There’s no point booking a holiday to somewhere that’s already hopping with tourists, with hotels, restaurants, rental cars and tours booked out. But the much-hyped release of 800,000 half-price flights on April 1 pushed Australians into the same 18 destinations, while other struggling regions missed out.

Instead of following the crowd, you should hit the roads less travelled and fly the routes less flown. Consider rural rather than coastal towns. Support a city that has suffered from the lack of international tourists and corporate travellers. Spread the holiday love.

It’s important to note that cheap flights are available to almost everywhere in Australia. The Federal Government’s program cuts 50 per cent off the average fare, so the prices are not that much better than the sales offered by airlines throughout the year. Also, you’re more likely to find a greater choice of accommodation and activities if you go off the radar.

To ensure a place to stay, things to do and grateful local businesses, it’s a smart idea to skip the mad rush to Scott Morrison’s chosen 18. Go your own way. Ask a travel agent for help. Spend your dollars where they need it and have some fun in 2021.

Sydney

It’s hard to believe that the nation’s metropolis needs tourists, but it’s true. Not only has our global gateway lost millions of overseas and business travellers, Australians have preferred to escape big cities for their holidays. The waterfront restaurants, cafes, shops, pubs, clubs, beaches, museums, theatres, even the Sydney Opera House, Taronga and Wild Life Sydney zoos, all the harbour cruises, surfing schools and group tours are quiet compared to normal years. Hotel occupancy is less than 35 per cent, so rates have been slashed (try Vibe’s four Sydney properties for rooms under $200). If crowds and queues are your biggest turn-off, this is the best stress-free time to see Sydney at a slower pace.

Sydney
Sydney Harbour by dusk.

Blue Mountains

The mountains are blue without you, especially after a tough year of floods and bushfires. Usually inundated with day-trippers, families or couples on weekend getaways, this beautiful region is dead during the week. If you want to save on Scenic World and the hop-on, hop-off Explorer Bus, head to the Blue Mountains during the week. Dine, hike, abseil, book a day spa or guided walk and stay the night.

Southern Highlands

NSW’s triple whammy of a pandemic, floods and fires has also hit the Southern Highlands hard. After hiking along the walking trails, be sure to call in to a pub or restaurant for paddock-to-plate cuisine, or grab a famous pie from a country bakery. Taste wines at more than 20 cellar doors or book a wine tour with a local operator.

In Bowral, Moss Vale or Mittagong, browse boutiques and markets for fashion, homewares or antiques, see an exhibition at an art gallery or indulge in fine dining. Events returning this year include Pie Time (June 1-30), Tulip Time (September 17 to October 4) and Southern Highlands Food and Wine Festival (October 30-31).

Melbourne

Half-empty hotels are waiting for you to come for the city’s famed arts events. Choose from musicals such as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Melbourne Museum’s new exhibition, Treasures of the Natural World, from London’s Natural History Museum; and The Lume, an immersive digital display of Vincent van Gogh’s masterpieces opening in Autumn 2021.

On Flinders Lane, which is lined with local fashion boutiques, small bars and an outdoor gallery of street art, the just-opened Quincy Hotel is the hot newcomer with a Southeast Asian flavour. Sip cocktails with skyline views at The Q on level 28 or try Thai food with a twist at Salted Egg restaurant.

Melbourne food and wine
The wondrous food and wine in the Melbourne CBD.

Murray Region

Tourism operators in the Murray region straddling the NSW-Victorian border endured 41 weeks of interrupted trade in the past year, yet Mildura and Albury airports were not included in the government line-up.

Steeped in colonial history, this nostalgic area is home to the world’s largest fleet of active paddle-steamers and houseboats, offering a taste of river life from 150 years ago. Echuca-Moama is the hub for day cruises or extended holidays along the Murray River. Mildura and Swan Hill also offer daily paddle-steamer cruises.

At the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre, step back in time to the 1870s and experience an authentic steam port and sawmill, and explore barges moored at the heritage-listed wharf.

Riverside dining, bushwalking, canoeing, wineries and the National Holden Motor Museum are further drawcards. Quirky attractions include the Great Aussie Beer Shed and Heritage Farm Museum, featuring 20,000 beer cans and brewery items, and Cactus Country in Strathmerton, an hour’s drive east of Echuca. Walk the desert garden’s sandy trails lined with cacti and other succulents, before stopping in at the Mexican restaurant and bar.

Perth

With restrictions eased a while ago, venues are bursting with live music, dancing and festivals. Enjoy the Swan River, Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Elizabeth Quay or a Perth Mint tour, with a staycation at a CBD hotel. Vibe Hotel Subiaco, which opened in December, is offering a $100 credit in its Storehouse Restaurant, plus free parking, two coffees at St Marks Road Co, wi-fi and 12pm check-out.

A performance at Nyumbi Yagan Square.

Kununurra

While half-price flights to Broome will trickle some business into its Kimberley neighbours, the other end of the region is too far away. East Kimberley is full of true Aussie adventures, such as driving a 4WD over the Ord River via Ivanhoe Crossing or taking a boat cruise on Lake Argyle to spot freshwater crocodiles. Camp at Purnululu National Park or stay at Bungle Bungle Savannah Lodge. Take a helicopter flight over these beehive-like mounds, waterfalls and natural pools. El Questro was reportedly fully booked, but according to its new owners, cancellations from international visitors will free up rooms.

NT road trip

Darwin, Uluru and Alice Springs are covered in the government’s cheap airfares package, but that leaves out large sections of the Northern Territory. Katherine Gorge, Kings Canyon and Kakadu are some of the amazing places about three or four hours’ drive from those airports, so keep them in mind for a side-trip or embark on a campervan adventure around all of these iconic sights. Rooms are available at Kings Canyon Resort and Bamurru Plains safari lodge for an extraordinary bush experience.

Flinders Ranges

A five-hour road trip from Adelaide, this outback region is rich in Aboriginal history, wildlife, walking trails and 4WD tracks. Splurge on a scenic flight to see why the huge natural basin of Wilpena Pound looks like a meteor crater. Stay at Wilpena Pound Resort or luxury bush property Arkaba, where just 10 guests at a time visit to learn about its wildlife conservation programs.

Lizard Island

For last-minute luxury, Lizard Island has space available in April and early May. Australia’s northernmost island beach resort is secluded, with only 40 suites, but ideally located on the Great Barrier Reef, with 24 powdery-white beaches.

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