Simply the best

17:00, Jun 07 2014
Top Australian holiday spots
1. DIVE THE HERON BOMMIE. Before you bother with Thailand, or you start thinking about the Caribbean, you have to scuba-dive on the Great Barrier Reef. One of the best places to do that is Heron Island, at the reef's southern end, and one of the best sites at Heron is "The Bommie", a series of coral outcrops that attracts all manner of marine life. This cleaning station - where fish and rays come to be groomed by smaller fish - is a favourite stop-off point for manta rays, eagle rays, reef sharks, wobbegongs, turtles ... and scuba-divers.
Top Australian holiday spots
2. TAKE A WINE-TASTING TOUR OF MARGARET RIVER. If you can tear yourself away from the beaches you'll find the Margaret River region's real drawcard: wine. From the huge and professionally run, such as Leeuwin Estate winery, to boutique cellar doors such as that at Cape Grace - where the vineyard dog seems to get as much attention as the award-winning cabernet sauvignon - this is a day that's best spent not being the designated driver. Hire someone else for that and get ready to taste.
Top Australian holiday spots
3. STAY ON A WORKING SHEEP STATION. Culture comes in many forms, from paintings on a wall to a boot connecting with a footy, but one key element of Australian society is rarely appreciated by city slickers: the humble farm. What better way to grasp the enormity of this wide brown land, and the life lived by those who earn their keep from it, than to stay on a working sheep station? Check out Bullo River Station in the Northern Territory, an $800-a-night luxury experience.
Top Australian holiday spots
4. SLEEP BY THE SEA AT WATEGOS BEACH. Close enough to Byron Bay to possess its hippy charm, but secluded enough to avoid the crowds that flock to it, Wategos Beach in NSW is the perfect place to rent an apartment and while away a week doing very little.
Top Australian holiday spots
5. EXPLORE KAKADU BY 4WD. If there's any natural attraction in Australia that can stand proud among the world's greats, it's Kakadu. People pay small fortunes to safari in Africa, or to schlep through the Amazon jungle, when one of the true wonders is in our backyard. You need to see this by four-wheel-drive, to get down and dirty with the crocs, to camp under the stars and experience the immensity of this amazing park. That's an adventure to rival them all.
Top Australian holiday spots
6. TREK THE LARAPINTA TRAIL. Up there with Tasmania's Overland Track as this country's "must-do" walk for outdoor enthusiasts, the Larapinta Trail is a classic adventure. Spanning 223 kilometres of the West MacConnell Ranges in central Australia, the trail is designed to be tackled over 12 relatively gentle days, beginning at the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station and ending at Mount Sonder. The landscape is rugged and beautiful, and the isolation absolute - not an experience you'll readily forget.
Top Australian holiday spots
7. PLAY A ROUND OF GOLF AT BONVILLE. Golf enthusiasts travel far and wide for the chance to lose balls and get angry with their putters in exotic locations, but some of the world's finest courses are here in Oz. Bonville, near Coffs Harbour, is in Australia's top 50, and provides a great balance of affordability, ease of access, and a ridiculously nice, if challenging, layout. With plenty of other courses in the region, it's worth spending a week here. And bringing a lot of balls.
Top Australian holiday spots
8. TOAST THE VIEWS AT WINEGLASS BAY. This is one of Australia's most photographed natural attractions, and with good reason. Set in the pristine Freycinet National Park in Tasmania, viewers of Wineglass Bay have two options: hike the 2 hours up to Wineglass Bay Lookout; or jump aboard Wineglass Bay Cruises and spend four hours touring the area, including Coles Bay and the pink granite cliffs of the Hazards.
Top Australian holiday spots
9. LEARN TO COOK IN THE BAROSSA. If there's one thing MasterChef has taught us - aside from the bizarre allure of a cravat - it's that the Barossa Valley is bursting at its vine-covered seams with quality fresh produce. Best way to use this gourmet extravaganza is to take a cooking class. Learn from local darling Maggie Beer, or Italian specialist Matteo Carboni, or fresh-food champion Mark McNamara. And why not wash it all down with a cheeky shiraz?
