Looking for amazing experiences on the doorstep of Australia’s big cities? Look no further. We’ve gathered together the best excursions, from surfing and snorkelling to bushwalking and caving, to tempt you away from the charms of the cities.
Bushwalk the Blue Mountains, Sydney
Just two hours from Sydney you’ll find the Blue Mountains, a kind of Australian Grand Canyon. The rugged landscape – 10,000 square kilometres of chiselled sandstone cliffs and thickly forested valleys – provides peace and clean air along with awe-inspiring views and makes for a wonderful escape from the city. Explore the historic trails on a guided bushwalk, heading away from the viewpoints and clearly marked paths into the creeks and gorges below for a real ‘Blues’ experience. And for the more adventurous visitor, rock-climbing, abseiling or canyoning at one of the numerous climbing schools in the area will provide more active entertainment.
Visit Chillagoe, Cairns
Travel three hours west of Cairns and you’ll experience a taste of the Outback in the mining town of Chillagoe. The main attraction of Chillagoe is the caves – most notably Royal Arch, Donna and Trezkinn, which you’ll find bursting with natural sculptures including a few large stalagmites. Between the caves, lucky visitors may also catch a glimpse of some special wildlife – echidnas, kangaroos, black cockatoos and frogmouth birds. And don’t miss the panoramic views from Balancing Rock or the Aboriginal paintings and engravings near the Arches.
Kakadu National Park, Darwin
World Heritage site Kakadu, a two and a half hour drive from Darwin, is Australia’s largest national park. It’s a veritable environmental mixing-pot, with a landscape of ravines, heathlands, woodlands, swamps, wetlands, mangroves and rainforest; home to 2,000 different plants and a third of Australia’s bird species. For the best experience, tour the park on an early-morning walk or drive, where you may be lucky enough to see kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos and dingoes.
The Girraween National Park, Brisbane
Known for its spectacular flowers, dramatic scenery and unique wildlife, it’s well worth the three hour drive from Brisbane to reach the Girraween National Park. With more energy than skill, you can climb several of the giant hills with little risk, venturing past lichen-covered boulders and clear springs, through wetlands and open forest. Be sure to explore the graded walking trails to major sights like the Pyramids and the Sphinx, or venture up Mount Norman – the highest point at 1267 metres.
Surf Bells Beach, Melbourne
Consistently great waves make Bells Beach, just 90 minutes drive from Melbourne, the out-of-town surfing Mecca. The reason for Bells’ amazing waves are the swells coming in from huge southern ocean storms occurring every couple of days – the leftovers of which cause the surf to break over numerous sections of reef. Waves on the beach reach between one and three meters high, often much larger, and make for an excellent surf experience. Bells Bowl, which often benefits from the northwest wind, is the place to head for extra-great surfing.
Visit Rottnest Island, Perth
A mere 30 minutes from Perth, 18km offshore, you’ll find Rottnest Island (‘Rotto’ to the locals). Just 11km long and less than half as wide, motorized traffic is virtually nonexistent on the island, which makes cycling between the bays a brilliant way to explore. For a more secluded experience, head away from the island’s one settlement to the small beaches and offshore reefs of the ‘West End’. Here you’ll find peace and quiet and some absolutely beautiful diving and snorkelling spots.