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20 must-do activities in Australia

1. Island hop on your own private yacht (it's affordable!)

The Whitsunday Islands offer some of the world's finest sailing, with mostly perfect winds, calm seas, beautiful scenery and 74 islands to hop through (69 of which are uninhabited). It's called bareboating: hiring a boat, stocking it with provisions and friends and sailing off into the sunset. Even if you have no sailing experience, companies such as Cumberland Charter Yachts will give you a yacht and a safety briefing and then set you free, with the requirement that you respond to their twice-daily radio schedule to say where you are and where you're going. Leave from the coastal town of Airlie Beach or have your vessel delivered to Hamilton or Hayman Island. Prices start at AUD$365 a night for a six-person yacht.

2. Ride a luxury train across the continent

Named after the Afghan camel drivers that used to roam Australia's centre, this unforgettable train journey takes in 2979 kilometres (1851 miles) of tropics, the mountains of the Flinders Ranges, scorched desert, Katherine Gorge and the Red Centre. From AUD$3349 per person, The Ghan takes three days to cross the continent, from Darwin to Adelaide or vice versa, including fascinating whistlestop tours in Katherine and Alice Springs.

3. Enter another world at the Pinnacles

On the Turquoise Coast of Western Australia, 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Perth, you will find the Pinnacles Desert, where hundreds of ancient limestone pillars look like extraterrestrial tombstones. The park is fringed by secluded white beaches, wildflowers, unique fauna and excellent fishing. Stay in the nearby fishing village of Cervantes.

4. Take a foodie road trip around Tasmania

Start with a breakfast of fresh doughnuts and bagels at the Farm Gate Market in Hobart then spend five days feasting through Tasmania. There is lots of local produce to sample in a scenic road trip that makes for easy driving, with rarely more than an hour's drive between gourmet towns and stores. Eat apples at Willie Smith's Apple Shed, a ciderhouse turned museum in the Huon Valley's apple groves; just-shucked Tassie oysters at Bangor Wine & Oyster Shed in Port Arthur; Belgian-style chocolates at the House of Anvers near Latrobe; and the triple cream brie or chilli camembert from Wicked Cheese in historic Richmond. Tasmania is famous for its cool climate wines, and the Tamar Valley, running north from Launceston, is Tasmania's premier wine region. Don’t miss the Pinot Noir, Tasmania's signature wine variety, from the state's oldest vineyard at Providence.

5. See the Sydney Harbour new year's eve fireworks

One of the first places in the world to welcome the new year, Sydney Harbour puts on a spectacular show. The fireworks at 9pm and midnight on New Year's Eve are not to be missed, with pyrotechnics from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Opera House, and light shows and more fireworks from barges on the harbour. There are vantage points to suit every budget. Plant a picnic rug at one of the many parks around Sydney's foreshore, jump on a ferry or boat cruise to view from the water, book into a waterside hotel room or attend one of the many ticketed events such as the parties on Fort Denison and Shark islands or the family celebrations at Taronga Zoo Sydney and Darling Harbour. 

6. Cruise the Kimberley

One of the best ways to see the Kimberley – one of the last true wilderness areas on earth  – is by cruise ship, and there are lots of options. You'll get up close to the rocky shores, secluded beaches, ochre coloured gorges, lush waterfalls, and complex river systems.

7. Ride the roller-coasters and water slides on the Gold Coast

For fun, not much beats the Gold Coast's theme parks, offering huge thrilling rides, water slides and wildlife. You can bundle Dreamworld with WhiteWater World next door, or buy a combination pass for Sea World, Warner Bros Movie World and Wet'n'Wild. The ''big five'' fun parks are between The Spit and Coomera, north of Surfers Paradise, where there is plenty of accommodation by the Gold Coast beaches.

8. Dine under the stars at Uluru

In this unforgettable, intimate dining experience overlooking Uluru and the distant domes of Kata Tjuta, you'll watch the sun set to the sound of a didgeridoo, sit on top of a dune to savour a degustation feast under the many stars (while learning all about them), then listen to Dreamtime stories by the campfire. Tali Wiru ("beautiful dune" in the local Anangu language) operates four times a week from April to mid-October, with hotel transfers from Ayers Rock Resort an hour before sunset. There are no more than 20 guests at any one time, and it costs AUD$325 per person.

9. Enjoy a gourmet feast by the beach in Margaret River

The annual Margaret River Gourmet Escape (held each November) is one of Australia’s largest food and wine festivals, celebrating the delights of Western Australia with delicious food and wine, pop-up events, cooking classes and celebrity chefs. The Margaret River region has wineries, restaurants and beautiful beaches to explore. From Perth, hire a car to drive three hours south to Margaret River or fly to Busselton, a town 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Margaret River.