Top Australian holiday spots
10. CYCLE THE NSW SOUTH COAST. Some kids have far too much energy. Actually, some parents do too. Best way to deal with this is to get everyone on a bike and pedalling, and the best place to do that is on the NSW South Coast. From Waterfall down to Kiama there are some great places for the family to cycle, taking in coastal roads, lighthouses, beaches, parks, rivers and small towns.
Top Australian holiday spots
11. TAKE A TOUR AROUND ULURU WITH THE ANANGU. Put Machu Picchu on hold. Stick Angkor Wat on the backburner. Before you seek to understand the cultural and spiritual centre of another country, why not understand your own? Uluru holds that place in the hearts of many indigenous Australians, and there's no better way to learn about it than with a walk around the base of this monolith with an Anangu guide, who can talk you through all of the Dreamtime stories the rock has inspired.
Top Australian holiday spots
12. CAMP IN THE CAPRICORNIA CAYS. Surely the best way to experience island life in the Great Barrier Reef is at its simplest: camping. Forget the high-rise buildings and mega-resorts - at Lady Musgrave (pictured), North-West and Masthead Islands at the southern end of the reef, it's tents only.
Top Australian holiday spots
13. RAFT THE FRANKLIN RIVER. This is no ordinary whitewater-rafting trip. It's a week-long adventure through primeval wilderness, tackling rapids by day and camping by night. Trips along the Franklin River typically run the waterway's full course, and include side journeys on foot up Frenchmans Cap, and exploration of the surrounding gorges. It's one of Australia's true adventures.
Top Australian holiday spots
14. WATCH THE SUNSET ON CABLE BEACH. There are camels walking past as the sun creeps towards the Indian Ocean. Their shadows are reflected in the wet sand, camel doppelgangers in the dying light. The sky glows orange. It's the end of a big day. Maybe you've been fishing for big game. Maybe you've been sailing, or touring breweries, or hiking gorges, or taking joy flights. But a sunset on Cable Beach is the perfect way to bring it to a close.
Top Australian holiday spots
15. GO WINE-TASTING IN MCLAREN VALE. There are a few decisions you'll have to make while touring McLaren Vale, but most important: who's going to drive? Once you've sorted that out you can ponder the other conundrums, such as whether you should buy a case of the cab sav or just a couple of bottles. Or whether you should eat Italian at Vasarelli, or mod Oz at Woodstock.
Top Australian holiday spots
16. TAKE A CRUISE THROUGH THE KIMBERLEYS. Whether you're there for the fishing or the swimming, the barramundi or the croc-spotting, the luxury or the deep isolation, there's no disputing that the Kimberleys is an amazing part of the world, and it's best explored from the deck of a boat. There are so many options available that it would be impossible to canvas here - needless to say, you're sure to find something with a budget and itinerary to suit.
Top Australian holiday spots
17. TAKE IN MELBOURNE'S ART SCENE. What is art, exactly? Is it the modern masters at the National Gallery of Victoria? Or is it Australian classics at the Ian Potter Centre? Maybe it's up-and-coming locals featured in artist-run initiatives in Fitzroy and Port Melbourne? Or could it be found outdoors, sprayed and stencilled on the bricks of Melbourne's warren of alleyways? Regardless of your definition, there's art to be found throughout Victoria's capital, and it can all be covered on foot.
Top Australian holiday spots
18. SAIL THE WHITSUNDAYS. There's a certain beauty to the humble sailboat, the feeling of harnessing nature's power rather than fighting against it as you bob along in the wide blue ocean under billowing sails. Australia has a long history of sailing, from tall ships to Cup racers, and there are few better places in the world to experience it than in our nation's north, in the Whitsunday Islands. Whales appear some days. Dolphins, too. The sun beats down on clear water, the wind puffs gentle breezes, and the view from the deck can't be beaten.
Top Australian holiday spots
