The most beautiful places in Australia

Let's be honest: as a nation, we are rather vain. No real surprise there. Everyone knows that those blessed with good looks tend to be self-absorbed, so it makes sense that Australians are always ready to sing the praises of our most scenic spots.

There are certainly plenty to choose from, from the rugged beauty of Tasmania's Franklin River to the sunset glow of Uluru and of course Sydney's sparkling harbour, crowned with the voluptuous curves of the Opera House. 

Here's something that may surprise you, however: Australians actually underestimate the sheer gorgeousness of our continent. That's what the Traveller team thinks, at least. Asked to choose Australia's most beautiful locations, they came up with a comprehensive catalogue that included many under-the-radar attractions. 

Ever admired the arid beauty of Lake Mungo or the brilliant pink waters of Lake Hillier?  How about the heritage buildings of Beechworth or the treehouse town of Walpole? They are just some of the low-profile stunners that made the Traveller list. And there are plenty of other postcard-perfect destinations to discover, too. As they say, Advance Australia (the) Fair.

ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS MELBOURNE

Amongst their 8500 different plants, Melbourne's glorious Botanic Gardens still bear remnants dating back from when they were established by Lieutenant Governor Charles La Trobe in 1846. But as historical as they are, the gardens teem with modern life, from the roots of the constantly tended and scientifically studied flower beds, to the tips of its highest trees where birdlife flourishes.  The gardens' location – adjacent to the city, right on the river in fashionable South Yarra, attracts human life too, from busy morning joggers around its perimeter on the Tan track, to indolent lovers on the sprawling green lawns. See www.rbg.vic.gov.au 

FLINDERS RANGES, SA

it takes half a billion years to create a landscape with this rugged beauty; Razorback and Brachina lookouts are stunning. Crumbling red and purple cliffs, massive red river-gums and a confetti of swirling galahs against blue sky provides a quintessential outback landscape. White-trunked trees clash with orange rock, cockatoos scream and sunsets explode. Seesouthaustralia.com

THE KIMBERLEY WA

Everyone's Kimberley must-do list looks different but mine includes lounging in the world's prettiest hot spring (El Questro's Zebedee Springs), flying over multi-tiered Mitchell Falls, counting the crocs in the Ord River, pulling a barra from the pristine waters and tipping back a cocktail as camels lope past at Broome's Cable Beach. See westernaustralia.com

MOSSMAN RIVER, QLD

Far North Queensland's Mossman River is a place to hear Dreamtime stories from those who have always known these cool, clear waters, which carve their way through towering rainforest and tumble over granite boulders before snaking their way out to the Coral Sea. See queensland.com

ROYAL EXHIBITION BUILDING, VICTORIA

There's a living presence to Melbourne's much loved and admired Royal Exhibition Building. It vibrates as if it has a heartbeat and a sunny though genteel disposition. The only surviving part of a 19th-century international exhibition complex, it's an in parts incongruous mix of architectural styles: Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance, with a dome influenced by Florence's 15th-century cathedral. But the Victorian beauty is not incongruous to its surrounds, seamlessly connected to the city by wide grand entranceways and a constant flow of events and bridal photo shoots. See museumvictoria.com.au/reb

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MORETON ISLAND, QLD

On Brisbane's doorstep is the wild and wonderful playground of Moreton Island. Outdoor enthusiasts camp and roam the beaches, which range from sheltered bayside waters in front of the wrecks to the ocean side where waves roll in unchecked. Tamer types head to Tangalooma Island Resort where wily dolphins cruise in to eat from their hands.

GLASS HOUSE MOUNTAINS, QLD

As Captain James Cook cruised past in 1770, he thought these steep volcanic plugs each resembled a glasshouse – thus the name. Some peaks are climbable but even visitors of middling fitness can conquer Mount  Ngungun's summit trail to be rewarded with glorious all-the-way-to-the-coast views.

SYDNEY HARBOUR NATIONAL PARK, NSW

Many pockets of natural beauty around Sydney Harbour – from North Head to Nielsen Park, as well as five harbour islands – belong to Sydney Harbour National Park. Discover clues to our colonial and indigenous history (the rock engravings at Dobroyd Head are a highlight) or just enjoy feeling that you've magically left the big city far, far behind. KL 

ESPERANCE, WA

This is a small town set amid amazing natural beauty, from the pristine white-sand beaches and national parks to its south, to the Recherche Archipelago, a chain of 105 islands just off the coast, where seals, sea-lions, dolphins and sea birds play.
visitesperance.com 

FRANKLIN-GORDON WILD RIVERS NATIONAL PARK, TAS

The best way to see this World Heritage-listed national park is in a rubber raft on a 10-day water-borne adventure, camping by night, tackling rapids during the day, seeing remote parts of the forest that could only be accessed by those floating on the river. See discovertasmania.com;
franklinriverrafting.com 

HERON ISLAND, QLD

Though there's plenty to love about Heron Island above the water, from its idyllic tree-lined beaches to its seabird-filled interior, it's what's under the surface of the ocean that really counts: some of the Great Barrier Reef's best dive sites, wonderlands of coral shelves and bommies surrounded by all manner of marine life. See heronisland.com 

TURQUOISE BAY, WA

Western Australia is blessed with an abundance of ridiculously beautiful beaches, but one of the finest, with the clearest of clear waters and the whitest of white sands, would have to be Turquoise Bay, near Exmouth. Watching the sunset over the blue horizon here is absolute perfection.

