These Aussie holiday spots are ready to welcome tourists with open arms

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As we approach the end of a year defined by the words “social isolation”, you may find yourself struggling with a chronic case of cabin fever.

The good news is, with coronavirus restrictions easing and the summer holidays almost upon us (yes, really), many Australians are now looking to leave the house and explore their own backyard.

But with more would-be travellers out and about and reservations hard to come by, you may need to consider the road less travelled.

So, if you’re looking to escape the city but can’t seem to get a booking in the usual spots, why not consider some of these last-minute alternatives?

(It’s worth keeping in mind that some border restrictions are still in place — you can read more here on where you can and can’t travel).

I want to find a destination in…

New South Wales

Finding accommodation within driving distance of Sydney that has availability over summer may seem almost impossible.

And it’s not just the usual tourist spots that are fully booked; smaller inland towns are running out of rooms, too.

“People are just climbing over each other to get out of Sydney — people have gone a bit nuts and they can’t wait to get out,” said Kristy Mayhew, tourism marketing specialist from Shoalhaven City Council.

But if you know where to look, there are some last-minute options.

Mid-North Coast

If you’re hoping to head to the Mid-North Coast, you could try somewhere a bit different to the usual tourist destinations like Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour and check out the small seaside town of Urunga.

The charming town, where the Bellinger and Kalang rivers meet, is primed to welcome new visitors.

If you're hoping to head to the Mid-North Coast, check out the small seaside town of Urunga.If you're hoping to head to the Mid-North Coast, check out the small seaside town of Urunga.
If you’re hoping to head to the Mid-North Coast, check out the small seaside town of Urunga.(Supplied: ILoveBelloShire)

Rebecca Beaton manages the Riverside Holiday Resort and says they still have availability either side of Christmas as border closures have kept many regulars away.

“We would love people to get off the main highways … there’s so many hidden little coastal destinations that they don’t even know about,” she said.

“Urunga has got that quiet old-school charm … it’s a nature’s paradise, it’s such a beautiful part of the world.”

Rebecca Beaton manages the Riverside Holiday Resort.Rebecca Beaton manages the Riverside Holiday Resort.
Rebecca Beaton manages the Riverside Holiday Resort and says they still have availability either side of Christmas as border closures have kept many regulars away.(Supplied: ILoveBelloShire)

South Coast

Prefer the South Coast? Look past crowd favourites Jervis Bay and Mollymook and try the small coastal hamlet of Bawley Point instead.

Like Jervis Bay, it has pristine beaches, but is a lot more tranquil.

Sharon Gadaleta owns Bawley Point Bungalows and has availability over summer as many of her regulars also didn’t rebook.

Racecourse Beach at Bawley Point offers spectacular views.Racecourse Beach at Bawley Point offers spectacular views.
Racecourse Beach at Bawley Point offers spectacular views.(Supplied: Visit NSW)

“They were traumatised last year from the bushfires in the area; we were trapped for new year so they are probably still recovering,” she said.

Ms Gadaleta is also relying on new guests and hopes the border closures will work in her favour.

“It’s great people are moving around more regionally this year. We have a somewhat captured audience due to border closures, they can’t get to all other states,” she said.

“Bawley Point is perfect for people who want to disconnect and kick back and relax. Mobile service can be a challenge but that means you can get away from it all.

“But we’re only 30 minutes from Ulladulla and Mollymook and all their fine dining.”

Victoria

There’s still a lot of uncertainty around what the summer holidays will look like in Victoria.

But with Premier Daniel Andrews saying the border between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria will “definitely” come down by Christmas, you can bet there’ll be a mass exodus of Melburnians booking getaways after months in lockdown.

The view from Mt Leura in Camperdown, in south-west Victoria.The view from Mt Leura in Camperdown, in south-west Victoria.
The view from Mt Leura in Camperdown, in south-west Victoria.(Supplied: Andrew Stubbings)

Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism general manager Liz Price says some accommodation, such as caravan parks, may need to limit bookings in order to meet social distancing requirements.

But with all that still up in the air, and the possibility interstate travel may still be off the table to some Victorians, you might want to get onto booking your accommodation sooner rather than later.

Great Ocean Road

The eastern end of the Great Ocean Road is always popular over summer due to its close proximity to Melbourne, and popular holiday spots including Torquay, Lorne and the Bellarine Peninsula are often booked out long in advance as visitors return each year.

Ms Price recommends looking further west if you find you’re struggling to get a beachside bed.

“There are towns like Port Campbell, Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Apollo Bay that often have international visitation over the summer that will be absent this year and may see accommodation not as busy as previous years,” she said.

