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First time in Australia? Don’t miss these 7 must-do activities

Famous for its unique wildlife, endless sandy beaches, vast Outback and many natural wonders, Australia is a beautiful place to holiday, unlike any other. From oceanside rock formations to expansive desert and lush tropical rainforests, with booming cities in between, you may be wondering where to begin planning your vacation down under. Enjoy a well-rounded and adventurous holiday with these seven things to see in Australia, especially if it’s your first time there.

Sydney Opera House - Sydney

sydney opera house side
Megan Johnson | CAA North & East Ontario

The Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s most recognized landmarks. There are many ways to see the Sydney Opera House. Some top picks include walking along the waterfront to various lookouts, booking a guided tour of the building, or on a harbour cruise. Regardless of how you plan to see it, this iconic building is synonymous with Australia, and you should check this box off your Australian bucket list.

Two of the best viewpoints are from the peninsulas on either side of the opera house – Dawes Point and Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. Stroll around the harbour area, admiring the opera house and the backdrop of trees, city skyline and water. There are a variety of restaurants with outdoor patios and shops to look for that perfect Aussie souvenir.

Blue Mountains - Sydney

Blue Moutains
Megan Johnson | CAA North & East Ontario

Get away from the city and venture out into the beautiful natural landscape of Australia’s Blue Mountains. Named for the blanket of blue haze created by the oil droplets from the expansive eucalyptus trees mixing with water and sunlight, this wilderness area is known for its towering rock formations.

blue moutains
Megan Johnson | CAA North & East Ontario

The Three Sisters famous rock formation is a must-see, and the best area to enjoy the view is from Echo Point Lookout. Three Sisters is also a great starting point for multiple trails, including a 1,000-step descent to the valley floor. Another lovely nature attraction is Katoomba Falls, accessible from the Prince Henry Cliff Walk.

Enhance your experience by visiting Scenic World, a tourist attraction that allows visitors to experience the surrounding nature in a whole new way. There are three epic rides from the main station: ride over a lush valley on the Scenic Skyway, float from treetop to clifftop on the Scenic Cableway and descend into the valley on the Scenic Railway, the world’s steepest railway.

The train ride from Sydney’s central station to Katoomba Station in the Blue Mountains is about two hours long and departs multiple times daily. You’ll need an Opal card to tap on and off public transit, including within the Blue Mountains.

Great Ocean Road - Melbourne

Great Ocean Road - Melbourne
Megan Johnson | CAA North & East Ontario

Stretching 240 kilometres along the southeast coast of Australia, the Great Ocean Road is one of the most iconic coastal drives in the world. The starting point of the scenic road is just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne’s city centre, making for a fun multi-day getaway or day tour from the city.


Great Ocean Road - Melbourne
Megan Johnson | CAA North & East Ontario

While the entire drive has views of cliffs, lush forests, green fields and sandy beaches, the most famous stop is the Twelve Apostles. Admire the towering rock stacks as the ocean crashes into the beach below. The most common way to take in the view is from the boardwalk and lookout platforms near the visitor’s centre, and you can also park further down the road to walk down Gibson Steps and take in the scene from the shore. If you visit during sunset, you may spot penguins gathering by the ocean.

Stop at Kafe Koala to find koalas hiding in the nearby trees, learn some history and enjoy the view from a lighthouse at Cape Otway, admire more oceanside rock formations at Loch Ard Gorge and The Grotto and stay in small towns along the way like Port Campbell.

St. Kilda Beach - Melbourne

ymgerman | Adobe Stock

Melbourne is a city full of history, trendy artwork and a sophisticated food scene. Not only are there hidden alleyways and cozy cafés to explore within the city, but there are also many unique attractions surrounding the city centre. Just a half hour tram ride from Melbourne CBD is St. Kilda Beach where you can swim in the sun, enjoy carnival park rides and indulge in diverse dining options.

