52 extraordinary Australian journeys
Luxury surroundings, fine food and culture, relaxing retreats, eco experiences and active adventures - Australia has it all.
Whether you're after luxury retreats, eco experiences or active adventures, our island home has an endless array of holiday options. Here, our writers share some of their favourite experiences.
BEST CATCH, WA
The experience: Frontier beachfront address with incredible fishing.
Open your atlas. From Kununurra in north-east Western Australia, look further north, to Wyndham. A smudge on the page just to Wyndham’s north-west (some 150 kilometres away), on the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, is the new Berkeley River Lodge. It’s accessible only by float plane or boat. Here, in the furthest reaches of the Kimberley, villas sit lightly on sand dunes, en suites are open to the skies and a lap pool overlooks the Timor Sea. Just getting to Berkeley River Lodge is an extraordinary journey.
Dream to reality: Airnorth (airnorth.com.au) flies daily between Darwin and Kununurra. Three-night Berkeley River Lodge stays, including air transfers from Kununurra, from $4350 a person, twin share. berkeleyriver.com.au
FAB FOUR, QLD-NSW-VIC-SA
The experience: A four-state train ride, with whistle-stop tours.
The Southern Spirit packs a lot into a six-day trip from Brisbane to Adelaide: threading through semi-tropical high country, down to the coastal towns of Byron Bay and Port Macquarie, across to Hunter Valley wineries, on to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, river cruising on the Murray, rolling farm country, the Grampians National Park and then a dramatic descent into Adelaide.
Dream to reality: Trips available November-February, Gold Class tickets from $4400 a person, twin share, including meals and touring. The journey can be done in reverse order, from Adelaide to Brisbane. gsr.com.au
DEEPLY GREEN, QLD
The experience: A hidden rainforest lodge at Cape Tribulation.
Bloomfield Lodge, on Weary Bay north of Cairns, has timber villas built around a main lodge. Travellers get to the lodge via chartered plane from Cairns, followed by a boat ride. Don’t come here expecting great mobile phone reception; do come for rainforest immersion.
Dream to reality: Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin fly to Cairns. Four-night stays at Bloomfield Lodge are from $1520-$1745 a person, twin share, including transfer from Cairns. bloomfieldlodge.com.au
The experience: Behind-the-scenes tours and hands-on classes, from a Derwent Valley base.
The 16-guest Woodbridge on the Derwent hotel has smart owners and staff who put local knowledge and community relations to good use to offer a suite of ‘‘things that money can’t usually buy’’ experiences. From a behind-the-scenes tour of MONA to working at a wildlife sanctuary, it’s just the ticket for travellers who like others to organise their holidays for them.
Dream to reality: Woodbridge is a 30-minute drive from Hobart. Two-night stays from $490 a night. woodbridgenn.com.au
MAGGIE BEER, cook, restaurateur, author
The experience: Consistency, attention to detail and utter relaxation on Kangaroo Island.
"I have visited the Southern Ocean Lodge four times, as I host a Kangaroo Island Food Safari each year. Recently, I stayed at the lodge for five days. I’m a detail freak and I appreciate every little bit. The luxury is the staff, who are lovely people. It’s in the swivel chairs you sit on. It’s in the way everything is so restful, and how every window is set to capture a view: the first time I walked into the lodge’s great room, it took my breath away. It’s in the greeting on arrival, the freshly made lamingtons served and the good-quality tea. On my last visit, we walked the cliffs to Hanson Bay every morning, and every morning the staff would offer to pack us cut fruit on ice or a picnic and rug. We sat outside for every meal we could, eating the best food, using seasonal, local produce. The lodge’s signature scent is lemon myrtle, so there’s a sense of the bush. I don’t relax easily unless I’m by the sea. Here, I am so relaxed, I just give myself over to it."
Dream to reality: Regional Express (rex.com.au) flies daily from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island; Sealink (sealink.com.au) has a daily ferry service from Cape Jervis on the mainland. Southern Ocean Lodge, Hanson Bay, two-night stays from $990 a person a night, twin share. southernoceanlodge.com.au
ART AND CULTURE
LENS AND LANDSCAPES, NSW
The experience: A luxe approach to landscapes through a lens.
Capture epic sandstone cliffs and valley landscapes courtesy of a professional photographic guide during a stay at Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, near Lithgow in the Central West. Tours depart morning or afternoon, depending on seasonal conditions.
