#1 – Cruise the Kimberley Coast, WA
Here it is: the greatest holiday of them all. And for all the other amazing experiences on offer, we can’t say we’re surprised to see this come out on top. The Kimberley – bigger than the state of Victoria, among the oldest landscapes on Earth – is particularly talented at claiming the biggest of all superlatives, but there’s really nothing that can do justice to her outstanding array of waterholes, beaches, bushland and wildlife.
What else could you want in a holiday destination, other than a way to get to it? Yes, she’s remote, but she’s definitely worth it. And there’s no better way to see theKimberley and her 2500-odd islands than by sailing ’round her edges in one of the world-class adventure cruise ships on offer.
FIRST STEPS: There are several operators offering cruises around the Kimberley coastline, and really, it’s hard to go wrong with a cruise operator here, regardless of who you choose. Still, it isn’t a cheap holiday – the average per-night price is about $650 per person, not to mention the cost of flights to the region in the first place – and ship sizes vary greatly, from six-person boats to 100-person expedition ships.
Some of our favourite operators are: North Star Cruises (True North), National Geographic Orion, Great Escape Charter Company, Kimberley Quest and Aurora Expeditions. Also check out the next edition of Australian Traveller – featuring a special of epic proportions on exploring the Kimberley by road, air and sea.
#2 – road trip Tasmania’s east coast, TAS
Who’d have predicted that the drive up the east coast of Tassie, from Hobart to the Bay of Fires, would beat all our iconic road trips – including the world-famous Great Ocean Road, the wildly isolated Nullarbor – to take the #2 spot? What can we say – you’ll understand when you get there.
Maria Island, the Freycinet Peninsula, Wineglass Bay, and holiday mini-mecca Bicheno are all waiting to be uncovered on this trip, but they’re not the only highlights. Tellingly, the area’s most luxurious stay also came in at #5, while the Freycinet Experience was voted Australia’s best walking holiday, at #13 on this list. Basically, we all need to move here.
A five-second itinerary
Day 1 – Hobart to Orford: When you arrive at Orford, catch the ferry to car-free Maria Island. Spend the afternoon wandering, taking in her natural beauty.
Day 2 – Orford to Swansea: Stop at Freycinet Peninsula on the way to hike or abseil the picturesque Hazards, swim those ridiculous beaches and gorge on oysters.
Day 3 – Stay put: You haven’t swum with Wineglass Bay’s dolphins yet (or eaten enough oysters).
Day 4 – Swansea to St Helens: Pull in at pretty seaside town Bicheno on the way. Just north of town, directly in front of Diamond Island Resort, is also a view of the area so good it was voted #22nd best view in the country in a previous AT list (so you know it’s good).
Day 5 – St Helens to Bay of Fires: Call work and explain: you’re going to need another week’s leave…
#3 – Do ‘The Big Lap’
To be honest, we were stunned when this didn’t come out as #1 – after all, the Big Lap is not just one great experience but a patchwork of the many and varied spanning this great continent of ours. And who has not fantasised about undertaking this great journey (if indeed you haven’t already)?
In any case, we’re thrilled to see it in the top three. It doesn’t matter whether you edge the coastline or dive into the interior; road tripping your way ’round our incredible country is not just a holiday, it’s a lifetime highlight.
Don’t wait: Finding the months (years?) required to take this journey isn’t easy, but at least you can find solidarity in numbers. According to a 2014 Hotels.com survey, almost a third of Australians have taken a sabbatical or extended career break in order to travel – and no, not between uni semesters. Most were well over the age of 30 when they did so.
#4 – see Kakadu
Back in 2006, when we published the world-first list of 100 Things To Do In Australia Before You Die, Kakadu was #1. Many years later, we’re happy to say that it’s still as magical as it was, even if the Kimberley has seduced us all since then.
Just as we said back then, there are really two ways you need to see it: in the wet (December to March), when the incredible colours (and even more incredible weather) make for an empirical overload; and in the dry, when you can swim the waterholes (like this one, known as the top pool of Gunlom Falls), walk the walks and sleep under the stars sans fear of a tent flood.
“Kakadu has a sense of quiet spirituality about it. Dotted with Aboriginal artworks, sweeping plains and soaring escarpments, it’s dramatic, huge and endlessly fascinating.” – Jen Pinkerton
#5 – book into Saffire Freycinet, TAS
There was much debate in the office about whether this deserved its own ‘spot’ in the list; it is, after all, a stop along the East Coast Escape (see #3) and the location is an integral part of its appeal. But it takes something extra to be voted the top luxury lodge in Australia – especially by a panel who’ve been to them all, and more than once – and Saffire Freycinet really does have a unique appeal.
