1. THE PILBARA As the mining industry hits its peak, the Pilbara is entering mainstream travel consciousness as a great destination. It’s not all about Tom Price, after all. But even if it were, the WA government is putting a lot of effort into ensuring the town and communities are better off as mining’s golden days taper off. Plans are underway to boost the permanent population of Karratha, Hedland and Newmann from 50,000 to 135,000 by 2035. And really, if you moved here, just imagine what you’d have on your doorstep: jaw-dropping wilderness such as Karijini National Park with its immense waterfalls and gorges. The more infrastructure in place for residents, the better the facilities for travellers. Then again, it might be best to go see it while there’s hardly anyone there. australiasnorthwest.com
2. TASSIE MANIA There used to be a joke that went something like, “Will the last one to leave Tasmania please turn out the lights?”. Nowadays it’s more likely that the mainland that will be left in the dark as more and more northern staters buy holiday houses and retire down south after holidaying in Tassie. Chances are that either you are already a Tasophile or someone you know is. If you’ve never been, it’s time to start listening to the recommendations: the state as a whole offers one of the most brilliant travel experiences in the country, no matter what you love to do. Secluded campsites, country drives (the east coast is a perennial AT fave), coastal drama, wild bush walks, stunning scenery, design hotels, cultural experiences, great local produce, trout fishing, thriving wine regions, fine dining, live arts, great galleries, excellent festivals such as Taste, MONA FOMA and 10 Days on the Island – it’s all here to be experienced. discovertasmania.com
3. GOING BUSH National Parks of the past wanted you in and out as quickly as possible – daytrippers were encouraged while campers were tolerated with nervous smiles and hopes you wouldn’t start a fire. But NPs across Australia are now welcoming nature lovers by opening more (and better) signposted walking trails to encourage multi-day experiences. In NSW alone, recent offerings include the Tandara luxury camping experience in Lane Cove River Tourist Park (lcrtp.com.au/tandara-sydney); a two-day guided bushwalk along the Royal National Park’s Coast Track (thecoasttrack.com); and the four-day Yuraygir Coastal Walk on the north coast, which “follows in the footsteps of the coastal emu” between Angourie and Red Rock (environment.nsw.gov.au). Go to the Australian National Parks website to find experiences in your state. australiannationalparks.com
4. SCENIC ROUTES In an economic climate that has seen travellers tempted overseas by appealing exchange rates, one way domestic operators can survive and thrive is by banding together. Over the past year we’ve seen the emergence of many regional road routes that come complete with maps flagging local farm gates, vineyards, restaurants and hotels etc. It’s really nice to see less competition and more collaboration in domestic tourism and we think it will pay off. We applaud regional tourism initiatives such as the King Valley’s Prosecco Road (kingvalleyproseccoroad.com.au), West Gippsland’s Hinterland Drive (available as an app from iTunes), ACT’s Poacher’s Way (thepoachersway.com.au) and the Greater Blue Mountains Drive in NSW (greaterbluemountainsdrive.com.au).
5. LONG LIVE DESTINATION DINING Sometimes you need a good reason to get away. It’s not enough to just say to yourself “I need a break”, it’s good to have an excuse. So, say your favourite chef is Quay’s Peter Gilmore: this year you would have been able to visit Sydney to see his chef’s showcase at Crave Sydney International Food festival in July and at Hamilton Island for part of its Great Barrier Feast program. Qualia’s head chef, Jane-Therese Mulry, stepped aside to let other top Aussie chefs such as Dan Hunter and Frank Camorra host masterclasses and special dinners from her kitchen on Hamilton Island. The 2012 GBF season kicks off with Guillaume Brahimi (dates TBC; check hamiltonisland.com.au/feast for details). But back to Dan Hunter: he’s the drawcard for Dunkeld, a beautiful Victorian country town in the Grampians, which would have slipped under many people’s radars if it weren’t for the Royal Mail. Then you’ve got Maggie Beer’s farm shop in the Barossa, which rivals the region’s wineries as a tourist magnet. But watch out, chefs: sommeliers are becoming the new celebs, we’re starting to see more wine experiences at the top hotels, and private tours of the wine cellar are a new phenomenon not to be missed
6. CRUISING Each summer, ever more cruise liners base themselves in Australian waters. This may be due to the fact that Australia ranks third in the cruiseloving countries of the world (behind the US and the UK). More than 466,000 of us took a cruise in 2010. Celebrity Cruises, Cunard, Silversea, Classic International Cruises and Holland America Line will join P&O, Royal Caribbean and Princess cruises at various ports in Australia and throughout the Pacific over the coming months. Our land is girt by sea, so you may as well make the most of it.
7. CLIMBING Maybe it’s due to Sydney Harbour’s BridgeClimb’s success, but there seems to be a plethora of new climbing experiences lately. There’s the Story Bridge Abseil Climb in Brisbane storybridgeadventureclimb.com.au); Sydney’s tall-ship mast-climb experience (sydneytallships.com.au) and the Gold Coast’s Skypoint climb, Australia’s highest external building walk on top of Q1, which is due to open this summer (skypoint.com.au).
8. HOLIDAY HOMES Watch out, hotels: private holiday home rentals are a real contender for the tourist dollar thanks to websites like Air BnB, stayz.com.au and even local real-estate windows. And it’s not like the old days, where you get a fibro shack and a cutlery drawer full of blunt knives and souvenir teaspoons. Just check out the beach houses on pages 92, 93 and 170 of this issue – stylish, luxuriously appointed, beautifully furnished homes in the truest sense. But unlike a B&B, you get them all to yourself.
9. INLAND NEW SOUTH WALES Traditionally, New South Welshmen have flocked to the beach for their holidays. But we predict that seaside staples such as Port Macquarie and Batemans Bay will be in for a shock when inland destinations like Orange and Mudgee steal some of their thunder. They may be landlocked but they boast boutique wineries, inspiring small hotels, passionate operators who value tourism, and great restaurants serving incredible local produce. Meanwhile, back on the east coast, many operators aren’t trying hard enough: hotels built in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s remain in the past, food can be on the dull side and locals can be unwelcoming. Perhaps they think their location is enough? For an idea of what’s on offer, see visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw and amazingcountryescapes.com.au
10. CYCLING TOURS Maybe it’s because good coffee is accessible in even the smallest regional towns these days, but during our travels this year the AT team has noticed cyclists everywhere. Road cyclists abound, taking early morning or all-day tours along scenic routes countrywide. Many decommissioned train tracks are being resurfaced into long-distance bike paths, such as a particularly excellent one in the Barossa that stretches from Angaston to Nuriootpa. It’s more and more common to see recreational bike paths threading through the bush alongside regional highways, too. Right now, the RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride has record numbers participating in its ride of three to nine days, which took off from Swan Hill on November 26. Long-distance riders with swags under their saddlebags are on the rise too. Sites to check out for tips on how to tackle a bike and bivouac getaway include: alltrails.com.au, cyclingtours.com.au and bikely.com.