Australia is a big, bold and beautiful country that would take a lifetime to explore in full. It's perhaps why many of us prefer to flock to familiar destinations we know and love – like Byron Bay, the Gold Coast and the Great Ocean Road.
But change is afoot. Pinterest, Wotif and Airbnb show bookings, and searches for out of the way towns are on the rise. And more travellers than ever are heading to Australia's regional country areas and coastal towns, according to research by Tourism Australia. Australians, after all, spent a record $70.3 billion on domestic travel in the year ending September 2018, with regional spending up 10 per cent.
John O'Sullivan, Tourism Australia's managing director, says Australians are increasingly discovering there's much to see in their own backyard.
"Australians are becoming more inquisitive and wanting to travel off the beaten track, while at the same time regional Australia is more accessible than ever with airlines doing a great job at opening up gateways and destinations," he says.
"You only have to look at the rise of Tasmania as a holiday destination, built off the back of MONA, Barnbougle Dunes golf course and Freycinet Lodge, now that it's easier than ever to get there."
The new-found zeal for a domestic holiday makes it high-time for travellers to explore many of the emerging regions, some of which have long been overshadowed by their more famous counterparts.
So from Gippsland to the Great Southern and from Dubbo and the Derwent Valley to the Dandenongs, here's our pick of the choicest untapped and largely unsung regional gems to place on your holiday radar.
DERWENT VALLEY, TASMANIA
WHY YOU SHOULD GO This serene and fertile valley offers a fascinating history stretching back to bush ranger times. It's home to one of the Apple Isle's finest eateries, the Agrarian Kitchen (theagrariankitchen.com), and walkers have their pick from easy to challenging treks in Mount Field National Park. It's also gateway to the magnificent Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the South-West Wilderness.
TELL ME MORE An easy drive north of Hobart takes you to a bucolic valley with rolling hills, giant forests, Tasmania's oldest national park and rivers teeming with trophy-size trout. Here you'll find quaint oast houses, stone houses, whisky distilleries and the spectacular Russell and Lady Barren Falls.
DON'T MISS Celebrate the best of Tassie's incredible produce at the Agrarian Kitchen and Cooking School, enjoy an ale or two at Two Metre Tall Brewery (2mt.com.au) made from ingredients grown on the family-run farm, and visit the oldest trout hatchery in the southern hemisphere at Salmon Ponds (salmonponds.com.au). One of Tasmania's best line-ups of antique shops can be found at Willow Court Antique Centre (willowcourt.com.au), and the Possum Shed riverside cafe (thepossumshed.com.au) is famous for its homemade cakes.
WHERE TO STAY Bunker down at Truffle Lodge (trufflelodge.com) in luxe safari style tents on the banks of the Derwent River from $795 a night. Part of the Small Luxury Hotel Group, the Woodbridge on the Derwent (woodbridgenn.com.au) offers luxurious rooms in a Georgian mansion from $295 a night.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Direct flights are available to Hobart from most Australian capital cities. From there it's a one-hour drive to the Derwent Valley, more if you factor in a stop at Stefano Lubiana Winery (slw.com.au). See derwentvalleytasmania.org.au
SEVENTEEN SEVENTY-AGNES WATERS, GLADSTONE REGION, QUEENSLAND
WHY YOU SHOULD GO Gateway to the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, the twin towns give the tropical islands lying offshore a run for their money when it comes to coastal utopia. This area is home to secluded beaches, gentle surfing on the state's most northerly waves, tropical islands, coral cays, a resident dugong colony and sea turtles.
TELL ME MORE The laidback dual townships of Seventeen Seventy and Agnes Waters lie at the heart of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Here you'll find the raw beauty of surely one of Queensland's best kept secrets.
DON'T MISS Lose yourself in a paperbark forest on a trail sprinkled with stepping stones, boardwalks and water crossings, take a dip at the secluded Chinaman's Beach, or take a walk along a string of beaches found on the Red Rock Hiking Trail. Pack your swimmers for a dip in one of the pristine rock pools. Start your day with coffee at the Balinese-inspired Getaway Garden Cafe (its vanilla slice is considered the coast's best) and end it by catching the town's famed sunsets from the Tree Bar at the 1770 Beach Hotel (1770beachhotel.com.au )
WHERE TO STAY Stay in luxury villas in lush tropical surrounds at 1770 Getaway (1770getaway.com.au), just minutes' walk from pristine beaches and with the wonderful Garden Cafe onsite. From $175 a night. You'll find studio rooms oozing tropical chic, some with direct pool access, at Lagoons 1770 Resort and Spa (lagoons1770.com.au). From $179 a night.
