Australia's Top Island And Coastal Getaways

Dreaming of saying "G'day" to Australia? Well, the long wait is over — and a long flight offering access to the continent's islands, beaches, unique wildlife and coastal wine regions awaits. And Tourism Australia's slogan says it all: "Don't Go Small. Go Australia."

Qantas is currently flying nonstop to several Australian cities from Los Angeles, Dallas, and Vancouver, and United offers nonstop service from Los Angeles and San Francisco. In addition, the favorable exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to the Australian dollar currently means Americans enjoy a 30 percent savings.

And sun-seekers have plenty of enticing locales to choose from. Here's a region-by-region look at some of the top island and coastal hot spots, including several new or newly renovated resorts and activities that can make an Australian getaway truly one of a kind.

Queensland and the Whitsundays

Queensland, which stretches from Brisbane in the south to the Torres Strait in the north, offers incredible island and coastal experiences, ranging from eco-lodges nestled on the edge of a rainforest to an array of ultra-luxurious resorts scattered amid the 74 Whitsunday Islands, home to spectacular Whitehaven Beach. 

And with the Great Barrier Reef just offshore, adventure and fun are guaranteed. Plus, more than one million blue agave plants have been planted in northern Queensland in recent years, with agave spirit production (aka tequila, but it can only be called that if made in Mexico) set to begin in mid-2023.

One of the newest luxury escapes in Queensland is adults-only and eco-friendly. Elysian Retreat is the only solar-powered resort on the Great Barrier Reef and has just 10 free-standing private villas crafted from Australian wood and featuring cathedral ceilings. The all-inclusive rate covers three meals daily, all non-alcoholic beverages, and unlimited use of watersports equipment and snorkel gear.

A pair of unique experiences await guests who want to overnight on the Great Barrier Reef. With Reefsleep, guests enjoy two days of snorkeling and exploration with a camping-style overnight stay atop Reefworld, a moored pontoon at Hardy Reef located 39 nautical miles from Airlie Beach. Or splurge on an overnight Reefsuites experience to sleep below in Australia's first underwater accommodations on the Great Barrier Reef featuring floor-to-ceiling windows.

Tangalooma Island Resort, which has been welcoming guests for almost 60 years, describes itself as "nature's theme park," and with its close proximity to Brisbane and a roster of adventurous activities it's ideal for a two-or-three-night stay or a day trip (it's located on Moreton Island, a 75-minute catamaran ride away). 

The resort, which features three-and-four-star accommodations ranging from hotel rooms to villas, offers an opportunity to whale watch, feed wild dolphins, and snorkel a series of wrecks sunk to create a coral-rich reef. Biking, ATVing, parasailing, and helicopter flights to spy on 900-pound manatee-like dugongs are other activities.

If access to 24 white-sand beaches, stellar snorkeling and diving, and pampering in a luxury suite or villa sounds like the getaway of your dreams, Lizard Island, the northernmost resort on the Great Barrier Reef, offers seclusion in an intimate and eco-sensitive setting that's a one-hour flight from Cairns. 

Lizard Island was declared a national park in 1937 and guests at the 40-room resort can relax at the pool or on a private beach and venture out onto the GBR on a variety of diving and fishing excursions. The newest addition to this luxury enclave is The House, a multi-million-dollar three-bedroom, three-bath property with access to two private beaches, a boat, a private chef and more—with rock star and tech mogul rates to match.

Located in the Whitsundays' on Hamilton Island, which is serviced by daily flights, luxury resort Qualia has been welcoming guests since 2007 with an adults-only experience centered on elevated sensory moments, such as oyster and champagne pairings, private beach drop-offs and luxury Great Barrier Reef experiences, including a visit to romantic Heart Reef. 

The property, which offers 60 pavilion-style one-bedroom villas, also features an 18-hole championship golf course located on its own island, hiking trails for birdwatching and wallaby-spotting, a spa, and two restaurants exclusive to resort guests.

