The Aussie Travel Bucket List: 20 for 2020

Where will you be headed next? To celebrate the new decade, we huddled with the nation’s most informed travel experts to unearth the 20 biggest trends, experiences and regions set to define Australian travel in 2020. Can you guess what they all are? Find out below.


1. The fight for the Great Barrier Reef is on

Heart Reef Hamilton Island Great Barrier Reef Queensland credit Salty Wings Hamilton Island

Heart Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland: credit Salty Wings / Hamilton Island

The best thing you can do for the reef in 2020? Get amongst it. Every dollar poured into the region funds its future – even park entry fees go straight into reef care. “Sure, the Great Barrier Reef has been hit hard by the effects of climate change,” says Karen McGhee, Australian Geographic’s science and environment editor. “But it remains one of the most spectacular natural habitats in the world.” McGhee’s tip is to head south, around Lady Elliot, Heron and Lady Musgrave islands. “They are simply stunning places to dive and snorkel: crystal-clear waters and loads of marine wildlife, from manta rays to green turtles,” she says. “There really is no better time to see the Great Barrier Reef than now ... but go lightly, and be sure to leave as little impact as possible.”


2. Boomers are hitting the road

Mackay region, credit Visit Mackay

Road tripping the gorgeous Mackay region, Queensland: credit Visit Mackay

Newly retired travellers have the spirit, time and means to tick off Australia’s distant corners. For her new book The Definitive Bucket List, Lee Atkinson explored the best Australian destinations for over-50s. Her tip? Make 2020 the year you discover the Pilbara – an often-overlooked and remote area of north-west Australia. “It gets my vote as Australia’s most underrated landscape,” says Atkinson. “See thousands of rock art engravings on the Burrup Peninsula, explore the gorges of Karijini and the Outback oasis of Millstream Chichester National Park. It’s grander, more expansive and much more majestic than most people ever imagine. It really is the wild west.”


3. Victoria is wild for accessible travel

Great Ocean Walk, credit Visit Victoria

One of the fantastic TrailRiders being put to work on The Great Ocean Walk, Victoria: credit Visit Victoria

No longer a sideline niche, accessible travel is worth a potential $8 billion to the Australian economy each year. And in 2020, Parks Victoria leads the way. Julie Jones of Have Wheelchair, Will Travel seeks out “exceptional accessible experiences” for her wheelchair-using son. “Parks Victoria’s commitment to accessibility is extensive, with the free use of TrailRiders (all-terrain wheelchairs) and a unique Sherpa service to help use them within its parks,” she says. “Exploring Australia’s wilderness and providing the adventurous life our son craves is enabled by experiences like this.”


4. Brisbane is consolidating its boom

The Calile hotel, Brisbane, credit Sean Fennessy

Pastel-splashed interiors at The Calile hotel, Brisbane: credit Sean Fennessy, The Calile

Between an influx of development and more new hotels than you could poke a stick at, QLD’s capital is where it’s at. Awaiting visitors are the fruits of “an enormous surge in inner-suburban development”, according to Broadsheet’s Brisbane editor Matt Shea. Shea’s suburb to watch is Fortitude Valley. “From the eateries and boutiques that have opened in Ada Lane opposite The Calile Hotel in the north right down to star chef Ben Williamson’s upcoming restaurant, 22 Agnes, which is set to open in an old warehouse (next month), the suburb is adding plenty of colour to its grungy heart.” Shea’s top pick for 2020’s most exciting arrival, however, is decidedly practical – the second runway at Brisbane Airport. “The project’s completion will effectively double the airport’s capacity, meaning the city can better accommodate its booming tourism numbers.”


