Australians spend more than AU$51 billion on domestic travel every year and the latest stats from Tourism Australia suggest Aussies are trading long languid holidays for shorter stays focussed on making the most of a destination. So, if you’re time-poor, travelling with a family, needing a beach break or an indulgent escape, desperate to catch a new food scene, or want a cultural hit, where should you go this year? Here’s a list of Australian weekend escapes to get you planning your next escape.
Best for families – Byron Bay, New South Wales
Iconic Byron Bay is Australia’s laid-back, organic-embracing, new age utopia with a stunning hinterland backdrop framed to the east by miles of picture-postcard coastline. Byron may appear to be a hippie haven, but its ample and affordable accommodation and diverse dining scene make it a perfect getaway for families. An adventurer’s playground, Byron also offers a superb selection of outdoor activities to keep the kids occupied from surf schools to circus courses. Plus it has a plethora of relaxation and spa treatments to assist in the rejuvenation of world-weary adults.
Tip: If booking your weekend in late November, search for places beyond the centre of town if you want to avoid teenagers celebrating ‘schoolies’.
Best for food – Darwin, Northern Territory
Australia’s only tropical capital, Darwin has a relaxed cosmopolitan vibe making it one of Australia’s most distinctive cities. Closer to Asia than Sydney, Darwin’s emerging foodie and market culture is becoming a key attraction for many heading north for a long weekend. Showcasing the Top End’s diverse culinary product is Darwin’s sizeable markets, most of which are accessible seven days a week during the dry season (April to October). Markets such as Mindil Beach Sunset Market offer a wide selection of options for the gourmand interested in everything from Indigenous Australian to South East Asian cuisines. A weekend market crawl is highly recommended: munch your way from a caffeine-fuelled brunch with the locals at Parap Village Market to an evening of grilled crocodile or camel at the charmingly named Roadkill Café (www.road-kill-cafe.com) at Mindil Beach.
Tip: With headlines like ‘Croc found in Kid’s Sandpit’ you don’t want to miss reading the infamous Northern Territory News for insights into Australia’s most fascinating territory.
Best for a weekend break – Adelaide Wine Region, South Australia
It’s the new Australian long weekend tradition – the wine weekend. And the wine regions that ring Adelaide provide some of the most accessible and delicious cellar door experiences in Australia. The Adelaide Hills wine region, a mere 15 minutes from Adelaide’s CBD, is South Australia’s oldest wine region, where some of the state’s first vines were planted by German settlers. Cellar doors such as the award-winning Shaw & Smith, Nepenthe and Bird in Hand all provide excellent tasting options in The Hills. With wine festivals littering the South Australian events calendar, and the Clare Valley, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and the little known Langhorne Creek wine regions all providing great boutique accommodation options for small groups, this is the perfect weekend getaway.
Tip: Pack some bubble wrap for your cellar door purchases!
Best for an unusual island experience – Bruny Island, Tasmania
Be warned – don’t try and cram experiencing the wilds of Bruny Island into a single day trip. One of Australia’s most remote and southerly islands, Bruny is uniquely Australian. The island is almost split in two and linked by an isthmus known as The Neck. An amazing array of wildlife can be found on this rustic and rugged island which is best explored by car, and where self-contained accommodation is plentiful. Isolated coastal communities, stunning swimming beaches, and the many walking tracks of South Bruny National Park make for a unique getaway which is easily accessible from Hobart. Bruny is fast gathering a reputation as a high-quality producer of food and wine.
Tip: Mobile phone coverage on Bruny can be best described as patchy, this is one place where you can unwind by taking yourself off the grid.
Best for an indulgent escape – Daylesford Spa Country, Victoria
Nestled effortlessly in the picturesque central Victorian highlands, Daylesford has been attracting Melburnians to its therapeutic mineral springs since the 1870s. More recently Daylesford’s Spa Country has blossomed into an inclusive bohemian community with a thriving arts and food scene, which plays host to one of Australia’s most successful rural gay and lesbian festivals, ChillOut (held over the March Labour Day long weekend; see chilloutfestival.com.au). From a rejuvenating mineral spa to sampling local wines, this is relaxed indulgence at its best.
Tip: Pack for cold nights in winter, it’s considerably colder here than more temperate coastal areas.
Best for a cultural fix – Canberra, ACT
Every Australian should visit Canberra at least once – and not because the Australian Parliament is located here. Its fine art galleries and wonderful museums offer a window into the Australian soul, and its political institutions provide fascinating insights into how this marvellous modern democracy works. Canberra is the home to the likes of the Australian War Memorial, National Gallery of Australia, National Portrait Gallery, National Film & Sound Archive and National Museum of Australia housing some of Australia’s most important and nation defining artefacts and artworks. Most of the galleries and museums are housed around the expansive Lake Burley Griffin and easily accessible for all.
Tip: This is a city designed for self-driven transport – no-one sends postcards about Canberra’s public transport system.
Best for the great outdoors – The Kimberley, Western Australia
You may need more than a weekend to enjoy this expansive and empty part of Australia but the Kimberley has some of the nation’s most dramatic and jaw-dropping scenery. Every achingly beautiful panorama begs to be photographed for a tourism campaign or, at least, captured on Instagram (no filters required) to ensure your followers are instantly envious. Whilst many make the pilgrimage to the Northern Territory’s Red Centre to view the likes of Uluru, it is the diversity that the Kimberley offers, from alien-like Bungle Bungles to Broome’s stunning Cable Beach, which makes this destination the ultimate Australian outdoor experience.
Tip: Flights to Broome can be expensive, a bit of pre-planning and early booking will save you some cash.
Best for a beach break – Noosa & the Sunshine Coast, Queensland
Noosa, bordered by lush tropical rainforest and crystalline beaches, is Queensland’s star attraction and the best example of a resort town in all of Australia. Equal parts glamour and natural beauty this pocket of the Sunshine Coast has something for everyone from canoeing on Noosa River to sailing, surfing and sea-turtle spotting. It is also home to many community events such as the Noosa Jazz Festival (noosajazz.com.au), the Noosa Festival of Surfing (noosafestivalofsurfing.com) and the Noosa Food & Wine Festival (noosafoodandwine.com.au). This stretch of idyllic Queensland coast offers singles, couples and families the best of Australian beach culture with fine dining and luxury accommodation options to match.
Tip: Check out Noosaville and Noosa Junction for additional good-value dining options.