Finding the Underrated in Australia
Time has passed and I’ve made an effort to see a little more of Australia (although not nearly enough), so I thought it was time to have another whack at it.
I’ve gone for cities (or regions, in two cases) that tend to go under the radar when people are plotting their year long ‘working holiday visa’ tour of Australia. Those tend to be Melbourne – Sydney – Byron – Gold Coast – Cairns in a blur of booze and hospitality jobs.
Some of the below are far from unknown, while others just might have you flicking frantically through Google Maps muttering “Such a place cannot be”.
As Seinfeld once said, “They’re real, and they’re spectacular”
#10 – Dorrigo & Bellingen, NSW
Two for the price of one to get the ball rolling, these quaint towns nestled in the Northern Tablelands both embrace the beauty of the surrounding World Heritage listed national parks (Dorrigo and New England).
Dorrigo is a little on the quiet side, it has to be said, but its proximity to the pretty spectacular Dangar Falls and the ancient rainforests of Dorrigo National Park make it worth a stop along the picturesque Waterfall Way.
Bellingen, a rapidly developing tourism hotspot full of trendy eateries and boutiques, still retains a lot of the hippie charm that has drawn people to it for decades now. Heck, it’s what drew my parents there for their honeymoon back in the early 80s!
My favourite spot in Bellingen? Either the delicious pub food at The Federal Hotel or the little known swimming holes of the aptly named Promised Lands.
#9 – Hobart, Tasmania
Tasmania is getting itself on more and more radars when it comes to touring Australia, but it’s criminal how few people make the trek across the Bass Strait to Australia’s most beautiful state.
The quirky Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) was recently included in Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List in the Top 20, beating out the likes of Yosemite National Park, Myanmar’s Bagan, Victoria Falls, and the freaking Pyramids! High praise indeed.
Hobart is a city with a small town feel, and the perfect place to launch into exploring Tasmania’s many national parks and beaches.
#8 – Southern Highlands, NSW
You’d be forgiven for never having heard of the Southern Highlands, which is criminal given they’re just a short train ride south of Sydney.
The kind of place invented for honeymoons and romantic weekend retreats, the region surrounding little towns such as Moss Vale and Bowral is rife with vineyards, quaint B&Bs, historic guest houses, hiking trails, isolated waterfalls, and other things that tend to set the hearts of the coupled up aflutter.
Want to know more about this well-kept secret? Check out Destination Southern Highlands and plan your romantic getaway.
#7 – Broken Hill, NSW
Set against the kind of backdrop that made it a perfect filming location for Mad Max 2, Broken Hill is the Australian outback epitomized.
An old mining town whose boom days are behind it, Broken Hill is surrounded by isolated little country towns and even a few ghost towns.
I spent a few of my formative years growing up on the shores of nearby Lake Menindee, and have fond memories of visiting the ghost town of Silverton as a kid before stopping in at some local cafe for what I called a ‘dippy cheese’ but what full grown humans call ‘grilled cheese’.
While Broken Hill is literally ‘Beyond Burke’ (and if you don’t understand that, you need to brush up on your Aussie lingo), it’s accessible by a train from Sydney for just $100 AUD.
#6 – Brisbane, Queensland
You’d think that Queensland’s capital and Australia’s third largest city wouldn’t warrant a mention – but many visitors to Australia tend to skip over Brisbane on their pilgrimage from the Gold Coast to Cairns.
While Brisbane may not have the cosmopolitan charm of Melbourne or the laundry list of ‘must see’ sights that Sydney can boast, it’s a city not without considerable appeal of its own. Like these cities, though, there’s a wealth of food and accommodation in Brisbane to suit all tastes & budgets.
Whether it’s abseiling off Story Bridge, wandering the kooky hipster streets of West End, ducking across to Moreton Island for a bit of whale watching, catching a Brisbane Broncos game, or hanging out amidst the eateries along the man-made Southbank Beach, Brisbane has something for everybody.
#5 – High Country, Victoria
So underrated that I hadn’t heard of it until a friend mentioned it, Victoria’s High Country gives you a third reason to visit Victoria after Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road.
Like the Southern Highlands, it’s a great place for a romantic getaway with its vineyards and quaint country towns laden with Australian frontier history.
For me, though, it’s the prospect of exploring Alpine National Park and taking the Great Alpine Road that really has me interested. The alpine and sub-alpine aren’t often associated with Australia, so it’s something you won’t find in many other places.
Between that and a little Australian colonial history, it sounds like it’s well worth a visit.
#4 – Broome, Western Australia
Perth is rapidly becoming a popular stop for tourists, especially British and South African expats.
Broome is hardly unknown, mind. Cable Beach and the nearby Ningaloo Beach are already on the tourism radar, but Broome itself doesn’t get nearly as much play as its laid-back, beachy charm warrants.
While beach towns may be a dime a dozen in Australia, very few offer the same access to the vast Australian outback. You can be on the beach one day and out in Australia’s red centre the next.
#3 – Newcastle, NSW
I’ve harped on about Newcastle’s unfulfilled potential before, and I’m not the only blogger who has sung its praises – with the likes of Caroline in the City & Drink Tea Travel also being aware of this beach city’s immense charm.
One of Australia’s oldest cities, Newcastle’s industrial background and reputation for being a little backwards has always kept it in Sydney’s shadow, but its world-class beaches, proximity to the famous Hunter Valley wine region, and emerging arts & entertainment scene are fast turning it into a spot worth visiting.
A short train ride from Sydney, “Newie” is where I spent every summer as a kid, and a city I still hold a great deal of affection for.
#2 – Darwin, Northern Territory
Darwin isn’t exactly a secret these days. More and more people are headed north to visit Australia’s northernmost capital.
It’s where modern Australia meets Australia as it was before Europe swept in, with the nearby Tiwi Islands being a great place to learn more about indigenous culture.
Nature lovers will be drawn to the nearby Litchfield National Park with its amazing landscapes, while families can enjoy its market culture and laid back vibe.
There’s so much to see in “En Tee”, so I’ve saved you some legwork by writing a post about things to do in the Northern Territory.
#1 – Adelaide, South Australia
While I’m quick to dismiss Australia’s City of Churches as SADelaide or BADelaide, more and more people are starting to call it by the name locals have for it: RADelaide.
It pains me to admit it, but the more I research the South Australian capital, the more I want to check it out.
Where do I begin? The city’s uncrowded but beautiful beaches? Its proximity to the world-famous Barossa Valley wine region? The presence of the popular Monarto Zoo with its safari style enclosures? Historic architecture? The fact it has more bars and live music venues per capita than any other Aussie city? Its abundance of parklands?
Adelaide has shrugged off its reputation as a stuffy country town. It’s just a matter of time before everyone else figures it out.
What do you think are some of Australia’s underrated gems?
What are some underrated cities in your own country?