Sure, Australia has plenty of must-see attractions. But a great vacation isn’t just about the tourist spots. Those little local or cultural experiences make all the difference when experiencing a new country, particularly one that has a lot in common with home. Here are ten uniquely Aussie experiences we can recommend to first timers and return visitors alike. Some are routine, while others are signature Aussie encounters locals should get around to, but never do. Either way, consider this your “other” bucket list for a great Australia vacation.
- Have a Flat White
North Americans have started to catch on in recent years, as more and more Aussie baristas have introduced this stronger, smoother latte-style beverage to independent cafes across Canada and the United States. Oh, and Starbucks sells something they call a cough “flat white” too. But none compare to a flat white ordered from a good independent café in Australia. If you’re downtown in one of the state capitals, a line-up of local office workers before 10am usually signals a winner. But the two essential flat white experiences one can have as a visitor are sipping one in one of Melbourne’s fabled inner city laneways, or overlooking the ocean in a Sydney beach suburb. Just be warned that if you’re also visiting New Zealand, they claim to have invented the drink first. So, in the interests of trans-Tasman relations, let folks in both countries keep their version of the story, and just enjoy your coffee.
- Try a Meat Pie
Like the flat white, it’s not for lack of effort. But if there’s a better meat pie than one you can pick up in an Aussie bakery, I’ve not yet found it. Despite numerous attempts to franchise and mass-market the humble Aussie meat pie, the best pies are usually sold fresh over the counter in suburban, or better yet, country town bakeries around Australia. This makes them an ideal snack to break up a long road-trip on your Australia vacation. Whether it’s mince, steak, chicken, veggie, cheese, curry, or a mix of the above, this Australian favourite is not to be missed. Just don’t skimp on the tomato sauce, and whatever you do, don’t call it ketchup.
- The Arcades and Laneways of Melbourne
While Australia can be an expensive country to visit, many of its best attractions in the big cities are free. That includes the famed arcades and laneways of Melbourne. Shopping, dining, and coffee are all local obsessions, so you’ll probably spend a good amount of your Melbourne CBD (Central Business District) time roaming the intimate alleys and passageways that connect the city’s main streets. Melbourne’s street art is almost as famous, earning comparisons to cities such as New York and Berlin. So take your time enjoying this underground aspect of the city’s fierce creativity.
- A Small Group Cruise on Sydney Harbour
Looking to splurge on a truly memorable day out? Enjoy a touch of Sydney’s glamorous side and go out on the water. Many of Sydney Harbour’s most picturesque coves and nooks take some effort to reach by land. A harbour cruise can not only get you there quickly, but offer you the best views as well. In addition, there may be nothing more “Sydney” than a barbecue lunch overlooking Sydney Harbour, either on land or on the water.
Sydney Opera House and Bridge, Sydney, Australia
Cruise beautiful Sydney Harbour
- Visiting the Queen Victoria Market
You’ll find farmers’ markets in pretty much any Australian city. For the most part, they’re much the same as farmers’ markets anywhere else. But the Queen Victoria Market or “Vic Market” in Melbourne stands head and shoulders above the rest. Serving the country’s culinary capital, this historic landmark is the city’s favourite spot for fresh food, artisan meats and cheeses, wine, and a whole lot more. It’s also a nice spot to pick up souvenirs for friends and family back home.
- Fish and Chips in a Sydney Suburb
While Sydney’s tastes might run a little upscale these days, this is still a beach town at heart. Easy access to crisp, tasty, unpretentious fish and chips is a necessity, particularly in popular beach suburbs like Bondi, Coogee, or Manly. While we don’t recommend combining this with your flat white overlooking the ocean, you certainly wouldn’t be the first to do so.
- An Aboriginal Cultural Experience
No visit to Australia is complete without a taste of its Aboriginal culture. The traditions of various Aboriginal nations vary widely in different parts of the country, meaning you can engage with authentic Aboriginal culture almost anywhere on your Australia vacation. It may mean taking a dreamtime walk, enjoying a traditional dance performance or hunting demonstration in Kuranda rainforest, taking a guided walk around the base of Uluru and learning about its sacred connection to the Anangu people, or, if your timing is right, seeing a performance by Bangarra, Australia’s indigenous modern dance company. Australia’s Aboriginal culture is endlessly diverse, and so are the opportunities for visitors to engage with it in a respectful and enriching manner.
- Sunrise on the Beach
Whether it’s the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Central New South Wales Coast, Bondi Beach, or beyond, Australia’s east coast offers a seemingly endless choice of beautiful white sand beaches. It’s worth getting up before dawn on at least one day of your Australia vacation to watch the sun rise over the Pacific. Let the steady crash of waves on the sand be the only soundtrack to this truly magical Australia experience.
Surfers walk along the Gold Coast beach at sunrise, Queensland, Australia
Surfers walk along the Gold Coast beach at sunrise
- Visit a Winery… or Five
Some wine snobs may turn their noses up at the “new world” tastes of Australia and New Zealand. Good. That means all the more for you. The big three Australian wine regions are South Australia’s Barossa Valley, the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, and the Margaret River region of Western Australia. But you can find smaller wine regions all over the country, including McLaren Vale, just outside of Adelaide, Victoria’s Yarra Valley, and Queensland’s Granite Belt. Take an organized day trip from the nearest big city, or add a couple of days in wine country to your self-drive Australia vacation.
- Add a Wildlife Encounter
If you’re going all the way to Australia, you’re going to want to see the unique Australian wildlife. Whether it’s at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, the Irwin family’s Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, an encounter in the wild on Kangaroo Island, or on a bush safari outside Melbourne, there are plenty of ways to see Australia’s most iconic creatures. You might even splurge on something truly unique, on your Australia vacation, such as a dive with whale sharks on Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, or hand-feeding wild dolphins at Brisbane’s Tangalooma Resort.
Feeding Wild Dolphins at Tangalooma, Australia.
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