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Good Weekend's top places to go in Australia in 2013
One of the pleasures of travel is the feeling of discovery. In a time when there is a proliferation of information and everyone is connected all the time, it is a joy to realise there are still unknowns; hidden gems to be shared with family and friends. Australia can sometimes seem so familiar, yet has so many destinations that deserve to be considered anew. It might be an underexplored region of pristine reef or rainforest that offers new adventures; a city that has undergone a transformation, where a cluster of new restaurants and shops has opened; or a cultural precinct that is generating a buzz. Thanks to the generous support of Tourism Australia, here we give our predictions for the destinations in Australia that will come into their own this year. You'll want to get there before everyone else does!
Editor, Good Weekend
North Western Australia
A hidden gem goes global
Go for: Unplug from the office and the rest of the world, by the sea. Indulgence, camaraderie and a vibrantly hued coral reef teeming with life just metres from the shore is what Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef offers guests. It's the sort of holiday that lifts the spirits and saps the memory card. The Sal Salis beach camp is in Cape Range National Park's dunes, part of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, and comprises nine eco-tents and a communal dining area where tales unfold of days spent snorkelling, kayaking or gorge walking (salsalis.com.au).
Stay for: Simple days spent in the shoals. Ningaloo's ecosystem includes 250 species of coral and 500 species of fish. Outer-reef snorkelling and diving can bring visitors up close to manta rays and turtles; rare turtle species hatch from November to March; in March- April incredible mass coral spawning occurs; swimming with whale sharks, the world's largest fish, is possible between April and June; and humpback whales breach along the coast from June to November. This remote stretch of WA, with its archetypal country town of Exmouth (about three hours by plane north of Perth) now attracts visitors from around the world (westernaustralia.com). Camp in the Cape Range National Park or stay in Exmouth.
TOP TIPS Kids' Ningaloo reef tours are available during school holidays.
New South Wales
Much more on the menu
Go for: New restaurants, cafes and accommodation in Orange. The region, about a four-hour drive west of Sydney, has long been a foodies' favourite, quietly accumulating awards and satisfied diners for its use of seasonal and organic local produce. New eateries turning heads include Byng Street Local Store (byngstreet.com.au), The Rocking Horse Lounge (rockinghorselounge.com), Factory Espresso (billsbeans.com.au) and Racine Bakery (racinerestaurant.com.au).
Renowned chef Simonn Hawke's Lolli Redini restaurant (lolliredini.com.au) has opened a three-bedroom boutique stay, Redini on Rowan, and there's new self-catering accommodation about 10 minutes' drive from Orange at The Shearing Shed @ StAlbans (theshearingshedstalbans.com.au). Gordon Hills Estate has new cellar-door tastings, showcasing first-class cool-climate wines.
Stay for: F.O.O.D. Week. The NSW food bowl overflows in autumn, when Orange hosts Food of Orange District Week, from April 12-21 (orangefoodweek.com.au). Events include a six-course feast set along a gentle 3.5-kilometre walk, and The 100-Mile Dinner along nearby Canowindra's heritage-listed main street.
While there: Spend a day or two at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo - a two-hour drive from Orange via Molong. If you take the Obley Road at Molong, a sculpture trail known as Animals on Bikes (animalsonbikes.com.au) guides you to Dubbo. The zoo has lodge accommodation and a behind-the-scenes tour that is a hit with children, as it includes getting up-close to black rhinos, and seeing white rhinos and cheetahs (taronga.org.au).
TOP TIP Dubbo's best coffee is at Artology cafe on Darling Street.
Far North Queensland
New perspectives on the reef
Go for: Seeing the Great Barrier Reef by submarine or underwater stroll. The newest way to explore is by mini-submarine (and yes, they're yellow), in the waters off Fitzroy Island, about 45 minutes by ferry from Cairns. The subs' pilots take you and a companion to depths of up to 40 metres. Top speed is a leisurely 7.5 km/h, and children aged 12-plus are welcome (gbrsubs.com.au). Walking under water is no ordinary pursuit either: divers are kitted out in a fully enclosed dive helmet and wetsuit and descend a ladder in the company of a guide. About five metres down, your feet touch the seabed (seawalker.com.au). Walking takes place off Green Island, also a 45-minute catamaran ride from Cairns, and children aged 12-plus can walk. Green Island itself is a popular day-trip destination.
Stay for: Guided tours from the recently opened Mossman Gorge Centre, 77 kilometres north of Cairns in the Daintree National Park, with traditional owners, the Kuku Yalanji people. For a taste of the rainforest, the centre's cafe menu specialises in locally sourced bush ingredients. A shuttle bus takes visitors to the gorge, where Dreamtime tours include exploring a sacred ceremony site and identifying bush tucker (mossmangorge.com.au).
While there: Silky Oaks Lodge in the Port Douglas hinterland has had a $5 million upgrade and its Healing Waters Spa therapies are the stuff of legend (silkyoakslodge.com.au). In Cairns, let the kids loose on new rope obstacle courses at the Cairns ZOOm and Wildlife Dome (cairnszoom.com.au).