Dream to reality: Nightly stays from $1882, photo tours from $675-$945. wolganvalley.com
GO BAROQUE, TAS
The experience: Covent Garden comes to Hobart for a royal debut.
Australia’s finest festival of baroque music is in April and includes the Royal Opera House’s first production in Australia – a performance of composer Joseph Haydn’s L’Isola Disabitata – at Hobart’s 1834-built Theatre Royal. The historic venue has charm, intimacy and superb acoustics, says festival director Leo Schofield.
Dream to reality: Hobart Baroque is from April 12-20, 2013. hobartbaroque.com.au
BOWLED OVER, VIC
The experience: Run-out Adam Gilchrist on a virtual cricket pitch.
Sport means culture for many of us, and everything a fan could desire is at Melbourne’s National Sports Museum. The interactive hall is a magnet for kids of all ages who like to test their skills against cricket and AFL legends.
Dream to reality: The National Sports Museum is at the MCG. Open 10am-5pm. Tickets $20 adult, $10 child, $50 family. nsm.org.au
PICTURE THIS, ACT
The experience: Moving images for urban design mavens.
Explore the birth of the modern city alongside the birth of modern film with Utopian Cinema’s nod to Canberra’s centenary: a three-month season of extraordinary films drawn from archives across the world. Think experimental cinema, design ideals, architecture and modern political history, and the work of Hans Richter, Charles and Ray Eames, and Peter Greenaway.
Dream to reality: Utopian Cinema screens at Canberra’s National Film and Sound Archive’s Arc Cinema, July-September. nfsa.gov.au
FINE TUNE, QLD
The experience: An epic jam with jazz man James Morrison.
Make history by joining the World’s Biggest Orchestra. Under the direction of James Morrison in Brisbane on July 13, it is part of the Queensland Music Festival, which runs from July 12-28. Concert bands, brass bands, string ensembles, school bands and orchestras, and individual musicians from across Australia are invited to participate. BYO instrument.
Dream to reality: Register at qmf.org.au
ROCK RICHES, WA
The experience: Petroglyphs and gas pipes, cheek by jowl.
The world’s most important collection of petroglyphs (rock engravings) and Australia’s largest collection of standing stones is at Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), near Karratha. Walk among astounding art, then drive to the peninsula’s North West Shelf Gas Visitor Centre for fine views of industry and Dampier’s port.
Dream to reality: Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar fly from Perth to Karratha. rockart.net.au, pilbaracoast.com
IN THE FRAME, SA
The experience: Paint it your way in the Flinders Ranges.
Professional artists and amateurs alike find inspiration in the peaks, gorges and desert scrub of the Flinders, on guided, small-group art expeditions that take place in the cool winter months. Comfortable camping, meals and four-wheel-drive support included.
Dream to reality: Expeditions depart Adelaide on June 30 and again on July 7, from $2895 a person. worldexpeditions.com
TIM STORRIER, artist
The experience: Ancient art through modern eyes in Kakadu National Park.
"I went with the late Colin Jack-Hinton, one of the Northern Territory art community’s most influential characters, and two others artists, Frank Hodgkinson and Richard Tipping, to the escarpment of Kakadu National Park. From there, a helicopter took us to a plateau called Oberi/Ubirr Rock, a huge monolith with the most glorious Aboriginal paintings I’ve ever seen. They’re on the underside of the rock and the sunlight hits the rock, which reflects that light up onto the galleries. The luminosity of those paints is quite extraordinary. The view from up there is remarkable; the rocks look right out over the plateau of Kakadu, almost to the sea. We were all trying to make some sense of the landscape – Frank was painting, I was trying to make these constructions out of sticks, and Richard was collecting all sorts of strange objects from the detritus around the campsite. We were camping by a creek, we had a fire, and the stars were absolutely extraordinary."
Dream to reality: Kakadu National Park is a three-hour drive from Darwin. Ubirr is open from 8.30am to sunset, April 1 to November 30. Ranger-led art tours take place June-September. kakadunationalpark.com
WILD DUNES, WA
The experience: Sandboarding and four-wheel-driving in the dunes.
Lancelin, a fishing town 110 kilometres north of Perth, has sand dunes aplenty in its backyard. Hire a board from town or join a four-wheel-drive tour and scale the dunes. At sea level, kitesurfing and windsurfing are popular, too.
Dream to reality: Hire a car in Perth and head north, or book a stay at the Lancelin Lodge YHA and use its bus service from Perth. lancelinlodge.com.au, westernaustralia.com, stayz.com.au
SPACE HEROES, ACT
The experience: Close encounters with moon rocks, astronaut food and the mission to Mars.
