Jet-lag-free dream destinations within easy reach

Australia is a long way from anywhere. Right? Well, don't be so sure. Those at the opposite end of the globe are actually missing out on all of the fantastic destinations we have to offer in this far-flung corner of the world. And, crucially, for Australians, they come mostly, if not all, jet lag-free.

Consider a couple from the United States honeymooning in Fiji on their hard-earned week off work. They'd travelled some 20-plus hours to get there, and marvelled at how Australians can pop over to Fiji at least once a year. For them, Fiji was as exotic as Zanzibar is to us, as we Australians hop between idyllic atolls.

True, Australia has some incredible destinations within easy flying distance, and with such forgiving time differences (are you listening, America?) too. And it looks like the convenience of these places is finally dawning on us. Flight Centre, after all, reports that 2016 saw the biggest increase in travel to destinations close to home.

"We've seen a 42 per cent increase in New Caledonia and some of our most popular year-round destinations include New Zealand, Bali, Fiji, Thailand, Singapore and Vanuatu," says Tom Walley, head of leisure travel for the Flight Centre Travel Group.

With that in mind, Traveller has scoured the map to bring you the best overseas destinations close to home (nine hours' tops with most around four), and, for good measure, we added some underrated neighbours you may not have considered - yet.

With these destinations you'll have landed and be in holiday mode before you know it; without the need to recover from pesky jet lag, or a gruelling long-haul flight.

THE DESTINATION

FIJI

FLYING TIME FROM HOME Less than four hours from Sydney; five from Melbourne (flying times listed may vary on specific flights).

TIME DIFFERENCE Two hours ahead (note that all times based on Australian eastern standard time).

WHAT THEY SAY "Fiji, where happiness finds you."

WHAT WE SAY It's one of Australia's favourite Pacific neighbours; and as soon as you land you're instantly on island time. This sun-kissed archipelago offers turquoise, coral filled waters, swaying palms, gorgeous stretches of sand and blazing sunsets. It's the people however, deemed the friendliest on earth, that will have you returning again and again. Fiji, you had me at "Bula".

WHAT TO SEE AND DO Visit a traditional village to see how Fijians live, take a mud bath at the Sobeto Mud Springs (aquatoursfiji.com) in rich volcanic mud, play castaway on your own private island or wade through knee-deep water by hurricane lantern through Fiji's largest cave system on an adventurous off road cave safari operated by Sigatoka River Safari. (sigatokariver.com) No trip is complete without a traditional bobo massage to the sound of lapping waves.

WHAT'S NEW A raft of flash new resorts has come on line in the last 12 months. There's the new Momi Bay Fiji Resort (marriott.com.au) with the mainland's first overwater villas; Fiji's newest and most exclusive luxury resort Kokomo (kokomoislandfiji.com), owned by Australian property developer Lang Walker; and the Sheraton Tokoriki (sheratontokorikiisland.com) reopened in February with a swish new look following Cyclone Winston. The Hilton Fiji (hilton.com) has opened the new adults-only Koro Beach Club; while Fiji's newest island beach club Mala Mala (malamalabeachclub.com), opened last month.

EXPERT TIP Fiji time is a real thing; be patient and don't fight it. Most things work out just fine.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Fiji Airways fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Nadi. Fiji Airways also flies from Brisbane and Adelaide, and Sydney to Suva once a week. The best time to visit is July to October, when the weather's dry and sunny. Cyclone season runs from November to April, however you can still strike beautiful weather with the odd downpour. See fiji.travel/au

THE DESTINATION

VANUATU

FLYING TIME FROM HOME Three hours 15 minutes from Sydney; 6.5 hrs from Melbourne via Sydney or Brisbane.

TIME DIFFERENCE Port Vila is a forgiving one hour ahead.

WHAT THEY SAY "Wake up in Vanuatu!"

WHAT WE SAY Vanuatu delivers an authentic slice of Pacific life with culture and quintessential island charm in spades. The people are relaxed, the waters turquoise and languid, and the welcome warm and inviting. There are postcard perfect beaches, swaying palms, village life and incredible seafood.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO Take the 120-kilometre drive around the island of Efate, for a wonderful day of beach hopping. Vanuatu's largest island, Espiritu Santo, is home to the stunning, freshwater blue holes and pristine Champagne Beach. On the island of Tanna, where the eponymous Oscar-nominated film was shot, you can walk to the rim of one of the world's most accessible, live volcanoes, Mount Yasur, and discover the culture and stories of black magic in traditional villages.

