SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Ten reasons are not enough to explain why we don't deserve the land Down Under. But we have to keep it simple. Here we go!
1. Wine + Design Experiences
A series of high-end conceptual art and design experiences is currently sweeping Australia's vineyards, the most hotly anticipated of which is the avant-garde d'Arenberg Cube in South Australia's McLaren Vale wine region. Set to open early 2018 at the d'Arenberg winery, this multi-storey feat of architecture will house public and private tasting rooms, virtual fermenters, bars and a restaurant in a structure resembling a half-solved Rubik's cube. The cube is crowned with 16 hydraulic umbrellas - 15 black and one red - which open in a playful, choreographed sequence of movement.
The d'Arenberg Cube joins several other “wine + design” experiences around the nation, including the brand new, $50 million sculpture park, cellar door and fine dining restaurant at Point Leo Estate vineyard, on Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula, which opened October 2017. Featuring over 50 large-scale contemporary works from sculptors such as Tony Cragg, Zadok Ben-David and Inge King set against ocean views, vines, cattle and native gardens, the vineyard also boasts a stunning, barrel-shaped main building housing an oversized cellar door and 110-seat destination restaurant.
Mornington Peninsula is also home to Australia's hottest new vineyard hotel, the whimsical 46-room Jackalope, which opened in April 2017. Named after a mythical creature, the hotel fuses art, design, food and storytelling in a visually stunning experience that has just been shortlisted at the World Architecture Festival awards (winners to be announced November 2017). Many more new and innovative wine + design experiences, such as MONA's “Moorilla sleepover” and Leeuwin Estate's Art Series Dinnercan be found at Ultimate Winery Experiences of Australia.
2. Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games
Queensland's Gold Coast might be best known for metropolitan hub Surfers Paradise, but the 57-kilometre stretch of coastline is undergoing rapid change, in part thanks to its upcoming role hosting the Commonwealth Games. From 4-15 April 2018, athletes from 70 nations and territories will descend on the city for the largest sporting event in Australia this decade.
The Games coincide with Festival 2018 – an arts and cultural festival that will unfold across 20 locations in a celebration of the Games – and the unveiling of a brand new luxury suite hotel at multi-million dollar entertainment precinct, The Star Gold Coast. Formerly Jupiters Casino, the site is also the new home of a refurbished 596-room hotel and six new dining venues.
The Gold Coast is also enjoying a flourishing craft cider and beer scene infused with the local surf culture, with around 20 breweries now open. Balter (launched March 2016) is co-owned by seven local surfers, including world champions Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, while Black Hops was launched by “three blokes” and a crowd-funding scheme to wild success. They are set to be joined by the launch of Lost Palms Brewing Co in early 2018.
3. Spotlight on Perth: A new global city
With increasingly sophisticated dining and arts scenes, and several major new openings and developments slated for 2018, Perth is in the grips of a rapid evolution from laidback remote city to innovative global hub. Of major significance is the world's first direct flight between Europe and Australia, which launches between Perth and London on 24 March 2018. The long-haul Qantas flight will take 17 hours on a 236-passenger Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, with inbound passengers able to stopover in Perth without incurring a fee.
The city is also experiencing three major cultural trends at present: firstly, its street art has flourished, with more than 80 city laneways, buildings and walls now covered in visually captivating works (viewable on this interactive map). Secondly, its small bar scene has exploded. The city has embraced over 100 new openings since 2007, many of which champion the exquisite local, natural and organic wines of Western Australia such as New Normal, which opened 2017. Finally the city is experiencing a major hotel 'room boom'. Design-led luxury brand QT Hotels will open QT Perth mid-2018, The Westin will open an ambitious city hotel on April 27, the Hilton will open three DoubleTrees by 2019 and a Ritz Carlton will open in 2019 at the new Elizabeth Quay precinct.
The Intercontinental Perth also launched October 2017 with 300 pieces of commissioned art throughout public spaces and in guest rooms. Additionally the city is experiencing major urban redevelopment, with large-scale changes including the $100 million foreshore redevelopment of Scarborough Beach, a popular white-sand surf beach set to open in April. The new-look foreshore incorporates a beach pool, cafes, restaurants, kiosks, public art and a skate park. Yagan Square, opening early 2018, will connect Perth's city centre with the buzzing nightlife district of Northbridge. It will feature Aboriginal artworks, hospitality and retail outlets and gardens of native Australian wildflowers.
4. Wildlife without walls: the 'Un-zoo'
A new “cage-free” wildlife experience is set to open in late 2018 in western Sydney. The private $36 million Sydney Zoowill feature 30 animal exhibits. Visitors can view the native and exotic species from elevated boardwalks. The zoo signifies another major trend happening across Australia: wildlife experiences “without walls”, offered in intimate, natural and wild settings.
