Visiting Australia is a huge must for anyone who loves to travel. This country is completely unique, with animals and geography that you won’t find anywhere else. But the unique nature of the outback means that cities are normally located around the coastline, and can be days of travel apart. So, when you can only pick one city, which do you go for? Here is a list of the five top cities to visit in Australia that you might want to choose.
Bondi Beach – Sydney
Let’s get this one out of the way first – it’s the most obvious option! Everyone has heard of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, so you will definitely want to head down to Circular Quay and see them for yourself. It’s a foodie paradise, there are hotels to suit every budget and taste, and bars and pubs are ubiquitous. This is the biggest draw from tourists from outside of Australia, so it’s busy – but worth it. If you want a chance to enjoy the sun, just head down the road to Bondi Beach, where you can relax on the sand or surf the waves. Harbour tours, the biggest and best museums in Australia, and a heaping dose of culture all await travellers who choose Sydney as their destination.
While many mistakenly believe that Sydney is the capital of Australia, it’s actually Canberra that takes that honour. It’s an underappreciated capital which doesn’t get as many visitors as it deserves – which is a shame considering that it was literally custom-built to perform the functions of a capital perfectly. Historic monuments and buildings, parks and green areas, nightlife, culture, and entertainment – it’s all laid out here for you to enjoy, with wide streets and a public transport system that can take you anywhere. You won’t be short of entertainment, even if this is not the most iconic Australian city. There’s a lot more waiting for you here than you might expect.
Melbourne is definitely a strong contender for the top city to visit, and it has a culture all its own. With a strong rivalry against Sydney, Melbournians will be happy to tell you that their streets are the best place to enjoy independent coffee brands and interesting foodie treats. The Melbourne Zoo is one of the most visited in the world, and you can find museums and art galleries to your heart’s content as well. Farmer’s markets are a big deal here, but those who prefer a bigger price tag can look for designer clothing in the swanky shopping malls. There’s a great range of accommodation choices for travellers within the city centre, from luxury apartments through to budget type hotels. Just outside the city are plenty of other great attractions, such as Phillip Island, where little penguins reign supreme.
While you might be wary of swimming in Brisbane’s river due to the bull sharks that swim in it, you can head to their artificial beach and swim in a huge man-made pool instead. Families love coming here to enjoy the Australian national pastime of a barbecue, and you’ll love trying your hand at it too. Those without families will enjoy the thriving nightlife scene, and art and culture are to be found on the daytime streets. The Kangaroo Cliffs loom nearby as a great place to climb or just go for a run along the top, so those with a love of the outdoors will be in their element. The biggest attraction has to be the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where visitors get to literally cuddle a koala. You’ll learn all about these adorable critters, which are endemic to Australia.
Cairns is well known as a city that enjoys sunshine all year round, which is why it’s just perfect that the city government have built a saltwater lagoon and a sandy beach right in the centre of it. There’s also a waterfront to enjoy if you don’t fancy going swimming there. This precinct also boasts volleyball courts, skate parks, play areas, and all of the food and drink you could ever possibly eat. You barely even need to stray out of this area, but when you do, you can travel up into the hills to visit areas of natural rainforest. Those who have been dreaming of getting into the Australian outback can do it here.
It’s a tough choice, and all of these cities put up a fair fight for the crown. After you’ve tried one, you might find a need to try the others and compare them for yourself.
Visiting Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula
Visiting Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula is the only place where I can ever feel truly relaxed. Not surprising considering how beautiful it is!
Visiting Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula is the only place where I can ever feel truly relaxed. A place I can rest my weary jandals and unwind after any stresses.
Sunrise in Whangamata
For 25 years, I have been heading to the family beach bach (Kiwi slang for holiday accommodation) in Whangamata for water adventures. Snorkeling, surfing, and relaxing on the empty beaches with a good book are how the days are best filled.
Even as the car cruised along the winding black sticky tarmac, melting under the hot sun, I felt relaxed. They know what is to come over the coming summer days.
Especially as we drove nearer and nearer, it always became a competition between us boys to see who could spot the sparkling blue sea on the horizon first between the rolling farmland.
