Great Barrier Reef: The world’s largest coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef is, well, paradise down under. One of the biggest natural structures visible from outer space, the reef is composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometres along the Australian coastline. Under environmental threat for a while, the most popular points to access the reef are in Cairns and The Whitsundays where you’ll find a host of ‘liveaboards’ to launch your reef tours. Several other cities along the Queensland coast also offer boat tours to the reef. Snorkelling, diving, boat excursions, scenic flights and even reef walking—this destination allows you to take your pick when it comes to observing its natural wonders.
Pinnacles:The great outdoor charms of Australia often seem unreal. And the Pinnacles, in the vast state of Western Australia, fit right in. The lunar-like limestone formations right by the Indian Ocean make for one of Australia’s most unique and fascinating natural landscapes. They are located in the Nambung National Park, near the town of Cervantes, and are scattered across the desert in their thousands, creating a distinctly eerie landscape. The best season to see the Pinnacles is spring from August to October. The formations are best viewed in the early morning or late afternoon as the play of light brings out the colours, and the extended shadows of the formations deliver a contrast that brings out their features
Tasmania: The country’s only island state is also its smallest, in area and population, yet of late, it is easily one of the most popular destinations for travellers. Tasmania is rugged and remote, something the state has turned into an asset. Its top attraction is its unique wilderness, which ranges from soft sandy beaches to the bleak alpine plateaus of Cradle Mountain. The state presents many opportunities for adventure tourists, from forests trails to hikes deep into the wilderness. The coastline—very craggy, presents opportunities for kayaking, rafting, yachting or just a pleasure cruise around the picturesque coasts. Perfect for someone looking to get away, 40 per cent of its land is protected in parks and reserves, making Tasmania one of the cleanest places on earth. For company, there are Tasmanian devils and penguins. Add a great arts and festival scene, and Tasmania is the place to be in.
Daintree Rainforest: Everything in Australia is done a bit differently from others, including its forests. The Daintree Rainforest, a tropical rainforest region, is the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian continent, and it is situated right by the sea. These 1,200 square kilometres of forests are located on the northeast coast of Queensland. The tropical rainforest ecosystem is one of the most complex ecosystems on earth, and represents the origins of its more familiar ‘Australian’ flora. Even though it takes up about 0.1% of the landmass of Australia, it contains 3% of the frog, reptile and marsupial species in Australia, and 90% of Australia’s bat and butterfly species, along with 7% of bird species in the country.
Melbourne: Victorian-era architecture, elegant streetscapes, top-notch sports arenas, museums, art galleries, theatres, great seaside location and spaciously landscaped parks and gardens—Australia’s second most populous city has multiple claims to being its most attractive as well. Very multicultural and totally sports-mad, this city’s harmonious coexistence of various ethnic communities have regularly seen it at the top of the world’s most liveable cities index. Add to that cutting-edge dining options, lush vineyards and great natural attractions just beyond the city limits, and it is easy to understand why Melbourne is on top of everyone’s travel wishlist.
Darwin: An alluring blend of frontier outpost and modern city, small and cosmopolitan Darwin is the tropical capital of the desert-dominated Northern Territory of Australia. Very different from the rest of this vast country, its lush environs and deep connections with the region’s indigenous people, and Darwin’s unique cosmopolitan makeup has been recognised as a “multicultural icon of national significance” by the Australian National Trust. The city also acts as a gateway to the famous Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park, which are only a few hours’ drive away, while the unique Tiwi Islands is a boat-ride away. And, yes, the city is named after the naturalist Charles Darwin. There is even a national park in his name right inside the city as well.
The Ghan: When a country covers the entire continent, can epic railway journeys be far behind? Regarded as one of the world’s greatest rail journeys, the Ghan accesses parts of Australia no other holiday can come close to. The Ghan travels 2,979 kilometres from the south to the north, between Adelaide and Darwin on the Adelaide–Darwin railway for three nights and four days through the fiery red centre of Australia, passing epic landscapes en route. Operated by Great Southern Rail, it takes 54 hours to travel, with a four-hour stopover in Alice Springs. As for the name, it’s a version of its previous nickname, the Afghan Express!
Milford Sound: Situated on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Milford Sound is a fjord with a fusion of spectacular natural features. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the “eighth wonder of the world”, Milford Sound, seen as an icon of South Island, is located within Fiordland National Park, and was carved by glaciers during the ice ages. The fjord’s cliffs rise vertically from the dark waters, and the mountain peaks seem to scrape the sky. When it rains, the cliffs mutate into waterfalls that cascade downwards, some as high as 1,000 metres. Even getting there is a unique experience, with the Milford Road offering a stunning alpine drive and coach and cruise options offering the best of fjord and open ocean close by.
The Lord of The Rings Tour: For everyone who fell in love with the locations of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, well, they are there to be visited. The ‘precious’ locales are just as captivating close up—a cornucopia of verdant hills and valleys, lakes, rivers, endless plains and more. The landscapes of Middle-earth came alive as New Zealand came firmly on top of the tourism bucket lists across the world. Over 150 real New Zealand locations were used. The rolling green hills of Matamata in the North Island, doubled as the peaceful Shire region of Middle-earth. Recognise Hobbiton in Queenstown’s snowy jagged mountain peaks. Near Twizel in the Mackenzie Country, Peter Jackson filmed the epic battle of the Pelennor Fields, where thousands of orcs bred by Sauron clashed with the men of Gondor and Rohan. Even the capital Wellington is present as Mount Victoria.
Rotorua: Popularly referred to as New Zealand’s favourite playground, Rotorua’s pristine lakes, fertile forests, activities and attractions aplenty make Rotorua the perfect place for a family holiday. Built over a geothermal hot spot, Rotorua has numerous natural vents, hot pools and other geothermal features in and around the city. A water-dominated region, there are several lakes and rivers nearby, and along with the geothermal wonders, there are also water activities such as fishing, boating and whitewater rafting. Also the centre of the Te Arawa Maori culture, the area offers a close up view of Maori traditions and hospitality.
Franz Josef Glacier: A glacier, up close and personal? That’s what you get at Franz Josef Glacier, or Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere, a 12km-long glacier located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Along with the Fox Glacier, it is part of Te Wahipounamu, a World Heritage Site park. The glacier is five kilometres from the town of the same name, and about a 20-minute walk takes the visitor to its terminal face. From the glacier car park, take a hike to lookout points for a bigger view of this awesome river of ice. Guided ice walks, heli-hikes or aerial sightseeing are other ways of seeing this spectacle of nature. It’s not all about ice though. Nearby are rainforests, waterfalls and lakes. And yes, it is named after Franz Joseph I of Austria, whose nephew’s assassination sparked off World War I.