Australia's greatest islands
With over 8000 to chose from, Australia has some of the most beautiful islands on earth. From tropical paradises like Hamilton Island to the diverse and pristine Kangaroo Island. With vision from various Australian tourism bodies
As we prepare to celebrate Australia Day, more Australians are rediscovering the joys of exploring their own backyard thanks to fluctuating exchange rates, some great domestic airfares, and a big promotional push by state and territory tourism bodies.
"Why travel overseas," asks Margy Osmond, chief executive Tourism & Transport Forum Australia, "when you can experience the whole gambit of climates, hundreds of kilometres of beautiful beaches, a stunning outback, modern global cities full of arts, culture and social thrills and the warmth and friendly smiles of locals right here in Australia?"
Indeed, more and more Australians are discovering that some of the best holidays and visitor experiences can be found right here. The forum's latest survey found 75 per cent of people holidaying over summer will choose domestic destinations; 53 per cent in their home state and 22 per cent travelling interstate.
There's a new hotel building boom under way too around the country, meaning more choices for Australian travellers as well as overseas tourists. "Domestic tourism is the success story which doesn't always receive the credit it deserves," says John O'Sullivan, Tourism Australia's managing director. "It is so important to our tourism industry, especially when you consider that the segment accounts for about 60 per cent of all tourism dollars spent in Australia in each year."
So where are some of the most wonderful places to visit in Australia, what are the most exciting experiences to be had, when is the best time to visit and why should we choose them?
In honour of our national day on January 26, Traveller offered 26 Australians from around the country the chance to argue the case as to why readers should holiday in their corner of Australia.
Grant Knight, 45, Daintree tour guide and owner-operator of Daintree Discovery Tours.
YOU MUST VISIT THE DAINTREE BECAUSE it's one of the true jewels of Australia's crown in terms of its beauty and its world significance in that it's the oldest continuous living rainforest on earth.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS a swim in one of the beautiful (safe) waterholes. We take people to the Cassowary Falls on our tours and it's utterly stunning.
THE DAINTREE'S BEST-KEPT SECRET IS the two-kilometre back loop on the rear section of Mossman Gorge. It has a pristine scenic valley with big trees, massive buttress roots and creeks.
THE DETAILS Between November to April the forests come alive from the wet season. Fly to Cairns and stay in Port Douglas, where customers are collected for Daintree tours. See daintreediscoverytours.com.au
GREAT BARRIER REEF
Andy Kramer, 60, skipper, Quicksilver Cruises
YOU MUST VISIT THE GREAT BARRIER REEF BECAUSE it's a natural wonder of the world, home to more than 1500 species of fish and 450 types of corals. We visit Agincourt Reef which has some of the highest marine diversity on the planet.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS a guided tour of the reef with a marine biologist. You'll come away with a much better understanding of why we must preserve this environment.
THE REEF'S BEST KEPT SECRET IS is the amazing marine life. Did you know Nemo's dad should have become his mum, an octopus has three hearts and there's an Angelina Jolie fish.
Agincourt Reef on the outskirts of the Great Barrier Reef.
Tony Wellington, 61, mayor of Noosa
YOU MUST VISIT NOOSA BECAUSE it has beautiful beaches, accessible national parks, quirky hinterland villages and an amazing river and lake system. There's also a world-class dining scene and year-round holiday atmosphere; clean, green and serene.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS a walk through the headland section of the Noosa National Park, with its beautiful bays and rocky headlands, as well as being a great place to spot dolphins, turtles and whales.
NOOSA'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is our Botanical Gardens at Lake Macdonald or maybe the Majestic Theatre in Pomona, the oldest authentic silent movie theatre in the world.
THE DETAILS Noosa has a great all-year-round climate. Fly to the Sunshine Coast Airport.
Hastings Street Main Beach, Noosa.
Glenn Bourke, 56, chief executive, Hamilton Island
YOU MUST VISIT HAMILTON ISLAND so you can experience everything that is great about Australia. We are in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef and have over 60 diverse activities and a wide range of accommodation and food options.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS visiting the Heart Reef and Whitehaven Beach.
HAMILTON ISLAND'S BEST KEPT SECRET is the sunset which can be watched from the top of One Tree Hill, the perfect way to end the day.
