It’s quite special to live in a country that has some of the world’s most extraordinary travel destinations. Places which make regular appearances in hotlists and must-see lists and where-to-go-next lists the world over.
But what Australian destinations are going to be big in 2017?
Here are five worthy contenders…
Lady Elliot Island, Qld
What this tiny coral cay at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef lacks in schmick resort facilities it more than makes up for in abundant marine- and birdlife. Some 1200 species live in the waters surrounding Lady Elliot Island and its simple eco-resort, including manta rays, dolphins, several types of turtle and, between May and November, migrating humpback whales. And with water visibility at 20 metres plus, that all makes for some incredible snorkelling and diving experiences. The cottages and eco-cabins are basic but perfectly decent, and the nightly tariff includes meals at the cafe-cum-restaurant. Best of all, for those seeking a break from everything, there are no phones, TVs or radios on the island.
Getting there: Flying is the only way in – from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
“Freo”, as it’s widely known, seems to have usurped Perth as WA’s most happening destination. It’s something to do with the port city’s appealing mixture, which includes historic architecture, an artsy culture, burgeoning food and wine scene, and gorgeous beaches. The PS Art Space and Fremantle Arts Centre are great places to explore creative Freo, while Little Creatures Brewery encapsulates the independent spirit of the city’s food and drink purveyors. Head along to Bib & Tucker for great food and views of Freo’s nicest beach, Leighton. You’ll also want take the 25-minute ferry trip to Rottnest Island, a destination in its own right.
Getting there: a 30-minute drive south of Perth. There’s also a good train service between the two cities.
Flinders Ranges, SA
This starkly beautiful region, almost 600 kilometres north of Adelaide, remains off the beaten tourist track, despite its extraordinary landscapes and features. These include the giant saltpan that is Lake Eyre, located within the 1.2 million hectare Lake Eyre National Park (that’s about the size of Vanuatu). Just as epic is Wilpena Pound, a 100-kilometre-wide natural amphitheatre with great walking trails and hikes, and most spectacular from the air (scenic flights operate from the nearby Wilpena Pound Resort). Staying underground in the opal mining town of Coober Pedy is one of the country’s strangest but most interesting experiences.
Getting there: a 5-hour drive north of Adelaide (check road conditions before you set off). Plenty of organised tours, too, if outback driving is not your thing.
Gold Coast hinterland, Qld
Once you’ve “done” the theme parks and had enough of the beach, there’s a whole other Gold Coast to discover just to the west of the famous strip of surf and sand. Mt Tamborine is the main hub, home to a beautiful national park with a host of walking tracks – including a 1.5-kilometre Skywalk through the forest canopy – to suit most fitness levels. About an hour’s drive south is O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, an institution since the 1920s and surrounded by the verdant Lamington National Park. There you can drop into Gran’s Kitchen for a cuppa and a scone. Waterfall watchers have plenty of great opportunities here, including Twin Falls and Purling Brook Falls, both in Springbrook.
Getting there: Mt Tamborine is a 50-minute drive west of Surfers Paradise.
The staid, boring, dead-after-dark national capital on a hotlist? Yes, and even The New York Times agrees, describing Canberra as having a “big-sky beauty… and decidedly hipster underbelly”. Base yourself at the very hipster Hotel Hotel in the equally cool enclave of NewActon to discover what “New Canberra” has to offer. Maybe start with brekky at Mocan & Green Grout just a few hundred metres away, before hiring a bike and meandering around the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. A visit to the NGA is compulsory (the Indigenous collection is outstanding), as is a coffee at Canberra’s own Lonsdale Street Roasters in Braddon. There is life after six, too: head over to the Kingston Foreshore, a bustling hub of bars and eateries.
Getting there: fly in from any capital city, or drive down from Sydney (about three hours).