Famous for its sandy beaches, sunshine and marsupials, Australia is a dream trip for many travelers worldwide. Lets explore the best places to visit in Australia
For those traveling to Australia for the very first time, distance takes on a whole new dimension. Just getting to Australia itself is a monumental undertaking already, unless you’re a kiwi or already happen to live in South-east Asia. For the rest of the globe, Australia is ‘that one continent down under’, and chances are your knowledge of the continent might be a little on the limited side. So you have heard about kangaroos and seen the Sydney Opera House online somewhere? Then this is your article, as it contains a list of the best places to visit in Australia.
First off, most travellers either make it to the west coast or the east coast. The distances are simply too great and most people have reservations taking inland flights once they have arrived on the continent, which is why I will deal with the two sides of Australia separately. Besides, there really is very little to see in the centre of Australia itself apart from some lost miner villages and Uluru (more on that rock later).
Again, keep in mind Australia is huge. Perth, one of the main cities on the west coast is closer to Singapore than it is to Canberra, the nations capital. And as with all trips where distance is an issue, I recommend renting a car or some other vehicle at least for a few days. Being able to move around for longer distances is an enormous advantage when you are sightseeing. And like America, Australia is very much a car-friendly country, especially the west coast.
Without a doubt the direction most first-timers will head for, as the east coast simply enjoys a higher profile. Sydney, Bondi Beach and the earlier mentioned Opera House are just some of the most popular attractions that travellers will want to check of their list. But there is so much more to see.
1. Whale Watching At Hervey Bay
Located in Southern Queensland, Hervey Bay is most famous for its humpback whales and one of the must see places in Australia. The whales make their annual migration along the coast from late July to early November. En route to Antarctica, they will usually stop in Hervey Bay to rest with their new-borns and spotting these majestic animals is an incredible experience.
While extra care is being taken to observe the whales in the most sustainable way possible, there are certainly enough companies to choose from. I don’t want to plug any specific company here as I understand that most operators offer the exact same package, and I got to enjoy more than enough whale action during my trip.
Tails breaching and fins being slapped on the surface all made for an excellent build-up, as we finally spotted a mother breaching with her calf at the same time. It somehow triggers a humbling feeling and the whales left a lasting impression on me.
2. Sydney And Street Art
Beyond the typical tourist attractions, Sydney is a hub for creativity and a great city to hangout and take in the vibe. Newtown especially has a mellow atmosphere, with it’s Victorian-era architecture dominating the view. No high-rises here, and you will find some amazing little coffee shops, micro art galleries and artisan brewers instead. Definitely one of the most beautiful places in Australia.
My personal favourite is the street art though. The ‘I Have a Dream’ mural in Newtown is a fine example of urban art being preserved in the area. Painted back in 1991 it has endured to this day and for the Inner West area of Sydney, it is iconic.
And Newtown’s King Street is rife with artwork like this. Your plan of action (POA people!) should be to head down to King Street with an empty backpack, and commit to shopping, coffee and copious amount of sightseeing along the way.
Another great piece by international street artist Fintan Magee can be found at Church Street. Look for a couple trying to communicate with bean cans and you’ve found it. An interesting story is that the piece was completely different at first, but miscommunication between the tenants and the property owner saw the original artwork being painted over. Graffiti artists are used to gradually seeing their work erode over time, but this case was exceptional and Magee was commissioned one more time to redo the piece.
3. The Twelve Apostles
If urban art, or the Victorian architecture is not your thing and you are looking for more natural sights on the East coast, I got you covered as well. The Twelve Apostles is a collection of limestone towers near the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.
Don’t start looking for all twelve of the apostles by the way, as there are only eight of them left. Limestone tends to erode fast under the elements, so once the wrong side of these towers is exposed rain or waves, the limestone comes apart within months. In 2005, the ninth Apostle collapsed into rubble and it is expected the others will fall over time as well.
To see the Apostles, you will have to be near Port Campbell National Park, and as I mentioned before in the introduction, this is definitely one of the sights that deserve a rental car. The Apostles are spread out over a wide stretch of land, so you can find your perfect spot to look at them. The advantages of having a car for this trip are many, and the costs are often offset by your new found hauling capabilities:
Save on accommodation costs with an additional tent, or you may even have enough space to sleep in the back of your car. The east coast is littered with roadside rest areas and they are all for free.
Save on food, as you can carry around pretty much anything you need. Supermarket food cooked by yourself will replace restaurant food, and instead of throwing everything away when you leave one hostel, you simply bring it along to the next one with your car. Plus cheap butane gas canisters are available everywhere as well.
A rental car is even a great way to make friends, as travellers always need to be somewhere, and sharing in fuel and costs is yet another way to carry the financial burden of an awesome east coast road trip. Chances are you will be friends for live once the trip is over. Put up some ads in hostels or relevant sites and see what happens.
