Leave your safe life behind - Australia has vast deserts, snow-capped mountains, sea-sculpted coastlines and ancient rainforest to feel alive in. Ride a Harley from Sydney to Melbourne or take a helicopter between Victoria’s powdered slopes. See the Simpson Desert on camelback or soar over Canberra in a hot-air balloon. Hike the Great Ocean Walk alongside the wild Southern Ocean or squeeze through limestone caves in the Margaret River. Hike, bike, horse-ride or hang-glide. Winch your way down a mountain with just intense focus and thick rope. In Australia, there’s no excuse not to get amongst it.
Saddle up and smell the Australian bush on a horse-riding adventure in the Megalong Valley, part of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains. With over 2,000 acres of trails and horses for every level of skill and confidence, you can go for a reign-gripping or relaxing pace. Do a scenic two-hour trek to the valley ridge, join a half-day tour to Cox's River or do an overnight ride through the epic wilderness. For full ‘bushy’ credentials, spend a week in the valley’s jackaroo school, where you’ll learn to muster cattle, shear sheep and crack a stockwhip.
Kosciuszko National Park, NSW
Lace up your hiking boots and gather your stamina. This tough long-distance trail follows the crest of the Australian Alps across three states and four national parks. It travels 65km, from Walhalla in Victoria to Tharwa just south of Canberra. Wind up and down the Baw Baw Plateau and the Bogong High Plains in Victoria. Traverse the rugged peaks of Kosciuszko National Park and rocky Namadgi National Park near Canberra. Camp in the wilderness or in camping grounds, historic huts or alpine resorts close to the track. Do day treks or combine shorter sections. The end-to-end walk takes 50 to 60 days and is strictly for the intrepid traveler.
There are no end of white-knuckle winter thrills at Mount Hotham. Challenge yourself on the steep ski runs around Mary’s Slide, Blue Ribbon or Heavenly Valley. Or test your skills on the gentle beginner slopes of the Summit, Big D Playground and Milky Way. If you’re a snowboarder, there are gullies, bowls, hits, berms, lips and open stashes slick enough to make stunt skiers jealous. Travel from pub to pub on one of the many cross-country trails or jump in a helicopter to the sister slopes of Falls Creek. At the end of an exhilarating day on the snow, you can bliss out in a mountain-top spa.
For a real adventure along the Great Ocean Road, pull on your hiking boots. The Great Ocean Walk stretches 90km along this spectacular, sea-lashed coastline, from Apollo Bay to near the Twelve Apostles. Stand atop some of Australia’s highest sea cliffs, walk through forest, beaches and coastal heaths and spot kangaroos, koalas, dolphins and migrating whales. You can step on and off the trail for short, day or overnight hikes or tackle the entire walk in around a week. Spend the night in local accommodation or book ahead at picturesque camping sites.
Gold Coast hinterland, QLD
Soar like you do in your dreams on a tandem hang-glide or paraglide in Canungra, in the lush Gold Coast Hinterland. This is one of the most popular places in Australia to fly the skies, both for its mountains to launch-off and gorgeous scenery. In a 20-minute flight you can swoop over the Gold Coast’s skyscrapers and glittering beaches, Gondwanan rainforest, the Great Dividing Range, Border Ranges and Brisbane. At 3,000 feet above the ground and 1,000 feet above Mt Tamborine, the experience is one of pure exhilaration.
Kuku Yulanji Dreamtime walks, Daintree National Park, QLD
The World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest tract of tropical rainforest, with tree species dating back to the dinosaurs. Learn more about this powerful, primeval landscape on a tour with the traditional Kuku Yalanji owners. Take a guided walk on traditional tracks alongside Mossman Gorge. Learn how they the Kuku Yalanji people have used the rainforest for food, medicine, shelter and spiritual sustenance for more than 9,000 years. Fish for barramundi, visit a waterfall with sacred healing powers and learn about the Kuku Yalanji’s five distinct seasons. You can also take Aboriginal art classes and listen to Dreamtime legends in the lush rainforest setting.
Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, WA
Just a short distance south of the Margaret River’s wineries are the Leeuwin-Naturaliste caves - an ancient, underground network of limestone caves. While most visitors see the public caves on designated boardwalks, local caving companies cater to those seeking a greater challenge. Abseil down through the forest floor into wild caves only accessible by rope. Or don a helmet and head torch and squeeze through tight tunnels and caverns. True bravery awards go to anyone who attempts the section of Calgardup Cave known as the Rebirthing Canal!
