Travel

Australia Is Finally Open to Tourists, and It's Just As Gorgeous As Ever

Welcome back to Oz.

Kieran Stone/Moment/Getty Images
Kieran Stone/Moment/Getty Images
Kieran Stone/Moment/Getty Images

Australia just shared some great news: After more than two years of closed borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic-during which time Melbourne became the world-record holder as the city with the longest amount of time spent in lockdown-the Land Down Under is finally open to international tourism. Let the Men at Work play!

As of February 21, 2022, vaccinated travelers can once again seek out whatever OTC meds will knock them out for 24 hours and embark on that legendary day-long, layover-heavy journey with possibly the best payoff ever: adventures in the land of unrivaled sun and surf, exceptionally unique wildlife, famously friendly denizens, and expanses of deep red, sacred desert unlike anything else on the planet-all packed into an enormous island/country/continent (who knows!) beyond definition.

Here’s what to know before your next trip to Australia, including the country’s entry requirements and the best places to visit, from Sydney’s iconic seaside to the wild and wonderful Outback.

Covid-19 entry requirements for Australia

Except in extenuating circumstances, all international travelers to Australia must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. (Sorry, Djokovic.) You’ll need to provide official proof of vaccination, as well as apply for a travel visa, complete a Digital Passenger Declaration, and provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

Before you book, also be sure to check state and territory arrival requirements; depending on your final destination, you may be required to complete border entry registration forms, undergo COVID-19 tests, or quarantine. For full information, click here.

Peter Harrison/Stone/Getty Images
Peter Harrison/Stone/Getty Images
Peter Harrison/Stone/Getty Images

Explore the Berlin of the Southern Hemisphere

Reserve the top spot on your itinerary for the state of Victoria’s laid-back capital, Melbourne, ranked amongst the world’s most liveable cities year after year after year. This is essentially Berlin by the Port Phillip Bay: Melbourne comes complete with the unique local fashion, focus on the arts, and notoriously excellent nightlife (see: Workshop, Cookie, Black Cat Fitzroy, Yah Yah’s, Revolver) boasted by its German counterpart-but this time, with sublime surf spots and weather that’ll get you frantically searching for a way to stay forever.

Hit Queen Victoria or South Melbourne Market. Indulge in the city’s rampant (to say the least) coffee culture on Lygon Street, wander the best of its quintessential laneways on Degraves Street, and grab some dim sim (yes-that’s dim sim, not dim sum). Also essential is a stroll (or tram ride!) down to palm-lined St. Kilda Beach to lounge by the blue-green ocean and go for a spin on the rides at the century-old, hard-to-miss Luna Park.

Of course, if this is your first visit, you’re probably excited to spot some of Australia’s iconic animals: your kangaroos, your emus, your koalas. If that sounds like you, make a beeline for the Werribee Open Range Zoo, where you can catch them at once. (Bonus round: For an extra-impressive show, head to Yarra Bend Park around dusk when thousands of fruit bats take flight all at once.)

Westend61/Getty Images
Westend61/Getty Images
Westend61/Getty Images

Road trip on the Great Ocean Road

The gorgeous, 151-mile-long Great Ocean Road can technically be completed in about ten hours. But then, it’s unlikely you came all the way to Australia to rush through one of the world’s most beautiful scenic drives. Kicking things off in Torquay, just 1.5 hours from Melbourne-a town that’s rightfully earned its reputation as a surf capital, home to world-renowned Bells Beach and the Australian National Surfing Museum-you’ll go winding along the coast of Victoria, hitting points like Split Point Lighthouse, Lorne, and Apollo Bay.

On the final stretch, you’ll find Port Campbell National Park and the famous Twelve Apostles, a collection of (seven, despite the name) limestone sea stacks that jut out from the Southern Ocean and glow orange at sunset. Rent a car as far in advance as possible so that you can drive slow and thus better soak up the views.

Walter Bibikow/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Walter Bibikow/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Walter Bibikow/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Hit the sun-kissed shores of Sydney

At long last, your time to get a selfie by that damn pool at Bondi Beach has arrived. Jokes aside, all of Sydney’s most essential itinerary items take place by the water. Stop to ogle the Opera House, then keep it pushing onto The Rocks and its cobbled, historic laneways. One of the oldest parts of Sydney, it’s there you’ll find some of the best bars (Hotel Palisade for phenomenal views and Maybe Sammy, voted the best bar in Australia) and pubs (Lord Nelson and Fortune of War, two of Australia’s oldest) around.

