What To See In Australia In Three Weeks

What To See In Australia In Three Weeks Image | East Coast Tours Australia

So you have three weeks Down Under? As the Aussies say: bloody brilliant mate! With such a rich array of natural wonders, golden beaches and colourful cities to discover down under, we know it can be a lot to begin planning your trip.

But rest assured, 21 days is just enough time to do the best of the East Coast without the rush. From the depths of the Great Barrier Reef to the canopies of the ancient Daintree Rainforest, let the locals guide you with our three-week Aussie bucket list, curating your dreamy road trip adorned with breathtaking marvels (and not those pesky tourist traps) along the way.

This guide will take you day-by-day from Cairns to Melbourne (all up, 31 hrs of driving time). This can easily be done in the reverse, from Melbourne to Cairns, or from Cairns to Sydney for more time in New South Wales. So, let's dive into your three weeks Down Under!

Check out our 4-week guide to the East Coast, or our 2-week guide to the East Coast - it's divine no matter how long you have to do this slice of Australia!

Top destinations to visit in Australia

With uncountable hidden gems and natural world wonders, let us narrow the list of destinations to see in Australia for your three-week journey from Cairns to Melbourne!

Our Three-Week Australian Bucket List

Map of Australia with East Coast points

Three-Week Australia Itinerary – Cairns to Melbourne

Day 1 – 3: Cairns, Far North Queensland

  • Two nights in Cairns
  • Travel to Airlie Beach & spend the night

Day 1 - Scuba Diving

Explore the Great Barrier Reef like never before with a scuba diving day tour! Whether you’re an avid snorkeller, keen to learn to dive or just want to unwind on a boat amongst World Heritage reef ecosystems, this is the best way to see the reef in Australia! Find Nemo and swim with turtles; totally a bucket list Aussie experience!

A person scuba diving underwater

Day 2 - Cape Tribulation & the Daintree

Head to Cape Tribulation through the mesmerizingly lush Daintree Rainforest. This slice of biodiverse wonder is the world’s oldest rainforest, with an abundance of tropical flora and fauna. There are awesome guided tours that take care of all the details like transport and food if that’s how you prefer to discover the Daintree and Cape Trib!

Cape tribulation aerial shot with rainforest

Day 3 - Travel to & settle in Airlie Beach 

The drive from Cairns to Airlie is about 8 hours, so buckle up, chuck on the tunes and get road-tripping! Check-in late to your Airlie accommodation.

Day 4 – 8: The Whitsundays, Queensland

  • 5 nights in Airlie Beach, Whitsundays
  • Travel to Rainbow Beach & spend the night

Day 4 - Airlie Beach exploring

The bustling little township of Airlie is laden with markets, boutiques, swimming spots and excellent dining, so explore and relax into island time!

Airlie Beach Markets on the foreshore with tents and palms

Day 5, 6 & 7 - Sail the Whitsunday Islands

As the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, a trip to Airlie Beach isn’t complete without an overnight sailing experience. With an array of lively backpacker adventures to more upmarket trips, there is something for everyone! Explore the famous Whitehaven Beach, swim with fish, snorkel the reefs and sail in style, making friends, eating delicious food and chasing sunsets along the way!

Whitsunday Blue catamaran on the blue wates

Day 8 - Travel from Airlie Beach to Rainbow Beach 

The trip from Airlie Beach to Rainbow Beach is about a 10-hour drive, so sit back and enjoy the scenery! Spend the night at a Rainbow Beach hostel, waking up to the sound of the ocean.

Day 9 – 12: K'gari (Fraser Island), Queensland

  • Two nights on K’gari (Fraser Island) tour
  • One night in Rainbow Beach
  • Travel to Noosa & spend the night

Day 9, 10 & 11 - K’gari 4WD Safari 

Catch the barge from the mainland to discover the boundless beauty of K’gari (Fraser Island). From gem-coloured lakes to infinite rolling coastlines and dense forests to freshwater creeks, this island is laden with incredible wonders, as well as interesting Indigenous history. The best way to 4WD down the beach and spot dingoes on K’gari is on a tour, of which we recommend a three-day, two-night camping trip to really immerse yourself in the island’s magic!

a group of 4 people walking on the sands of lake mackenzie

Day 12 - Travel from K’gari to Noosa

This leg is only about an hour and a half drive, so sit back, relax and roll up to your digs in Noosa feeling zen. From here we recommend a drink on Hastings Street, and of course, a barefoot walk on Main Beach!

Day 13 & 14: Noosa

  • One night in Noosa, Sunshine Coast
  • Travel to the Gold Coast & spend the night 

Day 13 - Noosa surfing, kayaking or free exploring 

Noosa is a divine holiday destination, home to radiant beaches, great surf, cruisy vibes and unique hidden gems. A total favourite choice amongst backpackers, we recommend grabbing a surf lesson, which includes your board hire, and hitting the waves! After this, a dinner with mates and a night at the popular Koala Bar is bound to have you feeling like a local. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!

Alternative activities include a Noosa Everglade kayak or a free day hiking the Noosa National Park and working on your tan!

