You won't believe it, but 2023 is the first full year Australia has been open since the pandemic. To help you prepare for your next Aussie adventure, we’ve picked out 11 top destinations across the country which are well worth having on your radar, from incredible nature experiences on land and in water, to connecting with Australia's indigenous cultures.
The Eyre Peninsula, a 45-minute flight from the vineyard city of Adelaide, is where ocean meets outback and this dramatic landscape forms the backdrop for some of the best experiences in the whole country.
This area is certainly for those who love spending time in the water. Swimming with wild sealions and pods of wild dolphins and spotting Southern Right Whales are just a few of the many amazing aquatic adventures on offer here along the 2000km pristine coastline. The peninsula is known as Australia’s Seafood Frontier and there are lots of opportunities to enjoy its delicious bounty.
Booking a tour with a local operator in the know like Australian Coastal Safaris will reveal the many secrets of this untamed region of Australia, immersing you in the stories of this incredible place. The guides will also take you to bushland teeming with native wildlife and can organise specialist birding trips for keen twitchers. There are even opportunities to get involved in local citizen science projects surveying wildlife and recording sightings.
Victoria’s notable national park and one of its most significant Indigenous sites, The Grampians, has recently completed and opened The Grampian Peaks Trail. Hiking enthusiasts, adventure seekers and nature lovers can sample a two-day, or a once-in-a-lifetime 13-day hike through the mountainous area, famed for its dramatic scenery and Aboriginal heritage.
The 160-kilometre trail is easily accessible, just three hours west of Melbourne and stretches the length of the Grampians National Park. It features an array of tour experiences and camping options, for visitors to enjoy. From rock climbing, abseiling and canoeing to mountain peaks, rugged rocky outcrops and unforgettable panoramas, the trail offers visitors a chance to immerse in a living cultural experience, by being able to witness ancient oven mounds, scatterings of stone left over from tool making, a wealth of rock art sites (with the region home to more than 80% of rock art found in Victoria) and creation stories handed down from one generation to the next. Tour Operator Absolute Outdoors organises guided tours and thrilling activities to experience the very best of the Grampians Peaks Trail.
What better way to take in the beauty of the Northern Territory's Top End than by having an adventure along Nature's Way. From Darwin, the territory's tropical capital with a host of new restaurants, bars and gin distilleries, take a slight detour south west to the brand new, luxury Finniss River Lodge. Open last April, it is surrounded by vast coastal floodplains, the savannah and remnant rainforest offering a profound sense of isolation within a diversity of stunning landscapes. Environmental sustainability is at the heart of a stay here as are enriching experiences.
Continue your road trip East to reach the wonders inside Kakadu National Park. Cruise wetlands filled with lily pads and bird life; spot sun baking crocodiles along the banks of the rivers and explore ancient Aboriginal rock art galleries at Ubirr. Take in the natural wonders of the Top End at every turn on this epic journey onwards to Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge and 'glamp' out under the stars. Those who love adventure will revel in this road trip to natural swimming waterholes and bush walks for all fitness levels.
On your way back to Darwin, spend some time exploring the plunge pools and waterfalls of Litchfield National Park.
An hour north of Cairns in Tropical North Queensland you’ll find one of the most biologically diverse rainforests in the world – the Daintree Rainforest. Here you can not only discover the wonderful wildlife that call this part of the world home - such as the endangered cassowary and tiger quoll - but also connect with your surrounds on a deeper level through an Indigenous experience. In October it was announced that the Daintree Rainforest was being handed back to the traditional owners, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people who have been the custodians of this part of the world for more than 50,000 years. Follow in the footsteps of a Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owner on a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk through Mossman Gorge and discover first-hand the culture, traditions and invaluable knowledge passed down through generations.
Pair a rainforest experience with a Reef encounter to tick off two icons. Tropical North Queensland is the only place in the world where two Heritage sites sit side by side – the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Dip below the waves and discover the Reef with a new citizen science tour launched in Cairns by Passions of Paradise. Experienced certified divers can join conservationists, spending a full day on board a sailing catamaran visiting exclusive Outer Great Barrier Reef locations where they can monitor reef health, coral planting and learn from passionate reef experts.
For an immersive overnight stay, one of the Daintree’s most iconic retreats, Silky Oaks Lodge, reopened in December 2021, featuring a reimagined main hub with a jungle vibe and six stunning treehouse-style suite categories.
Could 2023 be the year you visit the Flinders Ranges? This outback region which starred in the BBC hit series The Tourist is about a five-hour drive north from the vineyard city of Adelaide, rich in cultural heritage and of exceptional scientific value. The land is home to the Adnyamathanha people and joining an Aboriginal walking tour is a very special experience. The Flinders Ranges region is also home to some of South Australia’s most iconic landscapes and is teeming with native wildlife in the wild – look out for big red kangaroos, emus and huge birds of prey as you explore under big sunny outback skies.
In 2021 Nilpena Ediacara National Park in the Flinders Ranges was proclaimed, reflecting the national and international significance of its fossil heritage values – evidence of Earth’s earliest animal life has been discovered here. From March last year, visitors have been able to learn about this fascinating heritage at a new visitor centre and on an immersive fossil field guided tour.
Stay over on a quintessentially Australian cattle station property like Rawnsley Park using this as your base to discover the many wonders of the Flinders Ranges.
