Beginning the new year feels a little different in 2021 than it did in years gone by. With the shadow of Covid-19 hanging over us, it's not the normal fresh start. Although we can make the usual New Year resolutions to eat better, exercise more, focus on our mental wellbeing, it's difficult to make firm plans much beyond that.
But, as we continue to enjoy the freedoms of an alert level 1 Kiwi summer, we can begin to look – cautiously – to the future. Quarantine-free travel to Australia is now possible, with New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, Queensland and Victoria allowing Kiwis to enter without having to spend time in managed isolation. Currently, the mandatory 14-day isolation period still applies on return to New Zealand but in mid-December, there was a glimmer of hope.
In her final post-Cabinet press conference of the year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced government ministers had "agreed in principle" for a travel bubble with Australia, likely to begin in the first quarter of 2021. Understandably, there are caveats – Australia's Cabinet still needs to sign off the bubble, there are many logistical issues to work through, and the bubble's launch could be delayed if Covid community cases re-emerge in either country. And, as we have seen recently in Sydney and Brisbane, the situation is ever-changing.
So, we're not out of the woods yet. But, with bubble talk and vaccines beginning to roll out around the world, things are certainly looking brighter.
It's pertinent to remember it wasn't just the global pandemic that caused massive upsets to the Australian tourism industry in 2020. Before Covid hit, the country was facing the after-effects from the late-2019/early 2020 bushfires. A bubble will also bring relief to the businesses recovering from that devastation.
"Demand for sustainable tourism practices is increasing as more and more people acknowledge travel as a positive force for good," says Tourism Australia's managing director Phillipa Harrison. "Based on Covid-19 and what we saw following the summer bushfires, we anticipate the wellbeing of people, and our natural environment will be key considerations for many travellers in 2021.
"Australia's relative isolation from the rest of the world, coupled with our sparsely populated land has never been more precious and desirable among travellers."
But where to go when the bubble begins? Over the next few months, we'll be featuring the many Australian destinations we're dreaming about, starting this week with a range of coastal experiences and island escapes. Read on and be inspired . . . your dream trip is just a bubble away.
10 amazing island escapes
Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
An hour's flight from Sydney or Brisbane, Lord Howe Island boasts turquoise lagoons, a fringing coral reef and mountain peaks. After a morning hike up Mount Gower, visitors can swim with turtles, snorkel with baby reef sharks, or relax on a white-sand beach.
Bruny Island, Tasmania
Bruny Island has a rugged, relatively untouched landscape that is perfect for visitors looking to explore the wilderness. The island has a booming food and wine scene, as well as great walking tracks, and pristine swimming, surfing and fishing beaches.
Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory
A 90-minute flight from Darwin is The Groote Archipelago, where you'll find Groote Eylandt island. Stay at the island's only accommodation option, Groote Eylandt Lodge, and enjoy snowy white beaches washed by turquoise waters, sandstone cliffs and forests of pandanus, stringybarks and casuarinas. It's a dream destination for fishing holidays - the surrounding waters are home to some prized species, including sailfish, marlin, Spanish mackerel, giant trevally, golden snapper, queenfish and barramundi.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Western Australia
The remote Indian Ocean outpost Cocos (Keeling) Islands is roughly halfway between Australia and Sri Lanka and consists of two atolls made up of 27 coral islands. Only two are inhabited. Cocos Dive visitors can explore shipwrecks and coral reefs, while those looking to see what's above, can visit the untouched southern islands on an outrigger canoe safari.
Fitzroy Island, Queensland
Located in the Great Barrier Reef, Fitzroy Island's sheltered waters are perfect for snorkelling or splashing around and are only 15 nautical miles from Cairns, easily accessible by regular ferry transfers. The island has something for everyone, from rainforest hikes, to sailing over the coloured coral reefs on a glass-bottomed boat; visiting the turtle rehabilitation centre, or checking out the native wildlife – goannas, bats, monitor lizards and more.
Lizard Island, Queensland
About 240km north of Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island is the ultimate snorkelling and hiking paradise. The island's only resort is one of ultra-luxury and seclusion, where you'll find beautiful accommodation and gourmet dining. Surrounded by fringing reefs and a turquoise lagoon, the island is also home to a research station that educates visitors on the ongoing efforts to preserve the reef.
Magnetic Island, Queensland
Take a short ferry ride from Townsville to Magnetic Island for palm-tree lined beaches, impressive granite boulders, national park walks, a bird sanctuary, and World War II forts. Spot koalas in the wild and take part in the various water sports on offer, from snorkelling to fishing and everything in between.
