Australia's best scenic flights: Australia's 10 most spectacular places to see from the air

The sitting on a nest for ages part of being a bird isn't too glamorous, but no-one can deny that they've got lucky when it comes to getting the best views. Well, they shouldn't have a monopoly on seeing majestic landscapes from overhead, and that's where Australia's hardy band of scenic flight operators comes in. Whether in a helicopter, microlight, hot air balloon or seaplane, you too can enjoy the country's finest scenery from above.

The Twelve Apostles in a helicopter

Great Ocean Road from above.

Great Ocean Road from above. Photo: Facebook/12 Apostles Helicopters

It's no secret that the Great Ocean Road has a greedy collection of dramatic rock formations along the coast. But seeing them one by one doesn't quite show off the full majesty of the coastline. 12 Apostles Helicopters manages to string them all together, flying over the Twelve Apostles, plus other favourites such as London Bridge, Loch Ard Gorge and the Sentinel. See 12apostleshelicopters.com.au

New England's gorges from above

Where: Armidale, New South Wales

Wollomombi Falls, NSW

Wollomombi Falls, NSW Photo: iStock

The Oxley Wild Rivers National Park has much of what makes the Blue Mountains great, with a tiny fraction of the visitors. Many of the gorges and waterfalls are incredibly hard to get to by land, so why not fly over them instead? Fleet Helicopters runs scenic flights from Armidale airport that take in the rumpled landscape and show off gorges that would otherwise require painstaking hikes to get to. See fleetadventures.com.au

The Ningaloo Reef in a microlight

Where: Exmouth, Western Australia

Ningaloo by microlight flight.

Ningaloo by microlight flight. Photo: Facebook/Ocean Eco Adventures

The teals and turquoises of the Ningaloo Reef are often just 100 metres off the golden sands of the North-West Cape's beaches. Then you get the rugged red outback scenery of the Cape Range to throw into the mix. Wobbling around in a microlight, the colour palette is immaculate. But you've also got a job to do – spot the whale sharks so you know where they are for your snorkelling cruise later on. Ocean Eco Adventures offers a pretty darned special microlight flight plus swimming with whale sharks package. See oceanecoadventures.com.au

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The harbour by seaplane

Where: Sydney, New South Wales

Sydney Seaplanes fly from Rose Bay over Sydney Harbour.

Sydney Seaplanes fly from Rose Bay over Sydney Harbour. Photo: Supplied

It's no secret that Sydney looks absolutely magnificent from above, but you don't have to rely on your scheduled flight taking the right route to the airport. Sydney Seaplanes offers joy flights from Rose Bay, which take in both Sydney Harbour and the dramatic coastal cliffs on the way down to Bondi Beach. The magic comes from being low enough to pick out the detail of individual buildings, yachts and harbour islands. See seaplanes.com.au

Uluru, top down

Where: Yulara, Northern Territory

Uluru is thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago.

Uluru is thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago. Photo: Tourism NT

You can't climb Uluru any more, but it's still possible to see what the top of it looks like. Fly Uluru's chopper tours don't go directly above the big red rock – they're not allowed to – but they get close enough for a darned good view. Longer scenic flight options also venture towards Kata-Tjuta for some extra monolith action. See phs.com.au

Watarrka National Park by chopper

Where: Kings Canyon, Northern Territory

Kings Canyon from the air during a helicopter tour.

Kings Canyon from the air during a helicopter tour. Photo: Tourism NT/Shaun Jeffers

The discerning choice for a scenic flight in the Red Centre, however, is Kings Canyon. The oft-ignored third part of the Red Centre triptych looks incredible from above. This is partly because it's not just one canyon. Kings Canyon is one of many spread across the rumpled George Gill Range, and flying above Watarrka National Park gives the grand overview, as the mountains rise from the plains. See phs.com.au

Lake Eyre from the skies

Where: William Creek, South Australia

lake eyre

lake eyre Photo: Adam Bruzzone/SATC

Australia's largest salt lake is incredibly difficult to get to, even in a 4WD. So cheat instead, and fly over Lake Eyre from the tiny outback settlement of William Creek. Wrightsair runs hour-long scenic flights. Most of the time, that'll mainly consist of vast salt pans and scar-like lines carved out by ancient rivers. But get lucky when Lake Eyre is in flood, and there's a cornucopia of water birds too. See wrightsair.com

The flight to Heart Reef

Where: Whitsundays, Queensland

Heart Reef by Air.

Heart Reef by Air. Photo: Supplied

One tiny heart-shaped reef has been the driving force for a thousand tourism marketing campaigns. Heart Reef has become the defining image of the Great Barrier Reef, and it's part of the Hardy Reef to the north-east of the Whitsunday archipelago. GSL Aviation runs scenic flights over Heart Reef, conveniently taking in the Whitsundays on the way for maximised eye candy. It's very popular with lovestruck boyfriends wishing to pop the question with a symbolic backdrop. See gslaviation.com.au

Ballooning over the vineyards…

Where: Hunter Valley, New South Wales

Hot air balloon flying over the Hunter Valley region.

Hot air balloon flying over the Hunter Valley region. Photo: Todd Davies/Destination NSW

For true old-fashioned romance, it's tough to beat an early morning balloon flight followed by a champagne breakfast. That's what's on offer in the Hunter Valley, as an hour long hot air balloon ride floats above the peaceful vineyards and not-so-peaceful bounding kangaroos below. The Brokenback Range provides a magnificent backdrop on the Beyond Ballooning airborne adventure. See beyondballooning.com.au

… Or over the nation's capital

Where: Canberra, ACT

Ballooning over Canberra, including Lake Burley Griffin.

Ballooning over Canberra, including Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Visit Canberra

Canberra is the other top spot for hot air ballooning. That's partly because of the bush backdrop, with the Australian Alps lapping at the edge of the city, but mainly because Canberra looks so weird from above. The artificial lake, grand roads and seemingly endless circles of the national capital make a wonderful landscape from above. Balloon Aloft runs Canberra ballooning tours. See balloonaloft.com

Disclosure: David Whitley has been a guest of Tourism Australia and the state tourism authorities.

See also: Unfinished business: 10 big attractions that you'll still need to wait for

See also: Australia's 10 best shortcut flights that save hellishly long drives

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