Travel

The Definitive Rundown Of Australia’s Best ‘Big Things’

Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia | ARLIFTATOZ2205/SHUTTERSTOCK

Driving through Australia can be a very, very lengthy undertaking. Once you leave the thin spread of settlements that dot the coastline, the endless expanses are so vast, they can give a serious case of highway hypnosis. But if, over the horizon, you suddenly begin to see a massive lobster materializing on the horizon, don’t be alarmed. This is not a hallucination or a kaiju attack. It’s just a Big Thing. 

In an effort to make road tripping more interesting—and also to advertise a certain region’s agricultural bounty—Australian Big Things made their debut in the 1960s. They are exactly what they sound like: gigantic sculptures of common objects designed to lure you into pit stops. Usually, these sculptures are found by the side of main roads, highways, at entrances to towns, outside museums. After hours on the road, spotting the estimated 150 official Big Things across the continent becomes like playing IRL Where’s Wally, except instead of a striped-shirt wanderer you’re looking for a gun-toting outlaw the size of Paul Bunyan

MORE:  America’s best roadside attractions are no slouches

Come for the banana. Stay for the cheesemaking. | ALEX CIMBAL/SHUTTERSTOCK

Big Banana

Coffs Harbour, New South Wales
Dating back to 1964, this is Australia’s first and most famous Big Thing. On the northern edge of New South Wales—some 360 miles north of Sydney and 240 miles south of Brisbane—lies the hopping seaside resort of Coffs Harbour. Now mostly reliant on tourism, in the 1960s the town’s income was derived from—yes—bananas. The Big Banana, along with being a very large tree fruit, also signals your arrival at Big Banana Fun Park, one of Australia’s largest water parks, which also features laser tag, a reptile zoo, cheesemaking, and a cafe specializing in many banana-based delicacies. 

MORE:  Is the Big Banana Australia’s answer to Wall Drug?

Even sheep Rambo is swole | MR ADI/SHUTTERSTOCK

The Big Merino

Goulburn, New South Wales
Australia’s countryside is known for its rolling hills crawling with livestock, but if you ever find yourself driving from Sydney to Canberra, you’ll encounter the most famous of them all: Big Merino. The 4-H wonder is an astonishing 15-metres-tall and weighs in at a whopping 97-tonne sheep. He was built in 1985 in honor of a real-life stud ram called Rambo from a nearby farm, and is in place to celebrate Australia’s largest farm produce: wool. Today, you can climb up inside and peek out of the ram’s eyes and get your woolly souvenirs and head-to-toe clothing ware, courtesy of the less-gigantic sheep from nearby farms, below.

Larry is a one-crustacean tourism bureau | CEZARY WOJTKOWSKI/SHUTTERSTOCK

Big Lobster

Kingston, South Australia
This was my personal first ‘big thing’, chanced upon on a road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide. The sleepy town of Kingston lies along the coast and lobster-fishing is still a mainstay. The Big Lobster, built-in 1979 out of fiberglass, extends 50 feet into the sky and is locally known as Larry. There’s a small visitor’s center worth visiting, as well as a restaurant that sells pies, lasagna, burgers, and seafood platters loaded with prawns, fish, crab, and zero lobster.

The latest Toy Story is kind of scary | ALIZADA STUDIOS/SHUTTERSTOCK

Big Rocking Horse

Gumeracha, South Australia
In the wine region near Adelaide stands an 18-metre-tall rocking horse, drawing attention to the on-site toy factory. Dating back to 1981, the rocking horse does not actually rock, but you can climb all the way up to the head for a panoramic view. The site includes factory visits as well as an animal park packed with wildlife, making this a particularly key stop if you’re traveling with kids.

Did Big Ned Kelly lose something? | ELECTRA/SHUTTERSTOCK

The Golden Gumboot

Tully, Queensland
Queensland is full of big things—and, incidentally, many great road trip routes—but my favourite is the Golden Gumboot. The town of Tully, together with nearby Babinda, has the dubious accolade of being Australia’s wettest town, with the average annual rainfall exceeding 160 inches (and a record of 310 inches). So a gumboot—a big, rubber boot akin to galoshes—is pretty much the most useful accessory to wear there. This multi-storey gumboot, with a giant green frog climbing up it, is ascendible and offers views across this town and its sugar cane mill. Just be sure to pack a raincoat.

