Need some travel inspiration? With the country finally fully open, there’s no better time to explore our beautiful nation – and add to your Australian bucket list.
From new art trails, galleries and exhibitions to freshly minted wellness havens and submarines, here’s our pick of experiences for the year.
1. (Re)treat yourself
Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley is the kind of retreat that spoils you for all other weekends – or weeks – away. On the edge of New South Wales’ World Heritage-listed Greater Blue Mountains Area, it delivers every travel exclusivity imaginable.
Picture villas with private pools and fireplaces, moreish meals thanks to a new collab with Sydney’s Bentley Group, dreamy diversions – and the luxury of space.
The property sits on more than 2,800 hectares, which you can explore on jeep expeditions, horse riding or on foot. Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive albino wallaroos that live here, plus the rare Wollemi pines – once thought to be extinct.
2. Heli-hike the Kimberley
Soar over sunburnt ranges, hike through gorges, swim in secret waterfalls and discover the oldest Indigenous rock art on Earth.
Crooked Compass’ ‘Heli-Hiking the Kimberley’ journeys are the ultimate adventure for those who like the finer things in life. The new private helicopter and hiking safari explores the dramatic landscapes of the East Kimberley.
Take in Bullo River Station, glimpse the 35 million-year-old Bungle Bungle Range, soar above Cathedral Gorge, and visit at El Questro Station where you can cool off at Miri Miri Falls. This is nine days of unabashed and unexpected luxury.
3. Soak in thermal waters
The bucolic Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne attracts foodies and sybarites alike. The latter descend to embrace its thermal waters which, come mid-2022, will bubble to the surface anew at Alba.
This design-driven wellness haven will offer indoor and alfresco soaks in mineral-rich water, plus a spa for pampering.
Meanwhile in East Gippsland, Metung Hot Springs will soon welcome weary limbs to this coastal hamlet. The owners of Mornington’s ridiculously popular Peninsula Hot Springs expanding their bounty to this 12-hectare estate.
4. Visit the Murray Region
Whether you’re hiking, drifting, padding, dining or simply blissing-out, the Murray region offers a cornucopia of activities and attractions.
The Murray is Australia’s longest river, and one of the longest navigable waterways in the world. Along its slow-moving course, you’ll find redgum-lined lagoons and lakes, wetlands and islands. All of which creates a vast watery wonderland that attracts adventure-seekers, sybarites and culinary connoisseurs in equal measure.
5. Go where the wild things are
We all know how caring our National Zoo keepers are. In 2021, they locked themselves in this Canberra sanctuary to look after their wildlife tribe while ensuring COVID stayed out. They did a stellar job, with the animals healthier than ever in the new year.
To support everyone involved, drop in to on-site Jamala Wildlife Lodge to sleep in treehouses or bungalows that spotlight the precious creatures the reserve cares for. Cocktails with giraffes, anyone?
6. Discover Australia’s park life
Australia’s largest ever national park has just been announced: the Munga-Thirri-Simpson Desert National Park in South Australia.
Spanning over 3.6 million hectares, this globally significant wilderness is home to more than 900 species of plants and animals. The national park has continuous First Nations custodianship stretching back thousands of years, and is a true Australian bucket list destination.
When rain turns this remarkable landscape into temporary wetlands, birds from across Australia flock here to feed and breed.
7. Savour a starry night
There are art museums, where you tiptoe past paintings and comment in hushed tones. And then there’s THE LUME, a wing of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre housing a 3,000 square-metre digital gallery.
It’s currently dedicated to the works of legendary artist Vincent van Gogh, and his creations come to life around you: on the floor, ceiling and walls.
The immersive, multi-sensory experience is enhanced with aromas, sounds and tastes that transport you into the magical world of the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter.
8. Walk the wild side of the Great Ocean Road
Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is a classic Australian bucket list experience. Many make the trip, lingering in sleepy seaside villages, tackling the surf or basking in the drama of rock formations like the 12 Apostles. Thanks to Wildlife Wonders, you can now dig deeper into this National Heritage-listed pocket on foot.
The company’s 75-minute, naturalist-guided wanderings traverse Great Otway National Park, through ferny gullies of glow-worms and eucalypt woodlands where koalas chill above. The best bit? All profits fund the Conservation Ecology Centre to protect flora and fauna.
9. Step aboard a zero-emission submarine
For the very first time, Aussies and visitors can dive to depths of up to 30 metres below the ocean’s surface on board a battery-operated submarine. There are zero emissions and yes, it’s yellow.
Down Under Submarines now offers expeditions in Mooloolaba on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, taking you beneath the surface in a hybrid SUBCAT-30. The innovative vessel can both dive underwater and travel on top of the surface like a catamaran. That’s deep.
10. Picnic on the water
You don’t need a captain’s license to charter a course with GoBoat, the slick electric boats that now bob along Brisbane’s Breakfast Creek.
You’re treading lightly on the environment while taking in scenic spots around Queensland’s capital. Bring your picnic basket, pets and up to eight people. This is a river ride you won’t forget in a hurry.
11. Seek sculptures in the snow
Traversing vineyards and towns across the highlands of New South Wales, the soon-to-launch Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail will stretch 100 kilometres from Adelong to Tooma.
The project is run by the same team behind Sculpture by The Sea and financed by the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund. The aim? To showcase dramatic and meaningful works by local artists impacted by bushfires.
