OUR TOP 20 AUSTRALIAN DESTINATIONS TO VISIT ON YOUR BIG LAP
The number one question we get asked is this: Where has been your most favourite place on your trip?
And it's an impossible question to answer - we've been to so many amazing spots, and while we have a lot of great stand out places, there is no way we could choose just one. Plus so much about what makes a place great to a particular person isn't about the place at all. It depends so much on the weather at the time you're there, the people that you meet, and your own personal frame of mind at the time. And of course one mans trash is another mans treasure meaning the places we love might be the places you hate, and vice versa. But the question keeps coming time and time again, so we've sat down and made a list of our all time favourites, from both this trip and others. Please note however that although we have visited Tasmania on a few occasions (and loved it there) we haven't explored it extensively or for any length of time, so for that reason it is not included on this list at this time. One day we will get over there for a good few months of exploration, and then we'll be sure to come up with a few Tassie destinations to add to the list! You'll also find that many of these places are only accessible by 4wd, which is one of the reasons we love them, and was one of the main reasons we chose to travel in a full offroad set up in the first place.
Now we couldn't narrow it down to a favourite, or a top 5, or even a top 10. So we've made a top 20 of our favourite Aussie destinations to visit on your big lap (in no particular order!)
1. Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Now if we were to make a top 5, I can assure you the Ningaloo Reef region in Western Australia would most definitely be on it. We've visited this area twice on separate trips, and loved it just as much on each occasion. I mean where else in the world can you camp right by the beach, walk out the front door of your camper, and jump into the water with your snorkel to explore a huge world heritage listed reef system with a stunning array of marine life to spot right from the shore. Plus if you're feeling a little more adventurous (and cashed up) you can jump on a boat trip to go meet some bigger marine life - we've swum with Manta Rays, Whale Sharks and Humpback Whales on the outer reef at Ningaloo, and they're experiences that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
2. Karijini National Park, Western Australia
Another definite favourite is the Karijini National Park, also in Western Australia. This is one of our favourite National Parks in the country with it's beautiful and unique gorge systems, great camping options, and stunning (but freezing!) swimming holes. There is so much to explore at Karijini, with plenty of beautiful hikes and drives to keep you busy, so it's well worth the detour inland from the coast in our opinion. If you'd like to read more about it check out this article we wrote about our time at Karijini National Park here or this video wrap up here.
3. Uluru & the Mereenie Loop/Red Centre, Northern Territory
I mean how could you travel Australia and not visit the spiritual heart of the country? We love Uluru - we've visited on multiple occasions and each time she shows us something we've never seen before. In fact on the last visit we were lucky enough to experience rain on the rock, which was a truly magical thing to witness (check out the video of it raining on uluru here). But you can't visit the red centre and only see Uluru - if you're going to travel all that way you need to make the most of it & explore Uluru, Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas), Kings Canyon, and if possible the Mereenie Loop, Palm Valley, and the West MacDonnell Ranges as they're all excellent destinations in their own right! Check out our article on making the most of your time at Uluru here.
4. Kakadu & Litchfield National Parks, Northern Territory
Ok so these are two seperate places, but you can't go all the way to the top end of the NT and not visit both of these parks. We love them both equally - Litchfield is smaller, less touristed (just) and easier to explore in a limited time frame/without at 4x4. Whereas Kakadu is huge and requires a lot more of your time, is more expensive, and the main highlights can get extremely busy. But if you've got a 4x4 and a bit of time, Kakadu has so many fantastic hidden delights! If possible it's also fantastic to visit both these parks in both the wet and the dry, as it's a completely different experience in the wet season, plus in the wet you'll generally get to experience it free from too many other tourists!
5. Lake Eyre, South Australia
Lake Eyre in Outback South Australia is not only Australia's largest lake, it's also the lowest natural point in Australia at 15m below sea level. And sure, it doesn't fill with water very often, but when it does it's a truly spectacular sight! If you've never seen a salt lake before, well Lake Eyre is the mother of all salt lakes and is a truly beautiful, if somewhat barren place. Plus being a little hard to get to, and so very large, you're likely to have a little bit of it all to yourself.
