Ultimate Aussie travel guide for the holidays and beyond

Kristine Tarbert
·Features and Health Editor
·14-min read

2020 was a year to forget when it comes to travelling, and heading overseas is likely still some time away.

But recent Tripadvisor research revealed 65 percent of Australian travellers are still dreaming about travel and looking for what’s safe and available in their own backyards.

relaxing travel
2021 is the year for exploring your own backyard. Photo: Getty

And while bucket lists have been historically reordered to prioritise spots like Uluru, and the Great Barrier Reef, there are plenty of less famous destinations that are just as worthy of hitting up in 2021.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, border restrictions may be in place so check for regular updates before you travel. But of course that isn’t stopping you from exploring your own state, provided you are able to do so.

NEW SOUTH WALES

Port Macquarie

We recently gave you 4 reasons a trip to Port Macquarie is good for the soul, including the bustling town centres, incredible food offerings, stunning scenery and hands-on experiences. And when it comes to accommodation Macquarie Waters is the perfect place to base yourself to see it all. Macquarie Waters is a boutique apartment hotel right in the CBD. Take a dip and relax all year round in the heated outdoor pool and spa or watch a ‘dive-in’ movie if you stay during in summer. There is an onsite restaurant and a roof deck featuring a hot tub, but the views are to die for. Not to mention you’re within walking distance of all the best things the town has to offer.

macquarie waters hotel view port macquarie
Hellooo Ocean views. Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle

Lake Macquarie

Whether your preference is sun, sand, sea or surf, Lake Macquarie is just 90 minutes from Sydney, perfect for day trips and weekend getaways. Blacksmiths Beach is one of the area’s top swim spots. Caves Beach is an amazing family beach with sea caves and rock pools to explore at low tide. For thrill seekers after something fast paced, JetBuzz is a must, located at Cams Wharf.

Port Stephens

Heading a little further up the NSW coast, a weekend at Port Stephens should also be on your to-do list. And absolute must is to head to the top of Tomaree Head Summit. The 45-minute walk is steep, but rewards you with epic views, taking in local islands and seemingly endless coastline. Head to Nelson Bay for some of the best foodie spots in the area - we can definitely recommend breakfast at Little Nel Cafe.

And when it comes to accommodation you can’t go wrong with Bannisters Port Stephens. It opened in 2018 in Port Stephens and sits on Soldier's Point overlooking Karuah River. The 78-room contemporary boutique hotel features renowned chef Rick Stein's restaurant (delicious!), along with a 400 seat bistro, Cheeky Dog and if you have the time head to SPA Bannisters for all the treatments you want and need.

Bannisters Port Stephens
Bannisters Port Stephens has the pool, the food, the location and the relaxation. Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle

Newcastle

Newcastle has evolved into an innovative beach city and coming in 2021 is a QT Hotel at the site of the historic former David Jones building. The 106-room hotel will have a rooftop bar and stylish decor that nods to the past. Crystalbrook Collection Hotel Group is also set to open Newcastle’s first five-star hotel, Kingsley, in April. The striking building has a 1970s aesthetic outside, opulent rooms and cocktail bar inside.

Myrtle Creek

Spend the weekend in a new glamping stay in Myrtle Creek. Aranyani Bison Adventure Tourist Park is a 470-hectare working Bison farm and offers tours during the day plus accommodation in traditional teepees. Along Myrtle Creek there are pockets of golden sand, freshwater fish to catch and plentiful walking trails.

Coffs coast

The 60-kilometre Solitary Islands Coastal Track off the Coffs Coast just got a whole lot easier to wander, with a new transport service offering pick-ups, drop-offs and vehicle and luggage transfers. Whether you’re doing a one-day or four-day hike, Solitary Island Coastal Walking Tours will take any excess luggage off your hands so you are free to traverse this string of idyllic golden beaches, rocky headlands and lush rainforest unhindered.

QUEENSLAND

Lady Musgrave Island, Bundaberg

Get ready to jump aboard Queensland’s second underwater accommodation on the Great Barrier Reef - Lady Musgrave HQ, a new pontoon providing a novel experience for day trippers, divers and educational groups off the coast of Bundaberg.

Launching in 2021, the pontoon and underwater observatory will cater to both day and overnight visitors. Sleep underwater in retractable bunk beds located in the pontoon observatory. The day tour experience is also set to be popular with leisure travellers and families, who can explore the diverse ecosystem of Lady Musgrave Island and the surrounding lagoon which is home to a thriving turtle population.

Aerial Drone views over the blue waters and coral of the great Barrier Reef, Lady Musgrave island, Queensland, Australia
The blue waters and coral at Lady Musgrave island. Photo: Getty

Hervey Bay

It’s the whale-watching capital of the world! Between July and November each year, up to 25,000 humpback whales cruise along the Queensland coast and many visit the calm waters around Hervey Bay. Join one of the whale-watching boats that depart from the marina each day to view these gentle giants in their natural habitat. Feeling brave? Pull on a wetsuit, strap on a snorkel and jump into the water with them at Hervey Bay Dive Centre. The centre runs tours daily from July to October. If you’re there outside of whale season, join a snorkelling tour with Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours to see coral reefs, fish, turtles and dolphins in the Great Sandy Marine Park.

