Lake Eyre, Southern Australia
In the heart of rugged Australia is a low-lying basin called Kati Thanda — Lake Eyre (lakeeyrebasin.org.au). Covering about 10,000 sq km, this lowest dip in the continent overlaps three states. Also, it is famously dry. Except, the basin has recently received massive inflows, and has flooded three years in a row. And that’s when the magic happens: the usually stark landscape comes alive with verdure, wildflowers spring to life, birds flock in large numbers, and the underlying salt makes for a fascinating display of contours and patterns. Sorties (bushpilots.com.au; goinoffsafaris.com.au) over the lake have become all the rage, and why ever not?
Horse-riding in the Snowy Mountains, New South Wales
The Snowy Mountains near Canberra, also known as the Australian Alps, are an extensive wilderness area. The Kosciuszko National Park surrounding mainland Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko, forms an extensive glaciated system. Lake Jindabyne to the southeast drains the Snowy River. Snowy Wilderness (snowywilderness.com.au), abutting Jindabyne, is a privately owned sanctuary for feral horses called brumbies. They organise horse-riding tours (A$98 per person for two hours) in the buffer zone of the lake. Ride through forests and past streams and waterfalls that make up the foothills in the Snowy Mountains.
The Horizontals, Western Australia
The jagged edge of northwestern Australia is prone to fairly high tides of up to 10 metres. In the Kimberley region here, in an inlet called Talbot Bay, there are two closely aligned gorges that convert what would be a daily routine into a spectacle. The tide rushes in, can’t make it fast enough through the canyons and gushes out in a waterfall as high as four metres. What makes this extra thrilling is being able to row through the two gaps or fly over these stunning ridges in a seaplane. Area specialists Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures (horizontalfallsadventures.com.au) have trips from Broome and Derby.
Painted Cliffs, Maria Island National Park, Tasmania
Of the 334 islands that surround Tasmania, Maria Island is one of the larger ones, visible from Tasmania’s east coast. It is home to not just the ruins of an old convict probation settlement, but is also a gorgeous forested national park, which is a haven for birds and some great natural formations. Of these, the prettiest are the sandstone cliffs overlooking the Mercury Passage on the northeast coast. The action of the sea on these exposed cliffs has caused extensive iron-oxide staining on the cliff-surface, giving them the appearance of having been painted on. Extremely pretty, you can see them in a short walk from the Darlington ferry. However, if you have days in hand, explore the island further and discover its other natural treasures. Maria Island Walk (mariaislandwalk.com.au; A$2,300 per person) organises four-day wilderness walks. Or you could buy a return ticket on a ferry for A$35 per person (mariaislandferry.co.au), pay the park fees of A$12 (parks.tas.gov.au) and take a walk.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Established in 1967, and housed in a 20th-century Brutalist building, the gallery is the largest art museum in Australia. The gallery’s collections, which include over 160,000 works of art, are broadly divided into four areas: Australian; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander; Asian; and European and American. The highlight of this huge collection is The Aboriginal Memorial (1988) by Ramingining artists, which consists of 200 hollow log coffins, each of which represents a year of European occupation and pays homage to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives lost during that time. Other highlights include Within Without (2010) a skyspace by American artist James Turrel (best seen during the light cycle at dawn and dusk), the iconic Ned Kelly series by Australian artist Sidney Nolan, and the legendary Sculpture Garden, best known for Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Sculpture. Open daily 10am-5pm; Fog Sculpture: 12.30-2pm daily. nga.gov.au
The Pinnacles, New South Wales
A three-hour coastal drive north of Perth connects you to the wonderful desert landscape of the Nambung National Park(parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au). Compounding the desolate ambience of endless sand are the Pinnacles — ancient limestone pillars, scattered across the desert in the thousands, making for an eerie, fantastical landscape. Precisely how they came to be this way is still debated, but long story short, these are made up of seashells from an earlier epoch. The fishing village of Cervantes is a good base. Make sure to go between August and October when wildflowers in the region kick up a veritable riot.
The Red Centre, Northern Territory
A vast, red-sand desert marks Australia’s ‘Red Centre’. Here, you’ll find Uluru or Ayers Rock, the country’s most recognisable natural landmark, and Alice Springs (thealice.com.au), its most famous Outback town. There is much history to be found here — human as well as natural. The impressive MacDonnell ranges stand guard, much revered by the Arrernte people. The sandstone formation of Uluru is a massive one: about 350m high and, yet, most of its bulk lies underground. The rock is known to change colour dramatically — the rust glows to a red in the mornings, and sunsets lend it hues of blue or violet.