Canberra’s Deep Space Communication Complex has the largest ‘‘big dish” antennas in the southern hemisphere and is part of NASA’s global Deep Space Network. The complex’s public areas are an over-the-moon experience of insights into the solar system, asteroid belts, comets and space missions.
Dream to reality: Canberra Space Centre, Discovery Drive, Tidbinbilla, is a 45-minute drive from the city. Open daily 9am-5pm, free entry. www.cdscc.nasa.gov
PRISON PETS, TAS
The experience: Wildlife at dawn and dusk; prison cell stays.
The lawns around Darlington, a former convict settlement and prison on Maria Island National Park, fill with the likes of wombats, Forester kangaroos, wallabies and Cape Barren geese at dawn and dusk. Visitors camp on the lawns or sleep in the old cells. The swirling designs of the island’s Painted Cliffs are within walking distance, as are the millions of marine fossils at Fossil Cliffs.
Dream to reality: Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin fly to Hobart. A 30-minute ferry service operates between Triabunna on the mainland (90 minutes’ drive north-east of Hobart) and Maria Island. parks.tas.gov.au
LAUGHING CLOWNS, SA
The experience: Watch sea mammals mimic you as you swim with them.
Resident colonies of chatty dolphins and mirthful sea lions somersault underwater around visitors at Baird Bay on the Eyre Peninsula. Swims are guided and take place after a short boat ride from shore. Children under the age of 12 must be accompanied while in the water. Confident swimming ability is also required if you’re going to swim with dolphins.
Dream to reality: Baird Bay is a 45-minute flight from Adelaide or a turn-off on the road to Ceduna. Guided swims depart twice daily. bairdbay.com
ARCTIC CAMPING, NSW
The experience: Camp among Antarctic beech and snowgums.
A high, undulating basalt plateau cut by gushing streams and waterfalls and covered with rainforest, Barrington Tops National Park is exhilarating in its diversity. Its flora varies from alpine wildflowers on the wet, chilly heights to subtropical species found in lowland gullies. Set in subalpine woodland in the park’s north, Polblue camping area has picnic tables, barbecues, non-flush toilets and access to Polblue Swamp track. The campground sits at almost 1500 metres. Snow can fall here even in summer.
Dream to reality: From Gloucester or Scone, head for the Barrington Tops Forest Road. Polblue campground is about 20 kilometres up the hill.
BLACK GOLD, VIC
The experience: Utter darkness on Australia’s deepest mine tour.
The Nine Levels of Darkness tour at Bendigo’s Central Deborah Gold Mine drops you 228 metres underground, courtesy of a miners’ cage, to a warren of tunnels where you can learn how to set a charge or operate a mine drill. It’s open to those aged 15-plus. The Underground Adventure Tour, at 85 metres below, is open to children aged eight and up.
Dream to reality: Central Deborah Gold Mine, Violet Street. Open daily 9.30am-5pm. Four-hour Nine Levels tour, $199 a person; Adventure tour, $75 adults/$45 a child. central-deborah.com
KYLIE GILLIES, television presenter
The experience: Kids happy, parents happy.
"My husband Tony and I took our boys Gus, 10, and Archie, 8, to Hamilton Island last year. The island seemed perfect because we could fly direct from Sydney in two hours and feel a million miles away. There was so much to do and we didn’t have to go far to do it. We took a catamaran ride to Whitehaven Beach, where I’d wanted to go ever since chef Curtis Stone cooked a gorgeous beach barbecue there for Oprah Winfrey in 2011. It’s said to have the whitest sand in the southern hemisphere and the water is just picture perfect. We jumped off the side of the boat and floated to the beach, where we played cricket with the boys and went snorkelling. We also took the kids to a golf driving range, and hired little quad bikes for them to hoon around on. We stayed at the Shorelines apartments. It has an infinity pool, and our apartment had a balcony overlooking the water. But the best part was that our apartment came with its own golf buggy. We used it to get to the shops, a beach, to dinner, wherever we wanted to go. It was a wonderful family holiday, and I’m sure we’ll go back because the boys still talk about it. They had a ball – and if the kids are happy, we’re happy."
Dream to reality: Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar fly direct from Melbourne and Sydney to Hamilton Island. Two-bedroom Shorelines apartment from $395 a night. hamiltonisland.com.au
CLEAN SKINS, TAS
The experience: Chardonnay body scrub, pinot bath and a glass of wine.
