Australia's best hidden gems
Want to explore Australia beyond the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne laneways? Try one of these underrated adventures.
There are some ‘must see’ places that you need to tick off your Aussie adventure list (we put together a list of 7 of them), but once you’ve got the photo at the Sydney Opera House and had a coffee in a Melbourne laneway cafe, what’s next? Whether you're a local or you're visiting Australia for a short time and you're keen to do something a little out of the box, try one of these underrated activities.
Have a wild west experience at Cactus Country
For something truly unique, rent a car in Melbourne and make the 3-hour drive north to Cactus Country in Strathmerton. This 10-acre property is home to the largest collection of cacti in Australia, boasting over 4,000 species of cactus and succulents. Wander along the 8 garden trails and finish at the shop where you can get all the equipment and advice you need to start your own cactus collection.
Go tree surfing
Get a birds-eye view on the world as you navigate a series of flying foxes, ropes and tunnels strung among the treetops. It’s the highest of high-ropes courses. Trees Adventure in the Dandenongs and the Enchanted Garden on the Mornington Peninsula both have tree surfing courses, with challenges to suit everyone from kids through to the bravest thrill-seeker.
Visit Melbourne’s miniature art gallery
Located right in the heart of the city, Mailbox Art Space is possibly Melbourne’s smallest art gallery. Artworks are displayed in a series of restored mailboxes in the heritage Pawson House building, and exhibits change regularly so it’s worth revisiting if you’re in Melbourne for a little while.
Stay in a work of art in Gippsland
If you’ve had your fill of hostels, hotels and bed and breakfasts, try staying in a cave or enchanted forest. Mira Mira in Gippsland has three self-contained cottages, but these aren’t your usual bed and breakfast. The cottages are works of art in themselves, set in tranquil bush surrounds. Choose from the Cave, the Japanese Zen Retreat and Tanglewood.
Little Desert National Park
If your itinerary doesn’t include Central Australia, get a small taste of the outback at Little Desert National Park. At a 4-hour drive from Melbourne it’s a bit of a road trip, but it’s worth it to experience something unique. Lace up your hiking boots and take the 30-minute walk up Pomponderoo Hill, or for something more adventurous try the overnight Desert Discovery Walk.
Photo: Enguerrand Blanchy
New South Wales
Make a quick trip out to Watsons Bay
Just 12 kilometres from Sydney’s CBD, Watsons Bay is Australia’s oldest fishing village and the perfect spot for a summer day trip. Feast on fresh seafood – whether it’s from Doyle’s, one of Australia’s top seafood restaurants, or take away fish and chips eaten on the water’s edge. You might even spot some whales if you’re lucky!
Photo: Jason Tong
See a floating forest in the SS Ayrfield
There are over 100 shipwrecks in Sydney Harbour, but none quite like the SS Ayrfield. Built in 1911 and decommissioned in 1972, the SS Ayrfield has been overgrown by mangrove trees and attracts many visitors to Homebush Bay. It’s just a half hour drive out from central Sydney.
Photo: Jason Baker
Kayak along Bangalee Creek
If beautiful landscapes are your thing, it’s definitely worth making the two-and-a-half hour drive south of Sydney to the Shoalhaven River region. Hire a kayak and make your way along Bangalee Creek down to where it joins the Shoalhaven, or stay on dry land and choose from one of the many walking trails in the area.
Say hello to the fish at Bushrangers Bay
Get up close and personal with Australia’s marine life in the pristine and protected blue waters of Bushrangers Bay. A 2 hour drive from Sydney, the aquatic reserve covers an area of around 4 hectares and is home to thousands of temperate and tropical fish and plant life. You can scuba dive or snorkel, or go for a wander and explore the rock platforms and rock pools.
Take a postcard-perfect shot at Australia Rock
A road trip down the south coast of New South Wales will take you past Australia Rock, a natural rock formation with an uncanny resemblance to the country itself. Take a shot of the ocean through the frame of the rock and go for a walk along the coastline. Stop in at nearby Narooma for lunch and a round of golf: the course takes you right up to the cliffside with the ocean crashing below.
Photo: Ross Bate
Walk along the treetops in Lamington National Park
Strung 15 metres above the rainforest floor, O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk is made up of nine suspension bridges spanning 180 metres. Stroll across the rainforest canopy and stop off at the two observation decks, the highest of which is 30 metres above the ground. The Tree Top Walk is suitable for all ages (just don’t look down if you’re scared of heights!).
Take a dip at a secret swimming hole
If you’ve had your fill of Queensland’s many beaches, and the crowds that come with them, pick up a hire car in Brisbane and make the 50 minute drive to Cedar Creek and take a dip in the natural swimming holes there. This area tends to be quieter than the main beaches, with the trickling of rock pools and waterfalls the only sounds you’ll hear.
Rejuvenate with a wine spa at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there’s no better therapy than a good glass of wine. O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat takes wine therapy to a whole new level with their Vinotherapy Ritual. Soak in the spa’s signature vinotherapy blend, followed by a red grape and clay infused body mask. Now that’s what I call relaxing.
Chase glow worms at Tamborine Mountain
There aren’t many sights more magical than a cave full of glow worms. You can see just that at the Glow Worm Caves in Tamborine Mountain, just over an hour south of Brisbane or 45 minutes north of the Gold Coast. Go on a guided tour through the caves, learn about their life cycle, and see thousands of glow worms all year round - even during the day!
Get in some sunbaking at Tallebudgera Creek
Drive half an hour south of the Gold Coast and you’ll find Tallebudgera Creek, framed by the Burleigh Heads National Park and Palm Beach. Hire a kayak or stand-up paddle board and get out on the calm waters, or for an even calmer afternoon set up your beach towel and get in a solid few hours of sunbaking.
Photo: Enda L. Puri
Discover Perth's hidden alleyways
When you think about street art and laneways, Melbourne might be the first city that pops to mind but Perth has a network of secret alleys to give Melbourne a run for its money. The Arcades and Laneways walking tour will take you through central Perth's lesser known streetscapes, many of which have been revitalised in recent years are now teeming with small bars, restaurants and shops. Hear about the quirks of Perth's history and architecutre and the role they've played in shaping the city we see today.
Visit Australia's largest outdoor gallery
At a nearly 11-hour drive from Perth it's not quite a day trip, but a visit to Lake Ballard is more than worth it. The salt lake sits 50km west of the nearest town, Menzies, and features 51 metal scuptures by Turner Prize winning artist Antony Gromley. Camp overnight in the designated camping area to catch the sunrise at one of the country's most dramatic landscapes.
Photo by Amanada Slater
See the dramatic sweep of Wave Rock
About 400km east of Perth lies the dramatic Wave Rock, a 110 metre long granite cliff in the Golden Outback. Other nearby geological wonders include Hippo's Yawn, Mulka's Cave and the Humps. While you're exploring the Golden Outback, stop by Statues of the Lake near Kondinin, a series of statues created by local farmer Kelly Browning set in the Kondinin lake system.
Photo by Alan Lam
Swim with the whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef
At the country's most westerly-point you'll find the town of Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef, featuring 300km of pristine waters, coral and aquatic life. With much of the reef running just a few footsteps from the shoreline, it's easy to get up close to the coral gardens and brightly coloured tropical fish that call the UNESCO World Heritage site home. There are plenty of great snorkel sites along the reef, and this is one of the a few locations in the world where you can swim with the huge and completely harmless whale sharks.
Photo by Stephenw04