Best things to do in Australia: Ten Australian popular holiday spots with unexpected attractions

  Many of Australia's best known holiday spots are popular for a reason – be it the guaranteed wildlife, scenic views or top drawer beaches. But these domestic hotspots tend to have more than one string to their bow – and digging a little deeper can see you kitted out in night vision goggles, riding a hovercraft, getting a cultural education and much more…

Byron Bay – track nocturnal creatures

A pademelon spotted during a walk with Night Vision.

A pademelon spotted during a walk with Vision Walks. Photo: Vision Walks

When the sun goes down, all manner of creatures come out to play. The problem, of course, is seeing them. Vision Walks has this issue licked on its after dark explorations of the Nightcap National Park from Byron Bay. Everyone gets kitted out with special night vision goggles, which make the walking a somewhat disorientating experience, but allow you to spot possums, pademelons, bandicoots and tawny frogmouths without spooking them into running away. See visionwalks.com.au

Blue Mountains – conquer canyons

Cutesy villages, grandiose gardens dramatic cable cars and prime ridge-top bushwalking may be what Sydney's favourite inland escape mostly deals in, but there's high adventure on offer too. Operators, including High and Wild, offer trips into the region's canyons – and that means scrambling along rocks, tight squeezes, sliding down mini-waterfalls, leaps of faith into river pools and maybe some abseiling for good measure. See highandwild.com.au

Kangaroo Island – feast on fine food

The Beach Barista at Penneshaw Bay, Kangaroo Island.

The Beach Barista at Penneshaw Bay, Kangaroo Island. Photo: SATC

Most come to Kangaroo Island for the wildlife – seals on the beaches, koalas up the trees – and magnificent coastal national parks. But the South Australian getaway is also home to dozens of small food and drink producers, many of which have their doors open to visitors. So a day away from the animals can include aphrodisiacs at the Oyster Farm Shop, sweet toast-toppers at Clifford's Honey Farm and gin sampling at Kangaroo Island Spirits. See authentickangarooisland.com.au

Cairns – get lectured

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef Photo: iStock

You'd be hard-pushed to make a Great Barrier Reef trip disappointing, but the difference between a good visit and an amazing one is knowing what you're looking at. Reef Teach can aid you with the latter – it runs evening presentations aimed at prepping amateur snorkellers for the aquatic wonderworld they're about to plunge into. What the reef is, how it works, what you'll see and where best to see the most fishy action are all covered. See reefteach.com.au

Phillip Island – go back in time

Credit: Visit Victoria

Churchill Island. Credit: Visit Victoria

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Victoria's holiday hotspot is best known for its penguins, but at the other side of the island, a bridge leads to Churchill Island, where a 19th century farm has been preserved with minimal modernisation. Cottages from the 1860s, mooching Highland cows, bird-friendly wetlands and a glorious garden that nods to the first European garden in Victoria are all part of the mix. See penguins.org.au

Rottnest Island – get an Indigenous perspective

Rottnest Island.

Rottnest Island. Photo: Tourism WA

Rotto is seen by most as a fun in the sun place – bike, beaches, snorkelling and quokkas. But to the Indigenous Noongar people, Rottnest has a dark past. It was once used as a prison for Aboriginal people, and many of the island's historic buildings were once part of that prison. This past is covered as part of Go Cultural's walking tours, alongside Dreamtime storytelling, traditional song and ceremony. See gocultural.com.au

Broome – inspect dinosaur footprints

Credit: Broome Hovercraft

Credit: Broome Hovercraft

The land around Broome has barely changed in thousands of years, to the point where dinosaur footprints can still be seen in the rocks. And what better way to go and see them than… erm, hang on… in a hovercraft? Broome Hovercraft runs several tours gliding along the tidal flats of Roebuck Bay, but the best stop at the beach to check out the astonishingly well-preserved dino prints. See broomehovercraft.com.au

Gold Coast – go wine tasting

O'Reilly's Canugra Valley Vineyards.

O'Reilly's Canugra Valley Vineyards.

The Gold Coast is better known for its beaches than bottles of red, but a smattering of brave hinterland wineries take on not exactly ideal Queensland wine-growing conditions. O'Reilly's Canugra Valley Vineyards is the most atmospheric, with its historic homestead, and it can be visited for breakfast after an early morning hot air balloon ride. Gold Coast-based Hot Air Balloon drops by there after landing. See hotair.com.au

Noosa - drive the beach

Rainbow Beach.

Rainbow Beach. Photo: TEQ

Accessible only by a dinky car ferry, Teewah Beach doubles as a highway. You'll need a 4WD and a careful eye on the tides to drive along it, but if you're content to play passenger, Great Beach Drive 4WD Tours offers day trips. These include painting in the sand at Rainbow Beach, possible whale sightings and exclusive access to the Double Island Point lighthouse. See greatbeachdrive4wdtours.com.au

Margaret River – abseil into a cave

Credit: The Margaret River Climbing Club

Credit: The Margaret River Climbing Company

The surf beaches and premium wines might be what put Margs on the map, but that map sure has plenty of caves too. Some of them are show caves, designed to seen with a leisurely pootle. Others require a bit more effort. The Margaret River Climbing Company offers half day trips that plunge deep into the caves of the Boranup Forest, abseiling down into chambers and scrambling through narrow subterranean tunnels. See margaretriverclimbingco.com.au

Disclosure: David Whitley has been a guest of Tourism Australia and the state tourism boards.

See also: Beastly beach encounters: The ten best Aussie beaches to see wildlife

See also: Be dazzled: The ten most colourful places on Earth

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