Four days off opens up possibilities of relaxing on a cruise through home waters, or a quick trip to a northern neighbour. Here's our experts' guide to some of the best options on offer.
1. THE PLACE Imeson Cottage, Byron Bay, NSW
GOOD FOR … Sun and surf, heritage, nature
WHY WE LOVE IT One of four national park-owned and run cottages, Imeson Cottage is the smallest and sweetest of the bunch located in the stunning Cape Byron State Conservation Area. The two-bedroom property is every inch the classic Aussie beach house, with 180-degree views of The Pass, one of Australia's premier surf breaks. George Imeson originally built his cottage for "the kids to use as a holiday house". Today Imeson has been completely renovated, but retains the charm and feel of beach holidays harking back to simpler times.
STEPPING OUT Walk to Cape Byron Bay Lighthouse (standing guard at the most easterly part of Australia), go for coffee at the Bay Leaf Cafe, and take a surf lesson, many of which are held right in front of Imeson.
MAKE IT HAPPEN From $425 a night (three-night minimum stay). Book well ahead (at least 12 months in advance). See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
2. THE PLACE Sydney, Royal Caribbean
GOOD FOR … Families, first-time cruisers, thrill-seekers
WHY WE LOVE IT Explorer of the Seas is returning to Australia in November, after its first season of cruising out of Sydney finished last month. The newly revitalised 3286-passenger ship will mostly sail Pacific Island cruises but there's a chance to check it out on a couple of three-day sampler cruises – these are cruises that don't stop anywhere. Explorer has lots of family-friendly activities, including a FlowRider surf simulator, three pools, mini-golf, 3D cinema, an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall and sports court. There are 15 bars, clubs and lounges and 10 eateries on board, six of which are extra-charge. Shoppers can browse for duty free buys in the Royal Promenade.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Fares for the three-day sampler cruise departing Sydney on December 8 start from $584.34. See royalcaribbean.com.au
3. THE PLACE Hilton La Promenade Residences, Noumea, New Caledonia
GOOD FOR … Island and beach lovers, food and wine
WHY WE LOVE IT Europe's too far for a short break, but Noumea is under three hours from Sydney by air and still a world away culturally. A heady mix of Pacific island and French culture, the city will surprise. The centre's a little shabby (the duty free pearls are excellent), but 10 minutes out of town, down Promenade Roger Laroque, the 30-month-old Hilton La Promenade Residences offers relaxed apartment stay accommodation in a pretty setting with sublime views of the bay, a perfect base from which to dive into the sublime aquatic life New Caledonia offers as well as the amazingly good cuisine of the capital.
STEPPING OUT Start the day at Port Poselle Markets with a coffee and croissant. Head up to Ouen Toro for 60 hectares of walking and jogging tracks with dazzling views. Stroll Faubourg Blanchot to see colonial mansions and the districts of the Vallee du Tir and Vallee des Colons where pretty, colourful colonial cottages are lovingly restored, some housing great galleries and boutiques. Take island day trips or road trip across New Caledonia to Blue River Provincial Park to see the country's fabulous birdlife in concentration.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Studio apartment from $220 a night twin share. See hilton.com/noumea.
4. THE PLACE Prairie Hotel, Parachilna, SA
GOOD FOR Adventure, nature, food and wine
WHY WE LOVE IT This legendary outback stop on the B83 road through the Flinders Ranges forms a huddle with an airstrip, radio mast and motly assortment of caravans. Yet the hotel and pub are surprisingly chic, with art-hung walls, terrific outback food (think goat curry and kangaroo-tail soup) and a welcoming ambience created by owners Ross and Jane Fargher. Just the place for travellers to refresh and swap stories from the road.
STEPPING OUT Scenic drives through the Flinders Ranges include the 100-kilometre loop around Bunyeroo-Brachina-Aroona, where Razorback Lookout provides one of the South Australian outback's best views. The red gorges of Brachina Geological Trail are magnificent just before sunset. Numerous hiking trails lead to Wilpena Pound, St Mary's Peak and remote gorges such as Wilkawillina Gorge.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Doubles from $80; there are also some cabins with kitchenettes. See prairiehotel.com.au.
5. THE PLACE Coast, Norfolk Island, Australia
GOOD FOR … Relaxation, history, families
WHY WE LOVE IT There are many reasons people fall in love with Norfolk Island: the beautiful landscape, the lovely beaches, the friendly country vibe. Coast gives you access to all of these, as well as offering comfortable apartment living. Enjoy breakfast on your balcony before heading out on a hiking path that starts at the property. If you decide to take the car, remember: cattle have right of way on the roads.
STEPPING OUT Don't try to schedule too much: Norfolk Island is a real wind-down destination. A beach visit or two is essential (Emily Bay is one of the most inviting beaches in the country), as is one of the easy walks in the national park. Book in a dinner at Norfolk Blue, and spend some time exploring Kingston, Australia's second-oldest settlement. The convict buildings and the old cemetery are worth a visit.
