Short holidays from Australia: 25 of the best destinations here and overseas

FLORES, INDONESIA

We forget there are a thousand islands other than Bali. An adventurous short break takes you to Flores, an hour's flight from Denpasar and another incarnation entirely – and not just because you'll escape the crowds and concrete. The island is magnificently crumpled, with canyons, volcanoes, improbably coloured crater lakes and cascades of rice terraces. As part of its history as a Portuguese colony, church steeples rise above cassava fields. Tourism is just taking off here, but already you can check into a fine resort such as Ayana Komodo Resort, from which you can make overnight excursions on a traditional sailboat into Komodo National Park to see its infamous komodo dragons. Padar Island is especially beautiful; the diving and snorkelling is superb.

Don't miss Flores's Rangko Cave in early afternoon, where you can float in neon-blue water illuminated by sunlight while gazing at a baroque assortment of stalactites. BJ

POACHER'S WAY, NSW/ACT

Enjoyed over two days but easily extended with a couple more in Canberra, this gourmet safari through pretty countryside brings you to indolent indulgences at wineries and rustic restaurants but doesn't require long drives. Explore the Canberra District wine region, notable for riesling and shiraz. Start in Murrumbateman, surrounded by cellar doors such as the spectacularly contemporary Shaw Wines. Then try Helm Wines, housed in an 1888 schoolhouse, and finish at Clonakilla, where you can sip lesser-known varietals such as mourvèdre and cinsault. A stop at Robyn Rowe Chocolates is a must, as is a languid lunch at Poacher's Pantry, a little further south. National Trust-listed Gundaroo has Grazing, the Canberra hinterland's best fine-dining restaurant.

Don't miss A return to Canberra via Lake George, where you should stop at Westering Restaurant for a light lunch of barramundi and white-chocolate panna cotta with a view. BJ

Fremantle.

Fremantle's historic streets. Photo: Getty Images

FREMANTLE, WA

Perth is the obvious choice for a WA city break, but you'd do well to go alternative at Fremantle, its port and fishing harbour. Not only is it poised for easy day-tripping access to wonderful, wildlife-rich Rottnest Island, it has its own distinct identity and raffish atmosphere, including a lively dining, micro-brewery and bar scene that will burnish your hipster credentials while titillating your taste buds. Stroll windy promenades, browse street markets, take in grand 19th-century architecture and visit Fremantle Prison, the nation's most intact convict establishment, for tales of unusual punishments and daring escapes. Fremantle Arts Centre, housed in a convict-built, neo-Gothic former lunatic asylum and submarine base, has a busy program of events.

Don't miss The WA Maritime Museum to see the 1983 America's Cup winner Australia II, tour a World War II submarine and visit shipwreck galleries which include remnants of the Dutch ship Batavia, which sank in 1629. BJ

Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia.

Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Getty Images

GRAMPIANS, VIC

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The spectacular sandstone ridges of the Grampians rise with deceptive modesty three hours west of Melbourne, then plunge dramatically, turning waterways into waterfalls and rewarding hikers with abrupt conclusions to trails at sumptuous lookouts. Lovers of the great outdoors will enjoy bushwalking, rock climbing, canoeing and fishing, but even the indolent will find rewarding drives such as the splendid route south to Mount Abrupt and Mount Sturgeon. Halls Gap is the obvious tourist centre, but Pomonal brings more seclusion and romance for couples, while around Moyston you can immerse yourself in farmland replete with flamboyant rape-seed fields and paddocks of fat sheep. Dunkeld has settler history, a glorious arboretum and enough lavender-scented boutiques to keep shoppers happy.

Don't miss Wartook Valley, with some of the Grampians' best scenery. For those who like their short breaks extra-rugged, there's the chance to explore by four-wheel-drive and mountain bike. BJ

The Loyalty Islands in New Caledonia.

The Loyalty Islands in New Caledonia. Photo: New Caledonia Tourism

THE LOYALTY ISLANDS, NEW CALEDONIA

Located 200 kilometres east of the main island, Grand Terre, this chain of sparsely populated small islands epitomises everything good about the South Pacific. Perfect for cruising (cruise companies often visit Lifou and the nearby Isle of Pines), it's protected by the world's third-largest barrier reef and offers kilometres of secluded white-sand beaches and some of the best diving and snorkelling in the Pacific. There are few resorts and restaurants here, just an array of stunning natural attractions like limestone caves, deep blue holes and beach shacks offering fresh seafood you can eat with your toes in the water.