Woman on a surfboard in Noosa

Day 14 - Travel from Noosa to Gold Coast

About 2 hours by car, jump from one beach paradise to the next, arriving at the Gold Coast at your own pace. If you’re keen for a big night, hit the Surfers Paradise main strip, where the music’s always turned up and the night’s always alive! 

Day 15 & 16 - Gold Coast, Queensland

  • One night on the Gold Coast
  • Travel to Byron Bay & spend the night 

Day 15 - Gold Coast

Browse the shops in Surfers Paradise, unwind on Miami Beach, pick a coastal walk, hire a surfboard or enjoy a beach BBQ in the park. There are heaps of local free activities in the Gold Coast, so catch up on some downtime in this backpacker destination where beach and city meet!

Gold Coast city meets beach

Day 16 - Travel to Byron Bay

A super short leg today, with the trip to Byron Bay only taking an hour. 

Day 17 & 18: Byron Bay, New South Wales

  • One night in Byron Bay
  • Travel to Sydney & spend the night

Day 17 - Byron Bay

The famous bohemian beachside town of Byron Bay is a must on your Australian road trip. Byron’s a pretty interesting town, and while much more developed, trendy and expensive than it used to be (as locals often lament), the vibes here are still really fun and the beaches are gorgeous. Head out for an avo on toast, hike up to the lighthouse and paddle out on a dolphin kayak tour for a day of sunshine!

Byron Bay lighthouse with two women in front

Day 18 - Travel from Byron to Sydney 

Head south on your second-last leg of the journey towards the iconic city of Sydney. From Byron Bay, the trip is about 8 hours.

Day 19 & 20: Sydney, New South Wales

  • One night in Sydney
  • Travel to Melbourne & stay the night

Day 19 - Sydney, New South Wales 

Be welcomed by the impressive arches of the Opera House as you explore Sydney! With unmissable photo destinations like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay and Luna Park, using the old yellow ferries is by far the funnest way to view the Harbour. A stop at the local fish market before a coastal stroll to Bondi Beach is the best way to get a feel for all aspects of the city! Come hungry for the sights and leave with a camera roll full of happy snaps!

Sydney Harbour Bridge with a man in an East Coast Tours shirt

Day 20 - Travel from Sydney to Melbourne 

Your ultimate destination is just around the corner, so hit the road for one last time and arrive in Melbourne in 9 hours.

Day 21: Melbourne, Victoria

  •  One night in Melbourne +

Day 21 - Melbourne City 

Woohoo, you’ve made it to the grungy coffee capital of Australia! Melbourne is laden with colourful street art, a bustling arts scene and, as aforementioned, fantastic coffee. So, catch a show, grab a bite, stroll the painted brick lanes and pop into a vintage store! If you want to extend your travels, hit the Great Ocean Road and discover the incredible Twelve Apostles. Check out our backpacker guide to Melbourne for more things to do! 

Melbourne Degraves ST with cafes and street art

Best 3-week itineraries in Australia

Let our local travel experts book, plan and support you through all the nitty-gritty with these easy, jam-packed itineraries available at a discounted rate when you book your accommodation, transport and tours at once! 

A group of backpackers with inflatable toys on Whitehaven Beach

How much does three weeks in Australia cost?

Ah yes, it’s budgeting time already. The first questions you’ll have when planning your trip to Australia is “how much will it cost?” and “how much daily spending money do I need” for your three-week road trip? 

The average itinerary for 3 weeks in Australia is anywhere between $2400 and $4000, including tours, accommodation and transport. Pre-booked itineraries are the best way for budget backpackers to get more bang for their buck with huge discounts, as well as enjoy seamless travel with everything prepaid and preplanned! 

Our 3 Week Cairns to Melbourne Express comes in at $2749, including all accommodation, transport and tours (scuba diving, sailing trip and 4WD K'gari tour). That's just $130 a day, not including all food or spending money.

Itinerary price breakdowns:

How much spending money do I need for three weeks in Australia?

As for daily spending money, it really does depend on how fancy you want to travel. If you’re more of a budget backpacker and are okay with eating budget food and sending postcards rather than spending heaps on souvenirs, $80 - $100 per day is fine. That’s about $1800 of spending money for 3 weeks (when you add accommodation, transport and tours).

If sit-down dining and ample shopping allowances sounds like you, we recommend about $150 - $300 per day, on top of an itinerary (about $3500 of spending money all up, not including accommodation, transport and tours).

For more budgeting tips and tricks, check out our guide to travelling Australia on a backpacker budget!

Woman swimming through the Great Barrier reef

What to pack for three weeks in Australia 

Australia is renowned for its sunshine and awesome beaches which ultimately beckon you outdoors. Because of this, packing super light for Australia is possible, with some carefully selected items. Check out our in-depth packing for the East Coast guide to have you well-prepared... right down to the last pair of socks!

Two women taking a selfie at Bondi Beach

Are you ready to book your 3-week itinerary and begin exploring the stunning East Coast of Australia?

Don’t hesitate to use our handy DIY itinerary planner, chat with a local travel expert or browse our curated itineraries! 

East Coast Tours acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend that respect to all First Nations peoples.

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