Already ticked the Opera House in Sydney, shopping in Melbourne and Uluru off your bucket list? Take heart, there’s still plenty more to discover in our big old sunburnt country, especially if you’re willing to go off the beaten track. Here are our top picks of little known spots you must visit in this lifetime.
Looking for a trip with a difference? Instead of booking a return ticket to some far flung destination in an exotic location, you may want to consider your back yard. Here are the undiscovered gems that make our incredible country unique, and are well worth a visit.
1) Great Keppel Island, QLD
There was a time when Great Keppel Island was known as the ‘Ibiza of the Capricorn Coast’. A more accurate description was the ‘poor man’s Hamilton Island’, meaning on any given weekend you could find hordes of booze guzzling tourists, drinking overpriced rum and cokes in a ‘tropical’ setting. Then the main resort closed, tourism dropped 90% and, to the relief of many locals and environmentalists, GKI was restored to its whisper quiet, pristine state. Today, the island is a popular haunt for yachters, divers and fisherman who are drawn to the crystal blue waters and plentiful marine life, while hikers and campers have an overnight lodge at one of the remaining permanent tent villages. If you want to experience it as it stands, you’d better get there quick – planning is underway for a new eco resort with a 250 room beachfront hotel, 700 luxury villas and a 250 berth marina.
2) Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience, Baird Bay, SA
If you’ve ever wanted to swim with dolphins or sea lions but could never bring yourself to participate in the contrived theme park experience, then Baird Bay could be your Shangri La. Situated on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, Baird Bay is where wild sea lions will choose to interact with you on their own terms for a truly magical experience. As an added bonus, bottlenose dolphins also live around the area, so it’s more than likely you will come face to fin with them, too.
3) Cape Range National Park, WA
One piece of advice that is constantly dished out from anyone who has visited the incredible Cape Range: Get there quick, before everyone else discovers it and screws it up. Squeaky white sand beaches, aqua blue waters, hiking, camping, wildlife and the Ningaloo Reef just a stone’s throw away, Cape Range National Park is utterly unspoiled and a unique spot where you can see the desert hit the beach. You can also swim with manta rays and whale sharks. It may take time and dedication to get there, but your effort will be rewarded.
4) Karijini National Park, WA
Word has spread fast about this beautiful, green oasis hidden deep in the ochre-stained, rugged Pilbara, with Karijini topping many ‘must-see’ traveller lists. But don’t fret – it’s still secret enough that any intrepid visitor who makes the effort to get to the Karijini National Park can be assured of having the crystal clear pools and dramatic gorges to themselves.
5) Mossman Gorge, Daintree Rainforest, QLD
The enchanting Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest, just north of Port Douglas is a must see. This pristine rainforest is flanked by towering mountains, with cool streams carving through the landscape. The World Heritage Site offers a remarkable glimpse into Australia’s pioneering and indigenous history.
6) Lord Howe Island, NSW
It feels like it’s a million miles away from anywhere – with un-spoilt beaches, incredibly scenic walkways and wildlife. However, Lord Howe Island is well within reach, only a two-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this natural paradise is home to some truly awe inspiring national parkland and the world’s most southernmost reef, making it a haven for bird watchers, hikers, scuba divers or anyone who appreciates a truly pristine environment.
7) Hat Head, NSW
It may triple its population come long weekends or holidays, but any time in-between, you’ll find an idyllic beach side settlement with a few locals meandering around the beaches, surfers carving up the superb breaks or fishermen hauling in a catch from the estuaries. With a local caravan park and bowling club serving up delicious and hearty meals, it’s a great spot for families or anyone who needs a city break. Tip: if you do decide to go there during peak season, book ahead and bring supplies.
8) Stradbroke Island, QLD
Stradbroke Island, or ‘Straddie’ as the locals know it, is easily accessible from Brisbane and is a haven for any nature lover. Great surfing, unsurpassed hiking, picture perfect views and an interesting history make it the ideal getaway for a weekend or a week.
9) MacDonnell Ranges, NT
If you’re after a real outback experience, you can’t do better than the iconic MacDonnell ranges in the Northern Territory. Stretching 650 kilometers through the great Red Centre of Australia, the vast and spectacular landscape has been sculpted by the elements throughout millennia. The cool, scenic gorges are important refuges for the area’s unique wildlife. It’s an adventure playground for travellers seeking hiking trails, four-wheel drive tracks and camping spots away from the crowds.
10) Mount Field National Park, TAS
Ask any Tasmanian about Mount Field and they’ll have plenty to say about the much-beloved national park. Yet, bizarrely, this destination rarely makes it onto visitor's itineraries. Their loss is our gain – the lack of tourists mean that you’ll have the park’s trails, stunning waterfalls and wildlife all to yourself.