NT ONLINE BOOKINGS TO BEAT THE CROWDS
Across the top of the country — where we all want to be — holiday parks and national parks are already full to capacity, and travellers are kicking themselves for not pre-booking prime campsites in Broome, Darwin, Exmouth, the Kimberley, and right across Far North Queensland. It’s going to take some patience to contend with the crowds, and if you’ve never been much of a planner this is the season to plot out an itinerary and get onboard with online national park bookings.
From October, the Northern Territory is finally introducing online campsite bookings, bringing the Top End and the Red Centre in line with every other national park in the country. There’s a huge convenience to this, despite imposing the need to plan ahead and stick to your itinerary. By making an advance booking online, you’ll no longer have to arrive at those much-coveted campsites well before lunchtime — think Litchfield’s Florence Falls on a Friday afternoon.
The flipside is that until everyone in the Northern Territory gets used to it, you may need to flex some fine negotiation skills if you arrive to find campers ensconced in your spot, the campsite full and needing to evict them. To book your campsites online in the Top End, head to nt.gov.au/leisure.
WELCOME TO COUNTRY
More Aussies than ever are searching for travel experiences that connect us more deeply to Indigenous Australia. According to the National Visitor Survey released late last year, almost a million Aussie residents took part in an Indigenous tourism experience in 2019, and that figure is only on the rise.
We’re not just talking rock art tours and bush tucker walks, but Great Barrier Reef diving adventures and Indigenous-run tours of Margaret River’s Ngilgi Cave — experiences that give you real opportunities to re-see Australia from an ancient Indigenous perspective and have lots of fun while doing so.
It used to be that finding the right experience was an exhausting online task, and I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent researching exactly this. But 2020 saw the launch of a national not-for-profit marketplace and booking platform called welcometocountry.com. What it does is allow you to compare, at a glance, a huge range of adventures and experiences from wherever you are in the country with prices clearly flagged at the outset rather than annoyingly revealed at the booking stage.
You can search by activity or region, and the choice is genuinely surprising. You’ll find a lot more than bush tucker and didgeridoo-playing tours; think Indigenous-run resort stays and theatre shows, night-sky astronomy tours, dining experiences, survival walks and, one for my wish list — sea kayaking and SUPing day trips in Western Australia’s heritage-listed Shark Bay region. To find your match, visit welcometocountry.com.
NSW COMMUNITY WILDLIFE SURVEY
A year on from last year’s devastating bushfires, a statewide game of ‘I Spy’ is fuelling much-needed research into the recovery of Aussie wildlife. Turning travellers into science researchers, the Community Wildlife Survey encourages all NSW nature lovers — residents and visitors alike — to look out their windows and spot and share sightings of koalas, kangaroos, spotted-tailed quolls, echidnas, and more.
There are 10 NSW National Park passes up for grabs and 10 animals you can spot, so keep an eye out for brushtail possums, platypus, wombats, dingoes, foxes, and deer too. To join in, head to environment.nsw.gov.au and click on ‘Community Wildlife Survey.’ Start spotting and lodge your findings online to win. You can also download the ‘I Spy Koala’ app. The data collected will help NSW government scientists get a clear picture on how wildlife — particularly koalas — are recovering from the 2019-20 bushfires, and will help identify population numbers and locations.
WILD LIFE WONDERS
Late last year Tourism Australia forewarned a spike in Aussie road travel when its survey results revealed that more than half of us planned to hit the road in 2021. Surprisingly though, what Aussies wanted most were wildlife encounters, indulgent food and wine experiences, and to explore the ‘second city’ trend, visiting smaller towns and in-between places, far from the maddening crowds. Research also tells us that we want to use our travels to do good, and if that’s true, then the Otways’ new interactive Wildlife Wonders centre has opened just in time.
With all profits directly funding the research and conservation work of Victoria’s Conservation Ecology Centre, Wildlife Wonders has been created to show off the Otways’ unique coastal eucalypt landscape. In addition to a scenically positioned cafe overlooking the bush, 75 minute-long guided walks reveal to explorers all the plants and animals it harbours. It’s ‘get-on-your-feet’, outdoorsy fun, and with input from The Hobbit’s art director Brian Massey, this Otways property is predictably magical.