19. TAKE A HELICOPTER FLIGHT OVER THE 12 APOSTLES. Those wanting to take a step beyond driving the spectacular Great Ocean Road need to get airborne - it's even more spectacular from high up above. Scenic helicopter flights are available over this famously rugged stretch of coastline, taking in not just the famed 12 Apostles, waves crashing into their bases far below, but also the Shipwreck Coast and Port Campbell National Park. It's bucket-list stuff.
Top Australian holiday spots
20. TAKE A ROAD TRIP FROM PERTH TO EXMOUTH. At the end of your journey, an experience you'll never forget: swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef. But there's plenty more adventure to be had before your campervan rolls into Exmouth. Once you've dragged yourself away from the beaches in Perth, there's the Jurien Bay Marine Park to explore, plus the famed Pinnacles nearby. There are dolphins to swim with in Monkey Mia. There are also so many country pubs along the way that you'll never want to see a beer again.
Top Australian holiday spots
21. HIKE IN THE SNOWY MOUNTAINS. You might not find the soaring peaks of the Andes or the Himalayas, but what you will find is accessibility. Where else can a rank novice scale a continent's highest peak? No oxygen tanks are required on Mount Kosciuszko. To ascend our towering glory all you'll need is a spare afternoon. And why stop there? There are hundreds of walks throughout the Thredbo area, as well as beautiful accommodation like Moonbah Hut in nearby Jindabyne. Sure beats a tent at base camp.
Top Australian holiday spots
22. GO BAR AND RESTAURANT HOPPING IN THE MELBOURNE CBD. You will need a guide - a local friend and/or a copy of "the bible", The Age Good Food Guide. If you're going to get the best out of an evening in the Melbourne CBD, you need some insider knowledge. You need to know which tiny alleyway to wander down to find that restaurant; you need to know which unmarked door to enter to find that bar. The rewards will be self-evident: cosy little spaces with great music, great food, great wine and cocktails, and unpretentious but sophisticated crowds out to enjoy it.
Top Australian holiday spots
23. GO ROCK-CLIMBING IN BRISBANE. There are few cities in the world that provide the opportunity to climb on natural cliffs right in the inner city. At Brisbane's Kangaroo Point you get just that, with the added bonus of a great range of routes, from beginner to expert, and views across the river to the CBD. Throw in a trip to the world-class art gallery GOMA, plus a few nights on the town in Lonely Planet's choice of the "hippest city in Australia", and you've got yourself a holiday.
Top Australian holiday spots
24. LEARN TO SURF IN TORQUAY. The title of Australia's "home of surfing" is up for debate - hello Gold Coast, Coolangatta, Margaret River - but one of the strongest contenders is Torquay, the laidback surfie town on Victoria's Great Ocean Road. Home to world surfing tour venue Bells Beach, Torquay is also a great place for beginners, with plenty of surf schools vying for the chance to get you upright in the ocean. Just remember to hire a wetsuit.
Top Australian holiday spots
25. VISIT MONA IN TASMANIA. What's with this funny little island in our nation's south? There it is, cast adrift in a cold sea, quietly producing some of our best sportsmen - that's you Mr Ponting, and Boonie - as well as some of our best natural produce, and now some of our best cultural attractions. MONA - the Museum of Old and New Art - is weird. So weird that it'll have even the most sceptical of artistic philistines enthralled as they wander through it. It's probably taken Boonie's mantle as Tasmania's most treasured possession.
Top Australian holiday spots
26. GO TO THE BOXING DAY TEST. It matters little whether you're a fan of cricket, because this is an experience that transcends the sport. A Boxing Day Test is a microcosm of Australian life, from the perma-grumps in the members stand to the families in the dry section to the costumed idiots on bucks' days making "beer snakes" out of their empty plastic cups. You could argue for AFL, you could pitch for the Melbourne Cup, but surely the best day out on the Australian sporting calendar - even the world's sporting calendar - is the Boxing Day Test.

