Dirk Hartog Island National Park, Shark Bay, Western Australia © Tourism Western Australia/Mark Boskell
The best secret places to switch off in Australia
Venture beyond Australia’s most popular holiday spots to discover these amazing locations where you can breathe deep, sleep soundly and enjoy all to yourself.
By Lee Atkinson
One of the delights of travelling is finding your very own special place off the beaten track and away from the holiday crowds; a place where it feels like you’re the first to discover somewhere few others have heard of. Getting off the tourist trail is easy in a place as large as Australia, because there are plenty of sublimely beautiful spots that still fly beneath the radars of many travellers. And there has never been a better time to get away from it all and relax.
Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia
In 1616, Dutch Captain Dirk Hartog became the first recorded European to visit Australia, leaving an “I was here” message on a pewter plate nailed to a tree at a place now known as Cape Inscription on Dirk Hartog Island. Hardly anyone has been there since, and even now just 20 vehicles at a time are allowed on the 80-kilometre-long (50-mile) island, so you’re never going to get crowded out.
Pitch your own tent, or enjoy ocean views from your room in the historic shearers quarters at the family-run Eco Lodge, the only established accommodation on the island. The young owners are the third generation to live there and also run 4WD island tours.
- How to experience it: You can explore the island with your own 4WD, but be sure you bring enough fuel or pre-order it to the homestead before your stay.
If you love the idea of living more sustainably, in tune with the seasons and touching the earth lightly, Compass Hut on the north coast of Tasmania offers the ultimate opportunity to give the low-impact lifestyle a test drive.
Set on an organic farm, this stylish tiny house is designed to have a similarly tiny environmental impact, harvesting its own power, collecting its own water and recycling its waste. The clever design squeezes a bathroom, double bed and kitchenette into just 11.5 square metres (124 square feet), but the best thing about this compact accommodation is that nature is literally all around you. Explore the nearby bays and bush, forage for dinner in the on-site herb, fruit and vegetable gardens, or simply sit on the deck and enjoy the sunset.
- How to experience it: Book in for a few nights at Compass Hut and spend your days immersed in your surrounds. The tiny house is located close to natural attractions, bushwalks, wildlife sanctuaries and wineries.
Cobourg Peninsula, Northern Territory
Few people have ever heard about the Victoria Settlement, a remote colonial outpost built in 1839 to fortify northern Australia against the Dutch. The third of four ill-fated northern outposts that were abandoned before Darwin was successfully established in 1869, its ruins can still be seen on the Cobourg Peninsula in north-western Arnhem Land.
Famous for its fishing, wildlife, and Aboriginal culture, the Cobourg Peninsula is the ultimate off-the-tourist trail destination, accessible only by 4WD. But just because it’s remote, doesn't mean you’ll have to rough it: Venture North’s Cobourg Coastal Camp – catering to no more than 16 guests at any one time – has luxe hard-floored safari tents strung out along the edge of a small cliff overlooking the beach, as well as clifftop bathrooms with amazing water views.
- How to experience it: Visit during the dry season (April to October) for a comfortable climate and a smooth drive.
The best place to reconnect with family and friends is around the kitchen table, and there is more than enough room in Dairy Flat Farm’s kitchen for the whole tribe to pull up a seat. This six-room lodge, just outside the Victorian spa town of Daylesford, is run by the team from the acclaimed Lake House restaurant and hotel, which sources much of its fresh produce from the farm’s orchards, olive groves and gardens. They will even cook up a country-style breakfast for you every morning, including fresh bread baked at the Dairy Flat Bake House. The sprawling property offers plenty of room to spread out; catch up on each other’s lives and share news as you stroll through the extensive gardens or warm yourselves by the fire pit.
- How to experience it: Spend your days exploring the grounds or head further afield with one of their electric bikes. Daylesford is known for its abundance of spas and fantastic wineries. You can also book in for a workshop and leave an expert beekeper or sourdough baker.