Luckily for such a beautiful spot, development on the Coromandel Peninsula is slow, and Whangamata hasn’t changed much in the 25 years that we have been visiting.
Sure the houses have got more extensive and more expensive. But you don’t have to scratch very far below the surface to find the small-town charm of New Zealand in Whangamata.
Small town Whangamata seen from the Clark Island lookout
Locals still stop their cars on the main street to chat through their windows, oblivious to the queue behind them. Not that anyone in the queue minds.
And if you pass someone on the beaches while walking the dog, then a friendly greeting you will receive.
If you even see another person strolling along the empty white sandy beaches, which stretch from the Harbour entrance in the north to the freshwater estuary mouth to the south.
It doesn’t take long to fall back into the easy lifestyle of the locals either. And even though I am there to relax, I don’t sleep in.
I wouldn’t want to miss the spectacular sunrises spread across the eastern skies. It brings warm summer breezes and blistering sun to make you run for some shade and ice cream in the afternoon.
Whether it is with a freshly waxed surfboard tucked under the arm or the boat’s launching over the sand, we are up early to make the most of our days.
If we are out on the boat, lunch is packed away for later. Sheltered and secluded beaches along the rocky coastline or on one island become our tablecloth. And the sun warms us up after spending too long chasing crayfish underwater.
While it should surprise me, even after all this time on the road, I still count myself lucky that I get to call New Zealand home. The only problem with visiting Whangamata and home is that it makes it quite hard to say goodbye.
Check out our Wentworth Falls photos if you want to go hiking in Whangamata.
Thanks to Moss Burmester for some of the photos.
Surfing in Samoa – A Ride of a Lifetime
Have you ever risked injury to grasp that ride of a lifetime? If you try surfing in Samoa, then you will never forget stepping outside your comfort zone.
My wild surfing adventure in Samoa
The outboard motor coughed, spluttered, then died as the anchor was thrown overboard. For 10 minutes, we had motored along the shoreline as we searched for the perfect spot to go surfing in Samoa.
Silence descended around the small rubber boat as the first line of the swell marched in across the open expanse of water before our eyes.
From the deep blue trough, the first wave began to rise. Slowly building in height as the swell met the shallow coral seabed. As the lip of the wave folded over to crash into a churning blue and white foam, a cheer from one of the guys was quickly swallowed by the deafening roar reaching our tiny boat floating in the safety of the channel.
Diving into the crystal clear blue water, still chilled from the night, I threw back my head and eyed up the surfing takeoff spot.
Fresh surfboard wax clung to my torso as I paddled closer to the only spot you could launch from. My fingers felt as if they would scrape on the razor-sharp shallow coral-filled water below.
I was glad I was wearing my thick-soled rubber surfing booties for when I would have to stand on those same jagged corals inevitably.
Squinting into the rising sun, I tried to gaze through the glare. Every ripple danced across the ocean surface and glistened from the early morning sunshine.
As the first swell pushed underneath my shortboard, I could feel the power tugging at my legs beneath the surface. Each wave is ready to throw itself against the coral seabed and dash its beautiful form into a churning mess.
It gives a surfer only a few seconds to pounce to their feet to grasp onto an unforgettable experience.
Pointing my surfboard back towards the beach, I dipped my arms in. The swell reached my toes.
Once, twice, three times, I stroked. My muscles coiled inside as my board became as light as a feather. It was now that I had to spring.
Planting my rubber-covered feet and grabbing the outside rail of my surfboard, I leaned against the rushing wall of water. The power of the wave threatened to tear me from my stance and throw me onto the coral reef just 2 feet below the surface.
A fall that would not leave me unscathed.
The surfboard bucked once as I found my balance. As the wave pitched higher, I tried desperately to coax more speed out of the surfboard.
A shadow loomed over my left shoulder before pitching down over my right. The barrel of the wave fits perfectly over my hunched torso. My eyes fixed on the safety point just a few short seconds away.
Bursting into the sunlight, I ripped one last turn with a glance behind. A grin split my face as I realized I had done it. I had pushed my limits and succeeded.