Cobden is a perfect base for daytrips, meaning you can easily access both the coast and hinterland.Cobden is a perfect base for daytrips, meaning you can easily access both the coast and hinterland.
Cobden is a perfect base for daytrips, meaning you can easily access both the coast and hinterland.(Supplied: Andrew Stubbings)

“And towns surrounding Port Campbell, like Cobden, may also be a little quieter.”

Kathryn Stubbings runs Heytesbury House, a bed and breakfast in a 116-year-old Edwardian house in Cobden. The team have spent the COVID-19 lockdown renovating their four suites, which are usually filled with predominantly international and interstate visitors.

She hopes Victorian travellers, particularly those from Melbourne, will visit the region this summer.

“We’re 30 minutes inland from the 12 Apostles … in the middle of the lakes and craters district and it’s just beautiful. The countryside is stunning at the moment,” she said.

Andrew and Kathryn Stubbings run Heytesbury House, a luxury bed and breakfast in a 116-year-old Edwardian house in Cobden.Andrew and Kathryn Stubbings run Heytesbury House, a luxury bed and breakfast in a 116-year-old Edwardian house in Cobden.
Andrew and Kathryn Stubbings run Heytesbury House, a luxury bed and breakfast in a 116-year-old Edwardian house in Cobden.(Supplied: Kathryn Stubbings)

“What we find is most Melburnians will get on the Great Ocean Road and do it as a day trip and get back late at night exhausted and they miss out on the most beautiful hinterland region and it’s a real shame.

“Get out and do the Great Ocean Road, but do it and enjoy the region and cruise back. It’s a long drive. Why come for just one night? Why do it for the day?”

Rutherglen

If the Great Ocean Road isn’t your thing, there are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered further north.

Located between Yarrawonga and Wodonga, just 10 kilometres from the Murray River and the border town of Wahgunyah, Rutherglen combines historical charm with a burgeoning food and wine scene.

Walk or cycle the Rutherglen Rail Trail, a nine-kilometre track that offers many scenic and culinary pit stops.Walk or cycle the Rutherglen Rail Trail, a nine-kilometre track that offers many scenic and culinary pit stops.
Walk or cycle the Rutherglen Rail Trail, a nine-kilometre track that offers many scenic and culinary pit stops.(explorerutherglen.com.au)

With its roots in agriculture, the district was one of Victoria’s first to established itself as a wine producing districts. These days, there are almost 20 wineries located within a short drive from the town centre.

If you’re looking for more of an outdoor adventure, try walking or cycling the Rutherglen Rail Trail, a nine-kilometre track that offers many scenic and culinary pit stops.

The Murray River winds along the track and the tranquil one-way route — which is shared with pedestrians — provides spectacular views of the granite landscape, local gold mining history and surrounding countryside.

Queensland

If you live in the Sunshine State, the message is clear: Queensland is open for business.

But while the return of holidaymakers is welcome news for traders, it means you may need to consider some alternative destinations.

Coolum

With few interstate options currently available to Queenslanders, the Sunshine Coast in the state’s south-east is bustling with people wanting a beachside break.

Noosa Heads has long sold itself as a luxury destination, and often books out well in advance thanks to southern visitors, particularly from Melbourne.

The Sunshine Coast in the state's south-east is bustling with those wanting a beachside break.The Sunshine Coast in the state's south-east is bustling with those wanting a beachside break.
With so few interstate options still available to Queenslanders, the Sunshine Coast in the state’s south-east is bustling with those wanting a beachside break.(Supplied: Visit Sunshine Coast)

At the other end of the Sunshine Coast is the more casual beachside town of Caloundra, a favourite of Brisbane holidaymakers due to its proximity to the city and price point.

Both are likely to be fully booked ahead of the Christmas break, and would-be visitors might be scrambling for an alternative.

Visit Sunshine Coast interim chief executive Craig Davidson said Coolum — which sits between both destinations — is not exactly a secret hideaway, but travellers may have more luck finding a room during peak season.

Gaye Williams from The Shop Coolum has lived in the area for 40 years, and says it “still has the beautiful surfing village atmosphere”.

“It’s like a little country town, but happens to be on a great beach — that’s the way we look at it,” she said.

She said the township was like a “sleeping giant”, being woken by those wanting a new place to visit.

A lady in front of shelves at a cash registerA lady in front of shelves at a cash register
Gaye Williams from The Shop Coolum has lived in the area for 40 years, and says it “still has the beautiful surfing village atmosphere”.(ABC News: Sally Rafferty)

“We’ve got so many people from all over Queensland coming here because Noosa is either booked out or too expensive and Caloundra is booked out,” she said.

