Craving a long weekend getaway but don’t have anything booked? It’s not too late to make the most of the Easter and Anzac Day break, which can be stretched to 10 days long with just a touch of annual leave. Some of Australia’s best destinations can be visited on the spur of the moment, whether you’re after a coastal stay, wine region pilgrimage or off-the-beaten track exploration. These are the best last minute holiday options in every state and territory.
Experience the Snowy Mountains
The Snowy Mountains isn’t just a winter destination. Amazing hikes, mountain biking trails and hot springs are just some of the reasons to visit during the warmer months – you can also go fly-fishing in Lake Jindabyne, marvel at the power of Tuross Falls or take in the high country on horseback. At five hours drive from Sydney, it’s well within reach.
For a slightly slower pace, set your sights on the region’s wineries, where cellar doors such as the one at Courabyra Wines pour incredible pinot noirs and chardonnays. With a range of holiday homes, B&Bs, motels and campsites on offer (try to nab a room at the Tumbarumba Hotel for classic country pub charm) you won’t be shy of places to rest your head.
Enjoy pure shores at Lake Macquarie
Despite its convenient location – less than two hours from Sydney and just 45 minutes from Newcastle – this coastal getaway (pictured top) has managed to stay under the radar. Take your pick of campsites like Belmont or Blacksmiths, stay in one of the lake’s many beach houses or heritage cottages, or head inland and plant a tent at Gap Creek Falls in Watagans National Park.
Once you’ve settled in, get started on discovering all the region has to offer, from the shores of Caves Beach, with its network of sea caves that can be explored at low tide, to Lakes Macquarie City Art Gallery, where works from painter William Dobell can be admired.
Recharge in the Macedon Ranges
The highest concentration of working artists in Victoria is in the Macedon, an hour from the Melbourne CBD. You can see that creative energy up close by poking around the region’s art galleries and learning how to make wooden and leather goods at the many artisan workshops run by local residents. Stop for sustenance at hyper-local producers such as the Redbeard Historic Bakery in Trentham, famous for the organic sourdough it bakes in a 19th-century masonry oven, or dig for antique gems at Barclay Vintage in Malmsbury.
The Macedon is just as suited to a quick day trip as it is a weekend stay at one of the region’s luxury eco-cottages like that of Ellis House or Highfield Cottage. Sticking around? Be sure to also enjoy one of the region’s many day spas or head outdoors for your very own picnic at Hanging Rock (hopefully with a happier ending than the movie).
Hit the trails in the High Country
Some of the best mountain biking trails in Australia are in Victoria’s High Country, a beautiful stretch of open space perfect for exploring on two wheels. Trails cater to both serious cyclists and those looking for a more relaxed ride, with options that range from a two-hour circuit up to multi-day jaunts.
To turn your ride into an active food and wine tour, head up around the area between Bright and Beechworth, where you can sample shiraz at Billy Button Wines or descend into the subterranean restaurant and drinking den Walker Bros Wine Bar. Stay at one of the region’s nine different holiday parks or see if you can snag a unique holiday rental like the Canadian-style log cabin of Tewksbury Lodge in Porepunkah.
You could even time your visit to coincide with the Bright Autumn Festival from 26 April to 5 May, a celebration of autumn colours and produce that culminates in a Gala Weekend with markets and music on 4 May.
Discover the other Sunshine Coast
No, we’re not talking about Caloundra or Maroochydore. Just over two hours north of Brisbane lies the Noosa North Shore, a picturesque stretch of sand where little more than a few weathered shacks and quaint beach homes interrupt the views.
Stay at the eco-accredited Eumarella Shores Lake Retreat or pitch a tent at Habitat Noosa, a beautiful 26-hectare stretch of natural bushland that offers glamping, cabins and wilderness tents as well as powered and unpowered sites.
Get tropical at Mission Beach
Halfway between Townsville and Cairns is a tropical holiday spot with a difference. Mission Beach offers all the natural beauty of scene-stealers like Port Douglas without the crowds – there’s not so much as a chain store or set of traffic lights to distract you from the serenity.
Set beside both the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, and home to a range of relaxing accommodation options from beachfront apartments to luxury digs at Castaways Resort and Spa, it’s the perfect no-dramas getaway.
See the pink lake
It almost looks Photoshopped but Lake Bumbunga is the real deal. Bubblegum waters lap the shore at this spectacular pink lake, a natural phenomenon caused by excess salinity. At 90 minutes drive from Adelaide, an excursion here makes for an easy day trip from the city.
Want to extend the fun? Combine it with a stop off at the wineries of the Clare Valley, 30 minutes north-east, where you can spend the afternoon exploring the region’s many cellar doors and enjoying a tasting menu at Seed Dining before pulling up stumps at a B&B or the Clare Country Club, the spacious resort situated beside a golf course.
