Top 10 most underrated places in Australia

RAINBOW BEACH

Hervey Bay is the bigger, brasher jumping off point for Fraser Island, but Rainbow Beach is both closer and more attractive. This is partly because it's got some of what Fraser has got – in particular, the big beach you can drive a 4WD down and spectacular cliffs of multicoloured sand. Surf and Sand Safaris runs tours along the beach to the Double Island Point Lighthouse. See surfandsandsafaris.com.

KINGS CANYON

The third piece of the Red Centre trio, after Uluru and Kata Tjuta, offers something very different. The walk through the bottom of the canyon shows unusually lush greenery for this part of the world, but the one around the rim is special – with the precipitous views downwards contrasting with the rugged red landscape across the top of the George Gill Range. See parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au.

THE SOUTHERN FORESTS

Margaret River's wineries, caves and surf beaches tend to be the big draw in the south-west, but the neighbouring Southern Forests region is much more chilled. In amongst the big granite boulders and giant karri trees are cruisy laid-back forest towns such as Denmark, Pemberton and Walpole, a smattering of cooler climate wineries and nature-heavy tour options such as WOW Wilderness Cruises' trip out to the Southern Ocean coast. See wowwilderness.com.au.

THE GRAMPIANS

The Great Ocean Road hogs all the publicity shots, but go inland and the Grampians offers a different kind of beauty. The folds of the sandstone ranges make for delicious lookouts at seemingly every turn, arguably the best mountain climbing in Australia and a series of cracking hiking trails to dainty waterfalls. See visitvictoria.com/regions/Grampians.

THE SPIT TO MANLY WALK

Sydney's Bondi to Coogee clifftop walk gets a justifiably good rep as a stellar stroll – but it's not the only great walk in Sydney. The winding path between the Spit Bridge and Manly on the North Shore passes trickling waterfalls, deserted beaches, clifftops with imperious harbour views and Aboriginal rock art. Most of it is through National Parkland, too – so it's a taste of bush within the city. See Sydney.com/manly-to-spit-walk

THE FLEURIEU PENINSULA

Usually dismissed as a mere gateway to Kangaroo Island, the Fleurieu offers much the same wild coastal scenery and wildlife-spotting opportunities. It also plays host to the Shiraz-tastic McLaren Vale wine region, which gets perplexingly few visitors compared to the Barossa Valley. Off Piste Tours combines the highlights, while getting privileged access to 4WD bush tracks on private land. See offpistetours.com.au.

THE CLARE VALLEY

Speaking of alternatives to the Barossa, the Clare Valley further north is blessed with a series of odd microclimates that makes it ripe for experimentation – and Rieslings do remarkably well up there for those not as taken with the big reds further south. More to the point, wine tourism in the Clare feels more small scale, personal and intimate – the big tour buses rarely show their heads. See clarevalley.com.au.

THE GOLD COAST HINTERLAND

The Gold Coast isn't just beaches and theme parks. The hinterland is mostly Gondwanan rainforest, with a series of National Parks to delve into, plus glow-worm caves, wineries, galleries and loveably chintzy fudge shop towns such as Tamborine Mountain. See visitgoldcoast.com.

THE NOOSA EVERGLADES

You don't have to venture too far from the Hastings Street buzz and beaches of Noosa to get something totally different. Head along the waterways, through a couple of shallow lakes, and you're into the Everglades, where tannins from the trees turn the water oily, goannas flit around rustic campgrounds and lily pads part for the Discovery Group's boat cruises. See thediscoverygroup.com.au.

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SHAW ISLAND

Or, if you prefer, any of the other non-inhabited islands in the Whitsundays that aren't Whitsunday Island itself. The resort islands such as Hamilton and Hayman are justifiably popular, but the real magic of the region unveils itself when your yacht pulls in on a beach with no one else in sight. See tourismwhitsundays.com.au.

The writer was a guest of Tourism Australia.

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