Alternative Australia

Lights Beach near Denmark (Tourism WA)

If Australia's well-established holiday spots are too crowded, there's always an alternative offering a similar experience.

Standard spot: Gold Coast, Queensland
Aussie alternative: Coffs Harbour, NSW

Why? It may not have quite the same all-action outlook as the Gold Coast, but Coffs does much the same thing in a more laidback way. It's big enough to ensure there's good nightlife for those wanting to tear it up, while there are excellent beaches for those wanting to surf or lap up the sun.

Coffs also has the same emphasis on keeping kids happy. At the Pet Porpoise Pool, it's possible to shake hands (or flippers) with dolphins and get a kiss from a seal, while the legendary Big Banana is now just more than a tacky fibreglass fruit. There are toboggan rides, giant waterslides and an ice rink within the complex.

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Standard spot: Great Barrier Reef, Qld
Aussie alternative: Ningaloo Reef, WA

Why? The Great Barrier Reef — the biggest living thing on earth — is unquestionably one of the world's greatest natural wonders. The only problem is that it can be difficult to get part of it to yourself amongst all the resort islands and boat trips. Fortunately, on the other side of the country is the Ningaloo. It's a little smaller, but just as magnificent and with the added bonus of being far less popular.

The best place to get out to the Ningaloo from is Exmouth, in the middle of the west coast. From there it's possible to do all that would normally be done on the Great Barrier — boat cruises, snorkelling, diving — and more. Diving with giant whale sharks is a highlight, for example.

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Standard spot: Phillip Island, Vic
Aussie alternative: Montague Island, NSW

Why? Over the years, the penguin parade at Phillip Island — adorable fairy penguins running along the beach to their nests at dusk — has become something of a scrum. What was formerly an intimate encounter is now spread out over viewing platforms that seem to contain half Australia's tourists.

Montague Island off Narooma on the southern NSW coast is home to Australia's second largest colony of little penguins. And they do much the same thing there, but in front of a small boatload rather than a surging horde of tourists. Trips out also include a lighthouse tour and seal-watching.

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Standard spot: Byron Bay, NSW
Aussie alternative: Denmark, WA

Why? Byron is still Australia's unquestioned alternative lifestyle capital, but the hippy ethic can occasionally be hard to find among all the backpacker operators handing out leaflets and the city slickers pretending they're interested in incense for a weekend before going back to their normal lives.

Denmark in the forests of south-west Australia is much more chilled — like Byron 25 years ago, some would say. There are excellent beaches close by, plus an arty lifestyle that has seen painters, sculptors, textile workers (and yes, hippy throwbacks) move there in droves.

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Standard spot: Hervey Bay, Qld
Aussie alternative: Rainbow Beach, Qld

Why? Hervey Bay is a town on the up and up. Domestic flights now go there directly and the tourist industry is booming. This is largely because it's the main gateway to Fraser Island and the 4WD fun that entails. It's not the closest point to Fraser, though. The journey over from Rainbow Beach is much shorter and that settlement, which lies just off the southern tip of the island, is far more cruisey and laidback. Plus there is the Great Sandy National Park right on the doorstep — perfect for mangroves, sand dunes and world-class kayaking.

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Standard spot: Uluru, NT
Aussie alternative: Mount Augustus, WA

Why? Uluru, while it is obviously overhyped, is still an absolute must-see in Australia. But it's a myth that it's the biggest rock in the world — that particular honour falls to Mount Augustus.

Augustus isn't as immediately spectacular as Uluru but it works better in a wilder, more rugged kind of way. And needless to say, it's absolutely enormous, rising 730 metres above the plains. It can be climbed and there are plenty of rock paintings by the indigenous Wadjari people to take in along the way. The only problem is that this big rock (Burringurrah to the local Aboriginals) truly is in the middle of nowhere — 320 kilometres from Carnarvon on the west coast and with no handy airstrip. Still, that means it's easy to watch the changing colours and do the walks in peace — if you can get there.

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Can you think of any other alternative holiday destinations in Australia? Share your experiences and recommendations with fellow travellers below!

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