After living in Australia for a year, I am happy to say that I have traveled every state and territory of this amazing country. In this blog post, I will share some of my best photos, travel tips, and insights. Are you ready to take a tour?
Great! Let’s go!
Now don’t pin me down on this, but as I was writing this article it struck me that I might even be able to claim that I have visited every Australian city. No need to worry though! I realize proving that would require me to investigate the exact definition of an Australian town, village, and city, which would make this post go way beyond the point, not to mention incredibly boring. 😉
So…. What is the point?
The point of this post is to give all my readers a little tour. No. A big one.
A GRAND TOUR of the world’s largest island: Australia.
A huge country with relatively few populated areas, but all the more amazing natural beauty. Incredible stretches of wide open land… The sheer vastness of this country is unimaginable.
You will come to the same conclusion as soon as you start traveling around Australia. The best way to tackle this beast? By jumping into a camper van (or car) and start making those miles!
For everyone who is planning a trip to Australia, or otherwise looking for some travel inspiration, I have selected 20 photos showing you (some of) the highlights of every territory and state. Both urban and natural.
Your 360° tour around Australia starts now. Enjoy!
Australian Capital Territory
Although many people would argue that Canberra is “not really worth it” if you are visiting Australia for a limited time only, there are actually plenty of things to see and do when you do make it to the country’s capital!
Top of the list would be Parliament and the surrounding buildings, the National Gallery of Australia – amazing art collection! – and the impressive War Memorial on Treloar Cres. The latter honors all the major wars Australian soldiers have been involved in, including the First and Second World War, Vietnam, and Korea.
New South Wales
When asked to think of Sydney, you would probably picture the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Exactly. So would I.
And every time I go to Sydney, I am blown away by the beauty of this bay area. Whether you view it from the Botanical Gardens, from the docks in Circular Quay, or from the Bridge itself – climbing this beast is awesome! – this place is gorgeous from every angle.
Related article: Picture perfect Sydney and South Coast NSW in 20 photos
3. Blue Mountains
Only a short drive from Sydney, the Blue Mountains make for a great day trip for those of you on a tight schedule. Driving “the loop” through Lithgow and stopping at the main sights to take some photos will take you approximately 8-10 hours [including 5 hours of driving time: 290 Km].
However, if you have a bit more time, I recommend you take a few days to explore the area. Stare out over the different lookouts, exhaust yourself by hiking the many trails, and don’t forget to visit the surrounding villages. They are worth it.
In fact, towns like Blackheath, Katoomba, and Richmond truly make you feel like you have gone back in time. A century. Or two.
4. South Coast NSW
The South Coast of New South Wales is one of my favorite drives in Australia. There is just so much to see and do in this relatively small coastal stretch a few hours south of Sydney. The waters around Narooma and Bermagui are spectacularly clear, the seafood incredibly tasty (!!), and the people amazingly friendly.
A bit further inland on the Princes Highway you will find historic towns like Tilba Tilba, where time has stood still since the late 19th century. The perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee or a piece of home-made fudge in one of the cute little cafés and bakeries.
Is cheese more your cup of tea? No problem! Central Tilba is home to the ABC Cheese Factory, a place where you can taste everything from cheeses to ice cream, view the milk bottling and cheese making process, or even take a cheese making course!
Campgrounds and hotels are aplenty in this area, with Batemans Bay being the largest town and the center of tourism life, information, and entertainment.
5. Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is arguably the most magical and culturally rich national park in the whole of Australia. Not only should you come here to spot the enormous termite hills (fun!), catch a glimpse of the massive crocodiles and alligators of the Northern Territory (hopefully not too close!), or hike and climb up the many rocks, mountains, and cliffs these 7,600 square miles of nature reserve have to offer, but thanks to the many generations of Aboriginal tribes living out here in the wilderness Kakadu also showcases an impressive ‘collection’ of Aboriginal rock art paintings and carvings up to 20,000 years of age!
Believe it or not, the original rock art is just one of the reasons this National Park obtained World Heritage Status as early as 1981. The natural and landscape diversity is remarkable, its sheer size unimaginable. Or, as the WHC website puts it: “Kakadu is a unique example of a complex of ecosystems, including tidal flats, floodplains, lowlands and plateaux, and provides a habitat for a wide range of rare or endemic species of plants and animals.”
Let me reiterate for my European readers: Kakadu National Park covers almost 20,000 square kilometers… That’s almost half the size of Switzerland or the Netherlands!!
