Totally unique - these Australian travel experiences are worth staying home for
Australia is a place that’s filled with wonder, a place where the potential for adventure is as vast as the horizon, and a place that’s home to an absolute treasure trove of unique, impressive, and one-of-a-kind experiences. From swimming with whales, to exploring the oldest rainforest on earth, read on to discover the travel experiences you can truly only have Down Under.
DISCOVER THE LARGEST LIVING ORGANISM ON EARTH
The Great Barrier Reef - one of the Seven Wonders of the natural world
Visible from outer space, World Heritage-listed, and one of the Seven Wonders of the natural world - Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef is the stuff that travel bucket lists are made of. Spreading itself up the Queensland coastline, its 344,000-square-kilometres (that’s roughly the same size as Japan!) are comprised of more than 3,000 individual reef systems, each populated with an abundance of marine life that’s guaranteed to dazzle even the most blasé of divers.
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SHARE BEACH SPACE WITH SKIPPY
Beach breakfast with kangaroos - an Instagram snap you can only get in Australia
Picture the scene: you’re standing on a pristine beach, the sound of the surf fills your ears, and the first rays of the morning sun gentle pokes over the horizon, slowly illuminating everything in a golden glow. Then a kangaroo hops into view, and then another and another.
At Cape Hillsborough Resort - 45-minutes north of Mackay - you can get up close to a local population of eastern grey kangaroos and wallabies as they scour the morning tide to feed on mangrove seed pods and seaweed. Easily one of the most uniquely Australian scenes imaginable, the marsupials’ morning brekky also makes for the mother of all Instagram snaps - a snap that you can only get in Australia.
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CIRCUMNAVIGATE AUSTRALIA’S BEST-KNOWN NATURAL LANDMARK
Rising out of the red dessert, the NT's Uluru was created some 600 million years ago
Rising out of the red desert, against a stark backdrop of sand and spinifex shrub, the ancient monolith of Uluru is easily the NT’s most famous landmark. Created some 600 million years ago, the World Heritage-listed site is both a tourist attraction and sacred Aboriginal site.
You can circumnavigate Uluru via the 10-kilometre base walk, but to see it as its most spectacular, visiting during sunset or sunrise is essential. AAT Kings offer both guided sunrise and sunset excursions to see the icon in all its glory.
“The awe experienced through its sheer size gets everyone’s attention and respect,” says AAT Kings guide, Paul Young. “However the spiritual connection comes presents us an opportunity to view a traditional culture that has stood the test of time.”
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IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE WORLD’S OLDEST LIVING CULTURE
The annual Parrtjima Festival is a celebration of Australia's indigenous culture
With an increasing appetite for authenticity in our travel experiences (Tourism Australia research shows that 85 per cent of travellers prefer holidays where they can “experience local culture”) Australia is THE place for cultural immersion.
We are the custodians of the the longest surviving culture on earth - a culture that stretches back more than 50,000 years, and a culture predates the pyramids by a good 45,000 years. Mind-blowing, right? And while there’s ample opportunities nationwide to immerse yourself in the stories, spiritually, and history of Aboriginal Australians, a great place to start is the Parrtjima Festival.
Taking place annually in Alice Springs, Parrtjima – A Festival in Light, is the only authentic Aboriginal light festival of its kind in the world. Using tech-y light installations, Aboriginal artists tell their stories against a natural (and epic) backdrop of the 300-million-year-old MacDonnell Ranges. “Parrtjima is a showcase of aboriginal culture,” explains NT Tourism’s director of engagement and culture major events, Paul Ah Chee. “With the technology we use, we reignite our art and both empower and unite people.”
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BE AWESTRUCK BY OUTDOOR ART
Australia has some of the oldest artworks on earth
Contemporary Aboriginal artists (such as those involved in the Parrtjima festival) come from a very long lineage. In Australia, we have some of the oldest and most prolific collections of rock art in the world and these ancient Aboriginal galleries pepper the length of the country.
In WA, for example, the Gwion Gwion galleries are believed to contain the oldest depictions of the human form on the planet - rock drawings that could date as far back as 50,000 years.
