95 Surprising Experiences Around Australia

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Nov 01, 2015

by TRAVEL INSIDER WRITERS

To mark Qantas’s 95th birthday, we considered bringing you 95 iconic Australian destinations. But you already know about those, right? So, courtesy of our network of clued-up correspondents, here are 95 exciting, fun, romantic, delicious and family-friendly Australian experiences you probably haven’t heard about. Add these to your hit-list…

  1. Check yourself into Injidup Spa Retreat, Yallingup in Western Australia and get a 90-minute Herbal Fusion massage.
  2. Think about a romantic place to stay and we bet a 1940s hydro-electric pumphouse doesn’t come to mind… unless it’s resting in the achingly serene Pumphouse Point on Tasmania’s Lake St Clair.
  3. High on the banks of the Murray in South Australia’s Riverland region, The Frames, Paringa boast three light-filled residences – Pastiche, Montage and Collage – that offer a sense of seclusion, with nothing but bird calls to break the silence.
  4. No roads lead to Calabash Bay Lodge, Berowra Waters; only waterways will get you to this waterfront lodge on a quiet tributary of the Hawkesbury.
  5. At the foot of Mount Buffalo sits the Feathertop Château, Porepunkah, a getaway that is all about minimalist opulence. Check yourself in for an intimate escape…
  6. Head to the Bamurru Plains, Point Stuart on the Mary River west of Kakadu for a night in a luxurious tent on stilts.
  7. Just 10 kilometres off Mission Beach, accessible by launch or chopper, Queensland’s Bedarra Island Resort is the go-to retreat for couples who want to take themselves off the grid.
  8. Off Melbourne’s Chinatown’s main artery of Little Bourke Street houses Cohen Place, the Chinese Museum, which doesn’t get close to the attention it deserves.
  9. Melbourne’s Meyers Place is a laneway but, crucially, also the name of a bar in the laneway that captures contemporary Melbourne history with its design (by cult firm Six Degrees) and the fact it pioneered the Victorian capital’s thriving bar culture 22 boozy years ago.
  10. Once a huddle of boarding houses for “celestials” (early Chinese migrants), Melbourne’s Celestial Avenue alley’s most notorious tenant today is Supper Inn, a late-night Cantonese diner that’s famous for it’s suckling pig, congee and pipis in XO sauce.
  11. Somerset Place’s Captains of Industry is proof that Melbourne has the Southern Hemisphere’s most evolved café society. This daytime café takes its coffee seriously but also harbours an old-school barbershop (razor shaves a specialty) and a high-end cobbler.
  12. Block Place’s Basement Discs is the soul – and the blues, jazz, folk and country – of Melbourne’s underground music scene.
  13. South Australia’s La Buvette is a loving recreation of a French drinking den, complete with blue tiles, French varietals (mostly organic or biodynamic) and plates of garlicky escargots.
  14. The Angas family has been farming the country around the Barossa since 1843. Today, their property, Hutton Vale, produces fine wool, pork, cider, preserves, grass-fed lamb and small-batch wines.
  15. Are you an unashamed wine snob? Then hop on your fixed-gear bike and pedal over to Mother Vine, an uber-cool wine shrine in Adelaide’s’ fashionable East End.
  16. Indulge in Sunday tapas at Longview Vineyard, an idiosyncratic, wayward and entertaining Adelaide Hills winery is something of an institution among those in the know.
  17. Take Vineyard Safari in South Australia. This small group tour led by wine expert Tim Wildman will delight you.
  18. Take a Gay’Wu Dilly Bag Tour in Arnhem Land and immerse yourself in Yolngu culture under the guidance of the Indigenous women whose people have lived on this land for eons.
  19. Visit the TarraWarra Museum of Art in Healesville, Victoria and see pieces by Brett Whiteley, Fred Williams, Rosalie Gascoigne and Russell Drysdale.
  20. Each May, the First Coat festival sees talented international and homegrown street artists transform Toowoomba, turning jaded brick and plaster façades into explosive, colourful murals.
  21. The Odd Fellow, the basement of Fremantle’s Norfolk Hotel was where internationally lauded psych rockers Tame Impala cut their teeth. It’s the tantalising prospect of catching the next big thing that makes this unassuming local such a compelling live-music option.
