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The surprising secrets to uncover in Australia's biggest cities

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While we're in a holding pattern waiting for an Australian bubble to begin, many of us will be dreaming and planning for where we want to go first. It's a tough call and one that can lead to decision paralysis – with such a big continent to explore, where do you go first? Do you revisit places you've been before, or spread your wings and experience something new? Well, in Australia you can do both.

Our Transtasman neighbour's biggest cities are the gateways to each state, so you'll have no choice but to pass through, even for a fleeting visit. But you don't have to stick to the same old same old – each city offers many surprising secrets that will take your break from familiar to fantastic. Here are some of our picks to put in your plans.

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

The vineyard: Rolling vines probably aren't the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Canberra. But just outside the capital you'll find the picturesque Mount Majura Vineyard. The valley's 430 million year old limestone and volcanic soil is ideal for viticulture, but the first vines weren't planted here until 1988. The winery quickly made a name for itself and now its flagship wines are temparanillo, shiraz and riesling. Sample the full range at the cellar door, seven days a week, bookings essential. mountmajura.com.au

Mount Majura Vineyard is a dynamic boutique winery and vineyard. Their cellar door features a unique seated tasting allowing an interactive yet relaxing tasting experience. Photo / Visit Canberra
Mount Majura Vineyard is a dynamic boutique winery and vineyard. Their cellar door features a unique seated tasting allowing an interactive yet relaxing tasting experience. Photo / Visit Canberra

The gallery: Canberra is home to many of Australia's national museums and galleries, and no visit to the city should see you skip them. But when you've had your fill of the big guys - National Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and more – head for this little underdog. The Gallery of Small Things is Canberra's tiniest, and showcases emerging and established visual artists. Less than six metres square, it's like a Tardis of interesting works, ranging from ceramics, paintings and photography, to jewellery, textiles and wood. Open Fridays to Sundays, free to visit. galleryofsmallthings.com

Sydney, New South Wales

The view: Climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge is not a new concept – BridgeClimb has been operating since 1998 – but did you know once a month you can take a tour with an indigenous storyteller as your guide? The three-hour tour not only allows you to scale to the summit of the bridge for 360 degree views of one of the world's most famous harbours, but it also gives guests the chance to learn more about Aboriginal history and stories spanning thousands of years. The Burrawa Climb – the word means above or upwards – is priced at AU$288 for adults and AU$126 for children, which includes a AU$10 donation to Tribal Warrior, a non-profit organisation that supports and champions Aboriginal culture. bridgeclimb.com

Climb Sydney's Harbour Bridge with an indigenous guide to learn more about the history and culture of the city. Photo / BridgeClimb Sydney
Climb Sydney's Harbour Bridge with an indigenous guide to learn more about the history and culture of the city. Photo / BridgeClimb Sydney

The hotel: When the sun goes down and you're ready to call it a night, head back to your digs at the Little National Hotel. Centrally located on Clarence St, rooms are compact (17 or 25sq m) and affordable, yet still luxurious, tapping into a trend seen in city hotels around the world. Why pay a fortune for a huge room on holiday when you're not actually going to spend much time in it? If you need to spread out a little, head to the rooftop lounge and winter garden and enjoy a drink at the Terrace Bar. Rooms priced from AU$195 per night. littlenationalhotel.com.au/sydney

Darwin, Northern Territory

The nature tour: Make your Northern Territory coastal sunset even more magical with a trip to see turtles in their natural habitat. On Sea Darwin's eight-hour Turtle Tracks tour, you'll travel by fast boat out into the Timor Sea and over to Ngulbitjik, or Bare Sand Island, in time for sun set. Guides are passionate experts in the Flatback and Olive Ridley sea turtles who visit the island and tour dates are specially chosen to align with tide and moon conditions most likely to bring nesting turtles to shore. You might get to witness an adult turtle digging her nest, or even hatchling turtles taking their first steps to the sea. With only four tours per month, this is one experience where it pays to plan ahead. seadarwin.com

The distillery: "A little hard to find but worth the effort" is how one reviewer described Charlie's of Darwin, a bar, restaurant, and the Northern Territory's first gin distillery. Signature cocktails showcase native ingredients foraged by the Charlie's team, and the gin menu is extensive. The bar even made it onto the Telegraph UK's January list of the Top 20 bars to visit in the world this year. facebook.com/charliesofdarwin

Brisbane, Queensland

The world first: Book a climb on Brisbane's Story Bridge and you can experience an adventure suitable only for the bravest daredevils. The Cantilever Lean Out is the first of its kind in the world, allowing you to be suspended in mid-air, 80m above sea level, feeling like you're falling. But don't worry – you're safely harnessed to the 777m bridge, and guides are there to encourage you the whole way. Suitable for those aged 10 years and older, this high adrenaline activity costs AU$199 for adults and $175.15 for children (10-16). storybridgeadventureclimb.com.au

The rooftop: Once you've finished getting high on the Story Bridge, you don't need to come straight back down to earth. Instead, head to Cielo on bustling Brunswick St, a rooftop bar perched above Fortitude Valley. The bar is on top of La Costa, an Italian-inspired multi-level venue from the acclaimed hospitality team behind Sydney's award-winning cocktail bar Maybe Sammy. The bright yellow-cushioned booths, classy cocktails, seafood-inspired menu and potted lemon and olive trees, will help soothe those cravings for the Italian Riviera... for now, at least, cielorooftop.com.au