In northern Queensland, between Cairns and Port Douglas, Thala Beach Reserve features eco accommodations set on 145 acres of private headland offering a range of nature-centric experiences such as guide-led nature walks, stargazing and Australia's only coconut tour. There's also a private beach, a secluded pool and access to snorkel and scuba tours. The property offers a range of room options, from Jungle Walk Bungalows in the rainforest to the Birdwing Suite set high in the treetops overlooking the Coral Sea. Osprey's Restaurant also offers panoramic views.

For eco-conscious exploration of the Great Barrier Reef, a top option is Sailaway, a Port Douglas-based sailing and snorkeling specialist offering a variety of small group and charter tours to the Outer Reef and Low Isles aboard custom-built catamarans. The family-owned business is passionate about protecting the marine environment and sharing knowledge of the marine life that its guests will encounter.

The Gold Coast

Just an hour south of Brisbane, the region known as the Gold Coast has experienced AUS $1 billion in tourism investment over the past two years—including several new hotels—adding a range of accommodation options for travelers looking to experience its fantastic beaches, lively nightlife and entertainment, brewery and winery tours and 250,000 acres of rainforest. Surfers Paradise, with its high-rises and family-friendly attractions, is best-known, but a quieter and more relaxed experience awaits further south.

New hotels include The Langham Gold Coast, a five-star residential and hotel property set in three architecturally striking towers located between Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach; the 313-room Dorsett Gold Coast in Broadbeach; and The Darling, a 56-suite boutique hotel located within the Star Gold Coast in the entertainment district of Surfers Paradise. In addition, the JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort & Spa, formerly a Marriott in Surfers Paradise, underwent an AUS$35 million refresh that also added a saltwater lagoon pool for snorkeling. 

And fans of glamping can get back to nature at the new Woodlands glamping tents at Cedar Creek Lodge, located amid the rainforests and rolling hills of the Gold Coast Hinterland. Another eco-conscious stay surrounded by the sea can be enjoyed at Lady Elliott Island Eco Resort, a coral cay located at the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef and known for its sea turtles. 

South Australia and Kangaroo Island

Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, offers access to one of the country's most iconic island experiences: wildlife safaris on Kangaroo Island. The major news is that Southern Ocean Lodge, which was destroyed by a devastating wildfire in 2017, will reopen in late 2023—but travelers looking for a luxury experience on Australia's third-largest island have options until then.

Luxury tour operator Exceptional Kangaroo Island, family-owned since 1986, specializes in private and small group tours focused on "good food, good wine, and wildlife in the wild." Most clients stay on Kangaroo Island, which is a 20-minute flight from Adelaide, for two days (although day tours are also available) as they enjoy sightings of kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, bandicoots, seals, and more paired with active exploration and gourmet culinary indulgences.

A luxury accommodation option is One Kangaroo Island, which features two exclusive retreats overlooking a stunning beach on the island's north coast. One KI sleeps up to 10 guests in five bedrooms, four with ensuite bathrooms, and features two living areas and multiple decks, while Walcowrie, also with five bedrooms and four bathrooms, can accommodate up to eight guests. 

Victoria: Melbourne, Phillip Island and the Great Ocean Road

Melbourne may be Australia's second-largest city, but it's also the gateway to several exceptional islands and coastal adventures in the state of Victoria, including spotting the little penguins that scamper ashore on Phillip Island (which is also home to a koala sanctuary), enjoying the scenic beauty of the Great Ocean Road (including the landmark 12 Apostles), wine tasting and hot-air ballooning in the nearby Yarra Valley and exploring local indigenous culture.

Love a road trip? The Great Southern Touring Route has been called Australia's finest road trip and offers a selection of three- to six-day itineraries that take in the highlights of southern Victoria's natural beauty (including a coastal drive along the Great Ocean Road), food and wine (in the Grampians, home to some of the world's oldest vines), wildlife (kangaroos, koalas and more) and indigenous culture (at Narana Aboriginal Cultural Center and Brambuk National Park & Cultural Center). There's an abundance of great suggested sites and experiences and all itineraries are self-touring.