Two humpback whales showing off their tails, Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia
Two humpback whales showing off their tails, Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia

Hinchinbrook Island National Park

Experience the magenta glow surrounding Hinchinbrook Island National Park, just a boat ride away from Cardwell. Hinchinbrook Cruises offer daily tours and transfers for hikers. Discover Zoe Bay and the famous Zoe Falls, Ramsay Bay, George Point, the Haven and other local islands - and spot dugongs and estuarine crocodiles along the way.

Hazelwood Estate

Take a moment to breathe in the refreshing country air and embrace a slower state of being when Hazelwood Estate swings open its gates in early 2021. Tucked away in the hills of World Heritage Listed Lamington National Park, Hazelwood Estate will offer luxury glamping accommodation, onsite day spa, infinity swimming pool and wagyu cellar door. The team will also work with local farmers to produce an authentic on-farm paddock-to-plate experience to complement the rural setting and traditional roots of the property.

Gold Coast

On the Gold Coast, the QT hotel has announced the launch of Heartbreak Hotel, a pop up Museum of Love and Disappointments, running from February 1 – 21 for a strictly limited season.

Sunset over the city of Gold Coast looking from the south, Queensland, Australia
Sunset over the Gold Coast. Photo: Getty

VICTORIA

Lake Crosbie

In the far northwest corner of Victoria lies Lake Crosbie and its smaller sister, Lake Hardy. These two lakes are made up of solid salt, but thanks to the presence of a red alga called Dunaliella salina, the lakes are given a brilliant rosy hue in late summer.

lake crosbie
Beautiful. Photo: Supplied

Daylesford

Revive, refresh and detox with a stay at any of these beautiful wellness retreats in the region, or a rejuvenation session at Samadhi Retreat, nestled in Daylesford Victoria and your worries will be drifting away in no time.

Buchan Caves

Discover a honeycomb of spectacular limestone formations carved by an underground river almost 400 million years ago at Buchan Caves. Tour the largest cave system in Victoria and marvel at the magnificent stalactite and stalagmite forms, pillars, shawls and rim pools, as well as cave sediment and a flowing stream. Come with a picnic basket in tow and enjoy a picnic with friends and family in the scenic heritage-listed landscape. Keep an eye out for native wildlife. Kangaroos lay about the campground and visitor centre while native birds can be seen perched among the trees. Camp a night under the stars at Buchan Caves and choose from powered or unpowered campsites, or stay a night at the unique Wilderness Retreats or cabins.

Fairy Cave at Buchan Limestone Caves in East Gippsland
Fairy Cave at Buchan Limestone Caves in East Gippsland

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Baird Bay

You’ll find the calm waters of Baird Bay 284 kilometres from Port Lincoln towards Streaky Bay. Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience will take you swimming with resident pods of bottlenose dolphins and inquisitive sea lions in their natural environment. Swimming with the sea lions takes place in a safe shallow area, while the dolphins swim in deeper ocean.

Flinders Ranges

The rugged, weathered peaks and rocky gorges of the Flinders Ranges in outback South Australia form some of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes in the country. It's a place rich in Aboriginal history and home to a vast array of wildlife. Following the scenic roads, 4WD tracks and walking trails that crisscross this wild countryside will take you on a remarkable adventure. The ranges are about 500 kilometres north of Adelaide, or a five-hour road trip. You can also fly from Adelaide to Port Augusta, which takes about 55 minutes.

Images taken in the outback South Australian region if the Flinders Rangers
Images taken in the outback South Australian region if the Flinders Rangers

Adelaide

On track to open in mid-2021, Sofitel Adelaide will be a world-class hotel with a touch of renowned French decadence. Located in Currie Street in the city’s CBD, the hotel will be the first internationally recognised five-star hotel to be built in Adelaide in 30 years. There will be a total of 250 rooms and suites, together with leisure and business facilities, which will include a restaurant, four bars, ballroom, swimming pool, health and fitness centre, meeting and conference rooms and a Sofitel Club Lounge.

TASMANIA

Bay of Fires

The Bay of Fires earned its name due to the bright orange rocks that contrast starkly from the white sand beaches and the beautiful crystal-clear water. As one of Australia’s most pristine locations, this area has an incredibly relaxing atmosphere, perfect for a getaway to unwind.

Bay on Fires
The Bay on Fires in Tasmania. Photo: Supplied

Hobart - Mount Wellington

If you’re in Hobart, Mount Wellington is hard to miss - partly due to its impressive size and partly due to the large amount of helpful signposting. The mountain is 1,269m above Hobart or sea level and is an iconic feature for the area. Walking to the peak is quite the experience, with incredible views along the way and then reaching a height above the clouds at the summit. The summit is also easily accessible by car, simply take the Pinnacle Road all the way the top.