CRADLE MOUNTAIN, TAS

The jewel is Tasmania's already dazzling crown might just be Cradle Mountain, a hiker's paradise of remote tracks that call past flawless lakes, through old-growth forests, and up to the area's spectacular summit.
discovertasmania.com.au 

WATSON'S BAY, NSW

This is Australia's oldest fishing village, a tiny settlement which perches on the southern edge of Sydney's harbour mouth and bears daily witness to the city's maritime comings and goings. Its jagged coastline is punctuated with delightful, stamp-sized beaches and crammed with fishing shacks now transformed into designer homes. See sydney.com

HAGGERSTONE ISLAND, QLD

Paradise is an oblong emerald dropped into an acid-washed sea: lush, tiny, perfect – and cushioned by waters as unsullied as they were the day they were born. This is Haggerstone Island, located off the remote coast of Far North Queensland, inhabited by the intrepid Turner family and run as an exclusive resort. See haggerstoneisland.com.au 

LAKE MUNGO, NSW

This is where it all began: the crusted, crenelated moonscape where Mungo Man and Mungo Lady lived 42,000 years ago.  Located in NSW's World Heritage-listed Willandra Lakes Region, it's a dry, thirsty landscape that contains within it the secrets of Australia's ancient past, of the sea that once sloshed about here, of the people who lived on its banks.visitmungo.com.au 

WHITEHAVEN BEACH, QLD

Whitehaven Beach – that lush blanket of squeaky, snow-white silica sand – is nothing without the waters that lap against it: a cocktail of pigments – aqua, teal, cobalt blue – poured onto the milky seabed and left to mingle in a work of swirling, purling abstract art. queensland.com 

KINGS PARK, WA

This doesn't feel like an inner-city park; it's elevated and spacious and delivers sweeping views of Perth's city skyline, the Swan and Canning rivers and the Darling Ranges to the east. It's also home to the Western Australian Botanic Garden, with its flourishment of WA flora and bird species – and is the keeper of Aboriginal and European history. Seebgpa.wa.gov.au/kings-park 

SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE, NSW

Those vaulted shells, rising off their granite foundation and cupping one other, smallest to biggest; those ceramic-tiled sails, arced in ballet-like harmony towards the sea; those spheres that cast their shadows upon themselves in a time-managed show of light and dark: these are the makings of Australia's most beautiful building, the Sydney Opera House. See sydneyoperahouse.com 

ULURU, NT

The best photograph in the world can't do Uluru justice, for its beauty runs far deeper than its outer layer of rust-red skin. There's the monolith that rises bold and magnificent from the desert scrub; and there's the energy that pulsates through it with such intensity it will leave you feeling beautiful, too. See parksaustralia.gov.au/uluruayersrockresort.com.au

LORD HOWE ISLAND, NSW

The strict limitations on the number of visitors keep Lord Howe blissfully peaceful – everyone can always find their own clifftop or beach to muse on while rare birds totter past.  The Tasman Sea island's vague crescent crescendos into the intimidating peak of Mount Gower. But on the way it shelters a lagoon, with the reef burgeoning with life at the point where the tropical and temperate ocean currents meet. See Lordhoweisland.info. 

SYDNEY HARBOUR

From the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the harbour's much-splintered majesty unveils itself properly. The National Parkland on the clifftops, the chugging ferries, the flitting sails of the yachts meet with the icons such as the Opera House. The other way, the zip-teeth of the land close in around the Parramatta River. See Bridgeclimb.com. 

NOOSA, QLD

Queensland's upmarket bolthole has an awful lot within a short stroll of the Hastings Street shopping and dining strip. A choice of pristine surf beaches and koala-studded patches of National Park are practically next door. But it's the waterways that make Noosa, lazily slopping through the town's low-key development, and providing the perfect opportunity for locals to take their dogs out on a paddleboard. See visitnoosa.com.au

ROYAL BOTANIC GARDEN, SYDNEY

Botanically speaking, there are better gardens, but this is surely the world's most beautifully located, even if you look across greenery to the skyscraper skyline. Views towards the harbour are perfection as yachts skim and that opera house spreads its white wings. Duck ponds, rose gardens and occasional flowerbeds are an added bonus. See rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au 