At the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo, an hour's drive from Hobart, guests can experience animals (such as Tasmanian devils, golden possums, kangaroos and eastern quolls) in natural habitats in which barriers are removed or concealed.
New wildlife experiences in Australia can also be found at Wilsons Promontory, where Wildlife Coast Cruises has launched a new six-hour whale cruise departing from Port Welshpool. An additional cruise experience by award-winning operators Pennicott Wilderness Journeys will also commence tours to the area's colony of Australian Fur Seals, in the second half of 2018.
Finally a new industry collective, Australian Wildlife Journeyshas been created to offer a one-stop shop for visitors who want to see Australia's extraordinary native animals in their natural habitat.
5. The Great Barrier Reef's Great Eight
Africa might be home to the Big Five but Queensland's Great Barrier Reef now boasts The Great Eight – a list of weird and wonderful marine creatures to tick off while on an underwater safari. Making the list is the clownfish, giant clam, manta rays, Maori wrasse, potato cod, sharks, turtles and whales.
Seeing clams and clownfish can be as easy as taking a day trip out to Green Island off Cairns. Port Douglas-based vessel Silversonic offers trips that may include swimming with dwarf minke whales. Lady Elliot Island, in the Southern Great Barrier Reef near Bundaberg, is known as the home of the manta ray.
Reefworld, a pontoon permanently moored at Hardy Reef in the outer reef near the Whitsunday Islands, offers guided diving and snorkelling trips that offer easy viewing of charismatic Maori wrasse. Landlubbers can see turtles nesting, and baby turtles hatching, at Mon Repos on the mainland near Bundaberg.
The complete Great Eight can be experienced in the Southern Great Barrier Reef region, including the iconic manta ray experience at Lady Elliott Island. Many of the Great Eight, including sharks, are also in residence at the brand new, multi-million dollar Cairns Aquarium that opened in September, 2017. The attraction includes a deep-reef exhibit, 10 eco-systems and 71 habitats.
6. The world's new mountain biking destination
The international mountain-biking community has begun to pay serious attention to Australia, which has a series of new, world-class riding experiences. At the tiny village of Derby, in Tasmania's picturesque north-east, visitors will find the newly opened Blue Derby network – more than 100km (60 miles) of biking tracks that weave through eucalypt forests and bushland, past majestic tree ferns, rivers and gorges. There's a trail for everyone, from beginners through to pros (300 riders descended on Derby for a round of the prestigious Enduro World Series in early 2017).
Want a guided, luxury exploration of the network? The Blue Derby Pods Ride includes chef-prepared meals and sleeping in treehouse-like pods. In the state's Derwent Valley near Hobart, Maydena Bike Park – designed and built by Dirt Art, also involved in creating the course for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and the Thredbo Valley Trackthrough the back country of the Snowy Mountains - is set to open on 26 January, 2018.
Additionally, Canberra's mountain biking mecca, Stromlo Forest Park this year unveiled another addition to their Vapour Trail Network – the black diamond G Lock run. The international mountain-biking community is also keeping an eye on Tropical North Queensland where a major MTB event is slated for 2018 (more info to come). The region is already home to 7000km (4350 miles) of mountain-bike trails; plans to build a stunning 60km (37 miles) biking and hiking trail between Port Douglas and Palm Cove are also in the works. The Wangetti Trail will run parallel to the Captain Cook Highway, showcasing the region's scenic beauty.
7. Five-star flashpacking: the rise of the Aussie posh-tel
Travellers are demanding more from their Australian backpacker experience. That means basic hostel-style lodgings are being reimagined as slick, modern accommodation at accessible prices. In January 2018, Byron Bay YHA will unveil a multi-million-dollar extension that nearly doubles its capacity from 100 to 199 beds, and adds a new reception and communal area. All the new rooms will feature en-suite bathrooms. Guests can also enjoy a heated swimming pool, travel desk, BBQ, and surfboard and bike hire.
Posh-packers are also pointing themselves towards new budget stays with a difference such as Sydney's futuristic The Capsule Hotel (launched May 2017), offering guests a high-tech capsule bed along with communal facilities and properties by the city's affordable new boutique hotel chain, VERIU (launched July 2017).
Meanwhile competitively priced, playful hotel brands Tribeand Aloft hotels both opened in Perth this year, and the Great Barrier Reef's ultimate 'posh-tel', Rambutan Townsville has received an upgrade with a flash new on-site café.