Hit the road
The Southern Ocean Drive stretches for 450 kilometres between Adelaide and Mount Gambier and there’s much to explore along the way.
For a roadtrip that would make Kerouac jealous, stop at the manicured gardens of Umpherston Sinkhole, swim at Piccaninnie Ponds, explore Naracoorte Caves or head off on a day cruise of The Coorong waterway. There are plenty of camping and glamping grounds en route (try Cumberland Park or Coorong National Park) so you can easily turn your drive into a multi-day affair.
Soak up the serenity at Namadgi or Tidbinbilla
One of the perks of living in the bush capital is the proximity to nature reserves like Tidbinbilla and Namadgi National Park, where you can bushwalk, birdwatch and spot koalas and kangaroos in the wild.
Both parks are an easy day trip from Canberra but you can also stay the night in preserved heritage cottages Nil Desperandum and Ready Cut Cottage, which offer basic facilities at very reasonable prices. There’s also a range of places to pitch a tent in Namadgi; just make sure to book a camping permit at the Visitors Centre ahead of time.
Camp at the Cotter
Just 23 kilometres from the city centre and equipped with first-rate facilities (hello, hot showers), the Cotter makes camping easy. Escape here for a weekend and you can soak up the ACT’s natural beauty by walking the Cotter Dam Discovery Trail, which offers incredible views of the area, or cooling off with a swim at Casuarina Sands on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. You don’t need to book in advance; just drop some money in the honesty box at the campsite.
Get to know Litchfield
It might get overshadowed by Kakadu but Litchfield National Park is a must-see. On trails such as the 39-kilometre Tabletop Track, you’ll come across crystal-clear natural plunge pools, waterfalls, surreal termite mounds and sandstone peaks. You can camp or caravan here; at just 90 minutes from Darwin it also makes for an easy day trip. Parts of the park are closed during wet season depending on rainfall; you can check the park’s current status online.
Go beyond Uluru
Alice Springs is more than a gateway to Uluru. The heart of the Red Centre is an enthralling destination in its own right, offering opportunities to explore Aboriginal Australian art, culture and heritage at museums such as the Araluen Arts Centre and historical sites including the Old Telegraph Station Reserve.
It’s also the perfect jumping-off point to the MacDonnell Ranges, where you can explore hidden gorges and water holes, go camel riding, cycle the bike trails and camp in the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park.
See the Wild West
Rainforests, mountain peaks, glacial valleys and wild rivers can all be found on Tasmania’s rugged west coast. Despite how close to nature you’ll feel in the "Western Wilds", the drive from Hobart is only a few hours – meaning the area’s bushwalking, mountain biking and camping opportunities are within easy reach.
Skip the crowds at Cradle Mountain walk in favour of less-busy trails like Frenchman’s Cap or The Needle, or focus your trip on seeking out the sand dunes at Ocean Beach in Strahan and sleep at the historic, family-run Strahan Wilderness Lodge, which is set on seven waterfront hectares.
Bruny isn’t the only Tasmanian island worth seeking out. Maria Island, a natural wildlife sanctuary 30 minutes by ferry from Triabunna on the east coast, offers sights both natural and historic.
Stroll around the ruins of Darlington, a ghost town that served as a penal colony in the 1800s, or hit the Reservoir Circuit for a bushwalk through a eucalypt forest home to wombats, wallabies and Tasmanian Devils (eleven of the state’s twelve endemic species can be found here). Make it a daytrip or have a truly unique accommodation experience by staying at the historic penitentiary, which housed convicts from the 1830s and today offers basic shared accommodation.
Do Jurien Bay your way
Swim, snorkel, fish, windsurf or just laze on the sand… at Jurien Bay on the Coral Coast you can choose your own adventure.
Make the 2.5-hour drive from Perth up to the beachside destination for an easy weekend break or bring a four-wheel drive to extend the journey and explore hidden spots like Sandy Cape, a white-sand beach set in a sheltered bay. Those staying the night can book at a room at the Jurien Bay motel apartments or make the 25-minute drive up the road to the Milligan Island Eco Campsite.
To see even more of WA, stop off along the way at the Pinnacles, the limestone pires found within Nambung National Park.
Explore the Southern Forests
The towns of Western Australia’s Southern Forests region – Balingup, Denmark and Narrogin among them – are full of classic country charm. A trip here is about savouring the little things, like eating scones with jam and cream in a cosy tearoom, sifting through antiques stores, breathing in the jarrah and karri trees that hang over the streets and chatting to the locals over a pint at the pub.
You can call it a night at one of the country cottages for rent in Balingup, sleep in a 1920s farmhouse in Torbay or camp at Duke of Orleans, an hour-long drive east from Esperance. The start of the region is a 2.5-hour drive from Perth; the possible itineraries are endless.