The Australian sky really is true-blue. The experience of looking down from this vibrant hue upon purple-browns, ambers, red desert sands, straw-colored fields, and variations of eucalyptus green is miraculous.
You can fly anywhere in the world, but only in Australia can you experience this magic carpet landscape unfurled beneath your feet.
1. Heli-Camp In South Australia’s Flinders Ranges
Tour companies often combine the word “heli” with hellish experiences. Adventurers are dropped into the wild by chopper, and Bear Grylls their way out through extreme skiing, hiking, or canoeing.
Not this time. This helicopter experience comes cosseted in luxury. Heli-camping tours leave from Rawnsley Park Station, a massive sheep station a 5-hour drive north of Adelaide.
Here is a chance to see Wilpena Pound, a lesser-known Australian geological gem — the crowning jewel in the Flinders Ranges. The natural amphitheater is 11 miles long, 5 miles wide, and surrounded by a jawbone of dramatic serrated mountains.
Best seen from the air, you hover over the surreal landscape before the helicopter drops you at an outback outcrop mostly inaccessible by other means.
Deluxe camping awaits: small tents with built-in fly screens, swags, comfortable mattresses, chairs, a gourmet cheese platter, and a bottle of South Australia’s finest wine. Sip while the aromas of a pre-prepared bush oven feast waft from the glowing campfire.
Toast the sunset as it illuminates the far-off ranges. The view is a shifting panorama of colors, orange, yellow, then crimson. As night falls, take in the Outback’s spectacular star show by
rolling back the canvas like a blind.
In the morning, enjoy a campfire breakfast before swooping back to Rawnsley Park.
A Heli Camping Experience can be incorporated into 3- and 5-day guided Walking the Flinders Ranges itineraries. Other accommodation at Rawnsley Park Station includes eco-villas with over-bed skylights, which unveil a private star show. The Flinders Ranges offers walking trails suitable for various activity levels. Visit Flinders Ranges and Outback Tourism to find out more.
2. Float Over Canberra
Canberra is the only place in the world where you can float above a nation’s capital in a hot air balloon. Canberra’s creation was a compromise between the rival claims of Sydney and Melbourne, who both vied for the capital title. The inner-city area was designed by Walter Burley Griffin, a major 20th-century American architect. As a planned city, everything was done to maximize the area’s contours.
The major roads follow a wheel-and-spoke pattern from Australia’s parliament rather than a grid, so it is a fascinating sight seen from the air. Within the central area is Lake Burley Griffin, mirroring the floating beauty of the balloons. Most ballooning companies can only operate in rural areas, but because Canberra was planned, buildings are restricted in height, and you can hover over the city.
Sunrise balloon rides operate daily depending on the weather. Floating across the skies in a majestic balloon is a unique experience. Depending on the breezes, peek into the backyard of Parliament House or the American Embassy.
Pro Tip: Balloon Aloft Canberra was established in 1986 and was instrumental in starting the annual Canberra Balloon Spectacular. Over 9 days, balloons from around Australia and overseas turn the skyline into a spectacle of color and graceful movement. This event is free to watch. Balloons take off from the lawns of Parliament House.
3. Do A Pub Crawl By Helicopter
A“pub crawl” means gathering your mates and having one drink in a pub before heading to the next pub and the next. In Australia, there are tourist pub crawls by air to visit quintessential pubs, meet the characters that define them, and hover over remarkable scenery.
Tourists voted Darwin Heli Pub Crawl one of the best things to do in Darwin. As well as visiting outback pubs, there are incredible wilderness views, including wild brumbies, buffalo, and pigs, waterways, billabongs, mines, remote communities, and miles of dirt roads. Stops include the Lodge of Dundee, Crab Claw Island Resort, Darwin River Tavern, Goat Island Lodge, and The Noonamah Tavern or Barramundi Adventures.
Bekaa Air’s heli pub crawl offers a birds-eye view of Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Queensland’s coastline. Leaving from Brisbane, this tour combines outback pubs, Irish pubs, beach pubs, mountain pubs, and local watering holes. One stop is Moreton Island Gutter Bar, right on the beach, serving fresh seafood caught around the corner.
4. Seaplane Over Sydney Harbour
This tour is a dream come true, flying over one of the world’s most famous harbors and past Australian icons, including the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.
Sydney Seaplanes take off and land on Rose Bay on the Harbor. There is everything from 15-minute flights over the sights to trips to the Central Coast to see pearls harvested and enjoy a hamper with Sydney rock oysters, pearl meat (a delicious delicacy), and sparkling wine. Or land in style for lunch at Cottage Point Inn, hidden away in the rugged Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The inn is now fine dining but was a boathouse, general store, and post office for the remote Hawkesbury River community.
Pro Tip: Flights take off near the Empire Lounge. The alfresco terrace is one of the best places in Sydney to watch the seaplanes and the sunset with a glass of champagne and oysters or to enjoy Friday happy hour drinks with a view.
