Finally, it seems Fortress Australia is set to reopen in 2022. Most states, excluding the Democratic Republic of Western Australia, appear to be allowing vaccinated international visitors into the county without the need to quarantine. Australia has long been a popular tourist destination for those who want to travel the world due to its endless coastline of beautiful beaches, laid-back locals and relaxed, safe way of life. Let’s explore what is famous in Australia for those looking to venture down under. Instead of the standard Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, we will look at some not so obvious best places to visit.
Let’s travel by state, starting with Victoria.
Located at the south east corner of Australia, Victoria hosts Australia's second largest city and cultural capital, Melbourne. It also has an abundance of natural world attractions including Port Campbell National Park, Otway National Park and many other national parks.
Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne
Melbourne is considered the cultural capital of Australia, and named as the world's most liveable city for seven years straight. However, this may no longer be the case as they also won the title of the world's most locked down city. Nonetheless, it's still a cool place to visit.
Part of Melbourne's charm is the excellent shopping, and there's no better way to experience this than visiting Queen Victoria Market. You can catch one of the iconic and efficient trams to the historic old building housing the markets for over 140 years. Inside, you will find 600 small businesses selling everything from fresh and organic produce to cafes, restaurants, and specialty shops selling souvenirs, technology and art.
The traders are super friendly and always up for some banter. The atmosphere is warm, vibrant and multicultural. An excellent way to experience this is by guided walking tour, where you will be taken around the markets learning about the history, sampling delicious food and meeting the local sellers. Be sure to grab a coffee while you’re here as it's up there with the best in the world!
Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Photo courtesy of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
If you would like to escape the bustling concrete jungle of Melbourne city, there's no better way than by exploring the Royal Botanic Gardens, located east of downtown, or what the locals call, the CBD (Central Business District). Dating back to 1846, the gardens contain over 8,000 different species of plants across a massive 38 hectares of land. Uniquely, the gardens are also home to 31 collections of plants presented as living works of art.
Taking your children along? Then be sure to discover the magical Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden. They will love getting lost in this tourism award winning garden full of interesting nooks and interactive experiences to play and explore.
We recommend getting lost yourself by just setting out on foot to explore the many different themed gardens including the rainforest, native and cactus gardens. If however, you've done enough walking, an easy and relaxing way to see all that this inner-city oasis has to offer is on the Explorer tour, where you can enjoy live commentary in the comfort of the open-air minibus.
Global Ballooning Australia, Yarra Valley
Photo courtesy of Global Ballooning Australia
Global Ballooning Australia is a unique hot air balloon experience in that it is the only major city in the world to be able to allow access for commercial balloon flights to take place on a regular basis. If you want to get a birds-eye view of Melbourne, there is simply no better way than with Global Ballooning Australia.
They offer three flight paths:
- Fly over Yarra Valley
- Fly over Melbourne
- Fly over Mansfield
While all three offer spectacular scenery, we highly recommend the Fly over Melbourne tour as you will still get to see parts of the Yarra Valley, as well as the sprawling metropolis of Melbourne. You start at the crack of dawn, rising with the sun before the city awakes; an incredibly peaceful moment. Just the experience of ballooning past the city's skyscrapers makes this experience worth it alone.
Also of note, for wine lovers, the Yarra Valley is a renowned wine region with over 50 wineries so you can double up your ballooning with some quality vineyard tours and wine tasting. Especially if you like pinot noir!
Wildlife Coast Cruises, San Remo
Photo courtesy of Wildlife Coast Cruises
Wildlife Coast Cruises offers a range of cruises around Phillip Island and Wilsons Promontory, including scenic tours highlighting the beautiful coastline, natural habitats, and marine mammals such as seals, whales, and dolphins. Step aboard their modern 20 meter catamarans and the crew of knowledgeable and passionate naturalists will guide you on your journey. This is the perfect way to create memorable experiences and see the best of these exceptional areas only a short distance from Melbourne.