I was surfing in Samoa.
A ride of a lifetime.
Extra Travel Information
We stayed at Maninoa Surf Camp (pictured above), for our surfing in Samoa trip. It is a dedicated surfing resort with beachfront fales and delicious food to keep you fueled.
You can fly direct to Samoa from New Zealand or Australia with a number of different airlines.
Surfing in Samoa is good all year round but the peak swell seasons are from April – November on the South Shore of Upolu Island. Not really recommended for beginners as the waves can be very fast and hollow for those who want a challenge.
If you want a slightly more relaxing experience then try snorkelling with turtles in Samoa.
Have you ever surfed before? What did it feel like?
Outdoor Activities in Cairns: Adventure City Guide
Find out how you can find the best Outdoor Activities in Cairns with our comprehensive Adventure City Guide to Cairns in Australia.
Are you looking for an insider’s adventure travel guide for the best outdoor activities in Cairns?
As part of our Adventure City Guide series, Charli from Wanderlusters shares with you her expert insider tips on the top adventure and outdoor activities to do in Cairns, including how to get there and costs.
Why visit Cairns for adventure?
Cairns sits on the northeast coast of the state of Queensland. Known as the place where the rainforest meets the reef, the area provides many activities for adventurous traveller. With its warm climate and laid-back vibe, the city is an excellent base to explore Australia’s tropical north.
We spent two months living in Cairns, although we’d only planned on visiting for a few days. Camping each night in our Winnebago, we utilised the city’s excellent network of bicycle lanes to discover all that is on offer.
Outdoor Activities in Cairns
Scuba Dive the Great Barrier Reef
Cairns is known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and it would be impossible to visit the city without hopping aboard a boat to see first-hand the beauty of the world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem. The only way to experience the reef for the adventurous traveler is to join one of the liveaboard dive boats that take guests out to the best dive sites on the reef.
The famous Cod Hole, Steve’s Bommie, and Pixie Gardens all provide world-class dives and give a brilliant insight into the diversity of life on the reef.
If you’re a more experienced diver or wish to gain experience fast, join Mike Ball’s seven day Coral Sea Safari and see the best of the Great Barrier Reef as well as the epic shark dive 150km from the shore at Osprey Reef. This five-star liveaboard is world-renowned for ensuring you see the best the reef has to offer.
Jump in at the Cod Hole and dive with fish the same size as you!
Brush up on your macro photography skills at Steve Bommie where you’ll spot nudibranchs, frogfish, and sea horses. You’ll need nerves of steel for the shark feed dive out at Osprey Reef. Descending to fifteen metres, your heart will race as you watch their shadows appear from below, anticipating a meal. As they frenzy around, you’ll need a steady hand to take a photo as they swim inches from your mask. In our opinion, this trip is the only way to submerge yourself in an unforgettable Great Barrier Reef adventure.
Getting to the Great Barrier Reef
You can jump aboard any of the liveaboard boats in Cairns, so no transportation is required.
Mike Ball offers three, four, and seven-night trips. You must opt for the four or seven-day trip to experience the shark feed. Prices start at AUD 1600 for the three-night trip, but cheaper rates can be negotiated a week before departure.
SAVVY TIP – We secured a placement on the Mike Ball Expedition Volunteer Programme and worked as dive crew on the boat for two weeks. This meant that we experienced the seven-night Coral Sea Safari twice in exchange for two weeks of unpaid employment to the ship. Averaging three dives a day is a brilliant way to experience the reef on a budget.
Note: To work on the dive deck, you must be a certified Dive Master. However, there are opportunities for Open Water divers to volunteer in the galley.
For more information, read our trip report.
White Water Rafting
For adrenaline junkies, the opportunity to get off the beaten track and onto some white water is always met with enthusiasm. The runoff from the rainforest and mountain ranges surrounding Cairns provides several significant stretches of river to explore. The Tully River is known throughout Australia and New Zealand for its exceptional rafting and encompasses classes one through five.
