- Instead of saving for a big overseas trip, stay in Oz and check out what’s going on in your own region.
- Check out our ideas for regional weekend breaks in each state, travelling by plane, train or car.
- Get pointers for maximising your air miles to help with your next trip.
Travel doesn’t always have to mean long-haul flights overseas. Some people enjoy a short jaunt within easy reach of their hometown.
The problem is Australia is a big place, so the possibilities for short trips are endless. To save you the headache of trying to figure out where to go on your next break, we’ve researched some of the best regional getaways for you, leaving from each state and territory capital.
There are options to go by plane, road or rail, and where the train network is severely lacking or non-existent we offer an alternative way for you to get where you’re going to as easily as possible.
We also share handy booking tips and financial tricks you can replicate to ensure you get more out of your trip than a good time.
New South Wales
Dubbo is a thriving regional city in the Great Western Plains region of New South Wales, around 400 km west of Sydney. It’s the home of Taronga Western Plains Zoo, an open range zoo where savannah animals roam free. Red Earth Estate winery is close by and serves amazing tasting platters to accompany its wide selection of wines. Delve into the past at Old Dubbo Gaol or marvel at the night sky one evening at Dubbo Observatory.
Drive: Hunter Valley
Hunter Valley is one of the most famous wine regions of Australia and it’s only a two-hour drive from Sydney, which makes it the perfect weekend getaway. Once you arrive, ditch the car and book a wine tour so you can truly enjoy tasting some of the country’s fine wines. If you’d prefer to get active, head to Yengo National Park where you can explore ancient Aboriginal Rock Art along the Finchley cultural walk.
Train: Blue Mountains
When you’re gazing out over the Three Sisters peaks in the middle of the Blue Mountains, it’s hard to believe you’re only a couple of hours’ train ride from the biggest city in Australia. Named for the blue hue coming off the thousands of eucalyptus trees planted here, the Blue Mountains receive around four million visitors a year who come to enjoy the vast network of walking and cycling trails, and of course the spectacular scenery.
Fly: Yarra Valley
Another of Australia’s great wine regions is the Yarra Valley in Victoria. Usually a 6.5 hour drive from Canberra, by plane it’s only 1hr 10mins, and then another hour’s drive from the airport. Once you’re there you’ll be ensconced among some of the best vineyards in the country. Grab a glass of bubbly at Chandon’s cellar door and enjoy panoramic views out towards the Great Dividing Range. Or explore the area on two wheels – kilometres of rail trails offer keen cyclists an alternative way to check out the countryside. Healesville Sanctuary zoo is also close by.
Drive: Snowy Mountains
The Snowy Mountains are part of the Australian Alps running along the southern edge of New South Wales and the ACT. Just a two hour drive from Canberra, the range contains five of the highest peaks in Australia, including the country’s highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, which reaches 2,228m above sea level. It’s a popular holiday destination all year round, with trekkers in the summer months and skiers in the winter months.
Goulburn in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, about 90 km from Canberra, was proclaimed at the first inland city in Australia by Queen Victoria in 1863. It’s a quiet town, but full of history and well worth a visit. Colonial buildings are beautifully preserved. You can check them out on a self-guided walking tour, including the Goulburn Historic Waterworks Museum, with the only working steam-powered water system in the southern hemisphere.
Get a credit card to get you miles
If you don’t already have a credit card that earns you miles, consider it! It’s basically a way of getting free flights, and you’re missing out. There are often new deals on credit cards when you first join up. For example, as an introductory offer, if you sign up to a Qantas Premier Platinum Credit Card right now you could receive 100,000 Qantas points, just for meeting a fairly low spending target and signing up for a second year. You could fly to Los Angeles return with those points.
Set on the banks of the Murray River on the north-western border of Victoria, Mildura is a remote town only an hour’s flight from Melbourne. Much of life there revolves around the river. Luxury houseboats line the banks and paddle steamers amble along at a pace perfect for enjoying some downtime. For those feeling the need for speed, wakeboarding, waterskiing and jet skiing are also popular with visitors. There’s a children’s water park to keep the little ones happy and plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars to entertain you every day of the week.
Bright is the gateway to Mount Buffalo National Park and the Alpine National Park, and is a wonderful base from which to explore the surrounding area. Cycle along the 94 km Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail, relax in the huge kid-friendly beer garden at Bright Brewery or head to the hills and explore the Australian Alps. There is a plethora of accommodation in the area, from B&Bs to leafy campsites.
