We’re not too good at keeping secrets, so in no particular order, here’s our favourite 10…
In a nutshell: Meet the world’s biggest fish.
Tell me more: Just a stone’s throw from the beach and with far fewer visitors and warmer water than the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo gives you the chance to do something you can do nowhere else in Oz: swim with whale sharks (April-July). Being up close with these majestic fish, which can grow up to 12 metres long, will likely be one of your most memorable experiences Down Under. Even if you miss the sharks, you’ve still got a good chance of seeing manta rays, turtles and humpback whales. Or just kick back in the idyllic lagoon in Coral Bay.
Where: Off Exmouth, about halfway up the coast of Western Australia.
In a nutshell:Totally tribal.
Tell me more:An almost deserted area the size of Portugal, boasts arguably the most fascinating and traditional Aboriginal heritage in Australia. Home to just a few thousand Yolngu people, tourists in this vast Aboriginal reserve are limited to a handful a day thanks to a strict permit system. Believed to perhaps be one of the first inhabited areas in Oz, over 50,000 years ago, the never colonised Arnhem features thousands of mysterious and sacred rock paintings and burial grounds.
Where:About 500km east of Darwin, Northern Territory.
In a nutshell: Into the wild.
Tell me more:Escape even Tassie’s modest crowds by heading down the wild west coast. With nothing except a whole lot of sea between the craggy coastline and Argentina, enjoy breathing the world’s freshest air as you glimpse The Nut rising out of the ocean by Stanley and head along the Arthur River on an Apocalypse Now-esque cruise. Go via the Tarkine, Tasmania’s unprotected wilderness. Quadbike over the Henty sand dunes, near Strahan, and explore the wilderness of the south-west, where the rainforest is thicker than the Amazon and on to Tassie’s beautiful Far South region. Keep your eyes peeled – if Tasmanian tigers do still exist, this is where you’ll spot them.
Where:Er, on the west coast of Tasmania.
In a nutshell: Like Uluru without the crowds, only better.
Tell me more: Unknown, except to a handful of locals, as recently as the 1980s, this World Heritage-listed national park is one of the most spectacular geological wonders on Earth. Exploring the mystical beehive mounds that rise into the air on is akin to stepping foot on an alien world. And thanks to its remote location and 4WD-only access, you’ll only be joined by a handful of other travellers. It’s no surprise that Baz Luhrmann used the area’s awe-inspiring scenery so extensively in his epic movie Australia. Make sure to travel along the Gibb River Road, one of the most exciting 4WD routes Down Under.
Where: In the Kimberley region of north-western Australia.
ROYAL NATIONAL PARK
In a nutshell: Daytrip to deserted beaches.
Tell me more: Being Royal regulars here at TNT, we’re a little wary to tell you about this one. Somehow though this national park manages to avoid being swamped by city-dwellers despite being in such easy reach of Sydney. If time is limited, head straight to chilled out Bundeena or the stunning Wattamolla Beach, otherwise stick your hiking boots on and head into the bush for a day or two and find your very own stretch of surf. According to our ever-adventurous editor, there’s even a nudist beach for those who feel overly burdened by clothes.
Where: An hour south of Sydney on the train.
KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK
In a nutshell: Simply gorge-ous.
Tell me more:Similar to the (also little visited) Kimberley region further north, this massive inland national park is packed full of staggering gorges, grandiose waterfalls and crystal-clear swimming holes, where the icy “spanner” water (cold enough to tighten your nuts) will be a welcome relief after spending days clambering around one of the hottest areas in Oz.
Where:In WA’s Pilbara region, about 1,000km north of Perth.
In a nutshell: Mad Max to the Walls of China.
Tell me more:Often overlooked by travellers, the New South Wales Outback is full of hidden surprises. Furthest from Sydney is World Heritage-listed Mungo National Park, home to the bizarre and dramatic clay dunes known as the Walls of China (pictured top left). The isolated mining town of Sculpture Symposium, Broken Hill is worth a visit for its contrasting colours and eye-catching Sculpture Symposium, Broken Hill is perhaps best known for being the gateway to eerie ghost town Silverton, where much of Mad Max 2, plus a million Aussie beer ads, were filmed.
Where: West of Sydney for up to 900km.
HUTT RIVER PROVINCE
In a nutshell:Meet the royal family.
Tell me more:One of the most unusual places you’re likely to visit while Down Under, this small farm situated a few hours down a dirt track isn’t actually a part of Australia. Most Aussies haven’t even heard of it, but Hutt River is the country’s only micro-nation, having claimed independence in 1970 when farmer Leonard Casley got fed up with government farming quotas and declared himself monarch of his own realm. Drop by to get your passport stamped and get shown around by either Prince Leonard or his wife, Princess Shirley.
Where: About 500km north of Perth, WA.
MYALL LAKES NATIONAL PARK
In a nutshell: Where the locals hide away
Tell me more: Heading straight from Sydney to Byron Bay without stopping? Big mistake. Like gorgeous Jervis Bay to the south, travellers have a tendency to ignore the NSW coast. Still thankfully quiet, expect to find pristine beaches backing up into forested mountains and freshwater lakes. Stop off at Seal Rocks for the chance to glimpse a whale, or go one better and take advantage of being at one of the state’s best dive sites by sharing the water with the local nurse sharks.
Where: About 250km north of Sydney.
SOUTH WEST WA
In a nutshell: Wine-drinking kangaroos going surfing.
