As the UK stares down the barrel of reimposed Covid restrictions, a holiday abroad seems some way off – especially to Australia, where borders are still closed to international tourists. But hopes are high that tourism Down Under will pick up again in 2021. Until then, here are six of the best island escapes to start planning a 2021 trip to in the interim.
1. Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Of all the places devastated by the Australian bush fires earlier this year, Kangaroo Island was especially badly hit. Its legendary Southern Ocean Lodge was completely destroyed (it’s now being rebuilt), but while the impact on the island’s wildlife and habitats was profound, in truth around half of its landmass escaped the flames. Here koalas still snooze in the trees and life carries on as before. But even the areas that burned to the ground are already regenerating.
Australian landscapes are reliant on fire and the re-growth has been remarkable, with seeds germinating in ash-enhanced soils and the Yacca trees now all in bloom. New accommodations have also taken root, such as Oceanview Eco Villas: two five-star, off-grid lodges that showcase the best in South Australian sustainability and design. Meanwhile, efforts continue to aid the recovery of threatened species such as dunnarts and glossy-black cockatoos. southaustralia.com
2. Christmas Island, Western Australia
Cast adrift in the Indian Ocean and lying closer to Asia than mainland Australia, Christmas Island is not your typical tropical island paradise. It’s home to a huge population of bright-red land crabs that undertake colourful migrations each year between October and December, bringing traffic to a halt as they move en masse to spawn in the sea.
Over 60 per cent of the island is protected as a national park that’s filled with rainforest, secret swimming spots and undersea coral reefs. As a result, wildlife proliferates: beyond the crabs, there are colonies of seabirds including elegant, streamer-tailed tropicbirds, plus seven island endemics such as the Christmas Island thrush.
Find hidden beaches, hike jungle trails and freshen up under waterfalls, then retreat to the comforts of Swell Lodge, the island’s first luxury eco-retreat whose secluded, oceanfront chalets are catered by private chefs using foraged ingredients. christmas.net.au
3. Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory
Day-trippers to the NT’s Tiwi Islands now have the option of staying in style at the all-new Tiwi Island Retreat, which opened earlier this year. The property offers 2-day, 2-night all-inclusive packages for those seeking immersive adventures in an almost untouched island environment. The archipelago sits in the Timor Sea some 80km north of Darwin, with the journey in between handled comfortably in half an hour by sea plane.
Time on the island is spent discovering wildlife and indigenous art, fishing for barramundi and mud crabs, or simply relaxing on the shore (though the risk posed by saltwater crocodiles means that swimming in the sea is off limits). Cooling off comes courtesy of the retreat’s 12-metre waterfront pool or by taking a helicopter trip to a remote (and croc-free) natural waterhole. As outback experiences go, things don’t get more Top End than that. tiwiislandretreat.com.au
4. Bruny Island, Tasmania
Island getaways can be so much more active than simply hitting the beach. For those who prefer putting best foot forward, Bruny Island Long Weekend is a treat. A short ferry ride from Hobart, the capital of Australia’s smallest state, unspoiled Bruny is essentially a microcosm of Tasmania and harbours examples of each of Tassie’s key habitats and wildlife, including all 12 endemic bird species.
See any number of them (including green rosellas and Tasmanian native hens) on this adventurous break’s guided walks to Mount Mananga and scenic East Cloudy Head, as well as more familiar Aussie animals such as wallabies and echidnas. Along the way, sample local produce and fresh oysters plucked from Bruny’s cool, clean coastal waters.
Accommodation comes in the form of luxury tents (with proper beds) on a private, 100-acre enclave surrounded by eucalyptus forest. It’s the perfect compromise between comfort and countryside. taswalkingco.com.au
5. Hayman Island, Queensland
Single-resort island hideaways are not uncommon on the Great Barrier Reef, but few provide the comfort and class of the InterContinental Hayman Island. Reborn from the wreckage of 2017’s Cyclone Debbie, this stylish resort is one of the Whitsunday Islands’ best. The low-slung and linear property sweeps around a sandy bay, gleaming white against a forested hillside like a Bond villain’s lair.
Its two wings stretch either side of the central reception and restaurants, with each having its own distinct ambiance (one side for adults, the other more family-friendly). But beyond phenomenal facilities and dining, what makes staying here so special is the sense of connecting with nature, from the inquisitive turtles that swim in the bay to the cockatoos trying to steal your breakfast.
Plus of course there’s snorkelling, kayaking and a range of off-island excursions, including to the Whitsundays’ most famous spot: Whitehaven Beach. haymanisland.intercontinental.com
6. Phillip Island, Victoria
For an offshore escape within reach of the city, look no further than Phillip Island. Conveniently connected by bridge to the mainland, the island offers an easily-accessed change of pace from the bright lights of Melbourne. Its biggest draw is Penguin Parade for its close encounters with little penguins: adorable Southern Ocean seabirds that waddle ashore here each evening to their colony in the dunes.
There’s more wildlife to be found at the Koala Conservation Centre or on a boat trip to see sea lions sunning themselves on rocky outcrops. At the other end of the spectrum is the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, the home of the Australian MotoGP and World Superbike Championships. Catch a race, tour the facility or buckle up and take a spin of the actual track with a professional racing driver (or whizz round a replica track in a go-kart). visitmelbourne.com