Adelaide, South Australia

The hotel: Sports fans will find no better place to stay in the city than the recently opened Oval Hotel. Wrapping around the eastern façade of the Adelaide Oval – home to cricket, AFL and huge concerts – the hotel is set within tranquil park surrounds yet gives easy access to Adelaide CBD and all its fantastic dining, shopping and scenery. There are four dining options on site, and special packages allow you to incorporate a stadium event ticket with your room rate. ovalhotel.com.au

The Oval Hotel in Adelaide is a must-stay for sports fans. Photo / South Australia Tourism Commission
The Oval Hotel in Adelaide is a must-stay for sports fans. Photo / South Australia Tourism Commission

The winery: Just 40 minutes' drive from the CBD is the McLaren Vale wine region, where you'll find an abundance of world class wineries, restaurants, markets, beaches, art galleries and walking trails. You're spoilt for choice in terms of things to see and do, but our suggestion is a visit to Chalk Hill Collective, home to a winery, distillery and restaurant all on one site. Chalk Hill Wines has a stunning cellar door set-up and during summer is open until 10pm every Friday, with live music from 6pm. At Never Never Distilling Co's distillery door, enjoy a gin and tonic tasting flight or sample a range of gin cocktails, accompanied by authentic Italian food at Cucina de Strada. chalkhill.com.au

Hobart, Tasmania

The scenic flight: Tasmanian Air Tours offer scenic flights and helicopter trips so you can experience the dramatic and diverse beauty of the island state from the air. Taking off from Hobart, you can tailor your trip to suit your interests. Get a bird's eye view of the city, drop in on some of Tasmania's best wineries and restaurants, or find a remote beach for an afternoon of oyster tasting. A little luxury never hurt anybody. tasmanianairtours.com.au

A bespoke helicopter tour will take you from Hobart out to Tasmania's stunning beaches and remote wilderness. Photo / Tasmanian Air Tours
A bespoke helicopter tour will take you from Hobart out to Tasmania's stunning beaches and remote wilderness. Photo / Tasmanian Air Tours

The hotel: Australia's Delicious magazine dubbed Moss as Hobart's most secluded hotel, even though its location places it right in the heart of bustling Salamanca Place. Set across two historic buildings dating back to 1835 and 1841, it's the perfect inner-city hideaway for a stylish and surprising escape. Native greenery on living walls, and original timber and stone work give an earthy, Icelandic feel to the interiors, and many of the hotel's design features come from local creative talent. The walls themselves have a storied history, too, from the convict cut sandstone of the original building, to the graffiti found in one guestroom which dates from the former warehouse's time as a nightclub. mosshotel.com.au

Moss Hotel, a secluded getaway, right in the heart of Hobart's Salamanca Place. Photo / Tourism Tasmania
Moss Hotel, a secluded getaway, right in the heart of Hobart's Salamanca Place. Photo / Tourism Tasmania

Melbourne, Victoria

The surf spot: Although you'll find some world-class surf spots along the Great Ocean Road in greater Victoria, Melbourne city is not well-known for its waves. But those who don't want to take the big coastal drive to hang 10 can now test their board skills just a few minutes from the airport. URBNSURF is an urban surf park with controlled wave pools where everyone from first-timers to experienced surfers can catch a wave, no matter what the weather/tides are doing. While you're there, enjoy a bite to eat at on-site restaurant Three Blue Ducks, the latest outpost of the award-winning independent franchise also based in a number of NSW locations, as well as Brisbane. urbnsurf.com

URBNSURF is a controlled wave park close to Melbourne Airport, suitable for surfers of all ages and abilities. Photo / Visit Victoria
URBNSURF is a controlled wave park close to Melbourne Airport, suitable for surfers of all ages and abilities. Photo / Visit Victoria

The bar: Hemingway's Wine Room brings 1920s' glam to East Melbourne, in a bar that looks out to the famous sporting venue the MCG. Inside, though, it's all about the past. Leather booths, geometric floor tiles, vintage gramophones, encyclopedia and radios, and a cheese trolley wheeled to your table all add to the ambience. Visit on a Wednesday between 5pm-7pm for AU$2 oysters and AU$15 glasses of Billecart-Salmon Champagne. hemingwayswineroom.com.au

Perth, Western Australia

The cruise: Learn about the indigenous history of the Swan River, known as Derbarl Yerrigan Bilya in the indigenous Nyoongar language, on a two hour cruise with respected elder Kerry Ann Winmar. While you enjoy a morning tea prepared with native ingredients, Winmar will share personal stories passed down from her ancestors over thousands of years, as well as historical information about the settlement along the river. Tours take place on the last Sunday of the month, on the award-winning boat the Crystal Swan. crystalswan.com.au/cultural-connections

Matagarup Bridge Climb is Perth's newest tourist attraction. Photo / Tourism Western Australia
Matagarup Bridge Climb is Perth's newest tourist attraction. Photo / Tourism Western Australia

The climb: Walking over bridges seems to be a popular activity in Australia, but why not when it's the best way to get a stunning vantage point over the cities? Perth now has its own – the city's newest tourist attraction is the Matagarup Bridge Climb, which takes you to an open-air, glass-bottom viewing platform 72m above the Swan River. It's a physically demanding task - 314 steps on a 45-degree angle, with some squeezing through tight spaces to reach the SkyView Deck. Guides will give stories of the river and the city as you go. Things get even more adventurous this month – a 400m zipline is due to open soon, so it will be ready and waiting for us as soon as the bubble begins. zipclimb.com.au

Please check the latest border restrictions in each state and territory before travelling. For more information visit australia.com