dandenong Ranges on the Puffing Billy Railway, wander the vineyards of the Yarra Valley, or relax on the secluded beaches on the Mornington Peninsula.
Melbourne Laneways, Photo by Tourism Australia
Perched above the Great Australian Bight in the middle of Australia’s southern coast, South Australia is expansive and diverse. To the north are some of the most desolate and arid corners of the continent, while to the south, near the ocean, are rolling hills rife with vineyards and abundant agriculture.
For nature enthusiasts, South Australia provides experiences that are hard to beat. Swim with dolphins or cage dive with Great White Sharks on the Eyre Peninsula. Soak in the unearthly landscape of Wilpena Pound as you hike the Flinders Ranges. Or retreat to Kangaroo Island for close encounters with wallabies, koalas, echidnas, penguins, cockatoos, whales, and sea lions.
Wilpenna Pound, Photo by Maxime Coquard
Australia’s smallest state, Tasmania floats about 150 miles immediately south of the southeastern corner of the mainland. Known as the “Natural State” and the “Island of Inspiration,” 37% of Tasmania remains as wilderness in reserves, National Parks, and World Heritage Sites. But it’s not just an environmental gem – it also has a fascinating (and sometimes grim) cultural history as a penal colony, as well as a highly regarded culinary scene that makes good use of its fresh seafood.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park in the northwest and Freycinet National Park in the east provide some of the most stunning landscapes found in Australia, and offer excellent opportunities for adventure sports such as repelling and diving. Use the Edwardian city of Launceston as a jumping-off point to eat and drink your way through Tasmania’s best wine region, the Tamar Valley, then continue towards Bicheno to watch Little Blue Penguins. For an active pursuit you won’t soon forget, venture to Maria Island for a four-day hiking tour along pristine beaches and stunning coastal cliffs.
Painted Cliffs, Maria Island, Photo by Maria Island Walk / Great Walks of Australia
The continent’s largest state, Western Australia makes up a third of Australia! Because of its size, it’s best broken down into regions: The Coral Coast, the Golden Outback, the Northwest, the Southwest, and Perth and surrounds.
In the Southwest, explore towering eucalyptus forests, watch whales along the rich coastline, and eat, drink, surf, and spelunk your way through the phenomenal Margaret River Valley. The Golden Outback is best known for its unrivaled wildflower show, with more than 12,000 species blooming throughout the year. In the Northwest, you will find captivating Aboriginal history, as well as some of the strangest and most inspiring geologic formations and landscapes on Earth, such as the beehive-shaped Bungle Bungles in the Kimberley. Finally, on the Coral Coast, lounge on a beach with dolphins at your feet or dive with whale sharks on one of the world’s largest fringing reefs, Ningaloo.
Check out The “Other” Sydney, Rock, and Reef for an amazing tour of the region that was named one of National Geographic’s Top 50 Tours of a Lifetime!
Coral Bay, Ningaloo Marine Park, Photo by Australia’s Coral Coast
Home to Australia’s “Red Heart” and one of the continent’s most iconic features, Uluru, the Northern Territory is rife with rugged natural beauty, rich in Aboriginal heritage, and abounding with an impressive array of wildlife. The northern part of the territory is defined by tropical environments, while dry deserts dominate the south and center.
Kakadu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a highlight of the north for its unique wildlife, lush rainforests, rocky escarpments, and 50,000-year-old Aboriginal rock paintings. In the south is the spiritually significant Uluru and the town of Alice Springs where you can head into the desert on a bush walk or camel ride.
Camel Rides in the Red Centre, Photo by Tourism Australia
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory, or ACT, was created to house the nation’s capital, Canberra. Immerse yourself in Aboriginal artwork at the National Gallery of Australia, experience Australian politics at the Parliament House, entertain and educate yourself at the National Science and Technology Center (called Questacon), or learn about Australian sports legends at the Australian Institute of Sports.
Australia Parliament House, Photo by Tourism Australia
Australia is a massive country with a variety of climates. Its seasons are the opposite of the United States and the peak summer months are December and January, convenient for Northerners seeking some sun. While it can be cool in the winter months of June – August, the coldest it gets in the country is around 32° Farenheit.
There are no bad times to travel to Australia but certain seasons are ideal depending on where you’re interested in visiting. Uluru, for example, is best avoided in summer (Dec/Jan) when temperatures exceed 100° Farenheit, and in the north of the country the rainy season is Nov-May. Generally spring and fall are best for all-around good weather!
How to get there?
Most international flights from the U.S. arrive in Sydney, Brisbane or Adelaide. There are a few direct flights to Sydney from cities such as Los Angeles (14.5 hours), San Francisco (14 hours), and Dallas (which at 17.5 hours is billed as the world’s longest flight). Honolulu also has direct flights to Sydney (10 hours), making it a popular stop-over destination.
How much time?
Given the travel time to reach Australia and the size and breadth of the country once you’re there, at least two weeks are recommended. If you have less time, it’s best to pick a part of the country that appeals to you and delve into that area. Explore Melbourne and Sydney for Australian city-life, Maria or Kangaroo Islands for exotic coastline, the Red Center for Uluru and aboriginal culture, or the north for the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef.
Who is it for?
