All photography by Studioist.
Australia is well-known for its remarkable natural beauty, laid-back lifestyle, and exotic animals (…well exotic to those who grew up across the world).
It would be impossible to experience all this country has to offer in a single trip. We lived in Australia for a year and still didn’t see everything.
It was quite challenging narrowing the list down to 10—which is why I included a few bonus experiences at the bottom :) Honestly though I could make a list of 1000 things to do while in Straya and still need more numbers. Haha.
Australia will always have a place in our hearts and we can’t wait to make it back to some of our favorite places, but for now here’s a list of 10 of the coolest experiences to have while in Australia! In no particular order…
1. LEARN TO SURF
Ready to hang 10? Australia is a pilgrimage for surfers around the world and it’s not hard to see why. As an island continent Australia is surrounded by ocean and lined with beautiful beaches. Surfing was brought to Australia by Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku in 1915 and was instantly a sensation.
There are countless surf shops offering lessons and board rentals across the country, though I would HIGHLY recommend a lesson if this is your first time. The pros make it look easy, but surfing is hard work, and catching a wave…it’s not as easy as you think!
If you’re in Sydney, book a lesson through Let’s Go Surfing and learn to surf on the world-renowned Bondi Beach. If it goes badly, you may just be rescued by one of the lifesavers on Bondi Rescue, a hit Aussie tv show. :)
Other great spots to learn are Sydney’s Manly Beach or Surfer’s Paradise in the Gold Coast, season permitting—the big waves are typically between March to October. And when I say big waves, I really mean GIANTS! Trust me, you won’t want to be anywhere near these as a beginner surfer, aka Shark Biscuit. :)
If you’re more seasoned, check out Bells Beach, south-west of Melbourne. It’s the home of the world’s longest continuously running surf competition - now known as the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. During competition, the traffic in the area is heavy so plan accordingly.
If ripping in the oceans not your thing? Give sandboarding (basically snowboarding but on sand dunes) a go!
PHOTO: LeBraun sandboarding in Western Australia.
2. SNORKEL OR SCUBA THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
The world’s largest coral reef is situated just off the north-eastern coast of Australia and will definitely be a highlight of your adventure in Straya.
One of the seven wonders of the natural world, The Great Barrier Reef (you may see it written as GBR) is larger than the Great Wall of China, and is the only living thing on Earth that’s visible from space. How amazing is that?!
The reef is made up of thousands of coral cays, reef systems and islands, all surrounded by an abundance of marine life. I’d recommend a few nights on one of the picturesque, tropical islands, a boat/cruise tour with a snorkel dive (or scuba if you’re certified), and a helicopter tour. The reef from above is simply…WOW! That's really the only world I can use to describe the view. And if you can swing it, a sailing day around the Whitsundays! You won’t be disappointed.
But please during your visit, be respectful! Use ocean-friendly sunscreen, dispose of rubbish properly, and NO TOUCHING! Oils from human skin can kill coral and disrupt this already fragile ecosystem. Small rant: I was appalled by the number of people who were touching or stepping on the reef while snorkeling. I ended up telling a few people off. I bet those people are the same people who etch their names into historic monuments. End rant.
3. CLIMB THE SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE + REWARD YOURSELF WITH DRINKS AT OPERA BAR
You’ve seen the pictures, now experience the climb for yourself! The tour will guide you along the stairs, ladders, and catwalks atop this icon of Sydney Harbour while you enjoy 360 degree sweeping views of Sydney’s Harbour, the city, and its outer suburbs. I don’t think I need to say much more to sell it. :)
Dubbed “The Coathanger" because of its arch-based design, The Sydney Harbor Bridge opened in 1932 and remains the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge and tallest steel arch bridge in the world.
After your climb reward yourself with a drink at The Opera at on the lower concourse of the Sydney Opera House, overlooking the world-famous architectural gem—The Sydney Opera House. Another quintessential Sydney experience. Check the schedule then catch a show at the world-famous venue during your stay!
4. ENJOY SUNRISE OR SUNET AT ULURU
Uluru, sometimes referred to as Ayer’s Rock, is a sandstone monolith in the southwestern corner of Australia’s Northern Territory. Dwarfing its surroundings, nothing can prepare you for the sheer size of this formation when it see it in real life. This natural wonder has held spiritual and cultural significance for the aboriginals of the area, the Anangu, for centuries, and once you witness a sunrise or sunset you’ll be inspired by Uluru too.
Uluru magically changes colors from browns, oranges, reds, and grays as the sun rises and sets over it. It’s something you can’t explain, you’re just going to have to experience it for yourself. Enjoy the show from the designated car park areas (arrive early as its a popular experience) or book a guided tour for the experience.
Additionally for one of the most unique, awe-inspiring experiences, book The Sounds of Silence Dinner. Enjoy drinks and dinner under the dessert stars then some stargazing and stories with a local astronomer.
Have you ever seen the Milky Way? Well we did at The Sounds of Silence Dinner. It arched over us and took our breath away. The lack of lights in the area makes your stargazing experience that much brighter.
5. DRIVE THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD
During our year in Australia one of LeBraun’s all-time-favorite activities was driving the stunning Great Ocean Road! The winding, coastal drive is breathtaking and packed with unique experiences all its own. See kangaroos on the Angelsa Golf Course, shop boutiques in Lorne, walk through lush rainforests in Otway, marvel at the spectacular rock formations of the 12 Apostles, watch fairy penguins whales in Warrnambool, and relax on small roadside beaches along the way.
You can drive the entire route in a few hours, but we’d recommend taking your time on a long weekend to really enjoy the beauty and sights. Check out our 3 Day Great Ocean Road(trip) Itinerary for an unforgettable adventure!
