Our Guide to Must See Destinations in Australia
Australian Capital Territory
Our first stop in this list is the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which is the capital territory of the Commonwealth of Australia and interestingly also its smallest self-governing internal territory. It is a small inland enclave in New South Wales, that exists in a bushland setting.
Australia’s capital city is located half way between Sydney and Melbourne, surrounded by a semi-circle of hills (Red Hill, Black Mountain, Mount Ainslie, Mount Pleasant). A long, artificial lake (Lake Burley Griffin) separates the southern half of the city, which houses the government quarter on Capital Hill, with the northern half of the city, which is home to its central area (City Hill). The two half of the city are linked by Kings Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, which span the lake.
Visitors can see where Parliament used to sit at the impressive Old Parliament House in Canberra’s elegant city of gardens, parkland and wide streets, and then learn more about the Federal Parliament at the more modern Parliament House, a grand modern structure completed in 1988, Australia’s bicentennial year.
An excellent view of the city can be seen from the 195-metre high Telstra Tower, which sits at the top of the 825m- (2750ft-) high Black Mountain.
Namadgi National Park
Namadgi National Park is located in the southwestern part of the ACT, bordering the Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales. It lies approximately 40 km southwest of Canberra, and makes up approximately 46% of the Territory’s land area. There are numerous Aboriginal sites in the park including paintings at Yankee Hat dating from at least 800 years ago.
The park ranges from grassy plains over snow gum forests to alpine meadows. The fauna is also varied: Eastern Grey Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, magpies, rosellas and ravens are commonly seen.
On the fringes of the park is the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in Tharwa, where a wealth of Australian fauna and wildlife can be explored in a natural bush setting. A number of bushwalking trails are provided in which visitors can observe koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, platypus, water birds and bush birds in their natural habitat.
New South Wales
New South Wales has all the elements that make up Australia as a whole – the Snowy Mountains, their peaks snow-capped in winter; the beautiful beaches on the Pacific coast; the inhospitable outback; the fertile farming and pastoral country; and the gorges of the Blue Mountains. The Great Dividing Range cuts through the whole of New South Wales, extending for 3,200 km from the extreme north of Queensland to the south coast of Victoria.
No trip to New South Wales can be complete without seeing its State capital, Sydney. The country’s oldest, largest and possibly most handsome city lies on Jackson Bay, a natural harbour on the southeast coast of the Australian continent. Must sees include the iconic Sydney Opera House, whose distinctive shape that echoes the sails of the boats in the equally famous Sydney Harbour, and the awe-inspiring steel structure of Harbour Bridge, the third-longest single span bridge in the world.
The Rocks area (the site of Australia’s first European settlement) features gas lamps, cobbled streets, small restaurants and craft shops, and is also home to the city’s oldest pubs (the Lord Nelson and the Hero of Waterloo) and one of Sydney’s oldest buildings, Cadman’s Cottage (1816).
Darling Harbour, a five-minute monorail ride from the city centre, includes attractions such as the Panasonic IMAX Theatre, Gavala Aboriginal and Cultural Education Centre, Harbourside Shopping Centre, the Sydney Aquarium, the Chinese Garden and Cockle Bay Wharf. The city also has a great number of concert halls, museums, art galleries and theatres, and many beautiful green spaces. The delightful Botanic Gardens offer further views of the Opera House, Bridge and Harbour.
Approximately 65 km west of the Sydney lie the Blue Mountains, which rise steeply out of the coastal plain, so named because of the blue haze in the air caused by the eucalyptus oil given off by the trees. The combination of the magnificent mountain scenery (rock formations, waterfalls and steep gorges) with excellent facilities for tourists and holidaymakers explain why these World Heritage-listed mountains are a favourite holiday spot for the people of Sydney.
One of the major attractions include the famous rock formation, the Three Sisters (the name coming from a dreamtime legend), at Echo Point in the Leura/Katoomba region, which rise 922, 918 and 906 metres (1,484, 1,447 and 1,458km), above the valley floor, and afford sensational views of this rugged wilderness.
