1. Escape to a new, six-star outback luxury station
Immersing yourself in the Australian outback can be an unforgettable experience – especially when you do it in luxury. A new lodge is about to offer some serious indulgence at Mount Mulligan Station, a 28,000-hectare (69,000-acre) working cattle station on the Atherton Tablelands, about a three-hour drive west of Cairns (you can also get there by helicopter if you want to arrive in style). It will offer opportunities for classic outback experiences such as mustering cattle and panning for gold, while providing six-star accommodation in an eight-room lodge that houses a maximum of 20 guests.
With a pavilion overlooking an infinity pool and weir, the lodge sits in a classic Australian landscape dominated by Mount Mulligan's 18-kilometre (11-mile) sandstone ridge. This is Queensland's answer to the Kimberley's outback paradise, El Questro and it's going to be spectacular. Due to open in the second half of 2018.
2. Stay in one of Australia's hot new hotels
Thanks to an Aussie “room boom”, several exciting new hotels are due to open in 2018, from big to boutique. The hip luxury of W Hotels will return to Australia for the first time in a decade, with the opening of the $800 million W Brisbane in March. Melbourne is getting the 347-room Novotel Melbourne South Wharf (also in March) and the Novotel and ibis Melbourne Little Lonsdale Street (two hotels occupying one building in the city centre) in late 2018.
On a more boutique scale, Sydney is saddling up for the William Inglis MGallery by Sofitel overlooking Warwick Farm racecourse (opening in January), and queueing up to sleep in the funky 29-room Paramount House Hotel, set to open in the café-cool inner city neighbourhood of Surry Hills (February).
In late 2018, Hobart will welcome The Tasman, a Luxury Collection hotel by Marriott, which will take over heritage buildings located at Parliament Square. And it's all systems go in Perth, where 2018 openings include a QT (July) and a Westin (April) in the city centre, and a DoubleTree by Hilton (first half of 2018) in the inner city neighbourhood of Northbridge.
3. Try the stunning native flavours of Australia's modern cuisine
Ever been to a restaurant and eaten green ants? What about mangrove seeds? Or kangaroo tendon with Tasmanian mountain pepper? Australia's native flavours have been gaining momentum for several years now, but the nod to Orana – recently awarded Australia's 2018 Restaurant of the Year– cements their place firmly in the national consciousness. Owner-chef Jock Zonfrillo visits Aboriginal communities in some of the most remote corners of the continent to find his ingredients; he's staked the restaurant's name on serving Australia's exquisite native flavours. If you're lucky enough to get a table here – there are just 11 – expect to eat 18 courses featuring 50 to 60 native ingredients. Orana also has a sister restaurant just downstairs, Bistro Blackwood, offering a similar approach to native ingredients, at a more accessible price point.
There are many other restaurants showcasing Australia's unique produce: experience native flavours at Attica in Melbourne and Brae in rural Victoria, both of which were named among The World's 50 Best Restaurants for 2017. At Attica, chef Ben Shewry serves dishes such as whipped emu egg with quandong (a native fruit) and grilled marron (an Australian lobster) with desert lime. At Brae, chef Dan Hunter provides an extraordinary, ever-changing menu from local ingredients, many of which are grown on site on the Brae organic farm, or foraged from the local environment.
Wukalina Walk isn't just another guided hike – it's a spiritual journey into Palawa (local Aboriginal culture). Launching in January 2018, the walk takes place over four days and three nights, crossing the stunning landscapes of north-east Tasmania (including the dramatic Bay of Fires, home to white beaches, orange boulders and clear waters) while gaining deep insights into local Aboriginal culture and enjoying world-class accommodation, food and wine.
Guests get to meet elders, hear Palawa creation stories and take part in cultural practices that have been passed down over thousands of years. Accommodation is in bespoke Palawa-inspired huts and a renovated lighthouse keeper's cottage. The operation is Aboriginal owned and operated, with two guides leading a maximum of 10 guests.
5. Fly high on a day-trip with a difference
There are places that look beautiful from the water, and places that look beautiful from the air, but some just have to be seen from both angles. Perth is one of them, which is why it's a great place to hop aboard a seaplane and get some stunning views of the city before heading off to one of three iconic West Australian destinations.