5. Canberra is cool (we promise) 

Pilot restaurant, Canberra, credit Pilot Restaurant

Pilot restaurant, Canberra, credit Pilot Restaurant

Good Food Guide editor Myffy Rigby has dined at Australia’s hottest restaurants. But her recommendation for 2020’s foodie city to watch might surprise you: “Ah, Canberra,” she says. “The easiest city in the country to be indifferent about when it comes to anything other than wonderful schools and safe, steady jobs in the public sector.” Rigby knows many might argue there are more dynamic places to drink and dine in Australia. “But it’s an argument that isn’t quite as easy to defend as it once was,” she says. As proof she points to Rebel Rebel: “Sean McConnell’s new all-day eats-fest (‘cacao pops’ for breakfast, clams and chorizo for dinner and a killer bacon sarnie to fill in the gaps) recently swung open to rave reviews and sighs of relief”; as well as the “nimble little restaurant that could”, Pilot. “It’s here that you can try the most dramatically delicious roast chicken served with a side of steamed bread, crisp lettuce and house-made aioli,” Rigby says. “Add to that stayers like Bar Rochford and Temporada and you might press pause on that argument for good.”  


6. Wellness warriors are hitting harder 

Altitude retreat, Victoria credit Altitude

Retreat to the soothing interiors at Big Sky's Altitude suite, Victoria: credit Altitude

As wellness travel settles into the mainstream, we’re expecting more from retreats than mere relaxation. “2020 will be filled with wellness retreats offering more than just yoga,” predicts Marie Claire Australia wellness editor Lucy Cousins. Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, for example, now challenges guests to a 21km trail run during its new Wolgan Warrior weekends.  At the top of Cousins’ list is Big Sky Retreat in Bright, VIC. “Its Altitude I villa offers a simulated high-altitude sleeping environment where the room is filled with ‘filtered hypoxic air or a lower concentration of oxygen’ to improve your athletic ability.”


7. Luxury hotels are adding an Aussie twist

Ritz Carlton Perth, Western Australia, Virgin Australia, credit Ritz Carlton

Ritz Carlton Perth, Western Australia: credit Ritz Carlton

High-end hoteliers are making their way Down Under but, according to Virgin Australia Magazine editor-at-large Georgia Rickard, “Never before have we seen global brands pay such respectful consideration to Australian sensitivities. The new Ritz Carlton Perth is a gorgeous example: from its locally sourced artworks to Kimberley-hewn sandstone walls, this is immediately, and obviously, a hotel for WA.” Expect more from the brand shortly: Ritz Carlton Melbourne is due to open this year.


8. Our Red Rock will continue to rock 

With #UluruClimb and #respect trending in 2019, 9Honey travel editor Kat Scott foresees a big year for the Red Centre. “Our red dirt territory is in for a huge 2020,” she says. “Savvy travellers have long known the sacred rock is best viewed from a distance and don’t get me started on the region’s other oh-so-’grammable attributes, such as Bruce Munro’s ethereal Field of Light (extended indefinitely) ... The Red Centre is just getting warmed up.”


9. We’re taking the slow road (or rail) 

Slow travel is gaining popularity at lightning speed, and Australia’s expanses are made for meanders. For Slow Travel author Penny Watson, train travel embodies slow principles. “Train travel is real escapism. It combines vast distances, unique landscapes and a hands-off approach ... you’re at liberty to sit back, relax and watch the scenery roll by. That’s a rare treat in this day and age.” At the top of her 2020 list is the brand-new Great Southern by Journey Beyond – the same company behind Australia’s most epic train journeys, namely The Ghan and Indian Pacific. “Great Southern runs between Adelaide and Brisbane with eye-candy stops along the way including in the Hunter Valley in NSW, and the Grampians and Great Ocean Road in Victoria.”


10. The Kimberley is about to take off

Lake Argyle Caravan Park, Lake Argyle Kununurra Kimberley Western Australia credit Tourism Australia

Views for days at Lake Argyle Caravan Park, near Kununurra, the Kimberley region, Western Australia: credit Tourism Australia

This ancient landscape at the far reaches of northern WA is poised to enchant a new generation of fans. “The Kimberley has been on wish lists everywhere for the past decade,” says our editor-at-large Georgia Rickard. But she predicts the game is set to change with Virgin Australia’s new direct flights between Melbourne and Kununurra, taking off in May this year. “Yep, that means the Kimberley just got a little closer for many of us – but it also shines a spotlight on a new part of the region,” she says. “Until now, most attention has focused on Outback beach town Broome, the traditional gateway to the region in the west, but Kununurra (found on the eastern side of the Kimberley, near the extraordinary Bungle Bungles) is set to change that. This year, we’re going to see a lot of people fall in love with the quirky, relaxed town on the edge of the Ord River – go for pizza at the Pumphouse and take a jaw-dropping sunset cruise on the lake.; make sure you go for a swim at Lake Argyle Carvan Park's incredible infinity pool, too.” Rickard’s top tip? “Try to be in town for the Ord Valley Muster (15–24 May, 2020) – it’s quite the party.”