Mt Wellington
Mt Wellington in Hobart. Photo: Supplied

If you’ve already been to Hobart but want to try something new, Accor will introduce its premium Swiss-born hospitality brand, Mövenpick, to Australia in January 2021. Mövenpick Hotel Hobart is set to be a warm, contemporary designed hotel with a cosmopolitan vibe. Located on Elizabeth Street, one of Hobart’s principal heritage streetscapes, and close to the bustling waterfront. A range of Mövenpick brand signatures will also be offered at the hotel, such as a daily ‘Chocolate Hour’ for guests.

Launceston

Taking place in Launceston from 15 - 17 January 2021 is the annual Mona Foma summer festival. The music and art festival will include Aqua Luma, which is an exciting laser show within the Cataract Gorge, Mofo Sessions at Royal Park that includes concerts, food trucks and bars staged along the Tamar River, and The Chairway to Heaven installation that will take visitors on suspended symphony into the sky whilst on board the Cataract Gorge Scenic Chairlift. Situated in the heart of where the festival will take place is the historic Leisure Inn Penny Royal hotel in Launceston, which is a great accommodation option for any type of traveller.

NORTHERN TERRITORY

Darwin

Though Europe’s Christmas markets are off the cards, Darwin’s outdoor market scene is equally as exciting. The city is a multicultural melting point, and its famous markets are jam-packed with rich aromas, bright colours, international cuisines and entertainment. Go gift-hunting at Parap Village Markets, the city’s oldest market. Running every Saturday, it hosts a variety of stalls, from local arts and crafts, beauty products, clothing, jewellery to local produce and Asian snacks. After shopping, try a famous bowl of laksa at Mary’s.

Also coinciding with Christmas and New Year, Tropical Summer host some of the most dazzling sunsets and electrical thunderstorms – an unmissable sight wherever you are in the Territory. You can watch the orange sun dip below the Arafura sea and picnic along Darwin’s iconic Mindil Beach. Or grab a harbour-side seat of the storm action at Darwin’s beautiful Stokes Hill Wharf, lined with shops and restaurants.

darwin sunset
Darwin has your epic sunsets covered. Photo: Getty

Kakadu National Park

A definite way to take in Kakadu’s pristine scenery and cascading waterfalls is via a scenic flight with Adventures NT, where you’ll be flown across the park’s vast paperbark forest and floodplains, and spot glimpses of saltwater crocodiles, buffalo and magpie geese. If you need any more convincing to book a visit, we’ve already explained why this breathtaking Aussie destination should be your next escape here.

Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is a dual heritage listed site. Photo: Getty

Litchfield National Park

Only a 60-minute drive south of Darwin, Litchfield National Park is possibly the Northern Territory’s best kept secret. The park is filled with stunning waterfalls and waterholes that are surrounded by monsoonal vine forests – all of which offer a cool respite on warm summer days. Litchfield’s Florence Falls offers panoramic views of the valley, sandstone plateau and lush monsoon forest. A drive through Litchfield is full of contrasts and some of the most enormous termite mounds in the Top End. Cabin, camping and caravan sites are within a short drive of the park gates.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Perth is currently the top trending destination for New Year travel on skyscanner.com.au, with searches increasing 39 per cent week on week during the month of December.

Perth cityscape at sunset sunlight, Australia.
Perth was at the top of everyone's New Year travel lists. Photo: Getty

Dongara - Port Denison

Dongara is a town 351 kilometres north-northwest of Perth on the Brand Highway. The town is located at the mouth of the Irwin River and is marketed as the 'Rock lobster capital of Australia'. And as it turns out the Dongara Tourist Park was actually voted the most loved campground by locals in 2020 on Tripadvisor. The park is located right on the beach and minutes from Indian Ocean Drive. It’s also only 3km south of the unique township of Port Denison, and offers a range of accommodation including powered and non powered sites and cabins.

Abrolhos Islands

Skyscanner named the Abrolhos Islands among its best destinations for 2021 for off-the-grid, under-the-radar travel. The Houtman Abrolhos is a chain of 122 islands, and associated coral reefs, and is often described as the Galapagos Islands of the Indian Ocean. The Islands have an abundance of activities to suit a variety of interests, including fishing and cray fishing; swimming, snorkelling and diving; bird watching; marine and wildlife spotting, such as sea lions, dolphins, wallabies and lizards; Island exploring; and simply relaxing in the pristine surrounds.

Abrolhos Islands National Park. Photo: Supplied
Abrolhos Islands National Park. Photo: Supplied

Rottnest Island

Skyscanner Destination Expert Paul Whiteway says while Perth’s favourite offshore island (truth be known, you could count them all on three fingers) is most famous for its cute quokkas, there’s much more to this little island.

Dazzling white sand, clear water, sweeping crescent-shaped bays and intimate cosy coves are all here. Favourites are The Basin, Longreach and Geordie Bays along with Thompson Bay, the hub of the island.

Hire a bike and head for Salmon Bay and Little Armstrong Bay, it's best if you get there early to avoid the crowds. Rotto, as it’s known by many, has boating, diving, snorkelling, surfing and swimming—it’s a water fan’s paradise!

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