A country of superlatives and surprising contrasts, Australia is one of the great bucketlist destinations. And Australia vacations can lead you in so many special directions.
Fringed by ocean rollers and green hills, and dominated by a meandering blue river, Sydney benefits from the most endearing of natural settings. This is a city harmoniously blended into its surroundings, the shimmering cityscape juxtaposed with kaleidoscopic colors. These surroundings are an effervescent highlight, from famous surfing beaches to mountains shrouded in blue haze. Head into the city's heart and the iconicity keeps coming, Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge as famous a city backdrop as anywhere else in the world. The center is a mix of old and new, the remaining relics of yesteryear merging with the confident exterior of modern Australia.
Leave the cityscape behind and the landscape is dominated by green hills and valleys, the roads quickly winding into rural areas and fresh air. For visitors on a tight time schedule, these surrounding areas provide an easy glimpse at the beauty of untamed Australian landscape. Those with more time can easily spend the best part of a week weaving between these destinations.
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Melbourne delights in its artistic twang, the streets ever-cultural and looking to provide something unique. Colonial remains stand between modern skyscrapers, arcades spill out onto narrow Chinese markets, a hundred nationalities mingle on the streets, but then it's not far before the waters of the Southern Ocean roll before your eyes. Like Sydney, a river cuts the city in two (the Yarra), and a series of beaches form the centerpiece of the suburbs. A further similarity is found in the compact nature of the city center. Unlike its northern rival, Melbourne spreads over a huge area, the collection of beaches indelibly quiet and rolling beneath scorching all day sunshine in summer.
The surrounding state of Victoria is as unique as Melbourne and it's most commonly explored as day trips from the city. With more time, many of these attractions can easily take up a few days of your time. They're inevitably fair-weather destinations, scorching and splendid in summer but often windy and wet during the winter months.
Endless miles of beaches without footprints, evocative stretches of arid red hinterland, islands covered in hopping marsupials, famous wine valleys, Aboriginal culture...South Australia seems to feature everything on a visitor's tick list. However, it's the least visited of the Australian destinations.
Covering a vast almost deserted section of the central south, the region's remoteness and lack of iconic sights see it slip under most tourist radars. That helps make South Australia arguably the country's most laid-back destination, a place where nobody takes life too seriously and there's always time for another cold beer. Journeys here are limited by the few roads there are, the adventures tending to be either coastal or straight north into the desert.
Sunny, relaxed, and spacious, Adelaide can sometimes feel like a dream retirement village. What it lacks in excitement it delivers in sheer natural beauty and elegance. While young people often give it a miss, everyone else wonders why their hometown can't be as easygoing. It's fringed by beaches and vineyards, and stuffed with organic gourmet restaurants and leisurely streets.
South Australia fulfills all dreams of outback Australia; wild white sand beaches, red desert, scorched hinterlands, journeys of ongoing beauty yet no defining highlight. These parts of the region provide evocative immersion in the remote and rural.
Wonderfully rugged and indelibly wild, the island of Tasmania is very different from the rest of Australia. It's topography and atmosphere is more reminiscent of neighboring New Zealand than mainland Australia, with almost half the island designated as protected national park. Green mountains, gaping lakes, thick forests, hidden beaches...Tasmania is an outdoor lovers paradise, lauded by hikers and explorers from all around the world.
Its weather is also decidedly New Zealand, with snowfall throughout winter, lukewarm highs in summer, and roaring winds throughout the year. Most people don't even consider visiting. Those that do are usually hypnotized by the natural splendor and leave Australia with Tasmania as their endearing highlight. Tasmania is around 200 miles north to south although that's a winding and mountainous 200 miles. It's shorter east to west. One essential note though: Tasmania really requires your own transport or a tour, as public transport is sporadic and fails to connect the remote wilderness you came to explore.
While Australia has almost 20,000 miles of coastline, it's the 2000 odd miles between Sydney and Cairns that receive the bulk of the visitors. With the Great Barrier Reef running alongside a single coastal highway, and the destinations a mix of cute fishing village and brazen party towns, the East Coast is an exuberant and diverse journey.
