Top End Escapes from the Australian Winter

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Ditch your winter woollies and head north – it’s time for a whole lot of fun in the sun. Not cocktails by the pool fun, mind you. Australia’s top end is the place to go for remote landscapes, billabong swims and rock art, for walks through ancient caves and yarns with the locals. It’s a true-blue side of Australia that might just take your breath away.

Great Barrier Reef, QLD

Whether snorkelling, diving or sailing is more your thing, the Great Barrier Reef offers the perfect escape not just from winter, but into an underwater wonderland. The 2300km reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world so you’d be mad to miss it. Take a scenic flight from Cairns over the world-famous Heart Reef (a heart-shaped reef formation surrounded by turquoise waters), walk on the pure white sands of Whitehaven Beach, and join a catamaran cruise to sensational snorkelling spots alive with colour and marine life. Stay on one of the Whitsunday islands or base yourself in Cairns or Airlie Beach and head out from there – you can’t go wrong.

Daintree, QLD

It’s warm all year round in Far North Queensland and, with water temperatures ranging from 23 to 29 degrees, swimming is always on the cards. The chic hotels, restaurants and boutiques of Port Douglas make it a fine place to lay your hat before you head off into the Daintree rainforest, a 90-minute drive north. Take your own car, book a 4WD tour, or go a little wild on a crocodile-spotting river cruise. Not wild enough? Soar through the forest canopy by zipline or sign up for a night walk through the jungle to get your adrenalin pumping.

Photo credit Getty/John Crux Photography


Kakadu, NT

A three-hour drive from Darwin, Kakadu National Park is a vast and ancient land as worthwhile visiting for its unspoilt natural beauty as it is for the window it gives you into ancient Aboriginal culture. There are 5000 Aboriginal rock art sites in the World-Heritage-listed national park, but to learn about the stories behind the art and to try some traditional foods, book a tour. Ever wanted to swim in a billabong? Now’s your chance. The natural pools of Gunlom offer safe swimming in crystal clear waters. You won’t want to swim among the saltwater crocodiles in Yellow Water Billabong, but a river cruise through these wetlands at sunrise or sunset will open your eyes to the incredible array of birdlife that calls this stunning part of the world home.

Photo credit Getty/Jami Tarris

The Kimberley, WA

The wilderness of Australia’s north-west will reward you with astonishing landscapes in colours and time-weathered rock formations beyond your imagination. Be sure to include a scenic flight over the giant striped beehives of the Bungle Bungles on your itinerary – you won’t see anything like it anywhere else in the world. Lake Argyle, King George Falls and Windjana Gorge are must-sees too. A 4WD vehicle is essential in these parts, but a tour that allows you to take in the highlights by river, road and sea makes life even easier. Accommodation in the region ranges from remote campgrounds to luxurious lodges you won’t want to leave. Just don’t forget to look up. The star-studded night skies here are an astronomer’s dream.

Photo credit Getty/Chien Huey Law


I grew up in the US, Germany and Australia, so it feels more foreign for me to stay in one place than to move around. Since then, I’ve called Boston, London, Seattle, Brisbane, Madison and Sydney home for study and work as a journalist, travel writer and photographer. I specialize in adventure travel, social issues and interiors/architecture. Home is now an 1890s cottage in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. I traveled to my seventh continent last year – an action-packed expedition to Antarctica – and have memories galore of my travels. Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies, galloping with gauchos in Chilean Patagonia, trekking through Japan, and camel riding in Jordan are among the most memorable. My least favourite travel hiccup was being stranded in Cameroon when I should have been winging my way to Paris for a little me-time. You win some, you lose some.

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