Lord Howe Island, New South Wales © Tourism Australia / Mark Fitzpatrick
Top 20 things to do in Australia
From island hopping to sunbathing on a beach with friendly kangaroos, here are some of the best Australian experiences.
By Jessica Wilkinson
There are countless amazing experiences to be had when visiting Australia, so much so it can be tricky to know where to start. Whether you're up for adventure (think chasing crocs in the Northern Territory), keen to meet furry locals on an iconic wildlife encounter or want to delve into our culture and history with a First Nations experience, there really is something for everyone. And you simply can't go wrong, no matter which of these memorable experiences you choose to do.
Island hop in the Whitsundays
The Whitsunday Islands in Queensland offer some of the world's finest sailing, thanks to perfect winds, calm seas, beautiful scenery and 74 islands to hop through (69 of which are uninhabited). Whether you want to charter your own course and hire a yacht with some friends, or simply relax on a private tour and let someone else do the navigating, you'll find that taking in the beauty of this tropical oasis from aboard a boat is one of the best Aussie experiences on offer.
Find out more about the Whitsundays
Ride a luxury train across Australia
Known as one of the world’s greatest rail journeys, this 2979-kilometre (1851-mile) voyage will take you across the country from Darwin to Adelaide (or vice versa). As you make your way through the tropical greens of the Top End, over the red desert sands of the Red Centre and across the rugged mountains of the Flinders Ranges, you'll get to see some of Australia's most diverse and beautiful landscapes. Plus, along the way, you'll stop for tours of Katherine and Alice Springs where you'll learn about Australia's deep Aboriginal heritage.
Spend three days aboard the Ghan
Sunbathe with kangaroos at Lucky Bay
Other beaches popular with kangaroos include Cape Hillsborough, in Queensland and Pebbly Beach in southern New South Wales.
It can't get more iconically Australian than lying on a white sandy beach next to a kangaroo. Resident roos are known to regularly sun themselves at a handful of Australian beaches, the most famous of which is Lucky Bay in Western Australia’s Cape Le Grand National Park. This stretch of white sand and turquoise water in Esperance is more than an idyllic place to lay down your beach towel and catch some rays with a roo or two (just don't forget your camera).
Learn where to spot Kangaroos in the wild
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. Two billion years of natural history are on show along the isolated Kimberley coast in Western Australia and there are some great cruising experiences that offer unique ways to see it all. You'll be able to get up close to the rocky shores, secluded beaches, ochre-coloured gorges, lush waterfalls and complex river systems, all while you enjoy gourmet meals and luxurious sleeping quarters.
Discover your favourite way to cruise
Visit the locals in Cradle Mountain
And by locals, we mean the furry kind. The Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest surviving marsupial carnivore and is actually very shy and hard to spot in the wild. The best place to meet these endangered species is at Devils@Cradle; a Tasmanian conservation sanctuary that's located at the entrance to the World Heritage-listed Cradle Mountain National Park. Offering both day and night tours, you’ll also get to meet other threatened wildlife like the spotted-tail and eastern quolls when you visit.
Learn more about Cradle Mountain
Discover First Nations history in the Red Centre
In the Red Centre, you'll find the spiritual heart of Australia; Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park – a place steeped in Aboriginal culture. Yulara (Uluru) and the 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuta are sacred to the local Anangu people, who have lived there for more than 22,000 years. Take an Aboriginal guided tour to learn more about the traditional way of life and, if you're visiting between April to mid-October, don't miss Tali Wiru – a beautiful experience of dining under the stars overlooking Uluru, complete with a menu of native ingredients and Dreamtime stories.
Find out more about First Nations experiences
Watch turtles hatch in Queensland
Watching a tiny turtle emerge from an egg and scamper into the sea has to be one of the best experiences to add to your bucket list. There are a few places where you can catch sight of this incredible event. Mon Repos Turtle Centre, near Bundaberg (a 4.5-hour drive north of Brisbane), is home to the largest number of nesting loggerhead turtles on Australia’s east coast. Time your visit for mid-January to early February, when the hatchlings start leaving their nests. Other Queensland hotspots include the islands of Lady Elliot, Heron and Lady Musgrave.
Meet turtles in Bundaberg
Drive the Great Ocean Road
Hire a car in Melbourne and get ready for a road trip filled with some pretty incredible scenery (this is, after all, one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives). See the famous surf spots of Torquay and Bells Beach, the kangaroos on the Anglesea 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, or whale watch from historic Warrnambool. You could drive it all in three hours non-stop but we recommend taking at least two days to take in the many sights.
Road trip along the Great Ocean Road
Visit Lord Howe Island
As one of only 400 visitors at any one time on the World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, you're guaranteed a peaceful slice of paradise when you visit. Less than two hours by plane from Sydney and Brisbane, this secluded island is one of the greenest spots in the world. 75 per cent of the island's original natural vegetation is still intact and undisturbed, leaving remarkable geology, natural coral and a rare collection of birds, plants and marine life thriving in this utopia. It's a step away from modern life and a pretty incredible part of Australia that's waiting to be explored.
