Lucky 13 – the best of Australia you don’t want to miss

By Roy Fleming and Pete Burchell

Does this sound familiar?

You check your Facebook or Instagram account, see gorgeous pics of friends or family enjoying iconic, breathtaking parts of Australia, and mutter to yourself “I wish I was there”.

Australia teems with incredible experiences that leave us with total FOMO (fear of missing out). Outdoors and indoors; adventure and indulgence; sporting and cultural.

So, what are Australia’s genuine FOMO experiences? The absolute not-to-be-missed moments?

It's hard to comprehend the sheer scale and intricacy of Uluru, NT, until you experience it up close.

After plenty of debate and butting of heads, the well-travelled BIG4 PR and Comms team settled on a lineup they call the Lucky 13: the Australian experiences that produce the biggest sense of FOMO.

And the outcome is one list you won’t want to miss.


1. Snorkelling or diving the Ningaloo Reef, WA

Why: You’ll see sharks hovering vertically (yes, vertically) in lagoons on the inside of the reef, turtles, massive stingrays, and huge schools of pelagic and tropical fish in gin-clear ocean waters. And you won’t see another human being most of the time. This is a special coastline and reef system renowned throughout the world, and it’s only 50m from the shoreline in some places. Head to the Great Barrier Reef for sure, but if you want a reef less loved, try Ningaloo. Memories of this place are burnt deeply into my brain. – Roy

Where: Starts 1100km north of Perth.

When: While diving is suitable year-round, from May to November the reef attracts manta rays and from July to November humpback whales and dugongs. Oh yeah, there’s whale sharks in season. Hundreds of them.

Dive on in at Ningaloo Reef, where the marine life is sure to take your breath away.

2. Wine tasting in Margaret River, WA

Why: Now that I’m in my 40s, my life has become more about sensations that don’t endanger my physical presence on earth. Which is why I often visit the wine region in Margaret River rather than its incredible surf zones. Something special happened in this region’s ecological formation, resulting in a deep limestone base that allows rich nutrients to flush through to vineyards planted into its fertile soil. That’s the combination that makes the wine so very famous and the produce the king of Australian agriculture. Couple this with fresh line-caught snapper, glorious West Australian sunshine and great company, and you have the ingredients for FOMO.  – Roy

Where: 270km south of Perth.

When: With its mild but delightful days, I suggest a visit in autumn.

Imbibe in one of Margaret River's many award-winning wines while in the region.

3. Experiencing the aura of Uluru, NT

Why: You absolutely, definitively cannot understand the sheer enormity, intricacy, and power of Uluru without witnessing it for yourself. I was blown away with its many crevices, caves, and craters and the mind-boggling breadth and height of this spectacular sandstone creation. Photos simply fail to showcase all this in one go. Images also can’t capture the immense cultural importance of the area. Only a visit allows you to feel Uluru’s aura run through your veins while you gape in awe at an Australian icon. – Pete

Where: 460km southwest of Alice Springs.

When: Between May and September when the weather is cooler but pleasant.

One visit and you'll know why Uluru is such an icon in Australia. Credit: Andrew Bertuleit Photography.

4. Island hopping in the Great Barrier Reef, QLD

Why: It’s earned more accolades than a Hall of Famer but is it FOMO material? Damn right it is. To have the Great Barrier Reef on our back doorstep – more literal for some Australians than others – is the reason we should really be called the Lucky Country. Be honest with yourself – how could you not look at a picture of those white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and sun-kissed islands and not daydream about being there? Heck, one of the Great Barrier Reef islands is named Daydream, so it must be true. This is paradise, and you know it. – Pete

Where: The Great Barrier Reef begins off the coast of Bundaberg, 360km north of Brisbane.

When: In winter when much else of Australia – me included – is shivering. Southerners, tell me you don’t have FOMO then. 

Experience paradise while island hopping in the Great Barrier Reef.