Known locally as the Snowies, the Snowy Mountains are the highest Australian mountain range and contain the Australian mainland’s highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, which reaches 2,228 metres. The combination of easily accessible mountains, alpine heathlands, lakes, streams and artificial lakes attracts great numbers of climbers, bush walkers, water skiers, anglers and boating enthusiasts in summer, and is also the state’s most popular winter sports area.
Located in the far west of outback New South Wales, Broken Hill (pop. 21,000) is an artificial oasis in the arid desert landscape. Named after the broken hill on which silver ore was first discovered in 1883 by a boundary rider named Charles Rasp, Broken Hill is Australia’s longest-lived mining city. However, the “Broken Hill” no longer exists, having been mined away.
Broken Hill has many natural and man-made attractions on offer for the tourist. The Mining Museum occupies a former hotel of 1891, and the Post Office with its clock tower and the Town Hall both date from this same period. Visitors can look round the Daydream Mine and Delprat’s Mine, and also the premises of the School of the Air and the Flying Doctor Service. The surrounding area features ancient landscapes and unusual flora, and the landscape has been used in backdrop for films and television commercials, most notably in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.
New South Wales is home to many National Parks, including:
Barrington Tops National Park
200 km north of Sydney in the Hunter wine-making region. The park is crossed by six rivers and is known for its dramatic altitude variations, where visitors can experience snow-capped mountains and subtropical rainforests in a day’s walk.
Border Ranges National Park
636 km north of Sydney. This UNESCO World Heritage listed park offers a 64 kilometre gravel road circuit through sub tropical, cool and warm temperate rainforest types.
Dorrigo National Park
580 km north of Sydney. Dorrigo contains several tracks allowing hikers to view the park’s waterfalls and vistas to the coastal plain. A notable feature of the park is the Skywalk, an elevated walkway through and above the treetops, providing birdwatchers with an excellent view of local bird life.
Kosciuszko National Park
354 km southwest of Sydney. Kosciuszko is the largest and one of the most important national parks in Australia, covering over 670,000 hectares. It is home to Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko for which it is named, and Cabramurra the highest town in Australia. Its borders contain a mix of wilderness and rugged mountains, characterised by an alpine climate, which makes it popular with recreational skiers and bushwalkers.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
25 km north of Sydney. This park is one of the most accessible in Australia and is noted for its Aboriginal rock carvings and extensive walking tracks. The park also includes a koala sanctuary.
Mount Warning National Park
642 km north of Sydney near the border with the state of Queensland. This park offers an amazing trek through rainforest communities, concluding in a challenging rock scramble, to reach the 1,100 m (3,608ft) summit of Mount Warning, part of a remnant caldera of a much larger extinct volcano (the Tweed volcano). The views from the top take in the expanse of the bowl-shaped Tweed Valley.
Mungo National Park
876 km west of Sydney. The park is most significant for the archaeological remains which have been discovered there. The remains of Mungo Man, the oldest human remains discovered in Australia, and Mungo Lady, the oldest known human to have been ritually cremated, were both discovered within the park. They were buried on the shore of Lake Mungo, beneath the ‘Walls of China’, a series of orange and white dunes on the South eastern edge of the lake.
Myall Lakes National Park
188 km northeast of Sydney. This park is home to the largest coastal lake system in the State and an important habitat for many species of waterbirds.
Royal National Park
29 km south of Sydney. It is the oldest park in Australia and the second-oldest in the world.
Warrumbungle National Park
352 km northwest of Sydney. Outside of the Sydney metropolitan area parks, it is the most-visited national park in New South Wales. It incorporates the most spectacular part of the Warrumbungle mountains, a region of past volcanic activity with unusual lava formations. The park preserves habitat for a koala population numbering in the hundreds. It is also home to the Anglo-Australian Observatory, which has one of the largest optical telescopes in the southern hemisphere.
The Northern Territory is home to a high proportion of Aborigines, and in this great expanse of territory they have been able to preserve more of their traditional way of life than anywhere else. The unique landscape combines with the relics of their culture to give the Northern Territory its particular attraction.