Launceston has transformed from a quiet country town into a cultural, creative and food destination. The city recently asserted its place among the world’s great epicurean destinations, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) bestowing it as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
Launceston and the surrounding region are full of winemakers and artists, chefs and distillers and artisan makers. The city's paddock-to-plate culture, with the fertile land and sea at its edges supplying the tastes and experiences that have come to define the northern Tasmanian city. Taste the region with new food ventures such as funky cellar doors, sustainable eateries, epicurean restaurants and a humming café culture. Plus, established food cultural events agriCULTURED and the weekly Harvest Market Community farmers’ market add to the local vibrancy.
Stay at Stillwater Seven, a converted 1830s flour mill at the mouth of the Cataract Gorge.
With unique retreats and a slate of new eateries and experiences, Sydney and New South Wales sparkle even brighter as travel continues in 2023.
Sydney is an obvious choice, especially as 2023 is the year Sydney Opera House celebrates its 50th anniversary with some special performances. Culture lovers will also be delighted by the opening of Sydney Modern Project, an impressive extension of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, featuring some intriguing exhibitions.
But head just one hour north and you can explore the beauty and tranquillity of the Hawkesbury River. Cradled by National Parks with UNESCO World Heritage status and dotted with secluded river communities, the Hawkesbury River is navigable for over 100 kilometres with 1100 kilometres of foreshore fringe. The western end of the river forms a peaceful boundary for the Sydney region - you could cruise and explore these waters for weeks and still not see it all. The region is also famed for its food and unique tasting opportunities, include pearl meat tasting at Broken Bay Pearl Farm in Mooney Mooney. Here you can also try the local Sydney Rock Oysters while learning some of the world’s finest pearls are harvested in its ‘shellar door’.
Sleepover at the recently opened Marramarra Lodge – only one hour from Sydney this retreat overlooking the Hawkesbury River feels a world away — in both vibe and style. The 14 luxe tents and bungalows celebrate the surrounds, which you can also discover on tours revealing the region’s pearling and Aboriginal history. Meals are a highlight, with degustations at Budyari Restaurant as pretty as they are tasty.
Australia’s capital city often gets overlooked in favour of big hitters like Sydney and Melbourne, but visitors making time for Canberra will be richly rewarded.
Foodies flock here for the great restaurants and culture vultures enjoy exploring the city’s museums and galleries; but what’s less well known is that Canberra offers a lot to outdoor enthusiasts too. Lake Burley Griffin is often called the centrepiece of Canberra and for locals and visitors alike there are myriad ways to enjoy it, from paddle boarding to cycling the shoreline, to hot air ballooning over the lake and skippering a picnic boat to enjoy some local produce right out on the water.
Those preferring to stay on land should stroll The Bridge to Bridge Walk which connects Commonwealth Bridge to Kings Avenue Bridge. This three mile walk takes in several of Canberra’s attractions including Commonwealth Park. Other Canberra highlights include a visit to Parliament House (advance bookings required), the National Portrait Gallery and the Australian War Memorial.
The Limestone Coast is one of Australia’s lesser known gems, and often people driving from Melbourne to Adelaide wish they had lingered longer in this incredible region along the way. It is located in the south-eastern corner of South Australia, and is home to gorgeous beach towns, award winning wineries and some stunning natural wonders.
The main city is Mount Gambier, which you can fly into from other domestic airports in Australia. The area is the traditional home of the Ngarrindjeri and Booandik people and was settled by Europeans in the 1840s. Whilst in Mount Gambier be sure to visit the Umpherston Sinkhole, a beautiful sunken garden which was once an underground limestone cave. Whilst in the region also check out the Blue Lake which was once an active volcano, and Little Blue Lake which you can dive straight into. On the topic of diving, the Limestone Coast is home to the Kilsby Sinkhole world renowned as one of the best sinkhole dive sites.
Other Limestone Coast highlights include the World Heritage listed Naracoorte Caves, the coastal paradise of Robe and the wineries of the Coonawarra. Along the way you’ll meet some of Australia’s friendliest locals and experience a slice of local life.
Dive into the clear waters of the Ningaloo Reef, a bucket-list destination for nature and wildlife lovers. Over 300-kilometres long, this World Heritage listed reef is one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on the planet. Best accessed from Exmouth or Coral Bay, you can walk straight off the beach and snorkel amongst 200 species of coral teeming with 500 species of colourful fish.
At Ningaloo, you can swim with gentle whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world. Take an ecologically respectful boat tour run by passionate locals to swim alongside these plankton-eating giants of the ocean. Feel true awe as you witness their effortless majesty first-hand— a rare wildlife encounter that will stay with you forever. You can also swim with graceful humpback whales as they migrate along the coast each year on Western Australia’s ‘Humpback Highway’, or flip underwater with Coral Bay’s acrobatic manta rays that call Ningaloo home year-round.
Another must-do Ningaloo adventure is ‘drift snorkelling’ at Turquoise Bay — relax into the warm current and enjoy the passing parade of sea-life, just metres from the shore. For a different perspective, explore the rugged red cliffs, wildlife and wide open spaces of Cape Range National Park – in a four-wheel drive, on a boat, or on foot. This pristine park hugs the coastline, offering vibrant views of red canyons meeting the white sand and azure blue Indian Ocean.
Explore an ancient living heritage and one of the world’s oldest aquaculture systems on a newly launched experience in south-eastern Australia. The Indigenous-owned Budj Bim Cultural Landscape Tourism is now operating small group tours led by Gunditjmara guides to discover the ancient area around Tae Rak and UNESCO-listed Budj Bim National Park (also known as Mount Eccles).
You will get to learn about local Aboriginal history in the area – which dates back more than 6,000 years ago – through the eyes of its people. Beyond its major river systems, you can also roam volcanic plains, limestone caves, extensive wetlands and dramatic coastlines, all within Gunditjmara Country.
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