We recommend embarking on one of the Phillip Island cruises, specifically the Dolphin and Whale cruise. Besides the spectacular southern coastline with its sheer granite cliffs of Cape Woolamai, you will also get to experience the incredible marine wildlife. While not guaranteed, there is an 80% chance of seeing whales and dolphins which are pretty good odds.
What's more, there is an onboard bar in case you want to kick back with a beer or wine while you enjoy the awesome scenery and learn about the interesting history of the area. Perhaps most crucially, by taking one of these cruises you are contributing to vital whale research and their conservation.
Healesville Sanctuary - Healesville
Photo courtesy of Zoos Victoria
Much of Australia's appeal is its abundant wildlife. An excellent way to see a variety of some of the world’s most amazing animals is by visiting Healesville Sanctuary – a bushland haven approximately 60 kilometres east of Melbourne’s CBD.
Just a few of the animals you can expect to see here:
- Lace Monitor
- Rock Wallaby
- Barn Owl
Visitors can also see some incredibly unique animals like the Echidna and Platypus, as well as the endangered Tasmanian Devil.
A must-see while at the Sanctuary is the Spirits of the Sky Bird Presentation. Discover more about the majestic birds of prey, and witness the stunning flight skills of the Wedge-Tailed Eagle, Black-breasted Buzzard, and magnificent Parrots.
Healesville Sanctuary is part of Zoos Victoria, a non-for-profit, conservation organisation dedicated to fighting extinction, which means visitors can also learn about breeding and recovery programs, and discover ways to help protect wildlife.
Puffing Billy Railway - Belgrave, Victoria
Located about one hour east of Melbourne in the heart of the Dandenong Ranges is the Puffing Billy Railway, a centuries old steam train that used to carry supplies to the local communities in the hills. Today, this characteristic steam train is a major Aussie tourist attraction.
What's so great about the Puffing Billy is the experience of feeling like you are stepping back in time. From the site of the historic locomotive itself, to the smell of the steam and sound of the train's whistle, the Puffing Billy serves as our very own time machine.
Combine this with the open-side carriages offering you picturesque views as you ride over the hills, through the forests, along valleys and across the iconic timber trestle bridges, it is one of the great railway journeys and a train experience to remember. Also a great way to get a taste of the Australian countryside and bush not too far from Melbourne.
New South Wales
New South Wales has plenty of excellent tourist attractions, including the beautiful beaches of Byron Bay, the Blue Mountains National Park and its many hiking trails, mountain biking and aboriginal rock art. NSW's capital city alone boasts Sydney Harbor, the Sydney Opera House, Bondi Beach, and the world's largest steel arch bridge; the Sydney harbor bridge. As such, a whole blog could be dedicated to NSW. Instead, we will focus on just a few key and lesser known attractions.
The Rocks, Sydney
Photo courtesy of Anna Kucera
The Rocks is like your one-stop-shop to see the best that Sydney has to offer. It is the oldest suburb of modern Australia, where the English first put the convicts to work building the new city. As such, much of the heritage buildings, narrow alleyways and even some cobblestone streets remain. It sits beneath the Sydney Harbor Bridge and offers some of the best views of the Sydney Opera House. It's also where the international cruise terminal is located, making it one of the best places for world cruisers to visit in Australia.
There are several attractions within The Rocks including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Bridge Climb Sydney, some of the oldest pubs in Australia, historic guided walking tours and even a night ghost tour. However, it's not only the European colonial history you will learn about: The Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour provides insight into the area's deep Indigenous history, before the Europeans arrived.
If you are lucky enough to be here on a weekend you can catch The Rocks Markets, a hive of activity where you can try gourmet street food, buy unique, artisanal wares or simply soak up the market atmosphere amongst Sydney’s oldest cobblestone roads and buildings. Furthermore, The Rocks is located right next to Circular Quay, where all of the city's ferries depart from, which makes it the perfect base to explore the rest of the harbor. We recommend taking the ferries to Manly, Watson's Bay and Taronga Zoo.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Rocks, Sydney
While you are visiting The Rocks, a must-see attraction is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA),Australia's leading museum dedicated to work of today's contemporary artists. The MCA holds incredible and diverse exhibitions of both international and Australian artists, attracting over a million visitors a year.