Flinders Island, Tasmania
Flinders Island, one of 52 in the Furneaux Group northeast of Tasmania, is wild and rugged. It has picturesque rolling hills, sandy beaches, thick bushland and abundant marine and wildlife. Famous for its Flinders Island Crayfish, tours are available for visitors to catch their own.
Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory
The Tiwi Islands, 80km north of Darwin, is an off-the-beaten-track destination for intrepid travellers. Almost 90 per cent of the residents are of Aboriginal descent, and there is a thriving indigenous arts culture. Fishing is another of the Tiwis' main attractions, with all-inclusive, multi-day trips available. Visitors can also experience Outback Wrangler Matt Wright's Tiwi Island Retreat, where activities on offer include beach-buggy rides, mud crabbing, indigenous arts and cultural tours, and helifishing adventures.
Granite Island, South Australia
Southeast of Adelaide, access to Granite Island is across a 700m causeway – walk, or take a horse-drawn tram. The island is also home to the protected Granite Island Recreation Park and a colony of Little Penguins. See the orange-hued granite boulders along the coast, fish off the jetty, then learn about the island's history along the Kaiki Walk, a 3.3km circuit with interpretive signs exploring wildlife, geology and history.
7 coastal experiences for every type of traveller
If you like to sail . . .
The Whitsundays in Queensland is a dream destination. Hire an all-inclusive private skippered charter with Wings Sailing Charters Whitsundays and sail off into the sunset, hopping between the 74 islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. wings.com.au
If you're into conservation . . .
Great efforts are being made to restore and regrow the Great Barrier Reef, and keen conservationists can get involved. Visit the Museum of Underwater Art – just off the coast of Townsville, it's a series of installations by leading underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor and is the Southern Hemisphere's first underwater museum. MOUA showcases the stories of the reef and the culture of its First Nations people, as well as highlighting and encouraging conservation. moua.com.au
If you like wildlife . . .
Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef is a great destination for marine wildlife encounters. Just off the Coral Coast, Ningaloo is Australia's largest fringing reef and one of the biggest on Earth. Between mid-March and July, the waters are home to large numbers of whale sharks, who gather for the annual coral spawning. A day tour with Ningaloo Whale Sharks gives visitors the opportunity to get in the water with these gentle giants – you might also see blue whales, manta rays, dolphins, dugongs, turtles, as well as spectacular coral and tropical fish. ningaloowhalesharks.com
If you want a road trip . . .
Drive the coastal roads between Sydney and Melbourne for chilled-out seaside towns, stunning national parks, iconic Aussie wildlife, and secluded stretches of sand. Don't rush – you could easily spend eight to 10 days on this journey, making lots of stops along the way. Highlights include Jervis Bay, Eden, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Phillip Island and the Mornington Peninsula.
If you're a foodie . . .
Shuck oysters straight from the sea with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys in Tasmania, or head to Perth and catch your own lobster aboard Rottnest Cruises for a gourmet lunch. Travel south from Perth down to the Margaret River region to visit award-winning wineries and a range of wonderful restaurants showcasing the best local produce and ingredients.
If you like fishing . . .
Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay is a haven for keen anglers and given the sheer size of the bay, local guidance is the best way to help track down a prized catch. Bay Fish N Trips is a family-owned charter business with a beautifully restored wooden motor vessel that dates back to World War II. Join a group or book the whole boat for a private charter and enjoy a day's fishing in the Mornington Peninsula. bayfishntrips.com.au
If you want to fly and flop . . .
Australia has many beautiful resorts and luxury lodges to choose from for those who are looking for a little pampered relaxation. One of our top picks is Pretty Beach House, just 90 minutes drive or 20-minute seaplane flight from Sydney on the Bouddi Peninsula. The hotel offers an all-inclusive fine dining experience and an open bar, and is surrounded by natural beauty. Choose from several glorious golden beaches and picturesque bays, all easily accessible from the property. prettybeachhouse.com
Four fast facts about Australia's beaches and coasts
Australia's coastline stretches nearly 60,000km.
There are more than 10,000 beaches to visit: if you were to visit a new beach every day, it would take you more than 27 years.
Australia, a beautiful island paradise itself, is surrounded by 8222 islands.
There are more than 3000 coral reefs where you can snorkel and encounter marine wildlife.
Please check the latest border restrictions in each state and territory before travelling. For more information visit australia.com