Australia adventure holiday destinations: Remote locations tourists rarely visit

One unexpected side effect of the pandemic is that it has turned many of us into explorers of our land. Confined within the borders of our own country, we've headed out – with campervans, four-wheel drives, or on guided tours – to discover the under-explored corners of the continent.

"We've discovered there is a huge interest in more remote areas," says Chris Fundell, of the Globus family of brands. "The Kimberley is now our number one region."

After having specialised in tours for international travellers, the company has designed a new range of tours for Australians wanting to explore their own backyard, and found a strong interest in getting off the beaten track.

But the Kimberley, as remote as it is, represents just one far-flung corner of what for many is a still undiscovered Australia. If you are ready to take a more adventurous approach to exploring our country, and you're prepared to extend your domestic horizons to limits, these destinations - the tropical islands of the Torres Strait to secluded towns along the Nullarbor – are calling you.

THE PLACE: COCOS (KEELING) ISLANDS

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Cocos Keeling Islands
Credit: Rik Soderlund

Photo: Rik Soderlund

WHERE IS IT

12.1642° S, 96.8710° E 5,538 kilometres from Melbourne; 5978 kilometres from Sydney

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Halfway between Australia and Sri Lanka, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are home to picture-perfect tropical beaches including Cossies Beach, named Australia's best beach. Divers will want to plunge into the coral reef, where turtles, manta rays, wrasse and dolphins can be seen.

DON'T MISS

Head to Home Island to meet the Indigenous Cocos Malay people, originally brought here as slaves. A cultural tour will introduce you to local crafts such as basket weaving and teach you some local words.

HOW TO GET THERE

Direct flights to Cocos (Keeling) Islands depart from Perth several times a week. See virginaustralia.com

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ESSENTIALS

Most services are on West Island, including accommodation such as bed and breakfasts Try Ninety Six East (ninetysixeast.cc) and for holiday retreats Cocos Castaway (cocoscastaway.com). See cocoskeelingislands.com.au

THE PLACE: NHULUNBUY, NT

Bawaka Yolngu day tour by  Lirrwi Tourism.

Bawaka Yolngu day tour, Lirrwi Tourism. Photo: Shaanna McNaught

WHERE IS IT

12.1835° S, 136.7861° E; 4251 kilometres from Sydney, 4063 kilometres from Melbourne

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Sitting on the Gove Peninsula, Nhulunbuy is the largest town in East Arnhem Land and makes a good base for exploring the area's Indigenous culture. Just as intriguing are its striking landscapes including the wetlands of Gayngaru the sand dunes of Nanydjaka and scenic islands such as the Wessel Islands.

DON'T MISS

Get first-hand insights into the local Yolngu culture on one of the day trips offered by the Indigenous-owned Lirrwi Tourism (lirrwitourism.com.au). The Bawaka Yolngu Day Tour includes activities such as spear fishing and crab hunting.

HOW TO GET THERE

The flight from Darwin takes a little over an hour; it's a nine-hour drive from Katherine. See airnorth.com.au

ESSENTIALS

Walkabout Lodge (walkaboutlodge.com.au) has air-conditioned rooms as well as campsites. See northernterritory.com

THE PLACE: Hughenden, QLD

WHERE IS IT

20.8448° S, 144.1978° E; 1950 kilometres to Sydney; 2200 kilometres to Melbourne

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You know you're in the right place when you see the life-sized fibreglass dinosaur on the street corner. Hughenden is famous as a fossil-finders' paradise: muttaburrasaurus, the first full dinosaur fossil found in Australia, was unearthed here. See a life-size replica at the Flinders Discovery Centre, a key stop on the 330 kilometre Australian Dinosaur Trail.

DON'T MISS

During winter, the magnificent Porcupine Gorge houses a series of pools sheltered by the gorge's sandstone walls; during the wet, it turns into a raging cascade. Keep an eye out for wildlife including rock wallabies, turtles and parrots.

HOW TO GET THERE

Fly from Townsville to Winton, and then drive the 200 kilometres south to Hughenden. See rex.com.au

ESSENTIALS

The Royal Hughenden Hotel (hughendenhotelmotel.com.au) offers a range of accommodation. See queensland.com; visithughenden.com.au

THE PLACE: MACQUARIE ISLAND

Five King penguins looking right and one looking down at Sandy Bay, Macquarie Island, in the Australian Sub Antarctic.
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King penguins at Sandy Bay, Macquarie Island. Photo: Getty Images

WHERE IS IT

54.6208° S, 158.8556° E; 2382 kilometres from Sydney, 2143 kilometres from Melbourne

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Head south from Tasmania and by the time you reach the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Macquarie Island, you will be halfway to Antarctica. An Australian research station is the only permanent habitation, but that doesn't mean this isolated island is devoid of life. Each year more than 80,000 elephant seals and 3.5 million seabirds, predominantly penguins, head here to breed and moult. Other wildlife includes three species of fur seals and four species of albatross.