Satellite Island, Tasmania
Satellite Island provides the perfect base from which to explore the many nature adventures and gourmet treasures of Bruny Island. Head down to the jetty in the small town of Alonnah where the island keeper will take you to Satellite Island, just five minutes across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.
Satellite Island has never been accessible to the public before and remains completely unspoilt, offering you the unique opportunity to experience it all to yourself. Accommodating up to eight people, your private island retreat features the Summer House, Boathouse and luxury bell tent, and includes Tasmanian sparkling wine on arrival, gourmet breakfast provisions, unlimited wild oysters, fishing equipment, kayaks and a whole heap more.
- How to experience it: Explore the sights and sounds of Bruny Island, picking up delicious treats along the way, including freshly shucked oysters and artisanal cheese, to take back to your secluded hideaway.
Mudgee, New South Wales
Where: Mudgee is a 3.5-hour drive northwest of Sydney.
Relaxed, friendly and steeped in bucolic charm, Mudgee provides the ideal destination for those seeking a real country getaway.
Fill your lungs with the fresh country air and immerse yourself in the stunning landscape with a stay at Sierra Escape. Set amongst rolling hills, this luxury glamping experience offers five giant tents, thoughtfully plushed out with comfy furnishings and luxury touches, including fireplaces, decks and an outdoor bathtub. Pour yourself a generous glass of local wine and enjoy a hot soak under the stars, surrounded by serene countryside.
- How to experience it: Stroll Mudgee’s historic streetscapes and select some picnic provisions from the farmers market, followed by an afternoon of wine tasting and a leisurely lunch among the vines.
Scenic Rim, Queensland
With is sprawling valleys, ancient native bushland and magnificent mountain ranges, it’s not hard to see how the Scenic Rim got its name. Adventure and nature enthusiasts will be in their element here, with several World Heritage-listed national parks to explore. Food and wine lovers are also superbly catered for, with the region’s burgeoning food and wine scene boasting historic country pubs, fine restaurants, wineries and distilleries.
Immerse yourself in the rural beauty of this incredible region by staying in a WanderPod. Nestled into private bushland at The Overflow Estate 1895 winery and homestead, the one- and two-bedroom pods feature a clever eco-minded design that blends into their tranquil surroundings.
- How to experience it: Make the most of the outdoor setting, complete with gas barbecue, fire pit and bath, and lose yourself in the picture-perfect view of Lake Wyaralong and Mount Joyce.
Phillip Island, Victoria
Where: Phillip Island is a 90-minute drive south of Melbourne
It may be small, but Phillip Island packs a punch with some of the most unique ecotourism and wildlife experiences on offer. From seeing native birds, wallabies, echidnas and koalas in their natural habitat at Koala Conservation Reserve to spotting whales, dolphins and seals on a Wildlife Coast Cruise, the animal encounters will leave a lasting impression on all ages.
Situated on a small orchard and farm on the western side of Phillip Island, Five Acres consists of three eco-luxury coastal cabins. Affording sweeping views of rolling farmland and the Western Port Bay, each standalone cabin is fully self-contained and features exceptional craftsmanship throughout, so you can unwind in perfect comfort.
- How to experience it: No visit to Phillip Island would be complete without witnessing its resident little penguins waddle their way home each evening in the famous Penguin Parade.
Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia
Where: Fleurieu Peninsula is 45 minutes south of Adelaide.
Dotted with charming little heritage towns, beautiful wineries and white sand beaches, this picturesque coastal region spoils for choice all year round. In the north, you’ll find the world-renowned wine region McLaren Vale, offering more than 80 cellar doors and vineyards at which to savour its famous drops.
Hidden away amongst towering gum trees on a secluded winery, CABN is perfectly situated for exploring the region while offering complete privacy and respite from the outside world. Taking inspiration from the tiny house movement, the three sustainably designed cabins are fully off-grid and self-contained, with minimalist yet comfortable and utterly cosy interiors.
- How to experience it: Get off the beaten track and connect with nature by bushwalking, mountain biking or even horse riding in the nearby Kuitpo Forest.