Sydney is immediately recognisable, with its iconic sights like Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge lights glistening in the night and sun worshippers lying on its famous beaches. Beyond postcard Sydney, this electrifying and eclectic city has layers of history, culture and migration to excavate as you explore each neighbourhood. Flamboyant citizens, living Aboriginal stories, Asian influences, colonial streets, old-school pubs, dramatic architecture and always the water: Sydney is defined by its relationship with the briny sea air. Despite its complexity it's possible to witness all of this in a single Sydney moment.
The Great Barrier Reef is as fragile as it is beautiful. Stretching more than 2000km along the Queensland coastline, it's a complex ecosystem populated with dazzling coral, languid sea turtles, gliding rays, timid reef sharks and tropical fish of every colour and size. Whether you dive on it, snorkel over it or explore it via a scenic flight or a glass-bottomed boat, this vivid undersea kingdom and its coral-fringed islands are so unforgettable people are signing up to become a Citizen of the Great Barrier Reef to help save it.
Australia’s most recognised natural wonder, Uluru draws pilgrims from around the world like moths to a big red flame. No matter how many postcard images you have seen, nothing prepares you for the Rock’s immense presence, character-pitted surface and spiritual gravitas. Not far away is an equally beguiling clutch of stone siblings known as Kata Tjuta. Deeply cleaved with narrow gorges sheltering tufts of vegetation, these 36 pink-red domes blush intensely at sunset.
You can hop around a whole stack of tropical islands in this seafaring life and never find anywhere with the sheer beauty of the Whitsundays. Travellers of all monetary persuasions launch yachts from Airlie Beach and drift between these lush green isles in a slow search for paradise (you'll probably find it in more than one place). Don't miss Whitehaven Beach – one of Australia's (and the world's) best. Wish you were here?
The world's largest sand island, Fraser Island is home to dingoes, shipwrecks and all manner of birdlife. Four-wheel drive vehicles – regular cars cannot drive on sand – fan out around epic camp spots and long white beaches. The wild coastline curbs any thoughts of doing much more than wandering between pristine creeks and freshwater lakes. Beach camping under the stars will bring you back to nature. A short ferry trip away is Hervey Bay, where humpback whales shoot along the coast in winter and spring.
Up there with kangaroos and Akubra hats, big-hearted Byron Bay (just Byron to its mates) is one of the enduring icons of Australian culture. Families on school holidays, surfers and sunseekers from across the globe gather by the foreshore at sunset, drawn to this spot on the world map by fabulous restaurants, a chilled pace of life and an astonishing range of activities on offer. But mostly they’re here because this is one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the country.
The decadent joy of drifting from winery to farm gate along eucalypt-shaded country roads is just one of the delights of Western Australia's southwest. There are underground caves to explore, historic towns to visit and wildflowers to ogle. Surfers bob around in the world-class breaks near the Margaret River mouth, but it's not unusual to find yourself on a white-sand beach along the cape where the only footprints are your own. In winter and early spring, whales migrate along the 'Humpback Highway'.
Why the queue? Oh, that’s just the line to get into the latest 'no bookings' restaurant in Melbourne. The next best restaurant, chef, cafe, barista, hidden bar may be the talk of the town, but there are things locals would never change: the leafy parks and gardens in the inner city; the crowded trams that whisk creative 'northerners' to sea-breezy southern St Kilda; and the allegiances that living in such a sports-mad city brings. The city’s world-renowned street-art scene expresses Melbourne’s fears, frustrations and joys.
Australia's northwestern frontier is one of its most beautiful corners. Broome, where so many journeys out here begin, is where every evening a searing crimson sun slips into the turquoise Indian Ocean as seen from beaches that never seem to end. The far-flung Dampier Peninsula is all about extraordinary cliffs, Indigenous cultural experiences, outdoor adventures and luxury camping. And then there's the Kimberley, a world of blood-red rock formations, remote trails and unrelenting beauty, not to mention that mysterious call of the outback.
Swim beside 'gentle giant' whale sharks, snorkel among pristine coral, surf off seldom-visited reefs and dive at one of the world's premier locations at this World Heritage–listed marine park, which sits off the North West Cape on the Coral Coast in Western Australia. Rivalling the Great Barrier Reef for beauty, Ningaloo has more accessible wonders: shallow, turquoise lagoons are entered straight from the beach for excellent snorkelling. Development is very low-key, so be prepared to camp, or take day trips from the access towns of Exmouth and Coral Bay.