“It feels like home… but home, if home was perfect,” Craig Tansley muses. “There’s something so comfortable about it… yet so effortlessly stylish at the same time. That’s what makes it so unique.” Or, as Catriona Rowntree puts it, it’s “the ultimate gift certificate.” Speaking of which, our birthday is coming up.
More info: Saffire Freycinet
#6 – a foodie break in Margaret River, WA
“Plenty of other wine regions claim to have it all,” says Daniel Scott, “but Margaret River really does.” Ah yes, Mr Scott, we agree. Gorgeous countryside, where vines are strung out between karri forests, and a craggy coastline of vanilla coloured beaches and ancient limestone caves rolls into turquoise sea; and some of the country’s best chefs, who throw together meals of sublime delicacy and freshness from locally-sourced produce.
“It’s not good,” finishes Daniel, “it’s the best for a gourmet break.” Hear hear.
Best-kept secrets of the Margaret River region – Kerry Heaney spills the beans…
• For absolute beach front views with breakfast, head to the laid back White Elephant Café, perched on the edge of Gnarabup Beach. A great spot to check out the surf.
• Relax under the grapevines or cosy up by the fire at Swings Taphouse & Kitchen and try the share plates of fresh, sustainable, local produce.
• Fermoy Estate at Wilyabrup produces top quality, award-winning wines. The on-site Pukara Estate Tasting Room also offers tastings of the region’s distinctive olive oils.
• Stay in a bungalow-style villa at the superb Pullman Resort Bunker Bay, and explore Cape Naturaliste next door.
• Don’t miss sunset at Sugarloaf. Follow the narrow road down off Cape Naturaliste Road – it won’t disappoint.
More info: Margaret River
#7 – escape to Lord Howe Island, NSW
In 2012, the youngest American to have ever visited every country in the world, Lee Abbamonte, was asked to write an article reflecting on the highlights of our planet. “I don’t know what paradise awaits in the next life,” he wrote, “but I do know that paradise on Earth is located on Lord Howe Island.”
This tiny utopian speck is just two hours by plane from Sydney or Brisbane, but a world away from life as you know it – and we really mean that. Pristine beaches, perfect wilderness, amazing snorkelling and some of the nicest people on Earth are only the beginning.
While you’re there… There are two stays that really summarise LHI:
• Capella Lodge which, at $700 per person per night is not cheap, but worth doing once in your life; and
• The delightfully old-school Pinetrees, which has been a family-run business since the mid-1800s – just think about that for a minute – and feels a lot like the home you never knew you had (from $410 per person a night).
#8 – Great Ocean Road road trip, VIC
It’s one of the most iconic experiences you’ll find in Australia, but unlike so many world-famous attractions, the GOR hasn’t fallen victim to its own popularity. Expect sweet little towns (like Port Campbell), ‘appropriately developed’ beach gems (like Lorne) and, as well as the magnificent apostles, the beauty of ‘lesser’ locations like Loch Ard Gorge.
Don’t tell the tourists, but… Fifteen minutes off the great road itself, you’ll find The Ridge Organic Food Store & Café. The food is the best in the region, and the views from their modern, wooden shack are equally good. You’re welcome.
#9 – a Barossa Valley gourmet weekend, SA
In a stellar wine state, filled with stellar wine regions, The Barossa stands out as a star. Panellist Christine Salins gets it right: “Where else in the world,” she asks, “can you taste a 100-year-old tawny port, experience Lachlan Colwill’s sublime food, cruise around vineyards in a 1962 Daimler used on royal visits, or meet the doyenne of Australian food, Maggie Beer, at her delightful Pheasant Farm?”
Yes, with its blend of heritage and contemporary, country rustic and city chic, casual and luxury, European and quintessentially Australian, a gourmet break here ticks all the boxes.
More info: South Australia
#10 – Stay at qualia just once in your life, QLD
We don’t really even need to explain the magic of qualia: this picture tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it? Assuming, that is, you don’t already know quite a bit about qualia – quite a feat, that’d be, considering that most of Earth is lusting after a stay here.
Voted the World’s Best Resort in a 2012 survey of some 45,000 people, it’s Australian island luxury at its absolute finest. From $975 per night including breakfast; from $1225 per night including breakfast and dinner.
More info: qualia.com.au