Australia reopening: Top 10 unmissable experiences to try Down Under

As the far-flung giant finally opens its doors to international travellers, expert David Whitley narrows down the only stops you need to know for food, wine, adventure and city buzz

Thursday 24 February 2022 12:33
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<p>Ningaloo Reef Marine Park, Australia</p>

Ningaloo Reef Marine Park, Australia

Australia reopens from 21 February with a whole continent’s worth of things to do. If it’s your first time, though, you can’t do it all. Instead, pick a few of these 10 solid gold highlights to focus on.

The essential city

Yes, yes, the other cities have cool food, bar and street art scenes. But so does Sydney, and Sydney looks far sexier. Kick off an Aussie jaunt with a few days of harbour cruises, coastal walks and people-watching at Bondi Beach. Oh, and climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge with Bridgeclimb for the ultimate sense of conquest.

The surfer’s paradise

Byron Bay is the first of three east coast road trip staples. Crucially, it has beaches facing in several directions, so the surf’s almost always good at one of them. Soul Surf School is one of several offering beginner lessons. Byron also does a strong line in alternative culture, wellness retreats and nature tours. Cape Byron Kayaks takes you kayaking with dolphins, for example.

The classic Aussie beach town

Despite the above, Australia’s best beach town is Noosa. The surf beaches give way to the stylish shopping of Hastings Street, which in turn leads to koala-spotting on Noosa National Park’s coastal tracks. The maze of paddleboard-friendly waterways ramps up the eye candy quotient and the enormous Eumundi Markets are awash with handmade arts, crafts and clothing.

The adventurer’s island

Third in the trio is the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island. 75 Mile Beach is the main highway here – go guided with the likes of Fraser Island Adventure Tours, or dare to rent a 4WD and drive yourself. Wild dingoes, pristine freshwater swimming lakes, off-shore whale watching and inland rainforest walks are on the highlights reel.

The ultimate snorkel spot

The Great Barrier Reef – one of the seven wonders of the natural world – is accessible from several points on the Queensland coast. But Port Douglas is really close, and offers bonus adventures in the surrounding rainforest. Snorkel on the reef with Quicksilver Cruises, then take Indigenous-run cultural tours at Mossman Gorge.

The sacred ground

You won’t be dismissing Uluru as just a big red rock when you’ve walked 9.8km around it. Caves, cultural sites and surprising plant-filled gullies create continually-evolving drama. Uluru’s a great outback base, too, with helicopter rides, dune-top dinners, stargazing sessions and Aboriginal dot painting workshops on the enormous roster of activities at Ayers Rock Resort.

The epic road trip

Australia’s classic road trip stretches for 240km southwest of Melbourne, mixing in beach towns, forest waterfall walks and dramatic, rock formation-studded coastlines. Self-drive in three days and you can stop to see wild koalas in Kennett River and emus at Tower Hill.

The kayak adventure

Just over an hour south of Adelaide and attachable to an extended Great Ocean Road drive, the Coorong National Park is where Australia’s longest river meets its longest beach. The pelican-filled lagoon behind said beach is outrageously idyllic, especially when paddled around. Canoe the Coorong’s day tours are utterly dreamy.

The unbeatable wine region

Wine tourism in Australia is world-beating, with friendly, knowledgeable and often free tastings at hundreds of wineries. Adelaide is the best hub, with the globally-famous Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale regions serving up super shirazes within an hour’s drive. Small Batch runs tasting trips to all three.

The underwater safari

Western Australia is the one state that hasn’t reopened yet. But when it does, the Ningaloo Reef is the single best place for aquatic encounters. The likes of Ningaloo Whalesharks take you out to snorkel with humpback whales, whale sharks and manta rays. But you can swim among the turtles and coral straight off white sand beaches such as Turquoise Bay.

David Whitley runs travel advice site Australia Travel Questions

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