After two years living and travelling in Australia I thought it was time to bite the bullet and write a top 10 things to do in Australia post. It is time for some reflection on our exploration of this vast continent.
I have travelled in Australia by rail, by car and on foot. It is a place of wide open spaces and dramatic contrasts, which is not surprising being not just a country but a whole continent.
Here are my top 10 things to do in Australia, a tough list to draw up from among the vibrant cities, desolate wilderness, tropical rainforests, stunning beaches and unique wildlife.
1. The Top End and Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is overwhelming – the plant and bird life, the opportunity to see the culture of Australia’s indigenous peoples, swimming in spectacular waterholes, and always keeping a lookout for crocodiles!
Take a look at my Australia Top End travel itinerary to get an idea of what you can see and do in a week in and around Darwin.
2. The Red Centre
It was a revelation to me that Australia’s bone dry ‘Red Centre’ is actually seething with life. From the wildflowers surrounding the iconic red rock Uluru to the cool streams of Kata Tjuta National Park and King’s Canyon, you’ll find variety and beauty everywhere. Unique geology and eye-popping colours are the hallmarks of this part of Australia.
Both Kata Tjuta National Park and the giant rock are believed to be of great spiritual significance by the Pitjantjatjara people who share the land and now have a significant interest in tourist operations there. I recommend a walking tour around Uluru in the company of knowledgeable local guides. Kata Tjuta (formerly known as The Olgas) is almost more beautiful than Uluru and the King’s Canyon Rim Walk is an awesome outback experience.
3. Tasmania’s Western Wilderness
From button grass plains to the beech-like Myrtle forest punctuated with tall Stringybark eucalypts, this is a national park at its easily-accessible best in Tasmania. A long road winds past Franklin River all the way around to Cradle Mountain via Strahan.
There are long and short walks that are well worth undertaking from Cradle Mountain. The different mosses and alpine vegetation make this a unique and otherworldly landscape that you’ll only find in the Western Wilderness of Tasmania.
4. The Tropical East Coast
I’m not much of a beach person but I love diving and the Great Barrier Reef is a must see on any Australia travel itinerary. Eastern Queensland as a whole is an immensely popular tourist destination because of its tropical climate and idyllic beaches.
The biggest drawcards are the two Unesco World Heritage Sites: the Daintree National Park and the Great Barrier Reef. The world’s largest coral reef stretches for 2,600 km in the Coral Sea along the coast of Queensland. It is home to a vast array of exotic wildlife, including numerous species of dolphin, the unusual dugong and of course a multitude of fish species.
5. Fraser Island
Fraser Island is an island located along the southern coast of Queensland, Australia, approximately 200 kilometres (120 mi) north of Brisbane. It was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1992. It is the largest sand island in the world and also Queensland’s largest island, Australia’s sixth largest island and the largest island on the East Coast of Australia… I’ve noticed Australians love to designate all sorts of things as “the largest”.
The island is made up of sand that has been accumulating for approximately 750,000 years on volcanic bedrock. Fraser Island has rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove forests, wallum and peat swamps, sand dunes, fresh water lakes and coastal heaths. The lakes are particularly beautiful, being formed from rainwater caught in natural dips in the sand.
This isn’t just one destination but my point is that while travelling in Australia you should make time for a little vineyard touring in one (or more) of the many excellent wine regions. Australia does this sort of thing very well and the vineyards offer cellar doors and gourmet delights as well as the chance to relax looking out over the ever attractive grape vines.
The Barossa Valley in South Australia is one of my favourites and the Hunter Valley is also justly famous. There are a number of picturesque and worthy wine regions in Victoria – particularly the Yarra Valley and the Heathcote wine region.
7. Australia’s Alpine Country
The Great Dividing Range extends over 3,500 kilometres from the northeastern tip of Queensland down to western Victoria. But the best of Australia’s alpine scenery is in the high country of New South Wales and Victoria.
The air is fresh and in summer wild flowers adorn the alpine meadows. In winter the highest hills are covered with snow and there are a number of Australian ski resorts offering a fun mountain experience.
Australia’s alpine country is another opportunity to get your head around the vastness of Australia: from its highest viewpoints the endless ranges of eucalyptus-covered mountains seem to extend forever. The Great Alpine Road is a fantastic driving trip in Australia.
8. Super Sydney
If you have to choose just one city to visit in Australia it should probably be Sydney. Although I adore grungy, arty Melbourne, was impressed by sparkling Perth and just love quaint Hobart, Sydney holds most of the drawcards for the tourist in Australia.
From the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge to cruising the harbour to Manly or Bondi Beach: Sydney is stunning. Don’t be misled by the name of the Opera House, there are over 3,000 shows each year in a variety of musical styles. If you have a head for heights you can climb the Harbour Bridge … wearing safety gear of course.
Like many a city around the world the most satisfying thing to do is to explore quirky and character-ful neighbourhoods, such as Newtown and Surrey Hills. There are also some fantastic day or weekend trips nearby in New South Wales, for example to the Blue Mountains or the Hunter Valley.
9. Take a (long) rail ride
One of the most comfortable ways to get to grips with the vastness of the Australian continent is by rail. Across red sand hills and the vast Nullabor Plain, the Indian Pacific trundles across the vastness that is Australia from Sydney to Perth, stopping at the tiny settlement of Cook.
You can’t be in any rush travelling overland in Australia and when you think of the painfully slow progress of the teams of men and animals who built what would become the Indian Pacific line, travelling at 100-odd kilometres per hour is a real treat.
The other iconic railway route is The Ghan, which travels from Adelaide all the way up to tropical Darwin in comfort and style.
10. The Kimberley
With its mind blowing remoteness, unique geology and wildlife, and extreme climate, the Kimberley is one of the wildest and most beautiful parts of Australia. The ancient, rugged mountain ranges of north-western Australia are scarred by dramatic gorges and the tropical monsoon climate makes this a truly pristine but challenging place to travel.
It has the hottest average temperatures in Australia and many parts of the Kimberley have no road access, with boat or helicopter the only options. It is also still on my travel bucket list. Yes, it’s the last major attraction I have yet to visit in Australia.
I always say it is important to have a reason to go back!
By Natasha von Geldern
What do you think? What would be on your list of the top 10 things to do in Australia?
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