Australia is a vast, affluent and awe-inspiring land, whose mere mention conjures up a kaleidoscope of images in the mind’s eye. Thanks to its early Dutch discoverers, subsequent British settlement and Commonwealth ties, is the only westernised country in Asia but has a multicultural twist that gives it a unique identity. The majority of the population is located in cities along the country’s coastline, so it should come as no surprise that the urban locations offer a great deal of entertainment: Sydney is vibrant and glamorous; Melbourne is more artistic; subtropical Brisbane, recently voted one of the top ten most beautiful cities in the world; Adelaide, the ‘city of churches’, in the south; Perth on the west-coast; the pioneer outpost of Darwin in the Northern territories; or the largest inland city, and country capital, Canberra.
Whatever type of adventure you have in mind, Australia will deliver. Dive with great white sharks or on the world’s largest single structure made by living organisms, the Great Barrier Reef, or head inland to Alice Springs and visit the Unesco World Heritage site of Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) to see the sacred site of the local Aboriginals, the Anangu.
The tropical rainforests in Queensland or the Blue Mountains in Sydney offer great places to go hiking, an abundance of wildlife, birds and beautiful waterfalls and pretty rivers and swimming holes to cool off in, whilst it doesn’t get more ‘off the beaten track’ than the lesser populated, and more arid, interior of the country, the ‘outback’.
The hidden gem Noosa, on the east coast, is popular with well-healed Australians and is well worth making the trip in itself, or en route to the stunning Whitsunday Islands. Alternatively, for a less manicured experience, drive the Great Ocean Road, discover the rugged outback or explore the great wine regions including Margaret River near Perth, the Barossa Valley near Adelaide, and the Hunter Valley near Sydney.
Australia’s unique wildlife is as iconic to the country as the boomerang – muscular kangaroos, cute koalas, the frankly bizarre-looking duck-billed platypus and the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil, which is now only found in the wild on the island state of Tasmania.
Sport is somewhat engrained within the culture of the country. If you like to actively participate, you will find everything from championship golf courses, surfing at jaw dropping beaches, mountain-biking or bungee-jumping. However, if you prefer to engage from your armchair, you will find some of the world’s premier sporting venues and tournaments, including The Ashes, the Melbourne Cup, international rugby or the bizarre, unique but enthralling Aussie Rules!
Aboriginal heritage can be discovered throughout the country, with many opportunities to find out about their culture and fascinating way of life. There are many museums, exhibitions and craft markets celebrating the history and culture of the indigenous people of this often unforgiving land. For a more immersive experience, however, head to the outback to discover the skills and listen to Dreamtime myths of creation by the campfire in locations like Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Kimberley W.A., home of the Wandjina figures painted in caves, the world’s oldest rainforest at Daintree or the rugged coastline of Gippsland, Victoria.
However little or much of the above you choose to do, at some time you will doubtless want some down-time. The miles of coastline and soft white sandy beaches offer visitors and locals a year round playground – swimming, surfing, fishing and any number of boating activities are always on offer – but are also the perfect place to hang up the hiking boots and take it easy. The beaches on the more populous east coast are more bustling than the deserted stretches of sand on Australia’s western perimeter but, with this much coastline, whichever side you are on, you’ll always find a bit of privacy to relax by yourself.
By night, in any of the major cities, you will readily come across an extensive choice of pubs, cafés, wine bars, cocktail lounges, food markets and restaurants, enabling you to find something to suit at all times. Sea food is usually of high quality but a range of western and Asian cuisines are on offer in most locations so check out the local guides, or, better-still, ask the friendly locals for their favourites.
WHERE TO GO:
With such a diverse and expansive country, plenty of research and planning is a pre-requisite ahead of any trip. Identify a few specific key places to visit and highlights you want to see, then fill out gaps in the itinerary from there, making sure you factor in the significant distances that may be involved in travelling between destinations.
Leave time in your itinerary to add in new discoveries along the way – you are bound to come across interesting and exciting gems that you have not factored in but don’t want to miss.
Almost all trips will begin and/or end in Sydney. This amazing city, and its surrounds, are one of the world’s finest and it is well worth taking at least a few days to explore, although it is a great base for a longer stay and one could easily spend weeks or months here and still not run out of things to do or see.