The building and location of the museum is impressive in itself, sitting by the harbor at Circular Quay looking over towards the Opera House. The land is historically and culturally significant, traditionally owner by the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. The MCA supports the work of living artists, including many Aboriginal artists. One of the most recognisable artworks is Warrang, by Brook Andrew, which is the first artwork you see when entering.
Beyond that you can view over 4,000 works by Australian artists across all art forms including paintings, photographs, sculpture, moving images and even immersive installation art. Importantly, the MCA is not-for-profit organisation which works with many diverse communities around Australia. Admission to the galleries, exhibitions and cafe is free.
Sydney Tower Eye, Sydney City
Photo courtesy of Sydney Tower Eye
Centrepoint Tower is an iconic Sydney landmark located, as the name implies, in the center of the CBD (downtown). The Sydney Tower Eye sits at the top of the structure which gets its name from having the best vantage point of the entire city.
The Sydney Tower Eye offers the immensely popular Skywalk tour; an open air walk 268 metres high... not for those with a fear of heights! You circumnavigate the outside of Sydney tower ensuring you get the full 360 degree experience. A guide points out iconic landmarks and shares the best of Sydney stories as you go. From the world-famous Bondi Beach in the East, to the Paramatta River and the Southern Blue Mountains area to the west, you really see it all.
For those wanting something a little more exclusive (or perhaps a proposal idea) you can pay a little extra for a Sky-lovers Walk, a private skywalk for two. It includes that all-important photo sesh for the gram, taken by the staff. Whichever Skywalk experience you go for, be sure to book ahead as this popular tourist attraction sells out in advance.
Skydive Australia, Wollongong
Photo courtesy of Skydive Australia
When you've had enough of the big city, we recommend escaping down the south coast to Wollongong for an awesome skydiving experience. Tip; if you drive down, take the scenic route through the Royal National Park and over the Sea Cliff Bridge. It's a little longer but the scenery is worth it!
Skydive Australia in Wollongong, aka The Gong, is the only beach landing skydive in the Greater Sydney area. Besides the amazing view, the sand makes for a much softer landing! They offer a jump for the highest altitude allowed in Australia at 15,000 feet. As a result, you get an incredible freefall of 60 seconds. One minute freefall may not seem like much, but trust us, in "freefall time", one minute is an eternity!
But perhaps the best part of skydiving is the contrast of the intense freefall to the peaceful parachute drop. There is nothing up there in the sky away from the everyday noise you experience on the ground, so suddenly there is no sound as you float back down to earth. I believe everyone should jump out of a plane at least once in their life.
What’s more, Wollongong is not their only location. Skydive Australia operate out of some of the most iconic destinations around the massive island continent, including:
- Byron Bay (pictured)
- Hunter Valley
- Surfers Paradise
- Airlie Beach
- Mission Beach
- Great Ocean Road
- Yarra Valley
Circus Arts Australia, Byron Bay
Photo courtesy of Circus of Arts Australia
Byron Bay is one of the most iconic coastal towns in Australia and is worth the visit alone, especially if you like sun, surf, beaches, nature, and just chilling out. When you are in town, however, a must-see attraction is the Circus Arts Australia. This is one of the truly unique experiences, and very "Byron", where you participate in a wide range of recreational and specialized circus classes throughout the year, including school holiday programs.
From indoor flying trapeze, to trampolining, aerials, acrobatics, rock-climbing and even ninja play, this is truly a place to let your inner child's play out again. In fact, Circus Arts Australia has kids and adults classes making it an ideal family activity. Both children and adults love it. Besides all the hands-on activities, you can also watch the pros perform in one of the many circus shows they put on. Additionally, they have classes and training for those wanting to improve their circus skills. You never know, you might discover some hidden talents and a new career path!
