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Amazing things you can see and do only in Australia

Panoramic view of Sydney, Australia Panoramic view of Sydney, Australia. Photo by Michael Evans/stock.adobe.com

G’day, indeed! After 2 years of being closed to international travelers, Australia is once again open. So it’s an ideal time to plan your bucket list trip to this continent that spans nearly 3 million square miles and offers diverse ecosystems and distinctive experiences.

From the red sands of the Outback to the aquamarine waters of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia boasts astounding natural beauty and laid-back charm.

We’ve curated a list of amazing things to see and do in Australia, especially if you base your vacation relatively close to east coast cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.

1. See Sydney Opera House from unique perspectives

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House. Photo by LHJ PHOTO/stock.adobe.com

The Sydney Opera House is one of the most photographed buildings in the world, with billowing “sails” that are emblematic of Australia. Experience this architectural marvel from the air, from the water, and from within. 

Join a guided tour with BridgeClimb Sydney to scale the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a 3-hour moderate-exertion climb. You’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views and a bird’s-eye view of the Opera House while perched 440 feet above the sea. 

Paddleboard, kayak, or sail Sydney Harbour around the Opera House to explore beaches accessible only by boat. 

Or go inside the Opera House for a performance or a guided tour. The biggest event happens on December 31: Be among the first in the world to welcome the new year as the skies above the Opera House and Sydney Harbour light up with the city’s world-famous New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

2. Venture into the Daintree Rainforest

Mossman Gorge in Daintree National Park

Mossman Gorge in Daintree National Park, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Martin Valigursky/stock.adobe.com

This 180-million-year-old rain forest with ancient ferns, flowing streams, stunning waterfalls, gorgeous gorges, and lush tree canopy helped inspire the world of Pandora for the 2009 movie Avatar

Daintree is where the rain forest meets the reef: It’s where 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites—the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef—unite. Although many organized excursions combine these 2 places in one tour, it’s worth spending a few extra days in this magical place. 

3. Discover Australia’s indigenous cultures

Garma Festival

Bunggul Dance at Garma Festival. Photo by Tourism Australia

You can’t truly know Australia without interacting with some of its hundreds of indigenous communities. Listen to mesmerizing Dreamtime storytelling, participate in art workshops and healing ceremonies, go on bush tucker walks, and visit sacred sites alongside caretakers of the land.

You might even time a trip around an Aboriginal ceremony or festival, such as the annual Garma Festival in the Northern Territory or the Yabun Festival in Sydney.

4. Visit the world’s largest monolith

Uluru

Uluru in the Northern Territory’s Red Centre. Photo by Tourism Australia

One of the most sacred Aboriginal sites is Uluru. Rising 1,142 feet above the surrounding plain, the massive sandstone monolith is taller than both the Eiffel Tower and New York’s Chrysler Building. It emerges out of the expansive, red-hued Outback landscape like royalty and dazzles visitors as it changes colors at sunrise and sunset. It’s well worth the approximately 3-hour flight from Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane to Yulara to visit this icon in the Northern Territory’s Red Centre. 

Take a balloon flight to appreciate Uluru’s size and scale, and when on land, join an Aboriginal guide for a tour. To cap off the day, indulge in a barbecue dinner under the star-filled Outback sky.

5. Immerse yourself in the Outback

Australia Red Sand

4x4 driving in the Outback. Photo by ronnybas/stock.adobe.com

The Outback is a diverse terrain sprinkled with colorful characters, quirky creatures, and amazing stories. Small-group, guided camping tours can bring you into remote environments, such as Binns Track or the Simpson Desert. You’ll have an all-terrain drive across deserts and sand dunes that end with overnight glamping complete with hot showers and flush toilets. 

Alternatively, you could sit back and watch the Outback unfold—kangaroos and tiny frontier towns—from the comfort of a train. The 4-day cross-continent journey from Sydney to Perth aboard the Indian Pacific includes the world’s longest stretch of straight railway and has been called a meditative experience. 

6. Marvel at the Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Coral and sea life found in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by aquapix/stock.adobe.com

The Great Barrier Reef is so vast, it can be seen from outer space. This interlinked system of about 3,000 reefs and 900 coral islands is a complex, living ecosystem. It is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you shouldn’t miss the chance to see it up close. You can book scenic flights, glass-bottom boat tours, and snorkeling and scuba excursions out of Cairns, Port Douglas, or Cape York. 

7. Drive the Great Ocean Road

Ariel view of the Twelve Apostles

Aerial view of the Twelve Apostles and the Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. Photo by Ruby Rascal/stock.adobe.com

Rent a car to experience one of the world’s best drives. Beginning about 65 miles southwest of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is a stunning 150-mile stretch that winds past sleepy seaside villages, breathtaking beaches, lush rain forest, and dramatic rock formations. 

The collection of massive limestone stacks that rise from the ocean (which now number 8 because 4 have eroded) is a sight to behold, but so is everything else along the way, especially if you hit must-stop spots such as an enchanting redwood forest and a koala-spotting mecca.

8. Meet kangaroos and koalas in their native habitat

Koala

Koala on a eucalyptus tree. Photo by Maridav/stock.adobe.com

Australia’s most famous inhabitants may be its quirky marsupials. Just an hour outside of Brisbane, visit the Australia Zoo, founded by legendary “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, for thrilling croc demonstrations and opportunities to feed kangaroos and cuddle koalas.

For encounters in the wild, hop a flight to Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, where you can observe ’roos, as they are affectionately known by locals, in their natural habitat. You’ll also see native birdlife, Australian sea lions, penguins, wallabies, echidnas, and koalas.

Panoramic View Sydney Australia

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AAA travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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