5. Chillaxing in Byron Bay, NSW

Why: Australians have absolutely loved Byron Bay to death. There is barely a grain of sand that hasn’t groaned under the footprint of another excited tourist. But every year we keep on going. Why? For me, originally it was the ocean and its surf breaks and lentil burgers. Later, it was about the deeply spiritual pursuits it offers, and the art and culture and people watching. It seems everyone in the world is either here or at Bondi, and it creates a fascinating mosaic of morality and mayhem. If you strip it all back though, it started with the basics – glorious sun, warm water, tropical rainforests and tranquility – and strangely, it’s those reasons that keep resonating despite the crowds. – Roy

Where: 160km south of Brisbane or 770km north of Sydney.

When: Winter time is ideal to soak up the vibe without the mass of tourists.

Sun, surf, sand and a bohemian atmosphere are all on the cards when you're chillaxing in Byron Bay. Credit: Destination NSW

6. Hitting the slopes of the Snowy Mountains, NSW

Why: The purists will tell you Australia’s slopes are third-rate. “It’s better in NZ, it’s nothing compared to Whistler,” you’ll hear them say. But it’s very hard to believe that when you are flying on a speed-run down High Noon at Thredbo, eyes watering and skin tingling from the chilled air. You don’t need a 3m base and a six-foot cover of powder to have the thrill of your lifetime in Australia’s snowfields. If you need that though, you can. The slopes on the southern side of Thredbo and Kosciusko are comparable to anywhere in the world with big shutes and spectacular powder runs. We’re the wide, brown, dry continent. The Snowies are incongruent with that notion, and that’s why I love it. – Roy

Where: Thredbo is 500km southwest of Sydney and 550km northeast of Melbourne.

When: In winter to take advantage of the powder-covered slopes.

Experience the thrill of a lifetime in Australia's snowfields, including Thredbo, pictured here. Credit: Perisher

7. Exploring the nation’s past at the Australian War Memorial, ACT

Why: If ANZAC Day isn’t the most important day on the national calendar, it’s not far from it. But do most of us explicitly understand what we’re commemorating? What we’re thankful for? Why? I don’t think I could’ve wholeheartedly answered yes without visiting the Australian War Memorial. It’s the best place to gain a true, overarching understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women that have helped shape our nation’s identity. The stories are all laid bare, so a visit here is evocative and emotive. And while you won’t leave with a smile on your face, you will depart with a deep sense of fulfillment. – Pete

Where: In the Canberra suburb of Campbell.

When: ANZAC Day is primetime but this attraction can be visited year-round.

Gain an understanding of Australian war history at the Australian War Memorial in ACT.

8. Joining sports-mad throngs at a packed MCG, VIC

Why: I’ve been lucky enough to attend many major sporting contests, so I write with some authority, albeit it subjective. And I strongly believe you have not experienced true-blue Aussie sporting passion until you’ve witnessed the spine-tingling sensations that shudder through a jam-packed Melbourne Cricket Ground on game day. From any vantage point in the 100,000-capacity stadium, the atmosphere is so thrilling and exciting that you could not wish to be anywhere else. Melburnians’ love for Australian Rules is no better understood than when hearing the deafening roar during a nail-biting AFL match or when a wicket falls during the Boxing Day Test. I get FOMO every time I’m watching on TV a sporting contest live from the ‘G. – Pete

Where: Just minutes from Melbourne’s CBD.

When: Scan the AFL draw and try to nab tickets to an all-Melbourne blockbuster or check out the Boxing Day Test. 

Soak up the electric atmosphere at a packed MCG.