12. Deep dive the Gold Coast
Divers will flip at the chance to plunge into the Gold Coast’s Wonder Reef when it opens early this year. The $5 million floating attraction is being installed 2.5 kilometres off the shore of Main Beach, a brisk 20-minute boat ride from the sand.
The purpose-built buoyant reef is a fusion of art, science and engineering. The reef will aim to attract marine life to the carefully crafted habitat, and capture the interest of divers who may not have considered the Gold Coast for underwater expeditions.
13. See Sydney through Indigenous eyes
BridgeClimb Sydney is one of the city’s most famous attractions, hosting guided walks to the upper arch of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.
While the company offers multiple daily ascents, whether at dawn or dusk or in between, its new Burrawa Climb is available just once a month, and it’s well worth booking in advance.
Led by an Aboriginal guide, the eye-opening experience reveals Dreamtime stories and sacred sites most visitors pass without realising their Indigenous significance.
Discover hidden middens at Tallawaladah (The Rocks), and Kai’ymay (Manly Cove), where Wangal man Woollarawarre Bennelong was lured to become a mediator and interpreter for Governor Arthur Phillip in the late 1700s.
14. Discover Surface Festival
A celebration of urban art in Canberra, Surface Festival is held in the first weekend of March. The festival unites street art, graffiti, portraits, stencils, Indigenous art and abstract creations across 30 of our capital’s walls and structures.
Watch works unfold over Braddon, Civic and the National Triangle in a spectacular festival curated by renowned graffiti artist PHIBS.
15. Walk into luxury at Cradle Mountain
You don’t need a reason to visit the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Claire region of Tasmania. But if you’re looking for one, make it Walk into Luxury’s new four-day hike across this postcard-perfect perch.
By day, explore some of the state’s most epic wilderness areas. By night, bed down at Pumphouse Point – one of Australia’s most dramatic accommodations, with rooms on Lake St Claire’s jetty as well as the shore. Fine wine and sumptuous meals seal the deal.
16. Explore Australia’s screen culture
Melbourne’s ACMI (formerly the Australian Centre for the Moving Image) is fresh out of a two-year, $40 million renovation. Today, the gallery is a dynamic and interactive shrine to screen culture. Catch a film in one of its cinemas, attend a workshop on digital arts, play video games or browse the exhibitions.
The event roster changes, but a permanent fixture is The Story of the Moving Image, with its collection of costumes, cameras and more.
17. Have a tipple in Tassie
Experience untouched rainforests and rugged history onboard Gordon River Cruises on Tasmania’s northwest coast. Step aboard Spirit of the Wild and cruise silently down the Gordon River, taking in the scenery from its floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
With the upper deck experience you’ll sample complimetary local wines paired with stunning vistas of UNESCO World Heritage Tasmanian wildnerness.
The cruise includes a chef-prepared buffet lunch, a visit to trout and salmon farms, as well a guided walk through pristine temperate rainforest. Finish with a guided tour on the dreaded Sarah Island penal colony, where you’ll be regaled with convict tales to send shivers up your spine. This experience definitely deserves a spot on your Australian bucket list.
18. Get your adrenaline fix
Climb, shimmy and slide past Perth’s Matagarup Bridge’s beams to reach the SkyView – an open-air viewing platform 72 metres above the river.
You can walk down, but we highly recommend the new zipline. This adrenaline-fuelled ride hits up to 75km/hr over its 400-metre course.
19. Sleep above the clouds
Camping is elevated at Beyond the Edge, where you abseil to your accommodation for the night and sleep suspended on a bed-sized portaledge 300 metres above the ground.
Your open-air suite hugs a sheer cliff-face on the north wall of Mount Buffalo Gorge and has a jaw-dropping outlook. Guides deliver a three-course dinner and breakfast to your lofty bed. You absolutely need to add this experience to your Australian bucket list.
20. Discover the untouched beauty of the Cocos Keeling Islands
The Cocos Keeling Islands are only a few hours away from Perth. There are 27 picture-perfect islets in the Cocos Keeling archipelago. Only two of the islands are inhabited but spend a day exploring and you’ll find deserted beaches fanning out across two coral atolls.
21. Hike Gariwerd country
Lace up your hiking boots for an epic endorphin high on the freshly minted Grampians Peaks Trail. This challenging 13-day, 160-kilometre walk through Indigenous Gariwerd country is not for the faint of heart. But it rewards with dizzying vistas over the Victorian countryside northwest of Melbourne.
Think dramatic peaks glimpsed along rocky ridgelines, end-of-Earth gorges, and tangles of native flora home to wallabies, wombats and echidnas. Aptly named Mount Zero is your starting point in the north, then the trail traverses Mount Difficult, through Halls Gap and on to the town of Dunkeld.
Pitch your tent at one of the 11 campsites en route, or register for a guided walk and stay in eco-friendly huts replete with kitchens and swoon-worthy balcony vistas.
22. Reconnect with nature
Roll up your swag and reconnect with nature. If camping is already on your Australian bucket list, experience the best camping our nation has on offer with Hipcamp. This ‘Airbnb for campsites’ offers everything from remote camping to lush glamping. It is Australia’s most comprehensive guide to unique outdoor stays.
Pitch your tent on an organic blueberry farm, visit a hobbit hut then spend the night in a restored retro caravan. There are enough choices to make anyone a happy camper.
Feature image © Rob Blackburn
This article originally appeared in volume 116 of Vacations & Travel magazine. Click here to subscribe to the latest issue.
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