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Australia has efficient air service to get you to the places you want to visit.

But you'll want to plan your itinerary to minimize your travel time and cost and to maximize your time spent enjoying the destinations you wish to visit in Australia.

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What Order to Visit Places in Australia

Avoid criss-crossing Australia and create a logical sequence of places to visit

Australian touring map
Click to open a larger map of all Australia

We generally suggest you fly into Sydney, out of Cairns, and travel around the country in a clockwise direction.

Part of a series on travel to and in Australia - click the links on the right hand side for more articles.



When visiting a country the size of Australia (comparable to the size of the US) you clearly need to plan the sequence of where you'll visit so as to minimize traveling time (and cost).

There are other issues to consider as well, such as a logical 'flow' of experiences that don't clash with each other, and possibly other issues such as weather.

Fortunately, in general the 'best' way to visit Australia is truly the best way, giving you the least amount of travel and the best flow of experiences.

Where to Start Your Travels in Australia

You'll almost certainly arrive into one of Australia's major international airports, with Sydney being the most prominent of such airports, followed by Melbourne and Brisbane.

Your first choice then becomes whether to make your point of entry into Australia also your first place to visit, or whether you simply change planes at the airport and continue traveling on to somewhere else as your first actual stopping place.

There are several factors to consider when making this decision.

The need to recover from the long international flights

Some people will think 'Oh, I'll be so exhausted after all the traveling to get to Australia that I'll want to immediately go to a hotel and collapse into bed'.

It is definitely true that one of the strange things about travel - something which in theory could be very relaxing, ie, just sitting on the plane, reading, watching movies, sleeping, eating and drinking - is that it often is tiring.

But perhaps it is best to continue traveling, even though tired from the preceding travels - if you're already at the airport, why not conveniently simply walk over to the next departure gate and take another flight; indeed, if you're tired, maybe that means you'll get some sleep on the way.

And, if you're tired, it isn't as though you're sacrificing quality time that you'd otherwise be spending doing fun things and enjoying yourself.  All you're doing is using time that you'd probably be spending in your hotel room sleeping or trying to sleep, and doing the exact same thing on another flight or two.

So don't feel pressured to include an overnight or longer at your point of entry into Australia.  By all means do stop there if it is a place you want to visit, but otherwise, keep on traveling a bit further.

Arrival time and connecting flights

There's another consideration too.  If your flight in to Australia arrives late at night and there are no flights on to where you ultimately wish to get to, then of course you're stuck with spending a night at your arrival city, whether you want to do this or not.

On the other hand, maybe you can change the flight to Australia so as to get you there earlier in the day.

Airfare rules and costs

Another consideration is how your airfare is constructed.

As a quick rule of thumb, any time you have a stopover on your travels, this will cost you more than if you simply change planes and keep traveling.  Sure, it doesn't cost the airline any more for you to stop rather than just change planes, but they feel you are getting more value from your ticket and so they charge more to match.

Depending on how much of your flying within Australia is included 'for free' or at discounted rates as part of your international ticket, and how much is being purchased as standalone domestic travel, and possibly some being part of an air 'pass' as well, there may be cost implications depending on where and when you include stops.

Where to End Your Travels Within Australia

Of course, you'll probably leave Australia from one of its major gateway international airports, just as you arrived at the beginning of your vacation.

Note that you may not necessarily need to fly out of Australia from the same airport you flew into the country, however, and you might save some money and some traveling time by flying out of a different international airport to the one you arrived at.

Just as you did not need to actually stop in your arrival airport's city, neither do you need to have been staying at your departure city prior to taking the flight out of Australia.

Similar considerations apply as they did for deciding if you wanted to stay in your arrival city.

There is one other thought to keep in mind.  Some people feel anxious about things possibly going wrong on any important journey, and so they want to be as close to the airport as possible at the start of their travel day.  Other people are happy to have a lengthy day of travel prior to arriving at the airport - perhaps driving hundreds of miles first to somewhere, then flying from there and on to the international departure airport, and connecting on to their international flight out of Australia.

