Australia is the size of the United States with approximately 10% of the population (like Canada), so you could take multiple trips to explore the continent and still not see everything. It is important to think through your interests and constraints of time and budget to make sure your itinerary is best curated for your travel needs. Don’t try to do it all and definitely know your top priorities! As a first-time visitor, I chose an itinerary that included some of the top destination highlights:
- Wolgan Valley
- Barossa Valley
- Kangaroo Island
This Australia itinerary was organized as part of an educational tour with our Virtuoso tour partner, Swain Destinations. They invited a total of sixteen travel advisors to take part in four different itineraries. We all met up at Southern Ocean Lodge to compare notes and learn from each other. In addition to the “highlights” itinerary that I was on, my counterparts visited Port Douglas, Lizard Island, Hayman Island, North Queensland, Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), Perth, Indian-Pacific Train, and Arkaba Station. We experienced a LOT of Australia, and I can draw on my colleagues to provide more detailed information about those places I didn’t get to visit, which will allow myself and my team to give you deeper insight on the destination as a whole!
Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley
Incredible even in the rain, Wolgan Valley is a three hour drive west from the airport. You can also get a helicopter transport, quick and obviously more expensive, but traveling this way will give you great views of the Blue Mountains and its valleys. Otherwise, hire a driver — especially if this is the first place you stay in Australia. You wouldn’t want to make this drive in a jet-lagged state. I would not recommend a self-drive in any case, as the road off the main highway is long and narrow.
The Suites at the Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley are incredible. Each is a self-contained cottage with a large living room, master bedroom, large walk-in closet area, and large bathroom with a rain shower and a soaking tub with a view. The only differentiation is the view; when making a booking, it helps us to know if your priority is the view or privacy so that the resort can assign the appropriate cottage. The food is excellent; rates include breakfast, lunch, and dinner including local beers and wines, and the Virtuoso amenities provide a further $100 credit that can be applied to activities.
Why come to Wolgan Valley? Marsupials were out en masse. The property is part of an extensive nature conservatory and you can ride the provided bicycles or take organized 4X4 tours (for a charge) to view the wildlife. It was quite a safari experience, sitting on my porch and watching the animals before I walked up to the main lodge for breakfast. Complimentary scheduled activities include guided nature walks, children’s activities, and a colonial heritage tour. Signature experiences, available for additional charge, include the Wildlife & Sundowners Tour, a trail ride on horseback, and a nocturnal spotlighting and stargazing tour.
More from my time in Wolgan Valley:
- Wombats and Wallabies and Kangaroos, oh my!
- One&Only Wolgan Valley
- Pictures from my time in Wolgan Valley
Four Seasons Sydney
We drove back to Sydney in the rain, and the famous Three Sisters rock formation was fogged out, but we did visit the small Blue Mountain village of Leura for an hour en route, which made for a nice pit stop.
The Four Seasons has a perfect location in Sydney, right by the Rocks section with its many restaurants and shopping opportunities. Quite a good value, there are two categories of guestrooms at Four Seasons, Deluxe and Premier. I definitely recommend Premier rooms which are double the size of the Deluxe Rooms. City-View rooms actually have quite an interesting view of the Sydney skyline, especially from higher floors, and harbour rooms have a view both of the business district and some of the harbour. But the room to book is a Premier Full Harbour View. VIVID Sydney was going on during our stay, and I had a perfect view right from my living room.
Why come to Sydney? One of the most beautiful and photogenic cities in the world, Sydney rivals San Francisco and Vancouver, BC for its scenic vistas. I fell in love with the city while enjoying a lunch cruise of the harbour. The Opera House is one of the most distinctive buildings in the world and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge in the world, and I really enjoyed the BridgeClimb — totally safe, and the height did not bother me at all.
More from my time in Sydney:
- Vivid Sydney seen from the Four Seasons
- Sunrise over Sydney
- Scenes from a Harbour Cruise in Sydney
- Sydney Afterglow
- Pictures from my time in Sydney
The Louise (Barossa Valley)
If you enjoy trips to Napa County and other wine destinations, then the Barossa Valley is the place for you! The region specializes in Shiraz, and there are many boutique wineries with very high quality wines. The Louise is a small inn that is a member of Relais & Chateaux. Every room is a suite — mine was large and comfortable with a King bed in the master bedroom; a living room with a sofa, a desk, and a table suitable for eating your in-room dining breakfast; a large bathroom with soaking tub and separate indoor and outdoor rain showers; and a dressing area. I had a beautiful view of the vineyard out my Vineyard Suite. A small and boutique property with only thirty suites and a renowned restaurant, Appellation, The Louise reminded me of The Farmhouse in Sonoma County.
Why come to the Barossa Valley? In a word, wine. The Barossa Valley is like Napa without the crowds, featuring Shiraz instead of Chardonnay. Any oenophile interested in tasting the wines of Australia must make time to see Barossa Valley. Our partners at Swain can recommend unique tours and tastings with the local vintners.
More from my time in Barossa Valley:
- June in the Barossa Valley
- Wine tasting in the Barossa Valley
- pictures from my time in Barossa Valley
Southern Ocean Lodge (Kangaroo Island)
Kangaroo Island featured the best of Australia’s nature and wildlife: kangaroos, koalas, seals and sea lions — and its coastline has nothing between it and Antarctica, 3000 miles to the south. It wasn’t beach weather when we were there, but the weather is quite pleasant in the summer. The panoramic sea views from the clifftops are astounding.
Southern Ocean Lodge was a fitting finale to our trip. It’s a true WOW resort, and the WOW hits you the moment you walk in the front door. The spacious lobby area has floor-to-ceiling windows all the way around, opening onto the most gorgeous panoramic view you’d ever want to have from the hills to the sea. A small resort with only 21 rooms, you will be pampered by this all-inclusive resort. Three meals a day and fine wines and liquors are also included in the rate. The food was spectacular, and even the minibar is included.
Why come to Kangaroo Island? For the gorgeous scenery and the abundant wildlife.
More from my time on Kangaroo Island:
- Sunrise at Southern Ocean Lodge
- Koala on Kangaroo Island
- Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island
- pictures from my time on Kangaroo Island
Bonus: The Langham Sydney and Park Hyatt (Sydney)
I spent my final evening at the Langham Sydney. Formerly known as the Observatory Hotel, The Langham has been completely renovated. It does not feel “corporate”, and it boasts the largest lead-in rooms in the city. The dark wood paneling has been painted off-white, creating an attractive, more feminine feel. Ideal for couples or for travelers who prefer a residential neighborhood. I slept very well in one of the most comfortable beds ever!
But the most amazing hotel of all is the Park Hyatt Sydney. A contemporary hotel just three stories high (except for a penthouse addition on the roof), the Park Hyatt boasts the most exceptional views in Sydney. While its the priciest hotel in Sydney, it’s all about the view. I highly recommend an Opera Deluxe Room — 807 square feet of living space and a direct, uninterrupted view of the Sydney Opera House.