Australia: we're going on holidays (the pollies insist). Well, we're flying somewhere, anyway. The federal government recently announced its controversial, less than glamorously named "Tourism Aviation Network Support Program", a rescue package with around 800,000 half-price airfares to 18 destinations across this fine land. The flights go on sale on Thursday, April 1 (no joke).
Qantas and Jetstar combined have announced about 550,000 half-price fares to 15 destinations, while Virgin Australia is offering 260,000 half-price fares across nine destinations. Take a look below for a selection of the best fares on offer (prices quoted are economy, one-way fares for the half-price sale). Both Qantas/Jetstar and Virgin Australia have also announced sale fares on routes beyond the destinations covered by the government program.
It means half-price flights to tropical north Queensland, half-price flights to WA, half-price flights to Tasmania, half-price flights to the NT. It means the Great Barrier Reef is just that little bit more accessible; the Kimberley is closer; and the Barossa is in touching distance.
Of course, there are numerous caveats to this offer. Not everyone can fly everywhere. And there's still no guarantee that the interstate destinations you do buy a flight to will remain accessible in the event of a COVID-19 (see here for more).
But if you're game, get packing (and don't forget to take Traveller's handy guide to many of the destinations on the list.) But before you book, also be aware that like many good deals, even, who would have thought, one conjured by politicians, there can be traps for the unsuspecting. - Ben Groundwater
Contributors: Craig Tansley, Ute Junker, Jane Reddy, Ben Groundwater, Anthony Dennis
THE DESTINATION Cairns and surrounds, QLD
WHAT THEY SAY "Fringed by reef and enveloped by rainforest, the world's warmest welcome is waiting for you."
WHAT WE SAY Tropical North Queensland is one of Australia's classic tourist destinations; once you land in Cairns you have access not just to the city itself but a host of other places.
SEE + DO + STAY See the reef, which can be done from Port Douglas, an upscale seaside holiday town that's the perfect exploration base. Quicksilver Cruises (quicksilver-cruises.com) is one of the most experienced operators here. Stay at the Balinese-style Niramaya Villas (niramaya.com.au), and dine at Salsa (www.salsaportdouglas.com.au). Alternatively, the Atherton Tablelands makes the perfect wilderness escape with attractions such as Chillagoe Caves, hiking in Crater Lakes National Park, and tours of coffee plantations.
DON'T MISS In Port Douglas, spend a day out with Juan Walker at Walkabout Cultural Adventures (www.walkaboutadventures.com.au) on one of his full-day Indigenous cultural immersion tours.
AIRFARES Jetstar $83 from Sydney, $92 from Melbourne; Qantas $122 from Sydney, $154 from Melbourne; Virgin Australia $108 from Sydney, $133 from Melbourne
THE DESTINATION Uluru-Kata Tjuta, NT
WHAT THEY SAY "Breathe in, see the colours change before your eyes, hear the stories of time and be amazed as Uluru captures your heart."
WHAT WE SAY Sure, you can delay your Uluru encounter until you reach grey nomad status but by then all of the legion of foreign tourists, including backpackers, will have returned. Go now and see this sacred place in a more serene and authentic state.
SEE + DO + STAY Climbing the Rock is out but there's so much to do you'll be run off your red-tinted Blundstones. Sail on into the five-star Sails in the Desert (www.ayersrockresort.com.au) for three or more somewhat pricey nights, wander the Field of Light, a spectacular illuminated art installation consisting of 50,000 coloured light bulbs on stems, dine under the desert stars at the classic Sounds of Silence dinner and sky show (or the more posh Tali Wiri) and take a guided walk through the haunting Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) composed of three dozen massive domed rock outcrops.
DON'T MISS A guided Uluru sunset camel ride tour (www.ulurucameltours.com.au) may seem an outback cliche but it's one of the most rewarding and enjoyable ways to absorb a definitive Australian travel moment.
AIRFARES Jetstar $95 from Melbourne.
THE DESTINATION Proserpine/Whitsunday Coast, QLD
WHAT THEY SAY "Right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to the Whitsundays is a feast for the senses."