“Kids everywhere — kids laughing, mums and dads, grandpas and grandmas, it’s great.”

Gold Coast

There’s a fair chance that when you think of the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise quickly comes to mind.

But have you even heard of that “other” paradise on the Coast — Paradise Point?

Chris Deery says the area is the complete package with spectacular views, fishing, beaches and restaurants.Chris Deery says the area is the complete package with spectacular views, fishing, beaches and restaurants.
Chris Deery says the area is the complete package with spectacular views, fishing, beaches and restaurants.(ABC News: Andrew Arthur)

Unlike Surfers, Broadbeach and Burleigh it’s not a tourist mecca, and that’s just how locals like it.

Former policeman Chris Deery says the area is a complete package with spectacular views, fishing, beaches and restaurants — no nightclubs or theme parks.

Dianne Zougras moved to Paradise Point from Sydney after her sister raved about her quality of life there.

It now takes Dianne just three minutes to move her new kayak from her home to the Broadwater.

It only takes Dianne three minutes to take her newly acquired kayak from home to the Broadwater.It only takes Dianne three minutes to take her newly acquired kayak from home to the Broadwater.
It only takes Dianne three minutes to take her newly acquired kayak from home to the Broadwater.(ABC News: Andrew Arthur)

South Australia

From the city to the sea, South Australia offers an eclectic mix of destinations just waiting to be explored.

And while you’re sure to be spoiled for choice, as summer temperatures soar into the 40s, you may find yourself being drawn to the coast.

Fleurieu Peninsula

The Fleurieu Peninsula on South Australia’s south coast is just an hour’s drive from Adelaide — and is proving a popular destination.

“This summer is busier than it’s ever been, it’s out of control,” said Sam Forde from Harcourts South Coast.

The Fleurieu Peninsula on South Australia's south coast is just an hour drive from Adelaide.The Fleurieu Peninsula on South Australia's south coast is just an hour drive from Adelaide.
The Fleurieu Peninsula on South Australia’s south coast is just an hour drive from Adelaide.(Supplied: Sam Forde)

Harcourts leases 300 holiday houses all over the Fleurieu Peninsula, from Encounter Bay to Hindmarsh Island, all of which are completely booked out over Christmas and New Year.

“We have started getting interstate bookings from NSW, Queensland … we even had some from Victoria, which I thought was a bit hopeful,” Ms Forde said.

“People are so full of anticipation … if they think they can travel, they’re desperate to get away.”

With a rugged coastline, pristine waters and family-friendly atmosphere, Ms Forde credits the peninsula’s popularity to its natural beauty and proximity to Adelaide.

“The serenity of the coastline is magical … there’s everything here… from fishing, art galleries, great markets, walking trails, and accommodation to suit all budgets,” she said.

Kangaroo Island

Just off the Fleurieu Peninsula lies Kangaroo Island, which is recovering after it was ravaged by last summer’s bushfires.

The deputy chair of the Kangaroo Island Tourism Association, Pierre Gregor, said there are plenty of options for unorganised holidaymakers, who can access the island by ferry or plane.

“The council-run campsites don’t actually accept bookings ahead of time, so people can just turn up and find a spot,” Mr Gregor said.

Check out the American River campsite on Kangaroo Island.Check out the American River campsite on Kangaroo Island.
Check out the American River campsite on Kangaroo Island.(Supplied: South Australian Tourism Commission)

“If one campsite happens to be full, it’s usually only a short distance to the next one.

“American River is a nice little campsite on the water’s edge, it’s a nice fishing hamlet, you can get fresh oysters there.

“Nearby you have Browns Beach, which is slightly smaller, but very picturesque … it’s on a headland and only 15 minutes’ drive from Penneshaw, where the ferry docks.”

Mr Gregor said tourism was an important part of the island’s recovery process, not only from the bushfires but COVID-19 as well.

Tasmania

With Tasmania reopening its borders to (almost) everyone, why not beat the heat down south?

While the Apple Isle may be smaller in size compared to its mainland counterparts, it means you’re never too far from your next destination.

Boat Harbour Beach

Sitting beneath pink granite mountains, the seaside holiday village of Coles Bay, on the state’s east coast, is a tourist hotspot.

A 2.5-hour drive from Hobart, the quaint community is often used as a gateway to explore the nearby Freycinet National Park — a popular wildlife haven.

If that’s piqued your interest but the crowds have got you down, look no further than Boat Harbour.