Windjana Gorge National Park, WA
Tackle one of Australia’s greatest four-wheel-drive adventures on this 660-kilometre journey through the vast Kimberley. See freshwater crocodiles in the Windjana Gorge National Park and swim, bushwalk and camp at Lennard and Bell Gorges. Take a scenic flight over Mitchell Falls and the vast Mitchell Plateau. Stay on the one million acre El Questro Wilderness Park. From here you can go horse trekking, get up close to Kimberley wildlife and boat down Chamberlain Gorge past towering escarpments and Wandjina rock art. You could even take in the sights on a mountain bike for the Brisbane to Broome Charity Bike Ride. However you take on this outback challenge, remember it's one that needs planning.
You can really get up close to the rugged beauty of the Flinders Ranges in a 4WD. Tackle the steep trails near Wilmington in the Southern Flinders or explore the red granite mountains and golden, spinifex covered hillsides of Arkaroola in the remote north. Learn about Arkaroola’s prehistoric geology on an open-top 4WD tour along the Ridgetop Track or self-drive the Echo Camp Back Track to waterholes and old gold and copper mines. Combine your 4WD adventure with a scenic flight over Wilpena Pound, an enormous natural amphitheatre in the mountain’s centre. From the sky it looks like a lost, ancient world where dinosaurs still roam.
Trace the trail of pioneer John McDouall Stuart as you travel from Adelaide to Darwin on the Explorers Highway. The route takes you through the world-renowned Barossa Valley wine region into the rugged Flinders Ranges. Walk around the rim of Wilpena Pound or soar over it on a scenic flight. Stay underground in the opal capital of Coober Pedy and the outback town of Alice Springs. Walk around Uluru with an Aboriginal guide and to the rim of Kings Canyon. See ancient Aboriginal rock art in World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park and swim in the crystal-clear pools of Litchfield National Park.
Explore Australia’s vast, remote desert centre in the tradition of the Afghan cameleers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As well as riding, you’ll be walking up to six hours a day, while the stoic, regal camels carry your gear. You’ll help shepherd the camels in the morning and evening while they feed, and under the supervision of the cameleers, help to saddle and load the equipment. Experience the timeless, multi-coloured desert scapes and camp at night under a sky ablaze with stars. Do a one week walking trek or be Lawrence of Australia on a six-week tour.
Taste magpie goose, green ants, waterlily and bush carrot on an Aboriginal bush tucker tour of Kakadu National Park. It’s a cultural and sensory journey through the lush, World Heritage-listed landscape, which is home to 10,000 species of insects, 55 types of fish, hundreds of bird species and 75 types of reptiles. Learn how the Aboriginal tribes of Kakadu have gleaned both food and medicine from this complex system of life. Feast on wild snake, turtle and barramundi as you experience the vivid, changing beauty of Kakadu’s crystal clear waterfalls, wildlife-rich wetlands and lush monsoon forests.
Travel through the heart of Tasmania’s World Heritage-listed wilderness on this famous 65-kilometre trek from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair. Walk the entire Overland Track in six days or do short and day walks from the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre and Dove Lake. You’ll need to book in advance with Tasmania’s Parks & Wildlife Service and take along a good tent and warm sleeping bag. While the route has eight basic stove-heated huts, there’s no guarantee of space. The best time to walk the track is between November and April, when the weather is milder and days are longer.
It’s an hour-and-a-half hike to the top of the Hazard Ranges, but you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view over Wineglass Bay, where dusky pink mountains, blue-green sea and white sand meet. This jagged range is also a popular spot for rock-climbing and abseiling, from the big slabs of Main and Flowstone Walls, to the small and scattered boulders. For more of a challenge, tackle the granite sea cliffs near Bluewater Bay, which is only accessible by 4WD. There is a climber’s camp near the popular steep grey crags of Whitewater Wall and Lassies Wall.
Hot air ballooning, Canberra, ACT
Float over Canberra’s iconic national buildings, parklands and planned, orderly streets in a hot air balloon. You’ll drift over Old and New Parliament House, the National Gallery, National Museum and War Memorial. Canberra is one of the few cities in the world where balloons can fly so close to houses of government. Most tours leave at dawn, offering a slightly magical perspective on this formal city. Like sky-diving, the one hour flight is weather-dependent. During the Canberra Balloon Fiesta in March, you can join dozens of other balloons decorating the skies. Your flight finishes - and your Canberra day begins - with a champagne breakfast.
You can’t ignore the call of the great outdoors in the Murrumbidgee River Corridor, easily accessible from Canberra. All kinds of natural communion are possible along this short, lovely section of the river’s epic 1,600km journey from the mountainous Australian Alps. Take short walks near Uriarra Crossing or Tharwa or tackle the 27km Murrumbidgee Discovery Track. Swim, kayak and picnic at Casuarina Sands and play cards in the shade of Cotter campground. Fish for Murray cod and listen to native birds warble in the bushland. Pick your day destination from Canberra or combine a few scenic spots on a riverside camping trip.