G’day mates! Back in 2012 I spent a little over a month in Australia. This was part of a study abroad trip. I use the term “study” pretty liberally here. Rather, I had the chance to do some pretty incredible sightseeing up and down the Australian coast. I often look back on this adventure (mostly when I see my monthly student loan payments) and realize how lucky I was to experience the greatness that Australia has to offer. For us Yankees, we often associate Australia with Kangaroos, boomerangs, and Margot Robbie. But there’s so much more! Here’s a few places you can go to make an Australia visit worth your while:
10 – Surfers Paradise
With a name like Surfer’s Paradise, there’s little doubt that it has good beaches. Like an Australian San Diego, Surfer’s Paradise is a little coastal utopia with plenty of beautiful beaches and people. There are several universities nearby and it’s a popular spot for students and travelers. Spend the day surfing and taking in the sun followed by a night out with the Aussies.
Fun fact! The bars are open until 6.am. seven days a week in Surfer’s Paradise. Proceed with caution.
Double fun fact! Australians don’t drink Foster’s. Everything commercials tell you is a lie! Instead, order a XXXX Gold to avoid looking foolish.
Your best bet is to fly into Brisbane International Airport, located about an hour north, or if you’re flying domestic, the Gold Coast Airport, located about a half hour to the south.
9 – North Stradbroke Island
Head to Straddie on a ferry and you won’t regret it. Located in Moreton Bay, the small island has a ton of marine life you can check out during low tide. We stayed at the Moreton Bay Research Station. Walk the beach and you’ll find giant clams, starfish, and soldier crabs. Luckily for us, we avoided any encounters with a Blue Ring Octopus.
You can also take a bus out to Point Lookout which has some cliff-side hiking and gorgeous ocean views.
At night, take a flashlight and walk the coastline. In the trees you’ll see resting koalas and if you’re lucky bottlenose dolphins will surface near the beach.
8 – Currumbine Wildlife Sanctuary
In addition to having a litany of things that can kill you, Australia has some amazing wildlife. If you’re looking to get up close and personal, head to Currumbine Wildlife Sanctuary. The preserve gives you the chance to check out indigenous and native Australian creatures. You can enjoy shows where the trainers handle dingoes, snakes, and local birds.
This Pelican even showed off his best moves
They coolest part of the sanctuary is the kangaroo exhibit. You can walk among the kangaroos and feed them form the palm of your hand.
You’ll also have the chance to pose with a koala, watch the trainers handle a dingo, and feed lorikeets until they inevitably poop in your hair.
7 – Hervey Bay
Hervey Bay is another coastal tourist city, located about four hours north of Brisbane. If you have an extra day, check it out and go on one of their Humpback Whale Expeditions. Between July and November, Humpback whales migrate off the coast of Hervey Bay. You can spend an afternoon chasing whales. You’ll see them breach and get so close to your boat you’ll feel like you can reach out and grab them.
6 – Binna Burra National Park
Binna Burra is an incredible rainforest. It’s about an hour inland from the Gold Coast and has some great hikes through Lamington National Park. As you trek through the rainforest, you’ll spot some huge buttresses, great lookout spots of the valleys, and even spot some marsupials like wallabies and koalas.
You can also spend some time abseiling (or repelling) down cliffs and zip line through the forest.
I’m not sure if this is the correct form…
I’d recommend a night or two at the Binna Burra Mountain Lodge.
5 – Cairns
Cairns is on the northern tip of Queensland and is a great docking station if you’re going to ship out for the Great Barrier Reef. Since it’s a layover spot, you’ll find great restaurants, bars (I’d recommend Gilligan’s) and hostels on the cheap (anywhere between $20-$40 per night.) If you have some free time before you set sail, check out AJ Hackett’s located in the World Heritage rainforest.
If you’re a brave soul, you can do a 165 bungee jump over the water. I chose to do the Minjin Swing, where you lay in a superman pose and swing back and forth after an initial 90 foot drop. During your drop, you’ll get an amazing view of the rainforest and beach on the horizon. For even braver souls, they offer a free bungee if you strip down and go naked.
4 – Lady Elliot Island
Lady Elliot Island is a tiny island in the Great Barrier Reef. You can access it by taking a small plane that takes off from Hervey Bay. Lady Elliot is also a research station and it’s lodges and buildings look like something out of the Dharma Initiative.
It’s such a small island you can walk the perimeter in about half an hour. Don’t let that deter you. There’s great places to post up on the beach and enjoy the sun.
They also offer courses to get you PADI certified. With so many dive spots right near the island, you can swim among sea turtles, whale sharks, and manta rays and even get dropped at a shipwreck site.
To make up for the lack of TV and modern amenities, the crazy Aussies haze you with beer snorkels at night.
You can research more about the island and accommodation here.
3 – Sydney
What’s not to like about Sydney? With great beaches, nightlife, and a big city vibe, Sydney is a must for any tourist traveling to Australia. For affordable lodging, Kings Cross has a bunch of hostels and is right in the middle of their bustling bar scene (Scruffy Murphy’s is hard to beat). Bondi beach is a great spot to post up during the day and catch the waves. You can also access the popular Manly beach via a 30 minute ferry ride from Sydney’s ferry terminal.
There’s so much to do you’ll have a hard time fitting everything in. There’s Sydney’s Opera House tours, the legendary bridge climb, and the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Darling Harbour is also extremely popular. It’s home to the Star of the Show Ferris Wheel, the world’s largest IMAX, and a ton of different dining options. The one downside to Sydney is it can get a bit pricey. Sydney has a huge Asian population so you can check out their authentic international markets or grab a bite at many of their Thai restaurants to save some money.
For sunsets, I’d recommend heading back to Bondi beach and hiking up to a lookout point.
2 – Fraser Island
Off the coast of Queensland, Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. It’s also home to the most pure breed of dingoes in the world. Fraser Island is a ferry ride away from Hervey bay and offers tourists the chance to ride on sand dunes on the Fraser Speedway.
For an authentic experience, forego the resorts and stay in a campground on the Great Sandy National Park (don’t worry, they have dingo deterrent fences.) During the day, you can swim in their freshwater lakes, fish from the shore, explore their rainforest, and take a dive in the champagne pools.
For a great view, travel to Indian Head lookout. There you’ll get a great birds eye view of the island, and can also spot whales, sharks, and sea turtles.
1- The Great Barrier Reef
Tourism to the Great Barrier Reef is huge. There are myriad ways to experience this but I would definitely recommend a diving adventure.
After a quick flight from Cairns to Lizard Island, I set sail on the Spoilsport for a five night sea adventure. My group went from Lizard Island all the way to Cooktown and stopped at seven diving spots along the way.
The excursion is going to be pretty costly, but I would highly advise paying the money. Check out the expeditions here.
There’s really no way to put the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef into words. As you go from dive spot to dive spot, you’ll have the chance to explore coral reefs and see everything from stone fish to white tip reef sharks and potato cods.
If you’re there in July or August, you might even get the chance to swim with Dwarf Minke Whales during their migration. My group had a Minke sighting at 6 a.m. and immediately put our snorkel gear and jumped in the water. We latched onto a rope and spent an hour feet away from whales circling our ship.
You also don’t need to be scuba certified to enjoy the adventure. I personally wasn’t scuba certified but you can participate in guided dives where you go out with an instructor after a couple quick scuba lessons. If scuba isn’t your thing, you can snorkel around the reefs.
At night, you can grab a flashlight and embark on a night dive to see what sea creatures are up to after dark. You’ll also enjoy some pretty kickass sunsets and can have some jam sessions with your captain.
Pirate Pete strummed the classics while I thoroughly enjoyed my egg solo