After being closed to the world for almost two years owing to the pandemic, Australia is finally open to vaccinated tourists as of February 21. This huge country has changed significantly since it shut its borders, so visitors will find many new attractions, from a $400 million museum to thrilling theme parks, plush hotels and adrenalin-fuelled experiences.
Here are six places to visit if you are heading Down Under.
WA Museum Boola Bardip, Perth
Renowned for its natural splendour, Perth is now building a reputation as a cultural hub thanks to a cluster of impressive art and museum facilities in the inner-suburb of Northbridge.
In late 2020, this area welcomed a new $400m attraction. Featuring almost 6,000 square metres of gallery space, the WA Museum Boola Bardip is one of the largest in Australia. At its core is the 120-year-old WA Museum, housed in a group of old colonial structures. An ultra-modern, steel-and-glass extension has been added on top of them.
Offering free entry to all visitors, the museum traces the Aboriginal and colonial history of Western Australia. Particularly fascinating, and important, is Ngalang Koort Boodja Wirn. As the museum website explains, this permanent exhibition delves into the “ancestral connections, law and lore, experiences, cultures and spiritual relationships” of the state’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The museum also has an extensive collection of stunning Aboriginal art.
Wildlife Retreat, Sydney
Imagine waking up in a five-star hotel to find a live koala bear staring straight at you. Australia’s most famous zoo, Taronga, is now home to a luxurious property with a large wildlife enclosure at its centre, meaning you can admire exotic Australian fauna from the window of your room.
The hotel opened just before Australia shut its borders so very few foreign guests have had the chance to savour this uniquely Australian attraction. The green sanctuary around which Wildlife Retreat at Taronga is built is home not only to koalas but other intriguing Australian creatures such as platypuses and echidnas.
Accommodation packages include complimentary access to the zoo and the option of sanctuary tours, where guests come face-to-face with the same animals that have been peeking into their rooms. Other rooms at the hotel offer views across the treetops to Sydney’s harbour, opera house and harbour bridge. Guests can also sleep in comfort knowing that some of the proceeds from their stay will help fund Taronga Zoo’s extensive animal conservation and research programmes.
This city attraction can be as relaxing or as unsettling as you choose. There is something soothing about looking out over a huge city, particularly in the evening as thousands of lights twinkle beneath a dark sky. But that serenity might be shattered when you look beneath your feet to see only glass between you and a 285-metre drop.
At Melbourne’s lofty Skydeck, visitors can boost their heart rate by stepping into the Edge, a glass box that scarily hangs off the side of the Eureka Tower skyscraper. Or they can chill out with a drink in hand at Skybar 88 or Eureka 89, which are both part of Skydeck.
During the pandemic, this attraction received a multimillion-dollar makeover, with the addition of a host of new features. These include a virtual reality (VR) attraction that allows visitors to travel through Melbourne’s key locations. There’s also the new VR Plank game, which makes participants feel as if they’re walking along a narrow piece of wood high above the city.
Slide and Splash, Gold Coast
An hour's drive south of Brisbane, the Gold Coast is Australia’s top family holiday destination. That’s because alongside its many upscale bars, restaurants and resorts, this seaside city is laden with child-friendly attractions.
The Gold Coast is Australia’s theme park hub. And during the pandemic, $70m was invested in new attractions by Wet’n’Wild operators, the country’s biggest water park. This includes what it claims is the tallest water slide in the southern hemisphere — an intimidating 27 metre-tall ride.
This is the centrepiece of the park’s new Slide and Splash precinct, which has three new rides as well as a huge swimming and relaxation area called H2Oasis. Wet’n’Wild is a short distance from an array of other theme parks, including Sea World, Dreamworld, WhiteWater World, Paradise Country, Warner Bros Movie World and Australian Outback Spectacular.
Crown Towers Sydney
When it opened in December 2020, One Barangaroo was among the world’s most expensive addresses, with a triple-storey penthouse apartment reportedly selling for $100m.
The building’s anchor tenant is Crown Sydney, the long-awaited branch of Crown Resorts, which operates huge hotel-and-casino complexes in Melbourne and Perth. While Crown Sydney has not yet begun its casino operations, it is the most luxurious new hotel in Australia’s biggest city.
Located on the harbour front in downtown, a short walk from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, it boasts extraordinary views. These vistas can be enjoyed from its fifth-floor infinity pool, its array of dining venues, and it’s more than 300 rooms and suites.
Accommodation options range from 47-square-metre deluxe king rooms (from $620 per night) up to 180-square-metre two-bedroom Crystall Villas ($3,300 per night). Crown Towers also has a plush spa, a harbour front tennis court, on-site jewellery and watch stores, a Nobu restaurant and a fine dining venue by Michelin-starred chef Clare Smyth.
Kalbarri Skywalk, Western Australia
Every day in Western Australia, people float 100 metres above a massive gorge rumoured to have been created by a giant snake.
Like an Australian version of the Grand Canyon, the colossal gorges of Kalbarri National Park were one of the country's best-kept secrets until the 2020 opening of a thrilling attraction, the Kalbarri Skywalk. These two cantilevered walkways hang over the edge of a ravine, offering startling views of a dramatic landscape embellished by red dirt, green rivers and towering canyons.
Located 500 kilometres north of Perth city, the town of Kalbarri has long been popular with tourists from the capital of Western Australia. They’re drawn by its magnificent beaches, lofty sea cliffs and pretty location by the mouth of the Murchison River. Now, foreign tourists have an additional reason to visit thanks to the spectacular $24m skywalk, which is flanked by a cafe and a series of signs that explain the Aboriginal legend of how the gorges were shaped by a massive “rainbow serpent”.