Snuggled in the wild dunes of Tasmania’s far north-east, Barnbougle Lost Farm’s spa menu includes vinotherapy – embracing blends from the nearby Tamar Valley’s cool-climate wines. Think chardonnay exfoliant, pinot noir body mask, then a still-water pinot bath.
Dream to reality: Barnbougle Lost Farm, Waterhouse Road, Bridport, is one hour’s drive from Launceston. Fly direct from Melbourne’s Moorabbin Airport. Rooms from $190 a night, twin share; 150 minutes of vinotherapy from $320 a person. lostfarm.com.au
MASSAGE THERAPY, NT
The experience: Waterfall “treatment” in subtropical climes.
Nature’s hand replaces that of the therapist, no booking is required, and there are no man-made products – just an invigorating pummelling. In and around beautiful Litchfield National Park south of Darwin, the popular Florence Falls, Wangi Falls, Sandy Creek (Tjaynera Falls), Surprise Creek Falls and Buley Rockhole can deliver neck-and-shoulder workouts. The best time to try is early in the
dry season, May-June.
Dream to reality: Litchfield National Park is a 90-minute drive from Darwin. Walk from carparks to individual waterfalls. travelnt.com
PAMPER PACKED, WA
The experience: A splendid bolthole and secluded beach in the south-west.
Injidup Spa Retreat’s 10 villas have heated plunge pools, ocean views, in-villa dining and an in-villa massage service. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World network, Injidup is adjacent to Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and within driving distance of the Margaret River wine-and-dine bounty, yet well suited to travellers who seek to be alone, but pampered, near a brooding sea.
Dream to reality: Injidup is a three-hour drive southwest of Perth. Two-night weekend villa stays from $650 a night. injidupsparetreat.com.au
TUB THUMPER, SA
The experience: Barossa bush bathing.
The seven-suite Kingsford Homestead, built in 1856, has an alfresco two-person bath set in a private corner of the estate. Guests are handed a basket containing a bathrobe and salts before they walk into the bush to bathe.
Dream to reality: Kingsford is an hour’s drive north of Adelaide. Two-night stays from $1780 for two. kingsfordhomestead.com.au
BODY CAMPS, QLD
The experience: A Noosa ‘‘bodibreak’’ for those made of tough stuff.
Train like a pro under the direction of Life’s A Gym coaches: think bootcamp-style sessions on the beach, in the ocean and pool, as well as running, bike riding, and stand-up paddling and surfing sessions. The regimen is bespoke and includes fitness and nutrition advice.
Dream to reality: Fly direct from Sydney or Melbourne to Sunshine Coast Airport. Stay at Outrigger Little Hastings Street, Noosa. Four-day ‘‘bodibreak’’ from $1650 a person, twin share. lifesagym.com
KERRI-ANNE KENNERLEY, television host
The experience: Brain reboot, check. Body nurture, check. Plus golf? Check.
"My little go-to when my brain gets sozzled is the Golden Door Health Retreat – Elysia, in the NSW Hunter Valley. Elysia is adjacent to the Cypress Lakes Resort, which means access to one of NSW’s best golf courses. I’m a mad golfer and if I didn’t go somewhere with golf, I’d probably go nuts. When you’re doing TV 10 hours a day, six days a week, you get into the habit of just working and going to functions, and your brain turns to cotton wool. Elysia gets me off that treadmill. I go once a year from Friday to Sunday night; it’s such a good reboot. I’m up at 7am for a walk, then there’s an 8.30am stretch class before breakfast, then another class of either yoga or cardio at 11am. After lunch I go to the driving range, then at 4pm it’s more exercise followed by a massage and dinner. At night I fall into bed and have the best sleep because I’m exhausted. Then I do it all again the next day. There’s an indoor heated pool and sauna and the day spa has amazing remedial treatments."
Dream to reality: The Golden Door Health Retreat – Elysia, Thompsons Road, Pokolbin, is a three-hour drive north-west of Sydney. Three-night stays from $1650 a person, twin share. goldendoor.com.au
BEYOND BRISBANE, QLD
The experience: Emu eggs and semi-precious stones between Brisbane and Bundaberg.
Drive the backroads from Brisbane via the Glass House Mountains and rainforest and there are glittering rewards: Gympie, for its goldmining and timber history; Murgon’s cellar doors; carved emu eggs at Cherbourg, and semi-precious rocks at Jasper Fields. The Mystery Craters are just outside Bundaberg, too.
