Nowhere else do you find hip city life and coastal calm combine like it does in Australia’s cosmopolitan capitals.
After one of the best harbour approaches in the world, you will find yourself in Sydney, one of the most exciting ports of call on the map. There’s more to the city than a sleek downtown and the most iconic waterfront in the world, there is the historic Rocks neighbourhood, the wineries of Hunter Valley and the imposing Blue Mountains to visit, Australia’s own take on the Grand Canyon. Take a seaplane over the Pacific coast, climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, eat at some of the most ground-breaking restaurants in the culinary world and beach hop between Bondi and Manly, topping up your tan on some of the world’s most famous sands. The photogenic Bondi to Coogee coastal trail is a great way to stretch your legs after a long flight; pack a towel to make the most of the beaches along the way, including Bondi, Bronte, Coogee and more.
Of course, you can’t spend time in Sydney without visiting the Opera House. Book a behind-the-scenes tour of the cultural hotspot or wait until sunset, when the whole building is illuminated with art by five First Nations artists as part of the Badu Gili project.
Some may say that Melbourne is the Brooklyn to Sydney’s Manhattan. With its one-of-a-kind laneways, packed sporting calendar, arty hotspots and a waistline-busting café culture, the world’s most liveable city for seven years running might just take the crown as the hottest place to be in Australia.
Capitalising on Melbourne’s unwavering appeal are Cunard, who recently announced that Queen Elizabeth would spend an unprecedented 101 days in Australia over the 2019/20 season, including six roundtrip sailings from the city. A pre- or post-cruise stay is an inevitability with so much to do here, from strolling the Royal Botanic Gardens to losing yourself in the labyrinth of laneways that snakes through the city. With hip boutiques, hole-in-the-wall bars, restaurants and coffee shops, plus some of the world’s best street art, they are a hive of creativity and culinary prowess. There’s plenty more on the agenda too; visit the bountiful Queen Victoria Market or the National Gallery of Victoria, the oldest and most popular art gallery in Australia, take a trip to the seaside suburb of St Kilda, or join the throngs in Federation Square, Melbourne’s entertainment hub.
With 261 days of sun each year, Brisbane has a reputation as Australia’s sunniest city. A day here can incorporate anything from cultural highs found at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art to cuddling koalas at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and soaking up the rays at Streets Beach, the only inner-city man-made beach in Australia. Located on the South Bank Parklands, the beach and its surrounding shops and restaurants, plus the Wheel of Brisbane attraction, offer plenty to keep you fed, watered and entertained for an entire day.
Every great city has a zoo but Brisbane’s Australia Zoo is something special, designed to be the best wildlife conservation centre on the planet. Seeing animals from around the world, including some of the most endangered on earth, roaming in vast open spaces under the Australian sun is a joy.
Cairns is Australia’s gateway to the great outdoors, with the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest tropical rainforest in the world, on its doorstep. There are far too many natural attractions here to tick off your list in a single visit but that just means you have an excuse to return. A trek through the 135-million-year-old rainforest a couple of hours north of the city is a good starting point, followed by a visit to the vibrant mountain village of Kuranda. That said, it is difficult to ignore the pull of the Great Barrier Reef. There are countless excursions and tours to take you there; see the underwater action on a half-day diving trip or get a bird’s-eye view on a flightseeing tour.
Darwin’s waterfront is home to the usual contemporary cafes and hip bars, but it is aboriginal roots and prehistoric predators that set Australia’s northernmost capital apart. Over a quarter of the Northern Territory population hail from aboriginal communities and Darwin displays aboriginal artwork with fierce pride in its galleries and museums. If your itinerary allows, take the ferry for a tour of the Tiwi Islands, home to the Tiwi Aboriginal people. Cut off from the mainland aboriginal societies, the Tiwi people developed their own unique language and culture.
If it is crocodile encounters you’re looking for, Darwin doesn’t disappoint. Cruise Adelaide River to see them in the wild or face your fears in the Cage of Death at Crocosaurus Cove, suspended in a clear plastic tube as some of the largest saltwater crocodiles on the planet circle in search of their next meal.
Don’t let the name fool you; there isn’t a chicken parmo in sight here. As the gateway to the Hunter Valley wine region, Newcastle has become a permanent fixture on itineraries and despite its diminutive size, the city can give any other Australian port a run for its money. Its city centre is surrounded by eight beaches, from the popular Mereweather to Bogey Hole, the natural pool hand-carved into rocks by convicts in 1820. You can also take your pick of beaches on the Bathers Way coastal path, a scenic walk from Nobbys Beach to Glenrock Reserve that also takes in historical sites such as Fort Scratchley.
Newcastle sits on the migratory path for humpback whales between June and October and a boat trip with NOVA Cruises offers the chance to see them in all their glory on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. With your feet back on dry land, grab a late lunch at one of the buzzy restaurants that line the Honeysuckle Foreshore.
Once nicknamed the ‘City of Churches’, Adelaide has cast off its stuffy reputation like an old coat to become known as one of the most energetic cities in Australia. The South Australia capital comes alive during festival season from mid-February to mid-March, but it’s a charmer all year round with a tasty restaurant scene, lively rooftop bars and golden beaches that rival any of the most famous in Oz. The city’s free bike hire scheme makes seeing the sights on two wheels a breeze. Enjoy a scenic morning cycle beside the Torrens River and sip a flat white at Adelaide Central Market, or trade two wheels for four and head into the Barossa Valley, where you can sip your birth year vintage at the Seppeltsfield Estate, one of the region’s many wineries.