Australia from Above and Below
March 1, 2021 • Renee Nathan Helms
8 min read
Our favourite big ticket experiences to splurge on during your Aussie travels.
We’re budget travellers, for the most part. But sometimes there are things on your Aussie travels that you just can’t drive past that are well worth spending the extra dollars on. We’ve done a few of the more big ticket items over the years, and we’ve never regretted a single one. So we thought we’d put together some of our faves for you, to help you work out where best to splurge your hard earned cash.
Getting up into the air is one of the very best ways to experience how unique and vast this country really is. And there are plenty of amazing places to do it!
So far, our absolute fave is the Horizontal Falls, up in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This is such a unique phenomenon and the tours are exceptional – you can jump on a seaplane in Broome, fly out to the falls via the stunning Dampier Peninsula, land and have a spot to eat on their floating barge, then jump in a jet boat and actually speed through the falls themselves. It’s one of the more expensive things we’ve done on our travels, but absolutely well worth it.
The Horizontal Falls is the only seaplane we’ve been on, but we’ve still got in the air a few times in other ways. A mate of ours flies choppers, and happened to be working in Uluru when we passed through, so of course we had to go up for a fly with him. We’ve been to Uluru four times during our travels, but seeing it from the air was a totally different experience, and really shows how vast this outback land is. We thoroughly recommend.
Another favourite place to explore by air for us is Kakadu National Park, particularly if you're there in the wet season. During the wet a large part of the park becomes flooded, and access to most waterfalls including favourites like Jim Jim and Twin Falls become cut off. This means the only way to experience these falls in all their roaring, wet season glory, is to get up high and see them from the air in a plane or helicopter.
But seaplane, helicopter and light aircraft aren’t the only way to see Australia from the air. We also took the opportunity to float up in a hot air balloon while in the Atherton Tablelands. This was our first time in a hot air balloon, and it’s a totally different experience to flying with a motor. Getting up before dawn, watching the balloons inflate with a roar of flame, then silently floating through the air over gorgeous scenery (even spotting our camper trailer set up down below!) was a truly magical experience.
However if flying is not really your thing, but you still want to see Australia from above, what about giving the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb a go? We were gifted this experience as a wedding present, and I can tell you it’s just the sort of gift we love to receive! This is such a uniquely Australian thing to experience, while still keeping your feet firmly attached to something solid (albeit, very high up!). Our tip? Jump on the Sunset tour to experience a taste of both day and night – and look out for all the flying foxes taking flight right around sunset.
The best parts of Australia can be found off the beaten track, and off the tarmac. But what do you do if you don’t have a 4x4 to explore all those dirt roads with? Then you either hire one, or you splurge and jump on a tour. This could be as simple as a day trip over to Fraser Island, or a few days exploring the Gibb River Road, or the Birdsville Track. Or you could jump on a week long trip right up to Cape York.
If you do have your own 4x4, but don’t really feel confident exploring some more remote places on your own, then consider joining a tagalong tour. There’s plenty of great companies running them, and it allows you to explore from the comfort of your own vehicle while feeling safe in the knowledge that you have an experienced guide with you if things go wrong. Not to mention they’re a great way to meet some like minded people along the way.
The great thing about the majority of Australia’s natural attractions and wildlife experiences is that they are essentially free. But there are a few that are worth paying a bit for, to have that extra special experience. Say perhaps going on a mud crabbing and cultural tour out of Broome, WA. Or visiting an endangered bilby at the Bilby Centre in Charleville, QLD. Or watching some adorable fairy penguins come home for the evening at Phillip Island, VIC.
Some of the most beautiful natural parts of Australia aren’t even in Australia at all, but way out in Outer Space. Fortunately, however, with our vast areas of open sky and very little light pollution, Australia is one of the best places on Earth to look up, and see everything the night sky has to offer. So why not make the most of it and join a stargazing experience? Perhaps join ‘Space Gandalfs’ evening Astro Tours out of Broome, WA. Or visit the Cosmos Centre in Charleville, QLD and join one of their evening stargazing tours? It’s one thing to explore Australia, but you don’t truly understand your place in the world until you really get an idea of how tiny we are in this vast, wide universe.
Not everything Australia has to offer can be found on dry land, there is also plenty to see on, or under the water. So many things in fact, that they go well beyond the scope of this single article. But let us list a couple of our favourites to get you started.
First up, lets talk Ningaloo Reef. It’s one of those places where you can go and spend very little, camping in the national park and snorkelling off the shore, and you’ll still have an amazing experience because it’s a fantastic place. But if you can afford to splurge a little, there are some truly unforgettable experiences to be had a little further off the shore.
Ningaloo is well known for its whale sharks. In fact I’d suggest they’re on most ‘big lap bucket lists’ for people travelling around Aus. And for good reason; swimming with whale sharks is a truly awe inspiring experience. But they’re not the only large marine creature out there to interact with – there are manta rays, sea turtles, dugongs and sharks roaming the reef too. These days along Ningaloo Reef you also have the option of swimming with humpback whales. We were fortunate enough to swim with humpbacks on our last visit and had a really special experience. Just be sure to check what wildlife is likely to be there at the time you visit – both whale sharks and humpbacks are migratory so tours are seasonal.
And if you find yourself on the opposite side of the country then of course there is the Great Barrier Reefto explore, with a huge array of options for getting out onto the reef. Even in the south of the country there are fantastic marine wildlife experiences to be had. How about visiting South Australia and swimming with some sea lions, or for the more adventurous among us, you can even go cage diving with great white sharks.
Of course if you’d rather stay dry, but still get up close and personal to some marine life then there’s plenty of options for that too. How about spotting the resident pod of orca off Bremer Bay, WA? Or cruising through Yellow waters, Kakadu and spotting some massive saltwater crocodiles? We’re very spoiled for choice when it comes to water based activities in this country, so get out there and make the most of it!
Personally I’ll never forget that feeling of three humpback whales swimming directly under me. Or seeing Jim Jim Falls in full flood from the air. Or meeting a gorgeous bilby up close and personal. There’s so very much to see in this vast beautiful country, and while a lot of the best parts are free, sometimes to really make the most of them it’s worth spending that bit extra to have an experience that is truly unforgettable.