With summer already here, it’s no longer a case of “where should you go?” since you’re already booked and ready. And all the stats show that there are a few major holiday hotspots that draw the crowds time after time. We know you’re going, you know you’re going: it’s our job to tell you what you didn’t know: what’s new and underrated in your Holiday Mecca of choice.

Sunshine Coast 

In a country renowned for its sunshine, it seems a little superfluous to name a region “the Sunshine Coast.” But the stretch from Rainbow Beach just below Fraser Island to Caloundra in the south is a beacon for holidaymakers. Most aptly embodied by Noosa, the Sunshine Coast is a good example of careful tourism planning and community consultation. “You come here,” says John Fitzgerald, CEO of Tourism Sunshine Coast, “to have the beach holiday we all remember as kids.” Okay, he has a barrow to push, but it’s hard to disagree.

You’ll spend hours on magnificent beaches without having to fight with your neighbour over who’s flicking sand on whom. You’ll eat the traditional summer fish ’n’ chips by candlelight, with exotic preparations and crisp white tablecloths on Noosa’s Hastings St. You’ll learn to cook at the famous and excellent Spirit House in Yandina. You’ll plan a visit to pay homage to Steve Irwin at Australia Zoo (truly an excellent example of what all Zoos should be), stop off at the Ginger Factory and if you have kids that insist and budget allows, drop into Underwater World (not such a good example of what zoos can be). You’d also be smart to noodle through the Eumundi markets, the most authentic provedore and craft markets in Australia that actually has as many or more visitors than Australia Zoo. Try spotting Koalas at Noosa National Park and if time permits take a daytrip to Fraser Island.

And if all that doesn’t fill your stay, try as many or as little of these as you can:

While the hinterland town of Montville is renowned for its craft and gallery shops, Rose van den Berg, owner of the Lightweight Traveller on Hastings St, says there’s an overlooked and surprising find: “I’m always telling people to drop into Settlers Rise winery, a great cellar door experience you wouldn’t expect up here.”

Just down the road the much less “designed” Maleny is a really worth it for a good feed, walk and desert. Two restaurants come to mind: the Terrace, for its fabulously fresh seafood, and down the road to the somewhat misplaced King Ludwig’s, which features authentic German food (why not?), very friendly staff and astonishing views of the Glasshouse Mountains. While it’s hard to get excited about sauerkraut that’s a little pricey, Ludwig’s is good for a lazy lunch admiring the view.

To walk off lunch, drop into Mary Cairncross Reserve just down the road for a short and easy walk through the last vestiges of the rainforest in the area. Keep a look out for the “panda cute” pademelons (the smallest member of the kangaroo family). To finish it off, AT thoroughly recommends an ice cream at Colin James’ Fine Foods. Also, one of Australia’s largest festivals, the Woodford Folk Festival, happens just outside Maleny in the lead up to New Years Eve.

The region is loaded with artists and artisans of all levels and David Hart’s galleries (son of Pro) in either Noosa or Mooloolaba are smart enough to be able to show you how your purchase can be included in your super investments. Peter Lik’s gallery on Hastings St is loaded with stunning limited print images that, according to the Christies catalogue on the wall, are worth a lot today and even more tomorrow. Away from these more commercial galleries are a host of excellent professional artists, check out Eumundi markets for the less well-known artists.

The Sunshine Coast is also home to one of the most important Buddhist learning centres outside of Tibet. Drop into Chenrezig and chilllllllll out. The facility welcomes guests and is a beautiful little sanctuary. Have a spot of lunch at the aptly named Big Love Cafe, set in the institute’s tranquil gardens. You do have to book by 9:30am though.

Ask any local about beaches and they’ll agree that Sunshine Beach is probably the pick of the bunch. Just a heads up: the deserted Alexandra Beach in the Noosa National Park is a gem, but is also the area’s unofficial nudist beach and, like all nudist beaches, is populated by mostly 40-plus blokes. The Tea Tree Bay Beach just a klick inside Noosa National Park is also a gem.

Rose van den Berg has one more suggestion for those looking for something a little different: “Kondalilla Falls Walk is an excellent and easy walk that I don’t think many tourists actually get to or appreciate.“ Thanks, Rose.