WHAT WE SAY This is the postcard; this is the Instagram post. When overseas visitors picture the Australian coastline this is what they see, the white-sand beaches, the clear waters, the lazy days. Perfection.
SEE + DO + STAY Proserpine and its airport is a gateway to Queensland's wealth of coastal attractions. Airlie Beach is the base for a Whitsundays cruise, hiking through nearby forests and shopping and dining. Depart here for a stay on Daydream Island (www.daydreamisland.com), Hayman Island (haymanisland.intercontinental.com) and Long Island (palmbayresort.com.au). It's also a good base for reef diving and snorkelling. Stay at Mantra Boathouse Apartments (www.mantra.com.au).
DON'T MISS Insta heaven, Heart Reef is the perfectly shaped coral outcrop off the coast of Airlie Beach. Take a scenic flight to see it at its best (www.gslaviation.com.au).
AIRFARES Jetstar $64 from Sydney, $82 from Melbourne.
ESSENTIALS See www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au
THE DESTINATION Launceston, Tas
The Penny Royal World and Gunpowder Mill in Launceston, Tasmania. Photo: Alamy
WHAT THEY SAY "One of Australia's oldest cities, Launceston has one of the best-preserved early cityscapes in Australia with its elegant Colonial and Victorian architecture and century-old parks."
WHAT WE SAY All true though Launceston is the perfect springboard from which to launch a trip into the Tasmanian wilderness, particularly the popular World Heritage-listed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
SEE + DO + STAY An alternative to a conventional hotel stay is the boutique digs at The Florance (www.theflorance.com.au), a beautifully-restored and smartly-appointed Victorian era mansion opposite the even older 19th century City Park. Launceston boasts one of Australia's best steakhouse, Black Cow Bistro (www.blackcowbistro.com.au) with its exquisite cuts coming from Cape Grim in the state's north-eastern tip. One of the best cellar doors in the Tamar Valley, in which Launceston is nestled, is Josef Chromy (www.josefchromy.com.au). There's an excellent restaurant with stunning views of the gorgeous vineyard as well as some fascinating behind the scenes winery tours on offer.
DON'T MISS After Launceston, take the two hour road trip to Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park (parks.tas.gov.au). Stay at Cradle Mountain Lodge, conveniently right on the edge of the park (www.cradlemountainlodge.com.au).
AIRFARES: Qantas $70 from Melbourne, $100 from Sydney; Jetstar $40 from Melbourne, $49 from Sydney; Virgin Australia $55 from Melbourne, $68 from Sydney.
THE DESTINATION Alice Springs, NT
WHAT THEY SAY "Nestled between the East and West MacDonnell Ranges, 'the Alice' is famous for its beautiful desert landscapes, colourful outback characters, opportunities for adventure and a strong Aboriginal culture."
WHAT WE SAY Holiday possibilities spring eternal in the Alice which serve as an excellent base for forays to the Red Heart's myriad natural wonders.
SEE + DO + STAY Alice Springs lacks standout accommodation but the Doubletree Hilton (www.hilton.com) features a branch of the pan-Asian Hanuman, one of the NT's best restaurants. Everyone heads for Anzac Hill for views of the inland city and the ranges but similar vistas can be enjoyed from top of the Olive Pink Botanic Garden (www.opbg.com.au), an oasis-like reserve for arid region flora. Encounter local native wildlife inside the Nocturnal House at the outstanding Desert Park (www.alicespringsdesertpark.com.au) set magnificently in the foothills of the blood orange ranges.
DON'T MISS Side-trip options from Alice Springs abound with the nearby West MacDonnell Ranges, the setting for one of the most accessible. The spectacular Simpsons Gap (or Rungutjirpa to the local Arrernte Indigenous people) is 25 kilometres from Alice, It's a permanent waterhole and home to the elusive black-footed rock wallabies.
AIRFARES Qantas $172 from Melbourne, $175 from Sydney; Virgin Australia $120 from Adelaide, $190 from Brisbane.
ESSENTIALS See www.northernterritory.com
THE DESTINATION Hamilton Island, Qld
WHAT THEY SAY "One of Australia's most spectacular and sought-after holiday destinations."
