27 Feb 2019
For his latest book, international bestselling travel author and National Geographic TV host Robin Esrock took his family across the country to research, experience and share the wonders of The Great Australian Bucket List. Having already visited over 100 countries on seven continents, Robin sought the unforgettable activities and destinations you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Here are some of his favourites.
Climb down a mine shaft, Bendigo
Nearest park: Gold Nugget Tourist Park
Bendigo’s Central Deborah Gold Mine combines fascinating history with a truly deep and dark adventure. In fact, there’s nowhere else you can buy a ticket, slip on a hardhat, and get any further down under, Down Under. The mine’s Nine Levels of Darkness tour is the deepest mine tour in the country, guided by former miners with absorbing stories and subterranean experience etched into their skin. After learning about the Victorian gold rush that once transformed Bendigo into one of the world’s richest cities, you enter a tiny cage that is manually lowered deep into the earth. Here you learn about the harsh, back-breaking work that was gold mining. Squeezing into the rock tunnels, clambering up wet iron ladders, pushing heavy carts on rails and feeling the shake of a hydraulic drill - it’s a handson experience that makes one appreciate the sweet Victoria sunshine when you gratefully return above ground.
New South Wales
Recharge between the guardians, Byron Bay
Nearest park: Discovery Parks - Byron Bay
For those times when Byron Bay gets a little tourist-jammed, cast your net a little further afield for another experience with pulsing energy. There is nowhere on the planet quite like Crystal Castle and the Shambala Gardens. Gathered here are some of the largest and most spectacular crystals you’ll set your peepers on. Carefully arranged throughout gorgeous gardens, labyrinths, stupas and a bamboo forest, the crystals create an environment that radiates tranquillity. Peek inside the jaw-dropping Enchanted Cave, the largest amethyst geode on the planet or take a look at the nearby polished orb of rose quartz spinning atop a block of granite. Crystal Castle celebrates harmony, balance, and the dizzying array of colourful crystals. Whether you’re a believer in the power of crystal energy or not, there’s no denying the impact of seeing such magical stones in such a remarkable location.
Go down the rabbit hole, Hobart
Nearest park: Discovery Parks - Hobart
If you’ve not yet been to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), it belongs on your radar. One of the world’s hottest contemporary art museums, it’s a must-do when visiting Tassie. Funded by the extravagantly wealthy Hobartlocal David Walsh, it’s a place where creativity has run amok, designed to delight and challenge both big and little kids alike (that explains the huge trampoline outside, a piece of art you can actually jump on). A camouflaged catamaran shepherds visitors from downtown Hobart to the almost island-like structure set out on the River Derwent. Walsh’s vision is to showcase sculptures, contraptions, paintings, videos, and spaces that are candid, approachable, interactive, and open to interpretation. There are no stuffy signs, but there is a handy app that explains what you’re looking at, from bloated cars to sensory-deprivation rooms, cavernous galleries to meditational orbs. Dished up with down-to-earth Tasmanian hospitality and a jarring lack of pretension, MONA puts Hobart on the global cultural map.
Photo credit: MONA/Jesse Hunniford. Image courtesy of the artist and MONA Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Trek the Dove Circuit, Cradle Mountain
Nearest park: Discovery Parks - Cradle Mountain
In a huge national park with so many options, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with which track or circuit to trek. The Dove Circuit is a great all-rounder for vsitors of all experience levels and time-constraints. The circuit loops 5.7 kilometres around Dove Lake, an easy boardwalk stroll for all ages. Set against a dramatic backdrop of mountains, rare King Billy pine rainforest, glacial carved rocks and arguably one of the most picturesque lakes in the country, you’ll emerge invigorated by the power of nature and enough selfies to fill a Facebook album. Keep your eyes peeled and you might spot a platypus swimming up the creek in the Ballroom Forest, a stretch of lovely moss-covered myrtle woods. If you’ve got a little more time up your sleeve, try getting suited up in a wetsuit and heading out to explore the creeks with local outfitter Cradle Mountain Canyons. Jump, slide and swim over a series of exquisite waterfalls - a physical adventure that perfectly contrasts the slow amble around the lake.