From diving with turtles to hiking the continent's highest peak, here are 20 top reasons to holiday in Australia.

1 DIVE AT HERON ISLAND

Before you bother with Thailand, or you start thinking about the Caribbean, you have to scuba-dive on the Great Barrier Reef. One of the best places to do that is Queensland's Heron Island, at the reef's southern end, and one of the best sites at Heron is "The Bommie", a series of coral outcrops that attracts manta rays, eagle rays, reef sharks, turtles . . . and scuba-divers.

MONA Tasmania Museum
MONA: It is a museum so weird that even the most sceptical of artistic philistines will be enthralled.

2 SLEEP BY THE SEA AT WATEGOS BEACH

Close enough to Byron Bay to possess its hippy charm, but secluded enough to avoid the crowds, Wategos Beach in New South Wales is the perfect place to rent an apartment and while away a week doing very little. You could get up early to surf the gentle break, or you could sleep in and enjoy a late brunch. You could lie on the beach, or hike up to the lighthouse. visitnsw.com

3 EXPLORE KAKADU BY 4WD

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If there's any natural attraction in Australia that can stand proud among the world's greats, it's Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. People pay small fortunes to safari in Africa, when one of the true wonders is in our neighbour's backyard. You need to see this by four-wheel-drive, to get down and dirty with the crocs, to camp under the stars and experience the immensity of this amazing park. That's an adventure to rival them all. travelnt.com

4 TREK THE LARAPINTA TRAIL

Spanning 223 kilometres of the West MacConnell Ranges in central Australia, the trail is designed to be tackled over 12 relatively gentle days, beginning at the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station and ending at Mt Sonder. The landscape is rugged and beautiful, and the isolation absolute - not an experience you'll readily forget. travelnt.com

5 PLAY A ROUND OF GOLF AT BONVILLE

Golf enthusiasts travel far and wide for the chance to get angry with their putters in exotic locations, but some of the world's finest courses are just across the Ditch. Bonville, near Coffs Harbour in NSW, is in Australia's top 50, and provides a great balance of affordability, ease of access, and a ridiculously nice, if challenging, layout. With plenty of other courses in the region, it's worth spending a week here. bonvillegolf.com.au; visitnsw.com

6 TOAST THE VIEWS AT WINEGLASS BAY

Set in the pristine Freycinet National Park in Tasmania, viewers of Wineglass Bay have two options: Hike the two hours up to Wineglass Bay Lookout; or jump aboard Wineglass Bay Cruises and spend four hours touring the area, including Coles Bay and the pink granite cliffs of the Hazards. discovertasmania.com.au

7 LEARN TO COOK IN THE BAROSSA

South Australia's Barossa Valley is bursting at its vine-covered seams with quality fresh produce. The best way to use this gourmet extravaganza is to take a cooking class. Learn from local darling Maggie Beer, or Italian specialist Matteo Carboni, or fresh-food champion Mark McNamara. And why not wash it all down with a cheeky shiraz? southaustralia.com

8 CYCLE THE NSW SOUTH COAST

Some kids have far too much energy. Actually, some parents do too. Deal with it by getting everyone on a bike and pedalling, and the best place to do that is on the NSW South Coast. From Waterfall down to Kiama there are some great places for the family to cycle, taking in coastal roads, lighthouses, beaches, parks, rivers and small towns. visitnsw.com

9 TAKE IN MELBOURNE'S ART SCENE

What is art, exactly? Is it the modern masters at the National Gallery of Victoria? Or is it Australian classics at the Ian Potter Centre? Maybe it's up-and-coming locals featured in artist-run initiatives in Fitzroy and Port Melbourne? Or could it be found outdoors, sprayed and stencilled on Melbourne's alleyways? Regardless of your definition, there's art to be found throughout Victoria's capital, and it can all be covered on foot. visitvictoria.com

10 TAKE A TOUR AROUND ULURU

Put Machu Picchu on hold. Stick Angkor Wat on the backburner. For many indigenous Australians, Uluru is the country's cultural and spiritual heart and there's no better way to learn about it than with a walk around the base of this monolith with an Anangu guide, who can talk you through all of the Dreamtime stories. ayersrockresort.com.au - travelnt.com

