For northern hemisphere dwellers, the beauty of a winter trip to Australia is that it’s a ticket to summer—along with all the incredible food, culture, and nature the country has to offer.
In service of helping you plan that great escape now, here’s how Gwyneth spent a recent day in Sydney. Plus: mini guides to Melbourne, the Gold Coast, and Tasmania, and the best ways to explore the vast Australian outback and Great Barrier Reef. We recommend dedicating at least a week—more if you’d like to see a lot of the country on one ticket. That said: Once you’ve been, you’ll want to plan your return ASAP, so don’t feel pressure to squeeze it all in.
Where to stay: Gwyneth stayed at the Park Hyatt, which looks over Sydney Harbour with stunning views of the opera house. The best remedy for postflight stiffness is a trip to the spa for a steam and a massage.
What to eat and drink: Gwyneth met her friend Santi for a burger at Next Door, the little bar attached to elegant Margaret. Mimi’s is where you go for exceptional fresh-caught seafood, caviar, and steak frites. (Gwyneth got the lobster.) Radio host Jackie “O” Henderson recommended Mimi’s sister bistro the Paddington, which is the kind of place where you can get a suckling pig. And Sammy Junior is a popular spot in the Sydney CBD—that’s central business district—for morning coffees and after-work negronis.
Where to shop: goop Beauty is on shelves at MECCA, Australia’s biggest beauty retailer. In Bondi, visit BONDI WASH and Playa by Lucy Folk. In high-end Paddington, you’ll find Zimmermann, Camilla and Marc, In Bed, Ampersand, and Parlour X.
What to do: Gwyneth and Santi dropped into the Art Gallery of New South Wales. (Santi is posing with Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Colonne Pascale in the Grand Courts exhibition.) On weekends, the walk to the opera house goes through the open-air Rocks Markets, which bustles with shoppers looking for locally made jewelry, clothing, and homewares, as well as the Royal Botanic Garden. Visitors with their minds set on a dip should know that the iconic Bondi Beach is better for sunbathing than swimming. Instead, buy a day pass at the (gorgeous) Bondi Icebergs saltwater pool, grab lunch at Icebergs Dining Room, and take the leisurely Bondi to Bronte coastal walk.
Photos courtesy of Tourism Australia (opera house) and Steven Woodburn (restaurant and pool).
Where to stay: On the eastern edge of stately South Yarra, the 12-suite United Places Botanic Gardens is within walking distance of the great cafés and shops on Chapel Street and a short tram ride from the Melbourne CBD. (More-avid walkers could get there on foot through the Royal Botanic Gardens.) The hotel’s restaurant, Matilda 159, has earned a chef hat—one of the highest honors in the Australian food scene.
What to eat and drink: For diners down to try crocodile meat or emu egg, there’s the tasting-menu-only Attica and the more-casual Big Esso. Melbourne has great Asian food: Local favorite Chin Chin doesn’t take reservations, but the wait is worth it for something sweet, sour, and spicy; Supernormal’s crispy, pillowy dumplings and sesame flatbread are inspired by the chef’s residencies in Hong Kong and Shanghai; and Sunda blends traditional Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Indonesian flavors with native Australian ingredients. Teensy Patricia is popular for coffee; and Napier Quarter, for wine.
Where to shop: In artsy Fitzroy, go by contemporary Kloke for simple tees and linen dresses you’ll wear forever, Mud Australia for handmade porcelain ceramics in pastel shades, and indie Brunswick Street Bookstore to find something to read on the next leg of your travels.
What to do: Hosier Lane is an iconic stretch of street art in the CBD’s East End—wander through for an hour if you’re in the area. Corner Hotel is an iconic music venue with a rooftop bar; it hosts both local acts and major artist tours. The National Gallery of Victoria is worth a visit for the permanent collection alone (which includes incredible Indigenous art and textiles, French Impressionist works, and modern sculpture and design), but it’s the roster of exhibitions that makes the gallery a cultural forerunner. For those craving a day trip, three hours in the car gets you to the Twelve Apostles: seven towering limestone stacks rising from the waves just off the Victoria coast.
Photos courtesy of Sharyn Cairns (hotel), Napier Quarter (bar), Supernormal (restaurant), and Tourism Australia (neighborhoods).
Where to stay: On the glitzy Gold Coast, the Langham is the sleekest place to stay. The hotel towers above Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach, with expansive views of the ocean and the hinterland’s lush rainforest.
What to eat and drink: Broadbeach is less touristy than Surfers, and it has a strong concentration of great restaurants. Social Eating House does fine dining with a casual vibe, Mamasan slings Southeast Asian and sake, and Den Devine is a laid-back spot for bar bites and live bands. As you move south, the city eases out: In Mermaid Beach, Bam Bam Bakehouse is best for brunch, and Etsu Izakaya has next-level sashimi and Japanese whisky. In Burleigh Heads, locals hit up Tarte Bakery for coffee and pastries and the Tropic for sweeping ocean views and oysters on the half shell.
