Australia is back! 10 amazing reasons to book a holiday to this epic country

Advice

The excellent news that Australia is re-opening to tourists on February 21 immediately brought back a vivid memory of my first trip there, many years ago. I was hitchhiking around Tasmania and had bumped into two girls from Sydney. We had spent the day exploring the rainforest, then stopped overnight in a small town in the middle of nowhere. The only bar was one of those where the locals have their corner and they fell silent and looked up in suspicion when we walked in.

The stand-off had lasted about an hour before one of them picked up on my accent and called me out as a Pom. (Though Britons who visit Australia now can expect a warmer welcome and less Pommy sledging than usual.) It was the beginning of a beautiful – if brief – friendship spent debating the merits of Geoffrey Boycott’s batting style and the status of the Royal Family in Australia. I remember thinking, half way through the evening, quite what a bizarre, yet thrilling situation I’d fallen into. I was about as far away from England as it was possible to get, in a strangely remote world of wombats and giant conifers and yet it felt as though I’d walked into a Yorkshire pub.

And that, I think, is what makes Australia so intriguing for British travellers: the extraordinary contrast it offers between the exotic and the familiar.  The familiar pops everywhere – the place names, the rugby posts on the playing fields, the Victorian terraces in Sydney and the colourful beach huts in Melbourne. And the exotic? Where do we start? Australia is vast – roughly the size of Europe – and its landscapes range from the green tropical rain forests of Queensland to vast red wildernesses of the outback, from Bondi’s bikini beach to the swathes of empty sands which ring much of its 21,000 miles of coastline. 

With so much on offer, the issue for travellers whose wanderlust has been stirred by the thought that one of our favourite destinations is back on the map is where to start – and when to book. How do you best get a feel for this vast country and its friendly, yet rivalrous locals? You might be drawn to the vibrant food culture of Sydney and Melbourne. Perhaps the Gold Coast beaches appeal, or snorkelling on the Barrier Reef. Perhaps you are into the wines or whale watching. Or maybe you simply want to make the most of a chance to visit friends and family once more. Whatever appeals to you, here we have 10 different approaches to making a trip down-under as memorable as possible.

10 amazing reasons to visit Australia

1. To see friends and family 

Aussies have been able to travel home since November, but for those whose loved ones once bade home shores farewell in search of sunnier climes, the ache of separation has lingered far longer. Whether missing friends or relatives, those 20-plus hours have never felt longer, nor more unnavigable; conversely, with borders finally reopening, they are unlikely to have ever felt more worthwhile. Sure, Australia is sometimes disdained by serious travellers on the basis of being an outpost of Britain; a destination not dissimilar enough to warrant such a lengthy journey – but, now more than ever, Australia’s allure is as much its people as the place. 

Based on the prices (high) and availability (low) of flights that Australian citizens grappled with when the country opened up to them again, you’d be wise to snaffle your seats sooner rather than later – and given that many were priced out of Christmas at the end of 2021, you can bet that December 2022 will be busy. 



family friends reunited travel australia


There will be a fair few reunions on February 21 when vaccinated travellers can enter Australia for the first time in nearly two years

How to do it

Book a £910 return fare with Singapore Airlines (020 8961 6993; singaporeair.com)  by March 31 to travel from London to Sydney before November 30. Other options include Emirates (0344 800 2777; emirates.com) via Dubai; from £836 economy or £2,676 business class in April. A flight with the national flag carrier, Qantas (0800 964432; qantas.com), can get you from London to Sydney in March for £882 return. 

Best time to go

Weather, schmeather. Ain’t no sunshine as warm as the embrace of a loved one: you’re winning whatever time of year you book. 

2. To experience the Outback

The Outback has long captured the imagination of aspiring visitors and nowhere more so than Uluru, the burning heart – both geographically and spiritually – of Australia. Estimated to be more than 550 million years old, the sandstone monolith glows with a spectrum of fiery colours at sunrise and sunset. But its sacred status is what makes the place so special. Connect with the world’s oldest surviving civilisation by hearing Dreamtime stories used to explain the formation of this magical landscape. Adventurers, meanwhile, can get a hands-on feel for the environment by plunging into waterholes, trekking through the ochre-domed Olgas, or hiking along the sheer drops of Kings Canyon.This is also an excellent spot to to gaze at pollution-free night skies and by day, soar above the fire-red landscape in a helicopter.



Uluru australia travel holiday 2022


Uluru is the burning heart – both geographically and spiritually – of Australia


Credit: Getty

How to do it

Designed to give tourists a deeper respect and understanding of First Nations cultures, Intrepid Travel’s (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com) six-day Red Center Explorer tour includes traditional Anangu welcoming ceremonies and guided bush tucker and medicine tours. From £1,400pp; excluding flights. Alternatively, you can combine a visit to take in some of the country’s hugely contrasting landscapes during a 15-day, tailor-made Sydney, Uluru and Great Barrier Reef tour with Wexas Travel (020 7838 5892; wexas.com). From £3,680pp; including flights. 