However, the rock art capital for volume is the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park in the NT, which is home to some 5,000 sites.
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SWIM WITH WHALES
Magical! Swimming with elusive dwarf minke whales can be done only in Australia
We can legitimately lay claim to some of the best diving on the planet, with our crystal-clear seas playing home to an A to Z of aquatic life. But one of our most rare underwater encounters takes place for only two months annually, and it’s totally unique to Australia.
Mysterious and elusive, dwarf minke whales can be spotted elsewhere in the world, but it’s only in Aus - specifically Tropical North Queensland - where you can actually swim with them.
“There's nowhere else in the world that allows you to have a prolonged up-close wildlife encounter like this,” enthuses Julia Sumerling, a photographer and videographer at Mike Ball Dive Expeditions. “Words cannot capture the emotions you feel when you’re eyeballing these beautiful creatures.”
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WALK UNDER THE CANOPY OF THE WORLD’S OLDEST RAINFOREST
Australia can also lay claim to the oldest living tropical rainforest on earth - the Daintree
Estimated to be around 135 million years old (tens of millions of years older than the Amazon) the Daintree National Park is the oldest living tropical rainforest on earth. Added to the World Heritage List in 1988, it’s home to an enormous range of plants and animals, including 430 species of birds (13 of which are found nowhere else) as well as 65 per cent of its bats and butterflies.
Base yourself at the Daintree Eco Lodge, where 15 Villas are positioned high in the canopy, so you can experience what David Attenborough calls “the most extraordinary place on earth” for yourself.
EAT AND DRINK NATIVE
Adelaide's Restaurant Orana is renowned for showcasing indigenous ingredients
Australian native ingredients are having a renaissance that’s seeing them taking the spotlight in some of our best new food and drink offerings.
Fresh from winning a swag of awards overseas (and being championed by Hollywood A-lister, Margot Robbie) NSW-based Husk Distillery’s, Ink Gin, contains a blend of 13 native botanicals that have proved to be just the tonic for discerning drinkers. While in the kitchen, Adelaide-based Restaurant Orana - an eatery renowned for showcasing indigenous ingredients - has won the ‘Australian Restaurant of the Year’ gong two years running.
“Native produce has been at the core of indigenous culture for over 60,000 years,” says Orana head chef and co-owner, Jock Zonfrillo. “The essence of these foods is that they are connected to the earth. Following the devastation of the bushfires, I've never seen Australians more connected and concerned about their land. I think this is a turning point for indigenous foods.”
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GET NOSE-TO-NOSE WITH NATIVE WILDLIFE
In Australia, you can meet species found nowhere else on earth, including the koala
From native fodder, to native wildlife. In Australia, you can get up close to an array of species found nowhere else on earth. A globally-recognised Aussie icon, the koala is undeniably cute, but they’re also undeniably endangered, especially post-bushfires. You can do your bit by visiting and supporting one of the sanctuaries that care for them, including the newly reopened Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary.
Across the border in Victoria, Otway Eco Tours’ on the Great Ocean Road operate a Paddle With the Platypus tour that claims a 95 per cent chance of spotting one of Australia’s most elusive and endemic creatures in its natural habitat.
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CLIMB THE WORLD’S HIGHEST STEEL ARCH BRIDGE
Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge offers one of the best views of the city
Both one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks and the focal point for Sydney’s famed New Year’s eve celebrations, the Harbour Bridge is a true blue icon. But to really appreciate the architectural marvel, it needs to be climbed.
Operating for more than two decades, Sydney Bridge Climb allows guests to safely scale the world’s largest steel arch bridge through multiple climbs daily.
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GET A CAFFEINE HIT IN AUSTRALIA’S COFFEE EPICENTRE
Melbourne is the epicentre of Aussie coffee culture
From Manhattan to London, Aussie-style coffee is changing the face of cafe culture across the globe and at the epicentre of this revolution is Melbourne.
Internationally recognised as one of the best places to drink coffee, leading roasters, baristas and cafes underline the city’s status as global coffee capital. “I may be biased, but Aussie coffee is the best in the world,” says London-based celebrity chef, Bill Granger.