9. Winding along the famous Great Ocean Road, VIC

Why: There is no paved path more iconic in Australia than the Great Ocean Road, and oh does it deserve the hype. Endless ocean views could all be framed to scoop a prize at the Australian Postcard Convention, led by those featuring the rock-star like Twelve Apostles and its backup band, Loch Ard Gorge. They contrast with a wide assortment of incredibly alluring rainforest views, at their best when the sun peaks through those towering trees. But a visit here is about so much more. It’s an Australian institution. A road to be travelled along with loved ones, knowing full well you’re carving out precious memories. A journey rather than a destination. And it should be taken at least once in any Australian’s lifetime. – Pete

Where: Torquay, 100km west of Melbourne, marks the eastern starting point of the Great Ocean Road.

When: Either side of the peak summer period to avoid heaving crowds while still glimpsing sun. 

The Great Ocean Road is packed with natural gems that make visiting a must-do for any Australian.

10. Delving into our convict past at Port Arthur, TAS

Why: Whether we like it or not, Australia’s convict past forms an integral part of our history. And Port Arthur is the place to learn about and appreciate it. Port Arthur is so well-preserved that you can almost feel the pulse of centuries before still beating away. Its preservation also gives the stories told by the excellent tour guides even more vividness and colour. And while your pre-conceived thoughts might tell you you’re in for a bunch of horrific, despairing yarns, that’s so far from the truth. This may have been a prison but it doesn’t mean it was all doom and gloom. To miss this is to skip over an important chunk of Australia’s post-European settlement history. – Pete

Where: 100km southeast of Hobart.

When: As it’s largely an outdoor attraction, it’s best enjoyed in the warmer months.

Take a step back in time at Port Arthur in Tasmania.

11. Immersing yourself in Tasmania’s wilderness at Lake Pedder, TAS

Why: When I was a kid I wore the pages out of my dad’s Fishing Digest annual by looking at the monster brown trout of Lake Pedder. Then I checked out the map of Lake Pedder’s location and immediately understood why everything grew so large, including the trees. Pedder is in the heart of Tasmania’s true wilderness. It’s deep territory we could still call frontier land. There’s potential discoveries in the forests there that would make front-page news nowadays, and people can disappear for weeks if they want to. When I think of the term Jurassic, I think of Tassie’s southwest. It’s not for everyone, but for true, unbridled nature there’s no place on Earth like it.  – Roy

Where: About 150km east of Hobart.

When: All year except winter. 

Immerse yourself in the wilderness at Lake Pedder.

12. Indulging at a world-famous wine region, SA

Why: Wine menus around Australia are often dominated by renowned SA regions, and it’s with good reason. Put simply, SA makes exceptional wines. And if you like a red or white and have not been to the Barossa, McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Hills, the Coonawarra, etc. then you are depriving yourself of the chance to indulge in regions that millions of overseas wine drinkers would give their right taste bud to visit. Most SA wine regions are simple to reach from Adelaide, are easy to get around, are full of incredible winemakers, and boast cellar doors gifting views as good as any from a European vineyard. I have never been disappointed visiting any SA wine region. – Pete

Where: Multiple locations, most easily accessible from Adelaide.

When: It’s tough to beat cellar-door hopping on a beautiful spring day.

Indulge in a glass or two of award-winning wine in one of South Australia's prized wine regions.

13. Experiencing the wonders of the Head of Bight, SA

Why: If you are beginning to detect a theme in my FOMO list, you shouldn’t be surprised I’ve added Ceduna. Epic waves, dangerous and abundant oceans, and miles from the constant murmur of everyday life. It’s where you strip everything back and find nature in exactly the same state. My dad used to love eating oysters off the rocks so much in coastal places like Ceduna that he’d forget he was fishing, or child-minding. And to be honest we didn’t care. The region is authentic and unforgettable. The untrained eye might miss its beauty. Once you understand it, you’ll keep going back. – Roy

Where: Ceduna is 775km northwest of Adelaide.

When: All year awesomeness.

The rugged beauty of the Head of Bight will have you returning time and time again.

What do you think of The Lucky 13 list? 

Isn’t it time you didn’t miss out? Book your next bucket-list BIG4 break now.

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