5. Fly Over Tasmania’s West Coast Wilderness
Tasmania’s tourism slogan is “Come Down for Air.” The island state is famous for its pristine wilderness and home to the cleanest air in the world — so pure they bottle it.
Strahan is an iconic travel destination with shops selling artisan wares and eateries serving up local produce. Nestled on the shores of massive Macquarie Harbour, this harbor-side village is also the departure point for the West Coast Wilderness Railway and boat cruises through World Heritage Wilderness into the pristine temperate rainforests of the Gordon River.
Strahan is a 4.5-hour windy drive from Hobart. A quicker option is to take the 45-minute flight with Par Avion, a route that flies over the picturesque central highlands of Tasmania and gets you to Strahan in as little as 45 minutes. As a commuter service, the cost is a fraction of what a dedicated scenic flight would normally cost. Flights operate twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving at 7 a.m. and returning at 4:00 p.m. Go for the day or spend a few days.
Pro Tip: There are options to take a scenic flight to Strahan and then transfer to a catamaran for a 5.5-hour Gordon River cruise to see Hell’s Gates, Macquarie Harbor, and pristine rainforest. There are several short hikes in the area.
6. Worship The 12 Apostles
There are several ways to explore Victoria’s scenic Great Ocean Road, including by car, bus, and public transport.
You can also experience the world-famous route from the air with a flight over the rugged coastline, surf beaches, mountain ranges, and forests — perfect for those who do not have the time to take a road trip.
The highlight for most people is the 12 Apostles, limestone monoliths that stand upright while the ocean crashes at their base. The apostles formed millions of years ago, but with continuous battering by the elements, only eight remain. But when you see them, the last thing you will be thinking of is counting them. They are such a majestic sight, especially toward sunset. They take your breath away.
Helicopter flights are available directly at the 12 Apostles site. Or organize a more extended helicopter flight from Geelong, the gateway to the Great Ocean Road. Geelong is easily reached from Melbourne by ferry or train.
7. Free Fall Above The Great Barrier Reef
I’ve snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef and seen it from the air looking down from a commercial flight to Cairns. Once seen, never forgotten. It was like strands of translucent aquamarine pearls stretched out in the ocean, each pulsating like the irises of beautiful eyes — green, aqua, and sapphire blue.
The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) spans roughly 1,243 miles. If it were a country, it would be larger than Italy.
As the GBR runs along almost the entire length of Queensland from the southern coastal town of Bundaberg up past the northern tip of Cape York, many coastal places offer aerial tours with concentrations of operators in the Whitsunday Islands, Townsville, Cairns, and Port Douglas. Here’s a list covering many of the aerial tours. The best time to take a Great Barrier Reef scenic flight is during low tide, as the lower water levels improve the reef’s visibility.
Skydive Australia operates in spectacular locations in Queensland, including Mission Beach and Airlie Beach. A highly experienced, qualified instructor is with you to control the free-fall, parachute deployment, and steering — a memorable way to see the reef as long as you open your eyes!
8. Explore The Western Australian Coast And Margaret River
Swan River Seaplanes take off from Swan River in Perth, West Australia’s state capital. Passengers get a chance to see the city from a different angle, including Kings Park and the Botanic Gardens.
You will also see Rottnest Island, Rockingham Beach, Mandurah Canal, and Busselton Jetty, the longest timber piling jetty in the southern hemisphere. Enjoy a gourmet lunch and experience the Margaret River wine region. The wines are famous because the climate is similar to the French Bordeaux region.
Margaret River is normally a weekend trip as it involves seven hours of driving there and back. With a seaplane adventure, you can experience this famous epicurean destination in a day.
Pro Tip: Margaret River is one of several destinations you can visit with Swan River Seaplanes. Another is Rottnest Island, home to fabulous beaches and the cute little quokka.
9. Drop In For A Winery Lunch In Victoria
If your time in Melbourne is short, but you still want to visit the wineries, there are some great aerial experiences. Australian Air Safaris fly to the King Valley wine region in northern Victoria and land on the airstrip at the Brown Brothers Winery estate for a tour and lunch. The Brown family has been making wine in Milawa since 1889. Settle in to savor a magnificent five-course slow lunch with matching wines. A range of helicopter services fly to Jack Rabbit Winery which has elevated views across the bay to Geelong, and Melbourne with helipad departures from the Geelong Waterfront and Melbourne.
Or be whisked away for a day of decadence, luxury, and fine wines at Levantine Hill Estate in the Yarra Valley. Levantine Hill Winery has established a name internationally as a premium wine brand with several award-winning wines, including cabernet sauvignon, cabernet merlot, syrah, and pinot noir. Experience three, five, or seven courses at their award-winning Levantine Hill restaurant in a unique dining experience.
Pro Tip: Several wineries have helicopter landing pads with helicopters whisking you from central Melbourne to remarkable food and wine experiences. Here’s a good list.