I’ve always said I don’t like over planning trips. And I stick by this statement, but I also appreciate that there is a time and a place for an outline of an itinerary, to make sure you make your return flight on time, and actually visit some cool places along the way.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the feeling of not having a specified plan for the day, and being in a location knowing that you can change your plans in a heartbeat, but when you are travelling with time constraints, its nice to have a shell to work to.

So, when planning our last trip to Australia, knowing we only had 16 days to make the trip from Cairns – Sydney, I was looking for just that, a shell, a basis to work from, an idea of how long I wanted in each destination, and some sample activities if I was at a loss of something to do.
I came across many 2, 3, 4 and even 6 week itineraries, but nothing for 16 days, so here is my 16 day ‘shell’ for Cairns-Sydney – please feel free to let me know how you filled the gaps!

Day 1 – Arrive Cairns

Day 2 – Cairns
– check out the Pier Bar, for a cool beverage, some decent music and views – its also right next to the greyhound bus stop so ideal for waiting for those late night buses!

Day 3 – Cairns – Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation Day trip
– this place is stunning, and if I’d had more time, I would have done a night in cape tribulation so consider this if you can spare a day elsewhere.
– don’t miss the River cruise in daintree rainforest – highlight of my trip!

Cape tribulation (above) and one of the many crocodiles we spotted on the river cruise (below)

Day 4 – Cairns – Great Barrier Reef Day trip
– highly recommend a trip that takes you to the outer reef, ‘the real reef’, to appreciate the spectacular drop offs and avoid the bleached areas. We went with Seastar cruises who offer a small group tour to Michelemas Kay and Hastings Reef – stunning!
– 1am bus to Townsville

Day 5 – Townsville – Magnetic Island
– arrive Townsville at 5:30am ish, 30min wait for the ferry terminal to open (which is literally where the greyhound bus stops!), and another 30mins for the 6:30am ferry to maggie island, in time to watch the sunrise if you are there in winter!

Sunrise from the ferry! (above)

Day 6 – Magnetic Island
– check out the stunning Forts walk for the best chance of spotting wild koalas, ideally go early in the morning before it gets too hot! Then enjoy the stunning scenery and fringing reefs that border the island.
– 4pm bus to Airlie Beach from Townsville

View from the top of the forts walk (above), wild koala (below)

Day 7 – Airlie Beach – Whitsundays
– we travelled on the Waltzing Matilda and I couldn’t recommend them more, stunning service from beginning to end, read all about it here: Highlights of sailing around the Whitsunday Islands


Day 8 – Whistunday island
– this place is magical, the clearest water I have ever seen at a beach, bright white silica sand and so many shades of blue in the ocean, and absolute must see. You can check out more of my photos here – Whitehaven beach in pictures
– 7pm bus to Rainbow Beach

Day 9 – Rainbow Beach
– spent the entire time very relaxed, watching the waves or chilling out in the hostel, I didn’t find there to be too much to do here in all honesty but its a nice rest stop regardless!

Day 10 – Rainbow Beach – Fraser Island
rainbow beach offers the shortest route over to Fraser Island, so its an ideal spot to pick up a day tour and maximise your time on the island, alternatively you could start a tour on day 9 and spend a night on the island, instead of spending a day in rainbow beach

Me after my scenic flight on fraser (above) and the shipwreck on the island (below)

Day 11 – Rainbow beach – Brisbane – take morning bus!
– Brisbane was nice, but I didn’t feel like I needed more than half a day here. I’m not mad keen on cities as it is and was keen to head back to a more outdoorsy place. We stayed at Base hostel, and they have an adjoining bar which did a pretty decent pizza and musical bingo session if you fancy a slightly different evening.

Day 12 – Brisbane – Byron Bay – 630am Bus
– the bus took around 4 hours, so we had pretty much the whole day in Byron. I really loved this place, and 2 days wasn’t enough for me, I would loved to have stayed longer but did want some time in Sydney before we departed. I would highly recommend Sea kayaking with dolphins in Byron bay  whilst you are there, an absolute highlight of my trip!

Day 13 – Byron Bay
– we spent the day strolling around enjoying the scenery, chilling out on the beach, and took a great walk to cape byron, where you can go whale watching in Byron Bay for FREE! – pretty awesome!
– evening bus to Sydney – 12 hours – this was a painful bus journey I warn you now, but a necessary evil.

Cape byron lighthouse (above), one of the humpback whales we watched (below)

Day 14 – Sydney
– I was pretty exhausted after the night bus so spent this day chilling out, sleeping and strolling the streets – I would really recommend making sure you have time for a ‘rest day’ after any long bus journeys like this one, because even the best sleepers rarely feel fully alive the next day!

Day 15 – Sydney – Blue Mountains
– I was really keen to see the blue mountains and was planning on taking a train from Sydney and doing it without a guide, but having spoken to some people in our hostel, it seemed the tour was a lot better value for money as they drove you around different areas of the mountains so you reached a lot further in a shorter period of time. Our guide was great and for 60 dollars each we really couldn’t complain. The mountains were stunning but I think I would try and stay for longer in the future and maybe get a lodge there or similar. We went to Scenic world, whilst we were there, it was ok, but I’m not sure I would pay to go again, the sky rail was fun looking over the trees but I think a nice free hike may have offered equally stunning views.

Day 16 – Sydney
– Our last day was spent classically sightseeing in Sydney, light show at the opera house, lookout point on the bridge, have a schooner in the harbour, that sort of thing!

And thats it, in a flash 16 days is over and you don’t want to go home! I really enjoyed this itinerary, I felt like we did and saw a lot, but equally weren’t exhausted either. There is obviously so much more you can do along that coast line, but when time is restricted you have to pick and choose unfortunately!

I hope this has helped some of you with planning your own trips, and I would love to hear about them so please drop me a message or leave me a comment below 🙂
A x

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