Crossing the oceans can offer a diverse and rich travel experience, but here are eight good reasons – one for each state and territory – to stay right at home.
PORT DOUGLAS, QUEENSLAND
WHY GO THERE
In the worldwide list of palm tree-swathed, bougainvillea-wrapped tropical nirvanas, this town, an hour's drive north of Cairns, ranks highly. It's small, gorgeous and chic, a springboard to the glories of the Great Barrier Reef and not too far from anywhere in south-east Australia.
Port Douglas has long been the poster child of Australian resorts. Whether your taste runs to Thai-style villas surrounded by gardens with lotus blossoms running rampant or a breezy, white-on-white two-bedroom beachside retreat, Port Douglas has what you're looking for. Better still, the town has always had a taste for fine dining. Nautilus, a name to conjure with since the 1980s, now faces stiff competition from the likes of Sassi Cucina + Bar, Watergate Port Douglas and the Salsa Bar & Grill.
While the main event in this part of the world is the Great Barrier Reef (pictured above is Opal Reef, just off the coast), the other great draw is the rainforest. Right on Port Douglas's doorstep, the Greater Daintree World Heritage region is an ecological treasure chest, a remnant of the forests in which flowering plants first appeared on our planet and a spectacular habitat for exotic birds, frogs, bats and butterflies.
A Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk through Mossman Gorge with a local Kuku Yalanji guide. They'll give you an unforgettable perspective on the rainforest.
MORE INFORMATION visitportdouglasdaintree.com.
The Opal Reef, just off the coast of Port Douglas. Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland
VICTORIA'S HIGH COUNTRY
WHY GO THERE
Set against the towering backdrop of the Australian Alps, this region packs history, scenery, rail trails, gardens and some of our finest wineries into a compact area.
One of its stars, the town of Beechworth, boomed when gold was discovered there in the 1850s. Financed by fortunes won from the goldfields, its banks, hotels and government buildings were built in the full-blown glory of the Victorian era. When the gold rush ended, the town slipped into genteel poverty, which quarantined its architectural heritage. Today, Beechworth (pictured) is a treasure, almost half its buildings classified by the National Trust.
The Beechworth-Chiltern Road dances through forest with sunlight streaming through the branches. Beyond rustic Chiltern, you're in wine country. These are the Rutherglen wineries, home of Campbells, Morris and Chambers Rosewood among others. Complementing its wines, the region is known for its broad palette of gastronomic pleasures, with Beechworth's Provenance and Project 49 and the Jones Winery Restaurant and the Terrace Restaurant, both near Rutherglen, among the culinary highlights.
A driving tour of the high country's historic cattlemen's huts, once used by the drovers immortalised in Banjo Paterson's poem The Man from Snowy River.
MORE INFORMATION victoriashighcountry.com.au.
Beechworth is a treasure, almost half its buildings classified by the National Trust. Photo: Visit Victoria
MARGARET RIVER, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
WHY GO THERE
This is one of Australia's premier wine-growing areas, acclaimed for its ability to produce wines of astonishing finesse and longevity. There are more than 200 wineries here, and a tasting tour is essential to the full experience of the region.
However, wineries are only a part of the area's repertoire. Running through many of the vineyards is Caves Road, named after the dramatic limestone caves scattered along its length, many of which are open to the public.
Turn west toward the sea at any point along Caves Road and the mellow hills give way to a wild, flayed coastline where the tea trees have been wrestled into bonsai shapes by a wind that sprints all the way from South Africa. This is Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, a 120-kilometre stretch of coast popular with fishermen, walkers and surfers who come here to experience sublime scenery as well as some of the country's most acclaimed surf breaks.
South of Margaret River, Caves Road slows briefly as it winds through luminous ramrods of white-trunked karri trees at Boranup Forest. The road ends at Hamelin Bay (pictured above), where the once-stout piles of a disintegrating pier frame a golden crescent where darting rays cast dark shadows on the mottled sands.
The sunset from Surfers Point. Head west from Margaret River township along Wallcliffe Road until you hit the coast and you're there.
MORE INFORMATION margaretriver.com.
Hamelin Bay where the once stout piles of a disintegrating pier frame a golden crescent where darting rays cast dark shadows on the mottled sands Photo: Alamy
FLINDERS RANGES, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
WHY GO THERE
This chain of desert mountains might well be the most impressive outback national park in the country. Here the ancient bed of a great sea has been cracked, folded and sculpted by aeons of rain and sun into a fractured, furrowed landscape of deep valleys (pictured below) covered with casuarinas and cypress pines and creeks lined with river red gums.
Whether your interests run to wildlife watching, bushwalking, photography, Indigenous rock art or just soaking up outback Australia, the Flinders Ranges are a class apart.
Scenic epicentre of the Flinders is Wilpena Pound, an 80-squarekilometre bowl ringed by quartzite hills that rise gently and then fall away in sheer cliffs on the outside. The only entrance is through a narrow cleft through which Wilpena Creek sometimes trickles. The most spectacular of the walking trails in the pound is the hike up St Mary Peak, the highest point in the Flinders Ranges. Spend three nights to make the most of it, either at Wilpena Pound Resort, glamorous Arkaba or the eco-lodges at Rawnsley Park Station.
