Best ways to get out into the best experiences this year? Here are Australia’s best bushwalk, road trip, aquatic experience and food and wine regions.
1. Winner Best Bushwalking Journey – Blue Mountains, NSW
From the spectacular views of the National Pass to a full day’s walk down to the almost mythical Blue Gum Forest, the vast Blue Mountains World Heritage-listed wilderness has so many incredible trails that it must surely be this country’s hiking Mecca. Our tip: forego the obvious tourist hotspot around Katoomba’s Three Sisters and head for a good day’s walk from Wentworth Falls, perhaps the beautiful and varied Charles Darwin Trail, or Blackheath, picking a route that meanders anywhere from the spectacular lookout of Govett’s Leap. All the while keep an eye out for yellow-tailed black cockatoos and unusual animals like the Blue Mountains’ Blotched Blue-tongue lizard.
2. Cradle Mountain/Overland Track, Tas
3. Grampians, Vic
4. Bibbulmum Track, WA
5. Wilsons Promontory, Vic
2. Winner Most Scenic Driving Holiday – Great Ocean Road, Vic
Road trips are the stuff of real travel memories, and when your route hugs one of Australia’s most dramatic coastline and stretches for over 200 kilometres, taking in stunning beaches, rugged cliffs and lush forests, it’s an experience you’re unlikely to forget. Drop into Wye River General Store and Bespoke Harvest (Forrest) for great coffee and lunch, stock up on local berries at the Apollo Bay market and take a tour of the historic Cape Otway Lighthouse. Selfie time? Pull over at the Twelve Apostles and visit the Otway Fly for a beautiful bird’s eye view of the forest. Get close to nature with an over-nighter at the Great Ocean Ecolodge at Cape Otway and continue on to charming Timboon for its craft distillery.
2. Great Eastern Drive, Tas
3. Cairns to Port Douglas, Qld
4. South Coast, NSW
5. Gibb River Road, WA
3. Winner Best Aquatic Experience – Snorkelling/diving Great Barrier Reef
Our country is one massive coastline, and what a coast it is, home to that most famous of natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef. So impressive is it in its biodiversity and scale that Sir David Attenborough keeps returning here to film, having taken his first dive here more than 60 years ago. And it’s the ease with which you can explore the Reef that perhaps makes it number one, with all abilities catered to from first-time snorkellers to experienced divers, and all budgets, too. Take to the seas from a luxury resort in the Whitsundays, such as Hayman or Orpheus in the Palm Island group, or simply catch a boat from the popular tourist hop-off point of Cairns. Whatever you decide, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience in your own backyard.
2. Swimming with whale sharks,Ningaloo, WA: One of the great wildlife experiences, swimming with the biggest (and harmless!) shark species in the world is best done from the stunning marine World Heritage Site of Ningaloo Reef.
3. Sailing in the Whitsundays, Qld: They’re renowned as some of the most beautiful islands in the world; lush slices of green on azure waters filled with tropical marine life; island-hopping on a yacht is the only way to travel in these parts.
4. Sailing in Sydney Harbour, NSW
5. Surfing, Gold Coast, Qld
4. Winner Best Wine Region – Hunter Valley, NSW
Dating back 180 years, the Hunter Valley is one of the country’s oldest wine regions and also one of its smallest. But oenophiles are not left wanting: this blooming wine country now boasts more than 150 wineries (Krinklewood pictured) producing exceptional wines and almost as many cellar doors, welcoming guests to taste its world-famous sémillon, and other notable drops including chardonnay, verdelho and shiraz. With a rolling landscape that’s easy on the eye, a host of accommodation from cosy B&Bs to elegant guesthouses and luxe hotels, and more than 60 restaurants in which to wine and dine, the Hunter Valley has us feeling warm and fuzzy, just like its vinos.
2. Barossa Valley, SA
3. Margaret River, WA
4. Yarra Valley, Vic
5. McLaren Vale, SA
5. Winner Must-Visit Food Region – Margaret River, WA
Margaret River’s ‘food movement’ is awakening the gourmand in all of us with an incredible array of fresh produce showcased on menus across the region. But perhaps the best place to experience it is at the weekend Farmers’ Markets where you can sample and stock up on hand-crafted cheeses, fresh olives and olive oils, gourmet breads, and the region’s signature fresh-caught marron and highly prized black truffle. However, the bee’s knees of epicurean events, the Margaret River Gourmet Escape (pictured), is a delightful round-up of all things delicious in the region and a date to mark in the diary.
2. Barossa Valley, SA
3. Hunter Valley, NSW
4. Yarra Valley, Vic
5. Orange, NSW
6. Winner Top Airline for Service – Qantas
Our national airline is renowned for its excellent staff – you won’t find service without a smile here – while the in-flight food is something to look forward to.
7. Winner Best Airport – Sydney Kingsford Smith
Breezing through Sydney’s Domestic terminals is an absolute pleasure, with great shopping and coffee, and restaurants such as MoVida to get you in the holiday mood.