Top Fives: Part two

11 March 2020

In seven months we have spent a lot of time on Australia’s beaches soaking up its coastal landscapes or immersing ourselves in its ancient and modern history in its museums, historic sites or on its tours. So here are our top 5s.

Top 5 Beaches

Forget Bondi, we have spent lots of time walking, driving and sitting on some of the most beautiful beaches Australia has to offer and it’s been pretty hard to come up with this list. What we have learnt is that, by the time we got to Sydney’s iconic Bondi, we had got used to not having to share our beaches with anyone else and this list proves that largely this is the way we like it best.

Ocean Beach, Bribie Island, Queensland

In a 4WD and with a permit you can drive 23km along the ocean beach on Bribie Island, just an hour up the road from Brisbane. It was my first experience of driving on the beach and it did seem a bit strange driving along the sand dodging people playing on the sand. We had our own fun playing in the sand with Bella, exploring the WWII gun emplacements and even spotting some kangaroos along the way.

Sheringa Beach, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

Making it into the top 5 beaches could have been any of the isolated, wild ocean beaches of South Australia or Victoria – endless stretches of sand backed by dunes or tea trees or shrub and usually named in that classic Australian way after their length, 90 Mile Beach, 7 Mile Beach, 3 Mile Beach or just plain Long Beach. But Sheringa Beach gets the honour simply because we happened upon it by accident and it wowed us with its bright white sand, desert style dunes. It was so good we stayed the night.

Glenelg Beach, Adelaide, South Australia

In Summer this city beach is probably as crowded with people as Bondi or Manly but when we visited in Spring it was almost empty and, just a tram ride from the city centre, we could walk the uninterrupted 5km stretch of sand all the way from Glenelg to Brighton. We got to look out to the calm, shallow turquiose waters of the gulf and enjoy two great examples of that classic South Australian institution, the jiddy! It’s no wonder Adelaidians don’t go much further than Glenelg on their holidays.

Station Beach, Cape Otway, Victoria

In sharp contrast, Station Beach on the tip of Cape Otway, half way down the Great Ocean Road, is about as far from civilisation as we could get. There is no road to it and to get there we had to walk from our campsite in the eucalyptus forest with its resident koalas, through shrub and dunes. This is the kind of beach where you really feel the power of the ocean and on this stormy day it was particularly windswept. At one of the most southern tips of Australia we felt very far away indeed.

Ladies Bay, Port Arthur, Tasmania

Equally remote, tucked away in the forest around Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula is a small, peaceful beach that looks out on beautiful turquoise water. The only company we had here were a couple of lucky shackies who have a holiday home above the beach and lots of oystercatchers. Add to that the ghosts of the convicts who walked around the beach from their prison at Port Arthur to their kitchen gardens and this place had so much atmosphere. It helped too that we could look out at the yachts bobbing at anchor in the bay.

Top 5 Museums or Tours

Australia does its museums, keeping places and historic sites incredibly well. They are amongst some of the most interactive and informative we have been to in our travels (and Stefan will tell you we’ve been to a lot!) but this category is as much about the guides who brought the places alive for us than the places themselves. Without them we just might have missed out on the secrets and stories attached to them.

Milmerran Museum, Milmerran, Queensland

This was our first experience of the classic local Australian museum, crammed full of objects from a past recent enough that you recognise them from your grandparents home. This brilliant example was a collection of old buildings – a school, a telephone exchange, a church, a village hall and many more. Accompanied throughout by 80 year old Betty from the Milmerran Historical Society, who opened the museum especially for us, we spent so much more time than we had intended literally rummaging amongst all the memorabilia of a small outback town and hearing a first hand account of what life was like.

Noble’s Tours, Coober Pedy, South Australia

Coober Pedy is simply extraordinary and most of it buried deep underground but with local guide, Aaron, we got to visit places we would never have found from the surface – opal mines, houses and the seemingly very out of place Serbian Orthodox Church. Best of all he took us out of town down the Oodnadatta Track to the unearthly Moon Plain, the Dog Fence and the spectacular Breakaways. With his funny, insightful commentary we learnt a lot about this strange Outback community and got to visit his very own opal mine. Just don’t ask him if he’s found any. “Still looking” will be his answer!

Wadlata Outback Centre, Port Augusta, South Australia

Having completed our own epic drive across the Outback in Port Augusta we thought this would be a good place to consolidate our experience but it did so much more than that through its Tunnel of Time. Audio visual displays, interactive exhibits and films took us right back, from the formation of the continent, its deserts, lakes and mountains, through thousands of years of Aboriginal life, stories and culture to the days of the early European settlers and the journeys of the first European explorers. Bringing it right up to date we got to listen in to a lesson from the School of the Air and Stefan got to (virtually) drive an enormous mining truck.

MONA, Hobart, Tasmania

It is hard to describe the MONA, which explains why everyone who recommended it to us just said “you have to go to the MONA” followed by a knowing look. The Museum’s beautiful position overlooking the Derwent River belies its often shocking interior. Over three subterranean floors we encountered deeply dark, simply baffling contemporary art linked by disorientating tunnels which will stay with us in our nightmares for a long time to come. All that said we can’t recommend it highly enough. You have to go to MONA if you are in Hobart.

Beechworth Gaol Tour, Beechworth, Victoria

By the time we got to Beechworth Gaol we had already immersed ourselves in some of Australia’s best historic sites like Sovereign Hill and Port Arthur, places where history literally lives, but it was in this relatively small building that we were introduced to the realities of Australia’s penal system and its key characters. In the echoing spaces inside the thick, thick walls our wonderful guide wove tales of hooded convicts, hard labour and solitary confinement and brought the legend of Ned Kelly alive. Her sensitivity in telling the stories of those incarcerated and even put to death in the prison was in powerful contrast to the stripped back and cold surroundings.

Next in the last of our Top 5s we’ll tell you the State or Territory Capitals that made it into the chart and the five experiences that will be hard to forget from these past seven months…

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