Dream to reality: Download itineraries and accommodation suggestions from queenslandholidays.com.au
ON GOLDEN PONDS, TAS
The experience: Pastoral detours on the Launceston-Hobart run.
Head for Old Mill Lane in Oatlands, home to the beautifully restored Callington Mill (built in 1836), which is now a fully operational, wind-driven flour mill. Then picnic next to the convict-built Red Bridge in Campbell Town before driving to Longford to visit the Georgian-era, heritage-listed Woolmers Estate and Brickendon homesteads. Both now offer accommodation.
Dream to reality: Oatlands is 80 kilometres north of Hobart, 115 kilometres south of Launceston on the Midland Highway. Longford is 25 kilometres from Launceston. Woolmers Estate cottage stays from $145 a night; Brickendon cottage stays from $190 a night. www.heritagehighway.com.au, woolmers.com.au, brickendon.com.au
DISAPPEARING ACT, VIC
The experience: Cliff-hanging bends on the Great Ocean Road.
Twelve Apostles? Only eight limestone stacks remain, geological exclamation marks to the sheer drama of this road on which ‘‘danger’’ signs abound. Turn inland just past Warrnambool at Tower Hill’s extinct volcano (now a wildlife sanctuary) for MacKenzie Falls, in the belly of the Grampians.
Dream to reality: Drive clockwise from Torquay via Apollo Bay and Port Fairy, much of it in low gear, with ample side trips. visitvictoria.com
SEABED BOUNTIES, SA
The experience: Earthly adventures on the Limestone Coast.
Skirt the Coorong lagoon near the Murray River’s mouth and get lost between the parallel limestone ridges of this ancient seabed. Along the way find fossils at Naracoorte Caves, rock lobsters at the colonial wool port of Robe, the Blue Lake at Mount Gambier, and the holy ground of terra rossa soils and cabernet sauvignon grapes at Coonawarra.
Dream to reality: Drive south-east from Adelaide to Tailem Bend, then criss-cross between the Princes Highway coast road and the inland Dukes and Riddoch highways. ourbackyard.com.au
LOOP THE LOOP, NT
The experience: Four-wheel-driving on the Red Centre Way’s Mereenie Loop.
Part of the 640-kilometre backroad between Alice Springs and Uluru, the unsealed Mereenie Loop is a whitefella songline, knitting together some of the natural wonders of the West MacDonnell Ranges. A highlight is Finke Gorge National Park, where tall Livistona mariae palms fringe a succession of rock pools, cradled by the blistered arms of a sandstone gorge.
Dream to reality: Check your tyres, top up the tank, buy a $5.50 day pass from the Kings Canyon general store and tell people where you’re headed. centralaustraliantourism.com
FLOWER POWER, WA
The experience: Post-winter scenes for petal-heads.
Red-rust plains and rugged undergrowth give way to new textures as spectacular carpets of pink, yellow and white wildflowers unfold as far as the eye can see in Western Australia’s inland. Take an ‘‘Everlastings’’ route from Geraldton east to Mullewa, then south back to Perth via the orchids to be seen around Bindoon.
Dream to Reality: Download an ‘‘Everlastings’’ itinerary from australiasgoldenoutback.com
DR KARL KRUSZELNICKI, scientist
The experience: Driving in 15 of Australia’s 17 deserts.
"I have travelled the deserts with my wife and three kids in an old military-style vehicle. We have a habit, which I love, of having an early dinner, then after sunset we lie on a groundsheet and look for satellites and meteors. That’s our entertainment at night. It is incredibly fulfilling and some of the happiest family time, because nobody has ever interrupted us and our hearts would never be further than five metres from each other. And, of course, the deserts themselves are fantastic – a harsh, lovely beauty, and incredible diversity of life and habitats. People say, ‘What’s there to do in the desert? It’s just sand!’ But that’s like saying, ‘You’ve seen one tree, how could a forest ever be different?’ Western Australia’s Gibson Desert has to be my favourite: it has beautiful spinifex and intensely red sand, because it sits on these huge mountains of iron ore that have eroded over billions of years. It’s also incredibly quiet. On one occasion we went to visit a lagoon and could hear this whistling noise, followed by splashing, so we stopped and walked and realised it was the sound of migrating ducks. The whistling was the wind running through their feathers, which because it was so quiet you could hear from far away."
Dream to reality: Suggested itineraries and tips are at australia.com
Dr Karl Kruszelnicki’s latest book is 50 Shades of Grey Matter.