DON'T MISS

The wildlife gets top billing but the tree-free island's flora is just as unique, with 80 species of moss, 200 types of fungi and 100 species of lichen.

HOW TO GET THERE

Ponant Cruises and Aurora Expeditions both visit Macquarie Island (subject to government approval) on their Sub Antarctic and Antarctic cruises. Ponant's 14-night New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands cruise starts at $12,970, while Aurora Expeditions' 17-night Subantarctic Discovery starts at $27,395.

ESSENTIALS

See au.ponant.com, auroraexpeditions.com.au, parks.tas.gov.au; whc.unesco.org

THE PLACE: THURSDAY ISLAND, QLD

D68G37 Australia, Queensland, Torres Strait Islands, aerial view of Thursday Island may15undiscovered

Photo: Alamy

WHERE IS IT

10.5802° S, 142.2211° E; 3039 kilometres from Melbourne, 2745 kilometres from Sydney

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With its picturesque islands basking in the tropical sun, the Torres Strait remains one of Australia's least-appreciated regions. Thursday Island, the area's administrative centre, has several historic sites including the 120-year-old Green Hill Fort, built as a defence against the Russians, and a Japanese cemetery, dating back to the days when pearling boats plied the waters.

DON'T MISS

Immerse yourself in Torres Strait Islander culture at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, which showcases contemporary work by local artists.

HOW TO GET THERE

There are regular flights from Cairns to Horn Island, from where a 15-minute ferry ride takes you to Thursday Island. See qantas.com

ESSENTIALS

Enjoy views across the neighbouring islands from the Grand Hotel Thursday Island see grandhotelti.com.au See queensland.com

THE PLACE: CAPE DENISON, AUSTRALIAN ANTARCTIC TERRITORY

WHERE IS IT

67.0063° S, 142.6554° E; 3724 kilometres from Sydney, 3247 kilometres from Melbourne

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Icebergs, penguins, glaciers and seals: the lure of Antarctica is irresistible. Douglas Mawson, who led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-1914, which based itself in Commonwealth Bay, saw another side to the icy continent: he remembered it as "accursed country" and "the home of the blizzard".

DON'T MISS

The huts which Mawson and his team built and in which they sheltered for the duration, still stand on the edge of the bay.

HOW TO GET THERE

Chimu Adventures' 25-day "In the Wake of Mawson" expedition (subject to government approval), fom $25,545, is one of the few to visit this part of the continent.

ESSENTIALS

The Antarctic season runs from November to March. See chimuadventures.com antarctica.gov.au

THE PLACE: CHRISTMAS ISLAND

may15undiscovered Undiscovered Australia ; text by Ute Junker ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; Swell Lodge on Christmas Island ; 

Swell Lodge, Christmas Island.

WHERE IS IT

10.4475° S, 105.6904° E; 5299 kilometres from Sydney, 4951 kilometres from Melbourne

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It's now best-known for its controversial detention centre but Christmas Island – closer to Indonesia than Australia – is a paradise for nature lovers. Explore its old-growth rainforest, its springs and waterfalls, its white sandy beaches and a coral reef.

DON'T MISS

The island's annual red crab migration is world-famous but no matter when you come, you'll encounter the island's best-known inhabitants. Keep an eye out for the more reclusive, but no less fascinating, blue crabs and the burly robber crabs, which grow up to 40 centimetres long.

HOW TO GET THERE

Regular flights to Christmas Island depart from Perth; flying time is around four hours. See virginairlines.com

ESSENTIALS

Australia's most remote eco-lodge, Swell Lodge (swelllodge.com) has two private chalets and a French chef providing meals. See christmas.net.au

THE PLACE: CAMERON CORNER, QLD

A South Australian State border sign at Cameron Corner. Borders have remained temprarily closed at times during CORONAVIRUS COVID-19. Photographed Thursday 24th September 2020. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH NEWS 200924 A South Australian State border sign at Cameron Corner. Borders have remained temprarily closed at times during CORONAVIRUS COVID-19. Photographed Thursday 24th September 2020. Photograph by James Brickwood. 

Photo: James Brickwood

WHERE IS IT

28.5672° S, 141.9247° E; 1285 kilometres from Sydney, 1270 kilometres from Melbourne

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With an official population of just five, Cameron Corner is no-one's idea of a metropolis. It is, however, home to the survey marker delineating the border between NSW and Queensland, which makes it a must-visit in Corner Country, where the borders of these states meet South Australia.

