Australians enjoy a famous outdoorsy lifestyle, even in the cities: the average Aussie likes nothing better than starting the day with bracing surf, an early morning run, and a flat white for afterwards. Once you get out of the cities, though, you’ll find the great outdoors gets even greater. National parks such as Kakadu and Purnululu offer splendid isolation. The Northern Territory is a rust-red Outback with soaring rock formations, whilst heading south brings penguins, beaches and vineyards. There’s nothing like an Aussie shiraz to add a bit of pizzazz to your vacation. Read our Australia travel guide.
Our top Australia vacations
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An sustainable travel itinerary to Southwest Australia
Best time to go to Australia
Australia’s tropical north is best visited from June to October, when it’s drier, whilst the wine regions are an absolute picture from March to May. Across the rest of the country, September through to November is very pleasant; March through to May is also very nice; whilst June through to August can get ‘chilly’ which means you might need some form of jacket. Basically, the best time to visit Australia is whenever you get the chance, although if you’re looking for something more specific check out our guide to the best time to go.
Map & highlightsAustralia’s best sights fan around its coastlines like petals on a flower, with the exception of Uluru, which sits scorching in the middle of the Northern Territory. The Great Barrier Reef is up in Australia’s tropics, set among 900 islands. Sydney, the surf capital if not the country’s actual capital, is an essential stop, whilst further south Melbourne is your gateway to a road trip along the Great Ocean Road. The island of Tasmania, dropped like a tear 150 miles south from the mainland, is different again: a cornucopia of national parks, farm-fresh produce, and beautiful wilderness.
Great Barrier Reef
1. Great Barrier Reef
There are several ways to maximise time in the Great Barrier Reef with snorkelling, scuba diving and accompanying a marine biologist on a glass bottomed boat all adding to the natural attraction. As several reefs are close to the (900) islands’ white sand shorelines everyone can appreciate the mesmerising marine life whilst, on land, rainforest trails offer a totally tropical alternative.
Great Ocean Road
2. Great Ocean Road
Aside from being an awesome stretch of Victoria’s coastline, running from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles, the Great Ocean Road is also the world’s largest war memorial dedicated to the soldiers of WW1. A marathon route and over 100km of walking trails will take you via cliff tops, waterfalls, rivers and sandy beaches, accompanied by kookaburras, wombats, kangaroos and koalas.
Calling all cosmopolitan sports fans and festival goers: Melbourne is Victoria’s city of choice and promises boutique shopping arcades, Victorian era architecture and the world’s largest tram network. With a population that combines Greek, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian, Melbourne is majorly multicultural as expressed in the restaurants, food halls and huge, open air market, the Queen Vic.
Unmistakable harbour views place Sydney up there with the best of them and if you’re planning to spend a few days skipping between trendy bars, botanical gardens, art galleries and the gentrified streets of the Rocks then why not? Outer suburbs such as Bondi, Coogee and Cronulla offer sandier days out with the 10km Spit Bridge to Manley walk providing a scenic stroll via untouched bush land.
With 19 national parks and 300 smaller islands, including Macquarie, Flinders and King, Tasmania showcases some of the world’s finest wilderness and is much more than just a ‘tag on’ destination. Often termed Australia’s ‘veggie basket’, exploring the island on a self drive tour is a really exciting option with farm stays and family-run B&B’s definitely the best way to taste the Tassie difference.
Wondering how anything survives in such an unforgiving landscape is one of many Uluru ruminations; and as you watch the sun set over Australia’s most iconic rock you may just impart a tiny smidgen of Aboriginal enlightenment. Camping in the Outback and interpretive walks with indigenous guides make Uluru and Kings Canyon all about experiencing Australia’s great outdoors.
Australia’s sights can’t help but stand out – whether that’s its futuristic opera house apparently floating on Sydney Harbour or Uluru, a mystical red rock standing out in the desert, as vivid red as Mars manifest on earth. It’s worth visiting the country for the Great Barrier Reef alone, the largest coral formation in the world – where you can jump off from Lizard or Fitzroy Island for excellent diving and surfing. In the south of the country, the 12 Apostles might seem like the standout part of the Great Ocean Road, but the whole road trip is iconic.
Australia’s indigenous culture is worth fighting for, and has lasted in the country for the last 60,000 years. Indigenous Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples are slowly winning back their rights, whilst the colonial atrocities against them are being recognised. Aboriginal persons represent only four percent of Australia’s population, so count yourself lucky if you can meet an Aboriginal guide, who might tell you a story from Dreamtime, share a little of their sacred history with you, or invite you to try bush tucker. Their unique worldviews and the stories they share are tens of thousands of years in the making.
Uluru & the Olgas
The area around Uluru and the Olgas is known as Australia’s Red Centre. One look at the rusty patina that covers the rocks, and you’ll know why. Everyone knows Uluru, the bald, red dome that rises 800m above the plain. Fewer know that there are in fact 36 other domes, making up a formation known as Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, some 25km west. Most visitors fly into Alice Springs and then drive out to catch sunrise at Uluru. A day of walking around the Olgas and a stop at Kings Canyon makes for a rocking Northern Territory road trip.
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More about Australia
With ferocious inland temperatures, not everywhere in Australia is suitable for a walking vacation – a fact disregarded by those who choose to hike the Larapinta Trail, right in the middle of the Outback, or the Flinders Range, which rises into high, dry peaks out of Adelaide. More sensible options include Victoria’s Great Ocean Walk and Great Alpine Walk – two great reasons to ditch the car in the country’s cooler southern tip. Tasmania’s even more temperate climate makes tackling the trails in the epic Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park just a little bit easier.
Where to go
It’s best to think of Australia state by state. The most populous is New South Wales, where Sydney gives visitors a taste of city surf. The Northern Territory, where you’ll find Australia’s ‘Red Centre’ has Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park inland and the tropical city of Darwin on its coast. Queensland has gorgeous beaches that stretch from Brisbane up to the Great Barrier Reef. Victoria has Melbourne, South Australia is all about wine, and Western Australia is a behemoth, with Perth right at its edge. Tasmania boasts the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area – a big wilderness for a small island.
Types of vacations
Left to its own devices for thousands of years, Australia’s animals evolved into a marsupial bonanza, making a wildlife vacation a wildly popular option for travelers. You could find yourself in Tasmania, looking out for white wallabies, echidna and Tasmanian devils, or on Kangaroo Island, just off South Australia, swimming with sea lions. Australia is expensive, and you might find joining a small group the best way to keep your trip on budget. And walking vacations tend to ditch the expensive flat whites along with the flat going, favouring motels, picnics and ascents into the mountains.