Explore the beauty of Lord Howe Island
Swim with unique marine life
From whale sharks to turtles and sea lions, swimming with Australia's marine life is a once in a lifetime experience. A few key experiences to get you started (all need to be done with a tour operator); swimming with humpback whales in Queensland (Australia is among only a handful of countries where you can swim with these majestic creatures), coming mask-to-fin with a whale shark on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, splashing around with the ever-so-cute sea lions in South Australia, and snorkelling with turtles in Queensland and New South Wales.
Get swimming with Australia's marine life
Explore Melbourne laneways
The many colourful laneways of Melbourne’s inner-city offer up dozens of hidden small bars, local hole-in-the-wall cafes and restaurants that serve stellar food and coffee and cool one-of-a-kind fashion boutiques. So, whether you're after a morning caffeine hit and a bit of window shopping, a night out with city views from a rooftop bar or the cool underground vibes of a speakeasy type saloon, a wander through the laneways will have you picking and choosing from the best the city has to offer.
Hot air balloon above Australia's capital
Canberra is known as one of the best places to balloon, with calm conditions, green scenery and spectacular views of Lake Burley Griffin. Add in the city's interesting architecture, monuments and sculptures, and Parliament House, and you're in for a scenic treat. Plus, afterwards, you get to celebrate with a champagne breakfast at the Park Hyatt Hotel and then have the whole day ahead of you to explore the sights you saw from above.
Find out more about Canberra
Visit the Tiwi Islands
This is one Aussie experience that can't be missed. The Tiwi Islands sit north of Darwin and are a truly unique part of Australia. The two main islands are Bathurst and Melville, which sit alongside nine smaller, uninhabited islands. Almost 90 per cent of residents are of Aboriginal descent and there is a thriving Aboriginal art culture which you can experience on a range of tours showcasing textiles, weavings and paintings. The islands are also known for being a fishing hotspot (think huge Barramundi) with multi-day tours available for fishing enthusiasts.
Discover more about the Tiwi Islands
See the quokkas on Rottnest Island
The famous quokkas on Rottnest Island are a major drawcard for this island paradise off the coast of Western Australia. These friendly locals are very curious so you won't have any trouble spotting them, in fact, they're quite likely to come right up to you and say hello. Make sure you have your camera handy but keep in mind that you're not allowed to touch or feed them.
Find out more about Rottnest Island
Snorkel or dive the Great Barrier Reef
With vibrant coral reefs and an extraordinary array of marine life, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most diverse ocean habitats in the world. What better place to pop on a wetsuit for a day of diving or snorkelling? Get ready to encounter giant clams, majestic sea turtles, graceful stingrays, reef sharks, an incredible variety of tropical fish, and of course the spectacular coral formations. If you head out on an overnight tour, you can even jump in the water for some nocturnal diving.
Meet the Great Barrier Reef's marine animals
Climb the Harbour Bridge
You can't visit Sydney without experiencing one of its most iconic landmarks. Of course, you can see the Harbour Bridge from many different vantage points (did someone say ferry ride?), but climbing it brings the experience to a whole new level. Climb the entire bridge from south to north, and back again and take in the amazing views of Sydney Harbour and the iconic sails of the Opera House (we also recommend taking a guided tour of the Opera House once you're back on solid ground).
Uncover more of Sydney's sparkling gems
Chase crocodiles in the Northern Territory
A trip to the Northern Territory isn’t complete without seeing the world's largest reptiles, and the saltwater crocs around this part of Australia have to be seen to be believed. In the safe and capable hands of Matt Wright and the Top End Safari Camp team, you can get up close and personal with some of the Territory's biggest crocodiles. You'll head out on the water for an airboat ride where you'll have more than a few wild croc encounters as you jet through the floodplains. Day and overnight tours are available during the wet season, November to April.
Discover more places to see crocodiles in the NT
Visit the Three Sisters
The Blue Mountains, about a two-hour drive from Sydney in New South Wales, is best known for its iconic natural landmark; the Three Sisters. This unusual rock formation represents three sisters ('Meehni', 'Wimlah' and 'Gunnedoo') who, according to Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, were turned to stone. One of the best viewing spots is Echo Point Lookout, which is also the starting point for many great walks that will give you multiple vantage points of the sisters as you make your way through the bushland.
Explore the Blue Mountains
Meet wildlife on Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island, which sits off the coast of South Australia, is known as a nature lover's dream. It is one of the best places in Australia to see wild native animals like koalas, kangaroos, sea lions and seals. A must-do experience is walking among the Australian sea lion colony at Seal Bay. Winter and spring are the perfect times to visit as the sea lions love to hang out in the dunes away from the sea breeze. You can either wander around on your own or join a guided tour to learn about these endangered animals.
Discover more about Kangaroo Island
Go waterhole hopping in the Northern Territory
The desert landscape of the Northern Territory is dotted with gorges, lagoons, waterfalls, thermal springs and canyons that are perfect for a dip on a hot summer day. Whether you opt for swimming under one of the majestic waterfalls in the Top End, floating around a thermal spring in Katherine or relaxing by the serene pools deep inside ancient canyons, the experience will be like no other.
Find the best waterholes in the NT