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Take your pick from a smorgasbord of romantic experiences in the Hunter, just two hours north of Sydney. Beyond the beaches of Newcastle – the once rough-and-tumble industrial town that’s being transformed by a burgeoning bar and café scene – there’s the rolling hillside vineyards, world-class wineries and intimate cellar-door restaurants of the Hunter Valley and the crystal clear waters around Port Stephens, which can be explored from your private cabin nestled among rainforest gardens at Samurai Beach Bungalows.
Just an hour south of Adelaide, this stretch of rugged cliffs and beaches is sprinkled with 100 cellar doors and even more restaurants dishing up some of the country’s finest seafood. Port Elliot – a historic town set on the serene Horseshoe Bay – is the perfect place for a romantic escape, from walking hand in hand along the scenic coastal track to taking a dip in the pristine beaches. The breezy, heritage-listed Port Elliot Beach House boasts a balcony with 270-degree views of the beach, as well as five sparkly new ensuite rooms.
Bryon Bay – the tourist Mecca of the far North Coast of NSW – never fails to deliver a special escape with your partner, but wander off the beaten path to discover a series of other intimate hideaways. Yamba – dubbed ‘the new Byron’, an hour and a half south of the original – oozes laidback beachy charm (as well as platters overflowing with the town’s legendary prawns), while hippie haven Nimbin – where you can sleep in a tepee overlooking misty mountains with YHA – and bohemian riverside Murwillumbah are alternative inland options.
Meander along the winding coastal drive to take in all the sites that make the Great Ocean Road such an iconic journey: the 12 Apostles, the cute animals in the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, London Bridge, Camp Otway Light Station, Loch Ard Gorge, and the rainforest boardwalk through Maits Rest. Drop in at the Apollo Bay Eco YHA – a launching pad to kayak with seals or whale-watch in winter from the hostel’s rooftop deck – and Port Fairy, the charming fishing village that ends the Great Ocean Road where you can curl up in front of the YHA’s open fireplace.
It might be corny but the sheer number of proposals that take place during scenic flights over Heart Reef – that love heart shaped coral formation everyone’s seen in the brochure – makes the glittering sapphire waters of the Whitsundays a pretty sentimental place to visit. The whole region is a treasure trove of memorable experiences – snorkelling the reef, sailing the glassy ocean, the sweeping white sand of Whitehaven Beach – as well as romantic hideaways, but you don’t have to break the bank by staying at Airlie Beach YHA, your great-value gateway to the Whitsundays.