WILPENA POUND, SA

Amid the thirst-sapping South Australian desert, a glorious natural amphitheatre rises from the saltbush and spinifex. The bowl inside Wilpena Pound creates a relatively lush oasis within the Flinders Ranges. But it's the hikes up to the rim that really reward – peer over the edge, and it's rugged, stark outback stretching for eternity. See wilpenapound.com.au

MURRAY RIVER, NSW, VIC, SA

From the gigantic, old world wooden wharf at Echuca, the paddlesteamers grunt their way around the Murray's high-banked bends.  It's the dappled light through the swathes of river red gums on the bank that makes the low-energy cruise special, though. The soaring silvery trunks reflect in the water as the steamer battles upstream.Seemurrayriverpaddlesteamers.com.au

NINGALOO REEF, WA

It's the closeness to shore that astounds. The Ningaloo stalks the North West Cape Peninsula, sometimes at a distance of just 100 metres away. This creates a dazzling blue-green lagoon effect, with abundant sealife and unbleached coral entrancing snorkelers. Then, just on the other side, the whale sharks and humpbacks make their migrations. Underwater viewing rarely gets so awe-inspiring. See visitningaloo.com.au.

BEECHWORTH, VIC

On a sun-drenched day, the honey-coloured granite buildings lining the streets of Beechworth seem to radiate light. This gold rush town in northern Victoria takes you on a trip into the past, thanks to its superb collection of heritage buildings with their wrought iron balconies and their shaded walkways. In autumn, the colourful foliage adds an extra dimension to the beauty of this underrated gem. See beechworth.com.au

WINEGLASS BAY, TAS

From its ancient forests to its off-shore islands, Tasmania offers plenty of venues for Instagram-worthy idylls. If you had to pick just one perfect vista, however, it would have to be Wineglass Bay. That perfect curve of sand, that water shimmering in different shades of blue, that fringe of forest and the backdrop of those perfect peaks  - it doesn't get better than this. See wineglassbay.com 

KATA TJUTA, NT

Most visitors to Kata Tjuta are content to admire these domed rocks from a distance. However, it is worth taking the 7km Valley of the Winds Walk to get a different perspective on this landmark. The trail takes you through the tranquil valley sheltered within the domes, revealing a surprising landscape of grassy plains and tree-flanked creeks that stands in contrast to the dry, sandy flats that dominate the Red Centre. parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/do/bush-walking.html

HINCHINBROOK ISLAND, QLD

Underline the highest mountains of any Australian island with palm trees and empty tropical beaches, then strip the place of anything but a walking track and a few campsites. Welcome to an original paradise. See nprsr.qld.gov.au

LARAPINTA TRAIL, NT

It's desert country, but you'd barely know it. This 223-kilometre trail runs the length of the West MacDonnell Ranges, dipping in and out of the multitude of cooling gorges along the way. The views from across the top of the range are mighty fine also. larapintatrail.com.au 

FLINDERS CHASE NATIONAL PARK, KANGAROO ISLAND, SA

The Southern Ocean's tempestuous glory is concentrated into this 328-square-kilometre park on the rugged southwest tip of Kangaroo Island. Camping and hiking reward the adventurous, or those staying in the 1902 Cape du Couedic Lighthouse Keepers Cottages. Flinders Chase is best experienced over time, to see the elements play across the sky, sea and storm-carved landscape and wildlife – seals, echidnas, wallabies and birds – cross your path. But it's still a dazzling day trip to see the sea-blasted granite formations of Remarkable Rocks and the resident fur seals of Admiralty Arch. See environment.sa.gov.au 

GREAT OCEAN ROAD, VIC

The National Heritage listed Great Ocean Road winds along Victoria's western coastline, revealing something wonderful at every turn. Sleepy villages, resort towns and stunning architectural holiday homes give way to spectacular Southern Ocean vistas, awe-inspiring coastal rock formations and lush Otway Ranges rainforest. The elements are always at play, the land and seascapes as glorious against brilliant blue skies or darkly tempestuous ones. See visitgreatoceanroad.org.au 

COTTESLOE, WA

Perth has some seriously gorgeous beaches, but the white sands of Cottesloe are fundamental to the western capital's relaxed lifestyle. Locals love to come to "Cott" for a weekend or after work swim, surf or sundowner because those sunsets are really something thanks to the Western Australian Indian Ocean aspect. But Cottesloe's natural beauty is enhanced by the built environment's charms. Heritage buildings, whispering Norfolk Pines, lovely terraced lawns, a nearby strip of restaurants, cafes and bars and a village atmosphere make it a lovely landmark. See cottesloe.wa.gov.au 

With Andrew Bain, Ben Groundwater, Kerry van der Jagt, Julietta Jameson, Brian Johnston, Ute Junker, Katrina Lobley, Catherine Marshall and David Whitley.

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