WHAT WE SAY Believe the hype. "Hammo" is justifiably famous, offering direct access to the Whitsundays via its on-island airport, plus a huge range of accommodation options, from the family-friendly to the insanely luxurious.
SEE + DO + STAY Spend your time on Hamilton Island enjoying your accommodation (maybe Palm Bungalows, maybe a holiday home or maybe the five-star-plus qualia), hanging out by the pool, downing cocktails and dining at Romano's by the marina. Alternatively, you could play a round of golf, go sailing, go snorkelling, take a cruise to Whitehaven beach, do a sunset cruise, or take a scenic flight.
DON'T MISS If you have the cash to splash, a night or three at the ultra-luxurious qualia resort (www.qualia.com.au), strategically positioned on one of the most private and coveted corners of Hamilton Island, is a must.
AIRFARES Jetstar $82 from Sydney, $99 from Melbourne; Qantas $117 from Sydney, $121 from Melbourne; Virgin Australia $103 from Sydney or Melbourne.
ESSENTIALS See www.hamiltonisland.com.au
THE DESTINATION Hobart, Tas
WHAT THEY SAY "With its captivating history, picturesque waterways, rugged mountains and gourmet experiences, the city has something for everyone."
WHAT WE SAY For once the tourism body marketing conforms to reality. Hobart is a pocket-sized gem of a capital with echoes of Cape Town with a seriously lofty mountain gazing down onto an historic city centre, with the river and the ocean beyond.
SEE + DO + STAY Famed for its Saturday market, Salamanca Place is an atmospheric place to visit at anytime and nowadays you can stay in style in one of its stately old warehouses in the form of Moss (www.mosshotels.com.au), a design hotel spread across two separate buildings. Towering above Salamanca Place is the 1271 metres high kunanyi/Mount Wellington (www.wellingtonpark.org.au). Do go there for the incredible views and the beautiful, winding drive up. But also consider devoting some quality time at the summit to indulge in activities such as walking, horse-riding, climbing and picnicking. Back down at sea-level, wander the always lively Sullivans Cove waterfront precinct full of restaurants, cafes and bars and surrounded by historic architecture.
DON'T MISS Hobart is the best base for a visit to the World Heritage penal ruins of Port Arthur (portarthur.org.au) though the city has oodles of convict history in its own environs. The Female Factory (www.femalefactory,org.au), near the Cascades brewery, was an early 19th century workhouse for transported women prisoners. A guided tour brings this World Heritage site alive.
AIRFARES Jetstar $47 from Melbourne; Qantas $90 from Melbourne, $102 from Sydney; Virgin Australia $73 from Melbourne, $80 from Sydney, $108 from Brisbane.
THE DESTINATION Gold Coast, Qld
WHAT THEY SAY Australia's favourite playground – come for the unrivalled energy of the Gold Coast, where there's activities to suit every family and every family member.
WHAT WE SAY There's more to the Gold Coast than theme parks, surf beaches and schoolies, It's now a true culinary destinations and there's more art and culture than you'd think.
SEE + DO + STAY Get up close and personal to the ocean at the one-hatted restaurant/bar, Rick Shores on Burleigh Point (rickshores.com.au) though don't overlook the Gold Coast Hinterland. It's, home to three World Heritage national parks and two of Queensland's oldest eco-lodges, Binnaburra Lodge (binnaburralodge.com.au) and O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, (oreillys.com.au). Try yoga on a stand-up paddleboard with views up to the mountains on pristine Tallebudgera Creek (purealohayoga.co) and catch one of Australia's biggest live acts at the 17 hectare Home Of The Arts (hota.com.au), part of the Gold Coast's $365 million investment into art and music (hota.com.au).
DON'T MISS For a little slice of Japan on the Gold Coast make a booking at the discreet Iku Yakitori Bar (ikuyakitoribar.com.au) in Burleigh Heads where chefs cook over white-hot Binchotan charcoals
AIRFARES Jetstar $44 from Sydney, $49 from Melbourne; Qantas $77 from Sydney, $97 from Melbourne; Jetstar $35 from Sydney; Virgin Australia $60 from Sydney, $78 from Melbourne, $90 from Adelaide, $95 from Canberra.
