When I decided to head for the continent that was furthest south except for Antarctica, I thought I could easily see plenty within 3 weeks in Australia. I was rather naive. Australia was enormous. And distance are incredibly far. Oh dear. So how to best plan a 3 week Australia vacation? Here are my personal, tried-and-tested tips on where to go and how to conquer the outback.
Knowing the Dimensions before 3 Weeks in Australia
So don’t make the same mistake I did and instead get hold of a 3D globe to actually make out the distances. So you see that crossing the red centre in the middle of the continent is not a matter that is undertaken lightly. Please don’t be one of those tourists that think they can see it all in a matter of weeks. I had 7 months and didn’t see everything. Lots, but not everything. (But then again, do you ever?)
Take for instance my trip along the West coast from Perth to Exmouth. It is longer than if you would cross the UK from top to bottom. We drove it in 5 days and on one day it was a 650km drive. Long hours, you can be sure. Same goes with Adelaide to Perth or Darwin. Calculate 2 weeks to actually make it worth your while and stop at sights and roadhouses. You wouldn’t want to miss the attractions inbetween either, now would you?
Getting around Australia
If you want to go on a three week trip to Australia, there are three options to do it. Either by public transport, such as trains and buses, by going with a guided tour or self drive. Each one has its merits and drawbacks and should be adapted to the traveller’s purposes and personal preferences. For a solo female traveller, such as myself, only the first two were an option for me. Seeing that it is an actual possibility of dying in the outback, travelling alone bears the highest risk – especially for those foreign to and inexperienced in Australia.
Having said that, if you take the necessary precautionary steps, use your common sense and drive safely during your three week trip to Australia, then there should be nothing to fear. After all, the highways are super straight and in good shape. Even though the traffic is scarce at best (once it took us 2 hours to see another car), there is always a truck driving by and road etiquette dictates to stop and as for help if there seems to be need for it. (Learn more about the special Australian road etiquette here.)
When to Visit Australia
Before going to Australia it is absolutely necessary to inform yourself about the weather. Generally, you can divide Australia into two parts. The Northern part has two seasons: dry and wet season. The southern part has the usual four. Just don’t forget that everything is upside down, meaning that in summer it is relatively cold and winter is super hot. The more you go down south, the colder it gets with Tasmania having a similar weather to New Zealand, thus mild and never really hot.
A special mention goes to Melbourne. As the locals like to say, it has 5 different seasons in a day. Mentioning the last one is not child friendly as it starts with an F. I think you get the idea, but just for illustrational purposes, picture a super hot day, you’re melting and changing your clothes from a jacket and jumper (the morning was cold) to thongs (which is Australian for flip flops) and airy clothes. Once I arrived in the CBD, it is suddenly very breezy and fresh and you would have needed the jacket. It might start to rain as well.
What to Pack for Australia
Australian weather can be quite drastically different between North and South – depending on the season. In September, you can get super chilly nights and warm days in the outback, so packing an autumn/spring sleeping bag to use in your swag is a great idea. Wear as little as possible inside the seleeping bag.
For outside, however, an all weather jacket is a great idea – especially if you are staying in Melbourne. The weather can change multiple times per day and the more southeastern you are, the colder are the Australian winters. The Great Ocean road especially can be very windy and rainy.
To explore the bush, pack sturdy hiking boots, insect repellent, enough 50+ sunscreen, a big refillable water bottle, hand sanitiser, a sunhat, sunglasses and coal tablets in case you get food poisoning. For beaches, back your swimwear, sunglasses, plenty of 50+ sunscreen, after sun lotion, nice thongs (that’s Australian for fip flops) and a beach towel.
In case you are planning on epic photography, do not forget to pack your backpack with a tripod, polarising filters, UV filter and maybe even a case to protect it from sand and water. A Go-Pro is actually a great investment as you can easily take it along sandboarding rides, dives along the reefs and while swimming in a volcano in Queensland.
Itinerary Suggestions for Your Three Week Trip to Australia
I had eight months to travel the country and still have areas, I did not see at all. But from what I saw, there are so many places I can highly recommend (here are my top 25 Australian bucketlist spots). Out of these, I mapped together three different itineraries to help get you started because I know fully well how overwhelming a Australian vacation can be.
Safety & Packing Tips
Never underestimate the outback and dangers of Australia. Even cute animals like koalas and wombats can easily hurt you awfully if you are stupid enough to approach them in the wild. Always watch out where you’re going (snake alert) and avoid flip flops (Australians call them ‘thongs’) when not on the beach or in cities.
Always wear sun screen. Yes, even on cloudy days. The Australian sun is no laughing matter. I normally never tan and I had a tan for 8 more months after I left the country. I used sun screen factor 50 every day.
Wild camels are nothing to fall in raptures over. They are dangerous and should never be approached. Just watch the film Tracks if you want a visual demonstration.
Don’t pack white or light clothes for the outback. They will never be white again once they have come in contact with the red sand that gets everywhere. It won’t wash out. Trust me, I’ve tried.
Always have at least a two litre water bottle with you during each day of your Australia vacation. The rule of thumb is to drink a litre every hour you walk out in the sun in the bush. Wear hats, too.
Use a four wheel drive for outback trips (release air from the wheels when on beaches), always have the tank full, pack enough water and food and use eskies to keep food fresh but stock up or replace it as soon as possible. You don’t want to end up with food poising in the middle of nowhere like I did.
There are not as many toilets in the wild as you would like and those that are there, usually are a hole in the ground with no running water or soap (or with only soap but you realise that too late). Just because you can’t have a shower, doesn’t mean you can’t clean your hands. Pack and use hand santisiers!
Do you have any questions on planning 3 weeks in Australia? Let me know in the comments.
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