11. We’re swooning over The Swan

Lake Argyle Caravan Park, Lake Argyle, Kununurra, Kimberley, Western Australia credit Tourism Australia

Morning mist at the Swan Valley wine region, credit Tourism Western Australia

For 2020’s wine destination to watch, delicious. magazine’s drinker-in-chief Mike Bennie points us to Australia's west. “Set on the banks of the Swan River and wedged below Perth Hills, Swan Valley is a charming district,” he says. “The region celebrates old-vine vineyards, fortified wines and family winemaking, but is also revealing an undercurrent of lo-fi and natural-wine producers who are redefining the region.” Bennie’s new-breed picks include Swan Valley Wines and Vino Volta. “This emerging sect is drawing gaze through pet nat (naturally sparkling) fizzy wines, bright and fresh reds, white and red blends and orange wines (whites made like reds).”


12. Our frontiers are expanding 

As the impacts of overtourism sink in, many of us are seeking new frontiers. The OG of chasing new horizons, Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler, recently wrapped an epic adventure researching his new book Islands of Australia. Of thousands of stops, he singles out the Bass Strait islands. King and Flinders islands are starting to pop up on tourists’ radars, but Wheeler went further. “The other islands tend to be forgotten, but there are about 50 of them including Deal – with Australia’s highest lighthouse. We shouldn’t forget Skull Rock (Cleft Island), with a cave big enough to pop the Sydney Opera House inside. Or Boundary Islet, where, due to some Colonial-era mischarting, Victoria and Tasmania share a land border,” he says. “Flinders and King islands are certainly attracting more visitors, but getting to the other islands is not easy. The odd yachties turn up and, remarkably, kayakers. Every summer a number of intrepid kayakers make their way, island to island, across the 200km gap between Wilson’s Prom and Tasmania. If you’re looking for people chasing new frontiers in Australia, those strong-armed paddlers have to be leading the way.” 

13. A day on the farm is going designer  

The Homestead, Mona Farm, ACT, credit Mona Farm

The Homestead, Mona Farm, ACT: credit Mona Farm

With agritourism on the rise, rural Australia is stepping up. “A lot of micro-boutique hotels, especially farmstays, are opening,” says editor-in-chief of Executive Style Michael Harry. “They’re bringing glam to farms for city slickers, but via these ultra-boutique offerings, as opposed to the usual stays.” His picks: Ross Farm and Polperro in Victoria, and the ACT’s Mona Farm.

14. Outback chic is now a thing 

Mt-Mulligan-Lodge_North-Queensland credit Wilson Archer

Adventures on the road at Mt Mulligan Lodge, North-Queensland: credit Wilson Archer / Mount Mulligan

Australia’s unique brand of barefoot luxury has been growing in international renown for the last couple of decades: but in 2020, we can expect to see that approach further refined, as new properties like Mt Mulligan Lodge in Outback QLD, cement their position in the market. “Mt Mulligan has all the hallmarks of a luxury lodge, and then some,” Virgin Australia Magazine editor Krysia Bonkowski says. “But it’s no fly and flop. The lodge has its feet firmly planted in the red dirt of the cattle station it inhabits, with daily tours unpacking the region’s tough and tragic mining history, and nods to the ancient Indigenous heritage of Ngarrabullgan mountain.” In 2020, Mt Mulligan will also unveil two glamping tents, so those with more modest budgets can see what the fuss is about.


