In Australia, you can sip on cocktails in funky bars and explore the Outback on horseback or by four-wheel drive. All in the same day.
In such a big country, even natives can get disoriented when traveling. That’s why we’ve made it easy for you with this ultimate Australian summer adventure guide.
40. Horseback riding: Snowy Mountains
In the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, Snowy Wilderness is a privately owned sanctuary for wild horses, known as “brumbies.” They remain, many years after their generations-ago sires and mares played a part in colonials staking land claims.
While you’re not allowed to ride a brumby (even if you’re a gifted horseman), you can observe these majestic creatures from the saddle of a mountain-fit stock horse on a guided tour through the 3,000-hectare property. Tours offered by Snowy Wilderness.
39. Dance with horses: Perth
The annual New Year’s Eve Party at Perth’s Ascot Racecourse always attracts a huge crowd.
Trackside entertainment tends to vary from fashion shows and a la-di-da Moët Luncheon to music headlined by Australian R&B artist DJ Havana Brown.
38. Ride a mechanical dolphin: Byron Bay
With a cruising speed of 22 kph above water and 14 kph below, the German-made Seabob Cavago F7 lets you swim, dive and splash about like a dolphin.
“It’s like nothing you’ve ever done before,” says Tim Hochgrebe of Underwater Australia. “It’s like flying underwater.”
Underwater Australia, Byron Bay; +61 (0)403 803 083
37. Swim with dolphins: Rockingham Bay
A short cruise from Rockingham, you can zip up your wetsuit and jump in the water with a group of dolphins in their natural habitat. Don’t worry, no previous snorkeling experience is necessary on this guided tour – just be as friendly and relaxed as the resident mammals.
Rockingham Wild Encounters, 153 Arcadia Drive, Shoalwater, WA, +61 (0)8 9591 1333
36. Take in a concert in the vines: Hunter Valley
Two hours’ drive from Sydney, the wine district plays host to the stars.
The Hunter Valley is renowned for its award-winning Semillon grapes, but in recent years it’s also earned a reputation as a leading concert destination for big-name international acts.
Until April, century-old vineyards like Hope and Bimbadgen estates will see the likes of Dolly Parton, Elton John and Rod Stewart on stage.
35. Catch rockabilly and cowpunk: Tamworth
Rated among the top 10 country music festivals in the world, Tamworth Country Music Festival in northern New South Wales caters to more than just those two diverse American musical styles – country and western.
Tamworth serves up folk, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, yodeling, twistabilly, rockabilly swing, cowpunk and more.
34. Drink wine while others sweat and scream: Adelaide
The Santos Tour Down Under, which takes place every January, is now the biggest cycling race in the southern hemisphere.
“Spectators can position themselves along the route and watch the race while they enjoy a glass of wine and something to eat with family and friends,” says Jason Gillick of the Tour Down Under.
A glass of wine in the Barossa or Clare valleys beats pedaling a bike uphill any day.
33. Trinket markets near an old whaling fleet: Hobart
The rows of sandstone buildings in Salamanca – part of Hobart’s historical dockside precinct – have been converted into restaurants, boutiques, galleries and pubs.
Hobart’s old whaling fleet sits at anchor alongside the adjacent docks. The best time to visit the strip is between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on any given Saturday, when the Salamanca Markets comes to town.
Some 300 stallholders sell Tasmanian Iron Bark Honey, leatherwork, secondhand books, jewelry made from spoons and forks, Turkish kebabs and all kinds of other stuff.
32. Swim at a fake beach: Brisbane
The best thing about Queensland is its beaches. Not so if you’re in Brisbane – the state capital is set on a flood plain bracing the banks of the caramel-colored Brisbane River.
South Bank’s Streets Beach is an artificial lagoon-style swimming pool complete with white sandy beaches, bubbling creeks and a shady tropical garden.
As corny as it sounds, it’s a great place to escape Brisbane’s relentless summer heat and check out the markets and museums.
Entry is free.
31. Kayak from the ocean to a mountain: Gold Coast
On the Gold Coast between Currumbin Village and Palm Beach, Currumbin Creek runs 24 kilometers inland to Mount Cougal.
Its waterscape changes from a soft surf break and shallow lagoons at its mouth to lush jungle surroundings in the interior.
Hire a kayak, paddleboard or small motorized flatbed boat; prices start at $10 an hour.