Along with the white water rafting, a day trip to the River Tully includes the opportunity for rock jumping, raft surfing, and rapid swimming. With memorable spots along the stretch of forty-five rapids like ‘Alarm Clock’ named because it provides those who pass a soggy wake-up call, and ‘Stair Case’ a nail-biting drop, the Tully makes for a first-rate adventure from your base in Cairns.
When booking your white water adventure, you will be advised of a collection point for your journey south to the Tully River. The transport is included in the cost of your rafting experience.
Cairns Rafting offer a collection and return to your accommodation, a lunchtime BBQ, and five hour rafting experience for AUD 195
SAVVY TIP – Visit the numerous tour desks in the town and barter for the best rate you can. Booking direct with the company is not always the cheapest option. The tour desks receive a commission, and they often give extra discounts to secure a sale.
If you’re strapped for cash, take a day trip to the freshwater paradise of Crystal Cascades. Located just twenty minutes west of the city this area is known to locals and tourists alike and is a popular place to cool off in the heat of the day.
With no entry fees, this is one of the most affordable paradise retreats you’ll ever find.
With numerous waterfalls and swimming holes set in stunning rainforest surroundings, it’s a great place to explore or relax and soak up some sun. There are opportunities for the more adventurous to take part in some cliff jumping. A short walk up the cliff from the largest waterhole will take you to the ‘No Fear’ point, the highest part of the cliff face from which you can launch yourself into the water below.
While not far from Cairns, there are no public transport options to Crystal Cascades.
We recommend hiring a car which can be done for around $35/day. If you’re considering taking a taxi note, there is intermittent mobile reception at the falls, and you may find yourself unable to call for a ride home. Drive to the suburb of Redlynch and simply follow the signs to Crystal Cascades. From the Red Beret Pub, the swimming hole is about 10 kilometers away.
There is no entry fee to the falls however, be sure to take supplies and sun cream as there are no shops close by.
SAVVY TIP – Chat to other travellers about visiting the falls. They may have their transport and be interested in experiencing the beauty of the falls themselves. Leave a wanted advert on the noticeboards in hostels and caravan parks advertising for travel buddies to share the cost of the car rental and fuel.
Local Secret Adventure in Cairns
Suppose you’ve spent your day laid by the lagoon and require something to get your blood pumping pop down to the esplanade for an evening exercise class. The best part about this program is that all the types are accessible. All you need to do is arrive at the esplanade in the city’s center equipped with the motivation to burn some calories, and away you go.
Choose from yoga, pilates, beach volleyball, aqua aerobics, boot camp, and Zumba, and get that booty in shape for free.
Best time of the year to visit Cairns for adventure?
Cairns provides adventurers with activities throughout the year; however, be aware that the Minkie Whale migratory season is from May to August, and you can scuba dive with them aboard Mike Ball’s Minke Whale Expedition in June and July.
Temperatures in northern Queensland can also reach 40°C during the summer months, and the area can be hit with thunderstorms and cyclones from December to March. If visiting during this time, be vigilant about applying sunscreen, wearing a hat, and always carrying water.
The reason I love Cairns for adventure is that…
The city is nestled in between the aquatic splendour of the Great Barrier Reef and the vibrant canopy of the surrounding rainforest that covers many of the coastal mountain ranges. Both provide endless opportunities for exploration and would keep any explorer happy for the duration of their stay.
And once you’ve explored the natural beauty of the surrounding environment, you can experience the cities thriving nightlife and relaxed beach vibe. Sometimes an excellent beer and a sea view are just what you need after a day of adventure.
In 2010 Charli & Ben made the decision to live a life less ordinary and six months later embarked on an undefined period of travel. Enforcing no restrictions on their itinerary they have chosen to travel at a slow pace and incorporate house sitting assignments in each country they visit.
With no time limit restricting their experience they are content to continue exploring the world as digital nomads. From backpacking through Central America to road tripping around Australia they embrace each and every opportunity for adventure.
Meet Cole and Adela
We have been wearing out our jandals (Kiwi for flip-flops) on our travel adventures around the world since 2009. We think our blog is thought provoking and a little witty. But we have been proven wrong before. Find out more about us here...
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