Things to do in Eastern Australia

David Gritten / 20 April 2017

David Gritten recommends a glorious trip around Eastern Oz, taking in wildlife-filled forests, remote beaches, a coral island – and Sydney of course!



First of all, it’s a fabulously big place. That may sound crashingly obvious, yet it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re planning to visit Australia.

Although we had four weeks to play with, our Aussie friends counselled limiting our number of destinations: ‘You don’t want to spend half your stay in a car or an airport,’ they pointed out.

So we focused on the eastern part of Australia, taking in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, right up to the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

Yet we enjoyed a dazzling variety of experiences – sensational beaches, terrific restaurants, unspoilt forests and characterful modern cities.

We revelled in glorious mountain walks with astonishing views, swam in warm seas – and received kind, friendly hospitality wherever we went.

Discover more about Australia and what it has to offer on an Australian Adventure holiday Find out more here.

The Blue Mountains

Some 40 miles inland west of Sydney, this national park is named after the blue mist that wafts up from its millions of eucalyptus trees.

It’s a range of mountains with lookout points that afford stunning views. It offers deep valleys, cascading waterfalls and incredibly clean air scented by the ‘gum’ trees.

The smart way to get around is a terrific hop-on hop-off bus service covering all the strategic points, with knowledgeable and often very amusing drivers. 

Lady Elliot Island

A tiny eco-resort at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, reached by nine-seater planes that hop to and from the mainland. No crowds here: a maximum of 150 overnight guests at any one time.

There’s great scuba diving (see page 53) and snorkelling. After dark you can track turtles discreetly as they come onto the shore and lay their eggs.

You share the coral isle with thousands of birds (bridled terns, black noddies), some of which nest in bushes outside your cabin; each morning brings new chicks. This is a place like no other.

Beaches

They’re remarkable: expansive, golden and clean. We liked legendary Bondi (busy, though lots of fun) in Sydney.

A delightful coastal walkway starts there and takes in four smaller, less crowded beaches, including Bronte and Clovelly: a wonderful, healthy way to pass an afternoon.

In Queensland the bays around Noosa, a smart, desirable coastal town, also boast superb beaches, fringing the national park of the same name.

But our favourite was a few miles south: Sunshine Beach, with huge, rolling waves, warm, soft sand as far as you could see, and not remotely congested.

Sunshine Coast

Check out some of the lesser-known inland rural communities of Queensland and northern New South Wales. Maleny is a great place for retro bargains – vinyl albums, vintage clothing, antiques and bric-a-brac.

In Montville, you’ll find bamboo clothing in the boutiques, paintings and sculptures by local artists, and several laid-back coffee shops. They have an easy-going, unhurried quality: a different facet of Australian life.

Wildlife

You’re constantly aware of sharing the continent with millions of birds and animals. You learn to recognise kookaburras’ laughing cries and the high-pitched song of butcher birds.

Cockatoos are commonplace; and everyone knows of nearby woods where koalas can be seen. Even on a suburban street we watched kangaroos (Jacks and Jills) appear at dusk to graze on the lawns.

This sense of nature’s proximity is a unique part of the Australian experience.

Great Ocean Road

Running from south of Melbourne in Victoria, this is an amazing engineering feat and a scenic 151-mile coastal route of unbelievable beauty, meandering along the tops of surf-battered cliffs.

There’s lots to see just off it: koalas and cockatoos at Kennett River; the seaside resort of Lorne with some fine fish restaurants; the rainforest at Maits Rest; and the 12 Apostles – 150ft pillar-like rock formations on the Shipwreck Coast section.

And driving the GOR is actually fun.

Discover the highlights of Australia on a once in a lifetime adventure. Find out more here.

Back in the City

Sydney Opera House

It’s awesome outside and in. Take a backstage tour and see a performance too – its concert halls and theatres have perfect acoustics.

The Pie Tin

The go-to bakery/café for all things pastry – and not just meat pies. The desserts are things of wonder: peanut butter chocolate pie, above.

Markets

You can’t turn a corner without finding one. Mooch around the two Paddy’s Markets for bargains.

Spiders and snakes!

Don’t worry, unless you’re clearing out a shed or sticking your hand up a drainpipe (not on many holiday agendas) you’re unlikely to encounter venomous critters in populated areas.

Get into the groove...

Inspiration for before you go – or even when you’re here!

Drink

Don't ask for a Foster’s in these down-yer-neck of the woods: you’ll be laughed out of the bar or the barbie. Practise on VB, Tooheys or Carlton.

TV

Forget Neighbours (the fictional Erinsborough is ‘located’ in Melbourne); follow Home and Away, set on the east coast. Spoiler alert – UK H&A episodes are several weeks behind Australia!

Book

Down Under - Canny observer and inquisitive historian Bill Bryson leaves his dry-to-the-point-of-desiccated mark on both Australia’s outback and urban areas.

Sydney travel tips

Get a fantastic view of the city – and save on the A$288 Sydney Harbour Bridge climb fee – by taking the 200 steps up the South East Pylon of the Harbour Bridge to the Pylon Lookout.

There are exhibitions about the bridge’s construction and far-reaching views of the city and beyond. And entry is just A$15!

Sydney fact box

Flight time

London-Sydney - 22 hours

Current exchange rate

£1-1.71 Australian dollar (A$)

Temperature

Summer (December – February) average: 18.6 – 25.8 degrees C

Autumn (March – May) average: 14.6 – 22.2 degrees C

Winter (June – August) average: 8.8 – 17 degrees C

Spring (September – November) average: 11 -23 degrees C

Food and drink

Mid-range three-course dinner for two A$80

Beer (half-litre) A$7

Cappucino A$4

Bottle of mid-range supermarket wine A$18

Petrol

A$1.26 per litre

Did you know?

You need a Visa to travel to Australia. Brits can apply for the following types of electronic visitor visa:

eVisitor visa Apply online direct to the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection at border.gov.au. There is no charge for this.

Electronic Travel Authority An ETA is available via your travel agent or airline. The visa itself is free, but there is a service fee of A$20.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.