MAKE IT HAPPEN QantasLink and Virgin Australia operate flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Gladstone and Bundaberg via Brisbane. Agnes Waters and Seventeen Seventy are 90 minutes' drive north of Bundaberg; or 90 minutes south of Gladstone. See visitagnes1770.com.au
MARY VALLEY, SUNSHINE COAST, QUEENSLAND
The Mary Valley Rattler steam train. Photo: Paul Ewart
WHY YOU SHOULD GO Away from the Sunny Coast's famed beaches you'll find great spots for trekking, cycling, horse-riding and kayaking. The Mary Valley is also one of Australia's great food bowls, with farm gates selling everything from cheese to feijoas, and markets groaning with fresh produce. Just don't expect fine dining and slick cafes.
TELL ME MORE Lesser known than the bustling hinterland villages of Montville and Maleney, the Mary Valley is equally enticing with picturesque green valleys, dramatic forests, mountain summits and picture-perfect hamlets.
DON'T MISS Step back in time on the Mary Valley Rattler steam train on a two-hour journey from Gympie through idyllic countryside to Amamoor (maryvalleyrattler.com.au). Growers markets are held on Saturdays at Amamoor and Dagun railways stations. Go platypus spotting during a kayak along the beautiful Mary River, Yabba Creek or Lake Borumba (rideonmary.com), enjoy morning tea in the fairy tale gardens of the Blue and White Teapot in Amamoor and taste the region's famous dairy produce at Kenilworth Cheese (kenilworthdairies.com.au). City slickers can don boots, set up tents and soak up the best of blues, roots and country music at the annual Gympie Music Muster (muster.com.au).
WHERE TO STAY Enjoy rustic charm and country hospitality at Amamoor Lodge (amamoorlodge.com.au) in either traditional B&B accommodation, lodge style, or self-contained apartments from $125 a night. Mary Valley Views (maryvalleyviews.com.au) offers private, spacious rooms in a contemporary guesthouse from $180 night.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Mary Valley is an hour's drive from Sunshine Coast Airport (which offers direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne) or a little over two hours' drive from Brisbane Airport. See visitsunshinecoast.com/Mary-Valley
Croajingolong. Photo: MARK WATSON
WHY YOU SHOULD GO Jaw-dropping natural beauty, lush farmland cascading down to pristine beaches and scenic drives beneath towering eucalypts. In this diverse corner of Australia you'll find the UNESCO Croajingolong Biosphere Reserve, Wilsons Promontory National Park (affectionately known as "The Prom"), Tarra Bulga National Park and Australia's largest inland lakes system, the Gippsland Lakes. Many former city folk now call the Gippsland region home and, fortuitously, have brought their good coffee and food along with them.
TELL ME MORE From Wilsons Prom to the foothills of the alpine region and across to the Gippsland Lakes, the Gippsland region covers an area the size of Switzerland.
DON'T MISS Australia's largest inland waterways, the Gippsland Lakes, cover more than 600 square kilometres and are just over the dunes from the iconic Ninety Mile Beach. Book a table at the recently hatted waterfront Sardine Eatery and Bar (sardineeaterybar.com), taste Gippsland wines at new cellar door Lightfoot and Sons (lightfootwines.com) and enjoy home-style meals at the Long Paddock (longpaddock.com.au) by two former Vue de Monde chefs. From next month explore the Prom's spectacular waterways aboard Wilsons Promontory Cruises (pennicottjourneys.com.au)
WHERE TO STAY The Church House (thechurchhouse.com.au.) at Fish Creek, which starred on TV's Grand Designs, offers luxury accommodation in an historic church from $450 a night. In-house dining is available. Bear Gully Cottages (beargullycottages.com.au ) offer beachfront, self-contained accommodation from $275 a night. Guests can swim, fish, snorkel, dive or fossick around the beautiful rock pools.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Longwarry, Gippsland's western-most entry point, and Lang Lang, the northern-most entry point, are both a 90-minute drive from Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. From Canberra Airport it's a two hour and 40-minute drive. See destinationgippsland.com.au
THE GREAT SOUTHERN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Greens Pool, Denmark, WA. Photo: Jarrad Seng
WHY YOU SHOULD GO Long living in the shadow of its more famous neighbour, Margaret River, this unsung part of Australia offers rugged good looks, a fascinating history, towering Eucalypts and some of the country's most idyllic coastline.