Alice Springs is located in what is almost the geographical centre of Australia. It is a pleasant town, set in red desert country, and acts as an important base camp for exploring the wonders of the Outback. However, there’s plenty to see in the town itself, such as the Aboriginal Arts & Culture Centre and the Dreamtime Gallery. An amazing panoramic view of the town and surrounding ranges can be seen from the Anzac Hill War Memorial, which lies just behind the town.
The Northern Territory’s capital city, the surprisingly modern Darwin is home to over 110,000 people. Visitors can take the Tour Tub, an open-sided minibus which tours the city and inner suburbs, passing most features of interest. With a daily ticket passengers can get on and off the bus as often as they like. The Top End of the city is the area to see lush tropical vegetation, either in Darwin’s Botanical Gardens or the Crocodylus Park just outside Darwin. Other nearby attractions include the islands in Tiwi territory (Melville and Bathurst) and on the Cobourg Peninsula, and outback safaris through tropical rain forest, flood plains and semi-deserts.
Kakadu National Park is located within the Alligator Rivers Region of NT, and covers an area of 19,804 square kilometres, extending nearly 200 kilometres from north to south and over 100 kilometres from east to west. It is about one-third the size of Tasmania, or nearly the same size as Switzerland. Approximately 171 km east of Darwin, the park is bordered by the Arnhem Land escarpment, where the spectacular waterfalls of Twin Falls and Jim Jim cascade hundreds of feet into crystal-clear rock pools below.
The art sites of Ubirr, Nourlangie and Nanguluwur are internationally recognised as outstanding examples of Aboriginal rock art, many dating back over 20,000 years.
No visit to the Northern Territory is complete without beholding the intense colours of Uluru (Ayers Rock), approximately 450 km (280 miles) southwest of Alice Springs (five hours’ drive away). Uluru is the world’s largest monolith (348 m) and a site of deep cultural significance to the Anangu Aboriginals. Although visitors may still climb the rock, to do so is considered a gross sacrilege by the indigenous people. The distance to the top is 1.6 km, but it is a steep ascent at some points; the climb takes about 2 hours there and back.
The rock is at its most striking at sunrise and sunset, as the sun’s rays change the rock’s colour from blazing orange to red and even deep purple. Occasionally it may take on a black metallic sheen under rain, when it is almost equally impressive.
The ‘Sunshine State’ lies within the tropical and subtropical zones of Australia; and with a coastline of 7,400km, it offers endless scope for water sports of all kinds. Queensland’s major attractions, both for Australians and for visitors, are its magnificent beaches, and there are numerous holiday places along the coast. From these various resorts the coastal islands (including the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island) and those on the Great Barrier Reef can be visited. There are also over 300 national parks and other reserves to protect endangered areas, in particular expanses of rain forest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Brisbane, the capital and most populous city of Queensland, and the third largest city in Australia, is set close to the Pacific Ocea, and almost the furthest easterly point of the country. There is plenty to see in this fast-growing city with its year-round warm subtropical climate. The Botanic Gardens is a splendid shady reserve at the south end of the city centre, accessible by a footbridge, whilst City Hall in King George Square houses a museum, art gallery and clocktower observation deck. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is very popular and can be reached via a river cruise. Buildings of interest include the Old Windmill, the city’s oldest surviving building (built in 1828); St John’s Cathedral; the State Parliament House with its glittering copper roof; and The Mansions.
The South Bank Parklands, built on the site of the 1988 World Expo, is home to an interesting Maritime Museum and an enormous artificial swimming beach. The Brisbane Powerhouse is a lively alternative arts venue, and the Queensland Cultural Centre at South Bank contains the Queensland Museum, Queensland Art Gallery and Performing Arts Centre.
Other attractions include the art deco Castlemaine Brewery, which offers enjoyable daily tours with samples of its famous product.
Great Barrier Reef
The world’s largest coral reef is not a single continuous reef but a complex of almost 3,000 separate coral reefs extending off the northern coast of Queensland and extending 2,000 km to Papua New Guinea. Often ranked as one of the natural wonders of the world, the reef is the biggest structure made by living organisms on earth, home to abundant underwater life and popular with divers. Visitors can obtain great views from both above and below.
