What to see and do in Australia (according to real Australians)

Australians are a friendly bunch so they didn't mind us pressing them to share their favourite hotspots, travel tips and attractions – and sharing them here with you.

Cheering woman on beach holding Australian's flag

So you've gazed in wonder at the Sydney Opera House, marvelled at Uluru, cuddled a koala in Queensland and bronzed your toes on Bondi Beach. What next? Now's your chance to live like a local for a few days, seeking out a few of the secret places and special experiences that Aussies really rate.

Be a city high-flier

Hot air balloon over Sydney

"There are few major cities which you can traverse by hot air balloon", says Tricia Pierson of Visit Victoria. "Melbourne is one of them. It's a perfect way to see landmarks like Eureka and the MCG – you get a 360-degree view."

Get away from the crowds

Walking on an Australian beach

"Last year we took off to Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast for a weekend", says two-time world ironwoman champion Karla Gilbert. "It wasn't Noosa, but it was just beautiful. We had a little rainforest cabin and I could go stand up paddle boarding. We collected coloured sands and poured them into little jars as a keepsake. My husband still has them."

Grab a kangaroo selfie

Woman traveling takes selfie portrait with kangaroos on background

"Avid Instagrammers love Cape Hillsborough", says Shelley Winkel of Tourism and Events Queensland. "Each morning a mob of roos make their way down to the foreshore to nibble on kelp."

"The Bowls Club at Trinity Beach is absolutely brimming with wallabies at dawn and dusk", says Amy Mail of Tourism Tropical North Queensland. "It's quite distracting!"

Sink your toes in the sand

Whitehaven Beach

The beautiful white sand on Whitsunday Island's Whitehaven Beach is a natural exfoliator. "It's squeaky clean and it's 98 per cent silica", says Gabby Shaw of Whitsundays Sailing Adventures. "It's never hot, even in mid-summer."

Watch pro-level surfers in action

"Bells Beach is the place – it's home to the longest running surf competition in the world", says Tricia Pierson of Visit Victoria. "Steeped in tradition, heritage and history, Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach is a rite of passage for World Surf League athletes."

"Slater, Fanning, Parko: if you want to watch the holy trinity, then don't miss the Quickie Pro Gold Coast", says Shelley Winkel of Tourism and Events Queensland. That's Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson at the Quiksilver Pro surf competition in Coolangatta, to you and me. "Besides, if the water's a bit flat, there's always famous shoulders to rub at the local bars, including Fanning's own Balter Brewing."

Check out the local birds

Crazed Rainbow Lorikeet

"We have thousands of twitchers from the UK coming to Kakadu every year because it is one of the world's greatest bird watching sites", says Brett Skinner of Cooinda Lodge. "Everybody ends up a David Attenborough."

"Sunset in Caloundra is the signal for thousands of colourful lorikeets to fire up in the Norfolk pines", says Shelley Winkel of Tourism and Events Queensland. "Its noisy, it's colourful. It's life."

Shop like a chef

Vegetables for sale at market

"I've worked and travelled the world, but you can't beat the Barossa", says Lachlan Colwill, head chef of Hentley Farm, one of South Australia's top vineyard restaurants. "It has everything a foodie could want. Check out the Farmers' Market in Angaston – it has the most amazing produce."

Get lost (on purpose)

Queenslanders love exploring the villages, wineries and cooking schools of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. "Don't use a map or a GPS – just enjoy the journey", says Gerhard Pretorius, head chef of Madame Rouge in Brisbane.

"The Hinterland has a really spiritual feel because it evolved out of former volcanoes. The spiritualism keeps on bubbling", says Mark Skinner of Narrows Escape Rainforest Retreat in Montville. "Blessed indeed are the cheesemakers because we have some of Australia's best dairy producers. The Sunshine Coast Food Trails provide a full menu of attractions.

Head off-grid in the Whitsundays

Young couple relaxing on sailing boat

"For an eco-friendly getaway, go sailing", says Chloe Autridge of Australian-owned charter boat company Red Cat Adventures. "We use coral-friendly sunscreen, refillable water bottles, no motors and no detergents. If you can, book a small-group tour for that serenity factor."

"Don't forget how large Australia is", says Sharon McNally of Cumberland Charter Yachts. "Bareboating offers heaps of experiences – bushwalking, island-hopping, snorkelling, reef and rainforest – in just one location."

Enjoy a true blue sunset

"At Abell Point Marina in Airlie Beach, the sun literally drips over the boats turning them from white to pink", says Hayley Bennet of eco-certified activity company Whitsunday Jetski Tours .

My favourite place to watch the sun go down is the Coral Sea Resort jetty, overlooking the blue waters of the Whitsundays, watching dugongs and turtles pop up around you", says Nathan Fleming of Ocean Rafting, which runs eco-certified semi-inflatable boat trips.

Picnic like a rock star

"Hire a chopper and land on Vlassoff Cay off Cairns", says Shelley Winkel of Tourism and Events Queensland. "It's a little nub of white sand that disappears with the daily tide. Take a bottle of champagne and just be."

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