6. Katherine Gorge
Katherine Gorge is a popular tourist attraction located in Nitmiluk National Park, approximately 245 km south of Darwin and 60 km north of Katherine. When you are driving to or from Darwin from any direction you are highly likely to pass through Katherine (in fact, it would be nearly impossible to miss), and the famous Ghan train actually makes a special stop here (!) to let passengers off the train for a chance to walk up to the Baruwei Lookout.
The popularity of Katherine Gorge is easily explained. It is absolutely GORGEOUS.
Visitors can take several different trails into the Gorge, ranging from half an hour to as much as 9 days (!). Drinking water is provided throughout the trails and there are several campgrounds for the most adventurous hikers.
Surprisingly, Katherine Gorge is not the only natural phenomenon Nitmiluk has to offer. Besides the Katherine, the park is also home to the Edith River, the creator of a series of beautiful cascading waterfalls and swimming holes. Both Edith Falls and Katherine Gorge have visitor centres and provide accessible and family friendly campgrounds.
7. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
For many people THE reason to visit Australia, this majestic rock is even more impressive in real life than it is in photos.
Call it Ayers Rock or Uluru, but make sure to catch a glimpse of it both at sunrise and sunset! The rock changes color along with the light of day, making it range from bright yellow at daybreak to a shade of the darkest red just before nightfall.
And then there is The Olgas, or Kata Tjuta in the Aboriginal language. A walk into the Valley of the Winds is guaranteed to make you feel like you walked straight into Bedrock! Wiiiiiiilmaaaaaa! 😉
With so much to see and do, not to mention the relatively large distances between Kata Tjuta and Uluru (55 km) and between the park and Alice Springs (450 km), I’d say the best way to tackle this National Park is by honoring it with a multiple day visit.
Last time I was here, I decided to hike all the way around the Rock. Not only did it take us well over 3 hours under the burning sun (9.5 km), but a large part of the trail actually seemed more like a lake than a path, at certain points submerged under a foot of water! Still, it was amazing to see Ayers Rock from every angle – I must have taken over a 100 photos! – but for those of you willing to take this hike, you might want to inquire about the conditions at the visitor center beforehand.
Note: Although it does sound like a great challenge, I feel the need to advise against climbing Uluru. It goes against the wishes and religious beliefs of the Aboriginal people, so why bother? After all, didn’t you come here to SEE the Rock?
8. Great Barrier Reef
For most people, a visit to Northern Queensland means a visit to Cairns. But let’s be honest. As much as it can be fun to hang out in bars and to go souvenir shopping at the Night Market – they have everything and more for great prices! – the real reason you are here is to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Right?
There are literally tons of options to see the Reef, including glass bottom boat tours, snorkeling, and of course Scuba Diving. As soon as you step foot in Cairns, you will be bombarded with offers for half day tours, full day tours, and multiple day tours to either the Inner or the Outer Reef. Another alternative is to take a boat cruise (or simply a transfer) to one of the islands off the coast, to then go diving or snorkeling from there. Whatever you do, make sure to do some research and price comparison before deciding which company or expedition to go with, as the differences in package and pricing can be staggering.
If you decide to go with the latter option, an island I can very much recommend is Fitzroy Island. Only a 45 min boat ride from Cairns, and home to a beautiful resort hotel if you have something to celebrate or otherwise looking to stay a few days (just because you can?), the Reef really reaches right up to the beach at this incredibly idyllic island. In fact, you are going to want to check the tide before going into the water. Believe me, that reef is good for some nasty cuts if you don’t!
Feel like splurging a little? This is a good place to do it! Scenic helicopter, hot air balloon, or seaplane flight over the Great Barrier Reef, anyone?
9. Fraser, Gold & Sunshine Coast
Queensland can be roughly divided into (Tropical) North Queensland, Central Queensland, and Southern Queensland. Although these areas can be subdivided in many ways based on geographical location, climate, and main town, tourist attraction, or industry, it is safe to assume that the North attracts rain forest fans and visitors of the Great Barrier Reef, whereas Central Queensland focuses mainly on the production of beef (Rockhampton) and coal mining, thus attracting far less tourists.
In contrast, there are innumerable reasons for tourists to visit South (East) Queensland. Brisbane, the state capital and the country’s third largest city, Australia Zoo, founded by the (in)famous crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, and Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand desert island, to name just a few.