Don't miss Though Lifou is best known, the island of Maré just a few kilometres south is full of secret beaches, hidden caves in the bush and 19th-century Catholic churches. The islands are also home to some of the world's finest vanilla beans. CT

TOWNSVILLE, QLD

Tourism is far from Townsville's sole industry and, on that front, it plays second fiddle to Cairns. Yet the Great Barrier Reef is just as accessible, Magnetic Island a mere 20-minute ferry ride away, and lush, waterfall-draped rainforests can be found inland at Paluma Range National Park. The city itself has a great waterfront area, a heritage centre and excellent family-friendly attractions, including Reef HQ Aquarium and the Museum of Tropical Queensland, where the exhibition on the HMS Pandora shipwreck in 1791 is particularly absorbing. Get out on the water, where you'll find serious game-fishing, great kayaking around Magnetic Island and outstanding diving on coral reefs. The 1911 SS Yongala shipwreck, haunted by huge fish, turtles and manta rays, is a highlight.

Don't miss Magnetic Island, where you might consider a break in the even slower lane. It has magnificent coastal walks and resident koalas and rock wallabies. BJ

Colourful George Town in Malaysia.

Colourful George Town in Malaysia. Photo: Getty Images

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA

For dollops of south-east Asia, India and China – plus a dash of Britain – all in one short break, head to George Town, capital of the island state of Penang, which erupts in an eclectic variety of ethnicities, languages, religions, colourful architecture and flavoursome cuisines. George Town has a happily dishevelled, lived-in atmosphere; food stalls and retro stores coexist with hipster cafes and fashion boutiques. Georgian and Victorian buildings are a reminder of George Town's founding by the British in 1786, but the most magnificent sight is bling-laden Khoo Kongsi, a Chinese clan house encrusted with gold and writhing dragons. Best of all is the food: a spicy taste explosion of laksas, fish-head curries, Chinese stir-fries, Indian pancakes, chilli-popping rojak salads and more.

Don't miss The hillside Kek Lok Si Temple, outside town. It's Malaysia's biggest Buddhist complex, topped by a tall, seven-tiered pagoda. You could spend a year counting the Buddhas. BJ

Pink sky after sunset at Cabarita Beach in the Northern Rivers.

Pink sky after sunset at Cabarita Beach in the Northern Rivers. Photo: Getty Images

NORTHERN RIVERS, NSW

While Byron Bay hogs the limelight, you only need turn inland to find a slower pace amid World Heritage rainforest, worn-down volcanoes and hillsides covered in macadamia and coffee plantations. Head north to Murwillumbah, a classic dairy-farming and sugar cane town between hills and river with an unexpected arty edge.

A visit to the Tweed Regional Gallery and its Margaret Olley Art Centre is a delight, but so is messing about on the river. Meander down to little Uki, which sits under Mount Warning and has a river walk for platypus spotting. For your dose of ocean, turn towards Cabarita Beach for a seafood lunch at one-hatted Paper Daisy, followed by a meander down to Pottsville and under-the-radar Wooyung Nature Reserve.

Don't miss The scenic 30-kilometre drive to Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park, just over the Queensland border, where waterfalls splash and glow worms wink from caves. BJ

West MacDonnell is a national park in the Northern Territory (Australia) due west of Alice Springs and 1234 km south of Darwin. It extends along the MacDonnell Ranges west of Alice Springs.<br /><br />Ormiston Gorge Water Hole is accessible from a road in the west, which travels between Glen Helen and Alice Springs. There is a waterhole at the bottom near the gorge, as well as several lookouts. The entire pound encompasses 46.55 square kilometres. The Finke River passes Ormiston Gorge in the west. Supplied PR image for Traveller. Hidden beaches story by Ben Groundwater

The stunning landscapes of the West MacDonnell Ranges. Photo: Jess Caldwell & Luke Riddle

ALICE SPRINGS, NT

While Uluru is your classic short break, you've good reason to choose Alice Springs during September and October, when Desert Mob and related cultural events demonstrate why this is Australia's leading destination for Indigenous art. The arts festival is a brilliant showcase of artwork from Indigenous communities across Australia's desert regions, in painting and sculpture, textiles and wood carving, and in styles from traditional to contemporary. Balmy spring weather makes for the right time to explore the surrounding landscapes that have provided so much artistic inspiration, especially the West MacDonnell Ranges – chasms of soaring orange rock, pockmarked with waterholes.

