Mention the idea of exploring Australia to a group of friends, and they’ll most likely come back to you with images of road trips along endless, dirt-encrusted roads, interrupted at long intervals by small pockets of civilization and slices of paradise. And while this all sounds great, to you, it feels the road most traveled. You want something different. Maybe you’d just visited your first yacht sale in Australia, and having eyed off a vessel to call your own; you want to explore down under by boat. Or maybe you just want to take in the sights by sea. Well, to keep that stoke alive, here are seven of the best spots to visit.
1. Sydney Harbor, New South Wales
Few cities in the world present themselves as well as Sydney. Of course, it helps that two of Australia’s most well-loved urban creations, the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, call this harbor home. But there is more to Sydney Harbor than just iconic monuments. There are also countless small bays to anchor in and secluded beaches to enjoy. And from the water, you also have the box seat for watching the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, a must for any boating enthusiast.
2. Corroboree Billabong, Northern Territory
If you and your yacht find yourselves up North, why not check out Corroboree Billabong? This beautiful stretch of water winds through the Mary River Wetlands, 100km east of Darwin, within the traditional country of the Limilngan People in the north and west and Uwynmil People to the south. Fancy catching barramundi for lunch? This is the place for you. You’re also likely to come across crocodiles, water buffalo, various water birds, and the list goes on. Want a deeper connection with the area? Take a tour run by the traditional owners, whose love and knowledge of the land will take your experience to a whole other level.
3. The Whitsundays, Queensland
If Australia’s natural world were to hold annual beauty awards, you could argue that The Whitsundays, off the coast of northeast Queensland, would win every year. With blinding white sand and shades of the ocean that evoke precious jewels, it’s the kind of place where, if you were to end up shipwrecked there, you’d still manage a cheeky smile at your predicament. The wonderful thing about The Whitsundays is there is beauty and adventure in all directions, with rainforest on one side and the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, on the other. In other words, the perfect place to explore by boat.
4. The Gippsland Lakes, Victoria
The Gippsland Lakes, about 250km southeast of Melbourne, is a network of coastal lakes, marshes, and lagoons, making up one of the largest tidal networks in Australia. It’s the kind of place you could visit for a weekend or a month, depending on how much adventure you crave. Hiking, kayaking, swimming, horse riding, it is all here. Two things, though, that make this place unique: it is home to the endangered (but incredibly playful) Burrunan species of dolphin and to Victoria’s largest koala population, who live on Raymond Island, a place only accessible by boat. Hello.
5. Cape Jervis, South Australia
Like the Gippsland Lakes, Cape Jervis might often be overlooked compared to its cousins in the North. Not that it should. Located only two hours south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula, it offers everything you’d want from a boating adventure, albeit with more a rugged, salty beauty. With whale watching, sea colonies, and the historic Kangaroo Island on one side and national parks, local markets, and world-renowned wineries on the other, there is something here for everyone.
6. The Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia
Whoever came up with the phrase ‘desert island paradise’ must’ve visited the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, and probably still owes the place some royalties. Better known as the Abrolhos Islands, this small group of islands 60km off the coast of Geraldton is one of those places you visit and immediately feel as though you have the place to yourself. With regards to humans, that is. The Abrolhos is home to a staggering amount of unique marine and land life, so much so that the islands have earned themselves the nickname the Galapagos Islands of the Indian Ocean. But don’t let all this beauty deceive you; these atolls have claimed many ships over the centuries, the Dutch East Indies The Batavia being the most famous. If you fancy yourself a good diver, you can still explore today.
7. The Derwent River, Tasmania
If you fancy the idea of a boating adventure away from the mainland, then you must visit Tasmania’s Derwent River. Beginning in Lake St Clair and winding around 240km down to Tasmania’s capital, Hobart, this river boasts an enviable amount of sights and activities to enjoy. At the top, you have the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National, home to the famous Overland Track, which attracts bushwalkers from around the world. At the bottom, you have the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which hosts the equal parts spectacular and peculiar Dark Mofo festival each year during the winter solstice. In between, you have great fishing, great food, and the chance to watch the finish of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race.
In the end, this is a list of the most famous and celebrated places you can explore by boat in Australia, but not necessarily the best. We say this not to diminish the obvious and lasting qualities of these destinations but rather to inspire you to keep exploring. The sheer amount of coastline that belongs to us (not to mention the countless inland waterways) means that anyone with strong sea legs and a nose for adventure can find places that are virtually unspoilt. It’s in your hands.