As somebody who travels a lot in Australia, I often get asked “where’s the best place to for …”, so here are a few of my favourite things.
One of my favourite places to see all of these things is the farm in rural NSW that we go to to get away from the world. But that’s not accessible to everybody, so I’ve picked places where anyone can go.
If you have the right equipment that is. Some places, like Chili Beach, you do need a 4WD and complete self-contained camping set up, but others, like Darwin, are easy to get to. Some, like Bendeela are even close to the city.
Best place to see a sunrise
I love sunrises even more than I love sunsets. You get up in the dark, while it’s still cool, go somewhere beautiful and watch everything come to life. If you’re outback somewhere the odds are there’ll be kangaroos feeding, maybe emus, and lots of birds. And because it’s so early you’re likely to have it all to yourself.
And then the sun warms you up. If you want to make it an even more fabulous experience, pack your breakfast and a bottle of champagne.
My favourite sunrise was on Chili beach on Cape York. I sat on the beach and watched the sky streak purple, and all the colour reflect on the ocean. It was an ideal tropical sunrise, with coconut palms, soft waves, birds and almost nobody else around.
Once the sun was up it was only a few steps back to the campsite for freshly brewed coffee.
On my birthday I’ll often start the day with a champagne breakfast at sunrise on the beach. Any beach that faces east will do. It’s magic.
As sunsets don’t happen quite as early as sunrises, it’s much more likely you’ll be around to see it. Then again, it’s much more likely other people will be as well.
The best sunset I’ve seen was at White Cliffs in outback NSW. We were staying at the underground motel (it’s an opal mining town), and during dinner the owner came and rounded us all up (around 10 of us staying there) and shepherded us up the stairs and out the roof of the motel onto the top of the hill. I found the best place to set up my camera, poured myself another glass of champagne and watched an amazing sunset blaze orange and red over the wide open spaces of outback Australia.
Favourite sunsets wouldn’t be complete without Darwin, where there’s a beautiful sunset every night. You can sit on Darwin Wharf with a drink and something to nibble (you’ll see the sunset over the city), go to Mindil Beach (beautiful but crowded, especially on market nights), or go anywhere at all along the waterfront, and you’ll experience a beautiful sunset.
Best place to look at stars
The Kimberley. Definitely the Kimberley.
When we were in Broome I took my kids on a day trip to the Kimberley. We’d had an amazing day, even swimming with crocodiles. As we were driving back at night I asked the guide to stop and turn the car lights off. “Why?” he said. Der!
But he stopped, we all piled out of the car and he turned all the lights off. There was no other light for miles around, and the stars were amazing. Millions upon millions of stars lighting the sky, the Milky Way a thick streak of white, and pink, and blue. Even when I was sailing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean the stars weren’t this good. Even my teenagers were impressed.
Of course, anywhere in the outback, where there’s no other light around is an amazing place to look at stars. And if you go out to Boulia in outback Queensland you might also see the Min Min lights.
Best place to watch a lightning show
In Broome at the beginning of March my kids and I would go and sit at the Cable Beach bar every evening. First we’d watch the sunset over the ocean, and then we’d get an amazing lightning show every night. One night it went on for hours. The lightning flashes would light up the sky with a purple glow. We sat there with cocktails (me, not them), or dinner and watched the show.
But my all time favourite lightning watching experience was at Kakadu. Doc and I went in February, the end of the wet season, a time when there are very few other tourists. We arrived at Cooinda on dark, set up our campsite and went for a swim in the pool. There was not another soul there, even though it was still over 30 degrees. While we were lazily floating around Doc called me over. “Watch this” he said as he stood behind me in the pool and wrapped his arms around me. There, over the trees and out to the horizon lightning was casting its purple glow in the sky. Constant lightning flashes. So many I lost count. It was an amazing, extremely romantic, experience.
Best place to see kangaroos
Hahahaha! They’re everywhere. At least everywhere in NSW and Queensland.
Camping in Kinchega National Park on the Darling River near Lake Menindee, with our own private beach in front of us where we went for a swim and caught fresh fish for dinner. As it got cooler in the late afternoon a mob of kangaroos came down to the beach to drink from the river. Even when I stood up, walked over to get my camera, then came back and sat down and photographed them they didn’t move. And that was the night after we’d camped 3 nights at Silverton where the roos came in every night and every morning to feed on the grass right outside out tent.
But if you want something closer to Sydney you could do worse than Bendeela campground near Kangaroo Valley. Nestled by the Kangaroo River (are you seeing a pattern here), it’s a beautiful spot where you can fish, swim, kayak (no motor boats allowed), and generally relax. And watch the kangaroos who come down of a morning and evening. As a bonus there are also wombats that wander through the campsite.