As my time in Australia drew to a close, quite a few people asked me what my favorite place was that I visited. Now obviously, I didn’t go everywhere in Australia. I never went to Canberra, but from what I hear that’s an easy miss. I do wish I had more time to explore south Western Australia (i.e.: Esperance) and The Kimberley, which requires a 4WD and lots of preparation. I’ll just use these as an excuse to go back. Picking one favorite is simply too difficult (#firstworldproblems, right?). Australia is so diverse: vibrant cities, lush rain forests and barren deserts all converge on one continent.
I decided to share my top 5 favorite places in Australia that I visited. Although, you will notice that I didn’t list any cities. Yes, Melbourne may have been named most-livable city by The Economist for the fifth year in a row, but cities are just cities after all. What makes Australia so great is the beautiful and unique landscapes offered outside the cities. Check out my list below (in no particular order):
Mainland Australians joke that this small island state is not a part of the country. Don’t let that deter you; Tassie has a lot to offer. For it’s small size, it is packed with national parks. Cradle Mountain in the northwest boats many walking trails, including the six-day Overland Track which requires an advance booking. The east coast offers many treasures to explore: the fire-orange lichen decorating the rocks of Bay of Fires, the little penguins of Bicheno and the turquoise waters of Wineglass Bay. Search for the elusive Tasmanian Devil at Maria Island and explore the history of Port Arthur. Hobart is as metropolitan a city as any, offering a world-class art museum and fine dining.
Read more about why Tasmania is a must here.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on Earth. So large that it is clearly visible from space. It runs over 1,400 miles, from the tip of Queensland in the north to past Gladstone in the south. Cairns is the most popular jumping off point for the reef and provides (at least when I was there) spectacular visibility. The reef really is incredible, it teems with all different kinds of life such as bizarre-looking fish, hard and soft coral, rays, sharks and turtles, among other marine mammals. I did my first intro dive here and I am forever hooked on scuba.
But this beautiful ecosystem that is home to more than 2,000 different species is under serious environmental threat. Climate change is one of the major factors, but a more immediate concern is dredging and dumping being carried out by the Queensland government. If you or your (current or future) kids ever hope to see the reef, we need to help protect it now. Learn more about threats to the reef and how you can help here.
The Red Centre
The most famous landmark in Northern Territory, and probably Australia in general, is Uluru, aka Ayers Rock. You will hear differing opinions on this massive rock; some people think it’s great, others think it’s underwhelming. I personally think it’s very impressive thanks to its size (it stands 1141 feet high and 2.2 miles long, but it also extends several miles into the Earth’s crust) and the natural, intricate designs in the rock face. Sunrise and sunset offer spectacular views, with the monolith bathed in a deep red from the low light. But Uluru isn’t the only reason to make the long journey to the middle of the country. The odd-shape domes of Kata-Tjuta practically next to Uluru are stunning and you can hike in between them. And King’s Canyon is certainly worth the detour, with three different walks available to explore the red sandstone terrain. Even Alice Springs, which I was made to believe was a country bumpkin town (which it kind of is), has a lot to offer and will put you face-to-face with the Aboriginal community, which you won’t necessarily find on the east coast.
Okay, this is really broad, but so is Western Australia. The east coast is nice, but the west coast is so interesting because it’s way less inhabited and the landscapes are more drastic. You could drive for miles without seeing another soul, and the adventures there are endless. Meet the quokkas of Rottnest Island and explore the gorges and waterfalls of Karijini National Park. Feed a wild dolphin in Monkey Mia (or volunteer with them!) and marvel at the strangeness of the Pinnacles. Crossing the barren Nullarbor Plain by train, like I did, or car is not something you’ll soon forget. And did you know that there is another reef in Australia? Step right off the beach at Coral Bay to explore Ningaloo Reef, or swim with whale sharks nearby.
The Whitsundays are a collection of 74 islands just off the east coast of Airlie Beach in Queensland. The islands are home to the famous Whitehaven Beach, rated one of the top 10 beaches in the world by many sources, and one of the filming locations of the newest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Sailing around the Whitsunday Islands is an unforgettable experience, and while it was pricey, it was well worth the money. Snorkel or dive at one of the islands’ various reefs to look for turtles and the skittish “Nemo fish.” Visit Hill Inlet close to low tide to experience the mesmerizing swirling sands intertwined with 50 shades of blue. Lay on the pure silica sand that never gets hot on Whitehaven Beach, or creep in the shallows to spot sting rays and lemon sharks. A trip around these islands will keep you daydreaming for years after, waiting for your opportunity to return.
What do you think of my list?
Have you been to Australia? What were your favorite places? If you haven’t been, where would you like to visit?