#1: Top secret spot – Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory Largely overlooked by anyone but fishing tragics (according to AT writer Craig Tansley, who visited recently, all but 30 tourists a year who make it to Groote Eylandt do so to fish, it being a game fishing destination of world renown) the landscape on the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria is scattered with remote Aboriginal communities, millennia-old cave paintings (some only being seen for the first time by anyone but the Indigenous residents), waterfalls and pristine pools perfect for cooling off in the far north heat. While it might seem like the final frontier, there are a few mod cons, including the Groote Eylandt Lodge, sitting at the water’s edge. But that’s about it really: according to Craig, they keep crocodiles as pets up there. Now that’s something you’ve just got to see to believe.
#2: Top secret spot – Cocos Keeling Islands This very remote Australian territory sits in the Indian Ocean, the nearest patch of Australia being the Christmas Islands to the east. Made up of two coral atolls, comprised of 27 small islands and populated by around 600 Cocos Malay people, the Cocos Keelings are a tropical paradise that many seem completely oblivious to. Indeed, there are few places on the planet today where you can feel truly removed, but these tiny islands of palm trees, white beaches and lagoons are blissfully remote, giving you an excuse to move at a different pace and try different things, from surfing to bird-watching (there are 39 breeding or resident bird species on the islands).
#3: Top secret spot – Second Valley, South Australia Where? An hour’s drive from Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula. What? Calling Second Valley sleepy is actually a compliment: it is so unaffected and basic in its accommodation offering – the caravan park is your best bet – that it leaves you with nothing better to do than simply take in the breathtaking beauty of the surroundings. Why? Contrasted against the blue water and sky the unusual rock formations are the stuff that Instagram likes are made of.
#4: Top secret spot – Ningaloo, Western Australia We bet you didn’t know...
- To start exploring Ningaloo Reef, make your way to the coastal town of Exmouth (you can fly into Learmonth from Perth and get a shuttle bus to Exmouth). The Ningaloo Coast is an important sea turtle rookery with around 10,000 nests dotted along its shores.
- Ningaloo means ‘promontory’ in the language of the local Yamatji people, who have lived here for some 30,000 years.
- At 300 kilometres long, Ningaloo is one of the longest fringing reefs in the world, its coral gardens accessible right off the beaches.
- More than 50 per cent of the Indian Ocean’s coral species can be found in Ningaloo.
- Whale sharks are the largest species of shark in the world. Snorkelling with these gentle giants is a major lure for most people visiting Ningaloo; various operators out of Exmouth offer whale shark tours.
- Whale sharks have about 3000 tiny teeth, but they don’t use them to eat; they are filter feeders, sieving plankton through their gills.
#5: Top secret spot – Milton, New South Wales Where? Around three hours’ drive from Sydney in the Shoalhaven region. What? Established in 1860, the entire town, filled with picture-postcard historic buildings, has been classified by the National Trust of Australia as a historic village. Why? With its pretty main street and the frisson of creativity running through it, Milton (known as Milly; neighbouring Mollymook is Molly) is the kind of place that once you discover, you keep coming back time and time again. Check out the boutiques and cafes on the main street, pop into the monthly arts and craft market, stop by Merry Maidens Veggies for bio-dynamic produce, and then head to the nearby hinterland town of Woodstock for lunch at Milk Haus, housed in an old cheese factory.
#6: Top secret spot – Agnes Waters + 1770, Queensland Where? The town, also known as Seventeen Seventy, is 120 kilometres north of Bundaberg near the Gladstone region’s Agnes Waters. What? Its irresistible name comes thanks to the fact that it is the site of the second landing of Captain Cook and his ship, The Endeavour, in May 1770; the area is known as the birthplace of Queensland. Why? There are coastal rainforests and national parks to explore, uncrowded surf breaks, fishing, diving and abundant wildlife, and the sunsets are the stuff of legend; it is one of the few places on the east coast where you can watch the sun sink over the water.
#7: Top secret spot – Rylstone, New South Wales Where? Just over three hours from Sydney on the western edge of the Blue Mountains in the Mudgee wine region. What? It’s one of the oldest villages west of the Great Dividing Range and it’s just so damn cute: the stone buildings on the main thoroughfare of Louee Street were constructed between 1865 and 1895. Why? Given its location within the Mudgee region, a foodie haven, it makes sense that Rylstone has its own food festival: plan a visit to coincide with StreetFeast in spring where market stalls sell local wines and gourmet produce, and you can enjoy a long-table long lunch with locals and visitors.
#8: Top secret spot – Wye River, Victoria Where? On Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. What? You’re not visiting for attractions, you are coming to Wye River for exactly the opposite. There’s a general store, a beach and a pub that serves craft beers and has one of the best views to be had. That’s it, and it’s glorious! Why? Because while the tourist hordes driving the Great Ocean Road gravitate towards hot spots like Lorne and Apollo Bay, Wye River remains largely overlooked, meaning it has a lovely off-the-beaten-track appeal, despite being on one of the most scenically pleasing tracks in the country.
#9: Top secret spot – Corrina, Tasmania Located a 90-minute drive north from Strahan, the former gold mining town of Corinna is the launch pad for any exploration of the sublime natural beauty of the Southern Tarkine. But rather than just presenting a spot from which to get somewhere else, Corinna should be indulged in before you set off on your way, given it is a generously blessed confluence of wide, still rivers, pristine rainforest wilderness, and the roiling waters of the Southern Ocean. There’s great food on offer – this is Tasmania, after all – and the accommodation matches the unaffected ambience of the area, from eco-retreats to converted miners’ cottages to the local pub.
#10: Top secret spot – Toodyay, Western Australia Where? Located on the Avon River, about 85 kilometres north-east of Perth. What? Having been first settled by Europeans back in 1836, there are lots of lovely remnants of the colourful history of the town which are now a drawcard for in-the-know day-trippers from Perth, and out-of-towners lucky enough to stumble across it. Why? It turns out that Toodyay is home to the oldest emu farm in the world, Free Range Emu Farm, where you can see emus, nests and chicks in their enclosed but natural setting, and watch the incubation and hatching process in season.