TELL ME MORE Part of the 23,000 kilometres that makes up the south-west corner of WA, the little explored Great Southern region offers an unspoiled and often dramatic coastline, idyllic seaside towns, national parks, historic landmarks and a rich bounty of food and incredible rieslings.
DON'T MISS Join a killer whale expedition to Bremer Canyon (whales-australia.com.au), visit Bruce Munro's Field of Light: Avenue of Honour in Albany, along with a state-of-the-art interpretive National Anzac Centre (nationalanzaccentre.com.au). Albany was the departure point for most Anzac troops in World War I. Feel the sand squelch between your toes on one of Australia's best beaches, Little Beach, explore Greens Pool and Elephant Rocks near Denmark, and take in epic views of the Southern Ocean from The Gap in Albany.
WHERE TO STAY Choose one of 22 luxe rooms at Premier Mill Hotel (premiermillhotel.com) in either an old grain silo, packing room, or where wheat purifier machines once rumbled, from $265 a night. Cape Howe Cottages (capehowe.com.au) between Albany and Denmark offers six self-contained cottages from $180 a night.
MAKE IT HAPPEN The Great Southern region is a four-hour drive from Perth. Rex Airlines flies to Albany from Perth, however you'll need a car to get around. See australiassouthwest.com/region/great-southern
THE DANDENONGS, VIC
Coonara Springs, Olinda. Photo: Wayne Taylor
WHY YOU SHOULD GO The Dandenongs is finally shaking off its poor cousin – and let's face it, rather twee – reputation compared to the neighbouring Yarra Valley. Although the Dandenongs isn't going to rock The Good Food Guide, at least for now, there are some fine new eating places, such as Shannon Bennett's rustic Piggery Cafe (piggerycafe.com.au) at the eccentric Burnham Beaches estate, Sherbrooke, and artisan-style bakeries such as Proserpine Bakehouse at Sassafras.
TELL ME MORE With towering Mountain Ash and valleys carpeted with billowing ferns, the Dandenong Ranges offers quaint B&Bs, cool mountain air, day spas and lush bushland walks, all within easy distance of Victoria's capital.
DON'T MISS Coonara Springs (coonarasprings.com), with its superb setting at Olinda overlooking a valley, is pure Dandenongs. It's also one of Victoria's, if not Australia's, oldest restaurants, with a pedigree that can be traced to the late 19th century. But the produce-driven menu at this restaurant, in a stunning garden setting, is decidedly modern.
WHERE TO STAY Skip the B&Bs and, if your budget allows, opt for a stay in one of the superb local homes managed by the team at the outstanding Valley Ranges Getaways (valleyrangesgetaways.com.au)
MAKE IT HAPPEN A car is the best way to explore this lush area of rolling forested hills and deep valleys just an hour's drive from Melbourne. See visitdandenongranges.com.au
YASS VALLEY, ACT-NSW
WHY YOU SHOULD GO This thriving rural hot spot offers all the ingredients for a quintessential country escape, with fabulous cool climate wines, charming shops and bucolic scenery. It's a place to enjoy the simple pleasures of country life.
TELL ME MORE Unearth the region's rural riches and experience country life up close in the beautiful Yass Valley on the doorstep of the nation's capital. Here you'll find fresh air, country lanes, roaring fires, innovative producers and talented craftspeople, not to mention heavenly food and wine.
DON'T MISS Pack a picnic (or pick up a hamper from a local Yass cafe) and enjoy the day at Wee Jasper Reserves where you can fish, swim and camp under the stars. Learn about one of Australia's greatest explorers, Hamilton Hume at Cooma Cottage in Yass, pull up a chair and gaze over the vines glass in hand at Four Winds Vineyard (fourwindsvineyard.com.au) and watch third-generation glass blower Peter Minson in action at his studio in Bingalong (minsonartglass.com.au). At Mayfield Mews (mayfieldmews.com.au) walk in the footsteps of Henry Lawson while enjoying high tea.
