A trip to Australia means grappling with a list as long as your arm of possible things to do. We've done the hard yards for you and whittled it down to ten of the most amazing experiences. Tick them all off and you automatically become an honourary Aussie!
Distilling Australia down into a bucket list of just ten travel experiences is no mean feat.
After all, the epic land down under is packed from tip to toe with memorable must-sees and dos, and everyone reading this list will have differing interests. Nature lovers will want to immerse themselves in the beauty of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, the tracts of ancient Gondwana rainforest that stretch down much of the east coast, and wildlife havens like Kangaroo and Phillip Island. City slickers will feel right at home exploring the country’s glittering capitals, while history buffs can step back in time to the convict and colonial eras with ease. Foodies will have their plates well and truly full in Adelaide, Hobart, Margaret River, and the Hunter Valley, and culture vultures will have plenty of opportunities to connect with the cultural heritage of the oldest group of people on the planet.
With all that in mind, our list of the top ten things to do in Australia features something to interest everyone. And whatever shape your Aussie adventure ultimately takes, our top tip is to start planning early. Book flights well in advance and base yourself as close to your planned activities as possible. Homestay accommodation offers a winning combination of location choice and extra space, and listing sites are a useful source of information for what’s out there. Once you find the perfect pad, you can focus on enjoying your trip.
Top Oz Tours offers a great range of Australia day tours, guided experiences, and attraction tickets and passes. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book through us, and you'll have access to the widest choice of activities and most competitive prices.
1. Dive the Great Barrier Reef
For many first-time visitors to Australia, snorkeling or scuba diving the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is automatically a to-do list topper. Extending down the northern coast of Queensland for 2,300 kilometres and made up of no less than 3,000 individual reefs, it’s deservedly been designated one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Daily cruises to the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef depart from Airlie Beach, Cairns, and Port Douglas, and cater for everyone from novice snorkelers to advanced divers. Marvel at this mesmerising world of soft and hard corals, and come face to face with colorful tropical fish and hundreds of other marine species. There’s no denying the Reef faces many challenges in the modern world, but it remains one of Australia’s greatest natural treasures.
2. Conquer the heady heights of Sydney Harbour Bridge
Next to Sydney’s sublime Opera House, every first timer to Oz wants to clock the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But many visitors aren’t content just to look at this immense engineering marvel; they also want to climb it! If you’re game, you can ascend the bridge with Bridge Climb Sydney via a series of ladders and stairways on its southern side. The reward for your efforts is a panoramic 360-degree view from the top of the soaring steel eastern arch, and an incomparable sense of achievement.
3. Watch the sun rise and set over Uluru
Rising from the desert sands of the Red Centre in the Northern Territory, and almost boundless in stature, nothing can quite prepare you for your first sighting of Uluru. But don’t imagine that the stone monolith you gaze upon for the first time will be the same one you’ll see later in the day. From the first glow of sunrise to the fall of night this colossal chameleon changes colour multiple times, and no two of its looks are ever quite the same. Make the effort to rise early to watch the sun’s rays ignite the rusted iron mineral content of the rock’s surface. Sunset is equally mesmerising and best enjoyed with a glass of bubbles in hand.
4. Cruise Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge
If we were asked to name the most beautiful part of Australia, the honour would go to Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge. Situated in Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory, the gorge (actually a series of thirteen gorges) frames the Katherine River and has been carved deep into the landscape over many millions of years. The steep sandstone cliffs — some up to one hundred metres high — are extraordinarily beautiful and cruising the river below them with Indigenous owned and operated Nitmiluk Cruises is an almost surreal experience.
The cruise features commentary from an Aboriginal guide on the significance of the region to the traditional owners — the Jawoyn people. This is two hours that will stay with you long after your holiday comes to an end.
