Wild and rugged Australia is nothing less than legendary. Its urbane and familiar travel gateways belie an incomprehensible expanse of still-untamed wilderness—a land full of natural wonders and exotic wildlife that continues to be shaped by myth, with indigenous cultures existing side by side with modern. These elements are the recipe for true adventure. Plan your own trip Down Under with tips and insight from the Hideaway Report staff, members and travel partners.
Yulara, Northern Territory
Uluru (also called Ayers Rock) rises from the flatlands of the central Outback in an area called the Red Centre, due to the distinctive color of its soil. Core to the traditions of the local aboriginal Anangu people, who are estimated to have inhabited the region for a staggering 22,000 years, the impressive monolith has mythological resonance, ecological significance and is simply fascinating to behold.
One of the most satisfying ways to enjoy the view is at sunset with a glass of Champagne in hand. “It is especially magical” during this time, our editor-in-chief says, when the day’s last light ignites the rock wall in a blaze of color and the still air erupts into a primeval symphony as the local fauna welcomes the night.
This rugged, World Heritage-listed region offers plenty of thrilling and insightful experiences, and your hosts at Longitude 131° can craft a number of bespoke outings to suit your interests.
“Longitude was a fantastic place,” a Hideaway Report member says. “All of their planned tours were terrific and the food was excellent.” Hike around the massive landmarks with private aboriginal guides who explain the history, legends and sacred art and spaces of Uluru, or enjoy a glimpse into contemporary indigenous culture while you forage for traditional bush food and meet with local artists.
For the adventurous-minded, set off into the dunes atop a camel or channel your inner Mad Max with motorcycle and four-wheel-drive excursions across the desert. And from the comfort of your room, relish unobstructed views of Uluru and its neighboring gargantuan rock formation, Kata Tjuta (the Olgas).
Barossa Valley, South Australia
Gentle hills, tidy vineyards and hints of a Germanic heritage characterize the wine-rich Barossa Valley, two hours north of Adelaide in South Australia. Just 20 miles long, the idyllic corridor holds a wealth of charming towns, excellent wineries and fine dining, including Appellation, lauded by critics and patrons alike as one of the top restaurants in the country.
Taking advantage of the beautifully landscaped grounds of The Louise at the northern end of the valley, Appellation pairs views of the surrounding vineyards with passionately prepared local cuisine courtesy of chef Ryan Edwards. Guests may choose a “four-course tour” matched with local and international wines by the glass. A recent menu featured selections such as citrus-cured Hiramasa kingfish with avocado and puffed black rice; carpaccio of wild-caught venison with red lentils and horseradish; smoked duck with satsuma plum, radish purée and black sesame; and a dessert of garden-fresh rhubarb with pistachio sponge and yogurt sorbet.
Our editor-in-chief suggests that the Barossa Valley “should be toured at a gentle pace,” and The Louise delivers on this directive with excursions around the region ranging from bicycling and helicopter flights to hot-air ballooning and more, along with numerous exclusive outings to Barossa’s boutique wineries (many of which are closed to the public).
Lizard Island, Queensland
A wonder of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef is a must-visit for travelers to Australia who harbor the slightest interest in marine life, especially now as warming ocean temperatures threaten the 1,600-mile ecosystem with rampant coral bleaching. Still, the vast and beautiful biodiversity of the reef makes it a mecca for divers, snorkelers and sea tourists.
“The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living organism in the world, with an incredible diversity of species in a protected environment,” says Janelle Boyd of sophisticated reef resort Lizard Island. “You never quite know what you will come across in the water, from a small nudibranch to migrating humpback whales. Diving or snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef is always a rewarding experience and never fails to deliver.”
Lizard Island sits on an eponymous island at the reef’s northernmost extremity, surrounded by 2,500 acres of white-sand beaches and crystalline lagoons. Accessible only by private flight from Cairns, Lizard Island offers guests an opportunity for discovering the reef in a pristine setting. While the 24 private beaches nearly guarantee your own secluded sanctuary, a private charter on one of the resort’s yachts to dive, snorkel or fish is something special, allowing guests total freedom in their exploration of the reef.
One of the more unique offerings is the fluorescent night dive. “Guests love to see the difference from day to dawn as different aquatic species appear to go about their nightly activities,” Boyd says. “The coral reef takes on a complete change of appearance under UV lights. [It] allows guests to experience another underwater world.”
Other outings to enjoy Lizard Island’s exceptional setting include taking out a glass-bottom kayak, day sails and sunset cruises, black marlin fishing, private beachside dining and exclusive tours of the Lizard Island Research Station.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
As our editor attests, one of the most alluring aspects of Australia—especially for first-time visitors—is the country’s diversity of unique wildlife. Yet, as with much of the world’s most sought-after animals, encounters in the wild are not always commonplace. In other words, you shouldn’t worry about tripping over wombats, bilbies and bandicoots.
“Renowned as Australia’s Galapagos, wildlife abounds on Kangaroo Island—and not just the island’s namesake,” says Ali Richards of Southern Ocean Lodge, the Hideaway Report-member favorite located on the island. “The Australian sea lions at Seal Bay are living the Australian lifestyle—a great seafood diet and stretching out on a white, sandy beach before heading out for a quick surf.”
Set between two national parks, the environmentally sensitive Southern Ocean Lodge arranges several private and limited-size tours into the island’s enchanting countryside. Through sandy coastline, natural bushland and sugar gum forests, guests can enjoy authentic encounters in the wild with animal icons such as koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, fur seals, sea lions, penguins, echidnas, kookaburras, goannas and even the elusive platypus.