MAKE IT HAPPEN From $155 a night for a one bedroom apartment, including hire car (fuel extra), See coastnorfolkisland.com.
6. THE PLACE Como The Treasury, Perth
GOOD FOR … An urban escape, food and wine, luxury
WHY WE LOVE IT Where to start? We love its elegant neo-classical exterior, and its surprisingly pared-back interiors. We love the oversized rooms and the indulgent Shambhala spa. We love starting the day with quinoa porridge at the Post restaurant, overlooking one of Australia's most glamorous hotel spaces, the Postal Hall; we love ending the day with wild fish in squid ink brioche at the rooftop restaurant, Wildflower. If we have time in between for a vino in the laidback Lounge, so much the better.
STEPPING OUT You could easily spend two days exploring the rest of the State Buildings complex: apart from the hotel, it houses restaurants such as Long Chim, bars such as Petition Beer Corner and artisanal shops. Venturing out? Take a stroll through Perth's new Elizabeth Quays precinct, enjoy a Northbridge bar hop, or tour the burgeoning street art scene.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Doubles $595 a night. comohotels.com/thetreasury.
7. THE PLACE Mercure Grosvenor Hotel, Adelaide, SA
GOOD FOR … An urban escape, food and wine, culture, outdoors
WHY WE LOVE IT Lodged in an historic building, this hotel is business-oriented but nonetheless makes a great base for visitors, as it is within a walk of downtown attractions. Recently refurbished rooms have a sleek, cheerful design; Privilege Rooms have more space and views over North Terrace. Federal Bar has a fine wine list and great tasting plates; the adjacent restaurant has tasty Australian fare such as lamb rump and beef fillet.
STEPPING OUT Leafy parkland, stately colonial architecture, thriving festival and live-music scenes, and great dining precincts make for a very agreeable urban getaway. The fascinating Art Gallery of South Australia, Jam Factory's design studios and Central Market are top attractions. For something different, tackle the new Roof Climb at redesigned Adelaide Oval
MAKE IT HAPPEN Doubles from $125. See mercuregrosvenorhotel.com.au.
8. THE PLACE Castaways Resort and Spa, Mission Beach, QLD
GOOD FOR … Families, sun and surf, food and wine, outdoors
WHY WE LOVE IT Castaways Resort and Spa offers a plum position on a long stretch of beach on the Coral Sea looking across to Dunk Island. Accommodation is in contemporary motel-style rooms (opt for beachfront over rainforest rooms) with views of the pool or sea from a balcony or patio. Castaways offers a wonderful infinity pool and an on-site restaurant with a seasonal modern Australian menu (including a good selection of children meals). You can even get a decent coffee. There's also a day spa offering tropical inspired treatments.
STEPPING OUT Take a kayak tour down Babinda Creek teeming with fish, turtles and platypus, swim underneath Josephine or Murray Falls, or board an 18-metre ketch for a sunset cruise with Big Mama Sailing. The resort can arrange a private picnic on Dunk Island's pristine Naturalist Beach, spotting green sea turtles along the way.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Doubles from $115 a night in a rainforest room. See castaways.com.au.
9. THE PLACE Longitude 131, Northern Territory
GOOD FOR … Luxury, nature, culture
WHY WE LOVE IT One of the best things about Longitude 131 has always been the ability to admire an Uluru sunrise from the comfort of your own bed. Now there are even more ways to enjoy that front-and-centre view of the rock, thanks to the terrace that has been added to every tent. Enjoy sunset drinks by your own personal fire pit, before curling up in your luxury swag for a sleepout under the stars.
STEPPING OUT First-time visitors are always surprised by how much there is to see and do around Uluru, from hikes through Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon, learning about Aboriginal culture and savouring a champagne breakfast atop Mount Conner. Until next April, the magnificent Field of Light art installations add yet another attraction to the list.
MAKE IT HAPPEN From $1350 a person a night twin share (two night minimum). See longitude131.com.au.
10. THE PLACE Banyan Tree Bintan, Indonesia
GOOD FOR … Wellbeing, island and beach lovers, nature, outdoors
WHY WE LOVE IT Hidden between dense tropical forests, wake up to birdsong and the South China Sea from your four-poster canopy bed. Take an early morning dip in the villa's plunge pool or swim the tree-lined main pool before breakfast on the sunny terrace. You're here to spa, and Banyan Tree's first resort taps into Indonesian traditions and ingredients. Even if you're not a Javanese bride, you can still enjoy the purifying Lulur treatment or take a deep-tissue Balinese massage. The resort does innovative wellness breaks such as Full Moon celebrations, and the Massage of the Senses dinner incorporates dining and massage.
