In 2020 the editors of Travel + Leisure selected Australia as the magazine’s Destination of the Year. Soon afterwards, the pandemic closed borders and Australia became inaccessible until reopening in February 2021. In October 2022, Tourism Australia, together with their State partners in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, invited the Travel + Leisure Travel Advisory Board to visit the country to see how Australia is rebounding.
Kemi Wells of Wells Luxury Travel, Virtuoso member and Travel + Leisure Advisory Board member, is back with this report.
I am honored to serve on Travel + Leisure’s Travel Advisory Board, and after three years of planning and rescheduling our 2022 international meeting due to the pandemic, we finally arrived in Australia. I was thrilled to be returning to one of my favorite countries of the world, to explore new regions and try unique experiences.
Clients often underestimate the size of Australia and think it’s possible to see it all in two weeks, it is not! Previously when I lived there in 2010, I had nearly a year to explore the whole country and still didn’t quite see it all.
Our starting point was Adelaide and our group ventured to Port Lincoln (35-minute hopper flight). This was where we began our two-day Seafood Safari with Australian Coastal Safaris. This experience was a highlight of our entire trip. It was so raw, authentic and showcased incredible natural beauty, wildlife encounters and filled our stomachs with delicious fresh seafood.
Lincoln National Park looks over Seaford Bay Sanctuary Zone, which is part of Thorny Passage Marine Park that protects endangered southern right whales who go there to breed in the winter. We enjoyed a 4WD experience over the sand dunes and looked out for Emus.
The owner and head guide, Dave, aka “Lunch,” charmed us with his passion for the area, taking us to his “restaurant," which turned out to be a cliffside spot where he whipped out the stove and burner and cooked lunch for us.
Dinner that evening was at Chef Bundy’s beautiful oceanfront home. It was a true seafood extravaganza, and the evening was interactive as we watched food prep and cooking demonstrations and we discussed sustainability in fishing and farming.
Next up, we had the privileged of going to Mikkira Station — which is home to 160 native bird species and a habitat to many koalas, kangaroos and emus in the wild. It was so peaceful, no one else was there and we spotted over 20-plus koalas. To top it off, we walked back to the jeeps to find a beautiful spread for a sundowner — true safari style.
Have you heard of Coffin Bay? It’s where the world-famous oysters come from. This area is in the heart of Port Lincoln, and we spent time with an Oyster farmer to learn about this incredibly time-consuming process. Other highlights would usually include hands-on beach fishing where you catch your fish and cook it up right there and then. E-biking around the peninsula is another popular activity.
Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef
Next up we flew from Adelaide up to Queensland — which is in the far northeast coast of Australia.
Queensland features two world heritage sites, and we were fortunate enough to fly over them both. We did a spectacular helicopter ride which started over the Daintree Rainforest (Wet Tropics) and then finished over the Great Barrier Reef. The Daintree is thought to be the oldest continuously surviving rainforest on Earth, dating back at least 100 million years, and it’s said to be older than the Amazon.
We did a rainforest walk with a traditional custodian, Juan of Walkabout Cultural Tours, and it opened our eyes to things we would never have seen ourselves. The wealth of knowledge passed down through the generations is remarkable.
We also particpated in a creative workshop and learned the traditional bamboo stick dot art with Brian Swindley, who goes by “Binna” of Jambal Art Gallery. He is a proud East Coast Kuku Yalanji Man who opened his own gallery in 2009.
We stayed at Silky Oaks — which is the most luxurious property in the region. It has recently reopened following a multimillion-dollar transformation after Baillie Lodges took it over. Each of their 40 Tree House-style accommodations has an outdoor bathtub and complimentary minibar. If you opt for a two-night minimum stay, your package includes daily breakfast and dinner. Everything is built around the rainforest, and you can swim in the river right on property.
A highlight of this region was River Rafting with Back Country Bliss Adventures where we floated down the Mossman River and snorkeled (seeing rare freshwater turtles, too).
Our last full day was spent out on the reef with Dreamtime Snorkel & Dive Adventures — the only operator who integrates the only cultural reef experience with their Indigenous guides who share stories and traditions from what is known as their Sea Country.
Our final stop of this whirlwind tour was beautiful Sydney. We stayed at the new Crown Towers. It is a very fashionable building with glass-to-ceiling windows and incredible harbor and city views.
For the ultimate people-watching and views, I highly recommend clients visit the Opera Bar. They have live music most afternoons/evenings.
I was impressed by the efforts to drive sustainable and regenerative tourism in Australia. There is also a big push from the Australian government to give back to the Aboriginal people and support indigenous tourism, which was a noticeable, positive change from my previous visits.
Often people may delay a trip to Australia citing it’s so far away or one to save for later in life. I say — go for it now. There is so much to do and see, and the country deserves at least a couple of trips in your lifetime, if possible. The direct airlift is great now from the west coast too with good connections across North America. The U.S. dollar is incredibly strong against the Australian dollar. Their summer is during our winter. I flew on Qantas on a direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney; its business class was fantastic.