THE DETAILS Visit in winter though the water is warm enough to swim in all year-round. Hamilton is the only Whitsundays Island with a commercial airport with daily direct flights from all the eastern seaboard capitals. See traveller.com.au/hamilton-island; hamiltonisland.com.au
Catseye Bay, Hamilton Island.
CAPE YORK OUTBACK
Tracey Ludwick, 49, a traditional owner
YOU MUST VISIT CAPE YORK BECAUSE it is the northernmost land on the continent and has so much Indigenous culture, with around 17 communities and so much history. It's where Captain Cook spent the most time and there are beautiful swimming holes, rainforest, rock art, fishing and pristine beaches.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival which only happens every two years, this year on June 30-July 2. It has songs, language and customs, with 20-24 dance groups, 500 performers and around 5000 spectators.
CAPE YORK'S BEST-KEPT SECRET IS Fruit Bat Falls, with water falling into beautiful freshwater pools that some say are the best swimming holes in Australia.
Julie Smith, 57, owner Rawnsley Park Station
YOU MUST VISIT THE FINDERS RANGES BECAUSE it is the quintessential Australian outback landscape and one of the oldest on earth. There are amazing colour changes on the ranges during the day, beautiful gum trees, and lots of wildlife.
YOUR MUSTN'T MISS Brachina Gorge where 150 million years of earth history is revealed. You'll see kangaroos, emus and yellow-footed rock wallabies.
THE FLINDERS RANGES BEST-KEPT SECRET is Blinman Pools, a string of semi-permanent rock pools fed by the spring water in Blinman Creek.
THE DETAILS Visit in the cooler months between April and October. Wilpena Pound is 430 kilometres north of Adelaide (via the Clare Valley); there are regular flights to Port Augusta and Whyalla, with rental cars in both. Genesis provides a weekly bus service.
Balloon flight at Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges, South Australia.
Dave Palmer, 67, general manager and chief wine-maker, Skillogalee Wines, Clare Valley
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE it's one of the most picturesque, compact wine areas in Australia and it makes some of the best rieslings, cabernets and shirazes – mostly by family-owned and operated wineries.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the stunning lookouts from which you can see the area is a deeply divided plateau rather than a true valley.
THE CLARE VALLEY'S BEST-KEPT SECRET are our really good restaurants, including Skillogalee, of course, the Seed Winehouse + Kitchen and Terroir Auburn.
THE DETAILS Spring and autumn are the best times to visit. The Clare Valley is 140 kilometres or two hours from Adelaide.
David Doudle, 46, owner-operator of tour company Goin' Off Safaris
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE it has some of Australia's best beaches, a rugged coastline and the chance to go cage-diving with great white sharks and swimming with Australian sealions and dolphins.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the fresh seafood. It's the very best in Australia.
THE EYRE PENINSULA'S BEST KEPT SECRET is the friendliness of the people. People are very relaxed and welcoming.
THE DETAILS Visit in winter when the wildlife and seafood are plentiful and the landscapes green. Fly to Port Lincoln in just 35 minutes from Adelaide with up to 10 flights per day. See traveller.com.au/south-australia; goinoffsafaris.com.au/ southaustralia.com
Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. Photo: Supplied
Anja Toms, 49, tourism services officer and guide, Kakadu National Park
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE of the outstandingly beautiful landscapes, billabongs covered in water lilies and fringed by tall paperbark trees, rolling hills with striking salmon gums, the rugged stone country and the waterfalls.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS experiencing the connection with Kakadu's Indigenous people who have called this place home for more than 50,000 years. At Ubirr, you can view ancient art, hear some of the stories and enjoy the stunning views across the Nadab floodplain.
KAKADU'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is a walk in the park during the monsoon season, when there are orchids, grevillea and lilies, bird song, wildlife, like Barrk, the black wallaroo, colourful Leichhardt's grasshoppers and frogs going crazy.
Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory. Photo: Richard I'Anson
Jane Runyu-Fordimail, 47, chair, Nitmiluk Tours
YOU REALLY MUST VISIT BECAUSE Katherine is a small country town with an incredible Indigenous and European history. It is the beginning of the lands of the Jawoyn people and the entire area has also been the subject of colonial exploration farming and mining. Many will know the book, We of the Never Never.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS Nitmiluk Gorge. Accessible year-round, it's both towering and imposing, with escarpments pockmarked by caves and ancient rock art sites with images that appear as fresh today as the day were when first created. Cruise Nitmiluk Gorge and hear the stories of creation from local guides.
