Australia Best Destinations

Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia

Sydney Harbour, first choice among Australia best destinations. Photo by Andrew Xu.

East Coast Places

Sydney

Sydney, NSW: superb setting, vibrant and dynamic yet still laid back, with excellent shops, restaurants, beaches and action galore, Sydney is Australia’s capital in all but name.

Canberra (the capital city): not many tourists visit this administration centre. The National Galleries are here and some people recommend a visit. Not us.

Melbourne

Melbourne at night, Australia

The Yarra riverside, loaded with eating places on the promenade to the right, servicing the city workaholics from across the river.

Melbourne, Victoria: less sunshine than other cities, but Melbourne is a city of charm, culture and greenery, with some of Australia’s best restaurants and greatest nightlife. It has good beaches not far away and is gateway to the famed Great Ocean Road and some great hiking areas.

See Melbourne pictures and the Great Ocean Road

the twelve apostles, great ocean road, australia

Some of the remaining Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, not far from Melbourne. Photo by Alex Proimos.

Brisbane

Brisbane, Queensland: a relative newcomer to sophistication, the capital of Queensland is a lively city with street cafés, a busy nightlife and regular cultural events. The climate is good, the museums and galleries are superb, the artificial swimming lagoon/beach is fantastic, it’s close to both the bush and only an hour from Gold Coast attractions and prime theme parks.

Brisbane's free lagoon, Australia

Brisbane’s delightful free lagoon.

Cairns

cairns lagoon, Australia

Tropical, lively Cairns, tourist destination #2 in Australia.

Cairns, Queensland: tourism central, meeting point, superb salt-water swimming lagoon and party town. It ‘s a primary stop off to the Great Barrier Reef – though GBR is not exactly close and pretty well-worn around there – Kuranda, Daintree Tropical Rainforest and Atherton Tablelands.

Cairns caters for most mad physical activities but especially scuba training and excursions out to the Great Barrier Reef that may take upwards of an hour to reach.

Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide, Hutt St, Australia

Adelaide, Hutt St, Australia

Adelaide, South Australia: another possible entry point to the Great Ocean Road (tho there’re a few hundred kilometres before GOR starts), Flinders Range (hiking and wildlife) and the Outback, Adelaide is green, spacious and surrounded by mountains, the sea, vineyards and parks. Culture vultures are well catered for with some fine museums, galleries and old Victorian architecture, while nightlife, music and food thrive in the city and a couple of beaches keep the kids busy.

Alice Springs, Northern Territory: authentic Aussie drinking holes, steak houses and aboriginal cultural offerings in a small modern, and frankly speaking, neither interesting nor attractive town.
For most tourists Alice is the base from which to reach The Red Centre – Ayers Rock/Uluru and The Olgas/Kata Tjuta.

Darwin, Northern Territory: Bars, beaches and markets.
More significantly this is the portal to over 70 national parks including the renowned Kakadu, with thousands of Aboriginal rock paintings, and Aarnhem Land. Darwin also offers cheap fares to and from Asia.

Perth, West Australia

Perth's favourite weekend spot, Rottnest Island, Australia

Perth’s favourite weekend spot, Rottnest Island. Photo by Cookaa.

Perth, Western Australia: the most isolated city on earth, Perth is a land of skyscrapers, 19th century facades, endless sunshine and sand. Sand for camel safaris, sand scattered with bizarre pinnacles and coastal sand for propping up surfboards – the city alone has nineteen beaches.

Surfing and Wine tasting: The Margaret River offers award-winning wines and a spectacular 130km length of uncrowded, top-class surf breaks. Surf’s up all year round, though the gnarliest waves appear in summer/spring (July-November). From fine waves to fine wines in minutes, what could be finer?

Rottnest Island: 30 minutes by ferry from Perth’s attractive Fremantle suburb, Rottnest is a popular holiday destination, due to the rampaging wallabies and the many great beaches for swimming, fishing, surfing, and snorkelling.

Hiking: the tough but terrific Bibbulmun Track starts from Kalamunda in the Perth Hills and ends 600 miles (nearly 1, 000 kms) away in Albany, but you don’t have to hike the whole thing, 2/3 day packages with accommodation and transfers are popular.

West End: Breezy cliffs have excellent whale and dolphin views.

Sailing: rent a dinghy or yacht or take lessons on the tranquil Swan River.

More activities north of Perth in Western Australia.

Hobart, Tasmania island: Tasmania’s capital is a small, green, riverside city with a mountain backdrop. There’s a pleasant harbour area where cafes congregate and the eclectic and popular Salamanca Market appears on Saturdays.

Three popular itineraries

A Tasmanian Devil growls welcome in Adelaide's Cleland Wildlife Park, Australia

Girl meets wallaby in Adelaide’s Cleland Wildlife Park.