Swan River Seaplanes started out in early in 2017 with a Margaret River Tour to taste fine wines in one of Australia's top wine regions and has recently added two more tours to its itinerary. The Pinnacles – Taste of WA tour offers a dramatic trip north to the Pinnacles Desert as well as a fresh crayfish lunch; while the Rottnest Day Tour calls in on nearby Rottnest Island, home to beautiful bays and famously photo-friendly marsupials known as quokkas. If one day just isn't enough, three and four-day Margaret River Retreats launched in December 2017, featuring luxury accommodation and gourmet food and wine.
6. See the stunning wilderness of Wilsons Prom from the water
Want to see wombats in the wild? It's well known that Wilsons Prom is the place to go. The southernmost tip of the Australian mainland, 'the Prom' (near Melbourne) is home to Wilsons Promontory National Park, offering 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) of coastal beauty, wilderness, and a wealth of wildlife, all surprisingly close to Melbourne. Bushwalks – short and long – have been popular forever, but the idea of exploring Wilsons Prom from the water is just beginning to take off.
Seals, dolphins, whales, birdlife and incredible rock formations are all here to admire, as well as great swimming spots. A new company, Refuge Cove Cruises, will be running one-day ecotourism tours of the Prom starting in January 2018, while long-time operator Wildlife Coast Cruises has recently introduced a new catamaran to the Prom.
Tasmania-based ecotourism company Pennicott Wilderness Journeys will really up the ante from October 2018 when it introduces its 32-seat amphibious vessel that can drive straight from beach to water. Back on dry land, the area also has some stunning new accommodation including The Church House, a renovated 19th century church that now offers gourmet escapes in an idyllic location among rolling hills with views of the national park.
7. See the Reef like never before
Lizard Island Resort, an exclusive private island retreat on the Great Barrier Reef with almost as many private beaches (24) as villas (40), is now offering guests a unique perspective on the reef. Reef Expedition is a unique, multi-day guided tour of the reef led by scientists from the Australian Museum which also runs a research station on the island. See parts of the reef that are normally off-limits, with guided snorkelling and dives, and unparalleled insights into one the natural wonders of the world. Four nights' accommodation is included and groups are limited to 12.
That's not the only memorable experience now on offer at the reef – a new scenic flight offers a lucky few the chance to land on an isolated isle sand, Wheeler Cay, in the middle of the ocean, while guests at exclusive island resort qualia, located in the Whitsunday islands, can now charter a Palm Beach Motor Yacht to explore the Great Barrier Reef. The resort vessel is the only Palm Beach Motor Yacht available for commercial use worldwide, although “bareboating” around the Whitsundays – where anyone can hire their choice of sailing vessel for an aquatic holiday around the islands – remains a popular pursuit. Also nearby is the Reef Sleep pontoon, where each night, a lucky few get the chance to sleep under the stars, 39 nautical miles from shore on the Great Barrier Reef.
8. See Cartier in Canberra
The Halo tiara that Kate Middleton wore at her wedding to Prince William, Elizabeth Taylor's diamond and ruby necklace, and Princess Grace of Monaco's 10.48-carat diamond engagement ring are among the items on display as Cartier: The Exhibitionbrings some serious bling to the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra. More than 300 items loaned from royal families, celebrities and the Cartier Collection will form the biggest collection of diamonds, emeralds and precious stones ever seen in Australia. The exhibition, which is exclusive to the NGA, runs from 30 March to 22 July 2018.
Other NGA highlights in 2018 include American Masters 1940-1980, which displays together for the first time the greatest American works from the gallery's globally renowned selection (24 August-11 November 2018); and Picasso: The Vollard Suite, comprising 100 prints by Pablo Picasso (9 June-24 September 2018). The National Gallery is far from the only reason to call in on Canberra next year. Lonely Planet has named it No.3 in its top 10 list of cities to visit worldwide in 2018. While you're there, make sure you check out Bar Rochford, the Gourmet Traveller 2018 Bar of the Year.
