Australia: Must-See Places
Ready to experience all that Australia has to offer? Then grab some hiking boots, a snorkel, and a serious spirit for adventure. From swimming with whale sharks in the Ningaloo Reef to exploring the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park on foot, there’s something for both sea and land lovers alike. Prefer cities? We got you covered there too. Here are our top six picks of what to see and do down under.
1. Great Barrier Reef
The world’s largest coral reef system and one of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef is composed of over 900 islands and over 3,000 individual reef systems. This is a water adventurer’s paradise, with activities ranging from snorkeling, scuba diving, bare boats (self-sail), and swimming with dolphins to helicopter tours, glass-bottomed boat rides, cruise ship tours, and whale watching. (Pro tip: Note that November-May is high season for jellyfish, so keep an eye on how bad it is (locals will be able to help with this) to determine if you’ll be able to swim or not.) To start your exploration, fly into Port Douglas , an idyllic beach town on the Coral Sea. If you’re planning to spend one full day on the reef, then allot at least three days to do this area justice. Next, head to the town of Airlie Beach as your jumping-off point to explore the Whitsunday Islands , largely uninhabited islands known for dense rainforest, hiking trails and white sand beaches. Don’t miss Hayman Island , the pinnacle of the Whitsundays. While visiting the Great Barrier Reef, make a stop at the Daintree Rainforest , part of the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian continent located north of Mossman and Cairns. While here, a great choice for accommodations is the Daintree Ecolodge , which offers eco-friendly bayans immersed in the canopy of the rainforest.
Uluru, Petermann NT 0872, Australia
Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a massive sandstone monolith in the heart of Australia’s Northern Territory’s “Red Centre”. Thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago, Uluru sits within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and is sacred to indigenous Australians. Although the traditional landholders have now banned climbing on the sacred mountain, the walk around the base is amazing. If you want to explore the area, the best time to come is between May and September, when there’s very little rain and the maximum temperature is usually between 68°F and 86°F (20°C and 30°C). For accommodations, check out Sails in the Desert for lavishly appointed rooms and suites or Longitude 131 for a luxury camp with tented pavilions. To see the sites, you might want to book a one to three-day tour, depending on how much time you have. In addition to Uluru, you’ll want to see the 36 red-rock domes of the Kata Tjuta (Pro tip: spring for a helicopter ride over it) and take a day trip to walk Kings Canyon . If you’re ready to continue your adventure, fly out of Uluru to Darwin in order to visit Kakadu National Park .
First things first: the Sydney Opera House (Does anyone else always hear the fish from Finding Nemo?) isn’t only iconic, it’s a must-visit. Formally opened in 1973, the Opera House’s multiple performance venues host more than 1.2 million people at 1,500 performances annually. Attend a cabaret, circus, classical, comedy, dance, film, opera, or theatre show. If all you’re looking for is a great photo, take a ferry to Darling Harbour to get a full view of both the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge . Next up, head to Bondi Beach , a sweeping, white-sand crescent beach that draws surfers, locals, and tourists alike. Bondi is home to many laid-back cafes and casual pubs; we suggest grabbing lunch at Bondi Icebergs CLUB or North Bondi Fish . Fancy a stroll? Then check out the 3.7-mile (6 km) oceanfront, clifftop Bondi to Coogee Costal Walk (Pro tip: Depending on when you go, keep an eye out for the annual, incredible Sculpture by the Sea exhibit). If you have some more time to spend in this glorious city, then check out the Royal Botanic Garden , Taronga Zoo Sydney , and/or the Art Gallery of New South Wales .
The oft-forgotten gem of Australia, Tasmania —located about 150 miles (240 km) to the south of the Australian mainland—is a wonderful island to explore. After flying into Hobart , it’s time to check out the city’s funky boutique hotels and exceptional food and wine—think farm-to-table on steroids (Pro tip: Try a pinot noir, the wine of the region). From downtown Hobart, catch a ferry to take a day trip to MONA —the Museum of Old and New Art—a contemporary art wonderland and Australia's largest private museum. Other worthwhile Tasmanian adventures include a day trip to Port Arthur, a 19th-century penal settlement-turned-open-air-museum, Bruny Island , where you can indulge in mind-blowing cheese and oysters at Get Shucked , and Freycinet National Park for amazing hiking and sublime accommodations at Freycinet Lodge . Want more hiking? We suggest taking the Overland Track from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair, a four-to-six day, 50 mile (80 km) hike done either with a guide or self-guided. (Pro tip: When you arrive at Lake St. Clair, stay at Pumphouse Point.)
Melbourne VIC, Australia
This amazing city has a completely different feel from Sydney; primarily, Melbourne is much more European. (Fun fact: There’s a friendly rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney about which city has the best food and coffee.) Start off your visit to the city in Fed Square , an intersection of major cultural institutions like the Ian Potter Centre, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and the Koorie Heritage Trust. Head here to take your pick of numerous cafes and bars (Melbourne has a great bar culture). Next, check out the National Gallery of Victoria , or NGV—Australia's oldest and most visited art museum—which houses international and Australian art collections. Hungry? Then hop over to the Queen Victoria Market , the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere where you can find fresh produce, meat, seafood, and something to snack on (Pro tip: Try to arrive before 10am when crowds are smaller and there’s more parking). For amazing day trips just outside of Melbourne, check out Lorne, great for surfing and waterfall hunting, Mornington Peninsula for wine and luxury accommodation, and The Yarra Valley for more wine, an animal sanctuary, and an art museum. You can also opt to take a drive south to the Great Ocean Road , enjoy the coastline for a couple of days, and see the 12 Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks off the shore of Port Campbell National Park.
6. Western Australia
Okay, so this is kind of cheating, as we’ve chosen yet another entire Australian state instead of just one place, but there are so many amazing things to do we couldn’t just pick one! Start out your exploration of Western Australia in Perth , the capital, where you can’t miss Kings Park and Botanic Garden . From here, hop over to Margaret River for a few days to enjoy Australia’s best chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. For the water-inclined, head to Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef Safari Camp for luxury, tented accommodation in the Cape Range National Park and snorkel with whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef. You’ll also find gorgeous, golden beaches and great hiking. To start your exploration of the Kimberley region, head to Broome , a resort town known for its pearls, Cable Beach, and sunset camel rides. Look no further than El Questro Homestead , an upscale, all-inclusive hotel overlooking the Chamberlain Gorge, to act as your home base. It’s best to allow at least four days for hiking, horseback riding, and helicopter or other guided tours of the region (Pro tip: Kimberley is seasonal and shut in the Southern Hemisphere summer, so make sure to double-check your dates). Last but not least, fly to The Bungle Bungles , sandstone formations formed over 360 million years ago, for a guided hike and tour, and to check out the Argyle Diamond Mine , famous for its pink diamonds.