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With more than seven million squares kilometres of territory covering everything from tropical islands to snow-capped mountains, Australia boasts hundreds of destinations that are worth a visit. But if you can’t spare a year or two to explore every corner of the country, these are the top 15 places you should include on your Australian itinerary.
Australia’s largest city is most international visitors’ gateway to the country, and the view of the glittering harbour when they arrive on the plane provides an epic welcome. Marvel at the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, check out golden city beaches like Bondi and Manly, and catch a ferry for the quintessential Sydney experience.
The country’s second-largest city doesn’t enjoy Sydney’s sunshine or waterfront, but Melbourne is Australia’s capital of culture, coffee and sport. Stroll through inner-city laneways sniffing out a cup of specialty coffee, visit the plethora of museums and galleries, enjoy a spot of window shopping, and watch a game of footy or cricket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Just a short ferry trip from Perth or Fremantle in Western Australia, Rottnest Island is a tropical paradise fringed by white sand beaches and turquoise water with one important difference: ‘Rotto’ is home to the quokka, an adorable cousin of the kangaroo that loves to bound up to admirers for a selfie.
‘The Rock’ is the spiritual heart of Australia, located smack-bang in the middle of the continent. Explore the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park by foot, on a guided tour, in a hot air balloon, on the back of a camel or a Harley Davidson Just don’t climb Uluru, which is a sacred site to Indigenous Australians.
Live out your very own sequel to Finding Nemo at the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches along 2300 kilometres of the Queensland coast. Snorkel, sail and swim among the largest coral reef system anywhere on Earth, then put your feet up in the serene Whitsunday Islands.
This is Australia’s best road trip, bar none. Spanning 243 kilometres of rugged Victorian coast west of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road passes through pristine national parks, untouched beaches, charming seaside villages and photogenic rock, formations such as the 12 Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge.
Located just off the coast of Hervey Bay three hours’ north of Brisbane, Fraser Island is one of Australia’s most unique destinations. Firstly, it’s the largest sand island on the face of the Earth, more than 120km long. Secondly, it’s home to a rare strain of dingo that’s genetically purer than those on the mainland. And last but not least, Fraser Island contains half of the world’s perched lakes — freshwater swimming spots formed between sand dunes.
Australia is blessed with plenty of world-class wine regions — the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, the Yarra Valley in Victoria, and the Barossa Valley in South Australia to name a handful — but few are as scenic as this corner of Western Australia three hours’ drive south of Perth, with dozens of cellar doors wedged between lush national park and quality surf beaches.
The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) — Australia’s most exciting contemporary gallery — is reason enough to visit Hobart. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the historic Port Arthur convict site, the gourmet experiences of Bruny Island, the charming Salamanca Markets, and the jaw-dropping vistas from the summit of Mount Wellington while you’re in the Tasmanian capital.
The tropical Top End is your gateway to some of Australia’s most extraordinary terrain, such as the prehistoric landscapes of the Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks. In Darwin itself, don’t miss the chance to smile at a crocodile at Crocosaurus Cove and watch the sun slink into the Timor Sea at Mindil Beach.
The coastal scenery looks like it belongs in some exotic Pacific country, but Port Stephens is actually located just two hours up the road from Sydney. Tick off the 26 gorgeous beaches, scuba dive with grey nurse sharks, visit the resident bottlenose dolphin population, and scale Mount Tomaree for panoramic views of the region, particularly during winter when humpback whales cruise past.
Tropical North Queensland isn’t all just reef and beaches, it’s also home to one almighty rainforest. Just north of Cairns, the Daintree is brimming with ancient ferns, towering canopy, saltwater crocodiles, and stunning places to stop for a swim, including the (croc-free) Mossman Gorge.
The easternmost point on the Australian mainland offers something for every type of traveller. Byron boasts golden sand for beach bums, great surf breaks for riders, raucous nightlife for backpackers, waterfront drum circles for hippies, and organic cafes and boutique food and drink experiences for growing numbers of trendy domestic visitors.
You’d expect a destination called Kangaroo Island to be loaded with native Australian wildlife — and you’d be right. A popular day trip from Adelaide in South Australia, KI’s spectacular coastal scenery is crawling with roos (of course!) as well as echidnas, sea lions, possums, bandicoots, unique marine life and a diverse array of birds.
Australia’s Wild West doesn’t get any wilder than the Kimberley, a region of untamed Outback in the northern part of Western Australia. Acquaint yourself with Broome’s laid-back alfresco lifestyle, cruise through the Horizontal Falls, photograph the colourful mud flats of Roebuck Bay, walk in the literal footsteps of dinosaurs at Gantheaume Point, and join one of the camel trains sauntering along Cable Beach at sunset.