Australia – The most beautiful islands

Australia’s External Territories make up some of the nation’s most beautiful islands, providing unique natural and cultural attractions to explore. Northwest of Western Australia’s capital Perth, wild and wonderful Christmas Island is best known for its annual red crab migration, while further west the Cocos (Keeling) Islands pairs postcard-perfect beaches with a rich Cocos Malay culture. Over in the Pacific, east of mainland New South Wales, UNESCO World Heritagelisted buildings, breathtaking scenery and a storied history combine to offer a fascinating tourism experience on Norfolk Island.

Christmas Island

A volcanic seamount which rose from the ocean floor some 60 million years ago, Christmas Island is home to a bounty of rare and endemic wildlife, making it a photographer’s dream. Reached by a 3.5-hour flight from Perth, this ruggedly beautiful and multicultural island also has temples and World War II relics to discover, while the vibrant coral reefs fringing Christmas Island offer another incredible natural wilderness to explore.

Covering 63 per cent of the island’s 135 square kilometres (52 square miles), Christmas Island National Park sets the scene for one of the world’s most mesmerising natural spectacles: a mass migration that sees millions of red crabs march to the ocean each summer to breed. But you don’t need to visit during the migration to admire the island’s iconic crustaceans, as large numbers of red crabs – along with huge robber crabs – can be seen year-round in the national park. Rainforest walking trails deposit you on stunning beaches, while viewpoints offer superb views of rare seabirds attracted to the island’s dramatic limestone cliffs.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

English naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of coral-atoll formation was inspired by this necklace of 27 coconut palm-studded Indian Ocean islands. Home to about 600 residents, who live on West and Home Islands, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is a laid-back tropical escape where you can swim, snorkel, dive, island-hop, windsurf, walk and engage with Home Island’s Cocos Malay culture. With a triangular flight route from Perth including Christmas Island, it’s possible to wrap both of these captivating destinations into one memorable adventure.

High on the lists of most visitors to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is a day trip to this idyllic isle. Home to the most famous strip of sand in the Cocos – Cossies Beach – uninhabited Direction Island also has an iconic snorkelling spot known as the Rip. Much safer than it sounds, this narrow channel features a diverse array of marine life, from placid black-tipped reef sharks to vibrant parrotfish and huge wrasse. There are also walking trails to explore, and with shady shelters and wood-fired barbecues, the island is a picnicker’s paradise.

Norfolk Island

Twice used as a penal colony before being settled by the descendants of Tahitians and English mutineers, Norfolk Island is a friendly place where giving a small “Norfolk wave” to passing cars is almost mandatory, cows have right of way and everyone knows each other. Located roughly halfway between Australia and New Zealand, this intriguing island is only a 2.5-hour flight from Brisbane or just under three hours from Sydney. When you touch down, there’s a storied heritage precinct to explore in Kingston, beautiful bushwalking trails to tackle in Norfolk Island National Park, and much more.

Built by the convicts of Norfolk Island’s second penal colony (1825–1855), the UNESCO World Heritage listed buildings of Kingston are Norfolk’s star attraction. Browse the exhibits of the Norfolk Island Museums, hosted across several heritage venues, then explore the historic military and government buildings at your own pace, or on a tag a-long tour included with the museum pass. Don’t forget to bring your swimming costume, as nearby Emily Bay is home to one of the Australia’s most-underrated best beaches.