I spend so much of my time pursuing bucket list items outside of Australia that I often forget just how much there is to be said for an Australian bucket list. With a huge variety of climates, landscapes, and cultures to be explored, the hardest part of preparing the following list was limiting it to just fifty things you should do while in Australia.
Enough waffle! On with the show!
Editor’s Note: Needing to brush up on your Aussie slang? Don’t forget to check out my exhaustive Guide to Australian Slang.
The Definitive Aussie Bucket List
While I’ve broken the majority of this list up into states and territories for your convenience, the following Aussie bucket list item can be done virtually anywhere.
Eat these iconic Aussie foods
Australian food is a pretty dizzying blend of cultures and flavours, but there are a few distinctly Aussie foods that you can’t leave the land downunder without having tried:
- Vegemite (Pictured)
- A sausage roll and/or meat pie
- Chico Roll
- Tim Tams
- Pavlova (Although New Zealanders will lie and say they invented it)
- Anzac biscuits
New South Wales
Australia’s most populated state, New South Wales is home to a startling diversity of landscapes. From the scorched red sands of the Outback to temperate rainforests to cool highlands to stunning beaches, there’s a little something for everybody in Australia’s best state.
While many will make a beeline for cosmopolitan Sydney, there’s a wealth of other options elsewhere in the vast state.
Visit Lord Howe Island
An unspoiled paradise off the Australian coast, Lord Howe Island is all colourful reefs, idyllic beaches, and breathtaking views.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Lord Howe Island practices sustainability like very few other places.
Attend a ‘Show’
Not to be confused with seeing a player or a live performance, ‘show’ is short for ‘agricultural show’ and these annual events are somewhat akin to a US County Fair.
The Royal Easter Show in Sydney is arguably Australia’s most famous, but virtually every town in the country does one each year. It’s definitely an invaluable glimpse into Australian culture.
Visit the Outback
While it’s possible to visit the outback in almost all of Australia’s states (Victoria and Tasmania being the exception), the NSW outback is often called ‘the accessible outback’ due to the fact its a reasonable drive or train ride from civilization.
The outback towns of Menindee, Broken Hill, Burke, and Tibooburra all have a distinct, Mad Max charm.
I’ve written about my dream Outback roadtrip elsewhere on the blog.
See a show at the Sydney Opera House
While it’s free to visit Australia’s most iconic building and snap photos in front of it, there’s something pretty special about stepping underneath those famous shells and seeing a show – be it opera or something a little more low key.
You can check the upcoming show schedule at the Sydney Opera House Events page.
If a show is too expensive, a few cheeky cocktails at Opera Bar should definitely be on your agenda. It’s one of Australia’s most scenic night spots.
Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
You haven’t seen Sydney until you’ve seen it from atop the city’s instantly recognisable bridge.
Sydney BridgeClimb takes up tours year round, but sunset tours offer a stunning sunset and the Sydney skyline by night.
I climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge myself back in 2010.
Climb Australia’s highest mountain
Located in the aptly named Snowy Mountains, Mount Kosciuszko is Australia’s highest mountain, but don’t let that intimidate you. At just over 2,228 m (7,310 feet), it’s hardly Everest.
Looking for an unforgettable camping spot? Kosciuszko National Park offers up some pretty breathtaking locations.
See the Three Sisters
Located a few hours train ride from the heart of Sydney, the Blue Mountains region is one filled with breathtaking canyonlands, quaint boutiques and cafes, and some great hiking.
The Three Sisters are arguably the most famous natural landmark in the region, and can easily be visited as part of a day long exploration of the area.
Visit Bondi Beach, and then visit Sydney’s better beaches
Bondi is grossly overrated, but you can’t come to Australia and not take a glimpse at Australia’s most famous stretch of sand, sunburn, and sea.
Once you’re done, head out to better beaches like Freshwater, Coogee, Bronte, or Shelly.
Or take a train up to Newcastle to visit Merewether, Redhead, or Dudley.
Celebrate New Year’s at Sydney Harbour
Renowned the world around as one of the biggest New Year’s party, the Sydney New Year’s celebrations are a wild orgy of fireworks, live music, and hedonism that you could only find in Australia.
