Top Tourist Attractions in Australia
The Lesser-Known Highlights of Oz
Ever heard of Sydney Opera House? Bondi Beach? The Great Barrier Reef?
Yup, thought so. You and every other person on this planet. The iconic sights of Australia are inescapable, even for those who have never been. Deservedly so, of course: they really are magnificent, and no gap year in Australia would be complete without seeing them.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking the Land Down Under has nothing else to offer. If you know where to look, you’ll find other, quieter places which prompt your jaw to unhinge of its own accord. And the only feet you’ll be drooling on will be your own, because everyone else will be posing for selfies in front of Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Porcupine Gorge, Queensland
Affectionately known as Australia’s little Grand Canyon to the few people who are aware of it, Porcupine Gorge is a bemusing chasm in an otherwise featureless portion of the Queensland Outback. It’s reached by a bone-rattling track that twists and turns for 40 miles beyond the nearest settlement (Hughenden), and is navigable in a standard campervan, as proven by the arthritic author of this piece.
The reward is utter tranquillity against a backdrop of humbling scenery. The sheer cliffs plunge down 120 metres to the gorge floor, where a sliver of a river has been diligently carving out its course for the last 500 million years.
There is a small campsite with absolutely no facilities, and you pay for your pitch by being an honest camper and putting the charge – about AUD – into a designated metal box. There may be another campervan there – two at most – but don’t be surprised to find the place completely empty.
Devil's Marbles, Northern Territory
The Devil’s Marbles is a boulder field in the Northern Territory which forms one of the most remote and spectacular sights in Australia. The enormous stones are strewn across the ruddy landscape and balanced upon one another in the most mind-boggling manner, seemingly ignorant of basic laws of physics, one of which being gravity. They appear to be additions to the landscape but are actually just remnants of an older one.
To reach them you have to drive for approximately three years on the Stuart Highway, the 1750 mile road which links the top and bottom of Australia (okay, maybe three days, but it feels like years), from either Darwin, in the north, or Alice Springs, in the centre.
There is a campsite next to the Marbles with very basic facilities, and the nearest town is Tennant Creek, about 60 miles to the north, where you can stock up on supplies.
Undara Lava Tubes, Queensland
To the untrained eye, Undara is a pathetic excuse for a volcano. A mere pimple on the Queensland landscape. Yet this is just a ploy, for beneath the surface, you will find a story of hellfire and apocalyptic force.
When Undara Volcano disgorged itself 190, 000 years ago, it produced enough lava to fill three Sydney Harbours. As the lava flowed across the land, it followed natural crevasses, creating lava rivers. Over time, the surfaces of these rivers hardened, and the molten rock below drained away, and this created enormous tunnels, which for a modest fee you can explore.
At first glance, the lava tubes of Undara appear to be rather impressive caves – which technically they are. But take a moment to study the charred walls and ceilings of jagged orange rock, and you’ll begin to comprehend the almost imponderable forces which created them.