Lunch with a renowned wildlife researcher and head out after dark for a unique look at the island’s nocturnal denizens. Nearly a quarter of the 1,700-square-mile island is protected parkland, and the rugged landscape, combined with an astounding range of wildlife within, “brings even the most committed urbanite closer to Mother Nature,” according to Richards. “Blending pristine nature, superb fine dining and a personalized itinerary of exhilarating experiences, a stay here invites a step into another world.”
Easily accessible via a short flight from Adelaide on Australia’s fertile southern coast, Kangaroo Island also boasts a number of acclaimed producers of wine, honey and seafood, and opportunities abound to tour and sample the island’s more epicurean offerings.
Isolated along the rugged shores of northwestern Australia lies the continent’s other significant marine habitat: Ningaloo Reef. Luxury Lodges of Australia calls this “one of Earth’s last ocean paradises,” and its otherwise harsh landscape and frontier setting have bestowed it the reputation as one of Australia’s best-kept secrets.
While home to thousands of aquatic species, the most superlative experiences are provided by the 300 to 500 whale sharks that congregate in the 160-mile reef annually from late March to June. With some specimens living more than 70 years and growing to more than 40 feet long, the whale shark is the largest non-cetacean animal in the world, a stat that earned it the Vietnamese moniker Cá Ông, or “Lord Fish.” Despite their massive size, whale sharks are docile filter feeders and pose no threat to human divers, which allows for remarkable—some say life-changing—snorkeling opportunities in the inviting waters of the Ningaloo Coast.
Visitors who miss the window for whale sharks have their own event to look forward to however, as humpback whales move into the reef from July though November. Beginning this year, the government of Western Australia is allowing similar swimming experiences with the whales on a trial basis.
While a boat is necessary to reach the whales and whale sharks, one of the most striking features of Ningaloo Reef is its close proximity to land. In some areas a short swim offshore reveals a world of life under the sea (expect sea turtles, manta rays, dugongs and numerous species of tropical fish, coral and anemones).
Spending a few nights on a transcontinental train provides a fascinating and historically authentic way to traverse the great distances of Australia. Named for the oceans at either end of the route, the Indian Pacific runs for 2,700 miles from Sydney to Perth and includes the world’s longest stretch of straight railway track.
According to Abercrombie & Kent Australia, you’ll travel across “the majestic Blue Mountains and into the barren expanse of the Nullarbor Plain to lush vineyards and vast goldmines, and from cities of 4 million inhabitants to ghost towns of just four citizens.”
Alternatively, The Ghan runs a perpendicular route through Australia’s blazing Red Centre, taking you the 1,850 miles from Darwin to Adelaide. Originally called the Afghan Express, The Ghan follows a trail first forged by Middle Eastern cameleers who explored the interior of the continent in the 1800s.
Routes take three to four days to run the full length, and include off-train excursions along the way. While not true luxury trains such as those operated by Belmond, both The Ghan and the Indian Pacific offer Platinum Class accommodations that feature spacious private cabins that convert from lounge to bedroom, personal butlers, gourmet cuisine prepared by onboard chefs and transfers on arrival and departure. Fully private carriages also are available.
With a range of dramatic landscapes, off-train experiences and high-level service, these transcontinental trains provide opportunities for a complete Australian adventure, which is “a marvelous way to appreciate the vastness of the country and to avoid the hassle of air travel,” summarizes a Hideaway Report member.
New South Wales
Any Australian itinerary would be incomplete without a visit to Sydney, the metropolitan hub of the country and one of the world’s great cities.
As our editor-in-chief is fond of saying, Sydney is “a thrilling combination of everything there is to like about San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Cape Town.” The original gateway for Europeans on the continent, the sophisticated city offers a wealth of attractions between its eastern waterfront and the Blue Mountains to the west.
Here you can arrange a private tour of the iconic Opera House, which our editor notes is “a fair emblem of this city’s appeal: clean, modern, cultured and thrown into pristine relief by the blue waters of the surrounding harbor.” Adjacent is the monumental expanse of Harbour Bridge, and daredevil travelers can climb to the apex of the steel arch for an unforgettable view of the Sydney sunrise.
Enjoy distinctive dining downtown at Sepia or overlook the legendary surf and sand of Bondi Beach at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar. As your stay in the city winds down, take a relaxing cruise across the waterfront on one of the green-and-cream ferries and reflect on the grandeur of this beautiful and intriguing country.
Kimberley Coast, Western Australia
In the remote northwest of the continent, the sparsely populated landscape of the Kimberley region hides a wealth of natural wonders, such as the peculiar sandstone towers of the Bungle Bungles and the Argyle diamond mine.
This is a particularly ideal setting for experiencing the Outback, full of “craggy sienna-hued ranges, emerald forests and wetlands and forbidding cliffs that plunge into the ocean.”
Vast and remote, the starkly beautiful region is perhaps best explored by helicopter, and a variety of excursions can be arranged from The Berkeley River Lodge (itself only accessible by air). Its Ultimate Kimberley Adventure flight allows you to view isolated galleries of aboriginal rock art, ascend the majestic King George Falls, follow the deep gorges carved by the Berkeley River and sight crocodiles, dugong and wetland birds before catching the sunset from the top of Mount Casuarina.