The list of adventures to take on in this country is probably endless - but here's five we reckon you have to experience before kicking the proverbial bucket.
1. Explore coastal pools, NSW
This year I set myself the massive goal of swimming in every ocean pool in New South Wales within 12 months; that’s about 115 pools.
Stretching from Ballina to Eden, the legacy of the pools that dot Australia’s east coast goes back to the time of the First Fleet. These spots vary hugely – from shallow children’s pools to Olympic-sized pools for lap swimmers. The oldest surviving pool, the convict-built bogey hole at Newcastle, is just shy of 200 years old. Initially reserved for military use, before being opened up to civilian men and women (on separate afternoons, of course), it was refurbished by the local council in 2013, and it’s still an excellent spot to cool off in summer.
These pools date from different decades, and if you do the research you can trace each area’s history. Oak Park, Sydney’s southernmost pool, is one of the best examples. In 1909, residents asked the council for £10 to assist in building a pool, and they were denied – so they started work themselves. In 1936, a suggestion was made about installing an inspector to keep an eye out for men who, daringly, were only wearing shorts when they went swimming. Mid-war in 1942, the Army put up an observation tower camouflaged as a kiosk, and banned residents from swimming so they could keep an eye on the coastline. Then there were decades of problems with leaks and pollution, until 2002 when it was declared by the EPA as one of New South Wales’ cleanest beaches. The Oak Park baths aren’t just a public convenience, they tell the story of the suburb.
If 115 pools and 1200km seem overwhelming for a three-month challenge, you can just do the Sydney baths. From Oak Park to Palm Beach, that’s still more than 50 pools. Set your own rules to make it as achievable or challenging as you need. In my long list, crafted from books, blogs and time spent scrolling Google Maps, I’ve counted every swimming enclosure along the coast, including all harbour pools east of a bridge… though there are an extra 27 inland tidal pools I might still tack on. You’ll also have to make a decision about distance, whether you’re in for a splash or smashing some laps. Get a map, throw on your togs and and get moving! – Lauren Smith
2. Hike the Three Capes Track, TAS
For too long Australian hikers have looked across the Tasman Sea at NZ’s brilliant Great Walks – and their brilliant hut system – with envy. Well, we used to; with hut-to-hut walks’ development ramping up in Oz, we can now enjoy some of Australia’s wildest and most spectacular country. And Tassie’s all-new Three Capes Track, opening in December, is the perfect example.
Only an hour’s drive from Hobart, the Three Capes Track offers walkers the chance to explore spectacular coastal terrain on the Apple Isle’s Tasman Peninsula, including the three Capes – Raoul, Pillar and Hauy – that give it its name. The track is 46km in length and will take four days to walk, with those who do staying at huts along the way. Besides bringing tourists and walkers to a new walking experience in Tassie, it is also hoped the track takes some of the pressure off the famous Overland Track, which is now at peak walker capacity in the high season, resulting in a booking system being put in place a couple of years ago.
The track looks brilliant, and is designed to be accessible to a wide age group – and the huts are highly specified, with mattresses, kitchen facilities, heating, toilets, mobile charging points (for all those Instagram photos you will no doubt take), eating areas, heating, a shower in one of the huts, and a resident ranger in each. In other words, very similar to NZ’s Great Walks huts during the summer walking season. The main difference here is the pricing of the walk; the cost per walker is currently estimated to be around the $500 mark. So yes, it is expensive (especially if you take the family) but when you take into account (excuse the pun) the inclusions – fact the track is built to a very high standard, the huts are well equipped, entry to Port Arthur Historical Site and a boat ride to the track’s start – then that asking price becomes more palatable.
The good news is there will, eventually, be tent sites as well, making the experience more accessible to the more budget-conscious.
Budget concerns aside, this walk is shaping up to be a world-class walking experience, getting walkers as close as is safe to some of this region’s most spectacular viewpoints. Walkers will experience everything from eucalyptus woodland and coastal heath through to tall dolerite rock columns jutting out of the ocean, including the famous Totem Pole.
It’s well worth saving for the chance to tackle what is shaping up as a memorable, world-class walk in the woods.
3. Discover the High Country, NSW
For a different summer adventure, head to the hills or, more precisely, head to Kosciuszko National Park in southeastern NSW. The home of Australia’s highest peak (Mt Kosciuszko) contains more than just that big mountain.
Kosciuszko NP is the oft forgotten destination of adventurous Aussies, but the park’s 9500 square kilometres of wilderness is jam-packed with adventure, and some awesome outdoor accommodation options in the form of its many campgrounds. Our choice for family-based campers with a 4WD is Old Geehi campground, situated on the banks of the Swampy Plains River. For campers with kids, this is a great choice; kangaroos, wallabies and possums are spotted here regularly and, if you’re quiet and patient, you may even spot a platypus in the river. The river also makes for a great swimming spot to cool off after tackling some of the surrounding walks, or you can try your luck with the fishing rod (remember to bring your NSW recreational fishing licence). The campground is accessed via a road that can be slippery after rainfall, so it’s best to check before driving in, but otherwise it is a straightforward drive to camp. Once there you have an amenities block, toilets and picnic tables, but you must bring your own water and collect any firewood from outside the park boundaries (check for fire bans during summer as well).