10. Dive with great white sharks in Port Lincoln

Being underwater with a great white shark (even if you are in a strengthened aluminium cage) is an adventure to tell your friends about. Calypso Star Charters and Adventure Bay Charters run one day great white shark tours to Neptune Island, 70 kilometres (43 miles) off Port Lincoln, a 50 minute flight from Adelaide. No scuba experience is necessary (air is fed into the cage via a hose). You can also swim with the gentle but giant whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia between March and August.

11. Stay in a unique, luxury Australian hotel

Many Australian resorts offer unique experiences. Longitude 131 is an intimate wilderness camp with just 15 luxury tents in the heart of Australia, where you can enjoy spectacular views and the wilderness of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, bespoke safaris and gourmet meals. Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley is a spa resort set in a conservation and wildlife reserve within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, with private pools, wildlife tours and delicious food. Sun lovers should experience qualia, a wonderful adults-only experience on Hamilton Island. At Tasmania's Saffire Freycinet, top-quality produce, service and coastal views are front and centre. Likewise at Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, where you'll stay atop a secluded cliff on a rugged stretch of coast, with views of the wild ocean and forest.

12. Watch nesting turtles in Queensland

Watching baby turtles hatch, then make their disorientated run into the sea, is a very special bucket list experience. One of the most popular places to see marine turtles nest in Australia is at Mon Repos Conservation Park, near Bundaberg in Queensland. Between November and March rangers operate nightly guided tours on the beach.

13. Drive the Great Ocean Road

Hire a car in Melbourne and journey along the stunning Great Ocean Road. See the famous surf spots Torquay and Bells Beach, the many kangaroos on the Angelsea Golf Course, the laid-back town of Lorne, and the spectacular rock formations of the 12 Apostles. Walk through waterfalls and lush forests in Otway National Park and whale watch from historic Warrnambool. You could drive it all in three hours non-stop but we recommend taking two days to take in the many sights. 

14. Drift-snorkel in a rainforest

The 900,000 hectare (2.2 million acre) Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is one of the most biodiverse rainforests in the world. One way to see it is on a three hour Back Country Bliss Adventures river drift-snorkelling tour, in which you drift down the clear waters of the Mossman River, spotting fish and possibly turtles under the rainforest canopy. It’s AUD$99 for adults, equipment supplied, no experience necessary.

15. Hit the ski slopes at Falls Creek

Falls Creek has Australia’s longest beginner run – Wombats, at 2.2 kilometres or 1.4 miles long – and a top ski school. For the more skilled, there's a range of terrain, including off-piste and cross-country skiing. Accommodation ranges from self-contained lodges to fully catered five-star hotels, all on the mountain. You can ski or snowboard straight to the lifts from your lodge, and it's only a short stroll to the restaurants and bars of the small but charming village. It’s a two hour bus trip or drive from Albury, which is a short flight from Sydney or Melbourne.

16. Visit Lord Howe Island

Hike, surf and handfeed fish as one of only 400 visitors on the World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, in the Pacific Ocean just a two hour flight from Sydney. It's one of the greenest spots in the world, with 75 per cent of the island's original natural vegetation intact and undisturbed, leaving remarkable geology, natural beauty and coral, and a rare collection of birds, plants and marine life.

17. Drink in Melbourne's laneways

There are dozens of charming small bars hidden in the many colourful laneways of Melbourne’s inner city, offering a great way to enjoy local food, drinks and people. Don't miss a Smoky Rob Roy cocktail on the leather banquettes at the stylish, award-winning Eau de Vie. Other recommendations include Lily Blacks, Bar Americano and Shebeen. Or discover your own small bar, and start making friends with the locals.

18. Fly over Lake Eyre in flood

Lake Eyre contains the lowest natural point in Australia, and on the rare occasions that it fills, is the largest lake in Australia, covering 9500 kilometres (5900 miles). It can attract thousands of birds – pelicans, banded stilts, silver gulls and more – and, for a month in spring, wildflowers. Even when the lake is not full, the vastness of this park, the whiteness of the salt lake and the surrounding low red dunes of the desert seen from a scenic flight give you a true sense of the outback. Scenic flights depart from Marree, Hawker, Ceduna, Rawnsley Park, Wilpena Pound and William Creek in South Australia, and interstate.

19. Hot air balloon above Australia's capital

Canberra is renowned among international balloonists as one of the best places to balloon, with calm conditions, green scenery and the view of Lake Burley Griffin mixed with interesting architecture, monuments and sculptures, as well as multiple take-off and landing areas. Afterwards, you can celebrate with a champagne breakfast at the Park Hyatt Hotel.

20. White water raft the Franklin River

The Franklin River, on Tasmania's wild west coast, is pure nature, yet it's never more than 150 kilometres (93 miles) from Hobart. World Expeditions and Franklin River Rafting offer rafting trips ranging from eight to 11 days along the scenic 125 kilometres (78 miles) of the Franklin to the Gordon River, camping on the riverbanks at night.