“When the sun comes out, it bats its eyelids, it’s glamorous, beautiful, attractive, smart, and it’s very hard to get away from its magnetic pull,” said Baz Luhrmann about Sydney. Except, as anyone who’s been to Australia will attest, that applies to the whole country, not just its showstopping harbour-side city.
Australia is a place where gin-clear water laps golden beaches, rainforests throng with birdsong, stingrays glide through the surf and idyllic vineyards dot rolling hills. It retains a sense of being unexplored while also serving up flat whites and avocado toast (café staples long before Londoners were blathering on about them).
Modern, sophisticated, wild, inspiring and full of opportunity, Australia is a place that makes you feel a washing machine of emotions – especially when you’re bobbing about The Great Barrier Reef with a cold tinny in your hand.
It’s no wonder, then, that Australia has just been awarded the title of ‘most Instagrammable country in the world’ by travel site Big 7. According to hashtag popularity, the country beat Mexico’s vivid cenotes, Canada’s wilderness and the Maldives’ astonishing coastline to take top spot. Rightly so, too.
I first went to Australia the year I finished university. Armed with a new travel towel, a guide book and a money bag bulging with traveller’s cheques, I spent three months travelling up the East Coast. After a whirlwind trip of pristine beaches, island-hopping, raucous hostels and diversions to the hinterland – which is just as beautiful as the coastline – I was smitten. Three years later I went back for a year.
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It was one of my happiest years, and not just because I took a sabbatical from real life. Australia enamoured me with its people, always chatty and kind; with its weather, which gave dreamy summers and sparkling winters; and with its vast changeable landscapes and towering skies, which I walked, ran and rode through, often without seeing anyone else.
You see, for all of Australia’s Instagram hot spots and tourist sites, it’s a big enough place that you can still immerse yourself in its beauty without a self-stick wielding crowd around you.
Take Port Stephens, only two hours’ drive north of Sydney but home to the largest-moving sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, and the perfect canvas for sand-boarding (it’s so remote that no-one can hear you scream – thankfully).
Then there’s Palm Cove, half an hour north of rowdy Cairns. Instead of partying backpackers, you’ll discover palm trees keeping watch over a ridiculously perfect swathe of white sand.
It should be packed with towel-to-towel sunbathers but it’s so quiet it feels like a secluded island. Best of all: walk through the trees and you’ll find a campsite hidden away.
Even the tourist haven of Byron Bay, with its laid-back atmosphere, coffee shops and markets, manages to scoop up all the tourists, tune them into the same wavelength and make everyone seem like a friendly local. Australia is so friendly that when I returned to London I said “hello” to strangers on the street. I soon remembered that’s an Aussie thing. In Britain, people just think you’re trying to sell them something.
Australia does big, show-off vistas better than anywhere else (just take a look at Fraser Island, Uluru, The Whitsunday Islands or Western Australia’s Kimberley region), but there are subtle snippets of beauty at every turn.
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Take the ferry that spends all day chugging back and forth between Sydney Harbour and Manly. Drifting past the Opera House, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the distance, it feels like a bucket-list experience yet this is how people commute.
In the Hunter Valley, the place to go for some of the country’s best wines, one of the highlights is actually wobbling and weaving between them on a bike.
If you think Australia is only for beach bums, you need to take another look at #australia on Instagram. Alongside the blazing skies, aquamarine waters and lush rainforest you’ll also see world renowned art, joyous Mardi Gras parties, Aboriginal culture and a booming cafe and foodie scene that will give you a head-start on the next food trends to hit our own shores.
We talk a lot about work/life balance in Britain but for a first-hand experience of the perfect mix you need only visit Australia, a country where an after-work beach trip is commonplace, weekend barbies are the norm and the beer is always cold.
In the words of Lara Bingle in the infamous Tourism Australia advert: “Where the bloody hell are you?”
5 highlights from Flash Pack’s East Coast Australia trip
Want to experience the beauty of Australia first-hand? Dive right in and be our guest! Here’s just a few things you can expect…
Great Barrier Reef by catamaran
Snorkel and swim around the world’s largest reef system, on a day-long catamaran trip.
Sand-board and quad bike across the 40-metre drifts of Stockton Sand Dunes.
Look out for humpback whales, turtles and dingoes in their natural habitat, and see saltwater crocodiles on a Daintree River cruise.
Sail between hidden coves and beaches of the Whitsunday Islands aboard a luxury yacht.
Surf and wine time
Learn how to surf with a lesson in Byron Bay, and visit the wine estates of Hunter Valley.
Images: Shutterstock/Australia Tourism/Mollie McGuigan