15. Tasmania is hot on two wheels

Mountain biking against an epic Tasmanian backdrop, credit Tourism Tasmania

Mountain biking against a typically epic Tasmanian backdrop: credit Tourism Tasmania

Tassie has been quietly developing a rep as an ‘MTB’ (mountain biking) hub for the past few years, but in 2020, Cyclist Magazine’s Alex Malone can’t wait to hit its newest trail: St Helens Mountain Bike Trails. Created by the same team who transformed Tasmanian town of Derby into one of the world’s hottest mountain biking hubs, the new trail is a promising development, Malone says. “Featuring over 100km of trails, including a 42km ride from the heights of the Blue Tier down to the beach in Binalong Bay, the huge network offers graded tracks for riders of all abilities.”


16. The kids are calling the shots

Mackay Queensland credit Tourism Events Queensland

A friendly roo on the beach at Cape Hillsborough, Mackay: credit Tourism and Events Queensland

Eco-minded kids are influencing travel plans like never before – it’s what Holidays with Kids editor Aleney de Winter calls the “Greta effect”. “As more and more kids become vocal advocates for the environment, family travel choices are becoming increasingly driven by the desire of children to travel responsibly,” de Winter says. “From nixing straws and single-use plastics as they travel to undertaking spontaneous beach clean-ups, offsetting flights and choosing environmentally friendly tour operators, kids are holding their parents accountable.” Her pick for 2020’s most underrated family destination? The clean, green Mackay region. “Often overlooked for its glamorous northern neighbours, QLD’s Mackay region is the living embodiment of a David Attenborough doco, with wildlife- crammed rainforests, fish-filled reefs and extraordinary beaches  without the crowds. Where else in Australia can you spot whales during the migration season, kayak through a dugong sanctuary, stroll through giant boulder-scattered rainforests, take a dip in a natural swimming hole, enjoy sunrise with wallabies, snorkel with turtles and play  I Spy with platypus, all in the one place?”


17. Second cities are coming first

Newcastle, courtesy Newcastle

An aerial view of Newcastle's beach-lapped edges: credit DNSW

In our quest to sidestep crowds, Australia’s ‘second cities’ are emerging as first-tier destinations. NSW’s second-largest city, Newcastle, is an intriguing example. The former industrial hub is starting to show off the results of a $1.4 billion revival. Co-founder of the region’s top lifestyle guide HUNTERhunter, Alissa McCulloch, has watched ‘Newy’ evolve. “We are continually amazed at the level of investment being made by local businesspeople, which is in turn providing Newcastle with a really diverse and interesting offering, especially within the food and dining scene, that is now comparable to any other major city within Australia,” she says. Like many locals, McCulloch is particularly excited about two big-name arrivals in 2020: the QT Newcastle in Hunter St Mall and Newcastle’s first five-star hotel, Crystalbrook Collection’s the Kingsley. “We cannot wait to see the Newcastle CBD – in particular the Mall – brought back to life.” McCulloch says. “I’ve also heard that a karaoke bar is opening early [this] year, which is pretty cool; every city needs a quality karaoke bar.”


18. First nations are centre stage 

From Perth Festival to Parrtjima, Indigenous voices are claiming their place on the festival circuit. “I’ve got a great feeling about this year’s Biennale of Sydney,” says Time Out Australia’s national arts and culture editor Ben Neutze. “Programmed by Brook Andrew, it has a focus on First Nations artists ... I think it will shake up how major art events happen in Australia.”


19. French masters are coming to Oz

NGV Pierre Bonnard 2020

Pierre Bonnard at Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria: credit NGV

In 2020, Melbourne and Sydney will welcome major exhibits by French masters: Pierre Bonnard (at the NGV this winter) and Henri Matisse (at the AGNSW from November). “Matisse might be a bigger name,” Neutze says, “but the NGV is combining Bonnard’s work with a boldly colourful exhibition design by French-Iranian architect/designer India Mahdavi.” Our suggestion: do both.


20. We’re hitting the high notes

“It’s a big year for major musicals in 2020,” Neutze says. “But the show that will really make a big impact is Fun Home, a beautiful and heartbreaking musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel ... The Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company co-production will be directed by Dean Bryant, one of our best musical-theatre artists.”


Words by Constantina Demos and Krysia Bonkowski; published Tuesday 24 December 2019.

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