15 days in Great Barrier Reef & Sydney Itinerary

15 days in Great Barrier Reef & Sydney Itinerary

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Route & dates

15 days in Great Barrier Reef & Sydney Itinerary

Start: Minneapolis
Fly:  21​h 15​min
1
Cairns
— 2 nights
2
Port Douglas
— 2 nights
shuttle + Fly:  4​h 15​min
3
Townsville
— 1 night
4
Airlie Beach
— 2 nights
ferry:  1​h
5
Hamilton Island
— 2 nights
Fly:  4​h
6
Sydney
— 3 nights
Fly:  22​h 30​min
End: Minneapolis

2
nights
Cairns

A neat, cosmopolitan city of shaded plazas and laid-back neighborhoods, Cairns serves as a popular base for exploration of the surrounding region and the Great Barrier Reef, as well as a center for watersport activities like surfing or waterskiing.
Eschew the tourist crowds and head to Palm Cove Beach and Spas & Wellness. Spend the 30th (Mon) among aquatic life with a scuba or snorkeling tour. Spend the 1st (Wed) wandering through the wild on a nature and wildlife tour. There's more to do: take in nature's colorful creations at Botanical Gardens and admire the landmark architecture of Freshwater Station.

For more things to do, traveler tips, other places to visit, and other tourist information, you can read our Cairns trip itinerary planning site .

Minneapolis, USA to Cairns is an approximately 21.5-hour flight. You can also do a combination of bus and flight; or do a combination of train and flight. Traveling from Minneapolis to Cairns, you'll lose 16 hours due to the time zone difference. Prepare for warmer weather when traveling from Minneapolis in December: high temperatures in Cairns hover around 88°F and lows are around 73°F. Wrap up your sightseeing on the 1st (Wed) early enough to drive to Port Douglas.

Things to do in Cairns

Outdoors Wildlife Tours

Side Trip

Palm Cove Beach
Find places to stay Dec 30 — Jan 1:
Highlights from your plan
Scuba & Snorkeling
Nature & Wildlife Tours
Palm Cove Beach ©
Palm Cove Beach

2
nights
Port Douglas

A holiday in Port Douglas balances an activity-filled getaway with plenty of opportunities to relax, thanks to its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and bustling beach life.
Start off your visit on the 2nd (Thu): take a tour by water with Boat Tours & Water Sports. Get ready for a full day of sightseeing on the 3rd (Fri): stroll through Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas and then see the vivid underwater world at Agincourt Reef.

For where to stay, other places to visit, photos, and other tourist information, use the Port Douglas online tour itinerary planner .

You can drive from Cairns to Port Douglas in 1.5 hours. Alternatively, you can take a bus; or take a shuttle. In January, daily temperatures in Port Douglas can reach 89°F, while at night they dip to 75°F. Finish your sightseeing early on the 3rd (Fri) to allow enough time to travel to Townsville.

Things to do in Port Douglas

Wildlife Outdoors Tours
Find places to stay Jan 1 — 3:
Highlights from your plan
Scuba & Snorkeling
Agincourt Reef ©
Agincourt Reef
Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas ©
Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas

1
night
Townsville

Townsville ©
Tucked snugly beneath a steep, craggy mount--known as Castle Hill--the vibrant city of Townsville is as picturesque as its backdrop.
Start off your visit on the 4th (Sat): take in the exciting artwork at The Drill Hall Studio, tour the pleasant surroundings at The Strand, then take in the pleasant sights at Castle Hill, and finally contemplate the long history of National Trust Heritage Centre.

To find maps, reviews, where to stay, and tourist information, read our Townsville travel route planner.

Traveling by combination of shuttle and flight from Port Douglas to Townsville takes 4.5 hours. Alternatively, you can drive; or do a combination of shuttle and bus. Expect a daytime high around 89°F in January, and nighttime lows around 77°F. Wrap up your sightseeing on the 4th (Sat) to allow time to take a bus to Airlie Beach.

Things to do in Townsville

Outdoors Parks Beaches
Find places to stay Jan 3 — 4:
Highlights from your plan
The Strand ©
The Strand
National Trust Heritage Centre ©
National Trust Heritage Centre
Castle Hill
Castle Hill

2
nights
Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach ©
Very much a town with an emphasis on the tropical lifestyle, Airlie Beach offers exotic surroundings with palm trees and charming, sandy beaches.
Kick off your visit on the 5th (Sun): paddle through the water with a kayaking and canoeing tour, soothe aching muscles at some of the top local wellness centers, and then kick back and relax at Airlie Beach Lagoon. Keep things going the next day: identify plant and animal life at Wildlife Areas.

To find photos, maps, traveler tips, and tourist information, refer to the Airlie Beach trip tool .

Take a bus from Townsville to Airlie Beach in 4 hours. Alternatively, you can drive; or do a combination of train and bus. In January, daytime highs in Airlie Beach are 85°F, while nighttime lows are 76°F. Wrap up your sightseeing on the 6th (Mon) to allow time to ride a ferry to Hamilton Island.

Things to do in Airlie Beach

Outdoors Tours Wildlife
Find places to stay Jan 4 — 6:
Highlights from your plan
Airlie Beach Lagoon ©
Airlie Beach Lagoon
Scuba & Snorkeling
Spas & Wellness

2
nights
Hamilton Island

A trip to Hamilton Island takes you to a car-free destination mostly covered in bushland.
Start off your visit on the 7th (Tue): see some colorful creatures with a scuba or snorkeling tour. On your second day here, take in the waterfront activity at Hamilton Island Marina, kick back and relax at Catseye Beach, and then head outdoors with Jetryder.

For ratings, where to stay, and tourist information, use the Hamilton Island journey builder app .

You can ride a ferry from Airlie Beach to Hamilton Island in an hour. In January in Hamilton Island, expect temperatures between 86°F during the day and 76°F at night. Finish your sightseeing early on the 8th (Wed) to allow enough time to travel to Sydney.

Things to do in Hamilton Island

Outdoors Wildlife Tours
Find places to stay Jan 6 — 8:
Highlights from your plan
Scuba & Snorkeling
Hamilton Island Marina ©
Hamilton Island Marina

3
nights
Sydney

Sydney ©
Lent iconic status as a result of its famous bridge and opera house, Sydney has a down-to-earth charm that enhances its spectacular setting and functional efficiency.
Relax by the water at Bondi Beach and Clovelly. The Rocks and St. Mary's Cathedral will appeal to history buffs. There's lots more to do: see a show at Sydney Opera House, appreciate the history behind Governor Lachlan Macquarie, try to win big at Wentworth Park Greyhound Racing, and take in nature's colorful creations at The Royal Botanic Garden.

To see maps, traveler tips, ratings, and tourist information, read Sydney travel itinerary planner .

Getting from Hamilton Island to Sydney by flight takes about 4 hours. Other options: do a combination of ferry, bus, and train; or do a combination of ferry, car, and bus. Expect little chillier evenings in Sydney when traveling from Hamilton Island in January, with lows around 68°F. Wrap up your sightseeing on the 11th (Sat) to allow time to travel back home.

Things to do in Sydney

Parks Beaches Outdoors
Find places to stay Jan 8 — 11:
Highlights from your plan
Bondi Beach ©
Bondi Beach
The Rocks ©
The Rocks
Sydney Opera House ©
Sydney Opera House

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