Feeling inspired to explore Australia in 2014? Here are 14 places you should add to your must-visit list in 2014.
You only have to stand at Echo Point and look at the Three Sisters to work out that the Blue Mountains have been around for a long, long, long time – those rock formations would have taken a cool couple of million years to form. And you can still see this ancient history all over the mountains, from the remarkable red handprints marking the walls at the Red Hands Cave to the ancient Wollemi pines in Wollemi National Park (although you’ll just have to content yourself with knowing that the pines are there, because they are in a protected area of the park).
Lightning Ridge, New South Wales
This opal-mining town still feels like a frontier outpost, and is in a relatively isolated corner of New South Wales. Although the town attracts around 80,000 visitors each year, you can still hear stories coming out of Lightning Ridge about people being bribed with opals, which, true or not, gives the town an air of the Wild West. Combine that with the blistering summer heat, and you’ve got a place that will capture your imagination. You can fossick for your own opals in town (although we don’t recommend using them for bribes) or take a tour around some other digs.
If Lightning Ridge feels like an Old West frontier town, then Castlemaine feels like a frontier town of a different sort – the creative kind. With a community of painters, potters, instrument makers and crafters, Castlemaine is at the creative front of Victoria. The charm of the town convinces quite a few visitors to move here for good, and after visiting, you might be one of them.
Before it had a rich creative community, Castlemaine was quite simply rich. It was the centre of the greatest alluvial gold rush in the world, and the grand old buildings in town stand as monuments to this history. While in town, you should visit some of these buildings, including Buda Historic Home and Gallery and the Historic Market Building.
Hanging Rock, Victoria
Hanging Rock has a reputation as the Bermuda Triangle of Australia, somewhere that people disappear into and never come back. This is due to the famous book and film, Picnic at Hanging Rock, in which some schoolgirls and their mistress vanish around Hanging Rock and are never seen again. Hanging Rock might be famous for all of the wrong reasons – or the right ones, depending on who you are talking to – but it’s time that this rock threw off its bad reputation.
One thing the book did get right. Hanging Rock is a great place for a picnic. There are coin-operated barbecue facilities dotted around the reserve near the rock. Sit back with a sanga or two and enjoy the view of this geological formation. You can also climb the rock, and generally spot a koala or two. The rock was created by the erosion of solidified lava, and is surrounded by dense bushland.
Granite Island, South Australia
Rattling on a horse-drawn tram across the 630-metre-long causeway between Victor Harbor and Granite Island, you could almost pretend that you were in a bygone era. The island was discovered by both the British and French at around the same time in the early nineteenth century (although it has a much longer presence in the Ramindjeri people’s Dreamtime). But rather than being impressed by the large boulders covered with lichen or the beautiful views of the harbour, the British were enticed to Granite Island by the populous communities of seals and southern right whales, which prompted whaling stations to be set up on the island.
Today the island is much more animal-friendly, with many people visiting the island to catch a glimpse of the penguins that call the island home. Take the Kaiki Trail around the island to see signposts and remains of the island’s history, as well as the incredible natural beauty of this region.
Investigator Strait Maritime Heritage Trail, South Australia
The European history of the South Australian coast hasn’t just been treacherous for seals and whales – over 26 ships were wrecked on the stretch of coastline between West Cape in Innes National Park and Edithburgh. You can pick up a map that marks all of the wrecks along this coast, and take a drive along the route. It’s more famous for its diving opportunities, but you can still enjoy the trail on dry land.
New Norcia, Western Australia
When staring at the unmistakably Spanish vistas of New Norcia, it can be tough to remember that it was the British who settled in Australia. The town was established by Spanish Benedictine monks in the 1830s, which accounts for the classically imposing Spanish buildings. The town still runs as a monastery. It’s the only monastic town in Australia, which alone makes New Norcia worth a visit. You can join the monks in prayer, or explore the town on a guided tour. There’s a guesthouse, so you can enjoy the peace and quiet for a few days while snacking on some local produce, available from the Museum Gift Shop.
