Australians: get excited. It doesn't matter where you are in this fine land, there is a travel destination or attraction nearby that is truly amazing, truly world-class.
We're talking the sort of experiences that foreign visitors have typically – in better times – spent their life savings on being able to access. The likes of sailing in the Whitsundays, visiting ancient Indigenous rock-art sites, cruising in the Kimberley, wining and dining in our finest locales.
This is the stuff we Australians should be getting genuinely excited about when it comes to planning a holiday at home this year, the places and experiences that couldn't be bettered overseas even if you were able to try. Every state and territory has them. It's time to be inspired.
WHAT IS IT: Bare-boating in the Whitsundays
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: OK, you're not wealthy enough to own a yacht. But that's no impediment to enjoying one of the world's great on-water experiences, sailing the warm, clear waters around the 74 Whitsunday islands off northern Queensland. This is "bare-boating", where you hire a yacht that's decked out with all the essentials – except a crew. That's your job. This is the ultimate in sun-bleached, salt-tinged freedom.
DON'T MISS: The true joy here is the ability to go whichever way the wind – and your whim – takes you. Anchor up in secluded bays; spend hours swimming or whale-watching; go ashore to hike or lie on beaches.
ESSENTIALS: Several companies offer bare-boating from Airlie Beach. See tourismwhitsundays.com.au
EXCITEMENT RATING: 5/5. Take me there now.
WHAT IS IT: Undara Lava Tubes
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: There are plenty of Queensland tourist attractions you can name off the top of your head – but did you know the state has the world's oldest standing lava tubes? These natural tunnels formed more than 190,000 years ago when the Undara volcano erupted and 23 billion cubic metres of lava poured out. Incredible stuff.
DON'T MISS: Take a guided tour through the tubes to some of the best-known landmarks, including the one-kilometre-long Bayliss Cave. The nearby Kalkani Crater Rim Walk is also recommended.
ESSENTIALS: The Undara Lava Tubes are a four-hour drive from Cairns, and there's accommodation on site. See undara.com.au
EXCITEMENT RATING: 4/5. Not just for the geology buffs.
WHAT IS IT: Ikara-Flinders Ranges
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: Here is one of Australia's most dramatic and rugged landscapes, and yet how many people have made the journey to South Australia's Ikara-Flinders Ranges? There are so many ways to enjoy this wilderness area, from hiking to four-wheel-driving, learning about Indigenous history, spotting wildlife, or having a beer at a local pub.
DON'T MISS: The Ranges' most famous landmark is probably Wilpena Pound, also known as Ikara, a spectacular natural amphitheatre of mountains that lends itself to being viewed from the air. Several companies offer scenic flights.
ESSENTIALS: The Flinders Ranges are about 500km north of Adelaide, and accessible year-round. See southaustralia.com
EXCITEMENT RATING: 4.5/5. The perfect mix of wilderness and culture.
WHAT IS IT: Wining and dining in the Adelaide Hills
The Lane Vineyard.
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: South Australia enjoys an embarrassment of high-quality wine regions, from the Barossa to McLaren Vale, Clare Valley to Coonawarra. The sleeper hit, however, is Adelaide Hills, home to a band of dynamic winemakers tinkering with traditional processes, as well as some truly excellent places to eat.
DON'T MISS: Some of the best offerings include the "Panorama Experience" at The Lane vineyard, the excellent pizzas and wine at Lost In a Forest, and the community cellar door at the Summertown Aristologist.
ESSENTIALS: Adelaide Hills is about 15km east of the Adelaide CBD. See southaustralia.com
EXCITEMENT RATING: 4.5/5. The best of Australia's new viticultural crop.
WHAT IS IT: Kakadu rock art galleries
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: Of the estimated 100,000 significant Indigenous rock art sites around Australia, more than 5000 are located in the NT's Kakadu National Park. And we're talking seriously old works here, some up to 20,000 years. Few places in the world can compete with that.
DON'T MISS: Not all of those 5000 sites are publicly accessible. The easiest to get to, and some of the most impressive, include Burrungkuy, with its depictions of creation ancestors, Nanguluwurr, featuring drawings of European ships, and Ubirr, with spectacular "x-ray" paintings.
ESSENTIALS: Kakadu National Park is a two-hour drive east of Darwin. Art sites mentioned here are accessible by via short walks. See northernterritory.com
EXCITEMENT RATING: 5/5. Australian history and culture at its most amazing.
WHAT IS IT: Kata Tjuta
Photo: Getty Images
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: If Uluru didn't exist, we would all be obsessed with Kata Tjuta. The rock formation formerly known as the Olgas is a series of 36 domed formations set just 40km west of Uluru, and which stand 198 metres higher than that famous monolith. Explore one of the many walking tracks through the domes and be amazed.
DON'T MISS: As with Uluru, the best time to see Kata Tjuta is sunset, when the red-rock domes burn a deep ochre, and the desert settles down for the night. Check out the viewing site run by Parks Australia.