STEPPING OUT Bintan is in the Indonesian archipelago and a 50-minute, hassle-free ferry from Singapore. Yes, you can jetski or take a quad bike through the jungle, but to keep it quiet, take a dip in the hotel's private beach, plant coral, do yoga, search for shy monkeys, admire the sea life while snorkelling and finish with dinner in a fisherman's boat.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Doubles from $308 a night (conditions apply). See banyantree.com.
11. THE PLACE Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, SA
GOOD FOR … Luxury, nature, scenery, food and wine
WHY WE LOVE IT This uber-chic, all-inclusive eco-retreat has a cliff-top location, stunning steel-and-glass lounge straight out of a James Bond movie, and glamorous spa. The restaurant tempts with mod Oz fare that uses the best Kangaroo Island produce. Minimalist decor doesn't distract from sweeping coastal views. Spacious suites feature fragrant wood, white limestone, bespoke furnishings and more staggering outlooks.
STEPPING OUT Kangaroo Island is all about wild landscapes, wildlife and organic food production. Visit Clifford's Honey Farm, Island Pure Sheep Dairy and any of a dozen wineries and go seal and sea-lion spotting at Seal Bay Conservation Park. Flinders Chase National Park has wonderful coastal scenery, turquoise bays and abundant wildlife.
MAKE IT HAPPEN $1100 a person including dining, open bar, signature experiences and airport transfers. See southernoceanlodge.com.au.
12. THE PLACE Cow Bay Hilltop Escape, Cow Bay, QLD
GOOD FOR … Art, nature, outdoors
WHY WE LOVE IT This remote property overlooks the achingly beautiful Cow Bay surrounded by the Daintree rainforest. Experience off-the-grid living but in comfort and style at this three-bedroom home formerly owned artists. There's so much to love about this place, however the artist's studio (equipped with basic supplies), enormous deck with inspiring ocean views and the sounds, smells and colours of the world's oldest living rainforest top my list.
STEPPING OUT Arriving at Cow Bay (two hours north of Cairns) is an adventure in itself crossing on the Daintree Ferry ($25 return). Head north to the long stretch of Thornton Beach and have fish and chips at the beachfront kiosk, take a croc tour, or bunker down with some good food and wine (BYO groceries and alcohol) and revel in the sublime setting.
MAKE IT HAPPEN From $295 a night (minimum three-night stay) for five people. See cowbayhilltopescape.com.
13. THE PLACE Adelaide to Sydney, Royal Caribbean
GOOD FOR … Cruise tragics, families, thrill-seekers
WHY WE LOVE IT The much-anticipated arrival of the 4180-passenger Ovation of the Seas has led to an extended season that includes a five-night Sydney-Hobart cruise departing January 23 and a three-night sampler departing Sydney February 17, 2017. Meanwhile there are still a few spots available on the Adelaide to Sydney voyage, departing December 11. Why are passengers so keen to get on board the new Quantum-class vessel? It will be the newest cruise ship to visit our shores; it famously boasts features such as the North Star viewing capsule and a sky-diving simulator; and it has 18 restaurants and numerous bars, including the fun, gimmicky robot-controlled Bionic Bar.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Fares for the four-day cruise, departing Adelaide on December 11, start from $889; cruising.com.au. Fares for the three-night sampler start from $619 and for the five-night cruise from $929; See royalcaribbean.com.au
14. THE PLACE Pinetrees Lodge, Lord Howe Island, NSW
GOOD FOR … Families, nature lovers, foodies
WHY WE LOVE IT Because it's the answer to the cry "stop the world, I want to get off", and only two hours' flight from Sydney. There is no mobile phone reception on the island and dodgy internet, and everyone gets around by bike. Pinetrees is old-fashioned hospitality at its best, with a laidback vibe – shoes are optional – and friendly and efficient service. It's also a haven for food lovers, from daily barbecue lunches delivered to the island's most picturesque picnic locations to sunset drinks at the boatshed and the famous weekly fish fry in which Lord Howe Island kingfish is the star.
STEPPING OUT With wildlife to rival the Galapagos and spectacular coral reefs, this UNESCO World Heritage Listed island really is a nature-lover's paradise. Swim off pristine beaches, snorkel over giant turtles and Galapagos sharks, hand feed mullet at Neds Beach, cast a line off the jetty and bag a garfish or ten, or take a professional fishing charter to Balls Pyramid.
MAKE IT HAPPEN From $1425 a person twin share (bed and breakfast) or $1775 a person twin share (all inclusive) depending on season. See pinterees.com.au.
See also: Lord Howe - the perfect four-day break
Contributors: Lee Atkinson, Anthony Dennis, Belinda Jackson, Julietta Jameson, Brian Johnston, Ute Junker, Sally Macmillan, Sheriden Rhodes, Craig Tansley and Sally Webb.