As we've discovered while being restricted to our own backyard, travel in Australia can get uncomfortably expensive. The good news is that, between shelling out for the hotels, restaurants and tours, there's plenty to enjoy in Australia that doesn't cost a cent. So greedily hoover up the best of the fabulous freebies, and save the money for something special…
Spicers Vineyard, Hunter Valley.
Australia is the best country for wine tasting in the world. While some wineries will charge for tasting sessions, most don't. Go to the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley or Margaret River, and you're usually able to rock up at a cellar door, try a few wines, then toddle off. The wineries, of course, are working on the business model of you liking the wine so much, you buy a bottle. But for visitors, this try before you buy scheme is tremendous.
Bushwalking at the Grampians Photo: Alamy
There comes a point in everyone's life when they have to admit that their dad was right and, yes, going for a good walk is the most satisfying free entertainment you can get. Australia does walking trails really well, both along coastlines and in the country's hundreds of national parks. Go to any state's Parks and Wildlife website, and you'll find thousands of suggested walking trails, each listing distance, difficulty level and the highlights along the way.
Street art strolls
AC/DC Lane, Melbourne. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
Australia's major cities have, by and large, embraced street art with gusto. None more so than Melbourne, where the laneways are now giant open-air galleries. Hosier Lane is the classic laneway where the whole world turns up to take photos, but Meyers Place, AC/DC Lane and Duckboard Place are among the other options for seeing big murals, stencils and paste-ups. The City of Melbourne website offers a guide to the best street art spots. whatson.melbourne.vic.gov.au
Silo art drives
Rosebery silos, art by Kaff-eine, Victoria. Photo: Visit Victoria
If street art is a little too small-scale for your tastes, hop behind the wheel and string together some of the country's best silo art sites. In recent years, otherwise mundane service towns have been given some sparkle, as artists have been let loose on the massive grain silos. These superscale works have been commissioned prodigiously in country Victoria and South Australia. See australiansiloarttrail.com
Bodysurfing in Sydney's Northern Beaches. Photo: iStock
Going to the beach is the classic free activity, but when lying on the sand gets a little dull, it's time to hit the waves. Actual surfing requires investment in boards and wetsuits. Body surfing, however, comes entirely free. Just wander into the waves between the flags then swim like a mad thing trying to ride the break to shore. Surf Life Saving Australia's Beachsafe site has a beach-by-beach rundown of surf conditions. Pick one that's patrolled, with consistent beach breaks. See beachsafe.org.au
Airlie Beach lagoon. Photo: Getty Images
While Queensland is renowned for its beaches, there are some spots along the coast where it's much safer to stay away from the sea. And that's where absolutely enormous artificial lagoon pools plonked on the Esplanade come in. The lagoons at Cairns and Airlie Beach become more than free swimming pools – they're communal focal points where locals and tourists can mix to their hearts' content.
Cairns' Active Living classes
Aqua aerobics at Cairns Esplanade. Photo: TEQ
The regional council in Cairns goes well beyond providing a massive pool to swim in. They also fund free fitness classes, which take part on the Esplanade five days a week. The Active Living classes include aqua aerobics, bouldering, pilates and meditation. You can also try out Zumba, beach volleyball and yoga. See cairns.qld.gov.au
Darwin's Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. Photo: Charlie Bliss/Tourism NT
Step beyond the functional markets where you just buy fruit and veg, and Australia's markets can be a riot of free entertainment. The likes of the Eumundi Markets on the Sunshine Coast, Mindil Beach Sunset Markets in Darwin and the Fremantle Markets in Western Australia brim with musicians and street entertainers. Stalls veer towards crafts, so there are plenty of pretty things to look at even if you've no intention of buying.
Hopping between Canberra's free museums
The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Photo: iStock
Several Australian cities have a free museum or two – the South Australian Museum in Adelaide and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney are strong examples. But in Canberra, free entry is standard practice. You can spend days hopping between the National Museum of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, National Capital Exhibition and several other engaging also-rans. The brilliant, and moving, Australian War Memorial is the one you'll want to spend most time at, though. See visitcanberra.com.au
Botany lessons in the Botanic Gardens
Kings Park and Botanical Garden. Photo: Tourism WA
Most sizeable Australian cities have a Botanic Gardens, and most offer free entry. The secret is to treat them not as a place to just look at pretty flowers, but to learn something new following the interpretive trails. The West Australian Botanic Garden in Kings Park, Perth, for example, has a canopy height walkway, a trail which highlights traditional Indigenous uses for plants and a Discovery Walk showing off which plants grow in different regions. There are even free guided walks, led by volunteers. See bgpa.wa.gov.au
David Whitley has been a guest of Tourism Australia and the state tourism boards.