Where to go in Australia: Which is the best state for a holiday?

Let's face it: when it comes to travelling around this big country of ours, Australians tend to be a bit smug. We love laughing at foreigners who can't pronounce Melbourne or Woolloomooloo, who get excited at seeing kangaroos, and who think Uluru can be done as a day trip from the east coast.

Yet how many of us can say we have truly explored the many charms of our land? All too often, we stick with easy options, the tried-and-true getaways where we know exactly what we're getting, whether that is a long weekend in Hobart or a sun-drenched Queensland island getaway.

As locals, we rarely stop to consider how diverse this country is. Yet when we asked Traveller's writers to sing the praises of their favourite state, their paeans only served to emphasise just how many different and valuable experiences are on offer.

Whether you have a weakness for luxury lodges or prefer to sleep under the stars, whether you get a thrill from going pedal to the metal on a straight-as-an-arrow outback road or prefer a touring route that lets you stop for a coffee here or a spot of window shopping there, you will find destinations that suit your style.

Which writer makes the best case for their state? That's your call.

VICTORIA

By Julietta Jameson

Victorians are unpretentious folk and not prone to boast. But okay, since you asked: those people who voted Melbourne the world's most livable city? Five times in a row? They're onto something – but only part of the story.

From dramatic coast to bucolic river borders, the whole state of Victoria is liberally laced with world's best experience. Even our changeable weather is a plus, informing much of what the state offers. It's added variety, from rugged-up winter sports to breezy summer celebrations.

The weather has also made us a stylish bunch: we dress for it, unlike other states where thongs are a year-around footwear choice. That's cultivated a remarkable design scene, displayed at world famous festivals and along atmospheric city laneways and thriving suburban and regional high streets.

Ah yes, street life – ours is the reason we are often compared to the liveliest European cities. But we also do the great indoors with sophisticated panache. Our restaurants are world-famous.

In the regions (Dan Hunter's acclaimed Brae restaurant, for example), destination dining abounds. Inner city Attica is officially Australia's best. That "small bar scene" and ​cafe culture other Australian capitals had to cultivate? Melbourne's happened organically – decades ago, thanks to our Italians and Greeks.

We can also thank our immigrants for many of our wineries. Victoria has more picturesque wine regions than any other state and more land dedicated to wine production (yes, including South Australia).

Victoria's coast, shaped by the Southern Ocean, is majestic and ever-changing. The Great Ocean Road, Mornington Peninsula, Bass Coast, Phillip Island … exploration is exquisitely rewarded. So too, our inland vistas: the mighty Murray River, the Victorian alps with some of Australia's highest peaks and the Little Desert, world-recognised as an important ecosystem.

But the true Victorian charm comes from its people. Regional and city galleries, museums and lively public spaces are living testament to the spirit of invention and creativity that pervades Victoria.

Most of all, we love to have fun. And in that regard, there is no other Australian state that not only loves sport like we do, but which puts on a show like we do. The AFL Grand Final, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, the Boxing Day Test, the Australian Open Tennis – top that.

Julietta Jameson, a regular Traveller on Sunday contributor and columnist, lives in Melbourne.

BEST EXPERIENCE Great Ocean Walk

Hike the Great Ocean Walk, which shadows the famous road, to really immerse yourself in the Great Ocean Road region. Stay in luxury or camp. See greatoceanwalk.com.au

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION Phillip Island Penguin Parade

Each night at dusk, Phillip Island's little penguins return to shore after days out fishing. Sometimes they come back in the thousands, sometimes in the hundreds. See penguins.org.au.