Boatshed Tackle & Bait, 2-4 Thrower Drive, Currumbin, +61 (07) 5525 0338
30. Feed crazy schools of fish: Darwin
Darwin provides an orgy of marine-based activities, from deep-sea fishing to eco tours of the mangroves. But without getting your feet wet, you can check out Aquascene, where thousands of fish come to feed at high tide.
This feeding ritual began in the 1950s when local fisherman threw leftover bait at schools of mullet.
Word got around the local fish population. Now, dozens of species including catfish, barramundi and bream join the skirmish for a feed.
29. Climb one of Australia’s most famous landmarks: Sydney
Over 3.6 million people have scaled the Sydney Harbour Bridge with BridgeClimb Sydney since the attraction opened to the public in 1998. The experience provides spectacular views of the city as well as it’s other famous national landmark – the Sydney Opera House. Tours can last from 90 to 120 minutes depending on what package you choose.
BridgeClimb Sydney; +61 (2) 8274 7777
28. Watch cinema in the pale moonlight: Various cities
For 16 years, the Moonlight Cinema open-air movie program has screened new releases, classics and cult films around the country.
Past venues have included Sydney’s Centennial Park, Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Adelaide’s Botanic Park, Brisbane’s New Farm Park, Perth’s Kings Park and Port Douglas’ Rydges Sabaya Resort.
Drinks are served and bean beds are available for hire.
“It’s as much a social experience as it is a night out at the movies,” says Jillian Bowen of Moonlight Cinema.
27. Watch Australian Open tennis on the grass: Melbourne
Few international players competed in the Australian Open when it started as a grass court tournament back in 1905.
Today the hardcourt Grand Slam tennis tournament is a little better attended.
A ground pass grants entry into outside courts, or you can watch matches on the lawn’s big screen.
26. Dirt bike through wilderness: Cape York
Cape York is one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in the world. It’s also one of the most remote and difficult to access in Australia.
Cape York Motorcycle Adventures offer a range of two-to-10-day trips through the remote region. Prices include motorbikes, food and camping accommodation.
“We’ll get into the real Cape York, ducking and weaving through ant hills and all the low-lying areas through the coast,” says director Roy Kundra. “It’s a lot more exciting than seeing it from the back of a bus or four-wheel drive.”
25. Photograph the world’s smallest penguins in a really big parade: Phillip Island
Two hours’ drive south of Melbourne, Phillip Island’s prime attraction is the daily Little Penguin parade at Phillip Island Nature Park.
An elevated viewing platform allows tourists to witness the world’s smallest penguins emerge from the ocean and waddle up the beach to their sand burrows at sunset.
24. Taste pinot noirs: Mornington Peninsula
Many believe Mornington – southeast of Melbourne – has some of the country’s best wines.
The area’s 60 boutique winemakers produce small quantities of high-quality wine, especially pinot noirs.
A drive along the stunning east coast of Port Phillip Bay makes the trip all the more appealing.
23. Paddle-steam: Murray-Darling
Ornate paddle steamers have carried wool, cattle and grain up and down the Murray-Darling river system since the 19th century.
Roads brought an end to the romance, but a few decades ago someone came up with the idea of converting the old vessels into tourist boats.
Today, Australia boasts one of the largest collections of active paddle steamers in the world.
The river queens depart daily from towns along the Murray and Darling rivers to a bygone era rife with color and intrigue.
22. Shower in a 104-meter-high waterfall: Nightcap National Park
The Minyon Falls Flora Reserve in New South Wales is a beautiful 104-meter waterfall close to Byron Bay.
There’s a 50-meter boardwalk that offers scenic lookouts, but visitors can also explore the bottom of the falls via designated walking trails. Water splashing up at you will give you a shower.
Nightcap National Park, Newton Dr, Nightcap NSW 2480: +61 1300 361 967
21. Eat fresh fish-and-chips steeped in history: Watsons Bay
Almost a century after Captain Arthur Phillip anchored the First Fleet at Watsons Bay, a fishmonger set up shop.
Seven nautical miles from the city center, Doyles is still there serving fresh flathead, whiting, prawns and more – with sweeping views across the harbor.
Doyle’s Restaurant, 11 Marine Parade, Watsons Bay, +61 (0)2 9337 2007
20. Go to summer’s coolest festivals: Various venues
Australia is full of festivals of all sorts. From Rainbow Serpent to Woodforde, there’s bound to be a dance styled to your groove.