Theme Parks, Queensland
If it’s a family holiday you’re planning in Australia that includes rambunctious kids, you can’t do better than Gold Coast(goldcoast.qld.gov.au), the theme-park capital (themeparkcapital.com.au) of Queensland. There is a long list but you can’t go withoutmentioning Dreamworld, WhiteWater World, Sea World, Warner Bros. Movie World as well as Wet’n’Wild, besides a couple of sanctuaries. Plus the surf beaches are top-notch, and if there was still something you wanted, you’d have Southport’s 3-km-long Broadwater Parklands (gcparks.com.au) — a marvellous riverfront community space that is Gold Coast’s go-to point for everything from picnics and weddings to concerts and all-round fun.
Wine routes, Tasmania
Discover Tasmania’s boutique wine scene and taste over 100 locally-distributed wines on a wine tour with Wine Tasmania. Follow the Tamar River to the heart of the TamarValley, Tasmania’s oldest wine growing region, for cellar tastings of unique wines; take in the rustic setting and the sweeping views, and stay in quaint homestays. Combine your love for the beach and fine wines with a drive along the East Coast route. Match your wines to the excellent seafood, go kayaking, and thrill at close encounters with wildlife at the Freycinet National Park. Dive into the Tasmanian food bowl with a trip to the North West wine route — savour the taste of delicious seafood and fresh vegetables, and sip fine sparkling wines, whites and Pinot Noirs while taking in views of the Cradle Mountain and Bass Strait. Or just enjoy the products of the southernmost wine-growing region of Australia. The wine-growing regions around Hobart offer great wines, fine-dining restaurants and scenic landscapes. winetasmania.com.au
Foodie scene, Melbourne
They say that all of Melbourne becomes a restaurant when the weather is good. The city’s mix of cultures can be best discovered through the food it has on offer, whether in a fancy restaurant or bistro, or in the small specialist eateries in Chinatown, Richmond (Vietnamese), Fitzroy (Spanish) or Brunswick (Lebanese). Victoria Market, best known for The Bratwurst Shop and the long queues outside it, is lined with cafés and restaurants, most of them alfresco and favouring the distressed warehouse-like look. Enjoy soothing home-style food at Silo by Joost, get buzzed on innovative cocktails at Eau de Vie, or just sip a glass of wine and nibble at some artisanal cheese at a café. Buy a map or a guide before you venture out for a meal — signage is as unobtrusive as Melbourne is flamboyant! melbournerestaurants.com.au
Aboriginal Rock Art, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
The World Heritage park of Kakadu is the largest in Australia. About three hours by road from Darwin, wetlands, rainforests, river gorges and waterfalls adorn this ancient, beautiful region. But what sets Kakadu apart is that it’s one of the oldest continuous homelands of the Aboriginal people of the continent. The park has the highest concentration of Aboriginal rock art from 50,000 years ago, including beautiful paintings of various Dreamtime ancestors, including the famous Lightning Man, the Rainbow Serpent and others. The in-depth knowledge of the guides here from the Bininj/Mungguy people, who are the traditional owners of the artworks, adds to the experience (ayalkakadu.com.au).
The Great Barrier Reef
Australia has many natural wonders but nothing really compares with the Great Barrier Reef (greatbarrierreef.org), the world’s largest coral reef system. Stretching across 2,300 km, over 344,400 sq. km in the Coral Sea off the northeastern state of Queensland, the astonishing structure is composed of and built by tiny organisms called coral polyps and is significant enough to be seen from space. Base yourself in Cairns or in any of over 100 islands scattered here. There are many ways to explore this hub of marine biodiversity — snorkelling, scuba diving, glass-bottomed boats and semi-submersibles. Warm blue waters, fabulous visibility... this can be the experience of a lifetime.