Tell me more: Even those who make it to the west coast head straight north towards Darwin – they’re all missing a trick. Just south of Perth, is the Margaret River region home to some of Australia’s best wines and gnarliest surfing spots. But that’s just the beginning. Witness the Southern and Indian oceans spectacularly collide at Cape Leeuwin, test your nerve by climbing 60 metre high trees in the towering karri forests around Pemberton, and hang out on the icing sugar white beaches around Esperance which many roos call home.
Where: There’s a clue in the title.
Big Ups to:
Trying to narrow down a list of the top 10 best kept secrets in a country the size of Oz was no easy feat. But that’s the beauty of it. Australia is so huge that it doesn’t take too much effort to escape the masses feasting on the east. Western Australia dominates our list, but we could have just lumped the whole state in as one, so few are the tourists there. The same goes for Tassie. Arguably two of the most exciting, but least visited, Aussie states.
And then there’s the places we’re not even going to tell you about…
TNT staff picks
Andrew Westbrook headed to the Northern Territory’s remote beaches, where he found pristine wilderness… and lots of crocs
If you want Top End wilderness at its most pristine, then the Coburg Peninsula is the place to go. Even in a country boasting as many unexplored expanses as Australia does, you’d be hard-pushed to find more remote, and beautiful, beaches than at this isolated outpost on the highest tip of the Northern Territory.
Getting there isn’t easy – it’s a 10-hour, and 570km, drive north-east from Darwin, crossing the glorious landscapes of Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land, but it’s worth it.
National parks like Garig Gunak Barlu are so quiet they have a limit of just 20 cars a day, but it’s impossible to ever imagine it that busy. Strangely home to the world’s largest population of Indonesian banteng cattle, Cobourg is also the place to explore the ruins of settlements like Victoria, which was Darwin’s unsuccessful predessesor.
Be prepared for saltwater crocodiles roaming the beaches, buffalo meandering on the roads and armies of mosquitoes eating you alive. Oh, and if you fancy following those giant croc tracks on the beach for a closer look at a dinosaur in the wild, just remember that the nearest doctor able to sew an arm back on is via an airstrip several hours drive away.
The downside is that getting to Coburg, and securing the permits needed to cross Arnhem Land, generally requires a budget beyond that of the average traveller.
However, it can be done on the cheap by going with a group such as Conservation Volunteers Australia www.conservationvolunteers.com.au. They run occasional projects in the area and, for a few hundred bucks, and a few hours work a day doing anything from site maintenance to counting turtles, they’ll take you up there for five or 10 day stints.
Emma Salkild enjoyed escaping the crowds to find her own island on the Great Barrier Reef…
Arriving on Great Keppel Island in Queensland, you may feel as though you’ve stumbled across a private paradise, (sort of like the island in Lost but without the monsters and angry villagers).
It’s a no-frills retreat with only the basics – long white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, colourful coral and fish, sub-tropical climate, palm trees, bushwalks and endless time to laze about in a hammock.
The 14km-long island can be reached by plane or a 30-minute ferry from Yeppoon, 40km from Rockhampton. It’s also part of the Great Barrier Reef, so add snorkelling and diving to your to-do list, along with kayaking, waterskiing, fishing, sailing and wakeboarding. The lack of people and cars on Great Keppel makes it feel as though you’ve been invited to a secret club where the whole island, including the 17 almost-deserted beaches, are waiting to be explored for the first time.
A highlight for me was when some friends and I went on a short bush walk up to the top of the mountain, glancing kookaburras and vibrant parrots along the way, where we watched a gorgeous sunset across the ocean. After travelling the east coast where the sun rises over the ocean and sets in the west, it’s refreshing to watch a sunset over the beautiful tropical waters. Just remember that with Australian sunsets it’s a kind of a blink or
you’ll miss it experience, so plan to get to the top with lots of time.
However, I wonder if this hidden haven is destined to become the next big party island? With a $1.5 billion “revitalisation” proposal on the agenda, it may only be a matter of time before Keppel gets a makeover.
Alex Harmon avoided the swarms of surfers and headed to her favourite New South Wales beach, a place reserved for those in the know
There is nothing crowded about Crowdy Head, one of the most untouched and quiet places on the New South Wales coast. If you didn’t know about it, you wouldn’t find it. Famous for its big surf breaks, the waves here are pretty spectacular all year round.
If you’re a surfer growing up in New South Wales, then chances are you’ve made the trek down the dirt road to get here. For everyone else, you’ve probably never heard of this ironically named town. The only time this little town got some media coverage was in 1985, when a bunch of false killer whales beached themselves and had to be towed out to sea.
Look at it on a map and it looks like an erect trouser snake jutting out to sea, thus earning it the nickname “Knob Head” by some of the out of town surfers. There’s a bit of rivalry between the local surfers and the rest of the world, but I’ve generally found the people of Crowdy to be pretty friendly. Apart from surfing and fishing, there isn’t that much else to do here. You can go on some pretty sweet bushwalks through Crowdy Head National Park and you should check out the lighthouse, built in 1878, that overlooks the 5,000 hectare park. But that is the beauty of Crowdy, it’s a haven where you won’t feel guilty for doing nothing at all.
To get there, head to Harrington. It’s a 7km drive on an unsealed road from there. It’s 350km north of Sydney (about a four-hour drive) and 33km north-east of Taree. But I really shouldn’t be telling you this…