Top things to do in Australia: The ultimate travel bucket list

Mighty Uluru in the Red Centre serves as a fitting metaphor for the beating heart of Australia.

With its significance to the First People and cherished place in the nation’s psyche as a whole, Uluru is often close to, or at the top of the list of the country’s must-see sights and attractions. As we reopen to at least one small part of the outside world, here’s a travel bucket list of ten top things to do in Australia. Tick them all off and you’ve earned your stripes as an honorary Aussie! Book your stay with Choice Hotels.

1. Scale the Sydney Harbour Bridge 

Ask any first-time visitors to Oz what they’re most looking forward to seeing, and the answer will almost certainly be the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. The pride of a nation hangs from the world’s biggest ‘coat hanger’, which spans the glistening harbour, carries 160,000 vehicles a day, and serves as the backdrop for innumerable selfies. It’s estimated that one million Sydneysiders turned out for the opening of the bridge in 1932, and four times that number have climbed to the top of the iconic arches with Bridge Climb Sydney. The South Pylon Lookout museum offers a less lofty but more cost-effective sense of the scale of this incredible piece of human endeavour.

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Sydney
Scale the heady heights of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Image: Bigstock

2. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef 

From the heady heights of the bridge, let’s do a figurative swan dive and swim north to Queensland to take in one of the world’s most epic natural wonders. The Great Barrier Reef stretches for 2,300 kilometres from the Torres Strait at the northern tip of the state, all the way south to graceful Lady Elliott Island off the Capricorn Coast. Human impact on the reef probably began when Captain Cook ran into it in the Endeavour in 1770, and it’s faced an uncertain future ever since. However, the best and brightest minds are working hard to help it not only survive, but thrive. The city of Cairns offers easy access to the most spectacular outer echelons of this giant coral garden. Choose to travel with an accredited cruise company that’s putting the health of the reef first, then snorkel across its myriad wonders. Minimise your impact by leaving nothing but bubbles and wake.

Need a place to stay?

Comfort Inn Cairns City offers affordable accommodation on the edge of the CBD, just a short walk from the Esplanade, Cairns Aquarium, and cafes and restaurants. Beat the heat with a dip in the refreshing tropical-style pool.

Cairns
Experience the magic of the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland

3. Drive along the Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road in Victoria is one of the world’s most spectacular drives. Hugging the undulating coastline for most of the 243 kilometres between the towns of Torquay and Allansford at the bottom of the Australian mainland, the road was constructed by returned servicemen from WWI to honour their fallen mates. The route has plenty of ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ moments, but none more so than your first sight of the limestone sea stacks known as the 12 Apostles. OK, so technically these days we’re an apostle or two short of a full deck, but the sight of the remaining honey-coloured monoliths that have managed to withstand the barrage of waves from the icy Southern Ocean for eons will take your breath away. Visit at sunrise or sunset for maximum effect.

Note: Halfway along the drive, the town of Apollo Bay is home to two other Aussie icons. Enjoy a famously flaky scallop pie from the Apollo Bay Bakery, and slurp down a Vegemite ice cream from Dooleys Ice Cream shop. Yes, you read that right!

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Comfort Inn The International is located in beautiful Apollo Bay, around an hour’s drive from the 12 Apostles.

Ten of the best Aussie destinations for history buffs
Drive the Great Ocean Road. Image: Visit Victoria

4. Honour the fallen

Those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are also honoured at two of the finest museums in Australia, if not the world. The Australian War Memorial heads the list of eminent cultural institutions located in the nation’s capital Canberra, and surrounding the central Commemorative Courtyard are exhibition halls that share the story of all the armed conflicts in which Australian service personnel have served. On the other side of the country in Western Australia, the state-of-the-art National Anzac Centre in Albany overlooks the serene waters of King George Sound. From here more than 40,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers sailed towards the battlefields of Europe and the Middle East in World War I. Many thousands would not return. Their story is told through a melding of multimedia and historical artefacts. It’s a must-see.

Need a place to stay?

Quality Hotel Dickson is perfectly positioned as a base for exploring everything the capital has to offer. Enjoy the comfortable and contemporary accommodation and onsite club facilities, including a restaurant, café, wine bar and lounge.

Conveniently located on the approach into Albany, the Quality Apartments Banksia Gardens offers one, two and three-bedroom apartments. Climb to the lookout at the nearby Mount Melville Parklands for more stunning views of the coastline.

Eight great things to do in Albany
National Anzac Centre, Albany. Image: Tourism Western Australia

5. See ancient rock art in Kakadu National Park 

Like Uluru, the region now known as Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory has long been of significance to the oldest continuous culture in the world. The thousands of Indigenous rock art (gunbim) sites spread across the park’s 20,000 square kilometres are one of the reasons this living outdoor gallery was granted UNESCO World Heritage status. Some paintings are as recent as the 1990s; others date back an estimated 20,000 years and depict a traditional hunter-gatherer way of life. Three key sites are open to the public ­– UbirrBurrungkuy (Nourlangie) and Nanguluwurr. It’s possible to arrange guided tours with a park ranger, which is included in the cost of your Kakadu park pass.