The event itself fills up pretty fast, but there are plenty of free vantage points around the city for those wanting to catch a glimpse of the signature firework display.
Chill Out in Byron Bay
Australia’s unofficial hippy capital, Byron Bay and its surrounding towns & villages epitomise the laid back, surfer culture that so many associate with Australia.
Weekend markets, musical festivals, and laid back attitudes abound.
Australia’s ‘sunshine state’, bright and sunny Queensland is a haven for beach bums the world around.
Some of Australia’s most iconic beaches can be found along the massive Queensland coast, and the presence of the Great Barrier Reef is another huge draw card.
Theme parks, glitzy night life districts, isolated desert homesteads, steamy northern jungle, and much more can be found in this fascinating state.
Scuba dive or snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef
The largest living organism in the world and the only one visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef stretches from northern Queensland south to Fraser Island.
The best diving and snorkeling tours can be found from Cairns and its surrounds, and a live aboard out on the reef is a once in a lifetime experience worth pursuing.
I was lucky enough to learn to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, and it’s set an impossibly high standard ever since.
Learn to Surf
Surf culture is embedded into Australian culture, and there’s an abundance of options for those wanting to learn how to surf.
Noosa’s Point Break is considered a world class surf spot while also being a great place to learn, but surf schools are all along the Aussie coast.
While I learned to surf in Sydney, there’s an abundance of spots to achieve your surf goals in Queensland.
Do the East Coast Road Trip
Cards on the table: I don’t drive, but I do love going on road trips.
Many a backpacker has made the long and scenic pilgrimage from tropical Cairns to cultured Melbourne (or vice versa), and it remains one of the most popular bucket list items for visitors to Australia.
It’s a long drive (almost 3,000km and 32 hours), so an extra set of eyes on the road wouldn’t go astray. Subaru’s new eyesight technology alerts the driver to upcoming obstacles and hazards, an invaluable aid when driving long distances.
There’s plenty of other Aussie road trip options as well, and the ambitious even aspire to circumnavigate the country much as Caz & Craig from yTravel did recently.
Sail through the Whitsundays
Famed for its white sand and crystal clear waters, Queensland’s Whitsundays Islands are an archipelago centered around Hamilton Island and famous for world class sailing and picturesque, isolated beaches.
Whether you sail its emerald waters, visit famous Airlie or Whitehaven Beach for a soak, snorkel the Barrier Reef, or just soak in its unspoiled beauty – the Whitsundays is a must for any Aussie itinerary.
Visit the Bundaberg Distillery in Queensland
Australia’s most famous liquor is a brown rum distilled in the Queensland town of Bundaberg.
If you can’t find the time to pay the place a visit and snap a photo with its signature polar bear, the spirit in question is available in virtually every pub in Australia.
Go camping in Carnarvon Gorge
There’s no shortage of places in Australia to pitch a tent and roast a few snags over the fire, but Carnarvon Gorge in central Queensland is one of the more picturesque spots you’ll find.
For those not comfortable with roughing it in a country with so many poisonous animals, glamping is an increasingly popular alternative.
Attend a State of Origin match
For three weeks a year, the rivalry between neighbouring states New South Wales and Queensland reaches fever pitch as their respective rugby league teams contest a three game series.
Dominated by Queensland for much of the past decade, there’s nothing more Aussie than drinking a few XXXX, painting yourself maroon, and indulging in the madness that is a State of Origin game at Brisbane’s Lang Park.
Visit the Australia Zoo
While Australia has a wealth of fantastic zoos such as Taronga and Western Plains, my personal favourite is the Australia Zoo.
Started by Steve Irwin and his family, the Australia Zoo is a fantastic place for up close encounters with some of Australia and the world’s most fascinating animals. While the great man himself has long since passed away, the tradition is very much alive in his absence.
I was lucky enough to meet him back when I visited in 1999 and he was every bit as nice off screen as he appeared on screen.
Their animal encounters are a great way to snap photos with some of Australia’s most beautiful animals too.
Arguably Australia’s most popular state with tourists, Victoria is home to cosmopolitan Melbourne as well as the iconic Great Ocean Road.
What Victoria lacks in size, it makes up for in appeal and culture.
Drive the Great Ocean Road
You’d be hard pressed to find a more scenic stretch of road in the world. The dramatic way in which Australia just comes to an end needs to be seen to be believed.