Polish jewellery on Whitehaven Beach, Airlie Beach
With its famous crystal waters, powder-soft sands and pristine colour palette, Whitehaven Beach is pure paradise. Base yourself in Airlie Beach and take a day excursion to Whitehaven with Cruise Whitsundays, stopping off at Hamilton Island before continuing onwards to Whitsunday Islands. Your vessel will carry you through a scattering of pretty islands before you arrive at the famous shores. Once onto Whitehaven, you can get stuck into some of the beach activities (beach cricket and fish feeding), and explore the crescent beach to the sounds of lapping waves and squeaking footsteps. The sand is 98% quartz, and you can even polish your jewellery with it, leaving your well-worn rings shiny as new. Protected as part of the Great Barrier Reef eco-system, the environment here is immaculate. It isn’t over when you leave either - you’ll have a memorable peach-purple sunset to look forward to on the boat ride home.
Swim with tuna, Victor Harbor
Southern bluefin tuna weigh up to 200 kilograms in the wild and travel at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour. These are big, powerful fish, and you can swim with them in South Australia in a remarkable in-sea aquarium. Berthed off Victor Harbor and manned by marine biologists, the Oceanic Victor gives you the rare opportunity to encounter live tuna first-hand. Kids will love feeding the tuna from the dock, watching as the powerful fish leap out the water to snatch their sardines from the pole. For those wanting to get more up close and personal, you can slip on a wetsuit and jump in. The Oceanic Victor was founded as a nature-based tourism and educational facility to provide visitors the opportunity to interact with marine life. The netted enclosure also provides scientists with the perfect opportunity to study the tuna, which remains a highly-prized catch in South Australia’s fishing industry. It’s enthralling, fascinating and leaves you with a profound respect for these beauties of the sea.
Image courtesy of Oceanic Victor.
Lion 360, Adelaide
Inspired by the ever-popular shark cage diving experience in Port Lincoln, Lion 360 is a a similar personal lion encounter from within a cage. Held at Australia’s largest open-range zoo, Monarto, just an hour outside of Adelaide, the experience places visitors inside the cage while hungry lions gather all around. Timed with the lions’ daily feeding and carefully monitored by conservation officers, the pride is engaged and curious, close enough for you to feel their breath, hear their grunts, and smell their musk. Visitors can request to feed the lions with metal tongs, while a model Land Rover gives you a glimpse outside the specially constructed cage. It’s a first-hand look at putting us in our place inside the cage for a change.
Austrailan Capital Territory
Hear the Last Post, Canberra
Nearest park: Sundown Villas
Since 2013, the daily Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial has told the story of one name on the Roll of Honour. Even if the Australian armed forces avoid any future casualties, the ceremony will continue to honour an Australian casualty, every day, until the year 2295. A visit to the War Memorial is truly thought-provoking, solemn, a duty, and a privilege. Join one of the free daily tours, and have a guide take you through a wide range of historical and modern exhibits. There are weaponry, planes, equipment, documents, imagery and uniforms on display, not to mention the dioramas depicting the First World War. When the museum closes, a crowd gathers outside as the late afternoon sun reflects off the narrow memorial pool housing an eternal flame. A name is read, a story is told. Lest we forget.
Swim in the Buley Rockhole, Litchfield National Park
Nearest park: Discovery Parks - Darwin
Two iconic national parks dominate most itineraries to the Top End: Kakadu is the iconic national park that tends to dominate most itineraries to the Top End, yet Litchfield National Park is easier to explore and more accessible to families. A two-hour drive on the 130 kilometre per hour road from Darwin, the natural wonders of Litchfield are something to behold. Take the kids and swim beneath the series of pristine cascades that are dotted about the park, and make sure to adventure to the Buley Rockhole, which serve as proof that nature always builds the best waterparks. Once you’re suitably refreshed, tick off the towering orange Cathedral Termite Mounds and tombstone-like Magnetic Termite Mounds - both encompass some of the tallest non-human built structures in the world.
Get the quokka selfie, Rottnest Island
Introducing the little marsupial that’s hopping its way into the global spotlight - the quokka. It’s the reason more and more travelers are making their way to famous Rottnest Island - to get the (all-important) quokka selfie. Hop on the fast ferry from Fremantle to Rottnest and you can tick this off your bucket list, too. They’ve been called the world’s happiest animal, primarily because Rottnest quokkas are unfazed by humans, display goofy faces, and don’t mind appearing in selfies. Keep in mind, you’re strongly advised not to feed or make fun of the quokka, which is detrimental to conservation, and probably hurts its feelings, too. Once you’ve nabbed the required selfie, spend some time exploring the island’s 62 beaches, gorgeous bays, and many hiking and biking trails.
Need more inspiration? The Great Australian Bucket List (Affirm Press, $24.99) is available in bookstores and online. For more info visit www.aussiebucketlist.com
This travel feature was published in G’DAY Magazine.