If you can brave the long flights you’ll likely find something to love about Australia. Nature lovers have their pick of crimson deserts, ancient rainforests, radiant reefs, dramatic coastline, and exotic wildlife. Culinary enthusiasts will find a thriving food scene and the opportunity to alternate between sipping Shiraz at a placid vineyard and sharing pints at a raucous pub.
Visas are required for all travelers to Australia (with the exception of New Zealanders). Most visitors from the United States and Canada will apply for an Electronic Travel Authority Visa ($20 AUD service fee) which allows for a stay of up to three months. Many European countries are part of the eVisitor program which is free and also allows for a stay of up to three months. For more information on visa options, please visit the website of the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
We specialize in custom, private tours. Book one of our selected itineraries below or contact us to start planning your perfect trip!
15-Day Tasmania and South Australia Adventure – Coastal Walks, Wildlife, and Wine
From $10,419 per person
Australia boasts more than 16,000 miles of coastline and this 15-day active adventure takes you along some of the country’s most stunning stretches in Tasmania and Victoria! The centerpieces of the tour are two of Australia’s Great Walks: the Freycinet Experience Walk and the Great Ocean Walk and in between treks you’ll get a healthy dose of relaxation, Australian culture, and multi-sport activities to keep you invigorated. Read more…
20-Day Ocean to Outback Walkabout
From $12,572 per person
The Ocean to Outback Australia Walkabout packs a lifetime of classic Australian experiences into an active and unforgettable three weeks. Embark on guided luxury treks on two of Australia’s Great Walks, plunge into crystal waters from eco-retreats on Kangaroo and Lord Howe Islands, taste South Australia’s best wines in the McLaren Vale, and embrace the urban buzz of Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. Read more…
18-Day Sydney, Blue Mountains, and Tasmania Deluxe Discovery
From $17,299 per person sharing accommodations
Experience Australia’s evocative blend of aboriginal culture, exotic wilderness, and urban energy on this deluxe 18-day exploration of Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and Tasmania. Read more…
20-Day Australia’s Outback Up-Close
Private Departures April – October
From $15,699 per person
The 20-Day Australia’s Outback Up-Close tour is an exploration of Australia’s isolated corners. Defined as the remote, rural regions of the country, the Australian Outback spans from the earthy red deserts of the Red Center to the winding waterways of the Mary River floodplains to the arid sand dunes that fringe the Western coast. Experience these diverse and off-the-beaten path environments with the local guides that know them best. Read more…
17-Day Other Rock & Reef Tour
From $12,750 per person sharing
While most visitors to Australia will be visiting Sydney, Uluru (Ayers Rock), and the Great Barrier Reef, we’ll be taking you off the beaten path to a more behind-the-scenes perspective of Sydney and the “other” Rock and Reef: the Kimberley Region and Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. A luxury train ride from Sydney to Adelaide, and wine-tasting in Margaret River outside of Perth round out this remarkable itinerary which was a National Geographic Tour of a Lifetime! Read more…
Looking for something different? We specialize in custom, private travel – contact us and we’ll start planning your perfect trip!
Southern Ocean Lodge
Known as “Australia’s Galapagos”, Kangaroo Island is the setting for the spectacular Southern Ocean Lodge. Floor to ceiling windows in the Lodge’s Great Room greet guests with a dazzling display of the untouched Southern Ocean coastline, and the views from its 21 glass-walled suites and adjoining outdoor terraces are no less dramatic.
Kangaroos, sea lions, dolphins, penguins, and koalas all frequent the coastal ecosystems of the island. Explore the limestone clifftops of Flinders Chase National Park or dive into the local arts and culinary scene with a glass of wine from a boutique producer!
Under the gaze of iconic Uluru, Longitude 131° is a luxury “campsite” set in Australia’s Red Center. Dine under star-studded desert skies and sleep in spacious, tented pavilions boasting king-sized beds and sliding glass windows. Anangu culture permeates the camp’s experiences, illuminating the cultural significance of an area that is as spiritual as it is striking. Be sure to pair a visit to Uluru with time in the Kantju or Walpa Gorges to uncover the flora and fauna that endures in these stark desert landscapes.
Formerly a sheep station, Arkaba is a private wildlife conservancy in the Australian Outback. The lodge sleeps just 10 guests a night among its 60,000 acres of land. More than one million native animals have been sustained by the conservancy’s efforts, including nearly-lost species such as yellow-footed rock wallabies. While the surrounding outback offers rugged hiking opportunities, the rooms are pure frontier comfort with decor by wildlife artist, Rosie Woodford-Ganf. The homestead’s cuisine is treated with equal care and features the abundant produce of the area along an extensive cellar of South Australian wines.
Silky Oaks Lodge
Perched in the treetops, overlooking the Mossman Gorge River, Silky Oaks Lodge is adjacent to the rainforests of Daintree National Park. Hiking trails lead directly from the Lodge into the Daintree and river canoes are available for exploring the Mossman. For a truly revealing experience, join an indigenous Kuku Yalanji guide to see how they live harmoniously with the plants and animals of the forest. Day trips to the Great Barrier Reefs are also available. At night, rest in treehouse or riverfront rooms with interiors of Rosewood and Silky Oak timber.