Examine the key goals on just about any Life List, and traversing the planet to discover exotic new landscapes will likely be right up there. Many of us will even have several intended destinations in common – after all, the most popular sights tend to be popular for a reason!
That said, we all know there’s often an extra thrill in going slightly off-piste to exploring a few less well-trodden paths. Luckily, in many of the world’s best travel hotspots, you can do both. Take Australia, for example: sure, it boasts a good few destinations you pretty much must experience when visiting…but there are a whole lot more that you really should experience, even if they take a little more digging to uncover.
The rewards are well worth the effort – and for the ultimate 21st century yardstick to prove it, look no further than the Instagram hashtag league table ofAustralia’s greatest hidden gems! (Ok, yes, the idea of ‘hidden gems’ measured by trending hashtags may seem a little oxymoronic, but let’s not split hairs: the focus on lesser-known destinations than the major sightseeing draws is what’s key here, and Australia has some absolute belters up its sleeve.)
Our picks for each of the country’s seven states, in no particular order, are:
Queensland: Undara Volcanic National Park
‘Undara’ is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘long way’, and this place certainly lives up to its name. Not only is it pretty darn remote (even by Aussie standards!), it’s also a geological wonder: a network of vast tunnels formed by Earth’s longest lava flow from a single volcano, concealed beneath a ribbon of remnant dry tropical rainforest. Abundant wildlife and alien landscapes await you in and around these gem-rich basalt cave networks; just be aware that to walk in the path of an ancient volcano, you’ll have to book onto one of theregular guided tours.
New South Wales: Menindee Lakes
Amazingly, this stunning natural water storage facility – formed from series of shallow ephemeral lakes along the Darling River – now holds 3.5 times as much water as Sydney Harbour when full. Known as the ‘blue heart of the Outback’, the area is a secluded mecca for birdwatchers and fishermen alike, and is particularly noted for its staggering sunsets. If you’re passing through, the self-drive historical tour is a must; especially so given Menindee’s cultural legacy as a place of spiritual importance for the indigenous Paakantji/Barkindji people.
Western Australia: Pentecost River and Cockburn Range
The dramatically rugged Kimberley region is (in)famous for its Pentecost River Crossing, a notorious motoring challenge located on the Gibb River Road. As oneindependent local travel guide playfully puts it, ‘the water level can be deep, the crossing is long, and saltwater crocodiles inhabit the river…but for most of the dry season the crossing is not at all difficult, and there’s little to worry about.’ Even so, your rich reward is a remote bush camp under the stars in one of the last true wilderness areas on Earth – not to mention mind-blowing views of the rustic plateaus and escarpments of the Cockburn Range, an iconic Outback landmark literally billions of years in the making. (Just don’t camp too close to that croc river, ok?)
Northern Territory: Gunlom Waterfall Creek
Most visitors to the Gunlom Falls in Kakadu National Park go there for the chance to plunge 30m into a wide plunge pool at the foot of the cascade, overhung with shady gum trees and fringed with waterside picnic spots. The view from the top isn’t too shabby either, and you’ll be glad of the chance to bask in thosecrystal clear waters after the steep hike up through rockpool-strewn grassland. Again, this being Australia, you’ll want to keep an eye open for both freshwater crocs and their larger, more aggressive saltwater cousins around these parts – but hey, that’s responsible, risk-averse adventuring for you, right?
South Australia: Andamooka
Head 600 km north from Adelaide to the boundary of South Australia’s SW & SE Pastoral Districts, and you’ll stumble upon the historic opal-mining township of Andamooka. Arguably as quirky and quintessentially Down Under a settlement as you’ll find anywhere, it’s built on arichly storied history as a true frontier settlement taking in many colourful characters, depression-era crises and unbelievable resilience to hardship. The resulting mix of fourth-generation European mining settlers and indigenous peoples are a hardy bunch who don’t suffer fools gladly, but who’ll welcome respectful visitors to their unique, isolated and fiercely independent community with open arms.
Victoria: Aireys Inlet
A boutique coastal town nestled in a river valley surrounded by soaring cliffsides, Aireys Inlet describes itself as ‘one of the Great Ocean Road’s best-kept secrets’. Given that it’s sited just 120 km south-west of Melbourne, that comes as a very pleasant surprise. It deserves to be much better known, quite frankly…but visitors looking for a thriving arts and culture scene set in a tranquil, picturesque beachside community will be glad it isn’t. Just be sure to leave time between canoeing, surfing, horse riding and golf to enjoy the manyfantastic places to eat and drink along this part of Australia’s coastline – it’d be rude not to, really.
Tasmania: Bay of Fires
It may be one of Tasmania’s ‘most popular conservation reserves’, according to theDiscover Tasmania site – and indeed, one of the most-visited locations on this list – but that doesn’t mean you’re likely to be swamped in fellow tourists. Rocky gullies, sweeping coastlines, clear turquoise waters and secluded beach coves are the order of the day here, and the further you venture from Binalong Bay itself (the area’s main swathe of open white sand, perfect for reef snorkelling), the quieter and more magical things become.