The discovery of gold in 1851 saw Ballarat go from a small sheep station to a bustling settlement in record time. Thousands of prospectors came from all over the world and enjoyed the riches of the goldfields for many decades. To see what life would have been like in the mining days, take a trip to Sovereign Hill. This open-air museum recreates the first decade after gold was discovered. Go panning for gold, visit the Gold Museum or have your photo taken in Victorian garb as a souvenir.
Fly: King Island
Located in the Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania, and less than an hour's flight from Hobart, King Island is known for its great surf, amazing food and world-class golf courses. Hiring a car is the best way to explore the island. Check out the 7,000-year-old Calcified Forest, the King Island Dairy Cheese Factory and Cape Wickham Lighthouse, the tallest elevated lighthouse in the southern hemisphere. King Island is also the site of many notable shipwrecks, making it a popular diving destination.
A 2.5-hour drive north from Hobart, the historic city of Launceston is famed for its noteworthy architecture, late night ghost tours and Saturday morning farmers' market, where you can taste some of Tasmania's best food and sample wines from the Tamar Valley. Combine the drive to Launceston with a trip to the stunning Wineglass Bay on Tasmania's beautiful east coast, or head west to Cradle Mountain National Park, where you can hike through ancient rainforests and see local wildlife.
Boat: Bruny Island (no trains in Tassie)
Just a short jaunt by ferry from Tasmania's capital, Bruny Island is home to towering dolerite cliffs, lush rainforest, premier surf spots, fantastic local produce and the South Bruny National Park. It's also one of the region’s top hiking and wildlife watching destinations, where you can spot rare white wallabies, echidnas, seals and dolphins. The best way to explore the island is by hopping on a day trip from Hobart, but self-driving is possible too via ferry from Kettering.
Optimise your air miles
To make the most from your credit card, use it to pay all your utilities and bills every month. Pay for car hire when you’re away, and petrol too. Some major shopping chains have their own deals where you can get extra points just by shopping with them. It’s amazing how quickly you can build up points using your card this way. As long as you pay off the balance every month and don’t fall into arrears, you will quickly gather enough points to help with holiday costs.
Fly: Flinders Ranges
Taking a short flight up to the Flinders Ranges from Adelaide allows you to fully appreciate the incredible ancient landscape of South Australia from above. You may even catch a glimpse of the impressive Wilpena Pound from the air. This 100 km wide bowl resembles a giant crater but is thought to have once been a mountain range as high as the Himalayas, eroded over time. Take a full day trek to St Mary Peak, the highest point of the range, head to the foothills and check out the ancient Aboriginal rock art at Arkaroo Rock or book a 4WD tour to explore the red rust roads of the outback.
Only a short hour’s drive from Adelaide is the undulating wine region of the Barossa Valley – the perfect place for a wine tasting weekend. Like other wine regions in Australia, you can visit multiple cellar doors on a day’s organised wine tour, which means you’re guaranteed a designated driver. Possibly the best way to explore the Barossa Valley is by bike. Cycle along the 33 km Riesling Trail, which runs between Auburn and Clare, and enjoy pit stops with tasting platters and wine along the way.
Train: Port Augusta
There isn’t much of a regional train service in Australia, but there is one train journey that is simply a must if you can afford it: The Ghan. Named as one of the greatest train rides in the world, The Ghan runs from Adelaide all the way up to Darwin. One of its stops is Port Augusta just three hours from Adelaide. Ride the Pichi Richi Railway, a heritage steam railway that runs through the red rocky Pichi Richi Pass, visit the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens and Wadlata Outback Centre, which operates as the town’s tourism information centre and museum.
The small town of Broome in the Kimberley region of WA is only a 2.5-hour flight from Perth. Famous for its sunset camel rides, Cable Beach is one of the township’s main attractions, as is Matso’s Brewery. Grab a beer and a seat here to soak up the sun after wandering the town’s street markets. Visit between March and October to catch the natural phenomenon, ‘Staircase to the Moon’, when the full moon shines across the mudflats of Roebuck Bay, making them light up like a stairway to the moon. Or hire a 4WD and explore the fishing spots and Aboriginal communities along the Cape Leveque Road and Dampier Peninsula.