So cold it's hot
Go for: Dark MOFO. Tasmania is the new black, and the trailblazer of this resurgence is the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which also exhibits a healthy sideline in inventive acronyms. Dark MOFO, from June 14-24, is the "winter stepchild" of the island's summer festival known as MONA FOMA. Dark MOFO is the cornerstone of the island's new $4 million, three-month culture fest - think fire, the solstice, arts with a twist and wonderfully spooky events held during winter's deep embrace in the streets of Hobart and at the museum. MONA is a 30-minute ferry ride up the Derwent River from central Hobart, so rug up (mona.net.au).
Stay for: Superb degustation dinners, cooking demonstrations and wine and cheese tastings at Tastings at the Top, the annual three-day epicurean eat-in held at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, from June 22-24 (cradlemountainlodge.com.au). Road transfers from Devonport or Launceston are available.
While there: Aspiring master chefs should head to The Agrarian Kitchen in Lachlan, 45 minutes from Hobart, for earthy hands-on, farm-based cooking classes (theagrariankitchen.com). Fine-dining fans should make a beeline for Hobart's Garagistes restaurant (garagistes.com.au), as well as The Stackings restaurant at Peppermint Bay (peppermintbay.com.au). Both were named in Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine's top-100 restaurants in Australia this year.
TOP TIP The Walls of Jerusalem national park is exceptionally beautiful and attracts smaller crowds than the island's bigger wilderness areas.
Walking emerges a winner
Go for: A walking safari-cum-gastronomic indulgence. The four-day Arkaba Walk through parts of the Flinders Ranges National Park is accompanied by experts in the region's unique geology, flora and fauna (arkabawalk.com). The walk is rated a moderate to challenging hike, the route taking you across Wilpena Pound to Black's Gap Camp and Arkaba Homestead. Why walk? To see salt lakes, be immersed in the region's pastoral history, pass among magnificent stands of native cypress and enjoy bush silence. At day's end, a hot shower, three-course meal and luxe swags or beds at a homestead await. The Arkaba Walk is one of seven that form the newly launched Great Walks of Australia collective (greatwalksofaustralia.com.au). The Arkaba Walk takes place from March to October and starts from Wilpena Pound Resort, a five-hour drive from Adelaide. Independent walkers stay or camp at the resort or at Rawnsley Park Station (rawnsleypark.com.au) on the western side of the Pound.
Stay for: Australia's longest-running food and wine fest, the Barossa Vintage Festival. Held from March 30 to April 7, the wine region plays host to more than 100 events, including an auction of rare and distinguished local wines, concerts performed in cellars - and tastings, of course (www.barossa.com).
While there: Break bread with Maggie Beer over a Romanesque banquet and sample creations by George Calombaris from MasterChef Australia at Kangaroo Island Feastival, from April 25-30 (www.tourkangarooisland.com.au).
TOP TIP "Table surfing" is encouraged on Kangaroo Island in late April.
Lord Howe Island
A new crowd catches on
Go for: A little island with a big reputation, it hosts great wind and wave action for kite-surfers, windsurfers and sailors, deep-sea fishing and unspoiled, empty beaches. Writing for the US-based Conde Nast Traveler recently, New Yorker Lee Abbamonte described Lord Howe Island as "quite possibly the most perfect place in the world". And he should know. Aged 34, Abbamonte is the youngest American to have been to every country recognised by the United Nations. The World Heritage-listed island, about two hours' flying time from Sydney, envelops a crystal-clear lagoon and reef on one side, and waves on the other. At Neds Beach, visitors can hand-feed metre-long kingfish or board a fishing boat and catch one (www.lordhoweisland.info).
Stay for: The sense of having the place to yourself. Visitor numbers are limited to 400 at a time, and pedestrians and cyclists have right of way. Thick kentia palm forests cover much of the island, along with banyan trees, ferns and orchids. Wedding lilies and red mountain roses are just some of the 100 species of plants found here. About 14 seabird species nest on Lord Howe, including shearwaters, sooty terns, masked boobies and the flightless Lord Howe Island woodhen. Providence petrels can be "called" out of the air to land at your feet. The marine park that surrounds the island has more than 50 world-renowned scuba-dive sites, including the vertical rock spire of Balls Pyramid. Seemingly endless visibility and large "tame" fish make for sensational snorkelling and underwater photography. Island accommodation ranges from the boutique Arajilla Retreat and Capella Lodge, to the more budget-friendly Somerset Apartments.
Margaret River, Western Australia
New adventures after dark
Go for: Night-time tours of award-winning wineries in the Margaret River region, a civilised innovation that begins in the late afternoon and features door-to-door service, a light evening meal and tastings under the stars. Tours are informal, itineraries flexible, and may include a lingering stay in a barrel room (www.tastethesouth.com.au).
Stay for: Creative dining and lodge accommodation to die for, either before or during the Margaret River Gourmet Escape (www.gourmetescape.com.au), held in November. Cheeses, olive oil, venison, beef and marron are menu highlights in a region that has come of age and attracts international food and wine experts. Cooking demonstrations, lectures, kids' classes, tastings, sommelier classes and lovely long lunches at wineries are the new norm.Cape Lodge Yallingup's boutique 22 suites made British-based Conde Nast Traveller's Gold List in 2011 and again last year (www.capelodge.com.au), while its Cape Lodge Margaret River Restaurant (and its 14,000-bottle cellar) was one of the top 10 hotels for food last year.