For those keen on a more luxurious camping experience, we’d opt for the Kosciuszko Tourist Park, which has accommodation options ranging from unpowered tent sites and powered caravan sites, through to cedar-clad chalets. This park is also close to the alternative (and less crowded) walking route to the top of Mt Kosciuszko, via nearby Charlotte Pass (14km away) along the old summit road. That walk is just one of the many in the park, with the choices ranging from child-friendly hour-long sojourns, to a week in the backcountry.
Be sure to bring your mountain bikes; the Cascades Hut Trail (graded moderate) is a must-do ride for any keen mountain bikers and we’d recommend starting super-early to enjoy the cool of a High Country morning. If you’re after a more challenging, long-distance ride, check out the Pilot Wilderness Trail, which runs from the Cascade trailhead on the Alpine Way through to Barry Way. At 53km one-way, it’s at least a two-day MTB adventure.
Add in more mountain-biking at Thredbo (its trail network is growing each year) and nearby Jindabyne, with canoeing on Thredbo River and rafting on the Snowy River, and adding Kosciuszko NP to your summer bucket list is a no-brainer.
4. Dive the Great Barrier Reef, QLD
Tropical North Queensland’s “capital” is your base for a week (or longer) of exploring the many diving opportunities on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), with each month of summer offering a slightly different – but equally exciting – experience.
December is notable for the fact a number of the GBR’s fish species breed during this month, so there is plenty of life to see on the reef. If you – or your kids – are fans of a certain animated film about a bright orange and striped coloured fish, then December offers the best time to see “Nemo” – the anemone fish – and its orange fish eggs.
A number of dive companies offer day trips out to the reef or, for the more adventurous/keen – live-on-board training and multiday dive expeditions. And don’t think because you’re a snorkeller that you’ll miss out on the extended reef adventures: many dive operators offer both snorkel and scuba multiday dive trips. Most charters leave from Cairns but they all visit different areas of the Great Barrier Reef, so even though the Cairns Pier can look like a mini-city with all the day divers and other craft, once you’re out on the GBR itself, you’ll feel like you have this awesome aquatic adventure-land all to yourself.
The summer months are Cairns’ wetter months, owing to its tropical location, but the Outer Great Barrier Reef offers a brilliant escape from any rain on the mainland (and you’re going to get wet anyway!). January ups the ante for marine life, too, with jellyfish and other baitfish moving in, closely followed by larger fish and turtles – if you spot these large, laid-back marine mammals, you’ll have hit the jackpot as they’re relatively unbothered by people, allowing you to get a close look at them.
Speaking of turtles, February is the nesting time for most of the different species and, with a bit of research, you can hop aboard a dive charter that will take you to the more remote parts of the reef where you can see them, plus their predators – namely sharks.
On top of all this aquatic excitement, one of the main reasons we selected this adventure on our summer bucket list is the fact that, after your day(s) diving, you get to head back to Cairns and indulge in its many other outdoor activities (mountain biking or exploring the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest are just two examples). Or you can simply spoil yourself at one of Cairns’ many highly regarded eateries.
A GBR adventure shouldn’t simply on your bucket-list; it should be considered an essential part of growing up in Australia. After all, this great natural wonder resides right in our backyard.
5. Discover Kakadu in the Wet Season
The local aboriginal people call it Gudjewg and it is the true wet season for Kakadu National Park. Arguably Australia’s most famous national park, Kakadu is also the largest at 22,000 square kilometres. It experiences six distinct seasons, with the pre-monsoonal build-up of Gunumeleng, during October-December, preceding Gudjewg. This Big Wet results in a spectacular transformation of Kakadu’s dry-season brown landscape into a lush, rich land of green grasses (the spear grass can grow to a height above two metres), massive floodplains and thundering waterfalls.
For most of us in the southern states, even the thought of exploring Kakadu during this very wet, very humid season sounds crazy, but to experience Kakadu at its most spectacular it is a must-do summer bucket-list trip.
Yes, some parts of the park may be inaccessible due to wet-season road closures, but most of the popular landmarks such as Ubirr and Yellow Water are accessible. Ubirr offers possibly the best sunset in Australia, while Yellow Water billabong has a brilliant cruise where you’ll see plenty of crocs and native birdlife.
However, to really see the different character of Kakadu during the wet season, you need to jump aboard a Kakadu Air scenic flight (either a fixed-wing plane or helicopter) over the park, where you’ll get to see its famous waterfalls, such as Jim Jim, in full power as the huge amount of water the park receives (1.5m in the wet season) makes its way along the rivers and waterways. It is something you will never forget.
Gudjewg is also the season that sees barramundi making their way from the Arafura Sea into the park’s huge rivers, and is a prime time for keen anglers to catch one of these famous fish. There’s nothing quite like spending a day out on the waters of Kakadu, then coming back and cooking up your barra on the barbie at the end of the day.
Other famous sites, such as Nourlangie (with its brilliant array of rock art) and Gunlom are worth tacking onto your Kakadu Gudjewg season list, and make sure you spend some time at the Bowali Visitor Centre. Not only will the staff there be able to help you plan out your Top End summer adventure, but there’s a cool walk-through display and a great library full of books about this famous park that you can access.
Combine the lush green landscape, the epic waterways, the wildlife and the indigenous culture, and it’s easy to see why we rate a Kakadu Wet Season visit as a unique Australian bucket-list adventure for the family.