We’re always lured by the thought of lands unknown. But when you think about it, how much do you know about your own country? Did you know that in winter, the Australian Alps get blitzed with more snow than Switzerland? Or that Tasmania has the cleanest air in the world? Or that Australia has a coastline covering three separate oceans, with more than 10,000 beaches?
Yep, there’s a lot to learn here – and a LOT of ground to cover. So why not start with the capital cities? Australia’s metropolitan hubs are diverse, full of personality and bursting with things to do. And if you get your timing right, pretty cheap too. The AUD isn’t particularly cutting it overseas at the minute, so if there were ever a time to explore your own backyard, it would be now. Plus take out the tedium of long-distance travel, and there’s more time for fun! Convinced? Then read on to find the best times to grab a bargain. We’ve even thrown in 12 boutique beauties you can stay at for a steal. Check-and-mate.
Hobart, TAS – July
We know what you’re thinking – Tasmania + winter = freezing. But think again. What are some of Hobart’s top attractions? Eating farm-to-plate produce in friendly restaurants, drinking world-class wine, whiskey and beer in cosy bars, and checking out wild art within the walls of MONA. Sound like pretty good winter activities, don’t they?
Where to stay?
Nestled between two sandstone warehouses on the famous Castray Esplanade, this boutique beauty places you right in the midst of the highlights. Salamanca Hotel faces the wharf, and you can step out the backdoor and into the bustling marketplace. The surrounding strip of Georgian stunners includes some great pubs and restaurants to try in between excursions. And when you’re done soaking it all up, kickback in an Eames chair and sip wine from the locally curated mini-bar.
From $195 a night
Bellerive House proves that five-star hospitality doesn’t have to equal expensive. Just five-minutes drive from Hobart, this heritage-listed home was once a ‘Gentlemen’s Residence’, now an elegant B&B. Three ultra luxe suites boast eclectic designs, help-yourself mini fridges, fluffy robes and Molton Brown wash products. But the real highlight is breakfast – think grilled figs, poached quinces and creamy yoghurt, and eggs served how you like with lashings of wood-fired bacon. Add homemade bread and freshly ground coffee, and you’ll either be well fuelled for exploring or full enough to return to bed.
From $195 a night
Canberra, ACT – August
Another great winter destination for its many temples to culture, Canberra is sadly overlooked on many an itinerary. Most know not much more about it than it’s Australia’s capital, and it has a big white building brimming with pollies. But what you should know is that this is a city with a burgeoning scene of trendy eateries and bars, eclectic shopping and events, and of course incredible exhibitions at the not-to-be-missed National Gallery. So get ahead of the curve and experience all this good stuff for yourself, taking advantage of the cheap season to tick it off your list.
Where to stay?
The Brassey is a Canberra institution. Launched in 1927 – the same year Federal Parliament relocated to its new capital – just about every member of the house has stepped through these front doors. Situated in Barton on two and a half acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, here, you're just a short walk from all the best attractions. This hotel exudes vintage charm, which you'll note on arrival to its proud, pillar-lined entrance. The rooms are spacious, there’s a restaurant with views onto the lush grounds, and you can book a package that includes visits to the National Gallery and Museum. What more could you ask for?
From $180 a night
Head half-an-hour from the capital and you’ll find The Old Stone House; a historic building that’s been transformed into a friendly, family-run B&B. You'll settle in with a home-baked high tea before being shown to one of four lavish suites. A three-course breakfast featuring fresh juice, creamy Bircher, local jams and farm-gate eggs is served to you each morning in a sitting room with stunning views. And in addition to wandering the beautiful grounds, you can Zen out in a Japanese garden complete with pond, waterfall, teahouse and pagoda.
From $200 a night
Adelaide, SA – August
The quiet achiever of Australian cities, Adelaide serves-up awesome events, award-winning wines, and food experiences that include everything from the famous ‘pie-floater’ to delicate dishes sailed across glass-walled dining rooms. From beaching and brunching to chef’s tasting menus and oak barrels piled high, this is a great place to rejuvenate and slow down the pace.
Where to stay?
As the name suggests, Thorn Park is, in fact, in the city. Being just behind Hutt Street means you’ve got excellent dining right on your doorstep – and that’s just the start. Meander through the Botanic Gardens, stop in at galleries and shop in Rundle Street Mall. And at the end of big days exploring, you can return to enjoy the modern comforts and simple elegance of your townhouse base. If all that walking has you feeling peckish, open the kitchen pantry and you’ll find gourmet goodies, delectable breakfast provisions and espresso pods to replenish your energy.