And with beautiful beaches all the way from Gold Coast up to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, there is really only one question left to ask. What are you waiting for?
10. Adelaide & Surrounding Vineyards
Although Adelaide is known as “the city of Churches”, a name the city earned by showing religious tolerance to immigrants throughout the 19th and 20th century, I would say the best reason(s) to visit Adelaide – besides some of the great festivals the city hosts throughout the year (!) – are the surrounding vineyards. You just can’t argue with wine.
11. Kangaroo Island
Back in 2008, I found myself in Adelaide with a few days to kill. Christmas was coming up, and so was my birthday, so I felt like doing something special. With Kangaroo Island, I most definitely got what I bargained for. One of the most surprising short trips I have ever taken!
Where places like Remarkable Rocks and Seal Bay are worth a visit for their natural beauty alone, you will get to see fur seals, sea lions, and even penguins as an added bonus!
Want to see even more animals? The island’s Wildlife Park is good for a whopping 1,500 different animals (!), and adventurous visitors can ‘get their creep on’ at Raptor Domain, featuring poisonous snakes, dangerous spiders, and impressive birds of prey.
And please do yourself the enormous favor of going to see one of the Pelican feedings on the island. It is incredibly fun to watch, the pelicans will come almost too close for comfort (one them actually jumped on my lap to catch on the fish!), and it is absolutely shocking how many fish they can swallow at one time!
I loved Hobart when I first visited in 2008, and I still loved Hobart when I returned in 2015. In fact, I was so impressed by Hobart during my second visit that I came to the conclusion that I could easily live here. This city on the water is awesome!
Why? Because Mount Wellington makes for a beautiful backdrop to every photo. And the view from Mount Wellington just after sunrise is simply stunning. Or because the harbor is a great place to take my morning coffee while staring away at the boats that are peacefully bobbing in the water. Or maybe because the Mona features an incredible collection of Old and Modern Art.
Nah, it is probably because I love shopping & dining at the Salamanca Market. Or should I just fess up to the fact that I love Tasmanian wines, whiskeys, and ciders? I don’t know. You tell me why I love Hobart so much. 😉
13. Bay of Fires
The Bay of Fires is a not-to-miss destination in Tasmania. Not only are visitors treated with marvelous views of bright orange rocks standing in stark contrast to the white beaches and turquoise waters of the region, but amazingly enough visitors are allowed to camp FOR FREE in most places (!).
Although the Bay of Fires is located at a mere 275 km from Hobart, it does make for a 4+ hour drive. All the more reason to combine your trip with a visit to Freycinet National Park, another must-see on the North East coast of Tasmania!
Related article: Fun for free: Camp your way around Tasmania
14. Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park
Cradle Mountain National Park is a true heaven for nature lovers and fanatic hikers alike. The park contains various walking tracks, including the trail past Lake Lilla and Wombat Pool to Marion’s Lookout (2.5 hrs return), and the relatively easy walk around Dove Lake (6 km – 1.5 hrs).
Those of you who would like to climb all the way to the summit of Cradle Mountain – at a height of 1545 m – should calculate between 6-8 hours to conquer this challenging track, as it takes you past a number of very steep climbs, large rocks, and slippery slopes. Especially in winter (!). Do yourself a favor and check the weather conditions at the visitor center before heading out.
Note: The park is also a popular starting point of the adventurous Overland Track, a six-day journey through the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness, and Australia’s premier alpine walk.
Related article: 5 reasons not to skip Tasmania on your trip to Australia
Melbourne was my home for almost a year. It already was my favorite city in Australia before, but it most certainly is after having lived there. From beachy St Kilda or the modern Docklands, to bohemian Brunswick and funky Fitzroy, every suburb of Marvelous Melbourne has its own look and feel, popular culture, and the corresponding shops, boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.
Besides, for running festivals like White Night, Fringe, and the Melbourne Festival, and sports events such as the Melbourne Cup and the Australian Open, Melbourne is known as the Arts & Sports capital of Australia. Culture and competition, these people know how to have fun! 😀
Last but not least, it’s no secret that Melbourne is crazy about coffee. Nothing is taken more seriously in this city than how you take your “cuppa”. Melbourne is home to thousands of cute, trendy, and traditional coffee shops to get your kickstart in the morning, or your cup of solace in the afternoon. And if your “cup of Joe” contains any milk, you’ll be sure to receive a true Artwork In A Cup!