Queensland is the tropical state of Australia and famous for many attractions including the UNESCO World Heritage Site (and world's largest coral reef system) the Great Barrier Reef, the Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise, Fraser Island and its sand dunes, the Great Sandy National Park, the Coral Sea and its coral reefs, the Daintree National park (home to the giant blue Ulysses butterfly), and countless white sandy beaches such as Whitehaven Beach. The list goes on. We will mention a couple of lesser known gems.
Story Bridge Adventure Climb, Brisbane
The Story Bridge is located in the Queensland capital of Brisbane, crossing the Brisbane River to the city's CBD (downtown). It's a beautiful bridge made from 12,000 tonnes of structural steel and 1,650 tonnes of reinforcing steel. And guess what, you can climb it!
They offer day climbs, night climbs and twilight climbs. We recommend booking a twilight climb as it will not be too hot and you get the added experience of watching the sunset over the city. Whichever you choose, you will get some of the best views of the city, all the way to the Glass House Mountains to the north, Moreton Island to the east and the Scenic Rim to the south.
If you are not afraid of heights, they have some daredevil add-ons such as ‘walk the plank’, and a ‘cantilever lean out’ where they lean you over the edge staring straight down to the traffic way below! Strict safety measures are in place, of course.
Tangalooma, Moreton Island
Photo courtesy of Tangalooma
With idyllic white beaches, crystal clear blue waters, the most stunning sunsets and the opportunity to hand feed wild dolphins, Tangalooma Island Resort is truly an island paradise. Located just off the coast of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, the resort is the perfect family holiday destination for guests seeking an understated yet unique adventure, whether they seek an educational or nature based experience.
Protected and treasured, Tangalooma Island Resort is nature’s theme park where amazing natural encounters are just part of the everyday experience. Heaps of tours and activities are available to suit any visitor, including ATV quad bike tours, the desert safari tour with sand tobogganing, snorkeling the iconic Tangalooma Wrecks and so much more. With a wide range of accommodation options to suit all budgets and tastes and all located with access to one of Australia’s best beaches, Tangalooma Island Resort should be at the top of all travel wishlists!
On the other side of this massive island continent is Australia's largest state of Western Australia. The capital city of Perth is famous for being the most isolated mainland city in the world. Yes, WA is vast and remote, and also home to many of Australia's natural wonders including Broome Historical Museum, Cable Beach, pearl farm tours, Margaret River region, Nambung National Park and its strange rock formations, ancient rock paintings, Fremantle, and the Kimberleys.
Escape Hunt, Fremantle
Photo courtesy of Escape Hunt
Within Perth is the charming original port city of Fremantle. We recommend staying in Fremantle (Freo to the locals), with its colonial architecture, café culture and thriving live music and nightlife. It is also home to Escape Hunt, an experience like no other. If you are looking for something a little different, then you need to try this out.
Escape Hunt offers 60 minutes of pure, unadulterated excitement, during which you and your teammates lose yourselves in an incredible experience, working together to follow a series of fiendishly clever clues and escape a locked room. The pressure’s on, the clock’s ticking, the adrenaline’s pumping. Escape Hunt isn’t something you watch, it’s something you experience from the heart of the action. After the buzz of Escape Hunt, other entertainment just feels flat.
If you cannot make Escape Hunt in Fremantle, you can also hunt it down in several other locations around Australia including Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and the Gold Coast. All Escape Hunt locations offer their own unique spin on this seriously fun brain exercise.
Rest of Australia
Of course, there are so many other worthy attractions in Australia, but the world's only island continent is just too large to fit them all into one blog post. If you do visit the other states and territories, then keep this checklist:
- South Australia: Kangaroo Island, Barossa Valley, Flinders Chase National Park, sea lions
- Australia's Northern Territory: Kakadu National Park, Alice Springs, Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park encompasses Ayers Rock
Tasmania: Cradle Mountain and the Lake Dove Walk, Freycinet National Park, Lake St. Clair National Park