6. Lawn Hill Gorge, Queensland
Found in Western QLD not to far from the NT border, Lawn Hill Gorge is truly an oasis in the outback. This stunning gorge has beautiful blue green waters, some gorgeous hikes, and you can camp right next door. But in order to truly explore Lawn Hill you need a canoe (available for hire if you don't have your own) so you can paddle up the gorge and truly experience it's magic.
7. Atherton Tablelands, Queensland
This is one of Nathans absolute favourites! He loves that you can be in tropical north QLD down at Cairns one minute, then drive an hour up the range to the Tablelands and essentially be in dairy farming country, then carry on west another hour and be in the red dust of outback QLD. There is so much to explore in the Atherton Tablelands, and some great places to camp and base yourself for a week or two. We love Ringers Rest for camping, Lake Eacham for swimming, Millaa Millaa falls for stunning scenery, and Yungaburra for spotting platypus in the wild. And just down from the range you've got the famous Paronella Park, and the lesser known Etty Bay where you're almost guaranteed to spot a wild Cassowary.
8. Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
Look all of the South Australian coastline is pretty stunning, lets face it, but we particularly enjoyed the Eyre Peninsula. There is so much to see and do here, from catching Blue Swimmer Crabs off the pier at Cowell, to meeting wild dolphins in Whyalla, to the stunning cliffs at Elliston, and the pristine white beaches of Coffin Bay (just to name a few!). It's just a beautiful part of the world. We loved South Australia, and found some excellent camping sites there. Check out our list of our favourite South Australian free camps here and low cost camps here.
9. The Blue Mountains, New South Wales
Now I'm not a very big fan of Sydney (OK, I hate Sydney), and I must admit I wasn't expecting much of the Blue Mountains being as they're right on Sydneys doorstep. But boy was I wrong - the Blue Mountains are bloody amazing! They're so much bigger than I expected, we didn't allow nearly enough time at all. And sure the main places like Katoomba and the Three Sisters are hugely busy, but once you move away from them and start exploring further afield you find so many amazing hiking tracks to explore, with absolutely stunning views. So sure, pop into Sydney if you must and get your obligatory picture at Sydney Harbour. But make sure you don't miss this other fantastic sight right out Sydneys backdoor.
10. Cape York, Queensland
Anyone with a 4x4 who wants to travel Australia has Cape York on their list. Not only is it the northernmost point in Australia, but it's a long way from anywhere making the journey just as important as the destination. When we set off to travel Australia, reaching Cape York was our first goal. We took 8 months to travel from Melbourne to the Tip of Australia, with about 3 weeks dedicated to getting from Cairns to the Cape and back. And while it's not quite the intrepid journey it once was, it's still a great chance to test your 4x4 skills on the Overland Telegraph Track, swim in some beautiful croc free swimming holes (and avoid the croc infested ones!) and meet some awesome like minded travellers on the way. If you want to learn more about our Cape York journey you can find more information here.
11. The Wurrumbungles National Park, New South Wales
The Grand High Tops hike in the Wurrumbungles National Park was one of the most stunning hikes we have completed in all our years of travel. Now at 14.5kms, many of which is uphill this is not an easy hike, but we managed to achieve it with our then 3yo (a combination of him hiking and us carrying him in our child carrier backpack) and it was well worth it for the magnificent 360 degree views from the top!
12. Lake Ballard, Western Australia
It's not just that Lake Ballard is a pretty cool looking salt lake with an awesome free camp right on it's shores that gives it a spot on this list, although it certainly is. But what makes Lake Ballard truly special is that it's actually a huge open air art installation - scattered across the lake are 51 statues modeled on people from the local community that lend a unique and eerie presence to the Lake. Sure, it's a bit of a detour to get out there, but we think it's well worth it. Want more info? Check out our full write up here
13. Esperance & Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia
Lucky Bay is often very high on peoples favourite's lists after they have completed a 'big lap' of Australia, and for good reason - it's stunning white beaches, blue waters & kangaroos on the beach look like they've come straight out of a Tourism Australia advert. But Lucky Bay is just one part of a beautiful stretch of coastline that makes up the Esperance area, and there is plenty more to explore so don't just get your picture with a kangaroo on the beach and keep on driving - give the area the time it deserves and see what other gems you can find.
