At its core, an adventure is a thrilling and daring experience. It can be an activity that elicits excitement; an extraordinary endeavour; a challenge gnawing at the boundaries of comfort zones. It’s a story with a clear beginning, a tantalisingly unpredictable middle and a yet to be written end. Explorers, mountaineers and extreme-sports enthusiasts have all earned the label adventurer – but risk and danger are not prerequisites for setting challenges and having fun.
Side-stepping hardcore exploits, many activities fall under the umbrella of “soft adventure”. Hiking, cycling, kayaking and paddleboarding are all pursuits which can be done without any prior training. Yet, they still have the power to deliver the same mood-boosting rewards of scaling a peak or free-diving to new depths. Best of all, there’s no need for months of preparation or masses of expensive kit. Often, all that’s required is an open mind, enthusiasm and a willingness to get stuck in.
Australians are the masters of soft adventure. In a country big enough to call itself a continent, the vast and varied landscape demands to be explored in different ways. Navigate forest-wrapped gorges by raft, traverse pinnacle-studded deserts on foot, or admire the swirling patterns of inaccessible wetlands from above. Surrounded by three major oceans and several seas, the coast is also a jumping off point for some of the best sailing, diving and snorkelling on our planet – and you don’t need to dip far below the surface to be overwhelmed.
Even the cities can sate an appetite for adventure. In Sydney, it’s possible to climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge; from Melbourne it’s a short drive to the monumental Great Ocean Road; and just outside federal capital Canberra, ancient Ngunnawal rock paintings are concealed in the caves of Namadgi National Park.
But more than anything, it’s the laidback, freedom-loving, can-do attitude of Aussies that creates an unparalleled spirit of adventure. With no pressure to win races, achieve world firsts or even reach the finish line, the goal is simply to enjoy the ride.
1. Core strength
You don’t have to be a hippy to invoke the spiritual powers of an earth mother. Reconnect with nature by grounding yourself with a range of mindful activities offered on a new four-day yoga retreat on the Fleurieu Peninsula, a 40-minute drive from Adelaide. Wake up with a yoga session and spend days meditating, taking Ayurvedic cooking classes and exploring the area. Roam through bushland in the Deep Creek Conservation Park and sea kayak along the Rapid Bay coastline. For accommodation, choose between luxury glamping or a country estate.
2. Hoofing it
From crisp blue swimmable crater lakes to mysterious lava tubes and mineral-rich caves, Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands is filled with geological wonders. Access some of the lesser-known sites on an off-beat tour operated by Intrepid, using pack donkeys to access secret trails off limits to vehicles. In between trekking no more than five hours per day, there are opportunities to search for tree kangaroos, refresh beneath waterfalls and sample local produce from the fertile region. Sleep comfortably in hotels and rest assured the donkeys are taken care of by a trained handler.
3. Ready to rock
In the western corner of the Flinders Ranges, a five-hour drive from Adelaide, an ancient seabed reveals the lifeforms once populating our planet half a billion years ago. Some of the world’s oldest fossils have attracted the attention of Sir David Attenborough, who filmed part of his First Life series in Nilpena, now protected as a national park. Later this year, it will be possible find out why the Ediacara fossil site is so important by joining an immersive field tour of the site. The Blacksmith’s Shop, Woolshed and Shearer’s Quarters of a former pastoral station are currently being converted into a visitor centre.
4. Hiking through history
Safeguarding sailors since 1831, Barrenjoey Lighthouse is a Sydney icon. Presiding over the golden sands of Palm Beach, the sandstone heritage building has even starred in soap opera Home and Away. Feel the force of the earth’s elements by hiking to the headland, the start of a coastal walk to Avalon Beach. Continue through the pretty bushland of McKay Reserve, where honeyeaters suckle on the nectar of banksia plants. Between May and September, humpback whales form a convoy along the coast.
5. Edge of the world
Formed 55 million years ago, Australia’s coastline has been shaped and pummelled by some of the world’s most powerful oceans. Witness the point where two giants collide along the Cape to Cape trail in the Margaret River region, Australia’s longest coastal walk. Running for 135km from Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, the self-guided trail is best spread across six days. Between August and October, cliffs are covered with wildflowers, while from June to December, humpback whales breach and fluke. End at Cape Leeuwin headland – where the lighthouse keeper’s cottage has been restored as a café – and watch the Indian and Great Southern oceans converge.
6. Creatures of the deep
Promising to stretch and bend imaginations, extraordinary scenes below Australia’s oceans are as wondrous as a sci-fi fantasy. The highest concentration of curious characters occurs along the east coast’s Great Barrier Reef. To sample the highlights, start north of Cairns in the Ribbon Reefs, exploring on a liveaboard and diving with pods of dwarf minke whales passing through from June to July. Continue south to cooler waters around Lady Elliot Island and Hervey Bay for encounters with manta rays and migrating humpbacks. Only an Open Water PADI certificate is needed to dive.
7. Going with the flow
Dotted along a 125km course, staging posts labelled Nasty Notch, the Churn and Black Forest give a heart-racing indication of challenges in store on Western Tasmania’s Franklin River. Although dramatic and – at times – turbulent, the waterway is scenically spellbinding and surprisingly navigable by raft. Paddle through deep gorges and sheer walls of temperate rainforest shrouded in mist, exploring hidden caves and listening to the screeching call of white-bellied sea eagles while learning to tackle rapids with instruction from an expert guide. No previous rafting experience is necessary. You can walk some of the banks of Franklin River if you prefer a gentle stroll.
8. Let it rain
Don’t be put off by wet weather. Although controversial, the rainy season is arguably one of the best – and easily the most adventurous – times to experience the tropical Top End. Between November and April, expect swollen waterfalls, dramatic skies and lightning storms so electrifying they’ll blow your mind. Plugging into the highlights, a new Best in the Wet tour includes a trip to secluded swim spots in Litchfield National Park, a stay on an outback hideaway at Mt Bundy Station and wildlife cruises through the wilderness of Kakadu National Park.
9. Paddle and empower
Known as ‘sharing people’, the Gumbaynggirr have lived harmoniously with the rivers, creeks and forests of New South Wales for thousands of years. Learn about their values and connection to nature on a stand-up paddle boarding tour with Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours (wajaanayaam.com.au), who can arrange 2.5-hour trips along Coffs Creek, Moonee Creek and Red Rock Creek – all part of the Solitary Islands Marine Park. Guides, who are direct descendants of the world’s first paddle boarders, will also demonstrate local plants used for food and medicine.
10. Turning tides
Throughout his continent-hopping 70-year career, Sir David Attenborough has witnessed some stand-out sights. Kimberley’s Horizontal Falls is “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world” he singles out. Produced by the force of a fast-moving tidal current squeezing between two narrow gorges, waterfalls appear to cascade sideways, splashing observers as they cruise past on Zodiac boats. The vast tidal range is also responsible for the Montgomery Reef, which appears to rise from the ocean in a torrent of cascading water. Experience both events on an expedition cruise.
The Daily Telegraph