KATHERINE'S BEST KEPT-SECRET is Cicada Lodge, our luxury boutique hotel built in the national park and winner of many food, dining and tourism awards.
THE DETAILS Visit in the dry season between May and September when it's slightly cooler though the wet season is dramatic with nightly thunderstorms. Nitmiluk Gorge is in Nitmiluk National Park, 3½ hours drive south of Darwin along the Stuart Highway. See nitmiluktours.com.au; cicadalodge.com.au; northernterritory.com
Brianna Sanderson, 23, local Alice Springs healthcare worker
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE the landscapes are so incredible in Central Australia. Everyone knows about Uluru, the Olgas, Kings Canyon and Palm Valley but even in Alice Springs, it's amazing to watch the McDonnell Ranges change colour at different times of the day. It's magical.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the 90-minute Journey The Dreamtime, an Aboriginal cultural walking tour showing visitors the natural and cultural environment of Alice Springs.
CENTRAL AUSTRALIA'S BEST-KEPT SECRET are the Ilparpa Claypans, 15 kilometres south-east of town, a series of little pools which fill with water when it rains and look stunning.
THE DETAILS Visit in autumn, from March, when it's cooler, and in spring when the desert flowers are coming out. Qantas has regular flights from all over Australia to Alice Springs. See discovercentralaustralia.com; northernterritory.com
See also: Top 10 weirdest outback experiences
The West MacDonnell Ranges. Photo: Alamy
Sean Blocksidge, 44, owner-operator Margaret River Discovery Co
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE it's a wine paradise. It's the most consistent wine-producing region in the world, plus it has epic beaches, towering Karri forests and caving, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking and fishing.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS canoeing the Margaret River on mirror-flat water spotting freshwater marron and mussels.
MARGARET RIVER'S BEST-KEPT SECRET IS is how good the chardonnay is. A lot of people still remember that oaky buttery rubbish, but modern day Margaret River chardonnay is leading the way.
THE DETAILS Visit all-year round, though spring is wildflower season as well as the timing for the world's biggest annual whale migration. Easy drive south of Perth. Stay at Cape Lodge for a luxury food and wine experience or Pullman Bunker Bay or Margarets Beach Resort for a beach holiday. See margaretriver.com; westernaustralia.com
Frauke Bolten-Boshammer, 69, owner-operator of Kimberley Fine Diamonds
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE of the vast expanses, ancient rock formations and all the water, lakes and natural waterfalls.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS a boat cruise on Lake Kununurra/ Lake Argyle, a helicopter flight over the Bungle Bungles, and a visit to the spectacular Ord Valley Muster, a massive community event showcasing the best of the area.
THE KIMBERLEY'S BEST-KEPT SECRET are the remarkable Argyle pink diamonds, the world's rarest. You can see them at the world's most remote diamond house, my Kimberley Fine Diamonds.
THE DETAILS Visit in the early dry season and late wet (mainly April and May) when everything is green, waterfalls are flowing and the weather is comfortable. Fly into Kununurra via Perth, Broome or Darwin. See www.visitkununurra.com.au; www.westernaustralia.com
See also: What it's like to visit The Kimberley
The Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia.
Neil McGilp, 57, manager, Goldfields Tourism Network Association Inc
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE it's steeped in history from our goldfields days.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the Golden Quest Discovery Trail with its amazing sights and insights into the history of the area. It's across a total of 965 kilometres, but you can do a few days or the whole thing.
KALGOORLIE'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is Australia's only legal two-up school which explores the history of the game and teaches people to play.
THE DETAILS Visit anytime but in September the weather is best and the wildflowers are starting to come out. There are daily flights to Kalgoorlie from Perth, bitumen road all the way from Perth as well as the Indian Pacific and The Prospector trains. See goldfieldstourism.com.au; westernaustralia.com
Justin King, 35, general manager, Saffire Lodge, Freycinet
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE it's the most surprising location in the middle of such spectacular scenery. Most people have heard of Wineglass Bay but there's so much more to it.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS walking on Wineglass Bay. People go to the lookout to gaze down, but you really need to step on the sand to get a feel for what it must have been like in the early whaling days. Then on for the circuit trek to Hazards Beach, through the wetlands, bush, amazing Aboriginal middens and back to the beach again.