WHERE TO STAY Take your pick of four upstairs guest bedrooms, all with en suites, or the rustic Mediterranean-inspired garden room with stone floor, wood fire and bath at the Globe Inn Bed and Breakfast (theglobeinn.com.au) in Yass. Abode Murrumbateman (abodehotels.com.au) offers 50 boutique studio rooms, large flexible foyer spaces, and communal kitchen and guest lounge, from $120 a night.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Yass Valley is a 45-minute drive from Canberra Airport; three plus hours from Sydney. See yassvalley.com.au
EYRE PENINSULA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Camel Beach House.
WHY YOU SHOULD GO This is one of Australia's most untapped regions, with incredible wildlife experiences, ocean to plate dining, pristine beaches, saltpans, rolling farmland and the world's longest stretch of unbroken sea cliffs.
TELL ME MORE: Wildlife, endless skies, deserted beaches and the rugged outback. The Eyre Peninsula offers all this with more than 170,000 square kilometres to explore. Best of all, you'll often have its wild coastline, calm bays and white sand beaches all to yourself.
DON'T MISS Swim with sea lions and cage dive with Great White Sharks in Port Lincoln, feast on fresh Coffin Bay oysters, Spencer Gulf prawns, bluefin tuna and fresh mussels at the Fresh Fish Place (freshfishplace.com.au) and Line and Label in Port Lincoln (thelineandlabel.com.au). Take in spectacular outback vistas from the Organ Pipes in the Gawler Ranges to the epic salt pan that is Lake Gairdner. The majestic Bunda Cliffs along the Nullarbor are part of the longest stretch of unbroken cliffs in the world. In winter, watch whales frolic with their calves at the Head of the Bight.
WHERE TO STAY Camel Beach House near Venus Bay offers boutique, private accommodation overlooking Camel Beach (camelbeachhouse.com.au) from $275 a night. Tanonga Eco Lodge (tanonga.com.au) near Port Lincoln is an exclusive eco retreat with views of rolling hills down to the sea, from $350 a night.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Fly to Port Lincoln, the hub of the region, via Adelaide and hire a car to explore. The drive from Adelaide to Port Lincoln takes about seven hours. See eyrepeninsula.com
SOUTH WEST ROCKS, NSW
WHY YOU SHOULD GO This is the place for old school beach holidays. Think surfing, beach cricket, and walks along sandy bush tracks to deserted stretches of sand. Buy a Golden Gaytime and feel like it's the '70s all over again.
TELL ME MORE If this one-pub town was anywhere near a major airport it would be full of big brand name resorts, movie stars and cashed-up sea changers. The fact it's a little hard to reach has helped preserve this unspoiled holiday spot on the NSW North Coast (the second most easterly point in the state).
DON'T MISS Explore South West Rock's six beautiful beaches, drift snorkel or take a paddle board tour (swrsup.com) down Back Creek and dine on fresh local fish with a backdrop of live music at the Full Circle Eatery. Explore the 100-year-old Trial Bay Gaol and afterwards enjoy a barbecue as the sun sets over the west facing beach.
WHERE TO STAY Love the idea of camping but want all the creature comforts too? Ngurra Eco Lodges at Big4 Sunshine South West Rocks (big4southwestrocks.com.au) come with every conceivable mod con and sleep six comfortably, from $490 a night. Caravan and camp sites, villas, cabins are also on offer at this fabulous, well run resort from $55 a night.
MAKE IT HAPPEN South West Rocks is halfway between Sydney and Brisbane and just over an hour from either Port Macquarie or Coffs Harbour airports. See macleayvalleycoast.com.au
THE RIVERINA, NSW
Kimo Hut on Kimo Estate, Gundagai in the Riverina region. Photo: Hilary Bradford
WHY YOU SHOULD GO Wagga Wagga, NSW's largest inland town, is Australia's fastest growing destination on Airbnb, with bookings up a staggering 280 per cent. Meanwhile Griffith is seeing a revival of its food and wine scene, bolstered by its strong Italian roots. Expect wonderful country pubs, classic Australian wineries such as De Bortoli and McWilliams, and a burgeoning food scene.
TELL ME MORE Known as the food bowl of Australia, Riverina's flat plains are all about fresh produce, historic cellar doors, lush national parks and golden canola fields.
DON'T MISS Pick your own strawberries at the new Bidgee Strawberries and Cream, embrace Griffith's Italian roots at the fine dining Limone (limone.com.au) and Zecca (zeccagriffith.com.au). In Wagga Wagga, the Roundabout Restaurant (charlessturtwagga.com.au) and the Oakroom (townhousewagga.com/the-oakroom) celebrate local ingredients. At long-established Calabria Wines (calabriawines.com.au), order a gourmet grazing box while tasting their wines (don't miss the durif). If ales are more your thing, take a tour of the Thirsty Crow Brewing Co (thirstycrow.com.au) or have a chat over a schooner with one of the passionate brewers.
