The Top 10 Must-see Events and Festivals is a collection of the best bashes and cultural coming-togethers compiled from our 100 Incredible Experiences (right here in your backyard) special. 

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We Australians love a good bash; we throw celebrations across the country for everything from camel racing to blues music. Here’s our pick of the events you just have to attend.

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1. Sail away – Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, Queensland

If there’s one thing that the Whitsundays is synonymous with it’s sailing. Every August yachties and spectators alike descend on Hamilton Island to watch sails race around the islands and enjoy the accompanying on-shore happenings from fashion shows to exclusive dining events hosted by the likes of Guillaume Brahimi. Add it to your bucket list because: You can see stunning Hamilton Island at its best during the country’s largest offshore yachting regatta, Race Week. 20–27 August 2016.

2. Feed your inner Bacchus – Margaret River Gourmet Escape, WA

In just a short number of years the Gourmet Escape has become one of the country’s premier food events. So well-curated is the Escape and in such a stunning location that international and homegrown chefs both clamour for an invitation to be a part of it all. The names are big – last year it was bad boy Marco Pierre White and the year before Heston Blumenthal headlined – and the scenery, feasts on offer, and wines to devour are just as alluring to foodophiles. Add it to your bucket list because: You can see yourself in a tepee sipping a cocktail by those azure waters. For east-coasters, there’s no better excuse to cross the desert. 18–20 November.

3. Embrace the quirk – Adelaide Fringe Festival, SA

Adelaide in summer pretty much ticks all the holiday boxes: beautiful, uncluttered beaches, wineries a stone’s throw from the city, and award-winning restaurants and bars. Add the Fringe Festival to the list and you’re left with no good reason to stay home. The festival has been entertaining since the ’60s with the manifesto that anyone with a creative vision can join in, hence the wonderfully eclectic atmosphere and variety of arts on display, from cabaret to comedy. Add it to your bucket list because: The iconic event is basically Australia’s Got Talent, just more wild and totally live. 10 February to 12 March 2017.

4. Celebrate love in all its forms – Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Perhaps one of Sydney’s greatest triumphs, the Mardi Gras, which culminates in a bedazzled and bawdy parade, is a festival of love and tolerance. It didn’t begin that way, however, when in 1978 the inaugural parade met its end in police violence. but The sydney gay and lesbian Mardi Gras returned in defiance and now attracts not only a worldwide LGBTQI community, but also anyone who loves a party. Add it to your bucket list because: It’s a visual spectacular that sweeps the whole city up in its infectious spirit. 4 March 2017.

5. Come over to the dark side – Dark Mofo, Tasmania

Dark Mofo defines itself by just how different it is from every other mainstream festival in Australia. Hosted by the equally peculiar and pleasing MONA, the festival celebrates darkness in all its literal and metaphorical incarnations through grand-scale, multi-discipline public art performances, such as crossbreed music, theatre and film events. Held over 10 days around June’s Winter Solstice, most (mainly night-time) performances happen in pop-up spaces around Hobart. The winter feast is a foodie must, while the annual nude solstice swim is an option for the fearless. Add it to your bucket list because: You won’t like or even understand everything that you see, but you’ll certainly be talking about it afterwards. 10–21 June 2016.

6. Settle an old debt – Alice Springs Camel Cup, NT

In typical larrikin fashion, the Camel Cup began as a bet between mates in 1970. The two took to a dry riverbed on their humped steeds and hilarity ensued. So entertaining was the grudge race that the event continues to this day on the second Saturday of July. Raising funds for those in need, it’s feel-good fun full of colourful characters. Add it to your bucket list because: If you get in touch with the right people, you may be able to mount a camel alongside your arch nemesis and settle that old grudge once and for all. 9 July 2016.

7. Join an outback institution – Birdsville Races, Queensland

On the dusty plains of cattle country, Birdsville swells with punters looking to get lucky at the races every September. The Birdsville Races began back in 1882 and starred stock horses and a handful of local spectators. Today there are 13 races and 6000 attendees. Like all legitimate racing carnivals, there’s a cocktail party and fashion on the field, albeit a little more wilted than at Flemington. Add it to your bucket list because: It doesn’t get much more Australian than having a cold one while watching horses race around in the dust. 2–3 September 2016.

8. Get folked Woodford Folk Festival, Queensland

The crowds are much smaller and the fireworks displays less intricate, but spending New Year’s Eve at Woodford Folk Festival is in the same league as partying at Times Square, New York. Woodford has been dancing to its own beat for 30 years and even moved to its own purpose-built site 22 years ago. Woodfordia is a micro-village, with all-weather roads, a visual arts studio, butterfly walks and ponds, that becomes home to about 2000 performers. Add it to your bucket list because: If you missed the Age of Aquarius and Woodstock, this is the closest you’re going to get. 27 December 2016 to 2 January 2017.

9. Let your dreadlocks down – Byron Bay Bluesfest, NSW

Australia is home to many fantastic blues festivals, but the ultimate remains the five-day Byron Bay spectacular held over Easter. Yes, it attracts covetable headline acts and is located on the east coast’s most desirable beachside getaway, but if we’re honest, what makes the Bluesfest such a must-do attraction is the vibe. The celebration of chilled-out tunes and a laidback crowd makes it an enduring treasure of an event. Add it to your bucket list because: Unlike other festivals, it doesn’t matter what age you are or where you’re from, everyone is here to enjoy the music and soak up the atmosphere. 13–17 April 2017.

10. See the greats in action – Australian Open Tennis, Melbourne

It doesn’t matter if your tennis prowess is limited to a hit and a giggle with friends, come summer it seems everyone turns pro. The Australian Open is one thing to watch on television, but to be close enough to see the sweat bead on the pros’ brows is fantastic. The atmosphere courtside is electric. If you go to one sports event once in your life, make it the Open. Add it to your bucket list because: You could find yourself at the match that reveals who Australia’s next big tennis star will be. 16–29 January 2017.

Australian Traveller issue 68

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