Australia is a vast country, though most visitors stay on the same tried and tested track, ticking off well-touristed pitstops along the way. But, of course, there’s plenty more to see beyond the usual Sydney, rock and reef holiday triangle. Here’s our pick of the best places to escape the crowds Down Under.
1. For wildlife: Mackay, Queensland
Surrounded by sugarcane and with a main street well shaded by tropical foliage, Mackay is a great base for visiting Eungella National Park.
This enchanting rainforest has rivers rich enough in platypus to make seeing one almost guaranteed. Your best chance is at Broken River, where the viewing platform is surrounded by ferns and vines – pack a picnic and wait a while in silence to see them.
Afterwards, take a hike on walking tracks through the trees, ideal for birdwatching and goanna spotting, or head back to town for a stroll along the golden sands of Harbour Beach.
2. For epic sunsets: Tower Hill, Victoria
Continue just a little further west from the Great Ocean Road and you’ll find this volcanic crater. Encircled by beds of ash, it’s a fertile green sanctuary that is home to koalas and kangaroos aplenty.
The guided walks from the visitor centre will introduce you to the wildlife, as well as to the Aboriginal history – and you’ll learn how to rustle up some bushtucker. But the sunset – best seen from the crater’s rim – is the main event. Stick around afterwards and join the guided night walk to see the fauna at its most active.
3. For awesome photos: Devil’s Marbles, Northern Territory
You’ll need to commit to a long drive for this one – but it’s well worth it. Some 130km south of Tennant Creek, en route to Alice Springs, you’ll find a geological phenomenon: a fistful of rock marbles flung across the Outback.
Imagine them as the eponymous marbles, or as the eggs of the rainbow serpent from the local Aboriginal story. Either way, they’re perfect fodder for the keen photographer.
4. For wine: Denmark, Western Australia
Let Margaret River keep its crowds of wine tourers and head instead to Denmark on the south coast. Here you’ll find a laid-back cluster of boutique wineries and hyper-local restaurants beneath a karri tree canopy. Head for the hills inland and visit Castelli Estate for great Pinot Noir and Shiraz or hit Howard Park for wines that combine the best of both Denmark and Margaret River grapes.
Don’t miss Pepper and Salt for dinner, where chef Silas uses the area’s gourmet produce to create dishes inspired by his Fijian-Indian heritage. And visit in March or April for Taste Great Southern, which celebrates the region’s superb local produce.
5. For an incredible journey: The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia
Superlatives abound on the Nullarbor – it’s the planet’s largest single piece of limestone, the world’s longest stretch of straight railway track and even the universe’s longest golf course.
All that makes for one very long (but epic) drive, punctuated only by lookouts over the Great Australian Bight (next stop Antarctica), dusty roadhouses and the odd pitstop to hit a golf ball, if you’re so inclined.
6. For camping and climbs: Freycinet National Park, Tasmania
Freycinet may be one of Tassie’s most visited sites, but that doesn’t mean you’ll bump into anyone else on a stroll here. Head out on the 31km peninsula circuit and you’ll soon shake off any fellow visitors (so bring plenty of water) as you tramp anti-clockwise around the peninsula from the Hazards Beach Track to the Wineglass Bay lookout.
Camping is at Cooks Beach and there’s time to climb Mount Freycinet (the summit is 620m above sea level). Once you’re done, kick off those hiking boots and dig your toes into the unspoiled white sands of Wineglass Bay.
7. For unbeatable hiking: New England National Park, New South Wales
Ancient rainforest cloaks the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, much of it an inaccessible wilderness that would easily pass for the Amazon. New England National Park opens up this UNESCO World Heritage rainforest for visitors, offering walking trails through the snow gums and lookouts from which the view stretches all the way to the coast.
Take the Eagles Nest track, a 2.2km loop, and you’ll see Antarctic beech trees covered in fungus, endemic beech orchids and trickling waterfalls, often frozen in winter. You’ll eventually reach Point lookout for those panoramic rainforest views.