WHAT'S NEW A new Ramada Resort opened in Port Vila this year (ramadaresort.com.vu); as did The Moso (themosovanuatu.com), suitable for couples (or families if booking the entire property). Tamanu on the Beach (tamanuonthebeach.com) has been rebuilt after Cyclone Pam and the 18 bungalow Aore Resort, (aoreislandresorts.com), off the island of Santo, has a new owner and new look. This month, a newly developed seafront precinct boasting restaurants, bars, tours, markets and watersports was unveiled in the capital Port Vila.

EXPERT TIP The Vanua Fire dancers with their twirling flames perform nightly around Port Vila (discovervanuatu.com.au). To get around like a local, hail down a Vanuatu B-Bus, a local mini-van that costs about $1.50 a trip.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Air Vanuatu (airvanuatu.com) and Virgin Australia (virginaustralia.com) fly from Sydney and Brisbane to Port Vila. Air Vanuatu also has a weekly, direct flight Brisbane to Espiritu Santo on Tuesdays. April to October is the driest time to visit. See discovervanuatu.com.au

THE DESTINATION

NEW ZEALAND

FLYING TIME FROM HOME Less than four hours from Sydney; under five from Melbourne.

TIME DIFFERENCE Two hours ahead.

WHAT THEY SAY "100 per cent Pure New Zealand."

WHAT WE SAY Do Australians take our neighbour across the ditch for granted? While the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows New Zealand is the No. 1 destination for Australian travellers heading overseas, many put off going - figuring it's always going to be there. Don't. With gob-smacking alpine scenery, exceedingly friendly locals, incredible food and wine, and damn decent coffee it should top every Aussie's travel list.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO Hire a car or motorhome and tour New Zealand's South Island. Leave plenty of time as you'll constantly be pulling over to take in another incredible view. Go skiing, tour Marlborough (marlboroughnz.com) - the home of sauvignon blanc, go stargazing in the Mackenzie region, the southern hemisphere's sole dark sky reserve, take an adrenalin pumping ride on the Shotover Jet in Queenstown (shotoverjet,com), visit the beautiful and dramatic Huka Falls (greatlaketaupo.com), cruise Milford Sound (milford-sound.co.nz) The list goes on.

WHAT'S NEW The six-room, off-the-grid, luxury Lakestone Lodge (lakestonelodge.co.nz) has opened in the Mackenzie District along the Alps to Ocean Cycleway. In the capital, QT Museum Wellington opened in January, and QT Queenstown is scheduled to open this December (qthotelsandresorts.com) On the North Island, Auckland Harbour Bridge will soon be aglow with permanent coloured lighting, and the highly anticipated So Sofitel Auckland (accorhotels.com), opens early 2018.

EXPERT TIP You can drive in New Zealand on your Australia driver's licence, and they use the same electrical plugs so no need for an adaptor. Winning.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Multiple airlines including Jetstar (jetstar.com), Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.com.au) Virgin Australia (virginaustralia.com) and Emirates (emirates.com) fly direct to New Zealand. Autumn is a great time to visit with beautiful weather and off-peak rates, however if it's snow you're after, visit in August and September. See newzealand.com/au

THE DESTINATION

SINGAPORE

FLYING TIME FROM HOME 8hrs 20 minutes from Sydney; just under eight hours from Melbourne

TIME DIFFERENCE Two hours behind.

WHAT THEY SAY "Passion Made Possible."