Need a place to stay?

Kakadu can be done as a day trip from DarwinQuality Hotel Darwin Airport has a resort feel and offers contemporary air-conditioned accommodation, a tropical-style pool and poolside bar, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

things to do in Kakadu
See incredible rock art at Nourlangie in Kakadu. Image: Bigstock

6. Catch a match at the MCG

The Victorian capital Melbourne has a passion for fashion, coffee, fine food and arty pursuits, but it’s sport that really gets the city’s pulse racing. The spiritual home of the sporting contest is the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Likened to a giant cauldron, the ‘G’, as its fondly referred to locally, often reverberates with the roar of up to 100,000 fans. It has hosted an Olympics, a Commonwealth Games, numerous cricket tests and Australian Rules Football (AFL) clashes, concerts, royal visits, and even a Pope. And while a game of AFL may leave international visitors looking slightly perplexed, there’s no misunderstanding the gravitas of this bastion of bold on-field moves. Book a behind-the-scenes tour to learn more of the ground’s history.

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list for sports fans
Take a tour of the MCG in Melbourne. Image: Visit Victoria

7. Head for the heritage town of Broken Hill

What does it take to have an entire town inscribed on Australia’s National Heritage List? Find out on a visit to the outback outpost of Broken Hill in the far west of New South Wales. So imbued with history is this mining centre, that the Heritage listing was bestowed on the town holus-bolus in 2015. Established in the late 1880s on the back of the discovery of the world’s biggest lead-silver-zinc ore deposit, Broken Hill’s grand period buildings rose from the desert dust and have been immortalised in films and TV series ever since (including the cult classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). Getting into or out of town by road is no mean feat. It’s just over 1,100 kilometres from Sydney, 500 from Adelaide, and 800 from Melbourne. Basically, Broken Hill is a long way from anywhere, so you may want to fly!

Need a place to stay?

Comfort Inn Crystal is located right in the heart of Broken Hill and offers easy access to the city’s key heritage sites and attractions.

Aussie towns bucket list 2020
Broken Hill is packed with period architecture. Image: Bigstock

8. Go grape grazing in the Barossa Valley

Over in South Australia, wine’s the word on everyone’s lips and the liquid in most people’s glasses. And it’s generally great wine. There are four or five wine regions within easy reach of the SA capital Adelaide, including one of the most famous winelands in the world – the Barossa Valley. First planted by German Lutheran settlers in the 1800s, today the Barossa’s wine industry encompasses some 150 wineries and around 80 cellar doors. Seek out Kalleske (run by seventh-generation Barossans) and Tscharke, which champions minimal intervention vintages.

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Barossa Valley
Visit the wineries of the Barossa Valley. Image: Bigstock

9. Hold a koala 

Australia has amazing wildlife, and taking away the sharks, crocs, snakes and spiders, much of what’s left looks totally huggable, right? Take those smiling quokkas from WA for example, or those super gorgeous baby wombats. And of course, nothing sends the cute metre into overdrive like a koala. Couldn’t you just give them a squeeze? Well, it’s not recommended, as they are wild animals and they do have claws. But there are opportunities to at least hold them in a handful of wildlife facilities across the country. One of the best know is Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in the Queensland capital Brisbane. It seems inconceivable now, but an estimated 600,000 koalas were killed in South East Queensland in the 1920s and 30s for their pelts. The sanctuary was established to house the orphans. It’s been a cherished part of the community ever since.

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Brisbane
Hold a koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland

10. Hit the beach 

Life’s a beach in Oz, literally. We’re one big island after all, and golden stretches of sand fringe much of the country. Top sandy spots to tick off include Bondi Beach in Sydney; Surfers Paradise in Queensland; St Kilda in Melbourne, Glenelg in Adelaide and Cottesloe in Perth. But there’s one destination that’s known for the best of the best beaches, and that’s Esperance on the southern WA coast. Beaches like Lucky Bay and Thistle Cove enthral visitors with their pure white sand and azure water. You be the judge, and say g’day to the photo-bombing roos that just can’t get enough of the beachfront lifestyle.

Need a place to stay?

Comfort Inn Bay of Isles sits right on the Esperance Esplanade and offers deluxe accommodation, an outdoor pool and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Lucky Bay, Esperance
Hit the beach with the locals at Lucky Bay. Image: Tourism Western Australia

Plan your Aussie adventure with Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels has you well and truly covered in Australia with a superb range of accommodation options to suit every budget. Search online and book direct for a Lowest Price Guarantee.

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.

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