With overseas travel now cheaper, quicker and more accessible to everyone than ever before, it should come as no surprise that our rates of globetrotting have skyrocketed by more than 125 percent over the past decade. We’ve been so busy exploring African deserts, admiring European architecture and eating Asian street food that we sometimes forget that we live in one of the world’s greatest playgrounds.
Australia is one of the most diverse countries in the world: from majestic waterfalls to luxurious produce regions and breathtaking beaches, there is never a shortage of something new to see and do on our huge island nation. Plus, we do adventure brilliantly. Australians certainly have their tourism game down pat – so whether you’re time-poor, international airfare-poor or just want to explore more of our vast and beautiful backyard, here are some of our picks for Australia’s most exciting getaways.
#1 Tick off all the swimming holes at Kakadu National Park
The landscape of the Northern Territory is the very picture of diversity: soaring peaks and rock formations contrast to waterfalls and crystal clear watering holes that are the perfect respite from sweaty hiking along the arid tracks. From the world-famous and highly Instagrammed Jim Jim Falls – a plunge pool surrounded by 200-metre vertical drop falls – to Gunlom Pool, an icy cold swimming hole with unparalleled views that is the perfect reward for hiking to the top of a waterfall, Kakadu is full of idyllic places to rejuvenate and beat the northern heat. A word to the wise: do follow all signs and heed any daily warnings at the pools. Crocodiles are not drop-bears: far from an urban myth, they love a plunge pool as much as you do – so keep an eye out.
#2 Check out the Great Barrier Reef on an underwater scooter
While Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef is hardly an underrated tourist destination, you’ve probably never thought of seeing one of the world’s largest and most beautiful underwater ecosystems on a scooter. Like a cute little submersible, watertight Vespa, the eco-friendly Scuba Doo allows you to drive yourself around the bottom of the reef and cosy up to Nemo and friends without requiring any snorkel equipment. Accompanied by a friendly scuba instructor who is on hand to point out the highlights of the reef, it’s a brilliant and slightly futuristic way to visit one of Australia’s must-see natural wonders without even getting your hair wet.
#3 Indulge yourself on Tasmania’s Bruny Island
At the risk of being painfully cliché, Bruny really does have it all. A small island of the south-east of Tasmania, Bruny – named after the French explorer who tried to conquer the southern coast of the country in the 1790s – is an important ecosystem and home to many native flora and fauna, but has equally become a haven of good food, great wine and some of the best and lesser-known surf spots in the whole of Australia. Boasting a famous cheese factory, a berry farm, whisky house, oyster farm (aptly named Get Shucked) and, of course, a bloody good pub, it’s a heavenly retreat for foodie types. Once you’ve inflicted the food coma upon yourself, there are a range of accommodation options around the island from a luxury glass-walled ecolodge overlooking a secluded beach to DIY camping spots. Whichever you pick, expect to wake up surrounded not only by picture-perfect bushland and beaches, but some of Australia’s greatest critters – quolls, wallabies, echidnas, you name it!
#4 Splash out on a night of luxury in the heart of SA’s wine region
There are few greater pleasures in life than totally escaping the daily grind and getting out of town, filling yourself with the best food and wine you can imagine – and doing it all in style. After a long, hard year, why not treat yo’self to a night or two in South Australia’s Barossa Valley?
The Louise Hotel is one of the Barossa’s finest – and you really are in for a treat. Sitting on a vine-lined hillside, the hotel’s just 75 kilometres from Adelaide airport, though you feel as though you’re completely isolated. Go for a gourmet ‘Breakfast with the Kangaroos’ in the morning, by day comb the vineyards or visit Maggie Beer’s nearby produce shop, then retreat back to the Louise for a meal at the award-winning Appellation restaurant. Bliss.
#5 Explore Australia’s highest mountain range
So many of our bucket lists include ‘climb Everest’, ‘get to Kilimanjaro’, ‘do the peaks of Scotland’ – but we forget the brilliant mountain range in our backyard. Mt Kosciuszko is criminally underrated, and a beautiful place to visit whether it’s a daytrip or a longer break. Take the express chairlift to the top and marvel at the views over the Kosciuszko National Park and Thredbo, or pack a picnic and take your time along the mountain’s Summit Trail hike. Surrounding the mountain are plenty of other activities – from walks to look and the beautiful and unique flora and fauna to kayaking, mountain biking, camping, fishing, rafting, caving and horse riding. Through the year you might also stumble upon a Wine and Cheese Festival, as well as blues, jazz and country music events – so what are you waiting for?