The Sunshine Coast has become the resting place of the HMAS Brisbane, sunk just over a year ago, and is now an excellent dive site. And for a little quality snorkelling, Mudjimba (or Old Lady) Island is also excellent. Also opening this Christmas is the “largest day spa in the southern hemisphere” at Noosa Springs.

There’s a rundown cottage on Mudjimba Island rumoured to be where local actress Diane Cilento and her then husband Sean Connery would occasionally holiday during their marriage in the ’60s and early ’70s.

Western Victoria

From the majestic and world-renowned grandeur of the Great Ocean Road to the rugged beauty of the Grampians region, this is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful areas of Australia. And don’t we know it. This summer more than a million Australians will be taking their holidays in Western Victoria. For many of us, it’s an annual pilgrimage. Something we do almost automatically every year. Whether you’re heading here again or find yourself a Western Victoria virgin during the busiest holiday season of the year, AT has all the tips for the new and underrated in the area.

For a different approach to the classic Great Ocean Road drive, how about taking a leaf from John Howard’s book? He loves a morning constitutional, so naturally he’d be taking the Great Ocean Walk. And this is no power-stroll around the edges of Sydney harbour in a bright yellow Wallabies tracksuit. This is a 91km walk through some of Australia’s most spectacular scenery. But you won’t need to take the backpack and look like some tottering Norwegian tourist either: there are some absolutely spectacular trails that take as little as an hour. So if you’d like to break up the classic drive with some fresh air, our top picks for a short walk are at Port Campbell and Wreck Beach at Moonlight head. For more info, visit www.greatoceanwalk.com.au or call (03) 5598 6089.

You’ve probably visited Great Otway National Park in the past and may even have found time to visit Triplet Falls. This year is a good time to revisit, though, as they’ve undergone a $2m refurbishment and now have a new 2km loop walk with raised boardwalks and viewing platforms. The majestic and beautiful Mountain Ash, Blackwoods, Myrtle Beech and towering ferns haven’t moved however. And there are now loads of interpretive signs that allow you to appreciate your visit to the Falls all the more.

Just out of Warrnambool, Worn Gundidj, the animal sanctuary and Aboriginal interpretation centre housed in the crater of a dormant volcano, has been upgraded. As well as guided tours to see kangaroos, emus, koalas and other wildlife, visitors can now go on bush tucker walks, and even learn some of the language of the Koroitgundidj people, the original inhabitants of the region.

Should you find yourself looking for a short break, there’s something new that will keep the kids amused while you have a sneaky drink. The Great Ocean Road Winery has been established behind Apollo Bay, providing a cellar door, an outlet for local produce and an animal nursery for young travellers.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably knew that the Grampians were devastated by bushfires last Christmas. The Australian bush is a resilient beast, though, and if you’re in the region in the new year AT heartily recommends checking it out. The area has become an amazing spectacle of regeneration, and for many of us this summer represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the beauty of the natural environment coming back to life. Check out www.parkweb.vic.gov.au and www.visitgrampians.com.au for more.

As well as being one of the most spectacular road trips in the world, the Great Ocean Road is the world’s biggest war memorial, constructed by returning soldiers from WWI to honour fallen comrades. The memorial will be officially unveiled in April 2007.


NSW South Coast 

The foodie indulgence of the Southern Highlands, the crinkly Illawarra Coast, the mild swell off Seven Mile Beach, the absolute holiday Mecca of Jervis Bay, down past pretty Mollymook, through the Clyde Coast and Batemans Bay, the island-dotted shores of Eurobodalla and on through Bega and the Sapphire Coast . . . a trip along the NSW South Coast sweeps through some of the most-visited holiday spots in the whole of Australia. If you’re already going – or you’re thinking of taking a last-minute stab at it – here’s a taste of what’s new, undiscovered and overlooked.

Crooked River Winery in Gerringong is the largest on the south coast, but further afield the newly prospering Mimosa Wines & Cottages ([02] 6494 0163, www.mimosawines.com.au) in Cuttagee just south of Bermagui in the Sapphire region is quietly producing a superb local Verdehlo, while hosts Glenn and Gail Butson will welcome you to their pet-friendly property set among the vines and gumtrees. A good time to visit is in March, when the Bermagui Seaside Fair and Celebrity Chefs Cook-off takes centre stage.