Anyone planning a visit to the Great Barrier Reef should try to avoid the main holiday periods if possible, as holiday accommodation and seats in boats and planes are at a premium during this period. It may also be difficult to obtain permits for camping on islands in the national park at this time.
South Australia occupies a central position in the southern half of the continent. The southern part of the state has a Mediterranean climate, which is ideal for producing large quantities of fruit and wine (particularly in the Barossa and Clare Valleys). In the coastal region to the east are the boot-shaped Yorke Peninsula, the wedge-shaped Eyre Peninsula, and the spur of the Fleurieu Peninsula, off which is beautiful Kangaroo Island. In the arid west of the state are the vast expanses of the Nullarbor Plain and the Victoria Desert; the dry northwest is home to the Musgrove Ranges; to the northeast are the Strzelecki Desert, the Sturt Stony Desert and the Simpson Desert; whilst to the southeast are the beautiful Mount Lofty and Flinders Ranges. On the north side of the Flinders Ranges are extensive depressions and salt pans, the largest of which are Lake Torrens and Lake Eyre.
Adelaide is Australia’s fifth-largest city and lies on a 30 km (18.6-mile) stretch of coast bounded on the west by Gulf St Vincent and on the landward side by the Mount Lofty Ranges (Adelaide Hills). Its attractive coastline has some excellent white sandy beaches, which are well worth a visit. The city itself is spacious, and surrounded by parkland, botanical and zoological gardens, and golf courses. It has a European atmosphere, with art galleries, churches, antique shops and streets filled with cafes. Rundle and Gouger Street offer some vibrant nightlife, and there is a lively market between Gouger and Grote Street.
One of Adelaide’s major attractions is the Festival Centre, which is set in parkland overlooking the Torrens River. The Centre is home to a concert hall, excellent theatre company, two theatres, an amphitheatre and a restaurant.
The South Australian Museum has the largest collection of Aboriginal artefacts in the world, and also houses a huge exhibition of Melanesian art and New Guinean wildlife. Tandanya – National Aboriginal Cultural Institute offers more insights into Australia’s indigenous culture.
Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third largest island, is separated from the mainland by the narrow Backstairs Passage. Any visitor here is rewarded with possible sightings of penguins, koalas, wallabies and kangaroos, as well as the large sea lion colony at Seal Bay. The island is home to 16 nature reserves, including Cape Gantheaume on the southeast coast, the interesting Flinders Chase National Park at the west end of the island, and Kelly Hill Conservation Park on the southwest coast. The varied coastal scenery includes stalactite caves, bizarre rock formations and beautiful beaches.
The heart-shaped island of Tasmania lies 300 km south of the Australian mainland, separated from it by the Bass Strait. It is the smallest of the Australian states, measuring just over 300 km from east to west and rather less than that from north to south. Lying in the relatively cool Australian south, it may remind British tourists somewhat of the climate back at home.
Tasmania’s capital, Hobart, is Australia’s second-oldest city after Sydney and is situated on the south side of the island, with Mount Wellington, towering 1,270m (4,170ft) providing a dramatic backdrop. From the lookout at the top of the mountain, the clear air offers a magnificent view of Hobart, its suburbs, the Derwent Estuary and Storm Bay.
The city is an interesting blend of lifestyle and heritage, culture and scenery. The island’s history can be explored in the Maritime Museum of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and the convict-era buildings of Battery Point. Every Saturday, visitors can check out Salamanca Market – a vibrant event offering local produce and arts and crafts. The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens offer a long walk through beautiful scenery.
The state of Victoria lies in the southeast of the country, with varied landscape very similar to that of Europe. It does not contain of the typical Australian interior territory landscape – the arid, hot, inhospitable outback – and in spring, large areas of the state are like one large flowering garden, leading Victoria to call itself the Garden State.
Victoria’s main tourist attractions, include the capital, Melbourne; the towns associated with the gold rush and the shipping trade on the Murray River; the many national parks; and the 1,200 km of coastline, where there are safe bathing beaches as well as impressive stretches of surf-lashed coast.
