You haven’t lived until you’ve ventured to the land Down Under. Curious kangaroos and sleepy koalas are just the start. There are also sixteen thousand miles of coastline, the giant rust-red Outback, and the diverse marine species of the Great Barrier Reef. With a collection of bustling, eclectic cities and a thriving aboriginal culture, Australia is the ultimate vacation destination. Here are some of the best ways to spend your time south of the Equator.
Indulge in Wine Country
From the Yarra Valley in Victoria to the Margaret River in Western Australia, the vineyards Down Under are certainly a sight to behold. Shiraz and Chardonnay make up close to half of the country’s wine production, but each region has its own specialty. Originally settled by Germans, South Australia’s Barossa Valley features such cool climate-loving vines as Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet, as well as Southern Rhône red blends like Grenache and Syrah. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales has earned worldwide accolades for its Semillon. Tasmania’s Tamar Valley produces delicate, light-bodied Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and sparkling rosé.
Drive the Great Ocean Road
This Australian National Heritage-listed route stretches 151 miles along the southeast coast of Victoria, between Melbourne and Portland. Highlights of the drive include the spectacular 12 Apostles rock stacks, the Otways National Park, Loch Ard Gorge, and the surfer haven of Bells Beach. In the mood for a hike? Head out along the Great Ocean Walk—a 65-mile through rainforests, beaches, and marine sanctuaries. Hungry for some local cuisine? Stop by a vineyard in the Henty wine region or treat yourself to a fresh seafood dinner right on the coast. Need some relaxation time on the beach? Torquay, Anglesea, Lorne, and a number of other coastal towns boast safe, protected sandy shores that are popular among swimmers, surfers, and loungers.
Explore Freycinet National Park
Pristine, secluded coves. Pink granite cliffs. Forested mountains and white sand beaches and diverse flora and fauna. Freycinet National Park is the gem of Tasmania’s eastern coast. Take in sweeping views of the Hazards Range on a hike to Wineglass Bay, or drive to Cape Tourville and walk along the clifftops to the lighthouse. Wherever you go, be sure to bring your binoculars— this lush peninsula is prime bird-watching real estate. Keep your eyes peeled for white-bellied sea eagles, eastern spinebills, yell0w-tailed black cockatoos, and more.
Witness the Phillip Island Penguin Parade
Located just 90 minutes from Melbourne off the country’s southern shore, Phillip Island is home to a giant population of the world’s tiniest penguins. These flightless blue “little penguins” average 13–15 inches in height and generally weigh only two to three pounds. Every evening at sunset, the penguins return to Summerland Beach from their day’s adventures in the water. Visitors watch from elevated boardwalks as 30,000 penguins waddle their way up to their home in the sand dunes in an event known as the Penguin Parade. Be sure to buy your tickets well in advance, but leave your cameras at home. Photography and filming are prohibited due to the penguins’ sensitivity to light.
Get Out and About in Surfers Paradise
Renowned for its nightlife and international events, the suburb of Surfers Paradise is one of the most recognizable swaths of Queensland’s Gold Coast. Peruse the stalls of the beachfront night markets, pop into the shops on Cavill Avenue, or simply spend the afternoon frolicking in the waves. For unparalleled 360° views of the coast and skyline, head up to the SkyPoint Observation Deck on the 77th floor of the Q1 Building. Grab a drink in the Skypoint Bistro & Bar as you scan the horizon for breaching humpback whales.
Sail the Whitsunday Islands
It’s hard to find a more ethereal, idyllic island group in the world than the Whitsundays off the coast of Queensland. These 74 islands are a watery wonderland for boaters, snorkelers, divers, and campers. You’ll find some of the best diving and snorkeling off the coast of Hook Island, the second largest in the chain. For fine ivory sands and pinch-me-I’m-dreaming turquoise waters, get yourself to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. The majority of the islands are uninhabited, but four—Hamilton, Hayman, Long, and Daydream—are home to world-class resorts.
Experience the Pinnacles
The Pinnacles are thousands of limestone pillars dotting the desert of Western Australia’s Nambung National Park. Various theories exist on the formation of these otherworldly obelisks. One common explanation is that they were created from seashells on the coast of the nearby Indian Ocean. These shells became mineral-rich sands that blew inland to create dunes. Whatever their cause, these golden pillars are the focal point of one of the most unusual landscapes in Australia. Be sure to stop by the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre to learn about its history before exploring the area by foot or car.
Fall in Love with Perth
The most remote city of its size in the world, Perth is enjoying somewhat of a tourism revival. The magnetic capital of Western Australia has a thriving bar scene, plentiful street art, and some of the best beaches in the country. Head to Kings Park & Botanic Garden to gaze in wonder at a 750-year-old baobab tree. Stroll through the farmers market of the recently redesigned Elizabeth Quay on the foreshore of the Swan River. Sample some Aussie pub food at Fibber McGee’s or tour the UNESCO-listed Fremantle Prison.
Hike Around Uluru
Uluru sits smack-dab in the center of the country, amidst the desert vegetation of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. This iconic rock isn’t just big—it’s massive. With a circumference of six miles and a height of 1,142 feet, it is the largest rock monolith in the world. Among aboriginal Australians, Uluru is a sacred monument believed to have been formed by ancestral beings during Dreamtime, or the creation of the world. The trip here won’t be quick (the nearest city is over six hours away), but it’s well worth the effort. Be sure to visit the rock several times throughout your stay, as it changes color with the sun.
It’s practically impossible to search for incredible Australian destinations and not stumble upon the Blue Mountains. This 4,400-square-mile region features eucalyptus forests, plunging canyons, and the famous sandstone formation known as the Three Sisters. Spend your time here exploring the bushwalking trails or riding the Scenic Skyway gondola across Jameson Valley. There’s also a botanic garden and an ancient cave system, as well as boutiques and cafes in Katoomba. You can get here via a two-hour shuttle by Sydney, or rent a car and make the journey yourself.