Rare is the Aussie visitor who hasn’t made this iconic drive, although it’s managed to elude me so far.
See the Twelve Apostles
Part of the Great Ocean Road drive, visiting the Twelve Apostles is another must for those who appreciate breathtaking views and beautiful landscapes.
While there are no longer twelve thanks to erosion, these limestone pillars still cut striking figures in the angry sea.
Attend an AFL match
The biggest sport in five of Australia’s seven states and territories, Aussie Rules sees grown men in singlets chase a red ball around a large oval while tens of thousands scream their adoration.
It’s not for me, but most who go to an AFL game come away staunch supporters of this weird hybrid between soccer and rugby.
Up the mighty Hawks!
Attend the Spring Carnival
Described as “the race that stops the nation”, the annual Melbourne Cup is Australia’s largest horse race and the culmination of the annual Spring Carnival of racing.
Women wear fancy hats, men drink entirely too much, and people across the country have a flutter in honour of the biggest race on Aussie soil.
Can’t attend? Most pubs in Australia have special promotions and delayed coverage of the race.
Embrace Melbourne’s food and coffee culture
Australia’s undisputed culture capital, Melbourne is famous for its coffee and food scene.
Some have even described the Victorian capital as one of the best food destinations in the world.
Don’t you owe it to yourself to find out if it lives up to the hype?
Attend a Test Match at the MCG
Cricket is played all around Australia in some truly beautiful grounds (shout outs to the SCG and Adelaide Oval), but the Melbourne Cricket Ground is Australia’s largest stadium and one of its most historic.
While a one dayer or a 20/20 is a fine introduction to the world’s second most popular team sport, a test match complete with overpriced watery beer, cucumber sandwiches, and a meat pie is a dinky di Aussie experience.
Australia’s largest state is almost another country, so far removed from the rest of the regular tourist spots as it is.
While many make their way to Perth at some point, Western Australia’s true appeal lies in its vast and rugged interior.
Cruise through the Kimberley Region
The most popular suggestion when I asked on Aussie on the Road on Facebook, a river cruise through the starkly beautiful desert gorges of north-western Australia is undoubtedly something for the bucket list.
Swim with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo Reef
While it is possible to swim with whale sharks elsewhere in the world, Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef allows you to dive or snorkel with these beautiful fish without having to feel guilty.
Get a quokka selfie on Rottnest Island
The most viral marsupial on the internet, the adorable quokka might just be the most photogenic animal in the southern hemisphere.
Head to Rottnest Island to get your own selfie with one of these cute critters.
Take the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth
Rail might be on its way out, but it’s still the best way to make the long, dusty trip from Sydney to Perth.
While it can be a little pricey, you get a sleeper cabin and a view to some of the most desolate yet beautiful scenery Australia has to offer.
See Desert Wildflowers in Bloom
The Australian deserts don’t look like the most colourful of places, but on occasion they come to life with a rainbow of colours as wildflowers take over the dunes.
60% of the wildflowers on display in Western Australia’s national parks can be found only in Western Australia, making it a real treat for flower enthusiasts.
Visit Wave Rock
Hang ten at the world’s longest lasting, unbreaking wave.
Ride a camel along Cable Beach
While camels aren’t native to Australia, the durable dromedary has found a second home in Australia’s dry interior.
Cable Beach is anything but a desert though, and a sunset camel ride along its seemingly unending white sand is something for the dream wall.
Often overlooked, South Australia is not without its own appeal.
Perhaps most famous for its wine, the state is also home to trendy Adelaide and some truly intriguing desert communities.
Spend a night in an underground hotel in Coober Pedy
The sun-baked interior of Australia is mostly desert, but that hasn’t stopped hard-as-nails Aussies from making a home for themselves.
The opal mining town of Coober Pedy in South Australia (or White Cliffs in NSW) has taken it all underground, and you can spend a night beneath the red centre in a hotel carved into the bedrock.
Dive with Great White Sharks
Very few things frighten me quite so much as the perfect killing machine that is the great white shark, but you’re (relatively) safe diving with the big bastards in Port Lincoln.
Drink Wine in the Barossa Valley
Australian wine is famous the world around, and the Barossa Valley in South Australia is arguably the best place to sample some Aussie wine.
