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Off the beaten track: the best travel destinations you’ve never thought of

10 min read
31 Jan 2019
Man looking at northern lights iceland

Want to go somewhere that’s not Bali or Thailand this holiday season?

Sick of going to Melbourne or Sydney for your great Australian holiday?

We all love a good holiday, but sometimes we get sucked in the same holiday routine. If you’re looking to go somewhere different this time, but are a little stuck for choice on where to go in such a wide world, take a look through our top picks of alternative international and Australian travel destinations.

International destinations

Iceland, Europe

Capital: Reykjavík | Time zone: UTC+0 | Population: 355,000 | Area: 102,775 km² | Language/s: Icelandic| Currency: Icelandic króna (ISK)

About Iceland

The Nordic island of Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean but, despite its chilly name and location, enjoys a temperate climate due to the Gulf Stream.[1] Iceland has everything from rivers to caves, hot springs to mountains, glaciers to volcanoes: not for nothing is it known as the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’.[2]

It’s no wonder that the small island of Iceland has this broad range of nature, as it sits right on the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates; you can actually view part of this rift in the þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park.[3] Iceland’s location on these constantly-moving tectonic plates has given rise, quite literally, to their many volcanos, fissures, and geysers.

As such a geographically-diverse country, there is no shortage of things to do and see in Iceland.[4] Day trips to bird and whale watching locations are available across the country, including the capital Reykjavík. If you’re looking for more physical activities, you have a selection of jogging paths, hiking trails, cycling routes, caving excursions, and even ice climbs to choose from. If you’re not much of an adrenaline junkie, Iceland also offers shopping, festivals, museums, and dining for you to explore.

Perhaps the most spectacular sight Iceland has to offer is the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights, which visitors from September to April may be lucky enough to see.[5] If you’re visiting Iceland during this time, you can join a sightseeing trip lead by an experienced guide, skilled at finding the best locations to see the Lights. Just keep in mind that you may not see the Northern Lights on your trip, as they’re notoriously fickle.

Namibia, Africa

Capital: Windhoek | Time zone: UTC+2 | Population: 2.6 million | Area: 825,615 km² | Language/s: English, German, Afrikaans, Oshiwambo, Nama/Damara, Kavango, Herero | Currency: Namibian dollar (NAD), South African rand (ZAR)

About Namibia

The Republic of Namibia is located on Africa’s southwest coast, and shares its borders with Angola, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa.[6] Namibia has been ruled by both Germany and South Africa over the course of a century, but gained its independence in 1990.

The Namibian landscape features both the Namib and Kalahari deserts and the Central Plateau which in some places reaches 1,980 metres in altitude. Due to its proximity to the southern tropics, Namibia’s coast is cooled by the Benguela Current, while the Plateau (including the capital Windhoek) and the Kalahari reach temperatures of 30°C or more during summer days; the humidity level, however, is low.

Namibia’s proud, internationally-recognised conservation effort has created 20 protected conservation areas across the country, covering around 17% of the land.[7] The most popular of these is the Etosha National Park, which dates back to 1907 and covers an area of nearly 23,000km².

Etosha National Park is home to a hugely diverse range of animal species, including 400 species of bird as well as elephants, lions, giraffes, and zebras. You can also find some more unusual animals like Oryx, Damara dik-diks, and springboks.

Once you’d soaked up as much of the nature and scenery as you can, Namibia also offers activities and sports for tourists including:

  • hiking
  • caving
  • quad biking
  • skydiving
  • ballooning
  • canoeing and kayaking
  • stargazing.[8]

Hainan Province, China, Asia

Capital: Haikou | Time zone: UTC+8 | Population: 9.1 million | Area: 35,400 km² | Language/s: Hainanese, Yue, Hlai | Currency: Renminbi/yuan (CNY)

About Hainan

Hainan is a Chinese island province in the South China Sea.[9] Hainan Island has a mountainous centre with tablelands and plains fanning out towards the coastline, dotted with rivers and streams. Hainan’s climate is tropical, reaching an average of only 28°C in July (summer), and is often interrupted by rainfall, tropical storms, and typhoons.

Because of this lush, tropical climate, Hainan is abundant in national parks, gardens, and reserves, each hosting an array of flora, fauna, and scenery.[10] Many of these are home to rare and endangered animals, native to Hainan. Some parks and reserves also have hiking and walking trails as well as accommodation for guests.

Water sports have a particularly strong presence with Hainan’s tourism industry, with activities available at various locations around the province like:

  • scuba diving
  • water skiing
  • kayaking
  • fishing
  • white-water rafting
  • sailing.[11]

Of course, a trip to Hainan wouldn’t be complete without attending one of their many festivals. Aside from nation-wide Chinese festivals, Hainan also hold their own unique and traditional celebrations all year round. Some of the many festivals celebrated in Hainan include the Flower Exchange Festival, Danzhou Dragon Boat Festival, Wanning Lantern Festival Dragon Dance and Sanya International Orchid Show.[12]

Domestic destinations

Lord Howe Island, NSW

Located about 600km off the New South Wales coast, Lord Howe Island is a tiny subtropical destination with a population of less than 400 permanent residents.[13] Lord Howe Island was World Heritage Listed in 1982 and declared a State Marine Park in 1998. Its protected status is such that only 400 tourists are allowed on the island at any given time.

