The top 5 places you have to visit in Australia

Australia Hotspot

As we entered into our first national lockdown this time last year, I presumed all my travel plans would have been kick started by now. I’m dreaming of those holiday experiences, immersing myself into the culture, sampling the local delicacies and making friends for life.

And for the foreseeable future, it’s only a dream. Too many cancelled holidays and waiting months for a refund has left me despondent on booking the next trip. Instead I will be opting for a staycation in the UK later in the year (fingers crossed for even that!). My epic trip abroad will come!

If, like me, you’re looking for inspiration and ideas on where you could go next, a trip to the other side of the world to visit Australia should be on your bucket list.

Spending six weeks travelling through the states of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory in March 2016, I saw a lot of Australia, with some places not on the typical tourist trail.

Inspired by Australia’s inclusion in the most reason season of Netflix’s The Crown, here are my top-five places to visit in Australia.

Uluru 

One of Australia’s most prominent landmarks, Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) is a large, red sandstone standing 863m above sea level.

The stone, along with the formation at nearby Kata Tjuta are of great cultural significance for the indigenous community, who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. Now the Aṉangu people help to educate tourists on this cultural significance, as well as sharing their own traditions of dreamtime stories, which is depicted through art.

Upon learning this, I was mortified to discover that rather than appreciating the cultural site, many tourists attempted to scale Uluru in rock climbing expeditions. Despite signs asking tourists not to climb, not just for their safety, but out of respecting the indigenous culture, the signs were ignored. Since I visited Uluru in 2016, rock climbing has been permanently banned at the site.

Visitors can still enjoy Uluru from up high, through a helicopter ride. Despite hiking around the base of Uluru, which took several hours, I didn’t comprehend the size of it until I was up in the sky. It was breathtaking.

I also recommend watching the sunset and sunrise over Uluru too. The rock changed colour with the light, and it was magical.

Although Uluru is an attraction in itself, there’s something else worth seeing when you are in the centre of Australia: the night sky. When it’s dark and you’re away from the bright lights, the sky is beyond incredible. With every blink of an eye, you spot a shooting star. The Milky Way can be seen in all its glory too; a picture perfect view, if only my camera was good enough to spot it!

Accommodation is available for all budgets, from campsites to resorts to luxury lodges. There is something for everyone. I stayed in a no-frills resort that catered for large tour groups with shared dormitories and shared bathrooms. It was comfortable enough and I was sharing with three of my fellow tour group members. The best part about the resort was the specially designed viewing platform to see the sky.

It is one of my favourite memories ever, so I’d really advise making the time to go visit Uluru during your Australia trip.

Whitsundays

Home to Whitehaven beach, considered to be the most beautiful beach in the world, the Whitsundays are an archipelago of 74 tropical islands off the Queensland coast town, Airlie.

The sun, sea and white-coloured sand makes the Whitsundays a picturesque tourist location for those looking to relax, swim and snorkel.

Spending two nights at the island resort of Daydream Island, I arrived by a ferry from Airlie, although those with a bigger budget to spend can arrive at their accommodation by helicopter. As someone who likes seeing the sights from above, sadly a helicopter ride or a skydive weren’t part of my tour group’s itinerary and no doubt the views from above of the sparkling aquamarine coloured waters and the islands with their bright white sandy beaches, would’ve been truly something.

The resorts provide entertainment too; one night at Daydream Island, we fed sting rays and small sharks and learnt more about the sea life surrounding the islands.

There’s still plenty to see at sea level and below. The area is part of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef spanning approximately 133,000 square miles. The brightly coloured coral is the perfect place to snorkelling or scuba diving, and sailing alike.

Our full day in the Whitsundays was spent on a catamaran yacht, sailing around the islands allowing for snorkelling, scuba diving and sunbathing, as well as a stop off at Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island to see the world-famous beach for ourselves.

Ideal as a picnic destination, the 7 kilometre stretch of Whitehaven beach hosts glorious views from every angle. And for those with shoes to hand, the island has hiking trails and a look out point.

My lasting memory of Whitehaven is that the sand was incredibly squeaky, which just goes to show, nothing is perfect.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island

I guarantee you’ve never experienced a place like Fraser Island, and it’s an experience you’ll never have anywhere else in the world. North of the Sunshine Coast, Fraser Island is thought to be the longest sand island on the planet, spanning 123 kilometres long and 22 kilometres wide, with a rainforest and mangroves in the middle. That means all the roads are just sand too, so it’s recommended that only four-wheel drive cars are used on the island.

