The ultimate Australian adventure: Top outdoor activities and where to find them

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With four Down Under escapades under my belt, Australia is one place that I can never get enough of. This sun-soaked country boasts landscapes that range from red-earthed deserts to tropical coastlines, creating the perfect canvas for adrenaline-pumping adventures.

From jet boating through horizontal waterfalls and snorkeling with whale sharks along the Great Barrier Reef's wonders to 4WD journeys in the iconic outback, Oz is a playground for the daring. Venture into World Heritage-listed wilderness areas, where you can raft Tasmania's pristine Franklin River or drive along the sandy shores of K'Gari, the world's largest sand island.

But it's not just about nature's playground – cities like Sydney offer urban adventures, like summiting the Harbour Bridge or abseiling down Blue Mountains cliffs. And let's not forget Australia's hidden gems, from ski slopes in the Snowy Mountains to the underwater marvels of the Great Barrier Reef. Join me as we uncover the top 10 heart-pounding adventures that make Australia every thrill-seeker's dream!

1. Snorkeling and diving

Where: Great Barrier Reef
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Hot tip: Try going to Frankland Islands for snorkeling. They only allow about a 100 people per day, making the experience exclusive.

Woman snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef

Diving into the heart of the Great Barrier Reef is like stepping into an aquatic wonderland. Having explored this UNESCO World Heritage Site thrice now, I can attest to its breathtaking beauty. With over 2,900 reefs, it's a kaleidoscope of marine life—colorful corals, tropical fish, giant clams, and even majestic whales. Despite recent bleaching, the diverse marine ecosystem remains a paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers. You can choose to go on a Liveaboard day trip for a comprehensive experience. Trips from Airlie Beach, Port Douglas, and Cairns cater to time-crunched adventurers. From the Coral Sea's Predator's Playground to the iconic Yongala shipwreck, the Great Barrier Reef promises an unforgettable underwater odyssey.

2. Jet Boating

Where: Horizontal Falls, Kimbolton
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★★☆☆
Hot tip: Visit between May to September when the tides are at their highest, making Horizontal Falls at their most spectacular.

A man jet boating

Jet boating at Horizontal Falls in the rugged Kimberley region is a wild adventure that gets my adrenaline pumping every time. Arriving by seaplane, the journey begins with a seaplane flight over the Buccaneer Archipelago's red cliffs and turquoise waters. After a smooth water landing at Talbot Bay, the real thrill kicks in – a jet boat ride through the narrow gorges of the Horizontal Falls, shaped by powerful tides. Skidding across glassy waters, you'll feel the rush as nature's forces create a unique horizontal waterfall. The tour usually wraps up with optional shark swims in a secure cage, followed by a nice lunch, capping off a day of extreme Australian adventure.

3. Dune bashing

Where: Fraser Island
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★★★☆
Hot tip: Stick to the firmer surface by driving on the tougher sand between the waterline and the high tide mark. If you need to cross water, follow the tracks of other drivers and avoid creating new crossing points.

Dune bashing

Dune bashing on Fraser Island is like hitting the ultimate off-road jackpot. Cruising a 4x4 along the expansive Seventy-Five Mile Beach, framed by technicolor sand cliffs and the Maheno shipwreck, is a thrill-seeker's dream. This tops my list of must-do activities in K'Gari. From spotting dingos to exploring red-streaked cliffs, the island unfolds a unique blend of coastal wonders and subtropical rainforests. For a family-friendly adventure or solo escapade, this World Heritage site delivers. Just ensure your 4WD has the chops for soft sands, or join a guided tour for the ride of a lifetime.

4. White Water Rafting

Where: Tully River | Franklin River | Murray River | Mitta Mitta River | Barron River
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★★★☆
Hot tip: Ensure you always have a life jacket on. In the event of falling into the water, it's crucial to remain calm and avoid panicking.

White Water Rafting

White water rafting in Australia is an absolute thrill, and I can vouch for the heart-pounding excitement it brings. Whether you're a newbie or a seasoned pro, the roaring rapids of Tully River, Franklin River, Murray River, Mitta Mitta River, and Barron River welcome all. My personal favorite is the mighty Franklin River in Tasmania, a triumph of conservation efforts that unleashed a 125-kilometer rafting adventure through eucalyptus forests, tranquil pools, and Class VI rapids. No prior experience is needed, just a bit of strength and a love for the rush as you navigate this wild and beautiful Australian waterway.

5. Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Where: Sydney
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★★☆☆
Hot tip: If heights make you uneasy, try focusing on the horizontal view rather than looking downward to feel more at ease.