4. Bondi Beach
A great place to check out that doesn’t require a rental car or overly complicated logistics. Bondi Beach is legendary and a mere 20-minutes by bus from the city centre. Similar to California, it features surf shops, skate parks, tattoo shops and it seems like the entire city of Sydney likes to gather here after a day of work for some hard-earned drinks.
Watch the surfers or make an effort in catching a few waves yourself. Bondi Beach is iconic and cannot be missed, if only for a sunset and a slow cocktail.
Essentially a suburb with a very wide beach, Bondi is much more than ‘just’ surfing. Walking the landlocked streets of Bondi can be just as interesting. Great restaurants and bars are to be found here. Take ‘The Crossing’ for instance. A great cocktail bar with a lot of finely finished wood and some couches in the back for smooth drinking.
5. Make the great Ocean Drive
Since we are talking about a coastal area here, it makes a lot of sense to simply travel up or down. In fact, this has been a staple amongst gap-year travellers and it is not uncommon to buy a car all the way in the Southern part and drive it up North over a period of several weeks.
Once you arrive there, you simply sell the car again and start thinking about your next adventure. Do not confuse this route with “The Great Ocean Road”, which is an actual part of the coast. Built by returning soldiers after World War I, it is considered the largest war memorial on the planet, and you can’t miss it if you already planned to check out the 12 Apostles.
Make sure to read some of the plaques on the route, as they tell the remarkable stories of the construction that took over three years.
1. Perth Vineyards
I was not consciously aware of the West coast of Australia until a few years back. I caught up quickly though during a photo shoot for a surfboard company. The Perth Vineyards produce some great wines and whether you are coming from the North or the East, Discovery Parks in Perth should be your first stop. It’s a mere four kilometres from the city and a great base from which to explore Perth.
I stayed in a family chalet for the duration of post-production but there are budget cabins, right up to unpowered tent sites. So there is something there for everyone, and the vineyards are amazing. Go there, join a wine-tasting session or book a guided tour – it is well worth it.
2. Margaret River
Even more down South (almost 300 kilometres to be exact) is Margaret River, another one of the best places to visit in Australia. Similar to Perth, Margaret River produces great wine, giving you another opportunity to visit an Australian vineyard. Margaret river is also renowned for its surfing though and if you can swim, you should give it a try.
If you’ve been told your balance sucks and you can’t skateboard to save your life, there are alternatives as well. Stand Up Paddling is very easy to learn and even the greatest novice can get around on the water within 15 minutes. And if you are confident enough to take things next level, find yourself a little break and go try to catch a wave. The sudden feeling of acceleration is addictive in itself. Should you actually be able to stay on the board, chances are you’re a surfer now and your whole life is going to change, mark my words.
Margaret River is also a foodies paradise, with a renowned food Festival in November, and grand vineyard restaurants. Budget travellers can get some great food at the beachfront cafes, and for a wine tour of a different kind, make sure to check out ‘Wine for dudes’ – They are very western Australian.
If you want to get away from it all in Margaret River that’s easy too; simply head out into the woods. There are eco quad bike tours and some very imposing tree species which are unique to this part of the world. Without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Australia.
3. Drift snorkelling in Turquoise Bay
Turquoise Bay is considerably more North, and should be visited by those travellers who never make it to the Southwest coast. Considered to be one of the best snorkel sites this side of the continent, Turquoise Bay features a ‘drift’ taking you across coral gardens full of colourful reef fish only metres from the shore.
The whole region feels slightly American, automatically reminding us of the red rock formations in Arizona. Cape Range National Park is in Australia though and located about 40 minutes of driving from Exmouth. Visitors really should drop by the Milyering Visitor Centre as it is a good place to learn more about the park and its attractions.
We only did the Turquoise Bay Drift, which is accessible from the ‘Drift Snorkel’ parking. Just head south (left) along the beach for at least a hundred metres and then swim straight out. This is where the current should pick you up and slowly carry you over the fish filled coral gardens.
Get out at the sandbar, walk back up, and do the whole thing again, this time with the GoPro switched on (true story!). As an average swimmer the experience was enjoyable and relaxing, but I can imagine beginning swimmers or children may find the current a little intimidating.
By no means did I intend to undersell Western Australia, I just realised it is less populated than the East. As such, the activities can’t be all that urban and travellers are mostly sightseeing the natural spectacles. Pursuing sports and other activities is a great way to experience West Australia too. Also note that Western Australia is a little more expensive.
Fact is that the East simply has the better infrastructure for travellers, allowing backpackers to move short distances by themselves or public transport. In the East, distance racks up really quick and talking to locals you quickly notice how they casually mention driving for a day to meet a friend. Visit Australia but plan ahead and do not underestimate the time travel takes on the continent.
Pro tip: Don’t climb Ayer’s rock (Uluru). It’s considered a holy relic and the aborigines themselves don’t climb it either. And why would you anyway? It’s almost 350 metres up and you are going to climb it in 36 degrees heat. With no toilet on top. Shit will hit the fan.
More Australia: Check out other amazing things you can do in Australia