From $175 a night
Just 15-minutes from the Adelaide CBD on the shores of Henley Beach, Adelaide Luxury Beach House really is just that. With uninterrupted ocean views from all three levels and South Australian wine to get you settled in, the hardest decision you'll have to make is which part of this home to enjoy first. We'd recommend heading up to the rooftop terrace for a sundowner – it makes for a pretty inspiring spot to plan your trip's activities.
From $280 a night
Darwin, NT – November
Darwin is Australia’s only tropical capital city, and if you want an exotic escape on the cheap, as close to Bali on the mainland as you’ll get. Enjoy all the variety of a cosmopolitan hub, plus balmy weather and the option to sail away to an island for a day. And it isn’t all sipping cocktails under swaying palms, either (though would that be so bad?). Known for its array of wonderful markets, breezy outdoor dining, and galleries displaying some of the oldest artworks in Australia, you definitely won’t be short of 'to-dos'.
Where to stay?
Just minutes from Darwin – on the edge of a lagoon featured for its beauty in National Geographic – Knuckey Lagoons Villa is a well-kept secret worth sharing. With no sign on the gate, seclusion is one highlight of this retreat; it’s just you, a Balinese-inspired villa, the lagoons and a salt-water pool. Double French doors open to wide verandas and sublime gardens, where a wood-fire barbeque, campfire, picnic area, plush lounges and daybeds make this the ideal space for outdoor hangs. In the heat of the top-end, nothing is more appealing than kicking back by the water.
From $250 a night
Soaring above the well-heeled waterfront precinct of Darwin sits Skytower Sea Views, a 14th floor beach pad with brag-worthy views. This penthouse-sized suite has a lounge area that flows onto a wraparound balcony, which means your choice of several spots to quaff martinis while cooled by the bay breeze.
From $340 a night
Sydney, NSW – July
Perfect your tan and get ready to turn-up the glam. This is the oh-so-fashionable of Australia's cities, the place to fill your wardrobe with wares from Balmain's markets and Surry Hills' boutiques; you’ll be exhausted from the search, but you’ll look damn good in your finds. And then there are the ‘see and be seen’ beaches, where even in July you’ll spot brave souls splashing in sea baths. Warm-up on a walk along the coast from Bondi to Bronte and finish at the Coogee Pavilion, where you can replenish at the coffee stand, the juice cart, or the bar.
Where to stay?
Taking in the impressive arch of the Harbour Bridge, ferries floating across to Circular Quay, and bright night-lights reflected in the waterfront (plus routine fireworks), Cockatoo Island’s accommodation options are quintessentially Sydney. With two huge heritage houses, three distinctive apartments, and a luxury camping site that comes minus time spent constructing a tent; this island base offers travellers a unique habour-side holiday.
From $250 a night (or from $125 to go ‘glamping’)
A cosy vibe fills the whole of this place, resulting in the atmosphere of a B&B with plenty of attentive hosts. You’ve got the kind of friendly hospitality you’d expect in the country, a quaint French-provincial decor, and yet, you’re right in the thick of the action, at The Rocks; a famous section of Sydney’s habour-side with bustling weekend markets, charming bluestone buildings and covetable water views. And we’ve saved the best part for last: The Russell Hotel’s rooftop garden has an outlook all the way to Circular Quay, and is a great spot to watch the crowds go by below.
From $159 a night
Melbourne, VIC – June
Melbourne tops the list in terms of year-round appeal. With its constant happenings and myriad culinary, cultural and sporting drawcards, this is the hardest city to bag a bargain. Hot tip? Plan ahead. It will be worth your while to shop its über cool boutiques, sip impeccable cups of caffeine, and get your casual lean on in standing-room-only bars.
Where to stay?
Ovolo Laneways is a boutique hotel that delivers an unconventional experience that's perfectly suited to fun, on-trend types. Which means no cookie cutter lobbies and a whole lot of awesome. The penthouse has a pinball machine, and every room has a blackboard to scribble on, free mini-bar to raid, take home loot bags and Grab n’ Go breakfasts. Plus the hotel's design exudes an effortless cool matched to that of city. Ovolo is smack bang in the middle of Melbourne’s laneway dining scene, so you’ll be aperitif sipping in concealed bars, and indulging in the most fashionable cuisine around.
From $209 a night
Just outside of Melbourne in beachy Williamstown you’ll find Captain’s Retreat, a stunning urban B&B with a chequered history including being a nunnery and a brothel (not at the same time, of course). This charming Victorian home is walking distance from restaurants, shops and yachts, and boasts stunning views across Port Phillip Bay. We recommend enjoying Melbourne’s sparkling night-lights from the terrace, or helping yourself to a plate of cake for dessert before curling up by the fire. If you want to experience the city but relax away from the flurry, this is a great choice.
From $195 a night