OFF-ROAD BIKING, WA
The experience: World-class expeditions in the south west.
Twelve years in the making, the 1000-kilometre Munda Biddi Trail is nearing completion, with a 600-kilometre section from Mundaring in the Perth Hills to Manjimup in the state’s far south-west open for epic mountain-bike touring. Purpose-built campsites are no more than 45 kilometres apart, and it’s possible to sample the track in short sections.
Dream to reality: The Munda Biddi Trail Foundation has comprehensive expedition planning, maps and advice. mundabiddi.org.au
OAR SOME, QLD
The experience: Kayak between Hinchinbrook Island’s palm-lined beaches.
Hinchinbrook is best seen from just offshore at slow paddling pace. Seven-day kayaking trips make beach landings along the length of the island’s east coast, where short walking trails lead to waterfalls and swimming holes. Typically, kayakers continue north from Hinchinbrook, island-hopping through the Family Group of Islands to Mission Beach.
Dream to reality: Based at Mission Beach, Coral Sea Kayaking hosts seven-day trips in two-person sea kayaks, from $1970 a person. coralseakayaking.com
GENTLY DOES IT, TAS
The experience: Civilised bike riding on the east coast.
Start in Launceston, finish in Hobart and on the way duck into the Bay of Fires, park for a stroll to Wineglass Bay, stop at wineries and a berry farm, or simply relax on an empty beach. It’s a 450-kilometre bike ride with no specific fitness level required; anyone needing a rest, including kids, can hop in the support vehicle.
Dream to reality: Green Island Tours’ Launceston to Hobart 10-night ride in November, 2013, is from $2480 a person, twin share. cycling-tasmania.com
RIVER DEEP, NT
The experience: Embrace the awesome silence of Katherine Gorge.
A series of connected gorges carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River, this epic area is best seen from within, on the river. The way to truly penetrate and appreciate is by paddling a canoe and portaging across the rock bars that separate sections of the gorge. Campsites are interspersed along the river.
Dream to reality: An overnight, two-person canoe hire for the quiet, uncrowded fifth, sixth and seventh gorges, open between April and November, is $68.50 a person. nitmiluktours.com.au
Three-day, small group guided journeys, with meals, from $810 an adult, $710 a child (9-13 years). geckocanoeing.com.au
GOLDEN DAYS, VIC
The experience: Walk among stands of white-trunked manna gums – the koalas’ larder.
Traverse some of Victoria’s loveliest scenery on the Federation Track, a 90-kilometre section of the much longer Goldfields Track. The route begins south of Ballarat, is divided into day walks, and meanders through forest, around farmlands and lakes, and among the manna gums. Much of the track was carved by miners on their way to the gold diggings, and relics from that era etch the track.
Dream to reality: Maps for a four-day walk from Mount Buninyong via Ballarat, Creswick and Mollongghip are at goldfieldstrack.com.au
ELIZABETH ANN MACGREGOR, director, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
The experience: Diving among grey nurse sharks on the NSW north coast.
"Fish Rock Cave at South West Rocks is one of the top dives in Australia. You come out of the cave and there’s the most unbelievable number of grey nurse sharks, extraordinary creatures that are now very much endangered. I go to South West Rocks with my partner, who’s also my diving buddy, several times a year. We stay at Smoky Cape Lighthouse, which has a sublime view over Hat Head National Park. Diving here has completely overcome my British fear of sharks. The national park comes right down to the beach, the topography is lovely and hilly, and there are really beautiful beaches you can climb down to. Trial Bay Beach is a favourite – because of the curve of the cove, it faces almost west despite being on the east coast of Australia, so you get these incredible sunsets. There’s great fish and chips and a very good Italian restaurant across from the beach called Geppy’s. This coastline is actually one of the most beautiful in the world."
Dream to reality: South West Rocks is about a five-hour drive north of Sydney. South West Rocks Dive Centre has daily charters to Fish Rock Cave. Weekend B&B stays at Smoky Cape Lighthouse cost $250 for two people. southwestrocksdive.com.au; smokycapelighthouse.com
WINGING IT, QLD
The experience: Savannah meets wetlands meets lodge comforts.
Wake to a chorus of brolgas after a night’s sleep in an African-style tented stay overlooking the 2000-hectare Mareeba Tropical Savanna and Wetland Reserve in
the Atherton Tableland west of Cairns, in Far North Queensland. The Wildlife Conservancy of Tropical Queensland spent 10 years developing the reserve.
