With ocean, desert, forest and reef, this country’s landscape is a visual feast that easily satisfies a hunger for the spectacular.
From afar, Uluru seems to sit in the flat, spreading emptiness like spent shells from the Big Bang. Move closer and this homegrown marvel almost hums with power; it feels alive. To the Anangu, who are the traditional landowners of Uluru, it is central to spirituality.
Uluru’s shape and colour shift constantly. Call it red then watch it cycle through a swatch of other tones as the sun passes overhead until, at dusk, it settles on a bottomless crimson. Many visitors come expecting the image on postcards, tea towels and T-shirts, only to discover teeming ponds and greenery springing defiantly from the rock; it’s a similar scene at nearby Kata Tjuta, a 36-rock formation with abundant flora confounding expectations of a barren land.
In the end, Australia’s most recognisable natural wonder is a mystery but we keep coming back, time and time again, to feel its presence and place. In the deep-space silence of Australia’s centre, Uluru feels like our country’s beating heart and stirring soul.
Where to stay: Longitude 131° is the ideal place from which to see the spectacle of Uluru unfold. Fifteen elevated luxury “tents” with flowing white-fabric ceilings, king-size beds and spacious ensuites dot the desert landscape and offer an indulgent outback oasis.
At the centre of the lodge is Dune House, the dining and lounge area featuring glass walls that maximise the views. As tempting as it is to hunker down here, venture beyond the lodge for excursions such as the Mutitjulu Meander sunrise walk, which takes you to the base of Uluru and acquaints you with its backstory – not just the geology but also Uluru’s timeless connection to its traditional owners.
Bondi Beach, NSW
It’s one of Australia’s most renowned beaches, a glorious kilometre-long crescent of sand punctuated with the footprints of early-morning joggers. It was here that the world’s oldest active surf lifesaving club was formed 110 years ago and in 1935, lifesavers speared the now-famous red and yellow flags into the ground to show visitors where to swim. Today, on a summer’s weekend, up to 40,000 people come to do just that – a vibrant mix of locals and tourists seeking refuge in the cerulean waters that serve first-time frolickers and salt-encrusted surfers alike.
If you can pull yourself away from the waves, take a stroll along the promenade – past the free outdoor gym, the iconic weatherworn Bondi Pavilion and along to the Icebergs outdoor sea baths – and you’ll see the body beautiful on display at virtually every turn. It’s hard to imagine now that women were once ordered off this beach for wearing bikinis.
SEE ALSO: Discover Bondi Like a Local
Inevitably, your gaze will be drawn back to the expansive ocean, where you might even glimpse a different kind of skin, with pods of dolphins often seen riding Bondi’s waves; the very lucky will spot whales breaching here as they migrate. Because Bondi Beach is truly a place to see and be seen.
Where to stay: QT Bondi, opened in late 2015, is the hipster sibling of the boutique chain’s sexier CBD establishment and unparalleled in its access to the beach – it’s right across the road. The 69 compact rooms have a sophisticated feel, thanks to some bright Pop Art-style touches in the bed and living areas, while bathrooms are slick in mostly monochrome.
The hotel’s location isn’t just ideal for those seeking sun and surf. It also lies within easy walking distance of some of Sydney’s most-loved restaurants, including Bills café, where a breakfast of ricotta hotcakes is something of a local ritual.
Daintree rainforest, Queensland
Green is often said to be a calming colour – if that’s true, then the World Heritage-listed Daintree rainforest is the most tranquil place on Earth. In this 1200-square-kilometre national park, the foliage runs from lime to moss to emerald; everywhere you look, it’s verdant and lush.
But the rainforest’s fresh appearance belies its age: the Daintree is considered the oldest living rainforest in the world. As a result, it offers astounding biodiversity: here, you’ll find almost two-thirds of Australia’s bat and butterfly species, 30 per cent of the country’s frog and marsupial species and a fifth of its reptiles, not to mention primitive flowering plants, ancient ferns and soaring trees.
With the dense canopy, rushing creeks and the dappling of sunshine, this forest’s beauty cannot be overstated. The northern section (north of the Daintree River, including Cape Tribulation) is most popular for exploration; it’s easy to self-drive but a guided small-group tour, such as Tony’s Tropical Tours or those run by Silky Oaks, will offer a more illuminating and in-depth experience.
Where to stay: Silky Oaks Lodge, at Mossman Gorge in the southern part of the Daintree, is a unique rainforest retreat. The open-sided restaurant pavilion looks out to surrounding greenery and across the Mossman River. All 40 tree houses are secluded and private; some have rainforest views, others offer glimpses of the river below. Service is personal and warm. On site, there are kayaks for exploring the river, hiking trails exclusive to guests, yoga classes, a tennis court and a bliss-out spa. Don’t leave without enjoying a swim in the clear, cool river waters right outside the lodge. For more information, go to silkyoakslodge.com.au.
Whitehaven Beach, Queensland
In a region as visually arresting as Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands, what does it take to be truly awe-inspiring? Brilliant white sand, consisting of 98 per cent pure silica stretching seven kilometres, seems to be the answer. This is the natural marvel of Whitehaven Beach, which attracts visitors from around the world who want to feel those pristine particles between their toes.
Found on Whitsunday Island alongside the Great Barrier Reef, this beach is all the more breathtaking for its surrounds – on one edge jewel-toned water, on the other gloriously dense green foliage. This juxtaposition lends an almost mythical quality to an allure that’s very real.
Those seeking to take in the beauty of the beach make their way to Tongue Point, to a lookout that offers the most all-encompassing views. Others soak it up from the shoreline, with the occasional companionship of a meandering turtle to enhance an already picture-perfect daytrip.
Where to stay: Just 30 minutes from Whitehaven Beach, Qualia is utterly at home in the picturesque Hamilton Island landscape. The resort’s bold architecture – pitched roofs, sprawling verandahs and infinity pools – have one objective: to bring the outside in.
Set within 12 hectares of bushland and tropical gardens, each guest pavilion feels like a luxurious, secluded beach house. Interiors are in harmony with the environment, combining extensive timber with colours that reflect nature’s palette.
Plus, there’s highly personalised service from staff who can arrange anything from a sunset outing aboard Qualia’s 45-foot luxury cruiser to helicopter flights, including to Whitehaven Beach. Finish off your day with a Champagne and oyster tasting on the waterfront.