WHERE TO STAY The Houston in Wagga Wagga (thehoustonwagga.com.au) offers 13 suites in a luxury boutique hotel created from the grand neo-gothic Belmore House, from $165 a night. Kimo Estate (kimoestate.com), 45 minutess from Wagga Wagga, offers glamping-style eco-cabin and luxurious cottages on a working farm from $210 a night.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Wagga Wagga is almost five hours' drive from Sydney; two hours and 45 minutes from Canberra Airport. Rex Airlines and Qantas both fly direct to Wagga Wagga from Sydney. See riverinatourism.com.au
FIVE OTHER SPOTS TO HOTTING UP
ALICE SPRINGS, NT
Coming in as the region with the largest domestic growth last year (up 55 per cent), according to Webjet, Alice Springs is on the rise thanks to increased airline capacity, a rich Aboriginal culture and the chance to experience the quintessential Australian outback. See discovercentralaustralia.com
CENTRAL COAST, NSW
An hour north of Sydney, "God's waiting room" as it's commonly referred to, is undergoing a renaissance with a raft of new restaurant, bar and cafe openings. Check out the new-look Woy Woy Fishermen's Wharf, New York-style rooftop bar Lucky Bee, and Saddles, a rustic restaurant and bakehouse from local business man John Singleton. See visitcentralcoast.com.au
Long overshadowed by big sister Hobart, Launceston and the surrounding Tamar Valley is having its moment in the sun with new hotel openings, great food and wine and home grown design. "Launnie" also now hosts MONA's Mofo each January. See destinationlaunceston.com.au
Yes, Dubbo. Meghan and Harry put this country town firmly on the map following their visit last year. Visit Taronga Western Plains Zoo, the historic Dubbo Gaol and the Red Earth Estate cellar door. The town's first brewery, Devil's Elbow Brewery, opens in March. See dubbo.com.au
ARNHEM LAND, NT
Once referred to as the final frontier due to its remoteness, Arnhem Land is becoming more accessible than ever, according to Intrepid Travel, who operate tours with the Yolngu People. Expect red dust, wilderness and an insight into one of the oldest continuing cultures on earth. See northernterritory.com/arnhem-land
THE CLASSICS: AUSTRALIAN REGIONS WE'LL ALWAYS LOVE
SUNSHINE COAST, QLD
Incredible food and wine, beautiful beaches for days, fantastic festivals and events makes the Sunny Coast a perennial favourite. See visitsunshinecoast.com
GREAT OCEAN ROAD, VIC
One of the world's most scenic coastal drives continues to draw travellers who come for the Twelve Apostles, Bells Beach, and historic Port Fairy. See visitgreatoceanroad.org.au
HUNTER VALLEY, NSW
Australia's oldest wine region continues to lure visitors with a string of new openings, from cellar doors and restaurants to hotel upgrades and boutique accommodation. See huntervalleyvisitorcentre.com.au
BYRON BAY, NSW
There will only ever be one Byron Bay and its popularity is unlikely to wane any time this millennium. With beautiful beaches, a boho vibe, a vibrant food scene and stunning hinterland to boot. See visitbyronbay.com
TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND
One of Australia's hero destinations, TNQ is home to two World Heritage sites, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. See tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au
THE GOLD COAST, QLD
Possibly Australia's most iconic holiday destination, the "Goldie" remains a firm favourite for its beaches, theme parks, shopping and nightlife. See destinationgoldcoast.com
BAROSSA VALLEY, SA
Aussies have long headed to South Australia's Barossa Valley – one of the world's great wine regions and one of the country's oldest – for its world-class wines, local produce and accommodation among the vines. See barossa.com
THE WHITSUNDAYS, QLD
Australians continue their love affair with the Whitsunday's 74 magic islands at the heart of the Great Barrier Reef with Daydream Island and Hayman Island set to re-open this year. See tourismwhitsundays.com.au
Known for its famous Cable Beach, Broome is fringed by rugged desert and a spectacular impermeable coastline. It's where travellers go for camel rides, lustrous pearls, blazing sunsets and the Kimberleys. See visitbroome.com.au