ESSENTIALS: Kata Tjuta is about 500km south-west of Alice Springs, and is open year-round. See northernterritory.com
EXCITEMENT RATING: 4.5/5. As spectacular as Uluru, with a fraction of the crowds.
WHAT IS IT: Wula Gura Nyinda Tours
Shark Bay, Francois Peron National Park. Photo: Alamy
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: Australia has a rich, diverse and fascinating Indigenous culture that non-Indigenous citizens can sometimes have difficulty tapping into. One of the most enjoyable ways to do it, to learn the stories and traditions of the Nhanda and Malanga people of WA while having a blast exploring Francois Peron National Park, is by taking a tour with award-winning guide Darren "Capes" Capewell.
DON'T MISS: Though Capes offers plenty of single-day experiences, it's worth devoting more time to delve into his people's culture and their land – the two-day, one-night "Francois Peron Catch & Cook Safari" is perfect.
ESSENTIALS: Francois Peron National Park is near Denham, about 800km north of Perth. See wulagura.com.au
EXCITEMENT RATING: 5/5. Every Australian should do this.
WHAT IS IT: Cruising the Kimberley
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: Cruise the Kimberley region, in far north-western WA, and you get the best of both worlds. You get the luxury of your ship, a comfortable place to spend evenings dining on delicious food and drinking cocktails under the stars. And you get access to one of Australia's great wilderness areas, all red-rock gorges, thundering waterfalls, ocean reefs and Indigenous cultural sites.
DON'T MISS: Famously described by Sir David Attenborough as "one of the greatest natural wonders of the world", the Horizontal Falls at Talbot Bay – where strong tides and a narrow gap in the rock make for a torrent of water – have to be seen to be appreciated.
ESSENTIALS: Ponant is offering Kimberley cruises from mid 2021. See au.ponant.com
EXCITEMENT RATING: 5/5. Luxury, scenery, and isolation. Perfection.
WHAT IS IT: MONA
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: Australia has plenty of high-quality art galleries and museums, but do any offer the full, immersive experience of the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart? Here the fun begins at Brooke Street Pier with a ride on the MONA ferry. Then you have the spectacle of the venue itself, as well as all the outlandish and provocative artworks. And finally, there are the festivals.
DON'T MISS: It's those festivals that are truly special. There's Mona Foma, a summer celebration of art and music, and Dark Mofo, a winter festival of music, theatre and skinny-dipping.
ESSENTIALS: MONA is north-west of Hobart, on the Derwent River. See mona.net.au
EXCITEMENT RATING: 4.5/5. Art for the masses – in the best possible way.
WHAT IS IT: Three Capes Track
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: This has fast become one of Australia's classic multi-day hikes since upgrades to accommodation and track were completed in 2018. Now, hikers have "dry-boot" trails for the full four-day, three-night, 48km of this spectacular, cliff-hugging meander along Cape Raoul, Cape Hauy and Cape Pillar. It's incredible to feel so isolated and yet only be a few hours from Hobart.
DON'T MISS: The thrill here is the journey, the rugged, windswept landscapes, the sheer cliffs, the sea salt in the air, and the camaraderie among hikers in the beautifully designed cabins.
ESSENTIALS: The Three Capes Track begins with a ferry ride from Port Arthur, 1.5 hours from Hobart. See discovertasmania.com.au
EXCITEMENT RATING: 4.5/5. World-class walk, world-class facilities, world-class experience.
WHAT IS IT: Canoe-camping on the Lower Glenelg River
Photo: Robert Blackburn/Visit Victoria
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: Does it get any better than this: packing up your family's gear and stuffing it into water-proof drums, loading everything into canoes and taking to the Lower Glenelg River, paddling gently along, enjoying the wilderness, the serenity, before calling in to boat-access-only campsites to pitch a tent and take it easy. Spectacular.
DON'T MISS: There are seven canoe-only campsites in Lower Glenelg National Park, and it's worth making time to spend a night at each one, with lazy days paddling the river in between.
ESSENTIALS: The Lower Glenelg Canoe Trail begins at Dartmoor, 380km west of Melbourne. See parks.vic.gov.au
EXCITEMENT RATING: 5/5. Family-friendly adventure at its finest.
WHAT IS IT: Melbourne's wineries
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: Granted, Melbourne doesn't have any wineries. What the city does have, however, is access to numerous world-class regions. We're talking Mornington Peninsula, just an hour or so south; Yarra Valley, about the same distance north-east; the Bellarine Peninsula just 1.5 hours south; even the Macedon Ranges and Sunbury regions, all accessible on a day trip from the capital.
DON'T MISS: Though it would be a crime to visit just one winery, Yering Station in the Yarra Valley offers a little European charm, thanks to Chateau Yering, plus some very high-quality wine.
ESSENTIALS: Melbourne's surrounding wineries are all accessible via day trip from the city, and open year-round. See visitvictoria.com
EXCITEMENT RATING: 4.5. Food and wine lovers are spoiled for choice.