11 RAFT THE FRANKLIN RIVER

This is no ordinary whitewater-rafting trip. It's a week-long adventure through Tasmania's primeval wilderness, tackling rapids by day and camping by night. Trips typically run the waterway's full course and include exploration of the surrounding gorges. It's one of Australia's true adventures. discovertasmania.com.au

12 TAKE A CRUISE THROUGH THE KIMBERLEY

Whether you're there for the fishing or the croc-spotting, the luxury or the deep isolation, there's no disputing that the Kimberley region of Western Australia is an amazing part of the world, and it's best explored from the deck of a boat. There are so many options available that it would be impossible to canvas them here - needless to say, you're sure to find something with a budget and itinerary to suit. westernaustralia.com

13 SAIL THE WHITSUNDAYS

There's a certain beauty to the humble sailboat, the feeling of harnessing nature's power rather than fighting against it as you bob along under billowing sails. Australia has a long history of sailing and there are few better places in the world to experience it than in Queensland's Whitsunday Islands. Whales appear some days. Dolphins, too. The sun beats down on clear water, the wind puffs gentle breezes, and the view from the deck can't be beaten. destinationqueensland.com

14 TAKE A HELICOPTER FLIGHT OVER THE 12 APOSTLES

Those wanting to take a step beyond driving the spectacular Great Ocean Road need to get airborne - it's even more spectacular from up above. Scenic helicopter flights are available over this rugged stretch of coastline, taking in not just the famed 12 Apostles, waves crashing into their bases far below, but also the Shipwreck Coast and Port Campbell National Park.

It's bucket-list stuff. visitvictoria.com

15 TAKE A ROAD TRIP FROM PERTH TO EXMOUTH

Once you've dragged yourself away from the beaches in Perth, there's the Jurien Bay Marine Park to explore, plus the famed Pinnacles nearby. There are dolphins to swim with in Monkey Mia. There are also so many country pubs along the way that you'll never want to see a beer again. Well, maybe. westernaustralia.com

16 HIKE IN THE SNOWY MOUNTAINS

You might not find the soaring peaks of the Andes or the Himalayas, but what you will find is accessibility. Where else can a rank novice scale a continent's highest peak? No oxygen tanks are required on Mt Kosciuszko in NSW - all you'll need is a spare afternoon. And why stop there? There are hundreds of walks throughout the Thredbo area, as well as beautiful accommodation like Moonbah Hut in nearby Jindabyne. Sure beats a tent at base camp. visitnsw.com

17 GO BAR AND RESTAURANT HOPPING IN MELBOURNE

You will need a guide - a local friend and/or a copy of "the bible", The Age Good Food Guide. If you're going to get the best out of an evening in the Melbourne CBD, you need some insider knowledge. You need to know which tiny alleyway to wander down to find that restaurant and which unmarked door to enter to find that bar. The rewards will be self-evident: Cosy spaces with great music, great food, great wine and cocktails, and unpretentious but sophisticated crowds out to enjoy it. visitvictoria.com

18 GO ROCK-CLIMBING IN BRISBANE

There are few cities in the world where you get the opportunity to climb on natural cliffs right in the inner city. At Brisbane's Kangaroo Point you get just that, with a range of routes, from beginner to expert, and views across the river to the CBD. There's also a world-class art gallery GOMA, and the city itself is described by Lonely Planet as the "hippest city in Australia". destination queensland.com; riverlife.com.au

19 LEARN TO SURF IN TORQUAY

The title of Australia's "home of surfing" is up for debate - hello Gold Coast, Coolangatta, Margaret River - but one of the strongest contenders is Torquay on Victoria's Great Ocean Road. Home to world surfing tour venue Bells Beach, Torquay is also a great place for beginners. visitvictoria.com

20 VISIT MONA IN TASMANIA

MONA - the Museum of Old and New Art - is weird. So weird that it'll have even the most sceptical of philistines enthralled. discovertasmania.com.au; monanet.au

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