Our accommodation was off the island, in nearby Noosa Heads, so me and my fellow tour group were picked up in a large cruiser, with panoramic windows to really make the most of the views as we headed on to the island.

First on our list was Lake McKenzie, also known as Boorangoora by the Butchulla people, the traditional owners of the land. It’s definitely a must-see for those who visit the island! 

The pure white sand leads into bright blue, crystal clear waters, with a distinctive dark line of where the lake becomes deeper. It also only contains rainwater! There are other lakes to see, so if you’re visiting the island for longer than a day, check them out.

A trip to Fraser Island isn’t complete without hiking through the rainforest and seeing the dense mangroves. Starting at Central Station, we walked along the boardwalk through the flora and fauna, taking in the lush green leaves and the sound of the birds. Not long into the walk, I felt a ticklish sensation on my ankle; I had unintentionally slightly scratched my ankle on the cruiser’s steps. Well it seems that attracted a leech, which I found immensely exciting. A quick flick and the leech was soon off, and it was another tale to share back home.

I had a brilliant day on the island and I’d love to go back to spend longer trekking through the rainforest, perhaps even taking on the 90 kilometre ‘Great Walk’. It’s no wonder that the traditional name for Fraser Island is K’gari, which means paradise.

Byron Bay

Perhaps known for its celebrity residents, Byron Bay in New South Wales is the most easterly point of mainland Australia and is a hotspot for those looking for a more relaxed and laid back lifestyle.

Named after the 18th century Royal Navy Vice-Admiral John Byron (grandfather to the poet Lord Byron), the town’s traditional name is Cavanbah and has been called home by the Arakwal people for thousands of years.

Along with the spectacular rugged coastline, one of the main attractions of the town is the sea and surf. Although I didn’t spend any of my time in the sea swimming or surfing, or even sunbathing for that matter, I did grab some lunch and sat watching the surfers at The Wreck. This surfing hotspot is the remains from the SS Wollongbar shipwreck from the 1920s and is considered to be where surfers experience consistent rideable swells.

Walking the trail to the most easterly point is worthwhile too. I did this during my only whole day at Byron, getting absolutely drenched from the heavy downpours in the process. The full loop of the trail is almost 4 kilometres in length, reaching to the Cape Byron Lighthouse, and takes about two hours to complete.

My stop here was a bit of a wash out, due to heavy downpours of rain, but don’t let that put you off! Despite the weather being rubbish and my inability to do much, I’ve still included it to my top 5 as it’s really worthwhile visiting. The town also hosts various arts and cultural festivals, as well as regular farmers markets, both of which I didn’t get to see during my visit. There are some really cool restaurants too, so take time to wander about the town.

For those with more time to spare, visit Cape Byron Marine Park, a unique conservation area is one of the best places for dolphin and whale watching.

Kakadu National Park

The largest national park in Australia covering around 20,000 square kilometres, Kakadu, like Uluru, has immense cultural significance. It’s also utterly captivating in its diverse natural beauty! Populated by the Bininj/Mungguy people for about 50,000 years, their way of life has been documented through cave paintings and rock carvings, dating from before the last ice age. 

I saw some of the drawings and carvings in the rocks at Ubirr, which is said to have been from the freshwater period, some 1,500 years ago. It’s mind blowing to look at them and think how old they are!

If you enjoy walking and hiking, there are over 30 different marked trails and routes in Kakadu National Park, ranging from easy to those aimed at more experienced hikers, exploring the diverse landscape along with the waterfalls of Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. They are great for wildlife-spotters and enthusiasts too! A hat, plenty of water and sunscreen is a must for anyone walking along these trails.

There’s also Yellow Water, a landlocked billabong which is home to some of the 10,000 crocodiles that are estimated to live in the national park. Watch them from a safe distance, of course! We took a cruise on Yellow Water and spotted several crocodiles lurking just below the surface.

Of course, I opted for a scenic flight over the national park, getting a bird’s-eye view of the landscape below, trying to capture as much as I could on my camera. I felt extra special, sitting at the front with the pilot! Below me was just so much green landscape, as far as the eye could see, which truly highlighted how large the national park is. Taking these flights really did have another dimension to one’s travel experience.

As much as I loved Kakadu, if you’re not a fan of creepy crawlies, then it might not be for you. Each night my roommates and I sprayed the door to our cabin-style hotel room with insect repellent to stop the door being absolutely covered with bugs, attracted by the over-the-door light. I even woke up to find a four-inch cricket in my bed with me! They’re harmless and for me personally, I didn’t mind too much. It’s just a little shocking for those not used to being in that environment. If you think you can adapt to the environment, add Kakadu National Park to your list when visiting the Northern Territory!

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