5. Port Douglas, Qld
Tropical paradise minus the malaria. Port Douglas is a visual feast: a massive sweep of palm-fringed beach, distant cays lazing in the cerulean Coral Sea and a hinterland of mountainous rainforest. Once a sleepy fishing village, with a population of 700 less than 20 years ago, Port Douglas is now a resort town for the well-heeled. It’s not a year-round destination (unless you love 90 percent humidity), and you (and your wallet) can feel a bit corralled, but it’s an ideal base for day-trips to the Barrier Reef, the always ice-cold Mossman Gorge and super-scenic drives along the coast – the other great ocean road.
6. Stanley, Tas
On Tasmania’s far north-west coast, Stanley is dominated by The Nut, a massive volcanic outcrop that juts into Bass Strait. A former whaling town and headquarters of the Van Diemen’s Land Company, and the birthplace of the only Tassie-born PM, Joseph Lyons (see his cottage), Stanley is today an atmospheric and not overly yuppified maritime village, with many impressive architectural relics dating from the 1840s. A haunting seaside cemetery is the resting place of notable pioneers and explorers. It still feels lonely today.
7. Strahan, Tas
The only town on Tassie’s formidable west coast, at the edge of Macquarie Harbour, Strahan is today a peaceful fishing and timber village and launching point for boat trips up the wild, black Gordon River. But the tranquillity belies Strahan’s beginnings as Sarah Island, the most elaborately cruel penal colony, marooned in the middle of the harbour. Established in 1821, Sarah Island’s unfortunates were moved in 1833 to the relative civilisation of Port Arthur. You stare at those haunting ruins and can almost hear the screams of despair. Not for nothing was the entrance to Macquarie Harbour named Hell’s Gates.