When you think about, it’s little wonder Australia is known as the ‘lucky country’. Almost as big as the USA in size and yet with just a fraction of the population, there’s perhaps nowhere else on earth that offers such geographical variety. Endless stretches of coastline, arid deserts and wilderness, rainforests teeming with life and snowy peaks all combine to create a natural playground guaranteed to keep virtually any type of traveller happy. If you’re looking for unique things to do in Australia, the country that developed WiFi, created Vegemite and gifted the world with Hugh Jackman won’t let you down.
1. Watch the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island
Is there any sight more likely to warm the heart than watching an army of tiny penguins waddle up the beach to their sand dune homes? We think perhaps not. Just 90 minutes from Melbourne, Phillip Island is home to one of the largest penguin colonies in Australia. Each night at sunset, crowds gather on boardwalks and viewing stands to watch the world’s smallest penguins return from a day’s fishing and make their nightly journey along Summerland Beach. Hearts will burst and emotions will be squeezed out of even the hardiest of souls, such is the lovability of these tiny little creatures.
2. Drive the Great Ocean Road and visit the Twelve Apostles
Famed as one of the best road trips on the planet, the 250 kilometres that make up the Great Ocean Road are some of the best vistas in all of the country (and that’s saying something). The main event is undoubtedly the limestone formed Twelve Apostles, which soar 45 metres above the ocean and first began developing a staggering 20 million years ago. Yet once you’ve got that iconic snap, the Australia attractions on the Great Ocean Road just keep on coming. Loch Ard Gorge, named after the Loch Ard ship that ran aground after a 3 month voyage from England to Melbourne, is one of the most spectacular beaches in the region, whilst the pretty seaside towns of Apollo Bay and Lorne offer an abundance of seafood, brilliant surf and a distinctly Mediterranean feel.
3. Wander through Melbourne’s labyrinth of laneways
Arguably Australia’s trendiest city, Melbourne for many is a smaller version of London or Amsterdam. The spiritual home of the country’s booming coffee culture and a hub for creatives, free thinkers and families alike, the city emulates a laid back, artistically driven ambience that is best characterised through its winding laneways. A wander through the lanes will reward you with up market boutiques, secret bars, contemporary galleries and the city’s best street art. Head to Hardware Lane for delectable Sicilian cuisine courtesy of Il Nostro Posto, stroll along Union Lane for over 550 square metres of wall space covered by street art from local artists, or pay homage to the gods of rock on AC/DC Lane.
4. Watch the sun set over Uluru
When you think of places to visit in Australia, Uluru tends to come out on top. 550 million years old and soaring 348 metres into the sky, this World Heritage listed ancient monolith is a deeply sacred site for the original protectors of the land, the Anangu people. Located in the heart of the country’s arid ‘Red Centre’, Uluru forms part of the Kata Tiuja National Park and is a true icon of the nation. Want to make your visit extra special? Head here for sunset, when the fading light causes the colour of the rock to change from ochre, to deep orange, to an almost unworldly burnt red shade.
5. Learn about Aboriginal history and the ritual of Dreamtime
Aboriginal history and culture can be found all across Australia, but it is especially significant around Kata Tiuja National Park. Home to the Anangu people, the traditional owners and guardians of the land with a history dating back over 60,000 years, this region is perhaps one of the most powerful places to learn about Aboriginal history and culture. Central to this learning process is the ritual of Dreamtime, a tradition that forms the foundation of Aboriginal religion and culture. Given the fact that there is no written language for the Aboriginal people, Dreamtime plays a pivotal role in passing down stories and beliefs of the ancestors, and relates to the belief that the Dreamtime was the beginning of life on earth.
6. Take a railway trip through the rainforest in North Queensland
Regarded as one of the most beautiful rail journeys in Australia, the historic Kuranda Scenic Rail route will carry you through the ‘Wet Tropics’, a heritage listed rainforest that dates back millions of years. Home to twelve hundred species of plants, eight hundred trees, orchids, exotic palms and countless animal species, expect to feel your senses come alive as the railway takes you within touching distance of it all. And the rainforest is in fact only half story; remember the saying ‘it’s not the destination but the journey?’. Never has that been more relevant than on this journey, where the railway line is framed by rugged mountains and waterfalls plunge into deep ravines. Sit back and enjoy the adventure that begins in Cairns and ends at Kuranda, the ‘village in the rainforest’.
7. Cruise the Sydney Harbour for prime views of the Opera House
Setting sail from Circular Quay and cruising the glistening waters of the Sydney Harbour is pretty up there as a life experience. Not only will you get front row seats to admire the Sydney Harbour Bridge, fondly known to Sydneysiders as the ‘Coathanger’, but you’ll also be rewarded with unobstructed views of the Opera House, Australia’s most recognised landmark. The brain child of Danish architect Jørn Utzon, this UNESCO listed building is designed to mirror a yacht’s sails flying in the wind and is the city’s primary performing arts space.
8. Explore the underwater world of The Great Barrier Reef
Another of Australia’s great icons and the largest coral reef system on earth, The Great Barrier Reef stretches an incredible 2300 kilometres along the East coast of the country. Home to 1500 species of fish, 200 species of bird and countless marine life, venturing here to swim, snorkel, dive or sail is an activity many include on their life bucket lists. Yet just like most astoundingly beautiful naturally occurring sites on earth, sadly The Great Barrier Reef is fragile. Intense conservation efforts and sustainability practices are in place here, but rising water temperatures and the overall impacts of climate change have already seen large swathes of the reef bleached and destroyed beyond repair. Our advice? Head here soon. The Reef is still the kind of place to take your breath and make you appreciate nature in all its glory, but equally be considerate of the delicate eco-system and the vital importance of responsible tourism.
Also read: 9 natural wonders in Australia & New Zealand
9. Get up close to native wildlife in the Blue Mountains National Park
Spread over one million hectares of unspoiled bushland, deep canyons and lush rainforest, the Blue Mountains National Park forms part of the Great Dividing Range. Many head here to hike or enjoy panoramic views of the Jamison Valley and the Three Sisters, but for those in the know this is also a great place to spot native wildlife. More than 400 animal species can be found here including the rare Tiger Quoll, the Yellow-Bellied Glider and the Blue Mountain Water Skink. As with all animal experiences sightings are unpredictable, so for guaranteed animal time head to the Blue Mountain’s wildlife park to see koalas, wombats and dingoes, plus the chance to hand feed kangaroos.
10. Sample wines in the Barossa Valley, Australia’s famed wine country
Just an hours drive from Adelaide in South Australia lies the Barossa Valley, one of the country’s oldest and best wine producing regions. Some of the biggest names in Australian wine can be found here including Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Jacob’s Creek, plus countless more boutique and artisan winemakers who specialise in small batch wines. Spending a day touring the vineyards and enjoying cellar door tastings feels like a worthy indulgence, helped along by the fact that the entire region is a visual delight of rolling hills, stone built Lutheran churches and seemingly endless vineyards. If you have a special soft spot for Shiraz, we think you might just fall head over heel for Barossa…
So there you have it – 10 of the best things to do in Australia. If the world’s largest coral reef system, rich Aboriginal culture and an endless supply of crisp Shiraz don’t sound like the perfect trip, we don’t know what does.