Boat Harbour is renowned for its white sands, clear water and captivating views.Boat Harbour is renowned for its white sands, clear water and captivating views.
Boat Harbour is renowned for its white sands, clear water and captivating views.(Facebook: Boat Harbour Beach Holiday Park)

Just 30 minutes from Burnie on Tassie’s north-west coast, the bay is renowned for its white sands, clear water and captivating views.

While you’re there, be sure to explore the Rocky Cape National Park, which is just a stone’s throw away.

Orford

If you’re in need of a sea-change but the thought of a longer road trip is already making you carsick, include Orford in your itinerary.

About an hour’s drive north of Hobart, the coastal township offers everything from fishing and diving, to wine and whisky tasting.

Though it has grown in popularity over the years, if you’re worried about the crowds, tourism authorities insist Orford “has enough eateries and accommodation to please everyone from beach lovers to happy campers”.

Orford offers everything from fishing and diving, to wine and whisky tasting.Orford offers everything from fishing and diving, to wine and whisky tasting.
Orford offers everything from fishing and diving, to wine and whisky tasting.(Facebook: Tasmania)

Northern Territory

With Australia’s northern capital heading into its typical low season, the hot, sticky weather and monsoonal rains of “the wet” would normally keep tourists away and drive locals south for a reprieve.

But in light of the global pandemic, the local tourism industry thinks more Territorians are set to holiday locally this year.

Kakadu

The NT Government has offered cash incentives for locals and interstate tourists to holiday in the territory over the coming months.

Kakadu Tourism’s Peter Hook says it’s already driving numbers up when they would usually be heading down.

Looking down from the top of Gunlom Falls in the Northern Territory. Looking down from the top of Gunlom Falls in the Northern Territory.
Looking down from the top of Gunlom Falls in the Northern Territory.(ABC Open Contributor Heath Whiley)

“I think that Territorians are thinking, ‘Well, Kakadu is on our doorstep, let’s get there before the interstate and international tourists come back’,” he said.

“Last year we had access to international business, we had access to interstate business.

Better, but still lower than peak season, Mr Hook said occupancy rates at the crocodile-shaped Cooinda Lodge in the heart of Kakadu were still below 50 per cent for much of the summer.

That’s the angle being worked in the government’s advertising campaign — the fact that many of the Northern Territory’s most popular spots will be near-empty for those willing to brave the at-times wild weather.

“People come to Kakadu particularly to see waterfalls, the rock holes and things like that; they want nature to be spectacular and this is the most spectacular time of year,” Mr Hook said.

View of Twin Falls at Kakadu National Park.View of Twin Falls at Kakadu National Park.
View of Twin Falls at Kakadu National Park.(AAP: Tara Ravens)

Western Australia

Still boasting the toughest border restrictions in the country, Western Australia is unlikely to be a go-to for interstate travellers this year.

But that shouldn’t stop our resident sandgropers from hitting the road, with travel throughout most of regional WA now allowed.

Augusta

Just over 40 kilometres south of the marquee tourist town of Margaret River is the quaint coastal town of Augusta.

The town itself is flanked by the Southern and Indian Oceans with the Blackwood River cutting a lazy path along its eastern permitter. Completing the picture is the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse which has served as sentinel to marine traffic since 1895.

The Cape Leeuwin lighthouse has served as sentinel to marine traffic since 1895.The Cape Leeuwin lighthouse has served as sentinel to marine traffic since 1895.
The Cape Leeuwin lighthouse has served as sentinel to marine traffic since 1895.(ABC News: Anthony Pancia)

Often overlooked due to its proximity to the internationally recognised tourist hotspot, Augusta locals say they’ve already benefitted from the border closures with strong indicators Christmas will be a holiday season unlike any other.

Store owner Alexis Taylor said she’s noted an influx of visitors who had simply never bothered to drive the extra 40 minutes south prior to WA’s hard border closure.

“There’s a lot of people travelling from Perth who hadn’t been further south than Margaret River and have found Augusta to be quite a pleasant surprise,” she said.

Store owner Alexis Taylor said she'd noted an influx of visitors.Store owner Alexis Taylor said she'd noted an influx of visitors.
Store owner Alexis Taylor said she’d noted an influx of visitors who had simply never bothered to drive the extra 40 minutes south prior to WA’s hard border closure.(ABC News: Anthony Pancia)

Andrea Lindsay acts as accommodation manager for 25 properties in Augusta.

“We are already booked solid for the fortnight over Christmas and occupancy rates prior to that have increased from previous years,” Ms Lindsay said.