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HOP ABOARD ONBOARD THE WORLD’S LARGEST PASSENGER TRAIN
The Australian equivalent of the Orient Express, The Ghan is a train lovers dream
Fresh from turning 90 last year, The Ghan is both Australia’s most iconic train ride, and the world’s longest passenger train - a record achieved with 44 cars totally a whopping 1,096-metres. In operation since 1929, the 2,979 kilometre journey from Adelaide to Darwin and back, takes in some of the Red Centre’s most spectacular scenery.
“This is one of the world’s great rail journeys,” says Journey Beyond CEO, Luke Walker. “The real experience is the journey itself, allowing guests to be immersed in the Australian landscapes creating memories that will last a lifetime.”
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WATCH AN AFL GAME
ALF is an essential part of Aussie sport culture
We’re a sport-loving nation and though the likes of rugby, cricket and everything in-between are present and correct, there’s one game that you won’t find anywhere else: AFL.
Regardless of whether you’re a sports fan or not, experiencing an AFL match is a quintessential part of Aussie culture and you can’t get more authentic than taking in a game at the sport’s heartland of Melbourne, specifically the MCG. Known affectionately as the ‘G’ to locals, the 100,000 stadium is also the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
GO WILD FOR WILDFLOWERS
WA is home to the largest and most unique floral show on earth
If you’re feverish for florals, then WA’s six-month wildflower season needs to be on your radar.
The largest (and most unique) floral show on earth, at full bloom more than 12,000 species - over 60 per cent of which are found nowhere else - colour the landscape, from coast to forest, and city to outback.
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STEP BACK IN TIME IN THE KIMBERLEY
Cruising the waters of the Kimberley, the Australian ‘final frontier’
Characterised by dramatic towering cliffs, deep gorges, rocky headlands and cascading waterfalls, the untouched ‘final frontier’ that is WA’s Kimberley has created a haven that supports plant and animal species found nowhere else on the continent. And given this unique beauty, it’s unsurprisingly a source of inspiration. Legendary Aussie director, Baz Luhrmann, made the region one of the stars in his epic movie, Australia, saying: “What’s so exciting about the Kimberley is that landscape - which is on the one hand, harsh, brutal and unforgiving - can at any given moment become the most awesome, majestic, inspiring, poetic and lyrical place to be.”
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SUNBAKE ON THE WHITEST SAND IN THE WORLD
Hyams Beach - the official Guinness Book of Records ‘whitest sand in the world'
Australia has an enviable 30,000-kilometres-plus of spectacular coastline, and more than 10,000 recorded beaches. Some well-known, some decidedly off-the-beaten path, and some totally unique. For hyperbole and sheer jaw-dropping beauty, you can’t go past the record breaking stretch of sand that is Hyams Beach.
It boasts calm aquamarine water and a resident pod of friendly dolphins, but it’s Hyams’ whiter-than-white sands that have landed the beach in the the pages of the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘whitest in the world’.
“We are literally spoilt for choice when it comes Aussie beaches,” says Tourism Australia managing director, Phillipa Harrison. “And our vast expanse of pristine coastline has an offering unlike anywhere else in the world, including the totally unique Hyams Beach, which is acknowledged as having the whitest sand in the world.”
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GET A SELFIE WITH A QUOKKA
Chris Hemsworth's selfie with a Rottnest Island quokka in Western Australia went viral
What do Roger Federer, Margot Robbie, Hugh Jackman, Rafael Nada have in common? Fame and fortune, of course, but more specifically, they’ve all shared screen space with one of Australia’s cutest indigenous critters: the quokka.
A marsupial with an irresistible smile, these cute critters have found themselves at the centre of a social media selfie craze; a craze that reached new heights following Chris Hemsworth's viral Instagram #quokkaselfie last year. And if you want to mimic the “Thor” star there’s only one place to do it: Rottnest Island.
Reached via quick 30-minute ferry from Perth, Rottnest is the only place in the world where quokkas still come together in large numbers - and they’re far from camera shy. Say “cheese”!
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Originally published in Escape