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION Melbourne Cricket Ground

Australia's national balladeer Paul Kelly even wrote a love song to it - the MCG, or the 'G as it's fondly called, is more than just a sports ground. It's the beating heart of the state. See mcg.org.au

BEST TOWN Bendigo

Central Victoria's jewel is a grand old lady with an opulence born of a world-dominating gold rush. Today, a giddying array of splendid buildings, elegant boulevards, atmospheric laneways and gracious gardens remain. See bendigotourism.com (Honorable mention: Port Fairy. See visitportfairy-moyneshire.com.au

BEST KEPT-SECRET Gippsland beaches

Wild and exposed, or quaint and sheltered, Gippsland's diverse wilderness coast deserves a dedicated holiday to explore all its assets. See discovereastgippsland.com.au

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Enjoying the nightlife in Hosier Lane in Melbourne's CBD. Photo: Jesse Marlow

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The Melbourne Cricket Ground. Photo: Alamy

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Exterior of new section of Bendigo Art Gallery. Photo: Debbie Cuthbertson

See also: Sixteen things I've learnt about Melbourne
See also: Six of the best Melbourne laneways

TASMANIA

By Andrew Bain

It's only natural that Tasmania should be Australia's finest holiday state.

Around 40 per cent of the state is protected by national parks and reserves, and around half of that land is World Heritage listed. The world's cleanest air - certified as such - washes over the island, and the mountains rise in bewildering shapes you see nowhere else in Australia.

It's been just seven years since Lonely Planet named the white sands and glowing lichens of the Bay of Fires as the world's hottest travel destination, and yet I still regularly walk onto beaches here and have them to myself.

Across northern Tasmania much of the soil is so thick and rich in colour it looks almost edible itself. Little wonder the produce that springs from it is so celebrated.

Tasmania's immediate advantage for travellers is its size and shape. No other state can be so easily encompassed in a single short journey.

In a week or two (or better, a lingering month or two) you can circuit the island, taking in the unquestionable icons - Cradle Mountain, Wineglass Bay, Port Arthur and MONA - but also seeking out their little-known equals, such as the Cradle-esque Mount Roland, the brilliance of Stumpys Bay in Mount William National Park, Maria Island's extensive convict relics, or the private art collection at Hobart's Islington Hotel.

The outdoors life here is unparalleled. Tasmania's buckled terrain has created Australia's most famous and challenging bushwalks. Summers see bicycle tourers filling its roads, rafts slipping down its rivers, and high-speed tourist boats skimming past the southern hemisphere's highest sea cliffs.

Culturally, Tasmania has been through its adolescence and come of age, exceeding the constraints of being an island of just half-a-million people.

In the finest of artistic traditions, Hobart's subterranean MONA continues to divide visitors, but always elicits strong opinion. In summer the state hums with festivals - Taste of Tasmania, MONA FOMA, the Australian Wooden Boat Festival - while at Dark Mofo, with its nude swims and eclectic noir events, Tasmania now embraces its cold winters.

With activity comes appetite, and the opportunities to graze your way around Tasmania are ever-growing and ever-closer to the soil and sea. The berries, oysters, cheese and salmon taste as fresh as the air, and they're only better when chased down with something from one of Tasmania's scenic vineyards, its 30-plus craft brewers, or its burgeoning range of whiskey distilleries.

Put simply, Tasmania is good for you.

Andrew Bain, a frequent Traveller contributor, lives in Hobart from where he travels the world.

BEST EXPERIENCE Franklin River

Wild  Franklin River, and the experience of rafting it, is extraordinary. For more than a week you'll slide through a rare patch of wilderness made familiar by the 1980s no-dams fight. See worldexpeditions.com

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION Tasmania's wilderness mountains.

Think Cradle Mountain on repeat if you explore deeper to discover the likes of Mt Anne, Frenchmans Cap, Mt Ossa or the truly epic Federation Peak or Precipitous Bluff. See discovertasmania.com.au

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)

Take the art off the walls at MONA and it'd still impress. But with the art you have a polarising experience among a poo machine, Sidney Nolan's vast Snake and a wall of sculpted porcelain vulvas. See mona.net.au

BEST TOWN Stanley

With the Nut as a backdrop, Stanley has natural advantage, but there's just something very chilled and welcoming about the galleries, cafes, beaches, convict relics and penguins in this north-west fishing town. See stanley.com.au

BEST-KEPT SECRET Flinders Island

Flinders Island is like the Bay of Fires wedded to a mountain national park. Tall peaks rise from its vibrant shores, while invariably empty beaches front stunning rock features. See visitflindersisland.com.au

Sidney Nolan's Snake 
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Sidney Nolan's Snake at MONA, Hobart. 