Other great places to try Australian wine include the Margaret River region of Western Australia and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.
Visit Corner Country
Stand in three states at once in Corner Country as you straddle the invisible line that separates Queensland, South Australia, and New South Wales.
The Queensland side even has a store for lunch and an ice cold drink, with the aptly named ‘Corner Store’ the only watering hole within cooee.
Australia’s wild west, the Northern Territory is home to Uluru, but there’s a lot more to see in the Top End than the massive monolith.
While I’ve highlighted a few of the best below, you’ll find a whole lot more things to do in the Northern Territory elsewhere on the blog.
Explore Arnhem Land
It’s a sad fact that much of Australia’s indigenous population and traditions have been irreparably damaged by European conquest, but the isolated Arnhem Land region of the Northern Territory is one place where it is still possible to see Australia as it once was.
See the sun rise over Uluru
The world’s largest monolith lies somewhere at Australia’s red centre, and while it’s certainly beautiful at all times of day, there’s something transcendent about seeing it change colours as the sun comes up.
Or sets. It’s pretty spectacular then too.
The kind of country that Crocodile Dundee made famous, Kakadu National Park is about as wild and beautiful as Australia gets.
Dive with a saltwater crocodile
They’re not something to be trifled with, but the prehistoric predators of Australia’s north can be seen face to face from behind the safety of a shatter proof dome in Darwin.
Kayak Katherine Gorge
High walled canyons, isolated freshwater streams and lakes, and the abiding silence of the desert – Katherine Gorge offers up unforgettable kayaking and some beautiful, isolated swimming spots.
Attend the Beer Can Regatta or the Henley on Todd Regata
Australians have a whole bunch of unique festivals, and these two Northern Territory traditions are worth a look.
The Beer Can Regatta in Darwin sees boats constructed from (you guessed it) beer cans. The racers than fling themselves off a pier and see how far they can go.
No water? No problem! The Henley on Todd Regatta in Alice Springs has teams racing in home-made ‘boats’ across the sun-baked earth.
Tiny Tasmania is sometimes forgotten about, but you skip the Apple Isle at your own peril.
Tasmania is truly gorgeous, and it still manages to cruise under the radar and avoid the worst of the tourist crowds.
Climb Cradle Mountain
It’s not Australia’s highest point, but Cradle Mountain in Tasmania is arguably its most picturesque.
Hiking the surrounding National Park is not without its charms either.
Pay your respects at Port Arthur
Once known as one of Australia’s more grim penal colonies, Port Arthur now lives in infamy due to its role in Australia’s worst ever massacre.
Visitors not only get to wander the old jail ruins, but can pay their respect to those who lost their lives in the tragic incident in 1996.
See the Southern Lights
Not as famous as the aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere, the Southern Lights (aurora australis) are no less spectacular.
Viewable only from Tasmania (and southern New Zealand), the lights are a rare treat for those patient enough to spot them.
See Wineglass Bay from above
Located in Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park, Wineglass Bay is one of Australia’s most photographed bodies of water.
The hiking and camping in the area are pretty spectacular too.
Visit MONA in Tasmania
Where else in the world can you see both old and new art (MONA stands for Museum of Old and New Art) in the same location where dolphins play in the nearby ocean?
Australia’s largest privately owned museum is so much more than an art gallery, and is a favourite with visitors to Australia,
Australian Capital Territory
Home to Australia’s often forgotten capital, Canberra, the ACT is nestled inside NSW and is a good stop between Sydney and Melbourne.
What it lacks in eye-catching landscapes, the ACT makes up for in cultural and historic attractions.
Attend an ANZAC Day Dawn Service
While it is possible to attend a dawn service anywhere in Australia to pay your respect to fallen servicemen, starting your day with the Last Post and the Ode to Remembrance at the Australian War Memorial is second only to spending it at Anzac Cove in Turkey.
The War Memorial is a moving experience year round.
Australia’s capital might not be as exciting as Sydney or as vibrant as Melbourne, but its a city of galleries and memorials worth a look if only for its unique architecture and country charm.
As you can see, there’s so much more to Australia than just beaches and a few well known cities.
What’s on your Aussie bucket list?
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