FREYCINET'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is how easy it is to be by yourself here. There aren't many places where you can be alone on a world-class beach.
THE DETAILS Visit between June or July, when Freycinet receives the most amount of sun and the least rain. Fly to Hobart or Launceston or catch the ferry from Melbourne to Devonport. See saffire-freycinet.com.au; eastcoasttourism.com.au; discovertasmania.com
Saffire Freycinet, Tasmania.
Wineglass Bay, Tasmania.
Kiah Davey, 48, manager/actor/tour guide The Round Earth Company
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE the entire west coast of Tasmania is stunningly beautiful, wild and rugged and full of fascinating, and unexpected, stories.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS Australia's longest running show The Ship That Never Was, a hilarious play about a daring convict escape.
STRAHAN'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is Sarah Island, a convict station pre-dating Port Arthur.
THE DETAILS Visit in autumn with frosty mornings followed by clear, still, sunny days. Fly in to Hobart or Launceston, or take the Spirit of Tasmania ferry from Melbourne to Devonport and head south-west by road. See discoverstrahan.com.au; roundearth.com.au; discovertasmania.com
Craig Will, 33, executive chef/co-owner, Stillwater Restaurant
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE we are the food bowl of the state, with a suitable climate to farm cattle, lamb, pork, wagyu, and grow berries, apples, cherries, wasabi, herbs and vegetables. The waters are also plentiful with both wild and farmed fish, shellfish and abalone.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the Cataract Gorge – when it floods, it is a breathtaking display of the power of nature. And you shouldn't miss Barnbougle Dunes golf course in Bridport, with its quirky 20 holes among the dunes.
NORTHERN TASMANIA'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is Robbins Island wagyu, which I have been using in the restaurant for eight years.
THE DETAILS Visit in January, February and March when the weather is perfect and there's plenty to see and do. Fly direct into Launceston Airport or catch the Spirit of Tasmania from Melbourne and drive your way around the state. See northerntasmania.com.au; stillwater.com.au; discovertasmania.com
See also: The islands at the end of the world
GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Kellie Murphy, 31, AAT Kings Melbourne Day Tours Manager
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE it's Victoria's premier destination and the largest war memorial in the world. It has something for everyone.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the Loch Ard Gorge. Although not as famous as the Apostles, it's definitely a must-see, with a fascinating history.
THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is Two Mile Bay, just before London Bridge, an amazing lookout that gives you a glimpse of the vast coastline.
THE DETAILS The best time to visit is in the warmer weather in late spring through to early autumn. AAT Kings' full day tour operates daily from Melbourne's Federation Square from 8am-8pm. See aatkings.com; visitvictoria.com
The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Victoria.
DAYLESFORD & THE MACEDON RANGES
Allan Wolf-Tasker, resident artist and co-owner hotel, restaurant and spa Lake House, Daylesford
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE of the craggy, sun-drenched landscapes, waterfalls, swimming holes, and the murmuring creeks in the Wombat State Forest.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS visiting some great galleries and studios, with some of the best painters, sculptors and photographers in our region.
DAYLESFORD & THE MACEDON RANGES BEST-KEPT SECRET is the natural beauty of the forests, waterways and walking trails. Get out and have a walk around.
Andrew Fleming, 55, winemaker at award-winning winery Cold Stream Hills
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE there's an enormous selection of wineries and great local produce with an excellent dairy, chocolatier, nice pubs and the setting is gorgeous.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS apart from Coldstream Hills, of course, the Healesville Hotel has a great wine and beer list and does great food, and the Healesville Sanctuary with its birds and platypus is a great place to visit.
THE YARRA VALLEY'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is that we also have a couple of truffle-producers.
