On their own, the Twelve Apostles aren’t worth going all the way to see.
There are some attractions that are packaged in and hyped up for virtually every visitor to Australia.
But, realistically, some of them aren’t that special – and there’s usually something more impressive nearby.
Darling Harbour, Sydney
Many Sydneysiders will pour scorn on Darling Harbour, perhaps a touch unfairly. It’s alright, but thoroughly underwhelming compared to the harbour proper. And visitors going to Darling Harbour for dinner or a mooch around thinking it’s the real thing are being scandalously misinformed. See darlingharbour.com
The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road
The much-photographed star of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is a fraud. There are only eight of these limestone rock stacks, and one of them is tiny. On their own, the Twelve Apostles aren’t worth going all the way to see. Taken with the other rock formations along that stretch of coast, however, and it’s a different matter. As a whole, it’s mighty impressive – and a chopper flight with 12 Apostles Helicopters is the best way to take it all in. See 12apostleshelicopters.com.au
The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains
Speaking of massively overhyped rock formations, the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains make for a decent photo, sure. But the walking trails both overlooking and inside the Jamison Valley are fabulous, if you’re prepared to take on the calf-sapping steps on the way down. The sisters should be treated as part of an invigorating half-day’s exploration, rather than a photo stop.
The Bell Tower, Perth
The waterfront position is kinda nice, but it’s really hard to get excited about the fact that some of the bells inside have come from the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. The slender green tower feels like a failed attempt to be a landmark too. If you want great views out over the Swan River, head to the genuinely magnificent Kings Park instead. See thebelltower.com.au
The train and cable car that head up to Kuranda from Cairns aren’t too bad, but the town itself – a collection of half-hearted wildlife parks and markets that’s utterly dead from late afternoon onwards – isn’t all that great. The best way to tackle it is as part of a day trip around the Atherton Tableland, taking in waterfalls and loads of indie food producers. See athertontablelands.com.au
The money’s there, the Crown casino’s there, and the ostentatious flame towers are there. But virtually none of what makes Melbourne so enjoyable stems from the South Bank. There are increasingly good restaurants there – new Argentinian joint Asado is a strong example – but, for heaven’s sake, walk over the bridge and dive headlong into the CBD’s glorious, inventive laneways.
Fitzroy Island, Cairns
It feels a bit harsh to call out Fitzroy Island, which is perfectly lovely with its beaches, rainforest walks and snorkelling spots. But if you’ve come all the way to see the Great Barrier Reef, it’s the wrong choice. Fitzroy’s popular because it’s 45 minutes from Cairns by boat, but its fringing reef doesn’t hold a candle to the Outer Reef cays further out. See fitzroyislandcairns.com
Wave Rock, Western Australia
It’s a big rock – 15 metres tall and 110 metres long – that looks a bit like a wave. That’s pretty cool for a photo stop if you’re passing by, unquestionably. The problem is that it’s in Hyden, which not many people are ever passing by. It’s a good way from the main attractions of the south-western corner and it’s a significant detour off the highway from Adelaide. As for making an eight hour round trip from Perth, as some day tours do? That’s an extremely bad way to spend a day of your holiday.
River cruises, Brisbane
Brisbane sure loves its river, but by international standards it’s hardly spectacular. A cruise along it is nice enough – and several operators offer them – but you can get much the same experience at a fraction of the price on the CityCat ferries.
Haigh’s Chocolates, Adelaide
Australia’s oldest family-owned chocolate maker does decent – arguably good – chocolate. And if you fancy some chocolate, then it may be worth nipping into the Adelaide CBD shop. The problem is in its reputation as an Adelaide institution – and the reverence in which Haigh’s is held by South Australians doesn’t translate all that well to overseas visitors being herded in there on a tour. See haighschocolates.com.au