Don't miss A drive to Hermannsburg, a National Trust-listed settlement that was once home to Albert Namatjira and is now noted for its pottery artists. Gorgeous, flamboyantly orange Finke Gorge is nearby. BJ

The white sands of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

The white sands of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. Photo: Getty Images

AITUTAKI, COOK ISLANDS

Forty minutes flying time north of Rarotonga, you'd go to Aitutaki just for its lagoon. It's five times the size of Aitutaki and Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, calls it the best lagoon on Earth. It contains 15 tiny islands (motu) to get lost on, and only one is inhabited. But, though exploring the lagoon will completely occupy you for at least two days, it's just part of the reason you'd come here. Make time for a slow drive through picture-perfect villages where everyone waves, then join them in 160-year-old churches by the sea to hear pitch-perfect singing.

Don't miss Go sailing on Aitutaki's massive lagoon with Sail Aitutaki or book a half-day speedboat tour. The more daring can try kiteboarding with Wet & Wild Aitutaki at one of the planet's best locations for it. CT

NORFOLK ISLAND

This external territory of Australia is almost overseas: flights from Brisbane and Sydney leave from the international terminal, and you'd best not call Norfolk Islanders Australian.

It was first settled by descendants of Bounty mutineers and has an awful convict history captured in a World Heritage site, yet is now an affable island of slow-paced living, gorgeous seascapes and splendid pine and fig trees. There's plenty of history and quirky tours, the fishing is great, the rolling green hills are made for walking and, with bird life in abundance, bird watchers will rejoice. This is a tranquil enclave of old-fashioned pleasures.

Don't miss Mount Pitt in Norfolk Island National Park which, at 316 metres high, gives you an outlook over the entire island. Bring some food and enjoy the well-placed picnic table. BJ

Wellington, the vibrant capital of New Zealand.

Wellington, the vibrant capital of New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

Over the past decade, the New Zealand capital has emerged as an impressive cultural centre noted for its festivals, entertainment scene, fine dining and sassy, avant-garde attitude. Yet it remains compact and easily navigated, laid-back and endearingly retro: riding the red train up to the botanic gardens remains a sedate, classic pleasure. Wander and be surprised at an old cinema re-imagined, a theatre turned arts co-operative, or a former shoe factory now crammed with gourmet outlets. Trendy bars and breweries enliven every corner and restaurants such as Hiakai, Ortega Fish Shack and Logan Brown are world-class.

Don't miss The Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa museum, created with Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop, which brings the campaign to life through the stories of eight New Zealanders. BJ

The Coral Coast in Western Australia.

The Coral Coast in Western Australia. Photo: Getty Images

CORAL COAST, WA

Nothing feels more like an escape than a road trip, so head north out of Perth on the first half of the Coral Coast as far as Kalbarri. The turquoise ocean is never far from the windscreen, and in springtime the wildflowers are gobsmacking. The return trip involves 12 hours of driving, so spread it over five days to balance movement with slower pleasures. The two highlights are the limestone desert outcrops of the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park and the ancient gorges and coastal cliffs of Kalbarri National Park. Green Head has a sea lion colony, and regional centre Geraldton is bright with street art. If you have time, the Houtman Abrolhos islands are a top fishing and bird-watching destination.

Don't miss Hutt Lagoon near Gregory. Commonly called Pink Lake but sometimes red or purple, it's a mind-bending sight, backed by golden dunes and blue ocean. BJ

Diving in the Solomon Islands. 

Diving in the Solomon Islands. Photo: Getty Images

WESTERN PROVINCE, SOLOMON ISLANDS

They're so close to Australia and yet they're still such a mystery. For those considering the Solomon Islands, Western Province is your easiest bet. There are 11 main islands in the area and most can be reached by boat or plane. Here's where you'll find many of the archipelago's real wonders, from some of the Pacific's finest lagoons to the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific, Tetepare, dubbed "the Galapagos of the Pacific" for its biodiversity. World War II was fiercely fought here and you'll see wrecked planes on your dives along with whales and rare turtles such as leatherbacks, while the fishing is world class.

Don't miss The Pacific's most underrated surf. The breaks here, spread across the islands, are home to some of the most consistent waves in the South Pacific. CT

A rainbow over Tasmania.

A rainbow over Tasmania. Photo: Getty Images

BAY OF FIRES, TAS

The north-east corner of Tasmania between Eddystone Point and Binalong Bay, a two-hour drive east of Launceston airport, features rugged bushland, lagoons, pristine beaches and striking orange boulders set against sapphire seas. The best way to see the coast is a multi-day hike guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away, but without exhaustion: expect to walk 35 kilometres over four days. You can do it yourself using free camp sites or sign up with a tour company for a more comfortable style without the need to shoulder gear. The hike gives you an intimate encounter with the superlative landscape, its Indigenous history, and wildlife such as sea eagles. You can also kayak on Ansons River and take a plunge into the ocean.