A precipitous comb of rock carved out by millennia of ice and wind, crescent-shaped Cradle Mountain is Tasmania's most recognisable – and spectacular – mountain peak. It's an all-day walk (and boulder scramble) to the summit and back for unbelievable panoramas over Tasmania's alpine heart. Or you can stand in awe below and fill your camera with the perfect views across Dove Lake to the mountain. If the peak has disappeared in clouds or snow, warm yourself by the fire in one of the nearby lodges…and come back tomorrow.
Whether you're belting along SouthAustralia's Oodnadatta Track in a 4WD or depreciating your van on the southernsection of the Birdsville Track, you'll know you're not just visiting theoutback – you've become part of it. Out here, the sky is bluer and the dustredder than anywhere else. Days are measured in kilometres, spinifex mounds andtyre blowouts. Nights are spent in the five-zillion-star hotel, waiting for oneto fall… If time isn’t on your side, a road trip to the mining town of Broken Hill may be as far from the coast as youget.
Kakadu,the traditional land of the Bininj/Mungguy, is more than a nature reserve: it’sa portal into a natural and cultural landscape like no other. Weathered byrelentless wet and dry seasons, the sandstone ramparts of Kakadu andneighbouring Arnhem Land have sheltered humans for millennia, and anextraordinary environmental legacy remains. Rock-art galleries depict theDreaming, hunting stories, zoological diagrams and ‘contact art’ (records ofvisitors from Indonesia and European colonists). The Ubirr and Nourlangiegalleries are World Heritage listed and are accessible to all.
Adelaide is drunk on the success of its threeworld-famous wine regions, all within two hours' drive: the Barossa Valley to the north, with its gutsy reds,old vines and German know-how; McLaren Vale to the south, a Mediterraneanpalette of sea, vines and shiraz and stunning d'Arenburg winery; and the ClareValley, known for riesling and cycling (in that order). Better-kept secrets arethe cool-climate stunners from the Adelaide Hills and the country cabernetsauvignon from the Coonawarra.
Victoria’s southernmost point and finestcoastal national park, Wilsons Promontory (or just the Prom) is heavenfor bushwalkers, wildlife watchers and surfers. The bushland and coastalscenery here is out of this world; even short walks from the main base at TidalRiver will take you to beautiful beaches and bays. But with more than 80km ofwalking trails through forests, marshes and valleys of tree ferns, over low granitemountains and along beaches backed by sand dunes, the best of the Prom requiressome serious footwork.
The Twelve Apostles − craggy rock formationsjutting out of wild waters − are one of Victoria's most vivid sights, but it'sthe 'getting there' road trip that doubles their impact. Drive slowly alongroads that curl beside spectacular Bass Strait beaches, then whip inlandthrough temperate rainforest studded with small towns and big trees. Thesecrets of the Great Ocean Road don't stop there; further alongis maritime treasure Port Fairy and hidden Cape Bridgewater. For the ultimatein slow travel, walk the Great Ocean Walk from Apollo Bay to the Apostles.
The legendary Ghan – named after central Australia's pioneeringAfghan cameleers – is one of the world's great railway journeys. Begun in 1877,the old line from Marree to Alice Springs suffered from washouts and shoddyconstruction before a shiny new line replaced it in 1980. The Alice-to-Darwinsection followed in 2004: now there's 2979km and 42 hours of track betweenAdelaide and Darwin. The Ghan isn'tcheap or fast, but the journey through the vast, flat expanse of centralAustralia's deserts is unforgettable.
The honour of visiting Arnhem Land in Australia's Top End is so more thanjust an opportunity to get off the beaten track. The beaches are trulypristine, and very often deserted, and the wildlife, both on land and in thesea, is abundant because of the Aboriginal approach to Country. CobourgPeninsula has an earth's-first-morning quality. And put Injalak Arts &Crafts Centre at Gunbalanya on your itinerary – it's an important cultural hubfor the remote communities living out here beyond the paved road.
While paddling a canoe upstream through onegorge and then another and leaving the crowds behind, you will be drawn intothe silence of these towering cliffs, which squeeze the waters of the Katherine River. Take a break on a sandy river beach,walk up to a viewpoint or take a helicopter flight for an eagle-eye view. Thesurrounding Nitmiluk National Park has even more to offer such as the JatbulaTrail, a five-day walk from the Gorge to the wonderful Leliyn (Edith Falls).
It could be mistaken for the surface of Mars,but scattered among the dunes of NambungNational Park, thousands of ghostly limestone pillars rise from thesurrounding plain like a vast, petrified alien army. One of the west's mostbizarre landscapes, the Pinnacles Desert attracts thousands of visitors eachyear. Although it's easily enjoyed as a day trip from Perth, staying overnightin nearby Cervantes allows for multiple visits to experience the full spectrumof colour changes at dawn, sunset and the full moon, when most tourists areback in their hotels.
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