6. FEED SOME KANGAROOS
When you think about Australia one of the first icons that comes to mind is kangaroos! These furry marsupials are indigenous to the island and even appear on the country’s coat of arms, some of its currency, and in branding for several Australia-based companies like Qantas.
Will you find kangaroos hopping around Sydney? No. They prefer less inhabited grasslands, savannah woodlands, and desert areas.
The best place to feed the world’s largest marsupials is Featherdale Wildlife Park, just over an hour outside Sydney’s CBD by train. For a small donation (last time we were there it was $1) you can grab an ice cream cone filled with kangaroo feed. Note: The roos will go straight for the cone so keep it hidden until they've eaten the feed then treat them to the cone!
Additionally there are several keeper talks throughout the day and experiences that let you get close with the park’s residents, like holding a snake and taking photos with a koala!
If you simply don’t have the time, Taronga Zoo is a 12-min ferry from Sydney’s Circular Quay and is still fabulous!
If you have your heart set on holding a koala or wombat, you’ll have to visit Queensland, South Australia, or Western Australia to do so.
Please DO NOT feed kangaroos in the wild. Human food can be detrimental to their health, and despite not attacking if left unprovoked they are still wild animals.
7. GRAB A COFFEE & EXPLORE MELBOURNE'S COLORFUL LANEWAYS
Over the years Melbourne has become synonymous with laneways. The city is brimming with cobblestone cut-throughs, street-art lined paths, vintage arcades, and gaps between buildings filled with charming boutiques, bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.
Take time to grab a coffee or a bite then get lost exploring these colorful laneways! Top spots include Centre Place, Hosier Lane, Tattersalls Lane, AC/DC Lane, Hardware Lane, and Meyers Place.
Side-Note: Most coffee drinkers would consider Seattle or Rome the coffee capital of the world, but it is in fact Melbourne. Happy sipping!
8. DISCOVER TASMANIA
This island 150 miles south of the Australian mainland. For the country’s smallest state it’s bursting with rich history, remarkable wildlife, a bustling foodie scene, hip art scene, and hiking galore! Tasmania, Tassie for short, is also noted as having the cleanest air in the world so take a deep breath and discover all this island state has to offer.
We took a 12 day driving tour around Tassie and had the best time! I'm putting together an itinerary about how we did it and how you can do it too, all the highlights included...stay tuned!
9. BIKE AROUND ROTTNEST ISLAND & SELFIE WITH HAPPY CRITTERS
While Western Australia has so much to offer, one of the highlights is taking a 30 minute ferry from Fremantle to Rottnest Island, Rotto to the locals. There are accommodations on the island, but most visitors only stay the day.
Rotto is car-free so book a bicycle with your ferry ticket and bike around the island. You probably won’t make it all the way around as it’s larger than it looks, but spend your time biking to then relaxing on different beaches around the island.
While the beaches are breath-taking, the real stars are the island’s furry residents—Quokka!
Quokka are repeatedly described as the world’s happiest animal” and it’s not very hard to see why. Their cuteness is beyond compare. A quokka basically looks like a very small kangaroo and Rotto is home to the largest wild population of this cute critters!
The quokka, especially those on Rottnest, are friendly and will approach you, but remember they are wild animals and therefore please DO NOT feed them “human food” as it makes them sick easily.
In fact the island’s named for them. The name “Rottnest” comes from the Dutch word Rattennest, meaning “rat nest,” which is what a mariner mistook these macropods for when sighting them on the island in 1696. And the name stuck.
We took a day-trip to Rottnest and it was awesome. I'm working on a quick guide of what to do while in Western Australia, so check back for our Perth + Fremantle post soon.
10. CATCH SOME AUSSIE RULES
Preferably at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, aka The MCG, or simply The G. Aussies love to shorten their words. I can promise you Australian Rules Football (AFL) will be one of the craziest things you’ve ever seen!
SEE WHY LOCALS LOVE THE BONDI TO COOGEE COASTAL WALK
This six km (3.7 miles) walk is a cliff top coastal walk extending along Sydney’s eastern suburbs from Bondi to Coogee. Stunning views, crashing waves, unique rock formations, small beaches, and local restaurants, a fantastic way to spend a morning or afternoon.
If six km is too much for you, no worries! You don't have to complete the whole thing. Start at one end or in the middle and just do part of the walk.
MARVEL AT SYDNEY HARBOUR's NYE FIREWORKS
One of the first places in the world to welcome the new year, Sydney Harbour puts on a spectacular show! You’ve seen it on tv but that is nothing to witnessing this spectacle live and in-person. Tickets are sold well in advance for the big night for different areas of the city. There is lots of free spaces, but prepare to arrive early as people set up camp to save their spots. To save you the trouble, I’d recommend booking tickets in The Royal Botanic Garden and enjoying prime seating, food, and the show over the harbour, bridge, city, and opera house! The experience was unforgettable! If you happen to be in town, this is not to be missed.
HIKE THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
Spend the day—or longer if possible—and take in the natural beauty of Australia. Ride a gondola across a gorge, walk through a rainforest, hike along mountain ridges, see the Three Sisters rock formation. All located just two hours west of Sydney with trains and tours running daily.
The mountains are shrouded with a delicate blue haze, hence their name. According to bluemts.com.au, “The Blue Mountains is densely populated by oil bearing Eucalyptus trees. The atmosphere is filled with finely dispersed droplets of oil, which, in combination with dust particles and water vapour, scatter short-wave length rays of light which are predominantly blue in colour.” So there you go!