In the south, the Falls Music & Arts Festival in Lorne, Victoria, and Marion Bay, Tasmania, is a four-day festival of music arts with a “cool” reputation.
There are plenty of other shindigs for all kinds of hipsters.
19. Have an island cocktail at an old naval quarry: Sydney Harbor
Cockatoo Island was first a prison for the worst convicts, then a reform school for scallywag kids.
For most of its colonial life, it was a naval quarry.
Now it belongs to hedonists.
Throughout summer, Cockatoo Island plays host to a funky vibe dedicated to cocktails, fine spirits and bar culture.
Learn about cocktail making or sit back on deck chairs and enjoy some signature drinks.
If you plan on drinking a fair bit, ring ahead and arrange tent accommodation.
Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour, +61 (0)424 189 123
18. Learn to sail in the world’s best harbor: Darling Harbour
Owning a yacht is too expensive for most, but learning to sail can be affordable.
Spend a weekend on the water winching sails, steering the yacht and embracing the exotic life.
Sydney By Sail Festival Pontoon, National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, +61 (0)2 9280 1110
11 of the world’s unusual surf spots
17. Eat lunch in Australia’s tallest residential tower: Surfers Paradise
At 322 meters, Q1 in Surfers Paradise is one of the world’s tallest residential buildings.
On the 77th floor, SkyPoint has 360-degree views of other tall, thin buildings that line the Gold Coast.
Get a bird’s eye-view of beaches while sharing a seafood platter, snacking on macadamia-crusted chicken tenderloins or devouring a Wagyu burger.
Q1, 9 Hamilton Drive, Surfers Paradise, QLD, +61 (0)7 5630 4500
16. Bogan Pub Crawl: Surfers Paradise
If your idea of having a good time is being dragged from bar to bar with a busload of drunken backpackers, then a bogan-style pub crawl is for you.
Wicked Pub Crawl, one of the more established operators, and offers various packages.
15. Take a Great Barrier Reef trip: from Cairns
Who said you need an oxygen tank to commune with marine life?
One of nature’s greatest wonders, the Great Barrier Reef is under threat, and may disappear by 2050 according to some environmental groups.
With environmental factors threatening its survival, time could be running out to enjoy snorkeling here. Take a day trip from Cairns and snorkel among the varied, multi-colored wildlife that live beneath the crystal water’s surface.
Reef Trip, 100 Abbott St., Cairns, QLD, +61 (0)7 4037 2700
14. Enjoy tacos and margaritas with a new friend: Sydney
For many years, The Excelsior was a character-driven bar with a dimly lit back room for jazz gigs.
When bar tycoon Justin Hemmes purchased it, Sydneysiders worried they’d lost an old friend.
Luckily, they made a new one after the bar reopened as El Loco.
Locals have been gravitating to the newest hip joint in town. Could Sydney finally have some decent Mexican tucker? The old Excelsior now serves margaritas and you can grab a mini-taco at the attached Mexican cantina.
El Loco, 64 Foveaux St., Surry Hills, +61 2 9254 8088
13. Watch pajama cricket at night: Various cities
When media magnate Kerry Packer contracted the world’s best cricketers in the 1970s to form the rebel World Series to televise the games on his TV station, the move was mocked by the cricketing powers of the day.
The thought of playing cricket with colors infringing on the all whites, and in the dark of night, was considered ludicrous.
Instead, Packer revolutionized the game and paved the way to colorful World Cups and the more recent Twenty-20s.
Every Australian town will tell you their cricket ground is the best, and they all have a unique character to enjoy. (Note, Sydney and Melbourne, it’s not all about your bickering).
12. Four-wheel drive across a flowering desert: Simpson Desert
It may usually be one of the driest places on earth, but the Simpson Desert has recently undergone a dramatic change.
After two years’ record rainfall, its 176,500 square kilometers are now green and carpeted with desert flowers.
Three main tracks cross the Simpson.
They require four-wheel drive vehicles. Tagalong tours are the safest way to cross the desert.
11. Swim with whale sharks: Ningaloo
In the early 1800s, whalers flocked to Ningaloo, one of the world’s largest reefs, which stretches 260 kilometers off Western Australia’s mid-north coast.
Today the reef attracts a different kind of visitor – travelers who want to snorkel with the monstrous but harmless whale sharks – as well as dugongs, manta rays, turtles and dolphins.
Accredited operators like Three Islands Ningaloo Blue Dive run whale shark expeditions that depart daily from Exmouth, a former naval base, 1,270 kilometers north of Perth.