Walkers on the summit of Cradle Mountain Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.

Walkers on the summit of Cradle Mountain Cradle Mountain, Tasmania. Photo: Andrew Bain

See also: Six of the best Tasmanian day walks
See also: Australia's most compelling foodie destination

QUEENSLAND

By Sheriden Rhodes

For many travellers visiting Australia for the first time three things are top of mind - the reef, the rock and the rainforest. And they want to experience Australia under blue cloudless skies.

Making things conveniently simple, Queensland, Australia's second largest state, has not one but two of our countries most prized attractions - the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest - and it offers the ideal weather for holiday makers to boot with 300 days of sunshine annually.

It's not called the sunshine state for nothing. With more than 7000 kilometres of coastline, bounded by the sparkling Pacific Ocean, islands scattered like diamonds across an emerald silk scarf and the world's oldest rainforest tumbling down to the sea, our northern neighbour is surely Australia's richest, most diverse and rewarding place to visit.

Queensland's where you can find yourself on a secluded, palm-fringed beach, hand feed dolphins, swim with turtles, drive through lush cane fields (preferably with Gang Gajang's This is Australia blaring from the car stereo) and marvel at the profound beauty of the Great Barrier Reef - described by David Attenborough as "better than travelling to the moon".

The reef alone is reason enough to pack your swimmers and head north, but is but one of the state's treasures. Queensland is so significant in terms of size (the UK could fit into it seven times), it'd literally take months, possibly years, to explore its every nook and cranny. You can get your thrills at the country's best theme parks,enjoy the endless miles of beaches blessed by a temperate year-round climate, explore the Daintree Rainforest which inspired the movie Avatar or visit the picturesque rolling green hills of the Sunshine Hinterland.

Head inland however and, almost incomprehensively, you travel from rich, vibrant reef to immense, fathomless outback. Large cattle stations the size of small European countries, pioneer gold fields, hidden campsites, lava tubes and volcanic lakes are part and parcel of Queensland's outback.

Admittedly for some time, Brisbane let the whole experience down. Now it's easily Australia's coolest little capital with terrific food, hip hotels and fabulous small bars. Oh and did I mention how good the weather is? Queensland seriously offers the complete package.

A regular Traveller on Sunday, Sheriden Rhodes lives in NSW but is a regular visitor north of the border.

BEST EXPERIENCE Sail the Whitsunday Islands.

The Whitsundays offer the chance to dive, snorkel, swim and sail the Coral Sea, as well as to stroll the stunning seven kilometres sweep of Whitehaven Beach, sand squelching like talcum powder underfoot. See tourismwhitsundays.com.au.

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION The Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches a staggering 2600 kilometres and is packed with more marine life than anywhere else on the planet. The world's largest living structure should be seen by all Australians at least once in their lifetime. See gbrmpa.gov.au

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION Skyrail, Cairns.

Zoom over the rainforest canopy along a 7.5km cableway over the World Heritage-protected Wet Tropics of Queensland, which stretches for more than 500 kilometres along Queensland's coastline - the oldest continually surviving rainforests on earth. See skyrail.com.au

BEST CITY OR TOWN Port Douglas.

A launching pad for the Reef and the Daintree, Port Douglas is an an hour's drive north of Cairns along one of Australia's most picturesque coastal drives, replete with low-slung buildings no higher than palm trees, terrific food, stylish boutiques and balmy weather. See tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au; visitportdouglasdaintree.com.

BEST KEPT-SECRET Agnes Waters and 1770

Surprisingly these two ​neighbouring towns have not been overdeveloped, given they've long been touted as the new Byron Bay. Located at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, the destination doesn't have a major airport and requires a significant detour off the Bruce Highway.. But it's that isolation that's preserved it as one of Queensland's true hidden gems. See southerngreatbarrierreef.com.au.

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The Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tourism & Events Queensland

FOOD & WINE ATLAS OF AUSTRALIA
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway at Kuranda in Northern Queensland. Picture: Tourism Queensland.
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DESTINATIONS QUEENSLAND

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway at Kuranda in Northern Queensland.