Go Beyond Melbourne offers four self-drive touring itineraries designed for family fun, romantic indulgence, wildlife and adventure and food and wine in areas within 60-90 minutes of Melbourne that include Phillip Island for penguin spotting and the Yarra Valley, but also the Mornington Peninsula with its beaches, hot springs (among them the new Alba Thermal Springs) and wineries, and Geelong and the Bellarine offering lively waterfronts, seaside villages and food trails.

A visit to Sorrento—yes, while more famous as a place on Italy's Amalfi Coast, there is a charming town by that name in Victoria—can now include a stay at the new InterContinental Sorrento Mornington Peninsula. The seaside property, which incorporates a landmark 1875 limestone building alongside a new build, features Mediterranean-inspired décor, 108 airy rooms and suites, and a sophisticated pool area with ocean views.

Sydney and New South Wales

Home to Australia's largest and best-known city, Sydney, New South Wales, offers a mix of urban sophistication with easy access to exceptional coastal experiences. Worth noting for 2023: The iconic Sydney Opera House will celebrate its 50th anniversary on the heels of AUS$300 million in upgrades to its landmark structure. The Sydney Modern, an AUS$344 million stand-alone addition to the renowned Art Gallery of New South Wales, opens in December 2022 and features modern and contemporary artworks and installations—and admission is free. 

On the event front, Sydney will host Sydney World Pride 2023 (Feb. 17-March 5), featuring LGBTQ+ festivals, parades, performances, parties and a mega Mardi Gras celebration. Sydney will also host the first South by Southwest creativity and innovation festival outside of North America October 15-22, 2023.

Accommodation-wise, the Ace Hotel Sydney, located in Surry Hills' historic Tyne House brick factory and the first Ace Hotel in the Southern Hemisphere, opened in May 2022 and features 220 rooms and public spaces with design inspired by music, the arts and the First Nation communities in the Sydney region, while the W Sydney will debut in Darling Harbour in May 2023 in a redevelopment that will also feature the world's largest IMAX screen. 


Tasmania, an island territory located about an hour's flight from Melbourne and two hours from Sydney, has a reputation as wild and untamed—it is, after all, the home of the gnarly Tasmanian Devil. But in addition to its superb hiking and wildlife spotting, Tasmania has over the past 10-15 years developed a reputation for excellent farm-to-table dining featuring cheeses, an abundance of local produce and fresh oysters, along with wine, whisky and beer from local boutique producers. 

Indigenous Tourism

Australia is home to the oldest living indigenous cultures on the planet, and travelers can plan a wide variety of activities—from bush tucker walks to art and culture tours, 185 in total—via Discover Aboriginal Experiences, a program developed by Tourism Australia. All experiences feature Aboriginal guides, so "the person who owns the story is telling the story." Australia's Aboriginal cultures span its territories, from a Dreamtime Southern X walk around Sydney Harbour to a SeaLink NT Tiwi Islands Experience in the Northern Territory focused on screen-printed artwork.

In addition, the state of Victoria now offers a range of guided indigenous experiences for visitors, including an Aboriginal Heritage Walk in Melbourne Gardens and a visit to Budj Bim National Park, set in a long-dormant volcano, to witness the oldest living example of aquaculture in the world: eel farming dating back 6,000 years. During a stay in Melbourne, you can also dine at Mabu Mabu, an indigenous-owned restaurant, and experience the Koori Heritage Trust to see examples of indigenous art and culture by the First Peoples of South East Australia.

Luxury Lodges of Australia

For an island splurge Down Under, it's hard to beat the 20 members of Luxury Lodges of Australia, which include Lizard Island and Qualia in Queensland but also Saffire Freycinet, a strikingly modern resort set amid natural beauty and overlooking Tasmania's Hazzard range, and Capella Lodge, a one-of-a-kind property on remote Lord Howe Island, a hiker's and diver's utopia that has been called Australia's own Bora Bora. 

Coastal Winery Experiences

Enjoying a coastal or island vacation in Australia also offers access to some of the country's premier wine regions. Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia has partnered with 26 wineries in 15 regions to offer more than 100 tasting options, including a unique wine tasting/lunch and fly-fishing experience at Josef Chromy in Tasmania, a "Taste Your Birth Year," tour in the Barossa Valley near Adelaide and "Le Tour de Rosé" in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne.