Australia best things to do: 10 underrated highlights that locals overlook

Sometimes, locals get it right, correctly shunning some of the worst tourist traps that visitors seem to herd into. But, just occasionally, the visitors are on to something great that Aussies will largely ignore on their own doorstep.

The Phillip Island Penguin Parade

Every day, scores of tour buses pile down from Melbourne to Phillip Island to see the little penguins emerge from the sea every evening. It's quite the circus, with visitors crowded onto special viewing platforms around the beach. But all cynicism quickly fades away when the penguins arrive. They're adorably cute, and reliably funny as they scout for predators then scurry along the paths to their nests. See 

Sydney Fish Market

Sydneysiders might consider going to the fish market in Pyrmont to buy some fish, but little more. Yet the market is something that appears in all the guide books, is a staple of organised itineraries and is a genuine spectacle for overseas visitors. Behind-the-scenes tours are available for those interested in how it all works and there's a brunch tour for those who fancy lying in for considerably longer than the traders. See 

Fremantle Prison

One of the convict-era World Heritage sites, the Fremantle Prison sits slightly back from the harbourside breweries, cafés and beaches that Aussies come to Freo for. But the tours of this old monster – which finally closed as a prison in 1991 – are great. Themed on escapes and prison life, they're full of stories, and there's a real chill when you reach the gallows where prisoners were executed until 1964. See 

Eumundi Markets

Taking place every Wednesday and Saturday, these markets in the Sunshine Coast hinterland are remarkable for sheer scale if nothing else. Hundreds of stalls selling wood carvings, glass jewellery, organic insect repellents and floaty, hippy dresses make for quite the browse. None of it's essential, and that's part of the appeal. With scores of food stalls battling for space, too, you may as well settle in for the morning. See 


That a big red rock in the middle of nowhere can lure in enough people to fill several direct flights a week is, when you think about it, pretty amazing. Uluru does have an ability to make cynics change their minds, though. It looks genuinely powerful in different lights at different times of the day, and the walk around it shows several different sides to something that's usually seen from a single postcard shot angle. See 

Sydney Bridgeclimb

Yes, it is outrageously expensive to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But it is really good fun and surprisingly low adrenalin – hardly any time is spent directly looking down, and it's mostly just a walk along the arch. The Bridge is an astonishing piece of craftsmanship – something that's truly appreciated as you clamber through it – and the harbour views from the top are A+. See 

The Rocks

Sydneysiders tend to think of the Rocks as a handy holding pen for milling tourists. But there's so much more to the area than a few old pubs, some expensive shops and great views of the harbour. Dive into the back lanes, and the city – and nation's – history, starts revealing itself. The Rocks Discovery Museum, meanwhile, takes a genuinely fascinating look at the area's heritage from several perspectives, including those of the traditional indigenous custodians. See 

The Swan River

Perth locals will generally take the train to get from A to B, while tourists gleefully don their sunnies and spend much longer pootling around on a boat. The Swan River is gorgeous, though, and on a typically sunny Perth afternoon there are few things more enjoyable than cruising up and down the river, looking out for the dolphins that call it home. See 


The Eureka Skydeck

Melbourne might not be the most scintillating city to look out over, but the views from the Skydeck at the top of the Eureka Tower stretch beyond the city itself – to Mt Macedon in the north and the edge of Port Phillip Bay in the south. It's worth going up to test your nerve on the Edge – a glass cube extending from the side of the building, where you can look between your feet, nearly 300 metres down to certain death. See 

The Whitsundays

OK, OK, lots of Australians go to Queensland's Whitsunday Islands. But that usually means an island stay or a day trip on a boat. Overseas visitors get it right, on two or three day sailing trips around the islands. There's something magical about having a beer on deck, and gently bobbing on the sea as the sun goes down. See 

See also: Twenty things that shock first-time visitors to Australia

See also: Oversold Australia: Ten major attractions that don't live up to the hype