There is no such thing as a typical Australian vacation. A land of infinite, mind-bending variety, the country offers something for every type of traveler, from adventurous spirits seeking Technicolor underwater odysseys to sybarites obsessively tracking the new generation of luxury lodges and spas.
Despite postcard images of desert landscapes and pristine beaches, this is a country bursting with urban swagger. From trendsetting fashion labels like Sass & Bide to edgy culinary scenes and some of the world's most exciting wines, urban types will feel right at home. But even in the densest cities of Melbourne and Sydney, the country's natural wonders are never far from reach.
So what's the best spot for your ultimate Aussie vacation? Jetsetter.com has played matchmaker, rounding up the best destinations for every type of traveler, easily accessible through Air New Zealand. Read on to find your Down Under destination.
Sydney: Best for Romance
Dubbed the Emerald City for the glittering waters around which it curves, Sydney is a city made for first impressions. Sure, you'll want to see the world-famous Opera House, but you should also leave days wide open for wandering the 70 beaches and the second oldest national park in the world (all within city limits). The ocean and earth meet in spectacular fashion along the Bondi to Bronte walk, a popular coastal stroll perfect for people watching, picnics and maybe a proposal. Track back to North Bondi to join the locals at Sean's Panaroma, a sunny spot overlooking the beach to wile away an afternoon on a locally sourced tasting menu served on tables with roses from Chef Sean Moran's farm near the Blue Mountains. Where to shack up? Boutique newcomer QT Sydney, housed in a historic downtown department store, oozes sexy swagger, or opt for all-out drama at the newly renovated Park Hyatt, glamorously reclined beneath the iconic Harbour Bridge. No ruby slippers required.
Byron Bay: Best for Blissing Out
Hippie haven, party spot or fashion hang? This sublime surfing town has had many (swimming) costume changes throughout the years. These days the Porsches and patchouli happily co-exist. Those with keys to the former - and plenty of A-listers -- opt for the Balinese chic of the Byron at Byron Resort & Spa, hidden away from the fray within a subtropical rainforest on Tallow Beach. It's worth escaping the manicured grounds for an afternoon dip at Watego's, a perfect crescent shaped beach located a 20-minute walk from the Cape Byron Lighthouse, the country's most easterly point. Don't leave town without trying a flat white, the popular Aussie coffee concoction, at the convivial Bayleaf Café.
Tasmania: Best Nature-Meets-Culture
Combining stellar wine and food with a newfound focus on contemporary art, this southern island state, separated by the Bass Strait from the mainland, is an electrifying outlier. Its Middle Earth majesty is on display at Saffire Freycinet Lodge, an architecturally adventurous luxury resort that swoops over the crystalline waters of Great Oyster Bay. This is the ultimate "Tassie" experience with oyster harvesting excursions, helicopter rides over Wineglass Bay and private meals on the wild sandy beaches. Pair it with time in newly hip Hobart, a haven for locavore restaurants, wine bars and artisanal food purveyors. It's also home to MONA, a subterranean contemporary art museum accessible by boat that's also home to a microbrewery, farm-to-table restaurant and winery.
Places to Stay in Tasmania
Adelaide: Best for Wine Lovers
With more than 200 tasting rooms within a short drive, the charming city of Adelaide has become an undisputed wine and food mecca. The city's historic Central Market is a great immersion into South Australia's eclectic food scene, but wine is the star attraction. The nation's most venerated drop is indisputably Penfolds Grange, which can be tasted, along with first-rate local cuisine, at Penfolds Magill Estate, housed in a historic building in the Adelaide Foothills. The Barossa Valley, synonymous with its full-bodied red wines, is also an hour's drive away. The famous valley, with a landscape of Lutheran churches, vine-covered hills and dusty back roads, is known for the historic Henschke Winery. Tack on a trip over to Kangaroo Island, where koalas and kangaroos outnumber humans.
Gold Coast: Best for Beach Lovers
With world-famous Surfer's Paradise as its centerpiece, how could the Gold Coast be anything other than a beach-lover's Shangri-La? The area features more than 43 miles of gloriously wide coastline ideal for hanging ten (try world-renowned Burleigh Point with its tubular right-hand point break)--or just hanging out. Learn how to master the waves with Go Ride a Wave or watch whales crest over them during whale-watching season (June-November). The Gold Coast après-sun scene has graduated from two-for-one tequila shots and backpacker restaurants thanks to a new wave of hip eateries and stylish hangouts like local-favorite The Fish House and the chic new Peppers Broadbeach.
Brisbane: Best for Families
With its easy-breezy tropical climate, "Brissie," as the locals refer to it, has always been a welcoming, come-as-you-are kind of city. Queensland's capital features an abundance of public parks, museums and kid-friendly restaurants, such as the historic Pineapple Hotel - an oh-so-Aussie pub that has its own playground. The liveliest outdoor space is the impressive South Bank Parklands complex, perfect for picnics, barbecues and afternoon swims at Streets Beach, a man-made swimming hole designed to look like a local lagoon. The fuzzy inhabitants at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, located just outside the city, are also bound to captivate the entire family (koala cuddles come free with entry).
Melbourne: Best for Foodies
Melbourne is a city in constant evolution, thanks largely to waves of European and Asian immigration throughout its history. That global flavor is what helped put the metropolis on the world foodie map, from expert Cantonese at the iconic Flower Drum and old fashioned Italian grandeur at Grossi Florentino to the international beer list at non-profit hip kid bar Shebeen. The city's international culinary credentials were further burnished recently when British chef Heston Blumenthal chose to relocate his Fat Duck restaurant to the city for six months. Oh, and it's also considered the seat of Australia's avant-garde food movement, home to maverick kitchens such as Ben Shewry's innovative, in-demand Attica. With over 1,700 restaurants serving more than 50 different cuisines, Melbourne serves up a vacation smorgasbord.
Cairns: Best for Adventurers
A picturesque saltwater lagoon and a bourgeoning cultural scene make revitalized Cairns a destination in its own right, but it will always be known as the jumping off point to some of the country's best aquatic adventures. The adventurous and the merely curious flock to explore the world's largest coral reef, stretching 1.4 miles in the Coral Sea. Discover the spectacular Great Barrier Reef from above with a helicopter tour; or get closer to the exquisite marine life by taking a comprehensive learn-to-dive course or an Ocean Safari, which combines an exhilarating boat ride with an opportunity to snorkel with local sea turtles. After you've explored by sea, head back to the land to take on the Daintree Rainforest, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back 170 million years.