Evening at the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna, where you can witness the sort of hallucinogenic sunset that draws a technicolour curtain across the desert sky. Your fellow viewers can range from cowboys to backpackers to filmmakers in search of outback vérité.
MORE INFORMATION southaustralia.com.
The ancient bed of a great sea has been cracked, folded and sculpted by aeons of rain and sun into a fractured, furrowed landscape of deep valleys. Photo: Alamy
BRUNY ISLAND, TASMANIA
WHY GO THERE
It's less than 20 kilometres from the centre of Hobart to Bruny Island, yet the trip aboard the vehicle ferry delivers you to another reality.
Bracketed by a golden sweep of sand, Adventure Bay (pictured) is the island's modest visitor HQ – a couple of caravan parks, the Penguin Cafe, a raffish collection of houses and that's about it – although the garden fences made from whale ribs and the miniature lighthouses planted in the front gardens suggest that eccentricity is also part of the equation. Adventure Bay is home to the Bligh Museum of Pacific Exploration, which sketches the island's place in maritime history.
Adventure Bay is also the departure point for discovery cruises aboard the sleek, custom-built boats of Bruny Island Cruises. The coastline here is astonishing. The black dolerite cliffs along the island's south-east coast soar vertically from the sea to a height of 200 metres, a perch for cormorants, sea eagles and ospreys that stand high on the cliffs. Expect to see dolphins, albatross and fur seals by the thousand.
The colony of white wallabies, found nowhere else in the world, on the south side of Adventure Bay.
MORE INFORMATION brunyisland.org.au.
Adventure Bay is the island's modest visitor HQ. Photo: Getty Images
SAPPHIRE COAST, NSW
WHY GO THERE
The Sapphire Coast is NSW sea-change territory. Extending from Bermagui to the Victorian border, it's a slow-moving, soothing region with miraculous seafood, tangled forests and beaches where creamy waves die among the splintered remnants of ancient lava flows (pictured, Camel Rock). Its lakes and estuaries are laddered with oyster beds that are home to some of the sweetest, most luscious rock oysters around.
Once Australia's first mainland whaling station, Eden hosts whale-watching cruises between late September and November. Book on other dates to (hopefully) see bottlenose dolphins, seals and penguins.
The Tathra-Bermagui Road offers a spectacular drive with food, wines and art along the way.
MORE INFORMATION sapphirecoast.com.au.
Camel Rock. Photo: Alamy
NITMILUK NATIONAL PARK, NT
WHY GO THERE
As the Katherine River trickles from its birthplace on the Arnhem Land Plateau toward the town of Katherine, it has chiselled a succession of rock chambers from the rust-coloured sandstone, each a mirror of blue sky hemmed in by sheer-sided stone walls.
This 12-kilometre gorge is the centrepiece of Nitmiluk National Park (pictured is middle pool at Edith Falls), and while you can take a boat cruise through the lower section, the gorge holds a real treat for adventurers prepared to hire a canoe and set off on a multi-day camping trip upstream.
For those who prefer their wilderness accompanied by a glass of chilled champagne and a comfy bed with crisp sheets, the window on this wonderland is Cicada Lodge. Set on the brink of the gorge, surrounded by bushland that harbours knee-high wallabies, rooms in the 18-room complex are decorated in mellow taupe and tobacco tones and equipped with coffee makers, a range of fine teas and plush bathrooms with rain showers. The prix fixe menu offers such gastronomic wonders as wild-caught barramundi with preserved lemon and avocado, and saffron-poached prawns and scallops with finger lime emulsion.
Finish your day by marvelling at the thousands of fruit bats that migrate along the river at sunset every evening.
The Nabilil Dreaming Sunset Dinner Cruise, magic when the drying sun sets fire to the gorge walls.
MORE INFORMATION nitmiluktours.com.au.
Middle pool at Edith Falls. Photo: Alamy
WHY GO THERE
Our national capital is packed with museums, galleries and institutions, many of them free and ideal for families, that pay tribute to Australia's collective achievements. Admission to Parliament House costs nothing, and telephone ahead to the Serjeant-atArms' office (02 6277 4889) for tickets to watch our elected representatives in action during Question Time.
Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, is education with a sugar coating. Questacon teaches principles of physics, maths, biology, chemistry and astronomy with over 200 interactive exhibits.
The Australian War Memorial (pictured) is an absolute must-see. The memorial chronicles Australians at war, from the Boer War to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. As well as the causes, the issues and the hardware, the memorial also zooms in on the intimate details of war through letters, relics and memorabilia from soldiers on the front line.
The National Museum of Australia is a celebration of everyday Australian life, a nostalgic look at how things used to be, with exhibits that include such humble household staples as Golden Syrup and Vegemite. The museum also includes some items that have entered Australian mythology, such as the only known surviving prototype of the first Holden, a convict jacket from the colonial era, and the heart of racehorse Phar Lap.
Hire a bike and cycle around Lake Burley Griffin.
MORE INFORMATION visitcanberra.com.au.
The Australian War Memorial. Photo: Alamy
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale February 24.