The Australian War Memorial. Photo: Visit Canberra
WHAT IS IT: Museums and galleries
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: Australians, get excited about your capital city. Because the traditional home of public servants and roundabouts has some legitimately world-class attractions in its spate of museums and galleries, the likes of the National Museum of
Australia, the Australian War Memorial, Questacon, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Australia, and the National Library.
DON'T MISS: The general public now have access to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, where huge antenna dishes send and receive data as part of the NASA Deep Space Network. It's open until the end of January.
ESSENTIALS: Most of Canberra's museums and galleries are open year-round, and accessible from the city. See visitcanberra.com.au
EXCITEMENT RATING: 4.5/5. Days of high-quality entertainment.
NEW SOUTH WALES
WHAT IS IT: Sydney's walks
Photo: Destination NSW
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: In which other major city can you take your pick of hundreds of world-class walks through genuine wilderness, hugging waterways, skirting harbourside mansions, calling past pristine beaches? Doesn't matter if you choose Bondi to Bronte, Bondi to Watsons Bay, the Spit Bridge to Manly, the Hermitage Foreshore, the Botany Bay Coastal Walk, or so many more, hikers will be astounded by the beauty on offer in Sydney.
DON'T MISS: For a proper challenge and an amazing experience, tackle the 80km Bondi to Manly walk, with overnight stops in Double Bay and the Spit Bridge.
ESSENTIALS: Sydney's walks are free, and open year-round. See sydney.com
EXCITEMENT RATING: 5/5. No city in the world can match this.
WHAT IS IT: Warrumbungle National Park
THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR: Look up: this is Australia's only Dark Sky Park, the perfect place to stargaze, to engage in a little amateur astronomy, and to sleep under an awesome blanket of twinkling lights. The stars here really are incredible, but they're not the only attraction, with plenty of hike-quality hiking through ruggedly beautiful terrain, and great campsites.
DON'T MISS: While you're waiting for the sun to set, tackle the 14.5km Breadknife and High Tops walk, a loop that takes hikers past the best of the Warrumbungle's jagged rockfaces and prehistoric wilderness.
ESSENTIALS: Warrumbungle National Park is six hours north-west of Sydney, with vehicular access year-round. See visitnsw.com
EXCITEMENT RATING: 4.5/5. Nature-based fun, day and night.
You already know about these famous sites – but they're still amazing
One of the world's most recognisable natural landmarks, Uluru is Australia's beating heart, and a journey to the rock is essential for every citizen. Walk its circumference, learn its stories, marvel at its beauty at dawn and sunset. See northernterritory.com
GREAT BARRIER REEF, QLD
The largest coral reef system on the planet – and the largest single structure made by living organisms – has had its issues recently with bleaching events, but this is still one truly amazing place to experience both under the water and above. See queensland.com
GREAT OCEAN ROAD, VIC
Yes, it's popular, but it's popular for a reason: the 243km stretch of road from Torquay to Allansford takes in some of southern Australia's most spectacular coastal scenery, plus calls through some of our most charming towns. See visitvictoria.com
NINGALOO REEF, WA
Famed as the place to swim with whale sharks, there's plenty more to draw visitors to WA's heritage-listed Ningaloo, including 260km of reef that's home to turtles, rays, and myriad fish life, plus, at the right time of year, migrating humpback whales. See australiascoralcoast.com
SYDNEY HARBOUR, NSW
Whether you like to walk or sail, to sunbake or swim, to drink or dine, or to just sit there and marvel at the astounding beauty of the place, Sydney Harbour is for you. There's nowhere else in the world that compares. See sydney.com
NULLARBOR PLAIN, SA/WA
It's difficult to get your head around the scale of the Nullarbor Plain: at nearly 1100km at its widest point, it's a tick longer than driving Brisbane to Sydney. And that's 1100km of beautiful nothingness. Truly a phenomenal thing to experience. See australia.com
THE DAINTREE, QLD
"Where the rainforest meets the reef," says the famous tagline, but the Daintree is even more impressive than that. That vegetation is the oldest living rainforest on Earth, packed with Kuku Yalanji history and culture, as well as cassowaries, crocodiles and more. See visitportdouglasdaintree.com
The Outback is not just dust and dirt: this colossal expanse, a vast and unknowable area, takes in tropical rainforests, white-sand beaches, mountains, valleys, rivers and more. Every Australian should experience it. See australia.com
MARGARET RIVER, WA
There are so many good reasons to visit the Margaret River region: to hike the Cape to Cape track, to surf world-famous breaks, to watch the sunset over the ocean from stunning beaches, to drink fine wine, eat good food… that's enough, right? See margaretriver.com
FREYCINET NP, TAS
Pristine coastal wilderness just a two-hour drive from a state capital? Yes, please. Tasmania's Freycinet National Park is famous for many reasons, from beautiful Wineglass Bay to its myriad rocky coves and sandy beaches, hemmed in by granite mountains and unspoiled forests. See discovertasmania.com.au