Best time to go

Temperatures cool over the autumn and winter months (May-Sep) to between 20C-30C, making hikes more enjoyable. Aim for May if you want to avoid crowds and peak prices.

3. To take an epic journey 

Adventures don’t get much more epic than in Australia, a country so large it qualifies as its own continent. If you’re a rail buff, there are two signature train journeys: the 2,700-mile east-west Indian Pacific between Sydney and Perth via the legendary Nullarbor Plain and the Blue Mountains, and the 1,850-mile north-south Ghan between Darwin and Adelaide through the country’s dramatic red heart with a stop at Alice Springs. The routes are popular with travellers of a certain vintage – especially Australians wanting to discover more about their own country – who are looking for comfort and convivial company. 

Prefer the freedom of the road? Drives don’t get much more scenic than the Great Ocean Road which runs between Torquay and Allansford in Victoria. Pick up the motor in Melbourne and head southwest to see dramatic seascapes, sandstone cliffs, rainforests and a heart-warming story of how the road was built. It can be done in a mad-dash day from Melbourne to just beyond the Twelve Apostles and back; but it’s much better to savour it slowly and make it part of a wider journey all the way to Adelaide in South Australia.



great ocean road melbourne australia travel


The Great Ocean Road is the perfect backdrop for an epic road trip


Credit: Getty

How to do it

Journey Beyond (00 61 8 8213 4401; journeybeyond.com.au) offers trips on the Ghan from £1,232pp and the Indian Pacific from and £1,300pp in a Gold Twin sleeper cabin; excluding flights. Trailfinders (020 7084 6500; trailfinders.com) offers a 10-night Great Ocean Road package in September from £1,399pp; including flights, three nights in Melbourne and seven nights in a motorhome.

Best time to go

The Indian Pacific runs year round but is at its best in Spring (Sep-Oct); the Ghan should be explored either side of high summer (Dec-Jan); the Great Ocean Road is beautiful at any time, but can be a bit chilly in winter (Jun-Aug) if you’re staying in campervan. 

4. To see the Great Barrier Reef

A watery world of vibrant corals, curious creatures and far-flung islands, the world’s largest reef system stretches over 2,600km along the Queensland coast. From thumb-sized nudibranchs decorated in a sweetie store of colours, to super-pods of humpbacks, whose wailing songs can be heard beneath the waves, the variety of life you can find here is mind-boggling. Options for discovery are equally broad: while divers can explore iconic sites on the outer reefs, resorts like Lizard Island and Lady Elliot have enough to keep snorkellers entertained closer to shore. And you can even see it all without getting wet: last year, Lady Musgrove launched a pontoon with glamping tents and an underwater observatory.



great barrier reef queensland


An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef


Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

How to do it

Concentrating on the north, Dive Worldwide’s (01962 302087; diveworldwide.com) 12-night Queensland Dive Adventure includes a liveaboard expedition along the Great Barrier Reef and out to Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea. Dive with potato cods and sharks in visibility of up to 40metres, and find trevally and barracuda at Lizard Island. From £3,845pp; including flights. For something a little more on land, try Trailfinders  (020 7084 6500; trailfinders.com) 14-day adventure to Queensland’s coast and Lady Elliot Island. From £2,051pp; excluding flights. 

Best time to go

In the southern sector of the reef, visibility is best in autumn (Apr-Jun), although July is good for humpbacks. If travelling to the north, aim for May-Nov.

5. To lounge on some of the world’s finest beaches and soak in the culture of Sydney

For 20 years, photographer and surfer Eugene Tan of Aquabumps has taken daily shots of Bondi Beach, presenting an urban cocktail of sun, sea and city life that’s spurred wanderlust worldwide. Few places offer the chance to sip barista-quality coffee in the morning, pop into an art gallery for lunch, and lounge in the sun for the rest of the afternoon. Explore the coastline on a new Bondi to Manly walking trail, then head into town to admire the city’s architectural icons: learn about Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s inspirations on a new tour of Sydney Opera House, or climb to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge for a fresh take on the city through the eyes of an indigenous storyteller guide.



bondi beach sydney


Surfer catching a morning wave at Bondi Beach, Sydney


Credit: Destination NSW

How to do it

Get the best of both worlds on Audley Travel’s (01993 838810; audleytravel.com) 16-day self-drive By The Beach tour of New South Wales. Take some time to explore Sydney before visiting the beaches of Jervis Bay and Byron Bay. Stop off at Port Stephens to catch a glimpse of the 160 resident bottlenose dolphins, then continue to sample wines in the Hunter Valley. From £3,995pp; including flights, hotels and car hire. 