You don't have to go far out of Perth to start to see the otherworldly landscapes of Western Australia. Hit the highway and head north along the Indian Ocean towards Cervantes, passing by the Lancelin Sand Dunes. Stop for a spot of sand boarding and continue up through Nambung National Park, driving past Lake Thetis to see the thrombolites and the Pinnacles Desert to explore the unique limestone pillars, before catching a stunning sunset from Kangaroo Point or Hangover Bay.
Train: Margaret River
Famous for its wineries, farmers markets and stunning beaches, the beautiful Margaret River region is just a few hours south of Perth. You can take the train as far south as Bunbury before you have to change to a bus. Whilst having a car helps to explore the local breweries and cellar doors, the town itself is easy to explore on foot or by bicycle, with an array of great coffee shops including the Yahava KoffeeWorks. Join a tour to see the Ngilgi Cave and Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse or go snorkelling at Yallingup beach.
Fly: Alice Springs
Whilst train aficionados and adventurers might choose to take The Ghan from Darwin to Alice Springs, these days most people choose to go by plane. You can fly directly to Uluru, too. In Alice there are historical museums and nature parks to investigate. And if you’re in town on the last Sunday of August you’ll be lucky to witness the only dry riverbed boat race in the world – the Henley-on-Todd Regatta. Nearby, get your hike on and trek the some or all of the Larapinta Trail, which runs for 223 km along the West MacDonnell Ranges.
Around a three-hour drive south from Darwin, the small village of Katherine is an outdoor adventurer's dream, with some of Australia's best bushwalking trails, canoeing, camping, and fishing. The Nitmiluk National Park and Katherine Gorge are the biggest attractions in the area, or head south to explore the Cutta Cutta Caves and swim in the Mataranka Hot Springs in Elsey National Park. In Katherine itself, check out the Katherine Museum and the Katherine Art Gallery, famous for its Aboriginal collections.
Fly: East Arnhem Land (no trains)
Train travel in the Northern Territory is limited to The Ghan, the 24-hour tourist train that connects Darwin to Alice Springs. Instead, hop on a 1.5-hr flight over to Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land, one of Australia’s most remote and untouched destinations and home to the oldest living culture in the world. Visiting Arnhem Land is as much about discovering the fascinating aboriginal history, art, and culture of the region as it is about exploring the area’s natural beauty. Hire a local Aboriginal guide who can show you the world famous rock art and share stories of life in the Top End. You need a permit to visit.
Fly: Hervey Bay
Famous for whale watching and as the jump-off point to Fraser Island and the southern Great Barrier Reef, Hervey Bay is just a short flight or a 4-5 hour drive north from Brisbane. The climate here is warm and sunny all year round, making it the ideal winter getaway. Cycle along the beach, explore Urangan Pier and the marina, visit the WetSide Water Park or head out on a combined Fraser Island and whale-watching boat trip. If time allows, head down to the Noosa Everglades and the Great Sandy National Park.
A 90-minute drive inland from Brisbane lies Toowoomba, Australia’s second-largest inland city after Canberra. Founded in 1849, the town is as famous for its culture as it is for its location on the Great Dividing Range. Catch a show at the 100-year old Empire Theatre, visit the Cobb & Co Museum, stop for a brew at one of the myriad tea rooms around the city’s vibrant centre, and head out to the nearby Preston Peak winery for a delicious cheese platter with spectacular views. Don't forget to also check out the Ju Raku En Japanese garden at the University of Southern Queensland, it's Australia's largest and most traditionally designed Japanese stroll garden.
One of the best ways to explore Australia’s stunning east coast is by rail. Hop on the Tilt Train in Brisbane and watch the scenery whizz by as you head north to Rockhampton, a historic gold mining town on the Tropic of Capricorn. There is plenty to do here, from visiting the Dreamtime Cultural Centre and Rockhampton Heritage Village, to doing a guided spelunking tour at the Capricorn Caves and seeing the Great Barrier Reef on a day trip to Great Keppel Island.
Don’t forget to upgrade
We’re not talking about upgrading your travel partner, we mean your flights. There’s no point in saving up all those air miles to never use them. When flight prices are at their lowest, it’s not the best time to use your points to purchase the flights. Instead, buy Premium Economy seats and then use your miles to pay for an upgrade to Business. You could also use this method to upgrade to Premium Economy from Economy. It will all depend on how many points you’ve saved and where you’d like to go. And, of course, how much you can shell out for a ticket in the first place.
So what are you waiting for? Get on with booking your regional weekend away. Grab a credit card that offers good travel incentives and get going.