What better way to celebrate Australia Day than by highlighting a few of its more hidden delights?
While I might be stuck at my desk in an un-airconditioned office on a dreary Sydney day, that won’t stop me from embracing this wonderful country and sharing a little of what it is I love about it.
I previously rattled off five well kept Aussie secrets in part one of this series, so go take a look there to see what I’ve already mentioned.
Too lazy? Here’s a brief summary.
Think of a trip to Australia and what springs to mind? The Harbor Bridge and Opera House in Sydney? Shopping in Melbourne? Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef? Enjoying an Uluru sounds of silence dinner? Kakadu?
Australia is a big country and there’s a hell of a lot to fit into any trip to the Great Southern Land. All of the above would be worthy inclusions to any Australian trip. But while the likes of Melbourne and the Gold Coast and Perth get plenty of play with tourists, there are a myriad of undiscovered gems out there.
From the memorials and museums of Canberra to the cruisy hippie vibe of Byron Bay to the ghost towns of western New South Wales – below you’ll find ten lesser known Australian tourist spots and a few details about why I think they’d be a worthy addition to your next Australian odyssey.
10. Newcastle, NSW
9. Canberra, ACT
8. Northern Rivers, NSW
7. Flinders Ranges and Lake Eyre, SA
6. Darwin, NT
And so, without further ado, the next (and final) of my ten best kept Australian secrets.
#5 – The Outback, NSW
While it’s true that 18% of Australia is desert (with a total of 40% being desert or semi-arid), not all of it is quite as accessible to tourists as you might think. Enter the NSW Outback – dubbed ‘the accessible outback’ by the boffins in its tourism department.
Don’t let that fool you though. It’s still over 1000 kilometers from Sydney to Broken Hill (the unofficial capital of the Outback) for those wanting the drive. And having done the drive a dozen times in my life, I can tell you that it’s not particularly interesting for much of it.
A more economic (and pleasant) option would be to take the Outback Explorer train from Sydney – which comes in at just under $100 and will get you there in just over twelve hours. Much more pleasant on a train than in a car.
There’s plenty to see once you get out there. Broken Hill is a wonderfully quaint old mining town that boasts a dynamic blend of art and stereotypical Aussie ocker culture and it’s also a good staging point for any visits you might want to make to the iconic Darling River. Nearby Menindee (where I lived for two years) is famed for its grapes and its picturesque lakes, Silverton is a real Aussie ghost town, and White Cliffs gives opal hunters and tourists a chance to sleep in a wonderful underground hotel.
Head north and you’re passing into the upper Darling region where you’ll find outback towns such as Bourke and Walgett, the opal mecca that is Lightning Ridge, and quaint country towns such as Nyngan and Cobar.
Head further north still and you’re into the real red center. You’ll find the haunting ruins of Milparinka (where I had my first date), isolated Tibooburra (where I lived for a year), and Cameron’s Corner where you can stand in Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia all at the same time.
There really is a wealth of beautiful sunsets, bizarre Australian fauna, sprawling red dunes, and lovable Aussie characters baking out in the harsh red centre. More people need to check it out.
You can learn a bit more about the area on the Outback NSW tourism site.
#4 – Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
I originally compiled this list without a single Victorian site. Not due to any malice against the state, but because it seems like everybody is already well aware of the place’s charms. Whether they’re raving about how beautiful Melbourne is or embarking on a drive along the Great Ocean Road, there doesn’t seem to be much about Victoria that tourists aren’t already head over heels in love with.
But Kieron from Don’t Ever Look Back has drawn my attention to this little gem, and damned if it doesn’t look worthy of inclusion.
Whether you’re in it for water sports, cafe hopping, wine-tasting, or simply soaking in the beauty of grey seas as seen from cliff-top mansions and villas, the Mornington Peninsula is a glorious stretch of beaches and cafes all within an hour’s drive of Melbourne. Not bad!