Don't miss Eddystone Point Lighthouse, located on a wind-battered bluff and surrounded by rock pools scuttling with fabulous creatures. BJ

The sweeping landscape of Kangaroo Island.

The sweeping landscape of Kangaroo Island. Photo: Getty Images

KANGAROO ISLAND, SA

This Goldilocks island is just right: accessible yet adventurous, both rugged and pastoral, small enough to conquer but large enough to keep you occupied. You can spend the morning amid wild landscapes home to sea lions and penguins, sit down to a fine lunch and glass of shiraz, then visit farm doors for honey or haloumi. The cellar doors are a treat, too. The best scenery lies along the south coast: the scalloped dunes of Little Sahara, the turquoise sweep of Vivonne Bay, and the bizarrely balanced outcrops at Remarkable Rocks. At Cape du Couedic, a spectacular boardwalk takes you down among dozing seals.

Don't miss Seal Bay Conservation Park, home to one of Australia's largest colonies of sea lions, and one of few places anywhere you can get close to these endearing, if smelly, creatures. BJ

The Samoan coastline;

The Samoan coastline. Photo: Getty Images

SAVAI'I, SAMOA

Samoa is already off most mainstream travellers' radars. And those who do make it generally don't go to Savai'i, Samoa's Big Island, though it's only an hour away by ferry from Upolu, where the international airport is.

This is where you'll see Samoa as it always was. There are plenty of natural attractions, manned by local families who charge barely $5 for you to see them, while the coastline offers everything from blowholes you can throw coconuts in, to stunning beaches for swimming and snorkelling. Its hinterland is spectacular; climb high into mountains to look back at the coastline. And there are several high-end resorts by the sea; use them as bases to discover the island across three to five days.

Don't miss Savai'i is the largest shield volcano in the South Pacific. Take a tour into the hinterland and walk along its crater, where you'll discover more than 500 species of flowering plants, a quarter of which are found only on this island. CT

CRUISE, TAS

For a short break that requires no planning, hassle or (should you so desire) any thought at all, hop aboard a cruise. There are times when having everything to hand – accommodation, transport, food, entertainment – in one easy package is just the tonic for a stressful life. Take a five-day cruise to Tasmania on Carnival Splendor from Sydney, or P&O Cruises' Pacific Explorer from Melbourne, and you'll call at Port Arthur and Hobart. (Other cruise itineraries take in Burnie, too.) On your days at sea you can wallow in the spa or swimming pool, hit the water slides and take in an evening show or movie under the stars. And with clubs, sports and deck parties to keep the kids occupied, there is plenty of opportunity to get your much-needed adult downtime, too.

Don't miss A guided shore-excursion tour of Port Arthur to learn about its convict history as you admire its incongruously beautiful setting. BJ

Tropical Taveuni in Fiji.

Tropical Taveuni in Fiji. Photo: Getty Images

TAVEUNI, FIJI

Most travellers won't leave Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, but there's secret treasure to be found elsewhere among Fiji's 332 islands. Some of the best can be found on Taveuni, Fiji's Garden Isle. Eighty minutes flying time north of Nadi, Taveuni is an eco-tourist's dream, though its luxury waterside accommodation will suit any couple looking for privacy. You'll need at least three days to discover its attractions – many of which require some sweat. Over a third of the island is national park, so take a hike in the wild green volcanic interior among Fiji's tallest mountains. And leave a day or two to scuba dive or snorkel among some of the planet's best dive sites.

Don't miss A waterfall circuit through pristine Bouma National Heritage Park, where you can swim beneath some of the Pacific's most impressive cascades. There are more waterfalls along the Lavena Coastal Walk, which passes both white and black sand beaches. CT

ORANGE, NSW

Those whose idea of the perfect getaway involves rolling countryside, vineyards and a heritage town with a great wine-and-dine scene need look no further. A 90-minute heritage walking trail takes you around Orange's best bits, if you aren't distracted by the cafes, delis and boutiques. Sample wines from 19 vineyards at Ferment: The Orange Wine Centre before driving out to scenic cellar doors, such as Ross Hill, De Salis and Rowlee Wines, on the flanks of Mount Canobolas. What also makes Orange a great short-break destination are the charming towns within a 45-minute drive, including Millthorpe, Carcoar and Canowindra, where you'll find eclectic little museums, gold-rush history and heritage architecture.

Don't miss Any number of excellent restaurants, including hatted Lolli Redini for Italian, The Schoolhouse for bold modern bistro dishes, and Charred Kitchen for meat and seafood cooked in a wood and charcoal oven. BJ

A cable-car trip in Sentosa.