See also: Why Australia's best beach is still a mystery
​See also: Forget Sydney, Melbourne: Brisbane now our coolest city

New South Wales

By Brian Johnston

New South Wales is the Goldilocks state of Australia: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. It has sun not cyclones, trundling wombats rather than crocodiles, warm winters and lazy summers.

Come and visit, make yourself at home, but enjoy more than just porridge. NSW has vineyards, orchards, rivers full of fat oysters and fish-filled lakes. Its restaurants, even in country towns, offer such varied dining that your tastebuds will be in a tangle.

Sydney is the most beautiful city in Australia. It has the greatest energy, the hottest nightlife, the best urban beaches, the longest history – and all crowned by that utterly gorgeous, white blossom of an opera house.

Neighbouring Newcastle is reinventing itself; everyone wants to be in Byron Bay realigning their chakras; and places such as Mudgee and Bathurst in the Central West defy country-town trends with their bustle, optimism and French bakeries. NSW has its village charms too. The likes of Gulgong, Canowindra, Milton, Silverton and Nundle provide petite pleasures for those looking to travel in the slow lane.

Then there's the landscapes. Whatever Dreamtime spirits tackled NSW had a liking for variety. A flamboyant orange outback conceals bird-crowded lakes and rock imprinted with eons-old art.

Classic Aussie countryside unrolls vine-pegged, kangaroo-hopped hills in the Central West. NSW also has Australia's highest peak, not to mention its biggest ski resort, longest ski runs and best ski terrain. Then there's hundreds of kilometres of wave-scalloped coastline where beaches, national parks and headlands collide to provide surf-pounded scenery. The hinterland has rainforest, hidden valleys, lagoons, and sluggish rivers crossed to the agreeable rattle of old wooden bridges. You can snorkel and swim, fish and golf, up the ante and white-water raft or skydive.

There's entertainment to be had in NSW too. Where else but Parkes can you both shake it at an Elvis festival and uncover the secrets of the universe? Where else in the world but Canowindra can you visit a fish-fossil museum, never mind find it unexpectedly absorbing? In NSW you can sleep within roar of lions in Dubbo, fossick for sapphires in Inverell, stay at an underground motel in White Cliffs. In Sydney, you can go on tour with a drag queen, fly in a Tiger Moth or see both dugongs and the latest musical.

In NSW, even the fussiest of Goldilocks can find her fun.

Brian Johnston, a regular contributor to Traveller on Sunday, lives in Sydney from where makes frequent forays to all corners of NSW.

BEST EXPERIENCE Louth Races

Every year in August some 3000 outback travellers converge on tiny Louth on the Darling River beyond Cobar for its thrilling dirt-track horse races. Along with the racing, damper bake-offs, fishing competitions, outrageous race-day costumes, and crackling campfires make this a quintessential outback event. See louthraces.com

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION Lord Howe Island

The lovely subtropical island 600 kilometres off the NSW coast may be petite but packs in rugged peaks, tumbling waterfalls, vast colonies of seabirds, fish-flitted reefs and lagoons that shimmer in peacock colours. See lordhoweisland.info

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION International Cricket Hall of Fame, Bowral

This small but world-class museum in Bowral provides an absorbing, interactive look at Australia's cricketing history. It's rich enough in information to fascinate cricket fans, yet will engage the disinterested, too. See internationalcrickethall.com

BEST CITY OR TOWN South West Rocks

A quiet, slightly old fashioned beach town snoozing on the mid-North Coast just off the Pacific Highway, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, South West Rocks is wonderfully free of concrete development and flanked by fine beaches, the Macleay River and national parks. See macleayvalleycoast.com.au

BEST KEPT-SECRET Muluerindie​

This hand-built granite cottage in Warrabah​ National Park near Tamworth sits on a bluff overlooking the gorgeous Namoi River. Run by NSW National Parks, it provides an unbeatable wilderness retreat without having to rough it. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

Rainbow over Lagoon Beach on Lord Howe Islands, NSW.
Pics by Brian Johnston, please credit.
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Rainbow over Lagoon Beach on Lord Howe Islands, NSW. Photo: Brian Johnston

Muluerindie cabin on the Namoi River in Warrabah National Park, NSW.
Pics by Brian Johnston, please credit.
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Muluerindie cabin on the Namoi River in Warrabah National Park, NSW. Photo: Brian Johnston

Quintessential Aussie countryside near Mudgee in the NSW Central West.