DON'T MISS

Pay a visit to the Dog Fence, which stretches for more than 5600 kilometres through some of the most remote parts of Australia.

HOW TO GET THERE

Fly to Broken Hill and from there it's a 435 kilometres drive to Cameron Corner. The last section of dirt road was sealed last year. See rex.com.au

ESSENTIALS

The Cameron Corner Store has campsites and donga accommodation; otherwise the Family Hotel at Tibooburra (tibooburra.com.au) is a 140 kilometre drive. See visitnsw.com

THE PLACE: THE BASS STRAIT ISLANDS, TASMANIA

King Island

Kittawa Lodge, King Island Photo: Dee Kramer

WHERE IS IT

39.9836° S, 148.0527° E; 1608 kilometres from Sydney, 737 kilometres from Melbourne [Flinders Island]; 39.8753° S, 143.9371° E; 929 kilometres from Sydney, 246 kilometres from Melbourne [King Island]

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The width of Tasmania separates them but King Island and Flinders Island have a lot in common, including white sand beaches, miles of glorious walking trails and a friendly small-town vibe. King Island has a larger population and more amenities, including three links courses.

DON'T MISS

Washed by the clean waters of Bass Strait, both islands are known for their super-fresh seafood – don't go home without feasting on local crayfish.

HOW TO GET THERE

Direct flights to King Island depart from Melbourne, Burnie and Launceston. Flinders Island can be reached by plane from Launceston or Melbourne, or by ferry from Bridport. See sharpairlines.com; rex.com.au

ESSENTIALS

King Island's luxurious Kittawa Lodge (kittawalodge.com) has just two private villas, each equipped with a designer kitchen and a bathtub with a view. On Flinders Island, Nautilus (nautilusflindersisland.com.au) has a choice of two holiday houses. See discovertasmania.com.au

For updates on travel restrictions between states and territories and in some remote areas of Australia see health.gov.au

Far flung Australia destinations cover story

PUSHING THE LIMITS: FIVE EVEN HARDER TO REACH PLACES

ASHMORE AND CARTIER ISLANDS

Located 320 kilometres off the north-west coast on the edge of the continental shelf, access to the four uninhabited islands that comprise this external territory is controlled via permit.

SAIBAI ISLAND, QLD

Just five kilometres from the Papua New Guinea mainland, Saibai is one of the most far-flung Torres Strait islands, accessible only by private charter. Avoid visits during the wet season, when flooding is common. See tsirc.qld.gov.au

BIGGE ISLAND, WA

Part of the Bonaparte Archipelago off the Kimberley Coast, this uninhabited island is home to ancient Wandjina and Gwion Gwion rock art. Cruise lines such as APT and Scenic include it on some itineraries. See aptouring.com.au; scenic.com.au

HEARD AND MCDONALD ISLANDS

Australia's only two active volcanoes are located on these sub-Antarctic islands, located 3985 kilometres away. Under Australian control since 1947, scientific expeditions are the only visitors here.

CORAL SEA ISLANDS, QLD

Perched 722 kilometres off the Queensland coast on the far side of the Great Barrier Reef, this collection of islets and cays contains only one inhabited island, Willis Island, home to a meteorological station.

FIVE MORE REMOTE PLACES WITHIN EASIER REACH

GROOTE EYLANDT

Sitting 630 kilometres east of Darwin, Groote Eylandt is the largest island of the Groote Archipelago. It is known for magnificent beaches and fishing. Visitors require a permit from Anindilyakwa Land Council. See northernterritory.com; airnorth.com.au

NORFOLK ISLAND

More than 1450 kilometres east of Australia, the former penal settlement of Norfolk Island seduces visitors with its fascinating history and its beautiful lagoons and beaches. See norfolkisland.com.au; airnewzealand.com.au

HOUTMAN ABROLHOS ISLANDS

Sitting 60 kilometres off the WA coast, the 100-plus Abrolhos Islands are known for their wildlife, from sea lions and dolphins to wallabies and lizards. Access is via fast ferry, flight or charter boat. See westernaustralia.com; geraldtonaircharter.com.au

ALICE SPRINGS

Often overshadowed by its not-quite-neighbour Uluru – which lies 450 kilometres away – Alice Springs is a fascinating destination in its own right, with its unmatchable Indigenous art galleries and its day trips to the West MacDonnell range. See northernterritory.com; qantas.com

LORD HOWE ISLAND

Only 400 visitors at a time can enjoy Lord Howe Island's wonders, including great hikes and the world's southernmost coral reef. See visitnsw.com; qantas.com

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