Vanuatu volcano

Scaling the Sydney Harbour Bridge is not just a climb; it's a sensory spectacle. After much speculation, I finally decided to climb this iconic structure on my fourth visit to Australia, and boy was it worth it! The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb treats you to unparalleled 360-degree views of the harbor, Opera House, and the CBD. Choose from sunrise, sunset, or express climbs, each offering a unique perspective of the stunning cityscape. Standing 440 feet above, you'll feel the sea breeze and witness Sydney's splendor. The climb, complete with safety gear and entertaining anecdotes, seamlessly combines an outdoor thrill with an insightful experience, making it a highlight of the ultimate Australian adventure.

6. Blue Mountains adventures

Where: New South Wales
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★★☆☆
Hot tip: For your bushwalking adventure, come prepared with sun and rain protection, such as a cap, rain jacket, and sunscreen. Pay special attention to your trekking shoes, ensure an ample water supply, and pack a personal first aid kit.

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Dive into the heart of the Blue Mountains, a haven for thrill-seekers like me. Beyond its jaw-dropping landscapes, hiking here is a blissful communion with nature. But why stop at trekking when you can rappel down sheer limestone cliffs? Abseiling in the misty Blue Mountains is a heart-pounding escapade, offering a unique perspective of this World Heritage wilderness. Amid eucalyptus-scented forests, explore the iconic Three Sisters, hike into plunging valleys, and capture waterfalls cascading down the rugged terrain. For the adrenaline junkies, canyoning, rock climbing, and mountain biking tours await, making the Blue Mountains a must-visit for the ultimate Aussie adventure.

7. Skiing at the Snowy Mountains

Where: Jacobs River, NSW
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Hot tip: Regardless of your skill level, lessons are the most effective way to learn and advance. Every resort has its own snow schools that provide both private and group lessons.

Skiing at the Snowy Mountains

Venturing into the Snowy Mountains for my inaugural skiing escapade was a chilly thrill I won't forget. Thredbo, nestled in Kosciuszko National Park, offered a snowy playground worth the drive – 5.5 hours from Sydney, 7 from Melbourne, and just 2 from Canberra. For beginners like me, a 3-day package with lessons is the way to go, ensuring you grasp the slopes by the second or third day. Whether a novice or pro, the Snowy Mountains caters to all skiers and snowboarders. Pro tip: invest in a lesson to kickstart your snow adventure and pace yourself for an exhilarating, not exhausting, alpine experience.

8. Skydiving

Where: Sydney | Cairns | Melbourne | Brisbane | York | Byron Bay | Rockingham
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★★★★
Hot tip: Do not use any drugs or alcohol in the eight hours leading up to your skydive. Additionally, avoid scuba diving within 24 hours before your skydiving experience.

Skydiving in sydney

Embark on an adrenaline-pumped affair with the sky, taking the plunge into the exhilarating world of skydiving in Australia. Sydney, Melbourne, Queensland, Gold Coast, and Western Australia offer prime spots to free fall from thousands of feet. However, Mission Beach stands out with its iconic tandem skydive, capturing your wild adventure on a wrist-mounted GoPro. Skydiving over Sydney and Melbourne adds a scenic twist, treating you to breathtaking views of beaches, wine valleys, and lush cityscapes. If you're craving an extreme adventure to check off your bucket list, Australia's diverse and stunning dropzones make it the ultimate skydiving destination.

9. Hang gliding

Where: Bald Hill in Stanwell Tips | Hill 60 in Wollongong
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★★★★
Hot tip: Opt for a certified hang gliding school with experienced instructors. Research reviews and recommendations to ensure a safe and enjoyable first-time experience.

Hang gliding

Fulfill your dream of soaring like a bird with hang gliding, a must-try adventure sport in Australia. Imagine yourself coasting through the sky, soaking in a bird's eye view of picturesque landscapes. For a breathtaking experience, Bald Hill in Stanwell Park steals the show, offering incredible views along the Grand Pacific Drive just an hour south of Sydney. If the northeasterly winds are calling, Hill 60 in Wollongong is your spot—25 minutes south of Stanwell Park—with crystal-clear waters, scenic beaches, and a bird sanctuary offshore. These premier coastal flying sites make hang gliding an unforgettable adventure on the Aussie horizon.

10. Jet Fighter experience

Where: Brisbane | Port Macquarie | Camden | Melbourne
Adrenaline Rush Rating: ★★★★★
Hot tip: Do not eat a heavy meal before you go for this experience.

L-39 jets

Ready for an adrenaline-fueled joyride? Picture yourself in the cockpit of an L-39 jet, living out your Top Gun fantasies over Australia's scenic wonders. This isn't just a dream – it's a reality you can check off your bucket list. With experienced jet fighter pilots, prepare for an exhilarating 25-minute mission, twisting through g-force and heart-pounding maneuvers. From the vineyards of the Hunter Valley to Bathurst, Echuca Aerodrome, and Brisbane's Archerfield Airport, these jet fighter experiences promise awesome views and a thrilling journey. So, if you've ever craved the sky-high rush of a fighter pilot, make it happen and let the adventure take flight!