What to do in Australia: 8 things foreign travellers get right that Aussies are missing out on

You don't need a backpack to enjoy the hiking hot-spots.

The life of the overseas traveller in Australia may not be entirely enviable. Few Australians would fancy funding their holiday with months of back-breaking fruit-picking, or spending weeks sleeping in dorm rooms. But foreign travellers do get some things right that most Aussies inexplicably miss out on, such as …

Self-drive Fraser Island

A practically obligatory plank in the traveller experience of Australia is four-wheel driving around Fraser Island, camping out under the stars and probably accruing a dingo encounter story along the way. Groups of strangers are usually put together to drive around, get sand in their pasta at night and jump in crystal-clear lakes during the day.

The destination is magical, but the whole roughing it with randoms thing may not be everyone's cup of tea. So, to do it in more comfort without signing up for guided tour buses, stay at the on-island Kingfisher Bay Resort and hire out 4WDs by the day from Aussie Trax, which has an office at the resort.

Sail the Whitsundays

The other absolute staple of the well-worn East Coast route is pootling​ round the Whitsundays in a somewhat over-stuffed yacht for two or three nights. Evenings turn into on-board booze-fests, while the days are spent jumping on squeaky white sand beaches for Facebook photos and snorkelling around the reefs.

Anyone denying that this is a wonderful way to spend a couple of days – the islands are indisputably stunning – is out of their mind. But it's possible to do it in a bit more comfort. Numerous operators in Airlie Beach offer either bare-boat or crewed​ yacht charters, and they don't work out too outrageously expensive if you get a group together. Whitsunday Holidays collates a fair few rental options.

Jump out of a plane

Yes, leaping out of a plane from 14,000 feet is utterly terrifying, but it is also an extraordinary experience. The worst bit is going up – once tipped out of the plane with a tandem instructor strapped to your back, the fun takes over. Sixty seconds of intense freefall gives way to a scenic float where you can take in a bird's-eye view of the surroundings. And if you do it with Jump The Beach in Mission Beach, you get to see World Heritage-listed Rainforest before landing on the sands.

Get excited about the wildlife

Sure, Australians are probably not going to get as excited about seeing a kangaroo as a visiting Swede or Korean. But there are tonnes of Aussie wildlife experiences that have a wow factor wherever you're from. Kayaking with dolphins in Byron Bay? Spotting humungo-crocs on the Yellow Waters billabong in Kakadu National Park? Swimming with whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef? These sort of things shouldn't be the sole preserve of foreign visitors.

Stay in a hostel

For an on-the-cheap stay, hostels can be a good deal, even if the thought of going near a dorm gives you the shivers. Almost all have private rooms, which can be on the spartan side, but most fulfil the basic requirements of bed, bathroom and Wi-Fi​. Throw in common areas – particularly the cooking facilities – and this can work out a better deal than a budget hotel.

You'll probably want to avoid the party hostels (those in the Base and Nomads chains tend to fall into this category), but the YHAs tend to veer between purpose-built modern buildings in gorgeous spots, and cute B&B-style joints with a few dorms tacked on.


Get a YHA card

OK, so you're not convinced on the hostel thing. Fine. But invest in a YHA membership anyway as it gets you discounts on a ludicrous number for things for $25 a year.

Some of these are fairly logical – i.e., discounted rates with car hire companies, up to 40 per cent off Great Southern Rail tickets, $20 off hot air ballooning in Brisbane or Cairns. But there are a lot of 10 per cent off deals at restaurants all over the country, concession rates at all manner of attractions, and bargain prices at outdoor gear shops too.

Canoe the Noosa Everglades

When Australians think "Noosa", Hastings Street dining and shopping tends to come to mind. For travellers it's the outdoors factor that makes the Sunshine Coast's upmarket resort town a winner. Plenty of packages include multi-night camping and kayaking packages along the Noosa Everglades – pristine bushland within the Great Sandy National Park. Kanu Campers sells the two- or three-day adventures if you want to try it yourself, but the cheat's method is the Discovery Group's Bar-B-Canoe day tour. That covers most of the distance by boat, rustles up lunch at a goanna-packed camp ground and allows more adventurous types to give their arms a workout paddling up and down a stretch of the river.

Chill in the emerging east coast hotspots

"Like Byron Bay was 20 years ago" is a stonking​ great cliche now, but what's true is that travellers tend to pave the way before the mass market cottons on. So in the next five to 10 years, expect Rainbow Beach, 1770 / Agnes Water and Mission Beach to boom with more comfortable hotels and development that slowly strips away their relatively undiscovered vibe. They're firmly on the traveller circuit now and are due to make the leap.

See also: Australia's weirdest international flight routes
See also: The 12 best Aussie shortcuts