You know your own comfort level about such things, so you know how best to structure your departure day.

Cities First or Last or Interwoven?

We suggest that one of the most important factors in planning your stops in Australia is to arrange for a smooth continuum of experiences, and we further suggest that you should start in the more 'high energy' places and end in the most relaxing places.

An Australian vacation is different to one in, for example, Europe.  In Europe you're almost always in medium/large cities, or if you're not, you're still very close to a big city, and the entire experience is made up in large part of visiting lots of old places - cities, cathedrals, castles, etc.

But in Australia you have very different types of experiences as between the cities and the rural areas, and so there is a new thing to consider - how to coordinate your city and your rural experiences.

We suggest you start off in the big cities, and end up in smaller more relaxing parts of the country, making a transition from high energy to lower energy experiences in a manner which sort of parallels your own unwinding and relaxing.  This allows you to be at the point of maximum relaxation at the end of your vacation, returning home feeling truly fulfilled.

If you planned your travels the other way, you'd start off still being keyed up with energy, but in low energy places, and then you'd be just starting to relax when being thrust into the hustle and bustle of Sydney and Melbourne, and you'd return home in a high energy state, feeling less like you'd had a vacation.

Some people prefer to have a mix of big cities and small towns, sort of alternating between the one and the other.  That isn't our personal preference, but really the parts in the middle of your vacation aren't quite as important as the first and last parts.  Start off in a big city, and end in a more relaxing environment.

Good Places to Start

We suggest you start your Australian travels either in Sydney or Melbourne.

If you plan to go to both places, then generally it would make sense to go first to one of these two cities, and then travel next to the second of them.

Good Places to End

We suggest you end your Australian travels in the Cairns area.  This is about as relaxing and peaceful a place as you can hope to find anywhere.

Other possible final places in Australia could be Darwin/Kakadu or the Sunshine Coast/Fraser Island, or an island resort off the Queensland coast.

Most people will find the Cairns area the best place to conclude their Australian vacation.  Cairns has good air service to most places where your flight out of Australia is likely to depart from, making it probable you can start your return journey in Cairns and simply connect at the international gateway airport and continue on to your next destination outside of Australia.

Sequencing Your Stops Within Australia

Normally we plan Australian itineraries that start in Sydney and then go in a steady clockwise direction - down to Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide/Kangaroo Island, Coober Pedy, Ayers Rock/Kings Canyon/Alice Springs, Darwin/Kakadu, Cairns, then on out of Australia.

Of course, simply remove any of the places mentioned in the preceding paragraph if you've not going to them.

And if you're adding extra places, add them in a manner that is more or less geographically consistent with the clockwise circle.

If you will go all the way to Darwin, that could be done between Adelaide and the Red Center portion of your travels, or perhaps between Alice Springs and Darwin (if you wanted to include Coober Pedy too).

If for some reason you choose to add Brisbane, we'd put that at the beginning rather than at the end of your journey.

Flights Within Australia Aren't Always Daily or Bi-Directional

Many people have an assumption that any two cities are connected by multiple flights every day, and that there is a symmetry to the flights, so that for any flight from city A to city B, there is a matching flight back from city B to city A.

This is not necessarily the case in Australia.  Some of the smaller destinations such as Coober Pedy and even Ayers Rock have infrequent service - not even flights on each day of the week, and may also have 'unbalanced' service - ie, there might be flights into Coober Pedy from somewhere, but not flights back from Coober Pedy to the same place (for example, maybe a plane does a circular journey Adelaide to Coober Pedy to Ayers Rock and back to Adelaide).

You need to beware of such challenges.  If you're looking for flights and don't find what you're looking for, try looking on another day, or check directly with airline timetables to see in that format if they have flights that operate on some days but not others.

For more information

Click the links in the top right of this page for additional helpful information about travel to and in Australia.

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Originally published 9 Sep 2011, last update 30 May 2021

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