“It’s been a flow-on from visitors coming earlier in the year who were unable to find accommodation in Margaret River. They came here, loved it and are coming back for Christmas. Most have said they’ve discovered a new holiday destination.”

Augusta’s tourism operators are also gearing up for a busy season ahead.

“Weekends are already busy on a consistent basis and it hasn’t been like that for a while,” said cruise boat operator Graeme Challis. “We’re all pretty happy with how it’s played out, it could have gone either way really.”

Cruise boat operator Graeme Challis said weekends had been busy on a consistent basis.Cruise boat operator Graeme Challis said weekends had been busy on a consistent basis.
Cruise boat operator Graeme Challis said weekends had been busy on a consistent basis.(ABC News: Anthony Pancia)

Australian Capital Territory

When you think of the ACT, there’s a good chance two things come to mind: Parliament House and that school trip you did that one time.

But there’s much more to the nation’s capital than the usual cliches — and plenty of last-minute destinations for travellers prepared to take the plunge.

The Canberra District

Rather than joining scores of Sydneysiders for a wine tasting weekend around the Hunter Valley, why not take a trip to Canberra’s wine district instead?

There are a few reasons why — and the quality of the wine is top of the list.

Lots of people stand around a bar, tasting wine.Lots of people stand around a bar, tasting wine.
Rather than joining scores of Sydneysiders for a wine tasting weekend around the Hunter Valley, why not take a trip to Canberra’s wine district instead?(ABC News: Kate Midena)

“The Canberra District is relatively small in terms of the number of producers and the quantity of grapes they grow, but the wines they produce are highly regarded in the Wine Shows calendar and are largely admired by wine writers, sommeliers and critics,” said Geoff Burton, president of the Canberra District Wine Industry Association.

Part of the region’s success is thanks to the weather. The Canberra District has what is considered a cool climate, which means the wines produced — from shiraz and merlot to riesling and chardonnay — are “quite different in taste and style to the wines coming from warmer regions”, Mr Burton said.

Critics agree. Eight Canberra District wines scored a gold rating at the 2020 New South Wales Wine Awards, from Shaw Wines in Murrumbateman down to Mount Majura Vineyard and out to Lerida Estate in Collector, whose 2019 Canberra District Shiraz won the coveted Trophy for Best Dry Red in Show.

These wineries are just a taste of more than 40 spread across the region, all easily accessible thanks to the countryside’s geographical closeness.

A row or wooden barrels in a warehouse with pinot noir written on their front.A row or wooden barrels in a warehouse with pinot noir written on their front.
The Canberra District Wine Industry has an interactive trip planner on its website.(ABC News: Kate Midena)

The Canberra District Wine Industry has an interactive trip planner on its website so you can sketch out which cellar doors to visit, or you can book in to one of the many wine tours on offer.

“All of our wineries and cellar doors are different to each other, not only in terms of the wines they make, but the experiences they offer the visiting tourist,” Mr Burton said.

Murrumbidgee River

There’s nothing better than diving into cool water on a hot summer’s day, but if you want to avoid crowded beaches and busy coastal towns, why not turn your attention inland?

Bordered by gum trees and rocks and quieter than the NSW coastline, there are half a dozen natural swimming spots across Canberra — perfect for an afternoon dip.

“The Murrumbidgee River is probably the pinnacle location to cool off on a hot summer day,” said Brett McNamara, manager at ACT Parks & Conservation Service.

“One of the great things about living in the bush capital is the fact that we have so much natural environment on our doorstep.”

Murrumbidgee RiverMurrumbidgee River
The Murrumbidgee River is the pinnacle location to cool off on a hot summer day.(ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)

The Cotter Avenue recreation area in Canberra’s west has walking tracks to the Cotter Dam and river, a campground, and the family-friendly Casuarina Sands — a grassed area with BBQ facilities, picnic tables, playground equipment, parking, toilets, and, of course, swimming.

If you’re after somewhere dog-friendly and a bit more spacious, the multiple river pools at Uriarra Crossing in Canberra’s north-west might suit you better.

But if you want something a little more central, hire a paddle boat and take a spin around the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, or head on over to Canberra’s Aqua Park — a giant inflatable obstacle course of ladders, slides and a jumping pillow, also on Lake Burley Griffin.

People relax by and swim in Lake Burley Griffin, while others kayak, during a summer heatwave.People relax by and swim in Lake Burley Griffin, while others kayak, during a summer heatwave.
People swim and relax at Black Mountain peninsula beach, one of the places where swimming is encouraged in Lake Burley Griffin.(ABC News: Clare Sibthorpe)