Bungle Bungles, Purnululu National Park, Western Australia
Australia has many awe-inspiring sights. Unfortunately for visitors, many of them are spread out across the country’s vast interior. And one of the most inaccessible sights is the majestic, World Heritage̶–listed Bungle Bungles at Purnululu National Park. Located on the border between Western Australia and Northern Territory, most visitors get to the national park through Kununurra, a large town on the banks of Lake Argyle.
It’s hard to explain the scale of these striped, cone-shaped rock formations, which form a rock city in the most unexpected place. Weave in and out of the rock formations, through laneways that put Melbourne to shame, to discover magical gorges and rock pools. It’s a sight worth travelling for.
Lost City, Cape Crawford, Northern Territory
A city on a much smaller scale, the Lost City at Cape Crawford is one of three areas in Australia claiming the name ‘lost city’, but it is our favourite. This city is a gathering of sandstone pillars, some reaching 25m high, which are the remains of an ancient sea bed. At 1.4 billion years old, the pillars are some of the oldest rocks in Australia. One of the reasons these pillars have survived so long is that you can only reach them by helicopter, as they are found in an inaccessible part of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Helicopter rides depart from Cape Crawford.
Mereenie Loop Road, Northern Territory
The Mereenie Loop Road is the most scenic outback road in Australia. It connects Alice Springs to Kings Canyon, and is an alternative to the sealed roads between Alice Springs and Uluru/Kings Canyon. You can choose one of two roads that make up the loop. The first, Namatjira Drive, takes you through the MacDonnell Ranges, a spectacular mountain range coated in fifty shades of brown. The other road, Larapinta Drive, passes by Finke Gorge National Park and Palm Valley.
The loop is an unsealed road, so a 4WD is recommended, and you’ll need to get a permit before undertaking the trip. The traffic is much lighter on the Mereenie Loop Road than on the main sealed road, although there’s enough outback scenery to go around. This is Namatjira country, and the soft colours may surprise those expecting the harsh colours and landscapes that usually depict Australia’s outback. But if there’s one thing that will always be true about the outback, it’s that what you find out there will surprise you.
St Helena Island, Queensland
For many years St Helena Island was a place you wouldn’t have wanted to visit. Although just as beautiful as Queensland’s more famous islands, St Helena’s was co-opted to a more unsavoury part of life than holiday-making back in the 1860s. It was Queensland’s main prison from 1867 to the 1920s, and had a reputation that rivalled Port Arthur’s as a hellhole. Abandoned in the 1930s, the buildings on the island have deteriorated, but they stand testament to a less-than-appealing (although fascinating) part of Queensland’s history. St Helena’s is around 8km from the mouth of the Brisbane River, and can only be accessed as part of a guided tour – either a day tour or a ghost tour at night.
Maleny-Blackall Range Tourist Drive, Queensland
Away from the beaches and sun-seekers of the Sunshine Coast, up in the mountains that stand sentinel over the coast, you’ll discover one of the prettiest drives in Queensland. Running 28km along the Blackall Ranges, this trip passes through towns such as Maleny. Maleny is a famous dairy town, which is now establishing a reputation as a creative hub. Locals are probably inspired by their fantastic views of the Glass House Mountains and the coast. The route finishes in Nambour, which is perhaps best known as the town with the Big Pineapple.
Governor Island Marine Reserve, Tasmania
This stretch of coast is known for the beauty of its water. There’s the Bay of Fires and Wineglass Bay, just to mention a couple. Yet the ocean around Governor Island has a reputation for being the most beautiful in the area. Most of this beauty is hiding under the water, and Governor Island has a deserved reputation as a fantastic dive spot.
Dive here and you’ll see unparalleled sea gardens and the variety of sea creatures that make their homes amongst the tulips and sponges and caverns of this area.
Maria Island, Tasmania
If Maria Island was off the coast of mainland Australia, it would be swamped with visitors. But as it sits of the east coast of Tasmania, Maria Island is sparsely populated with visitors. If you can, make yourself one of these visitors. The island is most famous for its Fossil Cliffs, where you’ll find 300-million-year-old fossils packed into the cliffs of Cape Boullanger. The best way to see the island is by bushwalking or bikeriding.