What to do: Visitors flock to the Gold Coast for long, swimmable white-sand beaches. Surf-minded visitors might enlist expert help from Currumbin Alley Surf School, which can take you out on the Gold Coast’s most learner-friendly break. For those who would rather keep their feet on solid land and watch the pros at work, Snapper Rocks is home to one of the world’s best surf scenes. Families with kids might take advantage of the amusement parks on the Gold Coast’s northern end: Dreamworld and WhiteWater World, plus a Warner Bros. park.
Photos courtesy of the Langham (skyline and hotel room), the Tropic (restaurant), Tourism Australia (sunset), and Brooke Darling Photography (bakery).
Where to stay: Most visitors fly into Tasmania’s funky capital city, Hobart; we recommend the pretty Islington Hotel. But it would be a shame not to see more of the island. In the bush to the southwest, Clifton Homestead and Hunter Huon Valley are jumping-off points for the beautiful (and largely untouched) Southwest National Park. Zigzag to the northeast, where Saffire Freycinet sits above the Freycinet Peninsula’s rocky bays. And on King Island, off Tasmania’s northwest end, Kittawa Lodge is a mesmerizingly isolated coastal escape.
What to eat and drink: Restaurants in Hobart skew fancy—and Aloft and Templo are great stops for that. Bar Wa Izakaya and La Sardina Loca lean more relaxed. But locals argue the best meal in Hobart is the Rough Rice congee stand that pops up every few weeks at Farm Gate Market. Tasmania is known for its whiskey; the best comes from Sullivans Cove.
What to do: In Hobart, visitors must book in advance to visit the quirky Museum of Old and New Art. From town, make a day trip to cruise around the Three Capes Track, a set of impossibly high sea cliffs at the end of the Tasman Peninsula. (For more intrepid travelers, Southern Sea Ventures guides four-day kayak tours.) And Tasmania has incredible wildlife reserves; see Tasmanian devils, wombats, and kangaroos at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary outside Hobart.
Photos courtesy of Tourism Australia (wombat and cliffs) and Saffire Freycinet (hotel).
Australia’s outback makes up a massive swath of the country’s interior. A few ways to explore it: Luxury wilderness lodge Longitude 131° is seated in Australia’s Northern Territory, with views of Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa, two massive red-rock formations that rise out of the desert. Guests stay in tented pavilions (outfitted with rainfall showers, fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows) and embark on guided hikes around the Uluṟu monolith and day trips through the desert’s canyons and lookouts. As night falls, camp life offers spa treatments, contemporary Australian dining, and broad Milky Way skies.
At the foot of a sandstone mountain in the forests of North Queensland, Mt. Mulligan Lodge offers glamping tents as well as hotel suites and two-bedroom pavilions. Bookings include daily excursions—hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, and ATV tours through the bush—and an electric buggy to drive around the resort. You can arrange to take picnic lunches into the bush or settle in at the restaurant, where the menu, which changes daily, focuses on traditional outback ingredients with global twists.
To see the most of the outback on one ticket, consider a luxury train journey on the Ghan, which jets through Australia’s red center from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south (or vice versa). On the three- or four-day journey, the train stops up and down the outback: for cruises down the cliffy Katherine River, spelunking in the Cutta Cutta Caves, morning coffee over the deep-red landscape in Marla, hiking through Standley Chasm, helicopter flights over Uluṟu, or tours of the subterranean opal-mining city of Coober Pedy. Onboard, riders enjoy contemporary private cabins, multicourse meals, and expansive desert views.
Photos courtesy of the Ghan (tree and river) and Baillies Longitude 131 (hotel).
THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
Spanning 1,400 miles off the northeast coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef’s vast system of islands and reefs is home to an unfathomable diversity of marine life. And it’s worth several days of exploration to see it from above—by hike, seaplane, or glass-bottom kayak—and from within, by snorkel or scuba.
On top of gorgeous accommodations, excellent beachside dining, and private-island perks, Lizard Island offers daily dives in the inner and outer reefs, plus naturalist-guided snorkel tours of famous dive sites, like Watsons Bay (to see green sea turtles), the Clam Gardens (which are aptly full of giant clams), and the Cod Hole (home of the massive—and friendly—potato cod).
Further south, on Hamilton Island, Qualia is a stunning resort second only to the nature that surrounds it. By day, guests lounge at the beach; see the reef by seaplane, helicopter, or high-speed catamaran; or have one of the resort’s expert dive instructors take them underwater. And by night, they zip around the island in electric buggies, sit for sommelier-guided dinners, and soak in some of the most iconic tubs we’ve ever seen.
For those who feel like they could get their fill of the Great Barrier Reef in less time, Silky Oaks Lodge is set snugly in the coastal Daintree rainforest—which offers tropical delights of its own—and runs half- and full-day reef excursions. And big-time reef enthusiasts can book seven-night yacht charters with Morris Nautical.
Photos courtesy of Lizard Island (living room), Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree (turtle), and Sharyn Cairns (bathtub).
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