Quintessential Aussie countryside near Mudgee in the NSW Central West. Photo: Brian Johnston

See also: The 8 things in Sydney that most tourists miss
​See also: 20 reasons to visit Australia's dolphin capital

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

By Mark Chipperfield

Think of Australia as a giant sandwich and it's easy to imagine South Australia as its tasty, often surprising, filling. A slice of fritz, a local deli sausage, smothered in tomato sauce perhaps? Or should we go gourmet with buffalo mozzarella and some fresh watercress?

Wedged between Australia's eastern and western seaboards, South Australia remains our most misunderstood and, I would argue, underrated travel destination – a place where you can swim with sea lions, schmooze in a laneway bar, meet the country's best winemakers and explore desert landscapes dating back 540 million years, all in the space of few days.

While Adelaide may lack some of the fizz and glamour of Sydney and Melbourne, the state capital has plenty of compensations, such as a lively arts calendar, an emerging culinary scene, litter-free streets, the Botanic Garden and, of course, the new-look Adelaide Oval.

Over the past two years the city's once neglected inner city precinct has also sprung back to life – thanks to the influx of interesting small bars, late-night eateries, pavement cafes and edgy fashion stores. The arrival of trendy food vans, pop-up bars and micro farmer's markets has also spiced things up for city dwellers.

Adelaide is rightly called the "20 minute city". Everything you might possibly desire (flawless ocean beaches, museums and art galleries, dinky arcades and sweeping park lands) is just round the corner. Thanks to its compact size and flat terrain, it's a very pleasant city to walk around – or hop on a free city circle bus.

From the city, it's easy to immerse yourself in the natural world – whether that's a gentle drive in the Adelaide Hills, a spot of snorkelling or surfing on the Fleurieu​ Peninsula or a close encounter with koalas, sea lions and echidnas on Kangaroo Island.

Equally accessible are the great wine lands of the Barossa, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale – each with its own distinct climate, heritage and approach to wine-making.

For those looking for an adrenaline fix, South Australia is now recognised as the country's adventure capital with cage shark diving at Port Lincoln, swimming with Australian sea lions at Baird Bay and mountain biking through the Flinders Ranges on the menu.

With its deserts, vineyards, ocean beaches, abundant wildlife and quaint ways, South Australia strikes a chord with visitors from around the globe. What else, they wonder, could the rest of Australia possibly offer?

An erstwhile Sydneysider and regular Traveller contributor, Mark Chipperfield now calls Adelaide home.

BEST EXPERIENCE Swimming with Sea Lions

Located on the Eyre Peninsula, Baird Bay is an incredibly pristine stretch of water. Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience offers small group, interactive encounters with both sea lions and bottlenose dolphins. See southaustralia.com; bairdbay.com

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION Wilpena​ Pound

This magnificent natural amphitheatre dominates the surrounding landscape and is the base for all kinds of outdoor activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, camping and bird watching. See www.southaustralia.com; www.wilpenapound.com.au

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION Adelaide Oval

The new $610m Adelaide Oval is more than just a sporting arena, but the stage on which much of the state's history has been enacted. It is also the home to the magnificent Bradman Collection. See adelaideoval.com.au

BEST CITY OR TOWN Angaston​

This quaint Barossan township retains much of its 19th century charm without being twee or chocolate boxy. The main street offers lovely civic buildings, artisan food producers, chic cafes and old pubs. See barossa.com

BEST KEPT-SECRET Port Adelaide

SA's original port looks like a movie set, with grand Victorian architecture, cobbled streets and bluestone warehouses. You'll find museums, markets, pubs and dolphin-watching cruises. See southaustralia.com; portenf.sa.gov.au

South Australian Tourism book
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Balloon flight at Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges, South Australia.

credit: grant hunt
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Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Photo: Grant Hunt

Port Adelaide street, Adelaide.