The place is all about pampering and given Victoria is Australia’s undisputed capital of fine dining, it’s no surprise that there’s no shortage of options along the peninsula. There are also spas, hedge mazes, golf courses, and almost anything else you might want for an upmarket weekend away from the hustle and bustle.
You can plan your own Mornington Peninsula outing by visiting their website.
#3 – Lord Howe Island, NSW
The tiny Pacific island’s website boasts that it is widely regarded as the most beautiful island in the Pacific, but I take Gary from Everything Everywhere‘s desire to visit the place as a truly ringing endorsement. I mean, where hasn’t the guy been?
Just two hours flight from Sydney or Brisbane, Lord Howe Island is one of the few island chains in the world recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site and it doesn’t take long to figure out why. Bordered by the southernmost reef in the world and home to some truly stunning national parkland, Lord Howe Island is an unspoiled playground for hikers, animal enthusiasts, scuba divers, snorkelers, and virtually anybody who can appreciate on of the world’s few remaining paradises.
While the entire place is recognized as national park, you’re not completely isolated from civilization. A number of properties on the island operate to provide accommodation and dining options, and the island is serviced by the usual amenities such as grocery stores, hospitals, and pay phones. There’s no mobile phone coverage out here, folks.
Lord Howe Island really is one of the last frontiers for Aussie tourism. While it’s perhaps well known amongst the locals, I hear precious little said of the place by backpacking friends. It’s a crying shame. It’s well worth a look.
You can learn all you need over at the Lord Howe Island tourism website.
#2 – Margaret River Region, WA
Western Australia is well and truly on the tourist radar. Whether they’re heading to Perth or Broome for some stunning beaches; diving off of the Coral Coast; or exploring the haunting beauty of the Kimberlys – WA is almost as crucial to the average backpacker itinerary as a stop off in Sydney or a few nights getting thoroughly sloshed in Cairns.
But Western Australia’s south west also has a lot to offer. The Margaret River region, perhaps best known for its wine (and worth a look for that alone) isn’t just tastings and vineyards. There’s a wealth of other sites and sounds to experience when you’re not imbibing in a bit of the local grape.
Love nature? The landscape fairly blossoms with wildflowers every spring. WA boasts the world’s largest variety of wildflowers in the world with over 12,000 species on display. There’s windswept clifftops in the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge and the cape to cape walk between the tour (Leeuwin Ridge and Naturalist Ridge) is a life changing 5-6 day trek worth a look.
Hamelin Bay offers bird watchers, fisherman, scuba divers, snorkelers, and beach enthusiasts an idyllic playground and there’s a wealth of local galleries, vineyards, and eateries to keep the grown-ups occupied as well.
You can plan your own Margaret River getaway by visiting the region’s website.
Special mention also needs to go to Esperance in the south of WA. One of the best beaches in Australia.
#1 – Tasmania
This one is going to be contentious. Not because anybody doubts Tasmania’s immense beauty, but because a lot of people are already well aware of Tasmania as a must visit spot on any Australian itinerary.
But I include it here because I just don’t hear ‘Tassie’ being referred to in the same breath as Perth, Sydney, the Barrier Reef, Uluru, and Melbourne, and to me, the place is every bit as important to the Australian experience as any of the above.
The often overlooked island off Australia’s south eastern coast offers a wealth of options to tourists. There’s history in the form of the five heritage listed former prison sites (including the haunting Port Arthur – site of Australia’s worst peace time massacre). There are vineyards in the north and ancient rainforests in the west. Hobart is a cosmopolitan city in the south-east boasting a charming blend of modern convenience and country town living.
But it’s natural beauty that sets Tasmania apart. The forests and beaches of this Korea sized island are amongst the most beautiful in the world and the hiking that can be had is second to none. While I’ve not yet had the pleasure myself, my housemates and several of my friends swear by Tasmania as one of the must see sights in Australia. And that’s endorsement enough for me.
You can learn all about the island formerly known as Van Diemen’s Land on their website.
What do you think?
So, what do you think of my list? Are there any on their you disagree with? Any glaring omissions? I’d love to hear your thoughts or, better yet, read your own list.