It's the most popular of Australia's overland routes and the spray painted campervans are almost as abundant as the kangaroos on route. You don't need you're own wheels. Popular destinations have easy flight connections to Sydney and Melbourne and it's also easy to travel just part of the route by road. And despite the popularity, you're never more than 20 minutes away from a deserted beach with exquisite views. This is the Pacific Ocean, so ignite all the images of the tropics.
Queensland is perhaps the most famous destination in Australia outside Sydney. It's where you'll find the Great Barrier Reef, white sand islands, tropical and sub-tropical rainforest, mile after mile of deserted beach, and easy journeys into the red hinterland. Cairns in the north epitomizes the region; indelibly tranquil and welcoming, despite the recent rise in popularity.
Little can ignite the imagination that the thought of Australia's red outback, pictures of Aboriginal culture and iconic journeys scrolling through the mind. First the warning. The red heart of Australia is huge and desolate, home to some of the world's most inhospitable conditions and seemingly endless journeys between settlements. Yet this red center pulls on every heartstring; it's where you'll find the world's biggest monolith, the towering rock of Uluru; gaping valleys and canyons, burnt landscapes, and an inescapable immersion in the Australian outback. Just don't take the journey lightly.
The Stuart Highway runs straight through the heart of Australia, a pioneering route through harsh hinterland that starts in Adelaide. As the red desert cascades into the ocean, and saltwater crocodiles roam the blue, Darwin provides the indelible blend between red desert and coastal serenity. It's the northern end of the Stuart Highway and has a well connected airport.
Arnhem Land is the last genuine Aboriginal stronghold in Australia. The land is almost completely untouched by modernity and the area rules itself using ancient traditions and customs. It's easily the most genuine look at Aboriginal culture and it's a chance to experience the world's oldest living culture first hand. Kakadu National Park is Australia's largest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that blends intimate detail with dazzling scale. At 110,000 square kilometers it would be one of the world's 60 largest countries. Waterfalls spurt from forested gorges, green juxtaposes with kaleidoscopic red valleys, wild coastlines hide behind woodlands, plunge pools hang in the shade of gum trees, and billabongs are flooded with endemic wildlife. Exploring Kakadu requires at least a few days.
Worldwide impressions of Aboriginal culture are extremely simplistic. The general notion is of a single group of barefoot people who nomadically march across the country surviving off the land. Before the Europeans arrived, Australia was home to around 250 countries and around 1000 tribes, each with their own language. While they shared the practice of harmoniously working with the landscape to survive, each tribe was a niche specialist. There were spear throwing marine hunters, nomadic desert wanderers, rainforest dwellers, and everything in between.
The most popular exploration of Aboriginal culture comes at Uluru and Kata Tjuta. But don't expect to find groups of Aboriginies around a fire; these were sacred rocks visited for ceremonies and the “white ants” (their name for ignorant tourists) that climb all over Uluru are particularly disrespectful. But all across Australia there are chances to engage, support, and help preserve, the world's oldest surviving culture.
Just because an Aboriginal guide isn't barefoot and throwing a boomerang doesn't mean a tour or experience isn't authentic. Just as they have for hundreds of thousands of years, Aborigines adapt to their environment, in this case, the fast-paced modernity that spurts around them. Ask questions and listen, for they present a symbiotic existence with nature that the whole world can learn from.
The West Coast is wild and unspoiled, far off the beaten track when compared to the East. While the British shipped convicts to the East and its friendly bays, this side of the country has always remained more untrammeled and uncultivated. Having said that, state capital Perth is one of the world's most expensive and rapidly developing cities, a gleaming yet serene base which runs on a rhythm of work fairly hard and then play much harder. From here the adventure runs in two directions; north, to deserted beaches and achingly beautiful coastline; or south, for much of the same. When comparing East and West coasts, some visitors prefer the unparalleled coastal splendor of the West, while others lean towards the greater number of destinations on the East.