9. Have an unforgettable new experience in ancient Uluru
Uluru may be ancient, and a hugely important spiritual site for the world's oldest culture, but there are plenty of modern experiences on offer in the area. A new fine dining experience, Mayu Wiru (meaning “beautiful flavour” in the local Aboriginal Pitjantjatjara language) offers exquisite food featuring local ingredients, followed by a nightcap on a sand dune and a guided tour of the stunning Field of Light Uluru art installation, which is not only recommended by none-other than Chris Hemsworth, but has proved so popular that its run has been extended until the end of March 2018.
Meanwhile, the famous Sounds of Silence at Ayers Rock Resort will be celebrating its 25th anniversary year with new menus featuring bush tucker ingredients. The luxury Uluru base camp Longitude 131 recently unveiled a stunning new look, and Ayers Rock Resort offers an ever-more-impressive line-up of events, from the Aboriginal Tjungu Festival (25-29 April 2018) to the Uluru Camel Cup (25-26 May 2018). Uluru is one of Chris Hemsworth's top Australian holiday experiences.
10. Stay and eat in Sydney's hot spot: Barangaroo
The new, multi-billion-dollar Barangaroo waterfront precinct in downtown Sydney continues to evolve, with the latest round of openings including flagship restaurant Barangaroo House. Sydney restaurateur Matt Moran's three-storey playground which opened in December 2017 includes a ground-floor bar and eatery, first-floor restaurant and a rooftop terrace bar overlooking Darling Harbour, with menus from innovative head chef Cory Campbell (formerly of Noma in Copenhagen and Vue de Monde in Melbourne).
It will join an array of acclaimed eateries such as Banksii (the name is a nod to venerable British botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who studied many native Australian plant species during Britain's initial explorations of the continent – Australian flora is heavily incorporated into the Mediterranean-inspired dishes).
On the other side of Darling Harbour, the area's extreme makeover continues with the addition of the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour, a 590-room luxury hotel with an infinity pool offering city views and a champagne bar. Between the two is the Hyatt Regency Sydney – which opened late 2016 – and the site of the upcoming W Sydney, slated to open in 2019 as part of the boundary-pushing development, The Ribbon.
11. Wander a history of war through a futuristic field of lights
The beachside city of Albany (just south of the Margaret River region) was the last sighting of Australia for many of the 41,000 men and women who set sail from here, for World War I. Home to one of the nation's most important cultural pilgrimages – the award-winning museum and war memorial, the National Anzac Centre – the city is set to shine even brighter in 2018, with a stunning light installation by renowned English artist Bruce Munro.
Field of Light: Avenue of Honour will form part of Albany's commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of the first World War this year, and will feature more than 13,000 illuminated glass spheres, representing the national flowers of Australia and New Zealand. Mr Munro's most recent commission Field of Light at Uluru has attracted more than 120,000 visitors since opening in April 2016 whilst Field of Light: Avenue of Honour is expected to attract more than 28,500 attendees. The work will be installed in Albany Heritage Park and the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial, from October 2018 through to April 2019.
Wine + Design Experiences
A series of high-end conceptual art and design experiences is currently sweeping Australia's vineyards, the most hotly anticipated of which is the avant-garde d'Arenberg Cube in South Australia's McLaren Vale wine region. Set to open early 2018 at the d'Arenberg winery, this multi-storey feat of architecture will house public and private tasting rooms, virtual fermenters, bars and a restaurant in a structure resembling a half-solved Rubik's cube. The cube is crowned with 16 hydraulic umbrellas - 15 black and one red - which open in a playful, choreographed sequence of movement.
The d'Arenberg Cube joins several other “wine + design” experiences around the nation, including the brand new, $50 million sculpture park, cellar door and fine dining restaurant at Point Leo Estate vineyard, on Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula, which opened October 2017. Featuring over 50 large-scale contemporary works from sculptors such as Tony Cragg, Zadok Ben-David and Inge King set against ocean views, vines, cattle and native gardens, the vineyard also boasts a stunning, barrel-shaped main building housing an oversized cellar door and 110-seat destination restaurant.