5. Drive along the Great Ocean Road
Australia is home to some of the most scenic drives in the world, including the Captain Cook Highway north of Cairns and the Grand Pacific Drive south of Sydney. But it’s the Great Ocean Road in Victoria that garners the greatest share of accolades, and it won’t take you long to work out why. Hugging much of the 243 kilometres of coastline between the towns of Torquay to the east and Allansford to the west, the road was hand hewn from the rugged terrain by returned WWI servicemen. Its dramatic curves and hairpin bends are an enduring epitaph to those who did not return from the battlefields.
There are numerous scenic highlights along the route, including a series of limestone sea stacks known as the 12 Apostles. Visit at sunrise or sunset to see these age old natural sculptures at their atmospheric best.
6. Get lost in the laneways of Melbourne
Crisscrossing Melbourne’s CBD is a network of small laneways and arcades that harbour all manner of quirk and cool. And while the Victorian capital is renowned for its museums and galleries, and shopping and dining options, it’s this hotchpotch of thoroughfares that truly captures the imagination of most visitors. Lined with cool cafes, hole-in-the-wall eateries, bustling bars, independent boutiques, fashion incubators, and popping street art-scapes, there’s no telling what you’ll discover around the next turn. Probably the most famous of the city’s laneways, Degraves Street runs between Flinders Lane and Flinders Street and is a microcosm of colour, coffee, and conversation.
7. Connect with our convict kin at Port Arthur
The story of modern Australia began with the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney in 1788. There were an estimated 800 convicts on board the eleven vessels — the first of more than 160,000 imprisoned men, women, and children who would ultimately be transported to Australia to serve their sentences. Forty per cent of them were sent to Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land), and many were incarcerated at Port Arthur — an infamous penal settlement on the remote Tasman Peninsula east of capital city Hobart. Now World Heritage listed, the Port Arthur Historic Site is one of the country’s best-preserved records of convict life. There are around 30 surviving buildings to explore, including the foreboding Penitentiary and fully restored Separate Prison.
8. Hike Tasmania’s Overland Track
Walking is where it’s at if you truly want to immerse yourself in Tasmania’s magnificent wilderness areas. The most famous multi-day walk is the 65-kilometre Overland Track, which connects craggy Cradle Mountain with the shimmering waters of Lake St Clair. Over the course of six-or-so days, you’ll trek through a wonderland of lofty peaks, alpine meadows, hardy eucalypt woodlands, and glacial tarns, and see amazing wildlife (including wombats and echidnas). Due to the popularity of this walk, bookings are required from the start of October to the end of May and hikers must travel in the one southerly direction. You’ll need to carry your food and equipment (including a tent), and all waste must be taken with you. When you arrive on the shores of Lake St Clair, a short ferry trip completes this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
9. Taste fine wines in the Barossa Valley
Australia’s wine industry is undoubtedly one of the best in the world, and the flag bearer of the country’s many wine-producing regions can be found in South Australia — just an hour’s drive north-east of capital city Adelaide. The first grapes were planted in the Barossa Valley by German Lutheran settlers in the 1840s, and some of those venerable vines are still producing fruit today (making them among the oldest in the world). The Barossa has around 150 wineries and some 80 cellar doors, and is best known for its rich shiraz, characterful cabernet sauvignon, and zesty rieslings and chardonnays. It makes a fabulous day trip from Adelaide; book a wine tour and let someone else take care of the driving.
10. Meet the quokkas on Rottnest Island
Over in Western Australia, and situated 19 kilometres off the coast from the state’s capital Perth, Rottnest Island is just a speck in the vast Indian Ocean. However, it’s achieved cult international status, thanks to the antics of its resident macropod marsupials — the cute-as-a-button quokkas — and some serious star power. Chris Hemsworth, Roger Federer, Margot Robbie, Kylie Minogue, and several other celebs have posted selfies on their socials with these pint-size furballs, kickstarting a craze that shows no sign of stalling.
Once you get to the island by fast ferry from Perth or Fremantle, it’s relatively easy to obtain a quokka selfie. They’re everywhere and generally more than happy to be photographed. Join the throng of tourists crawling around on all fours and start snapping.
This post was published thanks to Rentola.
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Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Australia? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Tourism and Events Queensland. Additional images: Envato
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.