  22. If you’ve visited the usual Canberra haunts – the National Gallery, the National Library and parliament house – it might be time to venture further afield to Lanyon Homestead, Tharwa. This spot offers wonderful insight into Australia in the 19th Century.
  23. Located right on the beach in stunning Avoca, the fourth-generation family-run Avoca Beach Picture Theatre is a cinephile’s dream.
  24. Soak up the sunset and enjoy the spectacle of The Golden Hour at Hobart’s world-famous MONA.
  25. Say cheese: Toastface Grillah is a low-key café in Perth’s CBD gets the basics very right. In particular, it has toasted sandwiches of a higher order.
  26. Late nights are all about whiskey and country music. Or at least they are at Perth’s Alabama Song, the new watering hole from serial publican Clint Nolan.
  27. What’s better than a well-stocked record store? A well-stocked record store hidden behind a florist. Visit Safari’s Record Shack in Northbridge, Perth.
  28. Cinema is dead? The funsters behind Perth’s Rooftop Movies must have missed that memo. Check it out.
  29. Perth’s Francoforte Spaghetti Baris a cosy Northbridge bolthole, that serves spaghetti like Nonna used to make (if Nonna was a casual inner-city superstar who prized taste and value over bells, whistles and preciousness, that is).
  30. St Albans isn’t really on the road to anywhere. Which is probably why it’s retained its charm and convict-built buildings, including the Settlers Arms Inn (1836). The inn offers dark ale, honest pub food and the opportunity to eat under a giant mulberry tree in the garden.
  31. Dine in a farmhouse: Pialligo takes over where the capital’s first market gardens once flourished and the estate is now focused on environmentally sustainable farming.
  32. The Atherton Tableland in Queensland is known for its waterfalls, wildlife and gourmet food but it’s also the coffee-producing capital of Australia. Perk up on a coffee tour around the area.
  33. Take a cooking class at Forager’s, a field kitchen/boutique hotel in Pemberton, Western Australia.
  34. Located in Darwin’s Rapid Creek Shopping Village, Pour is something of a local secret, where you can shop for interiors and enjoy organic coffee (Five Elements, in this case) and great food.
  35. Melbourne prides itself on its eclectic eateries but Easey’s takes the cake (well, doughnuts filled with milkshake-flavoured custard) for offbeat dining. Enjoy brunch on this rooftop for a meal you won’t soon forget.
  36. Indulge at the Garden of Vegan, a rustic Launceston oasis, lush with sunlight and potted plants and the freshest of dishes full of colour, herbs, flowers, spices and flavour.
  37. Blink and you’ll miss it. Tippler’s Tap is a hip pint-sized deck is tucked away in a commercial complex in inner-city Newstead, Queensland.
  38. Skip the bowls at Merthyr Bowls Club in Brisbane and settle in for a session in the city’s most relaxed beer garden.
  39. The sky-high wall of The Triffid’s large courtyard is adorned with graffiti art that reads like a who’s who of the Brisbane music scene, one cool cassette tape at a time.
  40. If you’ve had your fill of the down-and-dirty pubs and bars for which Fortitude Valley is renowned, head upstairs to Garden Bar in Brisbane’s Woolly Mammoth Alehouse for a lush little Hamptons-style haven.
  41. Look beyond the bikini-clad meter maids and tourist traps on the main drag: there are cool bars on the Gold Coast to challenge the old clichés. With live music, food trucks and an up-beat vibe, Miami Markettais an industrial car-park beer garden that’s more fun than a day at the beach.
  42. Check yourself into Spicers Sangoma Retreat, in NSW’s Blue Mountains for unprecedented valley views and incredibly luxurious suites.
  43. There are but three bespoke luxury tents at Nightfall Wilderness Camp. Secluded deep in the rainforest in the shadow of Queensland’sLamington National Park, you can explore the wilderness or chill out in a hammock, surrounded by pristine waterfalls and rock pools.
  44. There are few secrets along the Great Ocean Road. Every beach, lookout and Apostle, it seems, has a bus-load of tourists hovering around it. But go off the main drag – sometimes as little as 100 metres – and it’s full of surprises. A case in point? Ocean House, a beautifully designed timber-and-glass getaway with circular bedrooms and wraparound terraces.
