Australia is such a massive and diverse country with extraordinary landscapes, from beautiful beaches to national parks. It’s impossible to see everything in just one trip to Australia, but by visiting at least a few of these amazing places to visit, you’ll experience some of the best the Land Down Under has to offer.
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Port Campbell National Park
This world-famous park is a definite highlight, home to wind and wave-sculpted rock formations like London Bridge, the Arch and the Twelve Apostles. Helicopter tours are available for a bird’s-eye view, or you can join a boat tour to marvel at the magnificent limestone stacks from the water. Some of the park’s other standout coastal features include the eerie beach and maritime history of Loch Ard Gorge, the 230-foot-tall cliffs of Gibson Steps and the tranquil Bay of Islands. You can also savor the region’s bounty along the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail, including delectable chocolates, regional cheeses, fine wines, ice cream and fresh berries.
The Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef
The Whitsundays is one of the most alluring attractions in Australia, made up of 74 Island Wonders along the tropical coast of Queensland. Located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, it is internationally renowned for snorkeling and diving, with an astonishing array of marine life, including more than 1,600 species of tropical fish, turtles, sharks, dolphins, rays and giant clams. One of the best ways to experience this beautiful archipelago is to take a scenic flight over or go on a sailing excursion, where you can snorkel or dive all day, sailing from island to island and experiencing a variety of picture-perfect stretches of sand. The islands are dotted with secluded beaches, and Whitehaven Beach is consistently ranked in the world’s top 10 beaches, with its white silica sand and striking azure waters.
Adelaide, the country’s fifth largest city, has become an increasingly popular destination in recent years. Located on a plain between rolling hills and the Gulf St. Vincent, and bordered by many of Australia’s famous wine regions, you’ll find lots to do while you’re here. It’s a favorite with foodies, who flock to its nearly 150-year-old Central Market which boasts more than 80 stalls, cafes and restaurants that all showcase fresh, local produce. In the city itself, there are over 100 pubs, lots of hip bars and watering holes, along with highly acclaimed fine dining eateries that exist right alongside food trucks. You’ll also appreciate the mix of modern and historic architecture, many of which sit alongside the banks of Elder Park next to the famous Adelaide Festival Center which hosts world-class theater and musical performances. All of that, and beach lovers will discover some of the country’s best-kept secrets, like Henley Beach, with its pristine sands and lovely old wooden jetty.
Sydney and its collection of top-rated attractions are an essential part of any vacation itinerary in Australia. The country’s largest city offers an ideal mix of iconic landmarks, a picturesque harbor, gorgeous botanic gardens, beautiful beaches and impressive architecture. Sydney is often represented by its iconic symbol, the Sydney Opera House, with its white-tiled sails along the harbor at Bennelong Point. The UNESCO World Heritage Site not only offers opera performances, but it frequently hosts all types of concerts and plays, and visitors can explore it by taking a guided backstage tour or dining in one of its restaurants. It’s also home to the world famous Bondi Beach, dubbed one of the country’s Top 10 beaches, renowned for its pristine sands, clean waters and fantastic people watching. Other highlights include climbing another iconic landmark, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and visiting the city’s wealth of museums and galleries.
Tasmania, Australia’s smallest state, packs a punch when it comes to offering the ultimate vacation destination. You could easily spend all of your time on this alluring island known for having some of the cleanest air in the world along with dramatic mountains and stunning beaches. Its capital city of Hobart is the country’s second oldest city after Sydney, but offers a more intimate experience with a population of around a quarter-million residents. Not only is it buzzing with art and nurturing an exciting foodie scene, but it boasts a number of fine examples of Victorian and Georgian architecture. Salamanca Place features a terrace of warehouses dating back to its whaling days in the early 19th century, which have been transformed into restaurants, galleries, craft shops and offices. It also houses the famous Salamanca Market that attracts thousands every Saturday all year long with its more than 300 stalls filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, hot baked spuds and baked goods as well as buskers strumming folk songs on the guitar, singing the blues or stroking a beautiful harp.
The tropical city of Darwin hugs the coastline of the Northern Territory and has long been the most international of Australia’s major cities with its close proximity to other countries in the Indian Ocean. Closer to Bali than Bondi, this vibrant, multicultural destination offers a gateway to natural icons like the Tiwi Islands, Litchfield, Adelaide River, the Top End and the Katherine Region. The Waterfront precinct, in the heart of the city, features a swimming lagoon and wave pool that’s surrounded by laid-back bars, cafes, shops and seafood eateries. While Mitchell Street, lined with pubs and bars, offers a pumping nightlife scene. In the middle of Darwin at Crocosaurus Cove, you can climb into a Perspex tube known as the “Cage of Death” and take a dip into the crocodile enclosure where you just might get an eye-to-eye enclosure with one of the monstrous-looking creatures.
