From Ningaloo Reef and Lord Howe Island to fishing in the Eyre Peninsula, these destinations deliver thrilling Australian adventures.
Swim with whales and sharks at Ningaloo Reef, WA
The experience: Swimming with humpback whales and whale sharks
The location: Ningaloo Reef, WA
Why go: Home to more than 500 species of fish and 250 types of hard and soft coral, Ningaloo Reef – 1,200 kilometres north of Perth – is a pilgrimage site for nature lovers where a Heritage-listed marine park protects the 260-kilometre fringing reef - the largest of its kind in Australia. From the air, it’s a patchwork filled with every shade of blue, from azure to turquoise, with a surf-white fringe that falls into the inky sea. Needless to say, kayaking, sailing snorkelling and diving are on most tourist itineraries, offering the chance to spot everything from dolphins, dugongs, manta rays and other impressive marine life. Migrating whale sharks and humpback whales also pass through these waters and visitors are permitted to swim with both during the seasons (April-June and June-November, respectively). If your trip coincides with the summer months, you’ll have the opportunity to see rare turtle species hatch, as well.
Where to stay: If you feel the urge to linger, check in to Ningaloo Reef Resort, its palm-fringed gardens just a few steps from the water.
Go hiking on Lord Howe Island, NSW
The experience: Hiking
The location: Lord Howe Island, NSW
Why go: Lord Howe Island, a tiny drop of land in the Tasman Sea features subtropical forest clinging to jagged volcanic cliffs while impossibly blue, coral-rich water rings the crescent-shaped coast. Despite its petite size, Lord Howe is laced with dozens of well-marked walking trails, including one taking you up the island’s highest mountain. At 875 metres, Mount Gower dominates the landscape, its steep sides a mix of bare rock and cloud forest, containing many of the island’s endemic plants. The eight-hour guided trek to the top is not easy and at times you’re required to wear a helmet while clinging to a rope bolted to the rocks. However, the unbroken view from the top, over sandy white beaches and swathes of jungle, more than makes up for the effort.
Where to stay: The views of Mount Gower don’t get any better than from the patio at Capella Lodge, a pared back, all-inclusive resort that offers guests golf buggies to zip around the island.
Go fishing in the wilds of the Eyre Peninsula, SA
The experience: Fishing
The location: Eyre Peninsula, SA
Why go: Bound by the Spencer Gulf and Great Australian Bight, the Eyre Peninsula is known for its wild and wonderful coastline. The Southern Ocean pounds the shore in parts, creating dramatic rock formations and rockpools, including the Smooth Pool and The Granites. The large swells attract surfers in droves, while the fertile marine life is a magnet for those looking for their next big catch: King George whiting, snapper, salmon, blue swimmer crabs, tuna and kingfish all thrive here, and there are guided fishing trips for keen anglers. On the western side of the triangular peninsula lies the hamlet of Streaky Bay – its sheltered stretch of sand makes it an ideal base for those exploring the area.
Where to stay: The Streaky Bay Hotel Motel is set on the shores of the picturesque bay, and idyllic for families or couples.
Getting there: There are flights to Adelaide from most major capital cities. At the airport, rent a Thrifty car and drive the 640 kilometres to the peninsula – it’s an epic adventure along the coastal road.
Discover sacred Aboriginal sites in Mungo National Park, NSW
The experience: Indigenous history
The location: Mungo National Park, NSW
Why go: A place of wide horizons, dried-up lakebeds and intensely hued sand dunes some 800 kilometres west of Sydney, Mungo National Park holds an extraordinary slice of Australian history. World Heritage-listed, it’s the site of human skeletal material, tools, middens and animal bones that date back 40,000 years. The hauntingly beautiful landscape is a sacred Aboriginal site, with indigenous Australians walking here in the footsteps of their ancestors since the Dreamtime. A highlight is to hike or cycle to the Walls of China, a series of lunettes on the southeast edge of the Lake Mungo, taking in this wild pocket of NSW.
Where to stay: It may occupy a heritage building, but the rooms at the Mercure Mildura are smart and contemporary.
Take a classic cycling adventure in Victoria’s High Country
The experience: Cycling
The location: Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, Victoria
Why go: Victoria’s High Country is home to some of Australia’s classic driving experiences – it’s also laced with an excellent network of bike tracks including the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail. The 116-kilometre track from Wangaratta to Bright and Beechworth is mostly flat and is sealed the entire way, which makes it accessible to adventurers of all ages and fitness levels. En route you’ll pass through historic towns and the fern-laced Ovens River Valley, with spectacular alpine scenery – including glimpses of Mount Buffalo – as your backdrop. This is also northeast Victorian wine country, which means you can reward your efforts with a glass or two at the end of the cycling day.
Where to stay: Set on a creek, the Bright Holiday Park has a range of accommodation on offer, including River Spa Cabins, and is within easy reach of cafes and restaurants.
Getting there: There are flights to Albury from Sydney and Melbourne; Bright is a 1.5-hour drive from the airport.