State by state, Jane Jurgens counts down the best of the best to see and do in Australia.
WINNER: Great Barrier Reef
Possibly Australia's best-known natural attraction, the Great Barrier Reef stretches for more than 2000 kilometres along the Queensland coastline — and there are so many ways to experience this natural beauty, whether it's snorkelling, scuba diving or taking a scenic flight. Or just relax on one of the many islands in the region — whether you go for the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island, or Lizard Island, there's one to suit every lifestyle.
RUNNER UP: Daintree National Park
This vast area of tropical rainforest is located in the far north of Queensland and is known for its incredible biodiversity — there are plants and animal species here found nowhere else on Earth. In fact, Daintree is home to the oldest rainforest on the planet, making it the closest living counterpart to the forests that once covered the ancient super-continent Gondwanaland. So if you visit, you're practically time travelling as well.
WINNER: Great Ocean Road
One of Australia's most famous scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road follows the south-west coast of Victoria from the town of Torquay and ends in Nelson, on the South Australian border. It's an epic journey with wild and windswept views, lush rainforests and dramatic rock formations. This route is best explored over a few days, as there's just so much to see. But the number-one stop is definitely the Twelve Apostles; craggy limestone pillars rising out of the sea, which were originally connected to the mainland cliffs.
RUNNER UP: Phillip Island
Whether you're a nature lover or a petrol head, you'll find something to take your fancy on Philip Island. Just 90 minutes from Melbourne, it's a popular spot for a day trip for both locals and visitors. Every night at sunset you can observe the "penguin parade" from viewing platforms on Summerland Beach, where llttle penguins return ashore after a day of fishing. Or if you're after something a bit more high octane, the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit hosts a number of motorsport events throughout the year.
NEW SOUTH WALES
WINNER: Blue Mountains
We all know Sydney is a world-class urban destination, but if you head out a bit further, you'll find some breathtaking natural beauty in the Blue Mountains — it's an Instagrammer's paradise and only a two-hour drive from the city. Get your hiking boots on and explore some of the 140 kilometres of walking tracks to take in the sights or take a tour with local Aboriginal guides and learn more about the legends of the area. The area is also home to a thriving arts community, so you're bound to find something to bring home with you.
RUNNER UP: Hunter Valley
The Hunter Valley is Australia's oldest wine-growing region and it's also renowned for fine dining, cooking schools, galleries, spa retreats and golf courses. If you fancy yourself a bit of a foodie, you'll be well looked after here as you tour the local vineyards and sample local cheeses, hand-made chocolates, olive oils and much more. Once you've indulged, hit the great outdoors for some golf, a hot air balloon ride, or browse the region's many galleries.
WINNER: Barossa Valley
One of the world's great wine regions, the Barossa is renowned for its cultural experiences, easy-going attitude and of course, food and wine. The area is home to more than 150 wineries and 80 cellar doors, with generations of winemakers behind them. Embark on the Butcher, Baker, Winemaker Trail for a day of exploration by car or bike — and be sure to pick up a picnic hamper at the visitors' centre to fill up along the way. Or take in the beauty of the region from above on a hot air balloon tour.
RUNNER UP: Kangaroo Island
Thirty minutes by plane from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is one of the best places in Australia to have an up-close experience with native wildlife — some of which aren't found anywhere else. More than a third of the island is protected by conservation areas and national parks, while the rest contains farms and small towns. The island is also home to an established artisanal food scene and you're sure to make some great gastronomical discoveries here.
WINNER: Broome and the Kimberley
Enter this ancient landscape through the outback beach town of Broome — famous for 22-kilometre white-sanded Cable Beach and the processions of camels that walk along it at sunset. In Australia's north-western corner, the Kimberley region is sparse and isolated, but rich with Aboriginal history. Get in among this wilderness and you'll be well rewarded, with rugged gorges, epic waterfalls and spectacular scenery.
RUNNER UP: Margaret River
This small town three hours south of Perth is another of Australia's premium wine regions, but it's also known for its surf spots, adventure sports and fantastic restaurants. Take a walk or cycle down the tracks along the river, or through surrounding forests to the vineyards and farms. Just 20 minutes out of town, you can observe the incredible limestone and crystal formations in the Lake and Mammoth Caves, or head to Surfer's Point in Prevelly to watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean.
One of Australia's most iconic symbols, the World-Heritage-listed Uluru is the crown jewel of the Northern Territory, with a vast history of folklore, spirituality and indigenous culture. The traditional custodians of the land, the Anagu, believe the landscape was created by their ancestors at the beginning of time and it has remained of utmost significance. While climbing Uluru is not officially prohibited, visitors are asked to respect Aboriginal law and culture by not climbing. However, you can walk around the base with an Aboriginal guide and learn all about the ancient traditions of the land.
RUNNER UP: Kakadu National Park
Australia's biggest national park has been inhabited continuously for more than 50,000 years, with cave paintings, rock carvings and archaeological sites recording the history and the ways of life of the hunter-gatherers of the past to the Bininj/Mungguy people who reside there today. Covering almost 20,000 square kilometres, the park is a place of enormous ecological and biological diversity. Challenge yourself on the four-wheel drive and bushwalking tracks, marvel at thundering waterfalls, or join a cruise to see salt-water crocodiles. With six separate seasons, you'll be keen to return.
WINNER: Freycinet National Park
With dramatic pink granite peaks, azure bays and abundant birdlife, Freycinet National Park offers brilliant bushwalking and plenty of incredible photo opportunities — especially at sunset and sunrise when the Hazard Ranges really glow pink. You can also see it all from the water on a cruise, or go for a bit of kayaking, diving and snorkelling. Accommodation here ranges from camping, to some of Australia's most exclusive luxury lodges.
RUNNER UP: Museum of New and Old Art
Described by its owner David Walsh as a "subversive adult Disneyland", MONA is the largest privately funded museum in Australia and has to be seen to be believed. Its collections include everything from ancient Egyptian mummies to thought-provoking and controversial contemporary art. The museum also hosts two festivals: Mofo in summer, an "eclectic mix of music and art", and Dark Mofo in winter, which "delves into centuries-old winter solstice ritiuals". There are also plans for a hotel known as HOMO (the HOtel at MOna, apparently), with rooms elevated over the Derwent River.
WINNER: Namadgi National Park
Namadgi is the Aboriginal word for the mountains south-west of Canberra and this area of national park makes up 46 per cent of the Australian Capital Territory — with 160 kilometres of marked walking tracks to explore. There are a wide range of recreational activities to enjoy, including camping, mountain biking, horse riding, rock climbing and snow touring in winter. Namdgi also has a rich heritage of human history, with evidence of Aboriginal people living in the region during the last ice age, 21,000 years ago.
RUNNER UP: Canberra
It might not get as much attention as Sydney or Melbourne, but Australia's capital — and youngest city — is starting to make a name for itself as a great small city. Canberra featured in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2018 list, ranking third in the top 10 cities section — the highest ever listing of an Australian city. Described as "criminally overlooked", the publication gave high praise to the city's boutique precincts, gastronomic highlights and cultural must-dos.
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