February 7th, 2024
9 minute read
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
The bustling little township of Airlie is laden with markets, boutiques, swimming spots and excellent dining, so explore and relax into island time!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
A super short leg today, with the trip to Byron Bay only taking an hour.
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!
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.
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!
Your ultimate destination is just around the corner, so hit the road for one last time and arrive in Melbourne in 9 hours.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!