The South Coast is also an anglers’ dream, with some of the best beach fishing in the world, lakes brimming with catches and plenty of game-fishing hotspots. Batemans Bay boasts Corrigan’s Beach, also excellent is Lake Illawarra and Wonboyn Lake on the outskirts of Eden, and the birthplace of Australian game-fishing, Bermagui, is hard to drive past without dangling a line.

There are more than 30 areas in the South Coast that have been classified by Parks and Wildlife, many of which feature walking and riding trails, camping grounds and picnic spots. One of the best, at Ben Boyd National Park near Eden, is the Pinnacles, an unusual, multicoloured rock formation around 65 million years old. There’s also a great “light-to-light” walking trail between Green Cape Lighthouse and Boyd’s Tower that’s perfect for casual walkers of mid-range fitness. And if you’ve only ever been unlucky enough to see wombats in the wild after they’ve (sadly) become roadside casualties, duck into the Birdland Animal Park ([02] 4472 5364, www.birdlandanimalpark.com.au) at Batemans Bay. It has, hand’s down, the best wombat-encounter experiences in the country.

For lodgings, AT will continue to recommend Bannisters Point Lodge in Mollymook until anything surpasses it. But for an ultra-new experience in the region, the Bellachara Boutique Hotel ([02] 4234 1359 www.bellachara.com.au) in Gerringong opened its doors in March ’06 and is brilliantly served by Head Chef Matt Hilford, who cut his gums at some of Sydney’s top restaurants. It’s already won a handful of “new” and “renovated” industry awards, and best of all it’s only 90min south of the CBD. For something a little cosier, and if you’ve got pets in tow, the Pub Hill Farm B&B ([02] 4476 3177, www.pubhillfarm.com) in Narooma has earned the coveted Five Paw Life Be In It award for the best pet-friendly accommodation in NSW.

One for the art and craft lovers: the Eurobodalla Shire is home to more than 300 artists — writers, poets, painters, potters, weavers, spinners, sculptors, musicians, dancers, actors, stone masons. . . you name it, you can find it in the Shire.


Gold Coast

The real holiday Mecca of Australia, the Gold Coast has the pulling power to keep more Australians visiting than any other destination year after year. So what’s the attraction? The Gold Coast isn’t just the long stretch of great beaches and surf – it’s the infrastructure: umpteen resorts for every budget, theme parks for every taste and age, a whole host of precincts in which to eat and swim, Main Beach, Broadbeach, Burleigh Heads, Sanctuary Cove, Mermaid Beach . . . but, since you’re heading there, you already knew that.

It has to be said: to find things you’ve probably never considered or that will be uncrowded on the Gold Coast is incredibly difficult. As tourism is so important to the region, no rock goes unturned in trying to find things for you to do. The local tourism board even has a brochure, “The 108 Things To Do On The Gold Coast.” But here is AT’s selection:

Get out of the sun and into the cool freshwater rock pools on Currumbin Creek. Follow the absolutely beautiful drive next to the creek about 15km in from the Currumbin turnoff and you’ll arrive at one of the most picturesque picnic spots. It could be a little crowded with locals escaping the tourists, but another 5kms up the road at the bottom of the Springbrook National Park there’s another rock pool with a natural water slide.

Mount Tamborine is well known for being the “green behind the gold” but there are four things to do that are very worthwhile in town. Tamborine Mountain Distillery (www.tamborinemountaindistillery.com) has got to be the highlight, it’s winning international awards for liqueurs, vodkas, brandies and schnapps. The range is truly amazing and AT recommends the very different Choc ’n’ Chilli Liqueur. Next door is Witches Chase Cheese, and a great way to finish is at Granny Macs store on Long Rd for a bit of homemade fudge. The St Bernards hotel is also excellent for a refreshing afternoon drink and a magnificent view from the veranda.

Much of the Gold Coast’s alternate activities are inland from the beaches, and the most worthwhile are daytrips. Lamington National Park is definitely worth a look; the treetop walk at O’Reilly’s is just the start of an easy walk. If you’re not afraid of the incredibly scary drive back down the mountain, see if you can stay around till dark for a stroll to see the Glow Worms. Springbrook National Park is one valley east of Lamington and the pick of its trails is the mildly strenuous and recently upgraded Purlingbrook Falls Walk.