In Hobart, boutique hostel Montacute has lustrous Tasmanian oak timber floors, antique furniture and eight fireplaces, as well as mod cons such as super-fast, fibre-optic wifi and a coffee machine. Across the nation, traditional “pub-stays” are being reimagined as funky, design-led retreats featuring anything from customised wall art to zebra-print rugs.
8. Canberra: The new capital of cool
Australia's capital, Canberra, was once one of the country's lesser known destinations - but not anymore. As new boutique precincts and innovative ventures have blossomed, Canberra is now the epitome of cool – so much so that Lonely Planet just named it the world's third-best city to visit in 2018.
One of the most cutting-edge precincts is NewActon, home to Hotel Hotel that's billed as “a collaboration between designers, artists, artisans and fantasists”. The hotel's sculptural timber lobby won World Interior of the Year in 2015.
In a Canberra exclusive, Cartier: The Exhibition will run from 30 March 2018 to 22 July 2018 at National Gallery of Australia – a breathtaking collection of the world's most exquisite jewels showcasing more than 300 items. Featuring loans from royal families, never before will so many incredible diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones, in exquisite settings such as royal tiaras, have come to Australia.
Canberra is also home to Gourmet Traveller's 2018 Australian Bar of the Year – Bar Rochford – and a range of hot new bars including tropical themed Kokomos, Cuban themed The Highball Express, the Alice in Wonderland inspired White Rabbit Cocktail Room and Black Market in NewActon.
For eats, head to edgy A. Baker with its ash-blackened walls. Dessert lovers should explore Braddon's Lonsdale Street, home to Frugii Dessert Laboratory where the avant-garde ice-cream and sorbet flavours (think gingerbread, lemongrass, roast potato, black garlic and butter chicken) change regularly. The Kingston Foreshore is also a buzzing dining precinct – try wholefoods specialist Local Press Caféfor a savoury pancake or breakfast tortilla meal that's worthy of an Instagram post.
9. Haute dining hubs
Sophisticated dining experiences aren't confined to Australia's big cities - they're also popping up in self-contained regional hubs around the nation. In 2017, two Australian restaurants made The World's 50 Best Restaurants list: Melbourne's Attica (No 32) and, at No 44, Brae in a town of less than 1000 residents called Birregurra, 130km (80 miles) from Melbourne. Diners can also overnight in Brae's avant-garde six-room hotel. Before chef Dan Hunter put Birregurra on the culinary map, he did the same for Dunkeld, a similar-sized town 280km (175 miles) from Melbourne.
In October 2017, Hunter's former hotel restaurant metamorphosed into Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel. Guests now stroll along a path, listening to recorded birdsong, to reach the new restaurant space. Chef Robin Wickens sources 100 percent of his produce from the kitchen garden.
In Tasmania's Derwent Valley, The Agrarian Kitchen cooking school opened a nearby restaurant spin-off in June, 2017. The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery & Store is a 60-seat restaurant and kitchen shop tucked within a former mental asylum in New Norfolk, a 35-minute drive from Hobart. Other notable recent openings include Paper Daisy, the onsite restaurant Halcyon House (overseen by one of Australia's most talented young chefs, Ben Devlin), The Enchanted Fig Treeoutdoor dining experience on Kangaroo Island, and Jackalope Hotel's luxury restaurant, Doot Doot Doot.
10. Beauty from the bush: Aboriginal wellness treatments
Australia's most luxurious desert resort, Longitude 131, reopened on 1 August, 2017 following a $6 million transformation that added a two-room spa to the remote lodge where Oprah Winfrey stayed on her 2010 Australian tour. Spa Kinara, with a design inspired by a traditional shelter known as a wiltja, offers treatments inspired by local Aboriginal Anangu culture. Native ingredients such as scented emu bush, Kakadu plum, quandong, desert lime, yellow clay and nutrient-rich desert salts are incorporated into the range of facial and body treatments.
Aboriginal wellness concepts and native ingredients are increasingly being integrated into Australian day spas: Southern Ocean Lodge on South Australia's Kangaroo Island, uses bush ingredients such as eucalyptus, pepperberry and banksia flowers. In Tropical North Queensland, Daintree Eco Lodge's spa incorporates indigenous traditions. Wawu Jirakul (which means 'your spirit cleansed') is a massage performed by a waterfall within the World Heritage-listed Daintree rainforest. At Sydney's Shangri-la hotel, CHI, The Spa's Australian Botanical Retreat treatment includes wattleseed and sandalwood exfoliation, a green clay body wrap and a massage with eucalyptus and honey myrtle-infused oil.
Courtesy of Tourism Australia