Broome, a perpetually sunny town located in Western Australia’s Kimberley Region, known as one of the most unique wilderness destinations in the country, offers the chance to enjoy nearly endless white sands and turquoise seas, and even ride a camel into the sunset on Cable Beach. In the heart of the region, are vast wildlife sanctuaries, stunning gorges and thundering waterfalls. In the town of Broome itself, you can view indigenous art at Short Street Gallery, hosting extensive collections that highlight the varied and distinct styles of the different Aboriginal tribal groups and go pearl shopping in Chinatown, home to the world’s finest pearl showrooms, for a classic souvenir. Visitors can also tour restored luggers, learn about pearling history, watch a diving demo and even sample pearl meat.
This small, pretty coastal city that enjoys a tropical climate and easy going atmosphere, is an adventure sports enthusiast’s paradise with its close proximity to the mountains, the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. The city itself is home to The Pier marketplace with a wealth of cafes, shops and expanding multi-cultural art scene. At the Cairns Wildlife Dome, visitors enjoy an all-weather wildlife exhibit that includes a replicated rainforest environment with birds like cockatoos, lorikeets and parrots freely flying through as well as animals like kookaburras, rainforest wallabies, koalas, crocodiles, pythons, turtles and more. Swim or soak up the sunshine at the Esplanade Lagoon, take one of the nearly 200 hiking treks in the surrounding mountains, or, if you’re especially adventurous, this is Australia’s capital of Bungy Jumping, with the opportunity to jump from a 164-foot-high tower in the canopies of the rainforest, dipping your head into the chilly stream at the bottom.
Melbourne is Australia’s second most populous city after Sydney and is the capital of the state of Victoria, sitting near the southeastern tip of the country along Port Phillip Bay. Often referred to as its cultural capital, Melbourne is a mecca for fine food and shopping. Its theaters, galleries, shops and restaurants offer a distinctly European feel. Shoppers flock to the elegant Royal Arcade on Bourke Street, as well as Chapel Street and the Melbourne Central Shopping Center. The city is home to many thriving marketplaces, including Queen Victoria Market, which has been selling produce, clothes and crafts for more than a century. A foodie paradise, it also boasts an impressive culinary mash-up of Eurasian street food along with an abundance of fancy food trucks. While there are still plenty of traditional fast foods to be found, they also offer gourmet fare like burgers made from prime wagyu beef.
A must-visit for wine lovers, the Barossa Valley is Australia’s wine country, recently named as one of the top ten best wine travel destinations by Wine Spectator Magazine. Located in South Australia about 40 miles northeast of Adelaide’s city center, Barossa Valley is often referred to as a region of indulgence with its award-winning local wines and outstanding local cuisine. There are more than 80 cellar doors and about 70 wineries, with everything from boutique wineries to big-name bestsellers, each with its own specialties. While that may sound pretty overwhelming, the good news is that the valley has a lot of winery clusters, like Seppeltsfield Road with 16 wineries as well as a small but distinguished group on Krondorf Road, including Grant Burge, Charles Melton, Rockford and St. Hallet. Henschke’s tiny cellar door in the Eden Valley often has some gems open for tasting too. Visitors can enjoy mingling with the locals at Barossa Farmers’ Market, held in the Vintners’ Sheds near Angaston with its more than 30 stalls to wander through.
Located in the heart of Australia, some 900 miles from the nearest major city, Alice Springs is one of Australia’s most famous outback towns. It’s made up of endless desert landscapes and cavernous gorges, as well as being a hub for pioneer history, Aboriginal art and quirky outback events, such as the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, a “boat” race held annually in the usually dry sandy bed of the Todd River. It embodies the hardy outback of the Red Center and is a popular base for sights and hikes in the region, like Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta and Ayers Rock. You can explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta on a camel or with a gourmet dune top dinner, and meet Kangaroo Dundee AKA Chris Barnes, known for the top-rated BBC series Kangaroo Dundee, at his kangaroo sanctuary a short drive from town, in addition to meeting many of the resident mob of orphaned joeys.