The Gold Coast is the master of always providing something new; this year is no different. We’ll assume you’ve been to the top of Q1, but Absynthe restaurant at the base of the tower is building a very solid reputation under chef Meyjitte Boughenout. Australian Outback Spectacular is the latest show in town, an all-Australian horseback extravaganza that books out consistently. The World’s also have a feast of new things: Wet’n’Wild is crowing about the Tornado, SeaWorld is offering a Back Stage Pass for an up close dolphin visit and Movieworld is very pleased with its Superman Escape ride (“0-100km/h in two seconds”).

If there’s a new buzz on the Gold Coast it has to be spas. Many hotels are coming out with their latest spa set-up in time for Christmas. Two of the latest are at the Watermark Hotel and Marriott Surfers Paradise Resort.

A ship laden with dynamite wrecked on Stradbroke Island in 1898. The authorities detonated the cargo to safely dispose of it and the resulting crater was then smashed by the sea to form North and South Stradbroke Islands.


South West WA

The only non-eastern states Mecca, WA’s South West is the booming tourism destination of Australia. Although largely built on Margaret River’s unbeatable combination of fantastic wineries and superb beaches, the South West makes a point of being so much more.


Lazy lunch at the Bootleg Brewery (even with kids, who are entertained by running around madly on the close-cropped lawns) after a breakfast roll at the Dunsborough bakery signifies the start of the big summer holiday. The rest of your summer break will be spent enjoying arguably Australia’s best cellar door experience mixed with sun worshipping on expansive beaches. And just to mix it up, a visit to the Tree Top Walk and the Valley of the Giants outside Pemberton. To keep the kids fuelled, you’re looking at a stop-off at the Margaret River Chocolate factory, Cow Candy in cow-themed Cowaramup and some of Simmo’s Ice Cream.

We’re exhausted already. But if there’s a sense of been-there-done-that, here are some alternatives for you:

The Cidery in Bridgetown produces some of Australia’s best quality ciders. Using the locally grown and developed Pink Lady apples, the Cidery takes you on a historic tour of the humble apple in the region, plus the mandatory tasting. And if you’re not stewed enough, there are several new and award-winning breweries that you may not have encountered: Jarrah Jacks Brewery in Pemberton, Tanglehead Brewery in Albany and the Bushshack Brewery in Yallingup now join the Colonial Brewery in Margaret River as alternatives to the Bootleg.

The Wine & Truffle Co at Manjimup has been developing its truffle orchard, or “trufflerie”, for the past seven years and really came of age in 2005 with the unearthing of the 1kg truffle. Unfortunately truffle season is Jun – Sept so you’ll have to wait till next year to join them and the dogs on a truffle hunt. But it’s worth a trip to learn about this baffling food and even buy one of the more exotic fungus’ that will be hitting more and more restaurants in the coming years.

This summer sees the first high season for the Margaret River Providore (www.providore.com.au). Two years in the making, the Providore grows only organic and chemical-free produce, which they turn into a variety of preserves, relishes and jams. For a good double-up, it’s right next door to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory.

The limestone Caves of the area are fairly well known: Ngilgi, Mammoth and Lake. But this season Ngilgi Caves is putting on more of their three-hour adventure tours. Don the head torch and get ready to squirm, crawl and climb your way around.

Youngsters’ fascination with dinosaurs is totally mystifying, but the newly opened Dinosaur World in Denmark, just down the road from the Tree Top Walk, will keep them in trancelike states as they learn (again) all there is to know about the various “saurs”.

Also newly reborn is the incredibly popular Caves House (now Seashells Caves House) in Yallingup, home to many thousands of Sunday Sessions and outdoor musical guests the likes of Jack Johnson. Phase One of redevelopments of the building and grounds has been completed and locals are (so far) responding favourably. AT will be watching carefully to see if Phase Two is handled just as successfully.

Pink Lady Apples were actually developed in Manjimup WA and are probably the only apple in the world to have their own website: www.pinkladyapples.co.uk

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