14. Shark Bay, Western Australia
I've included the entire Shark Bay area on this list because we absolutely loved Steep Point (Mainland Australia's westernmost point) and the Francois Peron National Park. But we don't love everything about Shark Bay - for example, we gave Monkey Mia a miss on our most recent visit as we definitely didn't rate it the first time around! And while Denham is a nice enough little town, it also gets super busy (and $$'s) so if you've got a 4x4 and don't mind a bit of adventure, you really need to get out to Steep Point & Francois Peron to experience the best of what the Shark Bay region has to offer. You can find out more about our time camping in the Francois Peron National Park here, our time at Steep Point here or check out this article we wrote about entire Shark Bay region here.
15. Birdsville/Big Red, Queensland
Anyone who does a bit of off-roading wants to get to Birdsville and try their luck up Big Red, Australia's biggest sand dune. Not only is it tons of fun trying to get your 4x4 to the top (and watching everyone else try their luck) but it's a great place to sit and have a drink, check out the views, and watch the sunset. Plus it also marks either the beginning or end of the Simpson Desert crossing, a part of Australia that is still very high on our lists to visit 'next time'. You can only camp out at Big Red during the Big Red Bash, but the lovely outback town of Birdsville is just up the road where you can free camp just out of town and enjoy a few drinks at the Birdsville Hotel, and a camel pie at the Birdsville Bakery.
16. Horizontal Falls, Western Australia
Without a doubt the most expensive day out on our entire trip, but well worth it! If you've never heard of the Horizontal Falls, they're found in the stunningly beautiful Bucaneer Archipelago, a remote area of the Kimberley north of Derby, Western Australia. And they can only be accessed by seaplane or boat, hence the hefty price tag or the tour. You can find out more about them here or check out our video here
17. The Daintree, Bloomfield Track & Cooktown, Queensland
This section of coast north of Cairns is absolutely beautiful - the world heritage listed Daintree Rainforest is part of the biggest rainforest in Australia, and with the rainforest meeting the sea it makes for some stunning scenery. We travelled from the Daintree up the 4x4 only Bloomfield track to the lovely town of Cooktown, and then further north to Elim beach - a beautiful beach camp - and loved the entire region. And if you're lucky you might even spot a big Saltwater Croc (from a distance hopefully!) or a Cassowary on your travels.
18. The Gibb River Road, Western Australia
Unfortunately we didn't visit the Gibb River Road on our most recent trip, but it was most definitely one of the highlights from our previous trip. In fact the entire Kimberley region is absolutely stunning with fantastic sunsets, beautiful Boabs, excellent swimming holes, and a bit of offroad adventuring to be had! And if you're going to do the Gibb, don't miss the detour out to the amazing Mitchell Falls - one of the most stunning waterfalls in Australia!
19. Cape Leveque & the Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia
Speaking of the Kimberley, no visit to the Broome/Kimberley region is complete without a journey up the Dampier Peninsula. There are so many great places to camp right on the beach, and that stunning juxtaposition of blue water, white sand & red cliffs is absolutely magic. Check out the details from our latest visit to the Dampier Peninsula staying at the beautiful Pender Bay Escape here
20. Fraser & Moreton Islands, Queensland
Ok, we understand these are two separate islands, but we loved them both equally so had to include them both on the list! Fraser & Moreton are similar in so many ways - they're both sand islands with beautiful beach side free camps, both have some cool shipwrecks to check out & both offer plenty of chances to practice your sand driving. Plus they're both a short ferry ride from the QLD coast. Fraser is bigger, more popular, and has a large dingo population making it a fairly unique destination. Plus the ferry over is nice & cheap. Moreton is smaller, less busy, and the ferry costs and arm & a leg. But they're both fantastic destinations so if you have a 4x4 we highly recommend visiting at least one on your travels around Australia.
We had lots of trouble narrowing this down to just 20 spots. A couple of great places that are worth a mention that didn't make the list include Etty Bay QLD, Wallaman Falls QLD, Hamelin Bay WA, The Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island SA, The Devils Marbles NT, The Birdsville & Oodnadatta Tracks SA, Rapid Bay SA, Carnarvon Gorge QLD... I mean the list goes on & on. We're so lucky to have such a wonderful country to explore. And no matter how long we travel, we just keep finding more & more awesome gems to add to the list!!
What are your favourites? Let us know!