WHAT WE SAY Singapore once felt like a watered-down version of the "real Asia", but has now come into its own. There's incredible food, amazing shopping, excellent hotels, cultural diversity, hawker markets, phenomenal food courts plus a striking mix of colonial architecture, Peranakan era shophouses and an ultra-modern cityscape. Oh, and it's incredibly clean and safe.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO Explore Haji Lane in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood with its historic narrow shophouses now converted into hip boutiques, take a spin on the Singapore Flyer (visitsingapore.com), visit the lush (and free) Singapore Botanical Gardens (visitsingapore.com) and try the famed Katong laksa. Come sundown visit Singapore's whimsical Gardens by the Bay (visitsingapore.com), with its awe-inspiring Supertree Grove and the world's largest glass greenhouse. Have a cocktail at the rooftop IndoChine, housed in the tallest tree, and marvel at the views of Marina Bay Sands (marinabaysands.com)

WHAT'S NEW Villa Samadhi, a restored colonial residence exuding old Malayan charm has opened (villasamadhi.com.sg); the long-awaited Singapore Sofitel City Centre (accorhotels.com) opens this month, and the new boutique Warehouse Hotel (thewarehousehotel.com) is wowing guests with its 37 stylish rooms. From December, Singapore will be home port for the Genting Dream (dreamcruiseline.com), the most luxurious ship based in Asia, with food by leading Australian chef Mark Best, a Penfolds wine-tasting room and more.

EXPERT TIP Experience another side to Singapore by taking a bumboat to Palau Ubin and a cycle ride around the uninhabited island. See monkeys and other wildlife at MacRitchie??? Reservoir Treetop Walk (visitsingapore.com) and for Singapore's famous chilli crab, No Names at East Coast Park (nparks.gov.sg) serves up the island's specialty with a backdrop of heavenly sea views.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Scoot (flyscoot.com), Qantas (qantas.com), Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com), Virgin Australia and other airlines fly direct from Sydney and Melbourne; Singapore is hot year-round (avoid May and June when humidity is at its worst). See visitsingapore.com

THE DESTINATION

MALAYSIA

FLYING TIME FROM HOME About 8.5 hours from Sydney and Melbourne

TIME DIFFERENCE Two hours behind.

WHAT THEY SAY "Malaysia, Truly Asia."

WHAT WE SAY For some reason, Malaysia is often seen as the poor cousin to neighbouring Singapore. Don't let that put you off. Trishaw rides, some of Asia's best hawker food, exotic jungles, street markets, beautiful beaches and lush tea country make Malaysia an incredibly diverse destination. It's also one of only two places in the world to see the endangered Orangutan.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO Explore the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage listed cities of Malacca (tourismmalaysia.com.au) and Penang (tourismmalaysia.com.au) Penang is considered to have Asia's best hawker food; Malacca says it does (judge that for yourself). Visit the quintessential tropical island of Langkawi (naturallylangkawi.my), heed the call of the wild at Sarawak, known for its long houses, dense jungle, tribal culture and rare species of animals not found anywhere else. If you've got kids (or you're a Lego tragic), everything is awesome at Legoland Malaysia Resort (legoland.com.my)

WHAT'S NEW Hotel Stripes (stripeskl.com), sister property to YTL's the Majestic Hotel, opened this year with a design reflecting the history and character of its neighbourhood Jalan Kamunting. The Mercure brand debuted in KL this year with the opening of the Mercure Kuala Lumpur Shaw Parade hotel (accor.com); and the swanky new Four Seasons (fourseasons.com) capital hotel will open early 2018

EXPERT TIP Malaysia Mega Sale runs from mid June-August for retail bargains.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Air Asia X (airasia.com) and Malaysia Airlines (malaysiaairlines.com) fly to Kuala Lumpur from Sydney and Melbourne; Kuala Lumpur is warm year-round with less rainfall from June to August. See tourismmalaysia.com.au

THE DESTINATION

BALI

FLYING TIME FROM HOME Six hours from Melbourne; 6.5 hours from Sydney

TIME DIFFERENCE Two hours ahead.

WHAT THEY SAY "Wonderful Indonesia."

WHAT WE SAY Bali is a destination that increasingly divides Australians. On the one hand are those that see it as nothing more than a cheap place for bogans to holiday (think Kuta); others continue to marvel at its ethereal beauty, its spiritual people, emerald rice fields, temples and volcanoes.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO Enjoy sundowners and catch an incredible Bali sunset, take a yoga class, visit one of Bali's phenomenal spas, see the UNESCO World Heritage-listed rice terraces and water temples that date from the ninth century at Jatiluwah, visit a temple, climb a volcano (or cycle down one) and dine at incredible restaurants for way less than what you'd pay back home.