Mornington Peninsula is also home to Australia's hottest new vineyard hotel, the whimsical 46-room Jackalope, which opened in April 2017. Named after a mythical creature, the hotel fuses art, design, food and storytelling in a visually stunning experience that has just been shortlisted at the World Architecture Festival awards (winners to be announced November 2017). Many more new and innovative wine + design experiences, such as MONA's “Moorilla sleepover” and Leeuwin Estate's Art Series Dinner can be found at Ultimate Winery Experiences of Australia.
Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games
Queensland's Gold Coast might be best known for metropolitan hub Surfers Paradise, but the 57-kilometre stretch of coastline is undergoing rapid change, in part thanks to its upcoming role hosting the Commonwealth Games. From 4-15 April 2018, athletes from 70 nations and territories will descend on the city for the largest sporting event in Australia this decade.
The Games coincide with Festival 2018 – an arts and cultural festival that will unfold across 20 locations in a celebration of the Games – and the unveiling of a brand new luxury suite hotel at multi-million dollar entertainment precinct, The Star Gold Coast. Formerly Jupiters Casino, the site is also the new home of a refurbished 596-room hotel and six new dining venues.
The Gold Coast is also enjoying a flourishing craft cider and beer scene infused with the local surf culture, with around 20 breweries now open. Balter (launched March 2016) is co-owned by seven local surfers, including world champions Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, while Black Hops was launched by “three blokes” and a crowd-funding scheme to wild success. They are set to be joined by the launch of Lost Palms Brewing Co in early 2018.
Spotlight on Perth: A new global city
With increasingly sophisticated dining and arts scenes, and several major new openings and developments slated for 2018, Perth is in the grips of a rapid evolution from laidback remote city to innovative global hub. Of major significance is the world's first direct flight between Europe and Australia, which launches between Perth and London on 24 March 2018. The long-haul Qantas flight will take 17 hours on a 236-passenger Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, with inbound passengers able to stopover in Perth without incurring a fee.
The city is also experiencing three major cultural trends at present: firstly, its street art has flourished, with more than 80 city laneways, buildings and walls now covered in visually captivating works (viewable on this interactive map). Secondly, its small bar scene has exploded. The city has embraced over 100 new openings since 2007, many of which champion the exquisite local, natural and organic wines of Western Australia such as New Normal, which opened 2017. Finally the city is experiencing a major hotel 'room boom'. Design-led luxury brand QT Hotels will open QT Perth mid-2018, The Westin will open an ambitious city hotel on April 27, the Hilton will open three DoubleTrees by 2019 and a Ritz Carlton will open in 2019 at the new Elizabeth Quay precinct.
The Intercontinental Perth also launched October 2017 with 300 pieces of commissioned art throughout public spaces and in guest rooms. Additionally the city is experiencing major urban redevelopment, with large-scale changes including the $100 million foreshore redevelopment of Scarborough Beach, a popular white-sand surf beach set to open in April. The new-look foreshore incorporates a beach pool, cafes, restaurants, kiosks, public art and a skate park. Yagan Square, opening early 2018, will connect Perth's city centre with the buzzing nightlife district of Northbridge. It will feature Aboriginal artworks, hospitality and retail outlets and gardens of native Australian wildflowers.
Wildlife without walls: the 'Un-zoo'
A new “cage-free” wildlife experience is set to open in late 2018 in western Sydney. The private $36 million Sydney Zoo will feature 30 animal exhibits. Visitors can view the native and exotic species from elevated boardwalks. The zoo signifies another major trend happening across Australia: wildlife experiences “without walls”, offered in intimate, natural and wild settings.
At the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo, an hour's drive from Hobart, guests can experience animals (such as Tasmanian devils, golden possums, kangaroos and eastern quolls) in natural habitats in which barriers are removed or concealed.
Other 'un-zoo' experiences are on offer at the world's largest open-range zoo, Monarto Zoo (near Adelaide), Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria and Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.
New wildlife experiences in Australia can also be found at Wilsons Promontory, where Wildlife Coast Cruises has launched a new six-hour whale cruise departing from Port Welshpool. An additional cruise experience by award-winning operators Pennicott Wilderness Journeys will also commence tours to the area's colony of Australian Fur Seals, in the second half of 2018.
Finally a new industry collective, Australian Wildlife Journeys has been created to offer a one-stop shop for visitors who want to see Australia's extraordinary native animals in their natural habitat.