To experience something special, visit the breakwater at the end of St. Kilda pier where a colony of Little Penguins live. Approximately 1400 penguins called this breakwater home, and you can spot them daily around dusk. Arrive prior to sunset to get a good viewing spot and make sure to keep your distance and shut off your camera’s flash to not disrupt the colony.

The St. Kilda breakwater is the closest area to the CBD where you can view penguins, but you can also find them on Philip Island. The island houses the largest colony of Little Penguins in the world, and you can watch their penguin parade from the ocean each evening. It’s about 90 minutes outside of Melbourne.

Uluru – The Outback

Uluru Scenic Australian Northern Territory
simonbradfield | iStock

For the full Australian experience, a few days in the Outback is a must. Red deserts, clear blue skies, endless plains and spiritual history are part of what makes this area so magical and you can see it all at Uluru. The Red Centre, also called Ayers Rock – Uluru goes by many names and this monolith is considered a sacred place that hides ancient wisdom. Sitting at the bottom of an ancient seabed, the world’s largest single rock sit at a whopping 348-metre height and is around 600 million years old.

Uluru can be admired in various ways, including a guided walk, a segway tour, camping in the desert and dining under the stars. The Sounds of Silence dining under the stars experience will have you admiring

Uluru at sunset as you snack on canapes, listening to the didgeridoo sounds while darkness falls. You’ll sit down for a desert meal made with native ingredients as an expert decodes the Southern night sky. It’s one of the most luxurious and unique ways to immerse yourself in the surroundings.

If you want to extend your Outback adventures, the closest large town to Ayers Rock is the famous Alice Springs, about 450 kilometres (or a five-hour drive) away. This area of Australia has sweltering summers, with temperatures reaching roughly 40°C, so the best time of year to visit is between May and September.

Great Barrier Reef - Cairns

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
filipefrazao | iStock

A journey down under is incomplete without witnessing the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. Cairns is one of the fastest gateways to the immense reef organism – it’s the closest location to the outer reef and has more tour options than the nearby town of Port Douglas.

Sailing adventures, snorkelling days, boat cruises, scuba diving trips, and scenic helicopter flights are all ways to tour the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns. Spend time soaking up the tropical atmosphere from half-day trips to multi-day excursions.

Another fun outing from Cairns is a visit to Kuranda Rainforest via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Kuranda Scenic Railway. Enjoy the scenic rainforest from above on your way to and from the village, along with artisan markets, cultural experiences and wildlife interactions once you’ve arrived.

K’Gari (Fraser Island) - Queensland

K’Gari (Fraser Island) - Queenslan
Megan Johnson | CAA North & East Ontario

If you can’t decide between the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast for beach adventures, opt for a lush island destination instead. For a unique experience with beauty that will leave you awe-struck, add a stop in K’Gari (Fraser Island) to your itinerary. “K’Gari,” which translates to paradise, is the world’s largest sand island covered in tropical trees, coastal freshwater lakes, expansive beaches and ancient dunes.

One of the must-see natural sites on the island is Lake McKenzie, a crystal-clear blue water lake that contains only rainwater and no groundwater. Its pure white silica sand adds to the stunning view and is soft to walk on. After a dip in the lake, your hair and skin will feel silky smooth. You can find guided day trips, including a visit to Lake McKenzie and other highlights like Eli Creek and Maheno Shipwreck.

Day tours depart from Rainbow Beach and Hervey Bay, or you can book tours departing from Kingfisher Bay Resort if you stay overnight on the island. You can take a ferry from Hervey Bay to reach the beach resort and enjoy an extended stay, relaxing poolside during sunset. If you decide to rent a 4WD vehicle, it’s essential to know that the entire drive will be off-road on sand, and you’ll need information about proper tire pressure and the changing tides.

Leave it to the professionals and book a tour

Contact a CAA Travel Consultant to book a guided vacation with Trafalgar to visit Australia. The company offers different tour options around the country, including one named Australian Highlights. CAA Members receive $100 off on CAA Vacations® itineraries that are seven days or longer.

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