Australia is home to some of the world’s most renowned travel destinations with Bondi Beach, Sydney Opera House, Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the Great Barrier Reef topping the list of many a bucket list.
There’s excellent cities, and peerless natural beauty and thanks to the country’s vastness, there’s still plenty to be discovered by travellers.
Here’s our rundown of Australia’s top 5 hidden gems:
Ningaloo Reef is an unspoiled underwater paradise and one of the longest fringing coral reefs in the world stretching for 160 miles along Australia’s north-west coast.
The UNESCO World Heritage site is home to more than 250 species of coral and over 500 species of fish, making it one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on the planet.
Unlike many reefs, Ningaloo hugs the shoreline with coral gardens and brightly coloured tropical fish lying mere footsteps from the beach – its outer edge protecting a crystal clear lagoon that is perfect for snorkelers.
Famously, Ningaloo is one of few locations worldwide where whale sharks gather annually, allowing visitors the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with the largest fish in the ocean alongside sea turtles and manta rays.
Laid-back Broome is a resort town in the Kimberley region and home to one of the world’s best beaches – Cable Beach. Famous for endless white sand, stunning sunsets and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, this 22km-long beach is breathtaking.
There’s plenty to see nearby as well. At Gantheaume Point, 130 million-year-old dinosaur tracks are revealed in the beach’s red rocks during very low tides. Roebuck Bay is a must for photographers – when the full moon rises over mudflats created by an extreme low tide, the reflections lead to a natural phenomenon known as the Staircase to the Moon – an optical illusion that looks like a stairway to the moon.
Overlooking Roebuck Bay is Chinatown, where visitors can explore the area’s romantic pearling history. In the late 1800s pearl divers from around the world sought their fortune in the Bay and Broome has inherited fascinating architecture from around the world and an array of gourmet cuisines. Touring one of the areas pearl farms or sailing on a pearling lugger is highly recommended.
3. Cockatoo Island
Australia’s Alcatraz, Cockatoo Island, is the largest island in Sydney harbour and a fascinating relic. Packed with photogenic industrial machinery and sombre convict architecture, Cockatoo Island (Wareamah) opened to the public in 2007 and is now home to excellent art installations and a calendar of brilliant festivals.
The island’s historical use as a prison and naval dockyard have left the most enduring marks on the island. Many of the 19th century buildings still stand and the recent discovery solitary confinement pits give a real insight into Australia’s prison colony past.
Regular ferry services serve the island and there’s a campground and rental accommodation with stunning views across the harbour as well as a cafe and a bar.
4. Atherton Tablelands
Near Cairns in Queensland’s tropical north lie the Atherton Tablelands. While the region is famous as the jumping off point for tours to the Great Barrier Reef, the nearby Tablelands are equally as spectacular.
Known as the food bowl of the tropics, travellers can indulge in some of the country’s most mouth-watering exotic fruits including the ooray plum or lillypilly rainforest berries.
The Tablelands are also home to a number of gorgeous waterfalls and gorges, including the most photographed waterfall in Australia; Millaa Millaa. The waterfall is also a perfect swimming spot where you can sport platypus and the beautiful Ulysses butterfly.
Travellers can spend the day driving the waterfall circuit, barbecuing and camp overnight at a number of sites.
The town of Esperance is a perfect base to explore some of Australia’s finest natural wonders. A string of stunning beaches are found nearby – head to Blue Haven Beach and Twilight Cove for excellent swimming, snorkelling and diving in calm, clear waters.
It’s also local to five national parks including Cape Le Grand National Park which is home to some of Australia’s best coastal scenery, plenty of wildlife and some of the country’s best picnicking and barbecue sites.
Esperance itself is home to an excellent waterfront brimming with sculptures and public art that tell the town’s story as well as frequent pop-up food or sports events – it’s a live open-air museum, well worth exploring.
Within a few hours’ drive of Esperance is Wave Rock, a striking granite cliff, standing 15 metres high, 110 metres long and shaped remarkably like a huge wave. The amazing formation is one side of an entire hill known as Hyden Rock.
The local indigenous Ballardon people explain the formation with a Dreamtime story which says the rock was a creation of the Rainbow Serpent as he dragged his swollen body along the land after consuming all the water in the area.
The incredible wave is not the only formation of note, the nearby Hippo’s Yawn, a 12 metre high cave that looks like the maw of a giant hippopotamus is also a brilliant photo opportunity.