THE DETAILS Visit any time of the year but the best time is autumn when the colours are gorgeous. The Yarra Valley is only an hour's drive from Melbourne. See visityarravalley.com.au; visitvictoria.com
See also: 20 reasons to visit the Yarra Valley
Michael Ryan, 51, chef/owner Provenance Restaurant, Beechworth
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE there are so many different types of wonderful scenery, ranging from historic villages to snow-covered mountains.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the produce. I recommend the brewery Bridge Road Brewery and a new cheese-maker called Tolpuddle goat cheese and farm foods who now have a farm gate.
NORTH-EAST VICTORIA'S BEST-KEPT SECRET are our walking trails, from short easy ones to adventurous mountain treks.
THE DETAILS The best time to visit is spring and autumn. From Melbourne and Sydney, the most direct route is via the Hume Highway but for a more interesting drive from Melbourne, go via Healesville, Yea, Mansfield and King Valley, and from Sydney, via the alps and Corryong. See theprovenance.com.au; stonetryst.com.au; visitvictoria.com
NEW SOUTH WALES
Delta Kay, 40-something, Aboriginal Education Officer, Byron Bay
YOU REALLY MUST VISIT BECAUSE it's the homelands of the Bundjalung of Byron Bay Arakwal People, jointly managed with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the Cape Byron Walking Track to Walgun (the headland) to enjoy the spectacular views, wildlife and the lighthouse.
BYRON BAY'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is the midden at The Pass. It is the oldest and largest pippi midden on the north coast.
THE DETAILS Visit during the whale migration from May to October. Fly to the Gold Coast or Ballina airports, only an hour's flight from Sydney. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au; visitbyronbay.com; visitnsw.com
Derek Bailey, 51, taxi driver Port Stephens Taxis
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE there are so many great beaches and an amazing number of restaurants, cafes and "watering holes".
YOU MUSTN'T MISS whale-watching in May to November in the waters off Port Stephens commonly referred to as "the humpback highway".
PORT STEPHENS' BEST-KEPT SECRET is Murray's Craft Brewing Co, with great beers brewed on-site plus hunger-busting meals in really relaxing surroundings.
THE DETAILS Visit any time. Drive via the M1 motorway 2½ hours from Sydney. Newcastle Airport, with flights from all over Australia, is an easy 25-minute drive. See portstephens.org.au; see visitnsw.com
See also: 20 reasons to visit Port Stephens
Julie Hart, 49, artist
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE it's pretty much an arts mecca, with more than 28 galleries.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS my dad's Pro Hart Gallery with a studio, a video presentation and a lot of his iconic work from the 1960s right up to just before he passed away.
BROKEN HILL'S BEST-KEPT SECRET is the Mundi Mundi plains lookout, just outside Silverton, where you can look over the landscape so flat and bare you can almost see the curvature of the earth.
THE DETAILS Visit in the cooler months between March to November when the weather is beautiful. Most people love to drive or you can always fly from Sydney via Dubbo or from Melbourne via Mildura, or catch the train from Sydney. See prohart.com.au; visitnsw.com
Dee Kramer, 41, local aerial landscape photographer and cinematographer
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE the South Coast is a place of great unspoilt natural beauty.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS crossing the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge, the cantilever bridge linking Coalcliff and Clifton in the northern Illawarra. The views are spectacular.
THE SOUTH COAST'S BEST-KEPT SECRET IS Macquarie Pass National Park at the base of the Illawarra Escarpment, home to some of the most southern subtropical rainforest in Australia.
DETAILS Visit all-year round. Explore the South Coast by car from Sydney, taking in the 140-kilometre Grand Pacific Drive which hugs the coastline. See grandpacificdrive.com.au; southcoasttourism.org; visitnsw.com
Robyn Robertson, 59, owner of The Scottish Arms Hotel, Bowral
YOU MUST VISIT BECAUSE it is a slice of country paradise, only a short drive from Sydney or Canberra, and an easy day-trip to make for a nice relaxing day out.
YOU MUSTN'T MISS the Bradman Hall of Fame for cricket-lovers, while there are also several historic villages a short drive from Bowral, with some great shopping and cafes to enjoy.
THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS' BEST-KEPT SECRET is what we locals fondly know as The Wombat Park, a lovely walkway from East Bowral, a five-minute drive out of the township, through some lovely bushland and past a friendly wombat family. Take a seat at the top of Hammock Hill at the end and enjoy the beautiful view.
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