Despite its limited tourist population, there is no shortage of sights and activities to enjoy while visiting the island. Bird watching, with or without a guided tour, is one such activity, as there are around 130 recorded species of bird on the Island.[14]

Scuba diving and snorkelling is also available; with more than 60 diving sites around the Island to choose from, you can be sure you’ll see some of Lord Howe Island’s 500 species of fish and 90 species of coral.[15] Lord Howe Island’s water-based sports extend to surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and sailing, while those visitors who would rather stay dry have their choice of cycling, golf, tennis, and lawn bowls.[16]

If you’re looking for a tourism experience that’s unique to Lord Howe Island, you can participate in the Conservation Volunteers LHI Program by surveying and recording various animals while you’re exploring the island.[17] These surveys help protect Lord Howe Island’s unique flora and fauna, and contribute towards their conservation.

Katherine, NT

The town of Katherine (located in the eponymous region upon the eponymous river) lies about 320km south of Darwin.[18] Like much of Australia, Katherine is home to some beautiful and unique animals, especially birds.

The Nitmiluk National Park is located about 30km from the town of Katherine and is abundant in scenery and tourist activities. There are camping grounds at both Nitmiluk Gorge (Katherine Gorge) and Leliyn (Edith Falls), and a caravan park at the former.[19] Other activities in the Park include:

  • canoeing
  • fishing
  • boating
  • swimming (only in marked areas)
  • bushwalking
  • Aboriginal rock art viewing.

The Northern Territory has countless waterholes, rivers, and waterfalls for swimming, and Katherine is no different.[20] The Edith Falls pools and the Katherine Hot Springs, for instance, are open to swimmers; however, ensure you thoroughly check any signage before entering any water as not all water-dwelling animals are friendly.

Atherton Tablelands, QLD

The Atherton Tablelands is a region of around 64,768km² in far north Queensland.[21] Since the Tablelands span such a distance and is home to several towns, you won’t have much trouble finding things to do during your visit. Some of the many activities you could get up to while visiting the Tablelands include:

  • riding the Skyrail cableway
  • hot air ballooning
  • visiting the Murdering Point winery
  • bungy jumping
  • embarking on Charley’s Chocolate Tour
  • taking a river or reef cruise.[22]

If you’re looking for a more natural experience, the Atherton Tablelands have many natural wonders for you to explore, like Mt Hypipamee (a volcanically-formed crater), Cobbold Gorge, Crater Lakes National Park, and the Crystal and Chillagoe cave systems.[23] There are also dozens of walking and hiking trails throughout the Tablelands that take you through some of its more spectacular sights.[24]

Once you’ve feasted your eyes on the flora, you might like to meet the local fauna. You can visit the wildlife sanctuaries and parks located across the Tablelands that house every type of Australian animal you can think of, like birds, crocodiles, butterflies, koalas, and even tree kangaroos.[25]

Thinking about travelling to some – or all – of these places?

Don’t forget to take out a travel insurance policy! Organising travel insurance is just as important as organising the flights, accommodation, and itinerary. You never know when you might fall ill or get injured at home, let alone when travelling in a new and foreign country. Travel insurance can help you when these things, and more, happen.

Since you’re already here (and hopefully in the mood for travel!), why not use Compare the Market’s handy travel insurance comparison service to find a great insurance policy for your next trip? Our service is fast and free to use, so you can quote and compare in just minutes!

Did you know our comparison service also compares hotels? You can find hotels in all of the above locations just by using our hotel comparison service.

[1] Promote Iceland – The big picture. Accessed December 2018.
[2] Promote Iceland – About Iceland. Accessed December 2018.
[3] Guide to Iceland – The history of Iceland: the formation of Iceland. Accessed December 2018.
[4] Promote Iceland – What to do in Iceland? Accessed December 2018.
[5] Promote Iceland – Northern Lights in Iceland. Accessed December 2018.
[6] Encyclopaedia Britannica – ‘Namibia’ by Reginald Herbold Green. June 2018.
[7] Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism – Overview of national parks. Accessed December 2018.
[8] Namibia Tourism Board – Adventure & activities. Accessed December 2018.
[9] Encyclopaedia Britannica – ‘Hainan’ by Victor C. Falkenheim. November 2016.
[10] Hainan Department of Tourism, Culture, Radio, Television, and Sports – Nature & wildlife. Accessed December 2018.
[11] Hainan Department of Tourism, Culture, Radio, Television, and Sports – Sports & adventures. Accessed December 2018.
[12] Hainan Department of Tourism, Culture, Radio, Television, and Sports – Events & festivals. Accessed December 2018.
[13] Lord Howe Island Tourism Association – Location. Accessed December 2018.
[14] Lord Howe Island Tourism Association – Bird watching. Accessed December 2018.
[15] Lord Howe Island Tourism Association – Snorkelling. Accessed December 2018.
[16] Lord Howe Island Tourism Association – Sports. Accessed December 2018.
[17] Lord Howe Island Tourism Association – Citizen science. Accessed December 2018.
[18] Katherine Visitor Information Centre – About Katherine. Accessed December 2018.
[19] Northern Territory Government – Nitmiluk National Park. November 2018.
[20] Katherine Visitor Information Centre – Swimming. Accessed December 2018.
[21] Atherton Tablelands Promotion Bureau Limited – Region overview. Accessed December 2018.
[22] Atherton Tablelands Promotion Bureau Limited – Activities & tours. Accessed December 2018.
[23] Atherton Tablelands Promotion Bureau Limited – Geological wonders. Accessed December 2018.
[24] Atherton Tablelands Promotion Bureau Limited – Hiking & walking. Accessed December 2018.
[25] Atherton Tablelands Promotion Bureau Limited – Wildlife. Accessed December 2018.

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avatar of author: Eliza Buglar

Written by Eliza Buglar

Because she likes reading, as well as watching endless amounts of films, Eliza majored in Creative Writing and Film and Television at QUT. She also likes music, but didn’t study that. When she’s not using her writing major at Compare the Market, you can catch her utilising that film major at every Marvel and Star Wars film that comes into cinema.

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