The Margaret River Region
Western Australia’s Margaret River Region is known for its many wineries, breweries and gourmet restaurants, but it offers a whole lot more, including some rather magnificent caves. If you like to go underground, this is one of the best places to do that. Enjoy a unique caving experience at one or more of the three caves that are easily accessible and renowned for their dazzling formations: Lake, Mammoth and Jewel. At Lake Cave, visitors descend a staircase to marvel at a primeval lost world before entering one of the most stunning limestone caves in the region. The mirrored reflections make it especially breathtaking, while a light show highlights its many different features. Jewel Cave has one of the longest straw stalactites found in any tourist cave in the world, measuring over 19 feet, and Mammoth Cave showcases an array of formations that angle off in all directions, with the natural light that seeps through the entrance giving it a more “livable” feel.
While it’s just 15 miles away from Cairns, Kuranda feels like another world away. The most memorable way to get there is by the Kuranda Scenic Railway, and once you arrive in the city in the tropical rainforest of the Atherton Tableland, it will feel refreshingly cooler and less humid than sea-level Cairns. One of its highlights is the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, the largest butterfly aviary and exhibit in the southern hemisphere, home to more than 1,500 tropical butterflies, while BirdWorld Kuranda showcases beautiful birds in a lush rainforest habitat, including cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets and Amazonian macaws. Be sure to take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, a unique experience through the tropical rainforest, where you’ll glide above the canopy taking in spectacular views of the lush Cairns highlands, the city of Cairns and the Coral Sea. A visit to Barron Falls is a must if you’re here during the wet season when it’s a gorgeous, steep-tiered cascade, but for much of the rest of the year it’s not much more than a trickle.
Nambung National Park
Located about 125 miles northwest of Perth, Nambung National Park is home to one of Australia’s most unique landscapes: the Pinnacles Desert. The vast, 17,487-hectares area provides a natural habitat for an extensive array of native animals and bird life in addition to boasting the incredible natural limestone spires that rise from the golden sands of the desert, some standing as high as 16 ½ feet high, looking as if they were a scene from another planet. They were formed some 25,000 to 30,000 years ago after the sea receded and left deposits of seashells, over time, coastal winds removed the surrounding sand, leaving the pillars exposed to the elements. Emus, cockatoos and gray kangaroos can also been seen in the park, while at nearby Hangover Bay, bottlenose dolphins are often spotted.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Deep in the heart of red rock country in the Central Australian desert, the very remote Uluru-Kata Tjuṯa National Park is home to world-famous Uluru Rock, one of the most photographed natural wonders in all of Australia. The striking red monolith towers over the landscape at 1,141 feet, forming the centerpiece of the park, and bears a number of inscriptions made by ancestral indigenous peoples. The park also showcases fiery-hued dome-shaped rocks known as Kata Tjuta. Just before sunset, visitors gather to watch the legendary rock and Kata Tjuta as they’re transformed in the changing light. Tours led by aboriginal guides and rangers are available, providing an inside look at these sacred structures.
The place to go for off-road lovers, Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and a mecca for four-wheel enthusiasts. Created over hundreds of thousands of years from sand drifting off the mainland’s east coast, it’s the only known place where rainforest grows on sand. Accessible via a 40-minute ferry ride off Queensland’s coast, the island boasts nearly 75 miles of pristine beaches, and visitors can hire a four-wheel-drive vehicle to explore its freshwater lakes, like Lake McKenzie which is perched high in the sand dunes, as well as ancient rainforests, colored sands and massive sand blows. The island is also home to all sorts of interesting birds and wildlife, including dingoes, reputed to be some of the last remaining pure dingoes in Eastern Australia, while its offshore waters are teeming with dolphins, manta rays, dugong, sharks and migrating humpback whales.
Freycinet National Park
Freycinet National Park, located on the island of Tasmania, one of Australia’s top vacation destinations, sits on the wildly rugged Freycinet Peninsula, jutting out into the sea along the east coast. Surrounded by cerulean bays and pristine white sand beaches with a backdrop of dramatic pink granite peaks of the Hazards Range, it’s an ideal place for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. Take the short, scrambling trek to Wineglass Bay for one of Tasmania’s most photographed views, or if you’re looking for something more lengthy, continue from the Wineglass Bay lookout down to the perfectly curved beach and back to the park entrance through the Hazards Range for incredible views of Great Oyster Bay and the stunning coastline. Along the way, keep an eye out for the white-bellied sea eagles that often glide overhead and the Australasian gannet that dives for his dinner in the sea.