2 weeks:
Sydney – Blue Mountains – Canberra – Snowy River National Park – Melbourne – Great Ocean Road – Grampians National Park

3 weeks:
Sydney – Brisbane – Surfer’s Paradise – Cairns – Daintree – Atherton Tablelands – Uluru – Melbourne

4/5 weeks:
Sydney – Byron Bay -Surfer’s Paradise – Brisbane – Fraser Island- Whitsunday Islands – Cairns – Daintree – Uluru – Melbourne – Great Ocean Road – Grampians National Park

Best non-city places to go

Sun, sea, surf in abundance, but also great rainforest and outback walks and scuba or snorkelling on the GBR (see below). No shortage of either culture or action in Sydney and Brisbane, while Cairns and the Gold Coast handle mainly action, but to the max. See Gold Coast beaches pictures

– Blue Mountains: panoramic vistas suspended in a blue haze with stunning rock formations, waterfalls and lookouts.
A few hours by train/car from Sydney through bungalow land. Ski season from May-September.

snorkeling over the great barrier reef, near cairns, australia

The Great Barrier Reef off Cairns.

Great Barrier Reef: 18 million years old and stretching for 2, 300km this fragile, natural wonder is a major snorkelling, scuba and glassbottom boat experience, tho’ not as impressive as it sounds as the water is often murky and the reef itself is more about quantity than quality – in this over-dived area near Cairns anyway. Serious scuba-doobies should head elsewhere, further north being highly recommended.
Tons of tour operators ensure competitive prices, especially from Cairns or Port Douglas. GBR is 90 minutes out from the coast (30kms) so choose a big boat if you get sea sick and aim for a pontoon when you get there.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands.

– Whitsunday Islands: A group of 74 pine-clad islands ideal for sailing through clear, turquoise waters sadly infested with toxic boxes (see below) and hungry sharks; Airlie Beach starting point is well set up for tourists with lots of competitive cruises and a sensational salt-water lagoon (better than Cairns).
Whitehaven is arguably Australia’s best beach, very long, very white, very beautiful, with talcum powder sand, a camping site but no hotels and trawling toxic jellies floating about (each one with 4 brains and 24 eyes! ) so sadly swimmers need to wear stinger suits or risk extreme pain followed by premature death.

Fraser Island's Lake McKenzie, Australia

Fraser Island’s Lake McKenzie.

Fraser Island: this World Heritage site is the largest sand island in the world, with pristine freshwater lakes, turtles, giant lizards, rainforest, creeks, dunes and beaches; ideal for camping and trekking and lake swimming, but sea swimming may invite unwelcome attention from numerous uglies. Accessed mainly from Hervey Bay, but also Rainbow Beach and Noosa.

Daintree Rainforest: from clichéd tours with a backdrop of Enigma music to profound natural adventures in this ancient wilderness. Access via Cairns or Port Douglas.

Northern Territory

The Olgas, near Uluru, Red Centre, Australia

The Olgas, near Uluru, Red Centre.

Uluru and surrounds: The enigmatic and stunning red rock in the Red Centre (1-2 days minimum required), Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock) is smack in the middle of the wizard land of Oz, with excellent hiking but needs an expensive flight (via Alice Springs) or lots of time to get there, and flies can be a total eye-sucking nightmare.
Not far away are more red rocks, The Olgas.

Kakadu National Park: Crocodile Dundee territory, an immense terrain of canyons, wetlands, birds, animals, bloody great crocs and Aboriginal rock art. 150kms (100mls) east of Darwin in north-west Australia.

Western Australia

West Australia offers fantastic beaches and wilderness on 3, 000 km of pristine Indian Ocean coast.

Monkey Mia in Shark Bay, 530 miles north of Perth, is the place to swim (or more likely just stand around with other tourists knee deep in warm waters) with wild bottlenose dolphins and to spot dugongs, whales and turtles.

Head for Esperance to see a pink lake, seals and penguins in Woody Island wildlife sanctuary.

The Pinnacles desert featuring stunning limestone pillars in Nambung National Park, near Cervantes town, best August – October when it’s reasonably cool and wildflowers are at their best.

Kimberley: the ultimate Australian wilderness if the regular outback is not tough or empty enough for you. This ‘last frontier’, magnificent and unforgiving tablelands and forests is usually accessed via Broome.

View the striking blue ocean meeting the red desert at Broome on the edge of this final frontier. Perth is the entry point for all this excitement.

Ningaloo

Ningaloo: Dive or snorkel the incredible 160 mile Ningaloo Reef, 750 miles north of Perth (that’s not far from an Aussie perspective! ).

Ningaloo is probably in better shape than the Great Barrier Reef, certainly offers amazing marine diversity but best of all you don’t have to take a boat to get out to it, just wade out from the beach!

April to June is when to swim with the world’s biggest fish, whale sharks; March/April for boat tours to see spectacular coral spawning.

The best big town base for Ningaloo is attractive Exmouth which rents sea kayaks, arranges boat tours, game fishing, eco-safaris and much more; alternatively the seaside town of Coral Bay is the place for kaleidoscopic snorkelling, beach sloth, dive trips and reef flights