  45. Are you looking at wallabies through the window of your tent or are they gazing in at you? At Wildman Wilderness Lodge, it’s impossible to tell. Located two hours east of Darwin and a short drive to Kakadu National Park, this resort features 10 swank cabins and 15 luxury tents, all of them free-standing and with ensuites.
  46. Technically it’s in NSW but EcoCrackenback’s proximity to Canberra makes it an ideal weekend getaway for those in the capital. Tucked off the Alpine Way between Jindabyne and Thredbo, it has family-friendly cabins with picture-perfect views from every window.
  47. Book a stay at A Barn in the Barossa. This 19th-century coach house, has een transformed into a self-contained two-storey bed and breakfast with exposed-stone walls, pitched roofs, two oversized bedrooms and one sprawling garden.
  48. There’s a lot to like about Western Australia’s Pickering Brook, especially if you’re staying at Hidden Valley. While the on-site day spa and luxe trimmings fit the bill for style, eco-sensitive design and touches ensure these lodges want for nothing in substance. 
  49. Just south of Hobart is Satellite Island, a private island getaway that you will have to share with deer, sheep, pheasants and local wildlife. Relax in beautifully renovated summerhouse and boathouse accommodation, walk around the rock shelf circling the island, dangle your feet from the jetty or throw in a line.
  50. Approached on a 15-minute trail beneath towering ferns and swamp gums, the Junee Cave Track walk to the entrance of Junee Cave (90 kilometres north-west of Hobart) is a visual treat.
  51. A jagged ridgeline on the fringes of Tasmania’s Southwest National Park, The Needles is reached via a scrub-encroached trail, a 400-metre climb and a 30-minute ascent on natural steps to its 1020- metre summit.
  52. f you’re a Bruny Island resident, you’ll know Cape Queen – a trail that begins at its airstrip, bisects two lagoons then climbs to Mars Bluff with views over The Neck and far-off Fluted Cape before a descent to Miles Beach, previously deserted, now with a population of one.
  53. Perched on Australia’s tallest sea cliffs, taking in capes Raoul, Hauy and Pillar, Three Capes Track is an ambitious Tasman Peninsula trail and a spectacular coastal walk; a chilling descent into the windswept latitudes of the Roaring Forties.
  54. Don’t miss Tasmania’s Hellfire Bluff. First you drive almost to Copping, then Kellevie, then 7.4 kilometres on a forestry road and park your vehicle in an old quarry. From there, it's a bash through scrub to a trail that dwindles to nothing as it ascends a 200-metre-high ridge overlooking Cockle Bay. Worried about crowds? You needn’t be.
  55. Relax on The Hermitage Foreshore track and a picnic at Milk Beach in Sydney’s leafy east.
  56. Want the ultimate Harbour view? You won’t believe your eyes when you step – or sink into the bathtub –  at the Harbour View Suite at Walsh Bay’s Pier One hotel.
  57. Originally home to the Gadigal people, then a merchant’s villa and an oil-storage facility, Sydney’s Ballast Point Park is an attractive 2.6-hectare park is an urban oasis set on Birchgrove’s picturesque peninsula.
  58. Stop for Brunch at Axil Coffee Co in Sydney. This tiny café on Kirribilli Wharf is a pit stop for commuters grabbing their morning hit but those with more time should sit by its windows for a spectacular view and tasty fare.
  59. In the western waters of Sydney Harbour lies Cockatoo Island, an old naval site that’s now a platform for cultural events. Watch the sun go down with a cocktail at The Island Bar before a night at the waterfront campsite. When you wake, hire a dinghy to get to Greenwich Baths.
  60. Walk through Darwin’s Nightcliff Markets and take in the intoxicating aroma of Malaysian beef rendang, the rhythm of live music and artworks splashed with vibrant Northern Territory landscapes.
  61. In the pantheon of romantic experiences, dining by the sea under the stars on a balmy tropical night has to be right up there. Throw in an oven-baked, wild-caught Northern Territory saltwater barramundi at the oceanfront Pee Wee’s at the Point and life could barely be sweeter.