Dream to reality: By car, it’s about a 90-minute drive from Cairns or Port Douglas. Lodge stays from $229 a person a night, twin share. Cairns-Mareeba train and bus services available. Transfers from Cairns to the Jabiru Safari Lodge are available by special request. jabirusafarilodge.com.au
BEST BEDS, SA
The experience: Stylish digs deep in native forest.
Winter and early spring bring forth flowering plants and orchids at the spectacular Tanonga, a 100-hectare property on the Eyre Peninsula where more than 25,000 native trees, shrubs, grasses and sedges have been planted to help restore the land. It’s a robust landscape of incredible views, with two architect-designed, self-contained lodges sitting among it.
Dream to reality: Regional Express flies daily from Adelaide to Port Lincoln. Tanonga Luxury Eco Lodges are a 20-minute drive from the airport. Lodge stay is $310-$340 a night. Minimum two-night stay. tanonga.com.au
BORN WILD, TAS
The experience: At home on the edge of the wild Tarkine.
Corinna is a former goldmining settlement, its riverside workers’ cottages and stores since renovated and an additional 14 retreats built to complement the settler vernacular. On the southern side of the Tarkine – the largest temperate rainforest in Australia – Corinna has rainwater on tap. While you’re there, take a Pieman River cruise on the stunning Arcadia II, a 17-metre vessel made of huon pine in 1939.
Dream to reality: Corinna is a three-hour drive south west of Stanley or 90 minutes north of Strahan, on Tasmania’s west coast. One-bedroom retreats from $200 a night for two people. corinna.com.au
STYLISHLY SOLAR, VIC
The experience: Corrugated-iron "bush shelters", courtesy of architects.
Self-contained studios insulated with sheep’s wool and decorated with found and recycled materials form The Odd Frog, built on
4.2 hectares in Bright in Victoria’s north-east. It’s a solar-powered stay, with grey water going to the orchard, walking and cycling tracks (including the sealed Murray to the Mountains rail trail) nearby, and Bright’s shops a short stroll away.
Dream to reality: Bright is about a three-hour drive from Melbourne. Nearest airport is Albury, NSW. Studios from $150 a night. theoddfrog.com
ROO THE DAY, NSW
The experience: No plastic, thanks, we’re permaculture people.
Tucked between a sandstone escarpment and the Morton National Park, Kangaroo Valley has National Trust-listed landscapes and village buildings, a long-standing ‘‘no plastic bags in shops’’ policy, and tourism operators who are upfront about their efforts to reduce their carbon emissions. About 1300 people live in the valley, and it’s
a badge of honour for many that there are no traffic lights in the area.
Dream to reality: Kangaroo Valley is a two-hour drive south of Sydney. kangaroovalleytourist.asn.au
KATE FORSTER, author
The experience: Full-moon moments on the pristine Kimberley coast.
"It’s hard to explain how beautiful Broome’s Cable Beach is. I’ve been there twice. You’ve got the incredible red dust on the road, then this white sand and transparent blue water; it almost looks like a flag when you’re flying in. The last time we went, we watched the ‘staircase to the moon’, which happens during a king tide when a full moon rises and reflects on the exposed mudflats, giving the optical illusion of stairs reaching to the moon. Everyone goes to view it, and there’s food vans, a night market, hippies, tourists and locals. It’s a natural phenomenon but people are cheering and clapping because it’s just so magical. We stayed at the Cable Beach Club Resort and Spa both times. I remember the first time, we went to the resort’s deck overlooking the beach. The sun, a fantastic orange colour, was setting over the water and the camel train came along as I was sipping fruit punch. I started crying, it was so perfect."
Dream to reality: Qantas and Virgin fly to Broome from Sydney and Melbourne via Perth. Cable Beach Club Resort and Spa studio rooms from $199 a night. cablebeachclub.com
FOOD AND WINE
THE MILKY WAY, NT
The experience: A silk touch among the rugged majesty of Uluru.
Longitude 131, built at the gateway to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, sits lightly in the desert landscape, and offers an intriguing dining option: Table 131. After champagne and drinks at sunset, diners head for a nearby humpbacked dune set with tables and chairs, where a chef prepares a three-course dinner in an outdoor kitchen beneath a canopy of stars.
Dream to reality: Qantas and Virgin fly to Ayers Rock (Conellan) Airport. Two-night stays at Longitude 131, with transfers and meals, cost from $2190 for two people. longitude131.com.au
GRAZE CRAZE, NSW-ACT
The experience: Gourmet grazing on the go between capitals.
