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By Australia specialist Christopher

Whale-dimpled waters, coral gardens, forests, and mountains: Australia’s landscapes and ecosystems lean into all kinds of outdoor activities, from sailing and snorkeling, all the way to spear-fishing with Indigenous guides.

Imagine giddy views from a seaplane over the west coast’s rawness, swimming alongside whale sharks, learning about bush tucker in the rainforest, hiking in the Outback, and cycling through a city’s historic quarters. These are just some of my recommendations, which you can slot seamlessly into a tailor-made trip, such as this one focusing on New South Wales.

1. Exploring kaleidoscopic underwater kingdoms

Whale shark, Ningaloo Reef
Whale shark, Ningaloo Reef

Australia’s biggest pull, for me, is its breadth of marine adventures. Queensland’s Hervey Bay and Fraser Island are my go-to places for whale watching — little compares to charging through the waves looking for humpbacks when they’re migrating (from July to November). Neither will I forget diving with yellow-brown leafy sea dragons (like a cross between a seahorse and a plant) off the coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Then there’s snorkeling. Everyone instantly thinks of the Great Barrer Reef, but there are many more coral ecosystems to explore, particularly along Australia’s North West Cape. Ningaloo Reef, near Exmouth, is one of the world’s healthiest fringing reefs. The water’s clear, turtles, manta rays, and dolphins abound, and you’ve got the bonus of being able to swim alongside whale sharks in the wild.

2. Hiking with a view

Kangaroo, Maria Island National Park
Kangaroo, Maria Island National Park

The vast majority of Australia is empty. Once you get away from the coast, you’re entering what Australians casually refer to as ‘the bush’ — sheer Outback wilderness that often bears little, if, any, signs of modern-day development.

For a taster, I recommend driving an hour and a half inland from Sydney to the Blue Mountains. Here, you’re never more than a ramble away from views of canyons and twisting turrets of sandstone, wrapped in a thick coat of eucalyptus trees.

For me, though, hiking in Tasmania stands head and shoulders above anything else in the country. With wide skies, thousand-year-old trees, and a temperate latitude that produces alpine herb fields and rich heathland, it feels like another planet. You’ll stumble across kangaroos, wombats, and wallabies pogoing among the dunes in Maria Island National Park, and maybe even rare Tasmanian devils.

On the northeast coast, you can walk across the Bay of Fires’ boulders, which are cloaked in blazing orange lichen. Climb to the ridges of Cradle Mountain in the Central Highlands, too, and the views reach almost to the Antarctic.

3. Sailing the Whitsunday Islands

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands

All glassy waters and white sands, this necklace of islands strung along the northeast coast of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef is a magnet for sailors of all stripes. I can arrange a multi-day sailing trip (the best time to visit is April to May, and September to November) which takes you beyond the developed resorts.

It’ll also give you a back-door entrance to uninhabited islands and access to the shining white sands, washed by blue and green waters, of Whitehaven Beach before anyone else.

4. Spear-fishing and storytelling with the Kuku Yalanji

Daintree National Park
Daintree National Park

You can connect with the world’s oldest living rainforest and Indigenous culture within Daintree National Park, near Port Douglas. The Kuku Yalanji people have been inhabitants of Mossman Gorge at the southernmost edge of the park for more than 4,000 years. During a half- or full-day walk with them, you’ll pass giant fig trees, fan palms, and primitive ferns and mosses tangled on the forest floor. You’ll also learn how to identify food sources for bush tucker, the tradition of ochre painting, hear Dreamtime stories, and fish for mud crabs with spears.

5. Cycling in the city

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

A city-focused trip to Australia can also be a cycling one. Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide bristle with dedicated and mainly flat cycle tracks that are suitable for families with children. My preferred cycling hub is Sydney, where guided bike rides take you over Harbour Bridge, past Sydney Opera House and the botanic gardens, and around The Rocks with commentary as you pedal. If that gives you a taste for more, the track from Manly tracing the north shore up to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is 19 km (12 miles) of sea-and-native-bush views.

6. A bird’s-eye view of Western Australia

Margaret River
Margaret River

I love the seaplane flight from Swan River in Perth because it invites you to see the west coast in air space that’s closed to commercial aircraft, and from a very low angle. Aerial views of Perth’s cityscape, Kings Park, pale-sand beaches, Rottnest Island, and over the vineyards of Margaret River give you an altogether fresh perspective of this often-overlooked region of Australia.

Australia activity vacation ideas

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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