The Great Barrier Reef's Great Eight
Africa might be home to the Big Five but Queensland's Great Barrier Reef now boasts The Great Eight – a list of weird and wonderful marine creatures to tick off while on an underwater safari. Making the list is the clownfish, giant clam, manta rays, Maori wrasse, potato cod, sharks, turtles and whales.
Seeing clams and clownfish can be as easy as taking a day trip out to Green Island off Cairns. Port Douglas-based vessel Silversonic offers trips that may include swimming with dwarf minke whales. Lady Elliot Island, in the Southern Great Barrier Reef near Bundaberg, is known as the home of the manta ray.
Reefworld, a pontoon permanently moored at Hardy Reef in the outer reef near the Whitsunday Islands, offers guided diving and snorkelling trips that offer easy viewing of charismatic Maori wrasse. Landlubbers can see turtles nesting, and baby turtles hatching, at Mon Repos on the mainland near Bundaberg.
The complete Great Eight can be experienced in the Southern Great Barrier Reef region, including the iconic manta ray experience at Lady Elliott Island. Many of the Great Eight, including sharks, are also in residence at the brand new, multi-million dollar Cairns Aquarium that opened in September, 2017. The attraction includes a deep-reef exhibit, 10 eco-systems and 71 habitats.
The world's new mountain biking destination
The international mountain-biking community has begun to pay serious attention to Australia, which has a series of new, world-class riding experiences. At the tiny village of Derby, in Tasmania's picturesque north-east, visitors will find the newly opened Blue Derby network – more than 100km (60 miles) of biking tracks that weave through eucalypt forests and bushland, past majestic tree ferns, rivers and gorges. There's a trail for everyone, from beginners through to pros (300 riders descended on Derby for a round of the prestigious Enduro World Series in early 2017).
Want a guided, luxury exploration of the network? The Blue Derby Pods Ride includes chef-prepared meals and sleeping in treehouse-like pods. In the state's Derwent Valley near Hobart, Maydena Bike Park – designed and built by Dirt Art, also involved in creating the course for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and the Thredbo Valley Track through the back country of the Snowy Mountains - is set to open on 26 January, 2018.
Additionally, Canberra's mountain biking mecca, Stromlo Forest Park this year unveiled another addition to their Vapour Trail Network – the black diamond G Lock run. The international mountain-biking community is also keeping an eye on Tropical North Queensland where a major MTB event is slated for 2018 (more info to come). The region is already home to 7000km (4350 miles) of mountain-bike trails; plans to build a stunning 60km (37 miles) biking and hiking trail between Port Douglas and Palm Cove are also in the works. The Wangetti Trail will run parallel to the Captain Cook Highway, showcasing the region's scenic beauty.
Five-star flashpacking: the rise of the Aussie posh-tel
Travellers are demanding more from their Australian backpacker experience. That means basic hostel-style lodgings are being reimagined as slick, modern accommodation at accessible prices. In January 2018, Byron Bay YHA will unveil a multi-million-dollar extension that nearly doubles its capacity from 100 to 199 beds, and adds a new reception and communal area. All the new rooms will feature en-suite bathrooms. Guests can also enjoy a heated swimming pool, travel desk, BBQ, and surfboard and bike hire.
Posh-packers are also pointing themselves towards new budget stays with a difference such as Sydney's futuristic The Capsule Hotel (launched May 2017), offering guests a high-tech capsule bed along with communal facilities and properties by the city's affordable new boutique hotel chain, VERIU (launched July 2017).
Meanwhile competitively priced, playful hotel brands Tribe and Aloft hotels both opened in Perth this year, and the Great Barrier Reef's ultimate 'posh-tel', Rambutan Townsville has received an upgrade with a flash new on-site café.
In Hobart, boutique hostel Montacute has lustrous Tasmanian oak timber floors, antique furniture and eight fireplaces, as well as mod cons such as super-fast, fibre-optic wifi and a coffee machine. Across the nation, traditional “pub-stays” are being reimagined as funky, design-led retreats featuring anything from customised wall art to zebra-print rugs.
