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Australia's hidden gems

This year marks the centenary of one of Australia’s more remote and unusual tourist destinations," the outback opal mining town of Coober Pedy. The South Australian town’s name is a corruption of the Aboriginal for ‘white man in a hole’ and still today, the gems are hacked out by hand by individuals, pairs and trios of prospectors, who between them supply most of the world’s quality opals.


For tourists, it’s a fascinating stop off the Stuart Highway," the popular road that runs between Adelaide and Darwin and also passes through Alice Springs, the gateway to Uluru (Ayres Rock). If you are in Australia before the end of August you can even make a special stop at Coober Pedy while riding historic Outback train The Ghan.  


With temperatures soaring to 35C in the shade in summer, many of Coober Pedy’s homes, its Desert Cave Hotel and various places of worship are underground. Taking a walking tour with a miner will enable you to drop into some of these places and teach you more about the harsh way of life and occasional big money finds. The town’s a quirky place to wander, with signs asking you not to take explosives into the cinema, a grass-free golf course with holes marked by oil stains and the odd abandoned rocket ship. The beautiful multi-hued but otherworldly landscape at the nearby Breakaways has often doubled for Mars in space films. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Priscilla Queen of the Desert were also shot here.

 

In a continent the size of Australia, it’s unsurprising that Coober Pedy is among several lesser-visited gems. Another that can be easily combined with bigger name sights is the Bungle Bungles. This is the collective name for thousands of huge orange rocks with horizontal stripes that have been wind whipped into beehives shapes and tiger stripped with bands of algae. This range in the North of Western Australia is every bit as stunning at the Red Centre attractions yet only came to general attention around 30 years ago. You can hike canyons between some of the domes and see its 111,000 acre spread from the air by helicopter, or on a scenic aeroplane flight from nearby Kununurra.


A winning combination for a longer stay is Bungles and beach, linking the Kimberley Outback with its gateway, the coastal town of Broome which has a pearl diving history, a vintage outdoor cinema and sunset camel rides along its lengthy beach. The ancient gorges of the Karijini National Park are another possible inclusion in the region.

 

For a beach destination which few Australians have even visited, look to remote Lord Howe Island, around two hours’ flight east of Sydney. This pocket-sized paradise is Unesco-listed for its ‘spectacular topography’ of forest-clad volcanic peaks fringed by pretty white sand beaches. Just 350 people call the island home and visitors are capped at 400 at a time, creating a quaint small town atmosphere. The children play barefoot, noone locks their doors and you can pick up a bottle of wine from a boatshed honesty bar to accompany your barbecue.


It’s a great spot for hikers, with some near vertical climbs rewarded by epic island views. You can also spy turtles snacking on the world’s most southerly barrier reef and between October and April take a boat trip close to colonies of breeding sea birds. Accommodation ranges from motels to boutique luxury boltholes from where you can cycle to your pick of those lovely white sand beaches.