  62. Sign up for a Yellow Water Billabong day cruise in Kakadu National Park and you’ll see more crocodiles than your nightmares can handle. Do the cruise after dark and all you’ll see are stars millions of them.
  63. Kakadu may be bigger, more famous and internationally renowned for its rock art but locals flock to Litchfield for its proximity to Darwin, dramatic Magnetic Termite Mounds and shady monsoon forest walks.
  64. If you think Uluru is the only place of staggering beauty in the Red Centre, you’re wrong. About two hours south of Alice Springs is Rainbow Valley – a jagged sandstone outcrop with steep cliffs and bluffs. It’s spectacular at any time of the day or night.
  65. Submerge yourself in a natural spa in Australia’s South West. When the surf is up at Wyadup Beach (about 15 minutes from Yallingup), the combination of surf and rock fissures turns the pool there into Mother Nature’s own bubble bath.
  66. Find the Figure Eight Pool in NSW’s Royal National Park. The exact location of the pool isn’t clearly signposted so half the excitement is finding it in the park’s southern precinct. Adventurers are rewarded with a perfectly formed double spherical rock pool inviting you to take a plunge in its crystal-clear ocean water.
  67. Explore the rugged beauty of Tasmania’s national parks and waterways as part of the newly launched Hobart to Hobart cruise. This immersing, seven-day experience takes place on board the Coral Expeditions I catamaran and transports you to pristine spots such as Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour – normally only accessible by light aircraft or a seven-day hike.
  68. Renowned for its soaring quartzite cliffs, Trephina Gorge – about an hour’s drive east of Alice Springs – is also home to shimmering bodies of water, including the ever-changing John Hayes Rock Hole.
  69. Do yoga on a paddleboard and take a s guided two-hour session with Plates by the Sea in Noosa.
  70. Spot a platypus from a canoe. The mirror-like Lake Elizabeth, in the Great Otway National Park, offers a rare audience with this elusive monotreme. Book a Platypus tour.
  71. Sure, swimming with sharks has been done but cage diving with Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions in South Australia is unusual in that it can take you to the ocean floor.
  72. Contemplate politics as art. The annual Behind the Lines exhibition at Old Parliament House, home to the Museum of Australian Democracy, is an artistic anthology, prompting an equal measure of laughter and despair at the state of politics.
  73. Drink with Canberra’s movers and shakers. When the politicians are in town and Parliament rises early on Wednesday evenings, those in the know head to Public. The Manuka watering hole attracts staffers, journalists and ambitious backbenchers (Labor and Liberal), who let down their guard and exchange gossip.
  74. Live like a prime minister. Room 205 at Canberra’s Hotel Kurrajong was the chosen residence of Ben Chifley, Australia’s prime minister from 1945 to 1949. The hotel has been revitalised to its 1920s Pavilion-style glory, giving visitors an opportunity to sleep in one of its elegant Heritage suites.
  75. Deals are done and prime ministers deposed over dinner at Kingston’s many Asian eateries. Canberra’s new Wild Duck in the evolving foreshore precinct, hosted Malcolm Turnbull and Clive Palmer’s curious dinner date last year (with the restaurant’s decadent banana split becoming popular following Clive’s endorsement).
  76. Walk in Menzies’ footsteps on The R.G. Menzies Walk in the Nation’s Capital. It’s a winding two-kilometre path that hugs the northern shore of Lake Burley Griffin.
  77. Go kitesurfing at Queensland’s Moreton Bay – all the fun of surfing without the monotonous paddling out.
  78. You can spend your life in Melbourne and know nothing of French Island in Western Port Bay – 16,900 hectares with no sealed roads, no police, almost no people and accessible only by a passenger ferry.
  79. Get wet at WA’s Horizontal Falls. Horizontal Falls flows across the water’s surface rather than onto it, courtesy of millions of litres of fast-moving seawater gushing and coursing into Talbot Bay through narrow breaks in the McLarty Range on the Kimberley Coast.
  80. Kayak to Sydney’s Store Beach. Tucked away on Manly’s North Head, this oasis is a hidden harbourside haven that can only be reached by water.
