With international travel impossible for the foreseeable future, many Australians are finally starting to discover their own country.
While bucket lists have been rearranged to prioritize places like Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, and Sydney Harbor, there are plenty of less famous destinations that are just as valuable. And they don’t all feel particularly “Australian”. Not only will these spots scratch the itch overseas, but they’ll cost you far less than an international flight, even by prepandemic standards.
Wherever you wanted to go: to the south of France
Where to go now Tasmania’s lavender farms
Bridestowe Lavender Farm in Northern Tasmania. Photo: Rachel Dulson / Getty Images
Pictures of the gently sloping hills of Provence, which are covered with dark purple flowers, adorn calendars and postcards long before the age of Instagram. However, the magic of these lavender fields lies in their ability to capture more than a single sense. As they explode with color every summer, the flowers rustle softly in the wind and give off their characteristic soothing scent.
You can get a touch of the purple haze closer to home at Tasmania’s lavender farms. The largest, Bridestowe, is conveniently located near Launceston. However, there are farms in the Hobart area. Every summer rows of flowering bushes curve here towards the rugged mountains of the island’s interior.
Wherever you wanted to go: on a safari in Tanzania
Where to go now An open-air reserve
A white rhinoceros calf walks past its mother in an enclosure at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Photo: David Gray / Getty Images
Turning a sunrise over the dusty plains of western New South Wales into a Pride Rock moment takes an amazing imagination, but it’s a lot easier when you hear a lion roar in the background.
Wildlife in the Taronga Western Plains seems to believe that Dubbo’s vast open spaces and arid climate make it a reasonable proxy for the savannahs of southern Africa. And while there is no guarantee of wildlife viewing, this free range sanctuary offers instant gratification. You can see the Big Five in a matter of hours and then sleep under a mosquito net next to a savannah that is home to giraffes, zebras and rhinos. There are plenty of affordable hotels in town for a cheaper option. Similar experiences (without accommodation) are also available in South Australia at Monarto Safari and in Victoria at Werribee.
Wherever you wanted to go: the Maldives
Where to go now Cocos (Keeling) Islands
A tattered hammock hangs between palm trees on Direction Island in Cocos Keeling. Photo: MarciParavia / Getty Images / iStockphoto
You don’t need to book an international flight to visit palm-covered coral atolls, cooled by trade winds and surrounded by the azure waters of the Indian Ocean. Technically an outer territory of Australia, the Cocos Islands (Keeling Islands) are culturally their own entity – Coconut Malay is the main language and Islam is the dominant religion. And since the accommodation is in bungalows rather than gated resorts, you have the chance to observe the local way of life.
With a population of just 600 and Perth a four and a half hour flight away, deserted beaches are more than just a tourist literature claim. You are unlikely to find a crowd on the white sands of Cossie’s Beach. If you venture out beyond the sand, you will also find incredible diving, fishing, and kite surfing. Due to the restrictions of Covid-19, visitors to the Cocos Keeling Islands must have spent a minimum of 14 days in Western Australia prior to arrival, although quarantine or isolation is not required upon arrival.
Wherever you wanted to go: Iceland
Where to go now Aurora Australis discovered in Tasmania
Aurora Australis or southern lights in the sky over blue bioluminescence on the southern arm near Hobart. Photo: Chasing Light – Photography by James Stone james-stone.com/Getty Images
Every year thousands of tourists travel to icy northern lands to watch ribbons of green, purple and red pirouette across the sky in a great heavenly dance. The Aurora Borealis also has a southern counterpart.
It’s hard to predict when the southern lights will be visible (there are plenty of updated Facebook groups out there), but you can maximize your chances by choosing a night with a new moon and clear skies. Then find a spot with an unobstructed view to the south and minimal light pollution and wait. If you’re looking for somewhere near Hobart, head to South Arm, a 40 minute drive from town. Or, put on your thermals and head south as the road takes you to Cockle Creek. Setting up a tent on Bruny Island is also a great way to maximize your chances.
Wherever you wanted to go: to the Amazon
Where to go now The Daintree
River in the Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Maria Grazia Casella / Alamy Stock Photo / Alamy
Australia and South America were once part of the same landmass, and the Daintree rainforests date from that time. In fact, they are roughly 10 million years longer than the Amazon.
Though you won’t confuse it with the Amazon, crossing the muddy, crocodile-infested Daintree River takes you into 180-meter-old rainforest, where the few buildings are dwarfed by the surrounding greenery.
Road signs warn drivers to slow down in order to find cassowaries and paths that have been cut into the otherwise impenetrable vegetation. And if you’ve always wanted to stay in a tree house, there are plenty of options.
Wherever you wanted: Singapore’s hawker centers
Where to go now Darwin’s Markets
Laksa at Parap Markets in Darwin. Photo: Matt Cherubino / Tourism NT
Singapore’s street vendors are more than just a place to fill your belly. They document the multicultural history of the Lion City in edible form. Halfway between Singapore and Sydney, you’ll find a more sluggish tropical echo in Darwin’s many markets, where you’ll find plenty of Cambodian, Filipino, Thai, and Vietnamese flavors. Fittingly, it’s a fusion dish that creates the most passion.
The title of Darwin’s best laksa is hotly contested (there is even a laksa festival). But the queues every Saturday in the open-air Parap Village show the consensus that it is a reasonable breakfast (preferably with a fresh shake with tropical fruits).
Wherever you wanted: in the Atacama desert
Where to go now Lake Mongoose
Eroded dunes or lunette formations in Mungo National Park, western NSW, Australia. Photo: Auscape / UIG via Getty Images
There’s something enchanting about the barren landscape of the high-lying desert of Chile, but you’re just as likely to find a revelation in Mungo National Park. Old dunes have been smashed by the elements and turned into an abstract sculpture garden. It wasn’t always desert, however. Before the last ice age, the lake was full and was home to a large number of wildlife in addition to humans.
When two ritual burials more than 40,000 years old were discovered nearby, they rewrote Europeans’ understanding of Australian history. Today the giant clay pans look strong and lonely, but the millennia-old middles and footprints are a reminder that this landscape is rich in history and natural beauty.