Best time to go

Weave between high and low seasons by visiting in the spring (Sep-to Nov), or autumn (Mar-May). The impressive visual arts festival Vivid Sydney runs May 27–Jun 18.

6. To get back to nature

Its cities may be less than a few hundred years old, but Australia’s wild wonders are some of the oldest on our planet – and can be found at either extreme of the vast island continent. A tangle of emerald vines and sprawling ferns, Daintree Rainforest in Northern Queensland has been harbouring a host of whacky species, such as the platypus and belligerent southern cassowary, for 180 million years. It was recently returned to its indigenous Eastern Kuku Yalanji owners. Birders can tick off a range of quirky endemics, while thrill seekers can zipline through the canopy or search for crocs by boat. 

For a climatic contrast, the windswept, untamed scenery of island state Tasmania provides another window into a primordial world. Hike along peaks and glacial lakes, abseil down canyons in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, explore Cataract Gorge and spot wildlife in Narawntapu.



birdwatching australia


The Daintree Rainforest in Northern Queensland is a haven for birdwatchers


Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

How to do it

For serious birders, Naturetrek’s (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk) 13-day Birding In Queensland tour focuses on both winged wonders and nocturnal mammals in the Daintree, Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands. From £4,595; including flights. Tasmania best explored on a self-drive holiday. Discover The World’s (01737 214 250; discover-the-world.com) 13-night Tasmanian Discovery circular tour starts in Hobart and visits several national parks. From £1,759pp; excluding flights; including car hire. 

Best time to go

For the Daintree, aim for the cool, drier months surrounding winter (May-Sep); Tasmania’s weather is wildly unpredictable, although summer (Dec-Feb) is the mildest period.

7. To try world-famous wine

Despite its laid back charm and array of excellent dining options, as a city in its own right, Adelaide can’t compete with the likes of Sydney or Melbourne – which is why it’s so unsung. When it comes to fine vintages, this is a good thing. While Sydney may be close to the Hunter Valley and Melbourne near the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula wine regions, Adelaide has more choice. To the north lies Clare Valley and the famed Barossa Valley. Meanwhile, if you venture less than an hour south down the coast, via the undulating, burnt yellow landscape of South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, you’ll find some of the world’s oldest, greatest, yet most inundated wine country. 

Grape lovers will particularly delight in McLaren Vale, home to more than 80 vineyards, fine restaurants and cellar doors; most famed for its punchy Shiraz but also specialising in ultra-premium Grenache and Cabernet. You can lose yourself for weeks on end among these valleys, but be sure to set aside at least a day for a local expert-guided tour. 



The d'Arenberg Cube


The d’Arenberg Cube is the McLaren Vale’s show-stopper

How to do it

Coast & Co (00 61 4 39794500; coastandco.com.au) offers a four-day private air safari from Melbourne that includes McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula; from £3,156pp (based on six passengers; excludes international flights). Day tours such as the Ultimate McLaren Vale Wine Tour are also available; from £784 for two people. Both include a trip to the region’s modern show-stopper, the d’Arenberg Cube – a pioneering restaurant, wine tasting gallery and art exhibition space – and pristine Silver Sands Beach.

Best time to go

Travel in summer (Dec-Feb) for the warmest temperatures, or autumn (Mar-May) if you want to catch the harvest and Adelaide festivals.

8. To sample the coffee culture and sporting greatness of Melbourne

Whisper it softly in the presence of Sydneysiders, but for the best sporting action that Australia has to offer – and in a sports mad country there’s lots – Melbourne is the place to go. It all kicks off every year in January with the Australian Open – wildly celebrated this year with the success in the Women’s Final of homegrown Ash Barty – and runs through a plethora of world-class events from the Grand Prix (March), to Aussie Rules Football (Grand Final in September), the Melbourne Cup horse race (November) and the Boxing Day Test match – especially popular with locals when it involves bashing the Poms. 

Perhaps less obviously, Melbourne also lays claim to being the coffee capital of the world. Cooler weather and a post-war influx of Italians, Greeks and Turks kick-started what has now become a flourishing culture of cutting-edge sourcing, roasting and brewing techniques. It’s a city full of idiosyncratic, locally-owned cafés offering single origin coffees, highly imaginative blends, exquisite Rosetta Latte art – and some excellent croissants to go with them.