Hatted restaurants, cafes, wineries and producers are sprinkled across Gundaroo, Hall, Yass and Murrumbateman, making for a fine foodie trail, known as The Poacher’s Way, just outside Canberra. A self-guided drive, key ‘‘way stations’’ include chef Kurt Neumann’s Grazing restaurant at Gundaroo’s Royal Hotel and Poachers Pantry smoke-house goodies at Hall. B&Bs with crackling log fires in winter are trailside, too.
Dream to reality: Download a trail map and information. thepoachersway.com.au
MASTER CHEFS, WA
The experience: The south-west goes global as celebrity chefs fly in.
Heston Blumenthal, René Redzepi and Momofuku’s David Chang cooked, hosted, entertained and dined the weekend away at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, held for the first time in 2012. The foodie pow-wow returns to Western Australia’s sceptered coast from November 22-24 this year. Pivot for the event is the Gourmet Village at Leeuwin Estate, alongside pop-up restaurants and wine tastings.
Dream to reality: The 2013 program, tickets and accommodation options are at gourmetescape.com.au
HANDS-ON ASIAN, QLD
The experience: Hands-on slicing, dicing and spicing.
It’s Thai on the altar at the Spirit House Cooking School, where aromatic dishes are conjured. Conducted by Annette Fear and a team of superb chefs from her Spirit House Restaurant, half-day courses at Yandina, on the Sunshine Coast, plumb the mysteries of tiger prawns with tamarind sauce and green papaya salad.
Dream to reality: Spirit House, Ninderry Road, Yandina. Four-hour classes from $150. Keen cooks aged 12 and over welcome. spirithouse.com.au
DESERT PLATES, SA
The experience: Journey to the gastronomic never-never.
On the parched plains that gutter the western Flinders Ranges, the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna is a chunk of Australia straight from the pages of Outback mythology, as is its menu. Dishes served include emu liver pate, saltbush dukkah, kangaroo fillet, emu fillet mignon and camel sausage. Non-feral and non-carnivorous options available.
Dream to reality: Parachilna is a five-hour drive from Adelaide. Hotel rooms from $80 a night. Restaurant open daily. prairiehotel.com.au
MORSEL MEET, TASMANIA
The experience: Tapas-size servings of island bounty.
Between December 28 and January 3, Hobart’s waterfront becomes a giant grazing ground, packed with a wide variety of Tasmanian produce. The menu includes seafood, cheeses, berry fruits, milk-fed veal and honey-infused pastries, craft brews and cider. Red Hat Tours at the Taste Festival take small groups (maximum eight) to selected stalls for free tastings and opportunities to meet with the makers.
Dream to reality: Red Hat Tours at the Taste Festival take place daily from 11.30 am, from $15 a ticket. tastefestival.com.au
FLEUR WOOD, Sydney fashion designer
The experience: Towns that let the tables do the talking.
"Victoria’s Daylesford region is a foodie revelation All we did on a weekend visit was eat. My favourite restaurant is Kazuki’s – modern, Japanese-inspired bistro food. There’s beef and foie gras on the menu, but it’s very light. It’s my kind of food and I wanted everything on the menu. Wombat Hill House cafe, in the botanic gardens, is a great place to take kids and the food is fresh, organic and healthy. We had lunch in the conservatory and were struck by the delicious salads with fresh herbs and the local spring water. I did manage to get to Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa and visit Lavandula, a Swiss-Italian-style lavender farm for the signature lavender scones, of course. It is really beautiful, a good place for a post-spa afternoon tea. There are so many restaurants, yet there’s still an Australian country town aesthetic about Daylesford. With a husband and young baby, plus restaurants and spa treatments to experience, I didn’t have much time for shopping, but we took home some home-made apricot and almond jam. So much of the food is local and organic and there’s a real pride in growing and producing your own foods. It’s such a great community. If it was just outside Sydney, I’d be there every second weekend."
Dream to reality: Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges is north-west of Melbourne. Self-guided touring recommended. visitvictoria.com
Writers: Max Anderson, Andrew Bain, Mal Chenu, Belinda Jackson, Dugald Jellie, Michael Gebicki, Nina Karnikowski.
This article originally appeared in Good Weekend. Like Good Weekend on Facebook to get regular updates on upcoming stories and events – www.facebook.com/GoodWeekendMagazine