Port Adelaide street, Adelaide. 

See also: Top things to see and do in Adelaide
​See also: The best places to eat in Australia's greatest wine region

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

By Ute Junker

They make 'em big in WA. Karri trees that soar up 90 metres. Whale sharks that grow up to 10 metres long. Massive canyons that contain lush oases, sheltered from the surrounding desert by their high rock walls. The state is filled with oversized marvels you won't find anywhere else in the country, yet remarkably few east coasters ever make the trip and discover it for themselves.

To tell the truth, I'd be quite happy to keep it that way; one of the joys of holidaying in WA is the lack of crowds. But the rest of Australia has been missing out for too long, so do yourself a favour and go west.

You won't be able to do it all in one bite, of course. WA is ridiculously large, so pick one area and explore it in depth. You might start in the south-west, beyond the vineyards of Margaret River and Pemberton, where the massive southern forests resemble something out of Tolkien.

Take a treetop walk, suspended 40 metres above the ground, or scale a 75 metre tree if you dare. Rather keep both feet on the ground? The Bibbulmun​ Track, which winds its way along 1000 kilometres of coastline all the way down to Albany, is one of Australia's great walks. The stretch around the gorgeous Greens Pool near Denmark is particularly lovely.

Alternatively, you might head north-west to the Kimberley, where ancient cultures exist amid even more ancient landscapes, and where visitors run down their camera batteries trying to capture the beauty of the rust-red gorges against achingly-blue water. Intrepid road warriors load up the four-wheel drive and pack their camping gear; luxury lovers can opt for a cruise or a five-star lodge. Either way, exploring the Kimberley's canyons and caves, home to the world's oldest rock art, is unforgettable.

Ticked those off already? There is plenty more to explore: the magnificent Ningaloo​ Reef, with its whale sharks and manta rays; the otherworldly rock formations known as The Pinnacles, north of Perth; the untamed creeks and chasms of Karajini​ National Park in the Pilbara. Wherever you choose to start your adventure, the wild beauty of WA will have you coming back for more.

Ute Junker, a frequent Traveller contributor, is based in Sydney but has visited Western Australia on multiple occasions.

BEST EXPERIENCE Indigenous tours

Seeing WA's striking landscapes through Indigenous eyes offers interesting new perspectives. One of the most moving tours available introduces you to the forgotten history of the Kimberley's resistance fighters at Windjana​ Gorge and Tunnel Creek. See bungoolee.com.au

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION Ningaloo Reef

Move over, Great Barrier Reef. At Ningaloo Reef, you can swim with whale sharks and manta rays, step off the beach and snorkel over magnificent coral gardens, or just chill out on deserted bush-fringed beaches.See westernaustralia.com

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION Broome

Broome's mashed-up cultural history is reflected in its architecture – it also has a haunting Japanese cemetery – and is one of the reasons people fall in love with this old pearling town. See westernaustralia.com

BEST CITY Perth

Perth is having a Cinderella moment, showing off just how much it has changed. Now the proud possessor of the best city hotel in Australia – the magnificent COMO The Treasury – Perth is also flaunting its vibrant street art scene, lively laneways, and some startlingly good restaurants. Oh, the beaches are pretty good too. See westernaustralia.com

BEST KEPT-SECRET

Famously "discovered" just 30 years ago, the Bungle Bungle mountain range remains one of Australia's most underrated treasures, particularly the eerie Echidna Chasm. As you walk through the gorge, the 200 metre high walls get closer and closer, until they eventually close up around you. See westernaustralia.com

NEIGHBOURHOOD - LIFE & LEISURE - AFR - JULY 13  CAMEL TREK ON CABLE BEACH, BROOME, WA  PICTURE COURTESY TOURISM WESTERN AUSTRALIA SPECIALX 001
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Camel trek on Cable Beach, Broome, Western Australia. 

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Kimberley rock art, Western Australia. Photo: Jane Reddy

See also: Twenty reasons to visit Perth
​See also: Australia's best-kept beach secret

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