How to do it

Luxury sports travel specialists Spectate (01244 435 873; spectatetravel.co.uk) offer an eight-night package trip to see the Melbourne Cup Carnival (Oct 29-Nov 5) from £3,195pp; including flights, accommodation and tickets for the Derby Day and Melbourne Cup races. A three-hour Melbourne Café and Culture walking tour takes you along lesser known laneways to prized coffee houses; from £61pp including coffees, lunch and a tram ride (020 3318 0421; viator.com).

Best time to go

While Melbourne is arguably at its loveliest in the summer (Dec-Feb), it can get rather hot. Instead, opt for the more moderate temperatures, lighter crowds and more reasonable airfares of the shoulder seasons (Mar-May; Sep-Nov).

9. To splurge on the luxury break of a lifetime 

If you’ve been saving for this moment, excellent wines, delicious food and fine hotels make it easy to spend big on a blow-out holiday Down Under. But the real luxury is an opportunity to stay in some of the wildest places on earth. Tucked discreetly into the dunes, with undisturbed views of Uluru, Longitude 131° is a luxurious tented camp offering cultural exchanges between guests and indigenous artists. If you prefer to be on the country’s spectacular coast, venture to the remote Lord Howe Island, in the Tasman Sea. Here, you can hike beneath mountains and gather driftwood from beaches for fires. Plan your dates properly, and it’s also possible to enjoy one-off experiences with extra bragging rights, such as swimming with minke whales when they cruise the Ribbon Reefs.



 Longitude 131 australia travel


One of the luxury tented camps at Longitude 131°

How to do it

Stay in some of the country’s most exclusive lodges and locations with a 19-day tailor-made tour from Hayes & Jarvis (020 8106 2403; hayesandjarvis.co.uk), including luxury stays from Sydney to Lord Howe Island, Uluru, Cairns and Lizard Island. The trip includes a private tour of the Blue Mountains through the Valley of Waterfalls, discovering hidden grottos and exploring swimming holes. From £18,800pp; including flights.

If you fancy swimming with cetaceans in the ultimate luxury, Pelorus (020 3848 5424; pelorusx.com) offers a six-day charter onboard explorer yacht Beluga, whose owner, captain and crew have connections with the Queensland-based Minke Whale Project. From £52,158 for up to eight people; excluding flights. 

Best time to go

Uluru and the red centre is best in winter when temperatures are cooler (May-Sep). To see minke whales, travel in June and July.

10. To explore Western Australia

The country’s western state is proving to be somewhat stubborn when it comes to allowing in visitors – foreign or domestic. If the rules remain as they are, it will be easier for Sydneysiders to pop over to Britain and back by the end of February than it would to enter Western Australia (WA), which still has quarantine rules in place. Yet while you might have to wait to explore the Wildflower State, it’s certainly worth it.

Centred on the state capital Perth – easily the most underrated of Australia’s cities – WA accounts for almost a third of the entire continent. Anyone with an adventurous streak will love the far west coast, which stretches 1,000 miles along the Indian Ocean from the Margaret River wine-growing region in the south to Ningaloo Reef and its world-famous whale sharks near Exmouth in the north. Along the way are world-class landscapes (the Pinnacles Desert with its bizarre limestone formations); wildlife hotspots (Monkey Mia and its bottle-nose dolphins); as well as numerous National Parks, wildlife reserves, bays and beaches.

How to do it

Responsible Travel (01273 823 700; responsibletravel.com) offers a 16-day self-drive holiday that takes you from Perth to Rottnest Island (with its famous quokkas), the Nambung National Park, Kalbarri National Park, Monkey Mia and Ningaloo Reef before flying back to Perth; from £3,830pp including UK flights.

Best time to go 

Hopefully quarantine will have been lifted by the time the west coast is at its best during Spring (Sep-Nov). At this time of year you can expect an average temperature of around 23C, not much rain and the world-famous wildflowers in bloom.

With contributions by Adrian Bridge, Annabel Fenwick Elliott, Richard Madden, Sarah Marshall and Sarah Rodrigues


Need to know

Australia will reopen to fully vaccinated tourists with a relevant visa (including a tourist visa) from February 21 without quarantine.

All travellers will require

  • Proof of full vaccination (this currently means two jabs; Australia accepts the NHS Covid Pass as proof). At least seven days must have passed since second dose.
  • A negative Covid-19 PCR result taken within 72 hours of departure
  • An Australian Travel Declaration completed 72 hours before departure

Travellers who have a legitimate medical reason for not being vaccinated can apply for a travel exemption. All children aged under 12 years count as fully vaccinated for travel to Australia. Arrangements are also in effect in some states and territories to allow unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children aged 12-17 to travel with a fully vaccinated adult. 

Quarantine rules will still apply for all travellers in Western Australia. Other state-by-state restrictions are in force.

Find more of the latest holiday guidance as the country reopens to vaccinated tourists here

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