THE DESTINATION Sunshine Coast, Qld
WHAT THEY SAY "Visiting the Sunshine Coast is like taking your foot off the pedal to escape into national parks, 60 kilometres of empty beaches and lush countryside".
WHAT WE SAY Noosa with its famous chic beach village vibe used to dominate but these days you can also find culture, cuisine, shopping, bars and hip accommodation up and down the Sunshine Coast.
SEE + DO + STAY Blend the best influences of Malibu at the retro Loea Boutique Hotel (loea.com.au) by the river in Maroochydore. Drift on a floating line behind a boat with mask and snorkel and swim with humpback whales off Mooloolaba with Sunreef (sunreef.com.au). Elsewhere, sample famous Mooloolaba prawns and other fresh local seafood at chef-hatted Tides Waterfront Dining (tideswaterfront.com.au) in Caloundra, with views over Bulcock Beach and sunsets over the Glasshouse Mountains. See a different side of the region on a tour with Salt Water Eco Tours (saltwaterecotours.com.au) with Indigenous guides on a 100-year-old sailing ship.
DON'T MISS Take a five minute car ferry to Noosa North Shore - ride horses along the sand, or drive a 4WD along 80 kilometres of deserted open beaches to fishing and surfing secret spots.
AIRFARES Jetstar $53 from Sydney, $72 from Melbourne; Qantas $93 from Sydney, $100 from Melbourne; Virgin Australia $70 from Sydney, $88 from Melbourne.
THE DESTINATION Burnie & Devonport, Tas
West Coast, Tasmania Photo: Rick Eaves/ Tourism Tasmania
WHAT THEY SAY "Gateway to Tasmania's wilderness, beaches, pure air, rich land, great produce and experiences."
WHAT WE SAY The region's gritty past of forestry and farming set against a backdrop of the world's most pristine wildernesses is ripe for history buffs and nature lovers alike.
SEE + DO + STAY Overlooking West Beach, Fish Frenzy (www.fishfrenzyburnie.com.au) is the place to try marinated octopus, smoky fish chowder or good ol' fish and chips. Hellyers Road Distillery (hellyersroaddistillery.com.au) exports its single malt whisky worldwide - go behind the scenes on its whisky walk before sampling the state's best produce in its cafe overlooking Emu Valley. Embrace the north-west coast's maritime heritage with a stay at Coastal Pods Wynyard (www.coastalpods.com), upcycled shipping containers including the wheelchair accessible Port Pod. Devonport, where the Spirit of Tasmania docks, is just 30 minutes to the east. Dine beachside at Mrs Jones (mrsjonesrbl.com.au) and check-in to a cliffside chalet at the just-opened adults only accommodation, The Cove (www.thecovetasmania.com).
DON'T MISS The western most point of the state, Arthur River, is two hours' from Burnie and the start of the Tarkine Wilderness area and its cool-temperate rainforest. From Burnie, Cradle Mountain is just over 2.5 hours by car.
AIRFARES Qantas $89 from Melbourne
THE DESTINATION Darwin, NT
WHAT THEY SAY "As the NT's thriving capital, Darwin attracts travellers from around the globe looking to experience its outdoor tropical lifestyle."
WHAT WE SAY Darwin is all of the clichés, and more. Yes, it's crocs and gone-troppo locals; sultry, stormy days with an anything-goes vibe. But there's much more to experience in this amazingly diverse and beautiful area.
SEE + DO + STAY Bag a barra on a fishing charter in Darwin Harbour (darwinharbourfishingcharters.com.au), check out the crocs at Crocosaurus Cove (crocosauruscove.com), visit the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets (mindil.com.au), and eat dinner at Pee Wee's at the Point (peewees.com.au). Oh, and stay at the smartly refurbished Hilton (hilton.com). Within striking distance of Darwin are the Mary River wetlands, the Tiwi Islands, and Kakadu National Park.
DON'T MISS Give yourself a couple of days to enjoy Litchfield, the classic weekend getaway for Darwin locals. Soak in waterholes beneath cascading waterfalls, explore monsoonal vine forests, tackle rough 4WD tracks, and spend your nights in cabins, or camping out.