A cable-car trip in Sentosa, Singapore. Photo: Getty Images

SENTOSA, SINGAPORE

Safety, organisation, a top-notch dining and bar scene, eclectic neighbourhoods such as Little India and Chinatown, and abundant attractions have turned Singapore into much more than just a stopover. Yet Sentosa has all the requisite luxury hotels, spas, golf courses, beaches and nature walks you want in a relaxing tropical break – and the bright lights of a sophisticated city just a twinkle away. Sentosa is a great family-friendly retreat where you can spend the day flopping on the sand, swimming in the lagoon, splashing about in a water park or rambling through the rainforest.

Don't miss Universal Studios Singapore, where you can ride the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster and Jurassic Park Rapids, and hang out with characters from Madagascar. BJ

The Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

The Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Photo: South Australian Tourism Commission

FLINDERS RANGES, SA

The Flinders are a five-hour drive from Adelaide, so you'll want to take a five-day break and perhaps overnight in Clare Valley wine country on the way. Nowhere is such magnificently rugged outback so easily accessible, though you'll need a four-wheel-drive. Deep gorges, shattered peaks, Wilpena Pound's vast natural amphitheatre and the explosive sunsets are stupendous, while rock art and the ruins of failed European settlements provide a haunting footnote. A multitude of hiking trails get you among it all, but you don't need to get out of your car to appreciate the spectacular landscapes along the Moralana and Bunyeroo-Brachina-Aroona scenic drives. Razorback and Brachina lookouts are highlights that assault you with rust-red geology and purple ranges.

Don't miss Pugilist Hill Lookout, not as well-known as some scenic spots but offering a sunset spectacle of Wilpena Pound in one direction and the Chance Range in the other. BJ

Stunning views at Queenstown Harbor Pier.

Stunning views at Queenstown Harbor Pier. Photo: Getty Images

QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand's skiing, hiking and adventure capital might be renowned for high-octane activities such as bungy-jumping and jet-boating, yet it boasts more sedate pleasures such as boat excursions on Lake Wakatipu

and an excursion to Gibbston Valley's cellar doors to sample pinot noir in sun-soaked courtyards. The food scene is terrific, whether you're chomping on a gourmet burger, dining at innovative The Bunker or carnivore's delight the Botswana Butchery, or enjoying a degustation of Kiwi produce at True South Dining Room. No matter how you enjoy Queenstown, you'll be absorbed in gobsmacking alpine scenery. Hit the hiking and mountain-biking trails, drive to Glenorchy, or just kick back on a terrace and enjoy views to rival Switzerland.

Don't miss Picturesque Arrowtown, 20 kilometres from Queenstown, which has some 60 gold-rush-era buildings and a Chinese miners' settlement, as well as excellent cafes and restaurants. BJ

Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu.

Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. Photo: Getty Images

ESPIRITU SANTO, VANUATU

While it's Vanuatu's largest island, Espiritu Santo receives a fraction of the visitors who go to its main island, Efate. It's still wild here, an hour's flying time north of Port Vila, and locals in loincloths still wander into its capital, Luganville. But there's plenty to do here, and some luxurious private resort islands and reasonably priced homestays right on the water. The island was a huge US army base during World War II and you can dive one of the world's most accessible wrecks from this period, the SS President Coolidge. You can also ride a horse along the beach, hike among Vanuatu's tallest mountains and discover remote villages.

Don't miss A full-day tour involving a four-wheel-drive trip, a hike through rainforest, swimming in rivers and canyoning to discover an enormous cave among the waterfalls at Millennium Cave. CT

The paradise of Hamilton Island, Queensland.

The paradise of Hamilton Island, Queensland. Photo: Getty Images

HAMILTON ISLAND, QLD

Dreaming of the big blue, a subtropical climate and toe-wiggling sand? Hamilton is one of Queensland's most accessible islands thanks to its airport, tourist facilities and accommodation options. Yet two-thirds of the island remains covered in nature reserve, and the Coral Sea beyond is an extravagant array of reefs and uninhabited islands; you can feel like Robinson Crusoe without sacrificing sunset cocktails and thread count. Venture out to snorkel and dive, visit Instagram-perfect Whitehaven Beach, golf on nearby Dent Island, or take a skippered yacht for a day out and enjoy lunch anchored in a secluded cove. Back on the island, a spa treatment, a drink and a dinner of pan-roasted scallops await.

Don't miss The walk up to Passage Peak, the highest point on the island. You'll see it at its best if you rise early, when the sun stains the sea orange and there's nobody else about. BJ

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale July 24. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.