This highly cosmopolitan city is often voted as one of the ‘most liveable’ cities in the world. It is home to Australia’s largest museum (the ultramodern Melbourne Museum) and the National Gallery of Victoria has Australia’s greatest collection of international fine art. Those wanting to relive the eventful days of bushranging during the gold rush of the 1850s and 1860s can visit the Old Melbourne Gaol, where Ned Kelly’s armour is on display.
Other attractions include the Royal Botanical Gardens; the Rialto Towers Observation Deck, which offers panoramic views of the city and surrounds; Parliament House; the Melbourne Cricket Ground; Luna Park, an old-fashioned funfair; and the vibrant beach-side esplanade in St Kilda with its vibrant cafe culture.
Great Ocean Road
Also known as the Surfcoast Highway, the Great Ocean Road stretches along the South Eastern coast of Australia between the cities of Torquay and Warrnamboo. Hugging the coast tightly, the road offers outstanding views of the Southern Ocean and Bass Strait.
The starting point, Torquay, is a well-known surfing venue, 22 km south of Geelong. After 46 km, the road comes to the popular holiday resort of Lome, home to a number of guesthouses and hotels which hark back to earlier days. Inland from Lome are the Otway Ranges, which extend from Anglesea to Cape Otway, and offer some beautiful waterfalls, walking trails and rest areas. At nearby Anglesea Golf Club, kangaroos romp on the fairways and greens, untroubled by the golf balls hurtling past. At Apollo Bay, 39 km further south, the road leaves the coast and runs through the Otway rain forest. Side roads, often unsurfaced but negotiable by ordinary cars, lead into the quiet, unspoiled forest. At Princetown, the road returns to the coast, skirting Port Campbell National Park, the high point of the Great Ocean Road, and one of the world’s most scenic stretches of road. Off the wild, cliff-fringed coast are a number of dramatic natural rock formations, lashed by the surf: Loch Ard Gorge, the Grotto, London Bridge (renamed to London Arch in recent years after the ‘bridge’ partially collapsed), and most famously The Twelve Apostles (of which there are now only eight still standing).
Western Australia is the largest of the Australian states, occupying a third of the area of the continent, with a coastline of over 12,500km. However, this immense area is home to less than 10% of the country’s total population of Australia, and great expanses of the state are almost uninhabited. Two-thirds of the state’s population are concentrated in and around the state capital, Perth.
Bounded on the east by the foothills of the Darling Range and on the west by the Indian Ocean, Perth is currently the fastest growing major city in Australia. The heat of summer is alleviated by the Fremantle doctor, a wind that blows in from the sea regularly every afternoon. With the constant movement of air, fog and smog are unknown in this perennially sunny city.
Modern skyscrapers overshadow colonial buildings such as the Town Hall and Perth Mint. The Swan Bells is a futuristic tower resembling a giant swan that houses the old bells from St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. Attractions in the city include the Art Gallery of Western Australia in James Street; Kings Park, a beautiful park overlooking the town; and AQWA – The Aquarium of Western Australia at Hillary’s Boat Harbour, which displays over 4,000 sea creatures in their natural environments.
The most popular beach destinations are Cottesloe, Sorrento, Scarborough, City and the nude bathing beach at Swanbourne. Fremantle, 19 km (12 miles) from the city, is a port full of historic buildings and houses, all of which have been superbly restored.
Purnululu National Park
This national park was established in 1987 to protect one of the most fascinating geological landmarks in Western Australia. The rock domes of the Bungle Bungle Range, shaped like beehives, consist of soft sandstone with a coating of lichens and silicates that give them their distinctive orange and black stripes.
The hills and surrounding area were home to Aboriginal tribes, to whom the region was known as Purnululu. The remains of their culture (ceremonial sites, rock paintings, a burial ground) are strictly protected.
There is an easy 2.5 km walking trail to Cathedral Gorge (1 hour) and a more difficult trail that continues to Piccaninny Gorge, which is 18 km long and takes 8-10 hours.