  81. Explore an abandoned railway. Seriously. High in the mountains of Canberra’s Tuggeranong region is the abandoned (this section, at least) Bombala railway line, once running from Goulburn to the Victorian border. Bushwalk or mountain-bike as the line winds through hills, farms, ravines and horse paddocks.
  82. For an adventure with such Instagram cred, Tour Machinery Creek Canyon. On a Cradle Mountain canyon tour, you can strap yourself in for a full day of abseiling six waterfalls with no experience required.
  83. Stargaze in a swag in South Australia. The four-day Arkaba Walk showcases the natural wonders of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges but the action after dark is just as memorable. Walkers are rewarded each day with a three-course meal, fine wines and the most opulent swags in the outback.
  84. Go to an old-school zoo. In rural Richmond, a 25-minute drive from Hobart, Zoodoo is set on 32 hectares and features more than 70 species of native, agricultural and exotic animals.
  85. Navigating the Peel-Harvey Estuary by houseboat isn’t quite Pirates of the Caribbean but the waterways of WA’s Mandurah have plenty of treasure to go around. The views, for starters, can be enjoyed by everyone from the young to the young at heart, while good crabbing and fishing make it possible to catch, cook and chew your way through dinner without setting foot on dry land.
  86. Do a farmstay at Johanna River Farm, a 115- hectare working sheep property and farmstay by the Southern Ocean in Victoria. Here, Children are unlikely to tire of the neighbours. There are goats, cows, miniature horses, alpacas, chooks and a donkey called Pickles to make friends with and feed, as well as bass and trout to fish from the pond.
  87. If your kids think fruit is magically made at supermarkets, bundle them into the car, pack a picnic and hit the Hawkesbury’s Farm Gate Trails – a network of properties all within a few hours’ drive of Sydney, where you can pick your own produce, including apples, stone fruit and chestnuts.
  88. Imagine the apocalyptic setting for a Mad Max movie and you are getting a picture of Garden Island, an industrial landscape near Port Adelaide, where you can kayak beside dolphins.
  89. Springbank Island, on Lake Burley Griffin, is one of our capital’s little-known gems. Accessible only by water, the weeping-willow-ringed islet is perfect for a private picnic, shady siesta, game of cricket or pirate adventure.
  90. If you believe the children are our future, think again. Honey bees are. Without those hard-working little buzzers, we’d face a pretty miserable existence without fresh fruit or veggies. Beginner beekeeper workshops at Bee One Third in Brisbane are a fun way to teach your kids not only about the birds and the bees but our planet, too.
  91. Don your fluoro apparel and salute Bondi’s dawn with a rejuvenating – and free – yoga class on the first Friday of the month. The Sunrise Bender is run by Living Organic Co. with the OneWave surf community and aims to raise awareness of mental health. Meet at 6.30am by the ramp at south Bondi.
  92. Have a coffee and a piadina at La Piadina in Bondi. Stuffed with cured meats and vegetables and oozing with mozzarella, these Italian flatbread pockets are well complemented with what locals consider the best coffee in Bondi and a slice of the tiny café’s berry crostata.
  93. Avoid the tourist traps along Bondi’s beachfront and make your way to Campbell Parade for Bondi’s Best. The take-out fisherman’s basket feeds two, with battered hoki, crumbed calamari, potato scallops and battered prawns. The northern headland, Ben Buckler (top of Ramsgate Avenue), has views across the beach and a rare slice of seclusion to roll out your picnic blanket.
  94. Splurge on a cheeky dessert crawl around Sydney’s superfood capital. Start in North Bondi at Speedo’s Cafe with an intricately decorated cronut. Walk it off with a stroll to Hall Street to sample Gelato Messina’s salted caramel and finish at Papa, where you’ll find the irresistible bombe. Feeling guilty? Start fresh tomorrow with a nourishing smoothie at The Health Emporium on Bondi Road.
  95. Hold the green juice and tuck into delicious Taiwanese at Bondi Farmers’ Market. Mr Bao’s Pillow-soft steamed buns are loaded with karaage chicken, crispy tofu and tempura prawns. But you’ll have to get there early for the crackling pork belly with signature hoisin and lightly pickled cucumber – a favourite among the locals.