Bring extra Tajin | MARTIN VALIGURSKY/SHUTTERSTOCK

Big Mango

Bowen, Queensland
Bananas aren’t’ the only tropical tree fruit to get embiggened in Australia: Driving up the Bruce Highway, this gigantic mango hints at the mango growing area around Bowen. The three-story, 9-tonne fruit was allegedly stolen back in 2014, in what turned out to be an advertising hoax. Make sure you turn off the highway near the mango to explore the fantastic nearby Whitsunday beaches before you head on—but only after you score some mango sorbet at the visitor’s center. 

MORE:  These are the best beaches across Australia

Nobody knows if Mick Jagger’s face is underneath that helmet | MAN DOWN MEDIA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Big Ned Kelly

Glenrowan, Victoria
Ned Kelly is a late 19th-century outlaw and convicted murderer who is also a well-loved Australian icon—Mick Jagger played him in a movie you’ve never seen—who was captured and some of his gang killed in what is known as Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Glenrowan. This is the third incarnation of the Big Ned Kelly: the first statue was stolen, the second was not popular as you had to pay to see it, but this one seems to make a lasting stand. He stands guard outside a post office.

Do not stare it in the eyes | ALIZADA STUDIOS/SHUTTERSTOCK

Giant Koala

Dadswells Bridge, Victoria
Driving from Melbourne toward the Grampians you will see this: the creepiest of all the big things. As far removed from being a cuddly, loveable koala, this 45-foot monster has red eyes and a rather ruddy exterior. But if you are not put off, you can go to the wildlife centre (which is currently closed) that is part of the complex and look at a real koala, just to reassure yourself that they really are cute and not towering murder beasts.

Kangaroos are featherweights | ENNERODESIGN/SHUTTERSTOCK

The Boxing Croc

Humpty Doo, Northern Territories
American stereotypes about Australia evoke images of boxing kangaroos and Outback towns with names like Yabbagabba. These are ridiculous, and the town of Humpty Doo in the Northern Territories is doing its best to dispel them with its 13-meter boxing crocodile. Though not an official “Big Thing,” he’s shrouded in palm trees, he was designed to withstand cyclones and other wild weather. Four decades after being erected, he’s outlasted Yahoo Serious, Paul Hogan, and all other Australian caricatures from the ‘80s.

Travel

8 Suburbs Near Phoenix You Should Absolutely Visit

You could use a little space.

Discover Gilbert AZ
Discover Gilbert AZ
Discover Gilbert AZ

Phoenix is pretty great. There’s the burgeoning culinary scene, the diverse culture, the arts, of course, the sports, the great outdoors, and don’t forget about the more than 300 days of annual sunshine. We could really go on, and on, about how great this place is, but all of that greatness can blind you to all the excellence just outside it. The suburbs across The Valley are not to be missed. To encourage you to actually explore them, here’s what the best of ‘em have to offer.

Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism
Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism
Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism

Tempe

Notably, Tempe is recognized as home to one of the largest universities in the country, Arizona State. But this Phoenix suburb is so much more than a college town, although it does add to its undeniable magic. Downtown Tempe plays hosts to epic arts festivals, dragon boat races, marathons and triathlons, and dozens of other events that all take place a short-distance from Tempe Town Lake, a two-mile long perennial reservoir and urban park that attracts cylicts, rowers, and active types. Break a sweat with a hike to the top of A Mountain and take in a panoramic sunset view. Or, just belly-up to the bar at one of Tempe’s innumerable craft breweries. Both are solid choices. And both can get you acquainted with this laidback Phoenix suburb.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho
Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho
Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho

Scottsdale

Nearly half of Scottsdale’s land area is dedicated to open spaces and untamed desert. Outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking, road cycling, horseback riding, and kayaking reign supreme here, and the city certainly leans toward an active, wellness-centered lifestyle. And while there’s no shortage of desert to explore, Scottsdale also claims some of the best spas in the world, award-winning restaurants, world-class golf courses, it’s the center stage for major events like luxury car auctions and sporting events, and it’s even got a bustling arts scene. This Phoenix suburb checks all of the boxes, really.

Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert
Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert
Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert

Gilbert

Not too long ago Gilbert was a sort of sleepy, far-away farm town. That’s certainly not the case anymore. Gilbert has grown exponentially, but its agricultural roots are still readily present in its personality and charm. Downtown Gilbert is home to dozens of restaurants and bars, most of which have a local, farm-to-table approach, naturally. And then there’s Agritopia, a friendly neighborhood with its very own shared garden and community spaces that include Epicenter and BARNONE, where you can order a wood-fired pizza, a can of experimental natural wine, and camp out under a canopy of trees in the open-air. It’s practically a utopia.

Mike Boening Photography
Mike Boening Photography
Mike Boening Photography

Cave Creek

A gateway to Horseshoe and Bartlett Lakes, Cave Creek’s position on the outskirts of Tonto National Forest makes it a primo spot for outdoor activities like biking and hiking and adventure by way of air balloon or horseback. Modern cowboys and gals can mosey over to The Buffalo Chip Saloon where bull riding and swing dancing are just part of a typical day. Additionally, Cave Creek has its own botanical garden, raptor rescue, and a gallery packed with person-sized crystals. And it’s all yours to discover.

Ade Russell/Flickr
Ade Russell/Flickr
Ade Russell/Flickr

Mesa

Point your GPS east and you’ll arrive in Mesa, Arizona’s third largest city. Whether you’re after outdoor adventure, looking to explore the arts and culture scene, or searching for locally made ciders and craft beer, Mesa has it all. There’s a hip, growing downtown area lined with storefronts, restaurants, theaters, and tasting rooms. And if you’re game for a little outdoor recreation, Mesa is your jumping-off point to scenic Sonoran Desert trails including Usery Mountain Regional Park, Lost Dutchman State Park, and San Tan Regional Park. Mesa is also just a short distance from The Salt River where you can cruise by wild horses and native wildlife via paddle board and Saguaro Lake is just up the road.

Experience Fountain Hills
Experience Fountain Hills
Experience Fountain Hills

Fountain Hills

At the center of this Phoenix suburb is an expansive urban park and monumental water fountain that tops out at 560-feet. The fountain in Fountain Hills is larger than the Washington Monument, and it’s three times as high as Old Faithful. Pack a picnic and spread out in the park for an afternoon where you can traverse the walkable paths, cycle around the waterway, or play a competitive bout of frisbee golf. If you swing more towards traditional golf, there’s a shortlist of premier golf courses to tee-off at. And like many of the Phoenix suburbs here, Fountain Hills is surrounded by wide-open desert and scenic vistas just waiting to be explored.

Camelback Ranch - Glendale
Camelback Ranch – Glendale
Camelback Ranch – Glendale

Glendale

Arizona sports teams including the Coyotes and Cardinals have home turf advantage in Glendale. Over the years Glendale has hosted three Super Bowl bouts and will host another in 2023. But Glendale’s not just a sports mecca for fans of professional football and hockey. This Phoenix suburb is homebase to Camelback Ranch, a modern ballpark with all the amenities where the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers take the field each season as part of Cactus League Spring Training. Take your time in Glendale into extra innings and visit Historic Old Town Glendale. Here you’ll encounter eclectic antique and vintage stores, restaurants, candy shops, and coffee houses.

Pedal Haus Brewery
Pedal Haus Brewery
Pedal Haus Brewery

Chandler 

Museums, urban parks, art galleries, and growing neighborhoods like Uptown Chandler and Downtown Chandler give this Phoenix suburb lots of appeal. Rows of palm trees line the Downtown area where you can start your day with a locally roasted coffee and organic breakfast bowl. Downtown Chandler regularly hosts community-focused events and it’s a popular hangout for craft beer drinkers. SanTan Brewery, Pedal Haus, and The Perch, with 40 beers on tap and tropical birds at every turn, all call this Phoenix suburb home.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Lauren Topor Reichert is a Phoenix-based multimedia storyteller, photographer, and content creator. Her work has been featured in travel guides, national publications, and the social feeds of some stellar local restaurants. Follow her around Arizona, and beyond, on Instagram @hungryinphoenix.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.
icons/states/check

Please enter a valid email address