They say clichés exist for a reason. This is never more true than in Australia, where crystal clear waters, cute koalas and epic road trips keep visitors coming back time and again.
These 20 bucket list experiences are well known, but for a very good reason. Australia may not be welcoming tourists just yet, but these should whet your appetite for its eventual reopening.
1. Sydney Harbour
Is there any more recogniseable Australian sight than Sydney Harbour? The Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House are both here, and the best way to see both is from the water. A number of ferries travel across Port Jackson Bay; take either the The Cross-Harbour Ferry or the Parramatta Rivercat to go directly under the bridge. Jet boat tours are also possible, as is kayaking.
2. Wildflowers in Western Australia
Every July to October, Western Australia blooms with some of the most spectacular wildflower displays the world has to offer; the area is one of only 34 global biodiversity hotspots and is listed by the WWF as one of the most ecologically significant areas in the world. Nicknamed The Profusion, much of the region turns into a patchwork carpet of colour.
Flowers are everywhere during the period, blooming first in the north before sweeping south, but Lesueur National Park, along the Margaret River, and Karijini National Park are prime places to see the blossoms.
3. History in Port Arthur
This historic open-air museum in Tasmania is an incredibly well preserved 19th-century penal settlement and offers a keen insight into the convict era; about 162,000 prisoners were transported from Britain and Ireland to colonies between 1788 and 1868. Named after George Arthur, the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), Port Arthur was considered a place for the most rebellious of those sent to the continent.
4. Ride Wave Rock
This enormous granite formation in the Western Australian outback rises 15 metres into the air and extends 110 metres across. Tourists have been coming here for some time to marvel at its seemingly gravity defying structure – and take pictures pretending to surf it.
5. Meet the Three Sisters
The Blue Mountains lie two hours outside Sydney, and are a popular natural spot. They’re also home to the Three Sisters, one of the region’s best known sights,. These three sandstone peaks are thought to stand guard and watch over the land of the Darug, Gundungurra, Wiradjuri and Dharwal Aboriginal peoples, and are best viewed by visitors from the Echo Point viewpoint at Katoomba.
6. Quokkas on Rottnest Island
The smiling face of the quokka regularly goes viral. It is surely one of the world’s happiest animals. This cute critter is the only mammal native to Rottnest Island, which is home to around 10,000 of them. Quokkas aren’t actually smiling at you, of course, but are instead opening their mouths to pant, like dogs, when they get hot. They are wild animals so be careful to admire them from afar.
7. The Great Ocean Road
A 90-minute drive from Melbourne will take you to this 300-mile road, which winds between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford, following Australia’s south-eastern coast. The entire drive takes about nine-and-a-half hours, though it’s recommended to take three days to do the trip in full. As well as the stunning coastal views, the road is also known for the Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks off the shore of Port Campbell National Park.
8. The Tiwi Islands
Floating in the Timor Sea, 50 miles north of Darwin, the Timor Islands comprise two main isles: Bathurst and Melville. This is one of the best places in Australia to experience Aboriginal culture, with most of the islands’ residents of Aboriginal descent. The islands are particularly famed for their love of football – a tournament is held every March – and art. Art centres can be found all over the island, as well as galleries and public pieces decorating schools, burial poles and churches.
9. Coffee in Melbourne
The coastal capital of Victoria is well-known for its coffee culture, beating Rome, Vienna and Sydney in 2014 to be named as the home of the best coffee in the world by travel website Booking.com. Melbourne’s flat whites in particular have become known and loved all over the world. Patricia on Little Bourke Street is regularly named ones of the best cafes in the city, while the trendy neighbourhoods of Fitzroy and Collingwood have a glut of good coffee spots.
10. Kangaroo Island
One of the world’s best destinations for nature lovers, Kangaroo Island is the third largest island off the coast of mainland Australia and has a mammoth 300 miles of coastline. It’s also filled with a wide array of animals, including koalas, kangaroos and sea lions.
11. Sunset at Uluru
Sacred to the Anangu people for tens of thousands of years, it is no longer possible to climb Uluru due to the practice long being considered disrespectful. There are still many ways to enjoy this sandstone rock in the Northern Territory’s Red Centre (or Outback), however – one of which is watching the sunset at the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku viewing platform.
12. Sunbathe at the Gold Coast
This coastal city south of the Queensland capital, Brisbane, is widely known for its incredible beaches, which sunbathers and surfers flock to. Those looking to catch some rays should go to Broadbeach, a seaside precinct full of cafes and restaurants, while those looking to catch some waves should head to the aptly named Surfer’s Paradise beach instead.
13. Crocodiles in the Northern Territory
Whether its from famed 80s film Crocodile Dundee or the sight of Steve Irwin wrestling one, crocodiles have long been a signature of Australia. The best place to see them is in the Northern Territory, which has an estimated 100,000 saltwater crocodiles in its wilds. It’s for this reason that swimming here should be limited to patrolled beaches only.
See these ancient reptiles safely at Nitmiluk National Park and World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, which both provided backdrops to the aforementioned Crocodile Dundee, or on any of the many river cruises available.
14. Kalbarri Coast Drive
West Australia’s Kalbarri region is home to some of the state’s most spectacular sights. Situated where the Murchison River meets the Indian Ocean, Kalbarri National Park also has a short coastal drive, which is well worth doing for the view it affords of the park’s stunning pink saltwater lake, the Hutt Lagoon. Those wishing to extend their road trip can carry on and do the Indian Ocean Drive, which continues down the WA coastline.
15. The Southern Lights
Also known as the Aurora Australis, Australia’s answer to the Northern Lights are just as beautiful – if you can catch a glimpse of them. Your best chance of viewing the glowing phenomenon is to go as far south as possible, meaning Tasmania. The island’s Freycinet National Park offers a front row seat, with very little light pollution to get in the way of your experience.
16. Barossa Valley wine
Australia is full of excellent wine regions, but Barossa and its subregions, Barossa Valley and Eden Valley, in South Australia is one of its oldest and most premier. The valley is particularly known for its Shiraz, though those embarking on a tour of the area will be able to taste a wide array of bacchanalian delights.
17. Surf Bondi Beach
The beautiful crescent of Bondi is one of Australia’s most recognisable beaches, and the surrounding suburb is one of Sydney’s trendiest, with relaxed cafes and health-conscious restaurants nearly always humming with cool Aussies. The reliable waves also draw a huge number of surfers to the area – lessons are regularly held for beginners too.
18. Underground treasure in Coober Pedy
Located on the Stuart Highway in the northern part of South Australia, the town of Coober Pedy is known as the Opal Capital of the World. In 1915, a young boy found a gemstone in the remote outback area and people have been mining there ever since.
The other quirk of the town? It’s all underground. The name means “white fella’s hole in the ground” and was given by indigenous Australians bemused by the residents’ seeming love for subterranean living. The underground homes provide cool shelter for the miners and their families and make for extremely surreal viewing.
19. Hike Byron Bay
This coastal town in New South Wales is another of Australia’s most iconic beach spots. Those looking to experience it in a different way should try the Cape Byron Lighthouse Walk, an easy two-mile hike up to Byron’s lighthouse. From there it’s easy to spot dolphins in the water. It’s also an incredible sunset spot.
20. The Great Barrier Reef
Off the coast of Queensland lies the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. Its 2,900 coral reefs are remarkable in their beauty, and are the habitat of thousands of different species, including the threatened dugong (sea cow) and the large green turtle.
Tourism is a major industry in the area, and despite controversy over devastating damage to the reef – both from global warming and pollution – it’s widely accepted that tourists help fund the reef’s conservation, as long as they visit in a responsible way.