While there: Manjimup, about halfway between Perth and Albany, is a leading producer of the Perigord black truffle that chefs in Sydney, Melbourne, France and Germany adore. Between June and August, visitors join the sniffer dogs of The Wine and Truffle Company (www.wineandtruffle.com.au) on the annual hunt. The dogs can sniff a truffle that is 30 centimetres underground from 50 metres away. With truffles at a market price of about $2000 a kilogram, the hounds more than pay their way.
TOP TIP The Leeuwin Estate art collection includes works by Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and John Olsen.
Smart moves by saddle clubs
Go for: High-country biking between visits to breweries. Victoria's Murray to Mountains Rail Trail is a favourite with cyclists who set a sedate pace as they go from restaurant to winery to farm gate (www.murraytomountains.com.au). The region's Pedal to Produce routes are just as sweet, especially when your bike basket holds the makings of a picnic courtesy of a morning's ride between village providores. The recently launched High Country Cycle Guide has itineraries for every speed and style (www.visitvictoria.com). Now mountain bikers who work up a thirst can have their needs met by craft breweries, too. Bright Brewery, Bridge Road Brewers, SweetWater Brewing Company and Black Dog Brewery have combined to release a guide to the High Country Brewery Trail - from the Warby Ranges to the foot of Mount Bogong. The guide includes the best mountain bike trails around each brewery (www.victoriashighcountry.com.au/brewerytrail). Bike hire is available from Cyclepath in Bright (www.cyclepath.com.au).
Stay for: The High Country Harvest's forage and feasting opportunities, farmers' markets, cooking classes and meals matched with wines (or craft beers). Harvest celebrations take place in May (www.highcountryharvest.com.au).
While there: Bright Velo aims to be a dedicated bike hotel with secure bike storage, racks, air and water (www.brightcycleinn.com).
Australian Capital Territory
Party people step up
Go for: The capital will pop the cork for its big birthday long weekend from March 8-12 and everyone is invited (www.canberra100.com.au). Toast the city with a glass of locally produced Centenary sparkling and a tapas plate at the Longest Bubbly Bars in the World, from 4pm on March 11 on Lake Burley Griffin's foreshore. This will be followed by the world premiere of the Centenary Symphony, led by renowned composer Andrew Schultz and performed by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and local choirs. The weekend also features indigenous, folk, rock, classical and jazz concerts, short films at Lights! Canberra! Action!, orations, a veteran vehicle rally, the Black Opal Stakes race day and fireworks. The capital's Balloon Spectacular will lift off from the lawns of Old Parliament House from March 9-17, a place once known as a source of much hot air (www.visitcanberra.com.au). On March 1-2, performances of ancestral power will take place under the stars near the National Museum of Australia when the desert dancers of Kungkarangkalpa: the Seven Sisters Songline, from central Australia, perform an epic song saga under the artistic direction of Wesley Enoch (www.nma.gov.au).
Stay for: Blockbuster exhibitions. Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris & the Moulin Rouge, featuring 120 works, is at the National Gallery until April 2. Turner from the Tate, featuring work by of one of Britain's great artists, J. M. W. Turner, opens on June 1 (www.nga.gov.au). At the National Portrait Gallery, see the women who have shaped the nation in the exhibition First Ladies: Significant Australian Women 1913-2013, from February 1 to June 16 (www.portrait.gov.au).
New luxe in a national park
Go for: Exploring the Katherine River on a new cruise-stay adventure. Cicada Lodge (www.cicadalodge.com.au) opens on the river foreshore this year, introducing visitors to new ways to experience the wilderness, waterfalls, gorges and monsoonal forests of Nitmiluk National Park. The lodge is an architect-designed joint venture between the Jawoyn people and Indigenous Business Australia. Cruises depart daily (www.nitmiluktours.com.au). What really takes this holiday to epic levels is seeing Kakadu by helicopter, flying from the lodge to hidden rock art and swimming sites. Hire a car for the three-hour drive south from Darwin to Katherine.
Stay for: The Darwin Festival - 18 days of theatre, dance, concerts, comedy, cabaret, exhibitions, film and a party atmosphere, from August 8-25 (www.darwinfestival.org.au). Key artists from across south-east Asia join the Top End's indigenous and multicultural talents, so expect the unexpected, attend the outdoor events, enjoy performances in airconditioned spaces and picnic at sunset on the Nightcliff foreshore.
While there: Watch competitors seek "eight seconds of glory" in the ring at the Darwin Championship Rodeo, where bull riding, calf roping and horsemanship are the real deal. Held on August 16-17, the rodeo's non-ring attractions include a sideshow alley and boxing tent show. Eight seconds is the required time a bareback bull rider must stay on his mount in the rodeo's bull-ride competition (www.travelnt.com.au).
TOP TIP Darwin's man-made waterfront swimming lagoons are perfect for children.