Related article: Two days of shuttling through Marvelous Melbourne
16. Grampians National Park
On your next visit to Victoria, make sure to take this real-life fairy tale trip to Wonderland: an incredibly beautiful hiking area in Gariwerd, the aboriginal name for a gorgeous display of nature known as The Grampians.
The Grampians National Park is very much like The Great Ocean Road, in the sense that you just have to stop everywhere and see it all. Whenever we spotted a sign for another walking trail or lookout, we were parking our car before anyone even had time to process the “We-really-have-to-keep-moving-if-we-want-to-see-MacKenzieFalls-before-sunset” thought that probably crossed all of our minds.
Hall’s Gap is the main town in the Grampians, featuring the Tourist Information Centre, a large caravan park a.k.a. camping site, a number of restaurants, and a disproportionate amount of ice cream parlors. This place is packed with campers, day-trippers, and other excited explorers almost year round, so if you’d like a little peace and quiet I recommend renting a bungalow or cabin just outside of the park.
Related article: Rocks, roos, and rolling hills in the Grampians
17. Great Ocean Road
Just ‘around the corner’ from Melbourne, this scenic route makes for one hell of a road trip!
One could easily take as much as a week to explore every stop, trail, and town on the Great Ocean Road, but most people either take out a rental car for a leisurely two-day drive, or join a one-day bus tour departing from Melbourne. [If you decide to do the latter, please take into account that you will be leaving around 6-7 am and won’t be coming back until 8-9 pm or even later!]
The Great Ocean Road is a 243 km scenic route, starting at the coastal town of Torquay and ending in Warrnambool. Coming from Melbourne, it will take you approximately 2 hours to get to the first turnoff towards the Road. You will see road signs for the B100, or “Great Ocean Road”, with little Anchor icons indicating special sights, lookouts, monuments, and hiking trails along the route. Good luck stopping at all of them!
Related article: The Great Ocean Road: Sunshine, selfies, and many stops
18. Monkey Mia in Shark Bay
Road tripping Western Australia is something I can absolutely recommend to everyone. What an adventure!
On this particular trip, we rented a camper van and drove approximately 10,000 kilometers across the Australian Outback over the course of two months. We’ve come to the conclusion that the entire WA coastline is amazingly beautiful, and that the history and stories of the Dutch shipwrecks in the 17th and 18th century are fabulously fascinating.
Nevertheless, the World Heritage listed area of Shark Bay manages to stand out for its flora & fauna, including the 3.5 billion (!) year old fossilized Stromatolites, the largest known area of seagrass, and a population of over 10,000 dugongs (sea cows).
But my all-time highlight was Monkey Mia, where I got to see and feed the local bottlenose dolphins! I mean, what could possibly top that?
The coastal drive from Perth to Broome was a trip I desperately wanted to take since I first visited Australia in 2008. I just had to see Broome with my own two eyes!
And boy did this place deliver. We were lucky to stay with friends in their very comfortable family home, so we unexpectedly ended up spending a whole week in this isolated yet touristy pearling town. All the more time to explore!
We studied the tides and inspected the dinosaur prints at Gantheaume Point, spent an afternoon betting on the horses at the Broome Derby, were lucky enough to see the staircase to the Moon on a starless full moon night, and visited the Japanese and Chinese cemeteries that remind us of the many ethnic divers who lost their lives in the challenging and often dangerous pearling industry.
But we were also “just tourists”. We walked the Jetty to Jetty Walk, went souvenir shopping in Chinatown, and took a camel ride on Cable Beach. So. Much. FUN! 😀
20. The Kimberley
One of the most remote regions in Australia, almost exclusively accessible by four-wheel drive, the Kimberley is very much worth a visit for the adventurous traveler!
Here’s the deal. You either go in ‘armed’ with a truck, some camping gear, and your private supply of fuel, or – and you would need to be ready for a serious splurge (!) – you can buy yourself a ticket on one of the many luxury Kimberley Tours, involving scenic flights, boat tours, and 4WD drives.
Whichever way you decide to visit the Kimberley, you will be blown away by the vastness, the ruggedness, and the beauty of these 423,500 km2 of insanely dramatic landscapes. Not to mention the many waterfalls, gorges, and impressive rock formations.
In short, it is worth your while to go informed and well-prepared, but if you have the slightest chance… make sure TO GO!