The Gulf Savannah Drive, Queensland
A 4WD from Cairns in Queensland to Katherine in the Northern Territory is one of the best adventure drives in Australia. The entire stretch is a collection of wilderness areas and national parks from the tropical wetlands of Normanton to the world’s longest lava tube system. Unique Australian animals like wallaroos, wedge-tailed eagles, bush pubs and wild yarns populate this 2,500km stretch. There’s also extensive aboriginal rock art in places like the Boodjamulla National Park. You can hire a 4WD (australian4wdhire.com.au/fleet) and do this at your own leisure (savannahway.com.au), or you could sign up for the 11-day Savannah Pioneer, a fully guided tour offered by Wilderness Challenge (A$3,295 twin-sharing; wilderness-challenge.com.au). You can only do this during the dry season.
Hot air ballooning, Yarra Valley, Victoria
While in Melbourne, head to the nearby Yarra Valley, the famous wine-making area of Australia, for a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards of the Yarra River. The tour picks you up from your hotel and takes you to the launch point about 80km from the city and you take to the air to watch the sun rise over the lush hills and many vineyards of the valley. Viator ($373; viator.com/melbourne) organises these balloon rides. Once the four-hour ride is over, you will be treated to a champagne breakfast at the Rochford vineyard.
Swimming with whale sharks, Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Want to voluntarily reach within an inch of your life? Then this is a must-do. The Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia is well-known for its beautiful coral formations, but more importantly for its whale shark population. Join Ningaloo Whaleshark Swim’s team (ningaloowhalesharks.com) as they dive into the deep end and take you on your most exciting swim ever among whales, sting rays and spectacular coral formations, and find you your very own whale shark to swim next to! Take a Whaleshark Open Water Dive Course, and you get your dive ticket and get to spend more than a day with the whale sharks. Season: Mar 15-Sep 15; Swim: $385; Dive Course: $680 (for two people).
The cities of Australia
It has recently made it to the list of the top 10 cities in the world to visit (the only one in Oz) and that’s not only because it’s Australia’s ‘city of churches’. Fierce loyalty to local produce has earned Adelaide brownie points as a foodie destination, but its administration now appears committed to shedding its earlier status as an also-ran of its eastern neighbours. The Mount Lofty Ranges and vast parklands surround this city of wide boulevards and large public squares.
Queensland’s most populous city is also its capital. Named after the river by which it is situated, today the city claims the epithets of ‘global city’ and ‘new world city’, wearing them comfortably thanks to its urbane landscape. Well, Brissie may offer the best art galleries, cafés and shopping, but its popularity is also explained by its easy-going nature and the friendliest locals this side of the world.
Broome hardly spells instant recall. It’s exotic and remote, earning acclaim as a land of pearls and pink diamonds, and you must ride a camel into the sunset on the white sands of its 22-km-long Cable Beach. Dinosaurs roamed this way once, and the birdwatching observatory at Roebuck Bay is a delightful vantage from which to enjoy the diversity of this ecosystem of mangrove swamps and mudflats. It’s difficult to imagine Broome as a metro, this rugged outpost of blue skies and red earth, thank heavens.
Most visitors have only the Great Barrier Reef on their minds when in Cairns. The rainforest of the Daintree River region is another big draw. And if tourists aren’t heading for the beautiful Green Island, or taking the cable to Kuranda village, they are contemplating bungee-jumping or hot air ballooning. Cairns, always the relaxed facilitator, doesn’t seem to mind.
It’s terribly tidy, and it rises in stark contrast to the bushland that surrounds it. But if it’s white-collar working class, students and artists have benefited from its orderly structures and irresistible opportunities, they have also turned it into a classy city that charms with its museums, galleries, memorials and monuments.
Australia’s smallest and northernmost capital started out as a pioneer outpost (southerners still see it a bit like that; Darwin is geographically closer to Bali than Sydney) but it grew to be a modern city lording over the still sparsely populated Northern Territory. Darwin is a historic, tropical, laidback and picturesque port, all of which serve its credentials as a tourist favourite rather well. It’s also the gateway to the Kakadu and Lichfield national parks, which are renowned for their scenery and abundant Aboriginal links.
Australia’s immense geography is evidenced by the distance between Perth and Adelaide, the city nearest to it, which is all of 2,104km. Sprawled across the Swan Coastal Plain, a narrow strip between the Indian Ocean and the low-lying Darling Scarp, Perth is quite the cultural hotspot. It is home to many of Australia’s major performing arts institutions (especially theatre, ballet and opera), although the magnificent Perth Arena figures as a venue for both entertainment and sports. Oh, the beaches are beautiful, too.