10. Jump out of an airplane: Gold Coast
Nothing gets the adrenalin pumping like jumping out of an airplane from 4,000 meters.
A tandem skydive – you’re attached to an expert – heightens your chances of a safe landing. The fact that you land near that long, white coastline called the Gold Coast is a bonus – as long as it’s soft.
Gold Coast Skydive, 1/78 Musgrave St., Kirra, QLD, +61 (0)7 5599 1920
9. Go barefoot bowling: Paddington
By removing participants’ shoes, lawn bowls has transformed itself from a pensioners’ game into a hip, socially accepted pastime for the younger generation.
Slip off your shoes, grab a beer and try to not let the alcohol affect your game.
Paddington Bowling Club, 2 Quarry St., Paddington, NSW, +61 (0)2 9363 1150
8. Watch one of the world’s oldest regattas: Sydney Harbor
On Boxing Day, scores of yachts race out of Sydney Harbour bound for Hobart in the aptly-named Sydney to Hobart.
A month later, on January 26, sailors of all descriptions return for the Australia Day Regatta, which has been running since 1837.
Many crews still dress in period sailing gear for the longest continuously running annual sailing event in the world. This colorful event sees vessels race for line honors as well as the “Ferrython.” Watch the action from the harbor or enjoy it from a ticketed cruise
7. Commemorate “Invasion Day” at Victoria Park: Sydney
Australia’s national days often tend to divide as much as unite. Australia Day is a public holiday, but for the indigenous people it marks the beginning of their land being taken away.
While many Sydneysiders gather around the harbor, indigenous people and friends remember the day at the Yabun festival in Victoria Park.
The event includes some homegrown hip-hop, dance, sport, talks, arts and crafts. If you want a drink, you’ll have to go for a short walk to a nearby pub, as it’s a dry event.
Yabun festival, Victoria Park
6. Sleep in luxury with animals at the zoo: Sydney
Enjoy one of Sydney’s best tourist attractions in a whole new way by camping in safari tents under the stars at Taronga Zoo. Enjoy a roast feast and drinks, as well as up-close animal encounters after the zoo closes, then awaken to views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Taronga Zoo, Bradley’s Head Road, Mosman, NSW, +61 (0)2 9969 2777
5. Sleep in a wartime bunker: Miles
The Brisbane Line was created during WWII to frustrate a potential Japanese invasion.
The underground bunkers have been transformed into comfortable rooms for overnight stays. If that sounds too claustrophobic, wartime train carriageways (above ground) have also been transformed into self-contained cabins. You’re sure to be safe.
Possum Park, 36865 Leichhardt Highway, Miles, QLD +61 (0)7 4627 1651
4. Have a weekend barbie on a grassy knoll with forthright locals: Bondi Beach
When the mercury soars, half of Sydney seems to flock to Bondi Beach. Locals complain about it incessantly and go to great lengths to separate themselves from the general riffraff.
One of the few remaining local vestiges is the grassy knoll on the northern end of the beach, where four coin-operated gas barbecues struggle to provide cooking heat for locals.
Folk congregate here every Saturday and Sunday and most other sunsets to eat, drink and mingle with fellow members of the Bondi tribe.
Sorry Bondi, the secret’s out.
3. Dance at WOMADelaide: Adelaide
This family-friendly event will see more than 80,000 people swarm to Adelaide’s Botanic Park.
Musicians and DJs from Spain, Ireland, Congo, Jamaica, Mali and Burundi perform on seven stages. There are also theater troupes and visual artists as well as food, crafts and display stalls.
WOMADelaide, Botanic Park
2. Take a ghost tour through The Rocks: Sydney
Sydney has a darker side, and we’re not talking about the thumping nightclubs of Kings Cross or Oxford Street.
Australia’s oldest district, The Rocks, was a slum run on rum and visited by scallywags and prostitutes. To learn about the area’s gruesome killings, suicides and paranormal activity, join historian Brian Harrison on a Ghost Tour.
“A lot of very weird and wonderful things have taken place in The Rocks,” Harrison says.
1. Have a schooner at Australia’s oldest pub: Sydney
Locals have been coming to the Fortune of War pub since it opened in 1828. With plenty of local brews on tap, you can enjoy the history and old world charm of the country’s first watering hole.
Fortune of War, 137 George St., The Rocks, +61 (0)2 9247 2714
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2011. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.