The centre’s 1.4km-long walking path is all-abilities, and this destination is bound to appeal to Victoria’s stay-at-home travellers this winter. You’ll find it located 5km out of Apollo Bay, the stunning Great Ocean Road town that took out the number three spot in Wotif.com’s Aussie town of the year for 2021. Entry costs $59 for adults, $53 for seniors, $24 for kids, and $149 for a family. Head to wildlifewonders.org.au.
NSW MIDWEEK CAMPSITE SALE
NSW National Parks has come up with a hugely innovative way to reduce weekend camping crowds and reward flexible-stay visitors who plan to visit mid-week. Until September 16th you’ll save 50 per cent on all campsite bookings from Monday to Thursday nights at a huge range of national parks right across the state.
From Bundjalung to Barrington Tops, Morton National Park, Abercrombie Karst Conservation Reserve, Whian Whian’s Rummery Park and many more, you can rest easy, stay longer and steer clear of the crowds just by organising a quiet, mid-week stay. All you have to do is head online to choose your campsite and enter the code MIDWEEK at the checkout to score your 50 per cent discount. Find out more at nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/special-offers.
This initiative will really appeal to travellers who haven’t yet planned adventures this year, giving you a chance to explore New South Wales' great wilderness parks and keep the budget in check too.
VICTORIA'S NEW WINTER WALK
If a long walk in the wilderness is on your 2021 bucket list, Victoria’s new Grampians Peak Trail will keep you on your toes for a record 13 days. Cutting a 160km-long path through the entire Grampians National Park, the trail is expected to open in its entirety in spring this year, but sections of the walk are already up and running in the north and south of the park.
It’s rugged, rocky, and steep in sections, but the full trail showcases the best of the Grampians’ dramatic rocky scenes and leads to Indigenous heritage sites at Gariwerd, the Grand Canyon, the lower waterfalls at Gar (Mount Difficult), Mount Stapylton, Signal Peak, and more. Of course, you don’t have to commit to carrying a heavy backpack for two weeks, with plenty of short sections to tackle in less than a day. To find out more, visit parks.vic.gov.au and search for the Grampians Peak Trail.
DARWIN'S E-BIKE REVOLUTION
Getting around Darwin has never been easier or more fun, and it’s not just backpackers and commuters embracing the Top End’s e-transport revolution. It started with e-scooters conveniently located all over Darwin’s CBD and at travellers’ hotspots like Mindil Beach, Cullen Bay Marina and the Waterfront — not locked up in racks but left roadside wherever riders finished their trip for the next person to take over.
New for 2021 is the fleet of e-bikes in town and, with a 3-day pass costing just $25, it costs less than a parking spot and you’ve scored free transport too. It’s also a really novel way to explore the inner city, scooting or biking between Stokes Wharf for the Royal Flying Doctor Museum and harbourside fish and chips, to the Waterfront for a croc-free saltwater swim, and onto the Casino or the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
On Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights head to Mindil Beach markets or the duo of boat clubs that overlook Fannie Bay, and don’t miss a trip up the hill to Fannie Bay Gaol to stand in the room where the Northern Territory’s last hanging took place. Entry is by donation. Bikes and scooter rides start from $1 (plus 45 cents/minute), and all you need is a smartphone to download the app and get moving. To find out more, head to rideneuron.com/cities-darwin.
THE NEW BLOG (MADE EASY)
If you love the idea of writing a travel blog — or conversely couldn’t imagine doing anything worse with your time — this micro-journaling app makes keeping track of your travels absolutely effortless. Even as a writer I’m pretty terrible at keeping a journal because I just don’t seem to allocate time at the end of each day to get my thoughts together.
The solution to all this procrastinating is Day One, an award-winning app that helps you create a daily or weekly log that’s as simple as recording a few words. You can step it up and add photos or a video, type a few notes if you want to — all of it aimed at remembering for you the destinations and days you’ll never want to forget.
You can also geolocate your entries and reminiscence at trips’ end with the flashback ‘On This Day’ feature. It’s free to download with optional in-app premium purchases, and is compatible with Mac laptops, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android devices.
If you’re still at home searching for inspiration and waiting for the chance to take off this year, 2020’s Tourism Australia’s ‘Australia in 8D’ videos are bound to get your travel juices flowing. Choose your colour — blue for water babies, green for nature-lovers, and magenta for lovers of lofty sunsets — plug in your headphones and take yourself on one of six 8D audio escapes. From the Kimberley to Uluru to the Great Ocean Road and the Barrier Reef, it’ll make you feel lucky to be Australian, and itching to get moving again. Head over to australia.com.