Explore awe-inspiring natural wonders close to home.
There’s no question that international travel presents a few more complications than it used to. How fortunate we are, then, to live on an island continent that is the envy of nature lovers and beauty seekers the world over. From magical underwater worlds to the majesty of mountains, quell your wanderlust with our pick of stunning travel destinations that await, right here at home.
Image: Whitsundays sailing, by Tourism and Events Queensland
A large shoal of electric blue damselfish are swimming lazy circles around me as though in suspended animation. Beneath us there’s a forest of staghorn coral, tips glowing ghostly indigo as they provide the backdrop for barramundi cod, angelfish, coral trout, and clownfish. I’m snorkelling Hardy Reef, about 48 nautical miles off Queensland’s coastline.
Hamilton Island is one of 74 islands in the Whitsundays archipelago, but less than a handful have operational resorts. On ‘Hammo’, as the locals call it, the Beach Club overlooking Catseye Beach offers a luxury barefoot bolthole. White sand beaches and clear azure waters make the Whitsundays a postcard-perfect destination for sailing, snorkelling, scuba-diving, swimming, or simply relaxing.
Image: Waldheim Alpine Spa at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, Tasmania
Some of the most stunning alpine views can be found in Australia, including those from the top of Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain on a clear winter’s day. Snowy peaks, reflective lakes, mossy forests, and cool, crisp air are the rewards for those who tackle the 1,545-metre high summit – be sure to don warm clothes and sensible shoes. Many other less challenging hikes are also on offer, passing dramatic waterfalls in the Cradle Valley, Pencil Pine, and Knyvet Falls areas.
The King Billy suites at Cradle Mountain Lodge (from $1,515 per night) offer wood fires, views of the surrounding wild temperate rainforest, and the opportunity to bathe in a private outdoor steaming hot tub. The lodge’s Waldheim Alpine Spa, where treatment rooms overlook fresh mountain streams, is the place to soothe tight muscles, with its ‘hikers ritual’ blissfully blending a body scrub, mud wrap, and massage ($285 for two hours).
Image: Kings Canyon, Northern Territory
Australia’s rugged and remote Red Centre is named not just for the colour of its soil but because it is the nation’s heartland. Home to the sacred sites of Uluru and Kata Tjuta and countless generations of Indigenous caretakers, the Red Centre offers an experience that is visually spectacular and deeply awe-inspiring.
Among the region’s lesser-known sites are the soaring 300-metre high sandstone walls of Kings Canyon with its six-kilometre Rim Walk, ascending to 360-degree panoramic views over the surrounding red sand dunes. Six new glamping tents at Kings Canyon Resort (from $415 per night) offer a comfortable place to rest your head while staying immersed in nature, and are gathered in a wiltja, or shelter. The resort is also nestled in close proximity to cultural tours by Karrke Experiences ($69 per person), which explore native foods, bush medicine, and the art of Aboriginal dot paintings.
Image: Ningaloo Reef, Coral Bay, by Tourism Western Australia
Only one in three million people in the world will ever swim with a whale shark – but you can tip the odds in your favour by travelling to Western Australia’s World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef. Between March and July each year, coral spawning attracts large numbers of these grey ‘gentle giants’ with their distinctive white spots to what is the world’s largest fringing reef, 1,200 kilometres north of Perth. Swimmers reliably describe the experience as ‘breathtaking’ and ‘otherworldly’, but whale sharks are not the only marine giant you’ll encounter, with manta rays and humpback whales also frequenting these turquoise waters from August to October.
For a totally unplugged experience, Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef offers 16 off-grid, luxury safari tents, plus a communal dining lodge that’s gently lit with lanterns at night (from $1,570 per tent, per night with a three-night minimum).
Image: Paddlesteamer Emmylou cruising along the Murray River near Echuca-Moama, by Destination NSW
Being out on the water, amid all the elements, is at once relaxing and rejuvenating, making it easy to see why hiring a houseboat and cruising down the mighty Murray, one of the longest navigable rivers in the world, might be your next getaway.
Murray River Houseboats have six boats in their fleet, from the three-bedroom Mayflower (from $1,090 for four nights) through to the sleek and stylish Decadence (from $2,620 for four nights). Located in the twin towns of Echuca and Moama, two and a half hours north of Melbourne, guests can channel Amsterdam canal life by travelling up or downstream in the fully self-contained houseboats. A range of diversions, including swimming, skiing, wake boarding, canoeing, boating, and birdwatching, are also close to hand.
Image: Daintree Discovery Centre, by Tourism and Events Queensland
Tropical North Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest is believed to be the world’s oldest-living rainforest and is the only place where rainforest meets reef. Around 3,000 ancient plant species grow here, while it also supports rare, diverse, and sometimes improbable-sounding wildlife, including green possums, forest dragons, tree kangaroos, and prehistoric-looking cassowaries.
Silky Oaks Lodge offers a luxurious base from which to explore the region ($480 per person, per night with a two-night minimum, twin share). Guided walks, including the Ngadiku Dreamtime walk, illuminate the culture of the local Kuku Yalanji people. Explorations of the tranquil Mossman River are also offered in-house. The new-look Treehouse Restaurant features produce grown on the nearby Atherton Tablelands, a fertile region which produces 80 percent of all Australian-grown coffee and tropical crops.
Lead image: Swimming with whale sharks, Ningaloo Marine Park, by Tourism Western Australia