AIRFARES Qantas $177 from Melbourne, $179 from Sydney; Virgin Australia $140 from Brisbane, $145 from Melbourne, $178 from Perth
THE DESTINATION Adelaide, South Australia
Sol Restaurant at Eos by SkyCity Adelaide.
WHAT THEY SAY "Twelve unique regions with world-class, unbeatable gourmet produce, fantastic beaches and unique native wildlife."
WHAT WE SAY The local adage "you're 15 minutes from anywhere" (and a little further to some regions) is South Australia's first gift to visitors. Experience world-class wine and food as well as coastal and hills landscapes, all in one day.
SEE + DO + STAY Perennial food and drink favourite Rundle Street is home to newly opened "unauthentic Indian" restaurant Daughter in Law (daughterinlaw.com.au) or head to cobbled Leigh Street and its bars such as Pink Moon Saloon (pinkmoonsaloon.com.au). New and glam Eos by Sky City overlooks the hallowed Adelaide Oval and the River Torrens (skycityadelaide.com.au). Go behind the scenes and behind the normally off-limits scoreboard of the historic oval on a guided tour (adelaideoval.com.au).
DON'T MISS A tasting on the top floor at the Darenberg Cube with 360 degree views of McLaren Vale, the Willunga Hills and the Gulf St Vincent (darenberg.com.au)
AIRFARES Jetstar $63 from Sydney, $49 from Melbourne; Qantas $88 from Melbourne, $108 from Sydney; Virgin Australia $70 from Melbourne, $90 from Sydney, $110 from Brisbane, $123 from Canberra, $145 from Perth.
THE DESTINATION Broome, WA
WHAT THEY SAY "The pearling capital of Australia and the gateway to the Kimberley wilderness".
WHAT WE SAY With its red soil, turquoise waters, and a surprisingly rich multi-cultural history, this tropical town is like nowhere else in Australia.
SEE + STAY + DO Set amid tropical gardens, guests at The Billi (thebilli.com.au) can choose between villas, studios and luxurious eco-tents. In Broome it's all about Asian dining, whether you opt for the curries at Little India, or the pan-Asian flavours at local institution, The Aarli (theaarli.com.au). The best coffee in town is at The Zookeepers Store (zks.com.au) or for something a bit stronger, Matso's Broome Brewery (matsos.com.au) is a must (try the mango beer). Explore Broome's history with the Jetty to Jetty Heritage Walk app, browse the weekend Courthouse Markets, visit the Japanese cemetery and catch a movie at the classic outdoor Sun Cinema (broomemovies.com.au).
DON'T MISS Watching the sun sink into the sea off the 22 kilometre Cable Beach is the perfect way to end the day. See visitbroome.com.au
AIRFARES Qantas $299 from Sydney, $285 from Melbourne
THE DESTINATION Merimbula, NSW
WHAT THEY SAY "An enchanting seaside town on the Sapphire Coast that offers rugged ocean beaches and tranquil coastal lakes".
WHAT WE SAY Merimbula and its neighbouring townships are strung like pearls between the coast and a swathe of national parks.
SEE + DO + STAY Keep an eye out for kangaroos and echidnas when you stay in one of the glamping tents at Tanja Lagoon Camp (tanjalagooncamp.com.au). Sink your teeth into a buttermilk fried chicken burger at Dulcie's Cottage (dulcies.com.au) in Merimbula or enjoy a casual meal with million-dollar water views at Bar Beach Kiosk. Enjoy a beer with a view at Seahorse Inn (seahorseinnhotel.com.au) at Twofold Bay, or head to North of Eden Distillery (northofeden.com.au) to sample one of the award-winning gins. Further afield, go mountain-biking at Tathra, kayaking at Merimbula or Pambula, or hiking in one of the national parks.
DON'T MISS Oyster farms abound in the area's pristine waters – take one of the many tours on offer, and eat them as often as possible while you're there.
AIRFARES Qantas $95 from Melbourne
ESSENTIALS See sapphirecoast.com.au