#6 Do the shampoo ad hair flick under this waterfall
If it’s lush rainforest and pristine waterfalls you’re after, there’s nowhere better than tropical North Queensland. Put away your Instagram filters when you head to the fairytale cove that houses Millaa Millaa Falls in the Atherton Tablelands. Its Aboriginal name means ‘plenty of water’ and they certainly weren’t exaggerating – it’s huge. The waterfall is an 18.3 metre drop with a perfect swimming hole at the bottom that was the actual filming location for the Herbal Essences advert – and the birthplace of the ‘hair flick’ photo. Fun fact: it’s also where Peter Andre filmed his clip for ’90s banger ‘Mysterious Girl’.
#7 Sleep beside a bear at Canberra’s National Zoo
Australia’s zoos are pretty great at hosting events that let us get up close and personal with the animals. Sydney’s Taronga Zoo and Melbourne Zoo offer Roar ‘n Snore where you can snooze in a tent in the zoo, and Weribee Zoo hosts a Slumber Safari. But the holy grail of zoo sleepovers is in our nation’s fine capital, at Canberra’s National Zoo. Jamala Wildlife Lodge is proper luxury accommodation with the added benefit of having, say, a bear outside your bathroom window, or a giraffe eating leaves outside your treehouse door. It’s a whole new way to explore the zoo – and from the comfort of a lavish king-sized bed and lush private pool, it’s the perfect escape for any animal lover.
#8 Try the 10 best burgers in Australia
OK, so you’ve heard of (and probably done) a pub crawl – but what about a nation-wide burger crawl? One of our dream holidays would involve travelling around Australia, sampling the best 10 burgers in the country, as recently named by Yelp. In actual fact, the holiday wouldn’t be too difficult. Sure, there’s six states to get through (each has a burger joint that places bar the NT), but there’s 52 weekends in a year and it gives you a great excuse to see more of our amazing country. Just be sure to pack pants with an elasticised waist.
#9 Stay in the lighthouse keeper’s house in the Otways
Found in the southern part of the Great Ocean Road (so you get basically the best drive in the world on the way down), the Otway National Park is one of Victoria’s finest. There are plenty of waterfalls to visit, the Otway Fly Treetop Adventure that lets you walk along the height of the rainforest – and abseil down, if you’re game – and some stunning drives through lush, dense rainforest until you reach Cape Otway. It’s right at the state’s southern tip, and stretched out in front of you when you climb the old lighthouse is the beautiful expanse of the Bass Strait, 90 metres below the cliffs.
What’s more, you can stay down there in the Head Lighthouse Keeper’s old abode, a cosy B&B-style accommodation. At the Cape you’ll find the historic Telegraph Station, discover Australian WWII secrets (who knew we had anything left to hide?) and explore the area on the Lightkeeper’s Coastal Discovery Tour. If ever there was a perfect weekend getaway, this is it.
#10 Wilderness Island
Ever wanted a private island, but worried you aren’t Taylor Swift and can’t hire the entirety of Hamilton Island? Yeah, us too. Luckily, there’s another option that’s just as idyllic: WA’s Wilderness Island. Set in the Exmouth Gulf about an hour’s boat trip off the mainland, if you want to get away from civilisation, this is the way to do it. You’ll get your own safari cabin on the mile-long island, which is incredibly eco-friendly, and while away your days doing just about nothing. Wilderness is famous as a fishing destination, but also perfect for long beach walks, spotting pelicans, dugongs and other sea critters and watching the uninhibited Exmouth Guly sunsets and a sky that is quite literally full of stars, with not a hint of light pollution. Welcome back to nature.
(Lead image: NT Tourism)
Matilda is a British-Australian-French freelance writer. She has flat-packed IKEA furniture in London and Melbourne, and no idea what's coming next. She’s written for The Guardian, FasterLouder, mX and Grazia, and really likes hot chocolate.