You’re also gonna want to spend plenty of time drinking at the Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf-or at any waterfront watering hole, for that matter-and dining out on Moreton Bay bugs, which look creepy to the uninitiated but actually taste good as hell. And when the time comes to actually get out onto or into the water, take a scenic ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Beach (and walk to North Head if you’re down to stretch those legs), or lounge on the long stretch of sand that is Cronulla Beach.

Also worth checking out, particularly for our arts-and-culture types out there: eclectic Newtown for great music venues, trendy bars, and solid nightlife, as well as the Australian Museum in the CBD (the country’s very first!) and the White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale.

LuffyKun/E+/Getty Images
LuffyKun/E+/Getty Images
LuffyKun/E+/Getty Images

Day trip to the Great Barrier Reef

An attraction that requires no introduction, diving the 1,400-mile Great Barrier Reef is one of those iconic bucket list trips that sits on the same level as seeing the Pyramids and visiting the Galapagos Islands. Head to the coast of Queensland-aka quite a far way from P. 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney-and anchor yourself in Port Douglas or Cairns. Though high-speed cruises from Port Douglas can get you to the Outer Reef in under an hour, starting in Cairns is incredibly popular, promises a sweet scenic road trip, and will net you a fun full-day adventure at the Reef.

From either place, you can embark on world-class scuba diving tours that’ll take you beneath the ocean and into one of the world’s most diverse, vibrant ecosystems, home to more than 2,900 individual reefs, 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, giant sea turtles (leave them be!), and more aquatic delights. If you have time, journey to the Whitsunday Islands, a collection of 74 remote isles; although most are uninhabited, you’ll find everything from remote campsites to mid-tier getaways to luxury resorts scattered throughout, all with turquoise vistas straight out of your dreams.

Of course, we’d be remiss to mention the reef without mentioning its conservation needs. Unless you’ve been living under a rock Patrick Star-style, you’re likely aware that the Great Barrier Reef has faced a serious threat of bleaching-a phenomenon caused by warming oceans-over the course of the last several decades. Luckily, there are ways to get up close and personal with this natural treasure and help preserve it for future generations.

Martin Klima/EyeEm/Getty Images
Martin Klima/EyeEm/Getty Images
Martin Klima/EyeEm/Getty Images

Get a taste of the Outback in Alice Springs

It’s easy to say that you’re “dying to see the Outback.” But venture into Australia’s immense, mostly uninhabited, remote interior unprepared, and you’ll find that it’s often not a joke. Every year, ill-equipped tourists royally and tragically fuck themselves by heading inland without a plan, convinced a drive through the Outback is a casual, run-of-the-mill road trip when the reality couldn’t be more different. The land is vaster than you expect, more dangerous than you know, and much hotter than you could ever imagine. (Pray tell: If the characters from Mad Max barely survive out here, why would you think you could?)

If you like trips from which you’re certain to return, leave things to the professionals and book a guided tour of the Outback from Alice Springs-a bastion of Aboriginal culture and the gateway to the country’s red center. (You can get there easily with a flight from Sydney, Melbourne, or any other major Australian city.)

Surrounded by vast swaths of vermillion desert, Alice Springs is also the nearest large town to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, home to the monolithic Uluru Rock, one of the planet’s most recognizable natural wonders. Believed to have formed over 550 million years ago, this site is sacred to Indigenous Australians. That said, the number one thing to do here? Be respectful of the land and its original inhabitants.

Andrew Peacock/E+/Getty Images
Andrew Peacock/E+/Getty Images
Andrew Peacock/E+/Getty Images

Ferry out to Tasmania for art and animals

If you’re dying to see more exciting critters-including, of course, real-life Taz from Looney Tunes-book yourself a trip to Tasmania, home to some of the most diverse, vibrant flora and fauna you’ll see in your life. Strap on your sturdiest hiking shoes and set the bar high from the get-go with a challenging trek up Kunanyi/Mount Wellington. There are dozens of trails that’ll take you to the summit, all of which will deliver sweeping views out across the deep blue water, winding coastlines, and rolling mountains of Australia’s island state.

That’s just the beginning of your sojourn into nature: Book a tour to northwestern Tasmania to explore the ancient takayna/Tarkine Rainforest, or travel just north of Hobart to the shores of Freycinet National Park, whose green peaks, white sands, and crystalline waters might convince you that you’ve stepped into some sort of Endless Summer/Lord of the Rings crossover flick.

And when you’re done marveling at nature’s majesty, venture to Hobart. There, you can check out some man-made creations at the Salamanca Market, whose dozens of vendors come out to sell everything from craft goods to street food each Saturday, and Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, arguably one of the best art museums in the world.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Tiana Attride is Thrillist’s Associate Travel Editor. She’s been practicing The Nutbush in preparation for this very moment. Follow her on Instagram at @tian.a.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.