WHAT'S NEW The spin off to Sydney's Double Bay Mrs Sippy (mrssippybali.com), is the hottest ticket in Bali right now with an 800-square-metre saltwater pool club in the heart of Seminyak; Hotel Indigo (seminyak.hotelindigo.com), has just opened its first resort property for the brand; Will Meyrick's new Thai restaurant Som Chai (somchaiindonesia.com), with a sexy burlesque style bar, opened in June; Aya Restaurant (ayastreet.com), a new Peruvian restaurant meets street art gallery (a Banksy is on display), opened this month, and the cool kids from Motel Mexicola and Dar Maria Group have opened Luigi (luigiitalian.com), a simple pizzeria and fried chicken outlet in hotspot Canguu.

EXPERT TIP Be sure to get out of Seminyak and Canguu (the bar, the restaurant, the pool) and take a walk; chat with the locals, watch a sunset over a rice field, and see the Balinese heading for the temple. It's magic.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Jetstar, Garuda Indonesia (garuda-indonesia), Virgin Australia and Air Asia fly Sydney to Denpasar; Jetstar and Garuda also offer direct Melbourne services. May to July are the best times weather-wise, being the driest months; May to October if you're a surfer. See indonesia.travel/en

FIVE MORE GREAT

DESTINATIONS

CLOSE TO HOME

NEW CALEDONIA

Less than three hours from Sydney (under four from Melbourne), it's where Melanesian tradition meets French flair. The "Paris of the South" offers a meld of all things French (think boutiques, cheese, wine and tempting patisseries), indigenous Kanak culture and a laidback island lifestyle. See newcaledonia.travel

COOK ISLANDS

Glorious year-round weather, lagoons the colour of the iconic Tiffany box, friendly locals and a flight time of just six hours from Sydney. What's not to love? See cookislands.travel/en-AU

THE PHILIPPINES

White, pink, and black sand beaches, luxury resorts, bucolic country side, a buzzing nightlife, volcanoes, lagoons and incredible diving make this archipelago one for the bucket list. See experiencephilippines.org

VIETNAM

Farmers in conical hats, serene rice paddies, flocks of ducks and grazing buffalo, rugged mountain ranges, pristine beaches, and incredible street food (pho anyone?), Aussies simply can't get enough of Vietnam. And with Jetstar adding more flights from Australia; Vietnam Airlines launching Sydney to Hanoi (flight time averages 8hrs 45 min from Sydney and Melbourne), it's easier than ever to get to. See vietnamtourism.com

HAWAII

Floral shirts, mai tais, hula girls, ukuleles, volcanos plunging into the sea, fabulous shopping and beautiful beaches, Australia's love affair with Hawaii shows no sign of abating. And with an overnight flight time of just under 10 hours (admittedly just outside our distance criteria), you can go to sleep after take-off in Sydney and wake up in Honolulu. See int.gohawaii.com/au

FIVE UNDER THE RADAR DESTINATIONS CLOSE TO HOME

THE SOLOMON ISLANDS

This unspoilt Pacific paradise has coral reef-rimmed lagoons, verdant jungle and rainforests, plunging waterfalls, volcanoes and genuine Melanesian hospitality. See visitsolomons.com.sb

TONGA

An authentic Pacific playground, Tonga offers the chance to swim with humpback whales, experience Tongan culture and laze in hammocks overlooking a pristine, coral-filled lagoon. See thekingdomoftonga.com

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

For the traveller who's been there and done that, Australia's closest neighbour is as exotic as they come. Some of the world's best diving, fishing, surfing, bird watching, trekking and a staggering 750 cultural groups are only four hours from Sydney (three from Brisbane; direct flights on the cards from Melbourne). See visitpng.com.au

JAKARTA

Look past the congestion and pollution of this sprawling metropolis and you'll be rewarded with authentic neighbourhoods, traditional markets, monuments, religious buildings, parks, art galleries, mega malls and some of Asia's best nightlife. See jakarta-tourism.go.id

SAMOA

This unsung Pacific paradise offers remote, pristine beaches peppered with coconut palms, welcoming locals, incredible waterfalls and warm languid waters. See samoa.travel