Canberra: The new capital of cool
Australia's capital, Canberra, was once one of the country's lesser known destinations - but not anymore. As new boutique precincts and innovative ventures have blossomed, Canberra is now the epitome of cool – so much so that Lonely Planet just named it the world's third-best city to visit in 2018.
One of the most cutting-edge precincts is NewActon, home to Hotel Hotel that's billed as “a collaboration between designers, artists, artisans and fantasists”. The hotel's sculptural timber lobby won World Interior of the Year in 2015.
In a Canberra exclusive, Cartier: The Exhibition will run from 30 March 2018 to 22 July 2018 at National Gallery of Australia – a breathtaking collection of the world's most exquisite jewels showcasing more than 300 items. Featuring loans from royal families, never before will so many incredible diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones, in exquisite settings such as royal tiaras, have come to Australia.
Canberra is also home to Gourmet Traveller's 2018 Australian Bar of the Year – Bar Rochford – and a range of hot new bars including tropical themed Kokomos, Cuban themed The Highball Express, the Alice in Wonderland inspired White Rabbit Cocktail Room and Black Market in NewActon.
For eats, head to edgy A. Baker with its ash-blackened walls. Dessert lovers should explore Braddon's Lonsdale Street, home to Frugii Dessert Laboratory where the avant-garde ice-cream and sorbet flavours (think gingerbread, lemongrass, roast potato, black garlic and butter chicken) change regularly. The Kingston Foreshore is also a buzzing dining precinct – try wholefoods specialist Local Press Café for a savoury pancake or breakfast tortilla meal that's worthy of an Instagram post.
Haute dining hubs
Sophisticated dining experiences aren't confined to Australia's big cities - they're also popping up in self-contained regional hubs around the nation. In 2017, two Australian restaurants made The World's 50 Best Restaurants list: Melbourne's Attica (No 32) and, at No 44, Brae in a town of less than 1000 residents called Birregurra, 130km (80 miles) from Melbourne. Diners can also overnight in Brae's avant-garde six-room hotel. Before chef Dan Hunter put Birregurra on the culinary map, he did the same for Dunkeld, a similar-sized town 280km (175 miles) from Melbourne.
In October 2017, Hunter's former hotel restaurant metamorphosed into Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel. Guests now stroll along a path, listening to recorded birdsong, to reach the new restaurant space. Chef Robin Wickens sources 100 percent of his produce from the kitchen garden.
In Tasmania's Derwent Valley, The Agrarian Kitchen cooking school opened a nearby restaurant spin-off in June, 2017. The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery & Store is a 60-seat restaurant and kitchen shop tucked within a former mental asylum in New Norfolk, a 35-minute drive from Hobart. Other notable recent openings include Paper Daisy, the onsite restaurant Halcyon House (overseen by one of Australia's most talented young chefs, Ben Devlin), The Enchanted Fig Tree outdoor dining experience on Kangaroo Island, and Jackalope Hotel's luxury restaurant, Doot Doot Doot.
Beauty from the bush: Aboriginal wellness treatments
Australia's most luxurious desert resort, Longitude 131, reopened on 1 August, 2017 following a $6 million transformation that added a two-room spa to the remote lodge where Oprah Winfrey stayed on her 2010 Australian tour. Spa Kinara, with a design inspired by a traditional shelter known as a wiltja, offers treatments inspired by local Aboriginal Anangu culture. Native ingredients such as scented emu bush, Kakadu plum, quandong, desert lime, yellow clay and nutrient-rich desert salts are incorporated into the range of facial and body treatments.
Aboriginal wellness concepts and native ingredients are increasingly being integrated into Australian day spas: Southern Ocean Lodge on South Australia's Kangaroo Island, uses bush ingredients such as eucalyptus, pepperberry and banksia flowers. In Tropical North Queensland, Daintree Eco Lodge's spa incorporates indigenous traditions. Wawu Jirakul (which means 'your spirit cleansed') is a massage performed by a waterfall within the World Heritage-listed Daintree rainforest. At Sydney's Shangri-la hotel, CHI, The Spa's Australian Botanical Retreat treatment includes wattleseed and sandalwood exfoliation, a green clay body wrap and a massage with eucalyptus and honey myrtle-infused oil.