Great Barrier Reef
Off the Queensland coast, and stretching for over 2000km, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most spectacular natural features. Home to millions of marine animal species, the living reef has a unique eco-system of its own and although fragile it literally teems with colourful and wonderful life. Naturally it is one of the world’s most popular sites for diving and snorkelling. Sparklingly clear waters mean that the reef is clearly visible from tour boats as well if you don’t fancy getting wet.
New World wines are becoming very well established internationally and Australian wine is familiar to everyone. The wine industry is on a huge scale and although vines are grown in almost every Australian state, two of the best regions are the Big River Country and the Barossa Valley of South Australia, and New South Wales’s Hunter Valley. In the latter alone, there are just over 70 wineries. Most allow some kind of visit and of course a tasting and it’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Many people imagine Australia as a vast expanse of scrubland, mountains and desert, and most of it is. But the cities are also worthy of a lot more attention than people might think. Most people will take in some of Sydney’s cultural charms but you should also check out Brisbane’s frenetic friendliness.
Sydney is the biggest city in Australia, and the busiest, Sydney’s hosting of the 2000 Olympic Games was widely considered to be the best such event in the modern history of the games. You can tour the magnificent Stadium Australia where the main events were held, but there is much more to see in this beautiful city.
The twin icons of Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge dominate the harbour and a tour of the former and a climb of the latter are unforgettable experiences. Australia’s finest art galleries and museums are also contained within the city, while an international range of restaurants, clubs and bars keep entertainment levels high. Best of all is the all-pervasive friendly atmosphere which makes Sydney many visitors’ favourite destination in Australia.
Melbourne meanwhile employs fashionable style against Sydney’s US scale and is a pleasant city of pavement cafés and trams. Out West you can mix in an exploration of the empty territories with a dose of laid back urbanity in Perth on the coast. One of the lesser visited cities is in fact one of the most pleasant – compact Hobart on the island of Tasmania has a lot to offer the visitor seeking some less crowded comfort.
Aussies have not only embraced but have defined the modern beach lifestyle the world over. The entire coast of the country is amply blessed with beautiful beaches, and for the people who live nearby the beach is central to recreation and social life.
From the built-up beaches of Surfer’s Paradise (Gold Coast) to abandoned stretches of the Southwest of the country around Perth, there’s more coastal sands than you could hope to discover in a lifetime. Walk and fish the remote stretches of sand on the Western Coast, or hire yourself a boogie or surf board, grow your hair long and hit the waves on Bondi.
Uluru – Ayers Rock
The most enduring image of Australia is the imposing vista of Ayers Rock, or Uluru as it is properly known. Almost exactly in the centre of the country, this huge 350m high monolith has been a sacred site for the Aboriginal tribes for thousands of years.
The local Anangu people prefer that visitors respect the cultural and spiritual significance of Uluru, and refrain from climbing it. If you do insist on climbing there are marked areas to stay within and be aware that it is quite a strenuous climb. Ensure you visit the Cultural Centre at the resort to enrich your understanding of the local environment and people.
King’s Canyon and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) are within easy reach of Uluru and Ayers Rock resort and are well worth the effort to visit. The bottom of the 250m-deep chasm of King’s Canyon is filled with lush vegetation known as the “Garden of Eden” and stands in startling contrast to the surrounding desert terrain. The domes of Kata Tjuta tower 200m higher than Uluru, and, for many people, are just as impressive as their more famous neighbour. There are 36 separate domesand hidden within are several Aboriginal sacred and cultural sites that you are asked to respect.
For 50,000 years before European Captain Cook first dropped his anchor in Botany Bay the Aboriginal peoples of Australia had walked the land. They developed a highly sophisticated culture based on close links between the natural and spiritual world and their story is a fascinating one of no little tragedy as they were increasingly marginalised by settlers.
Nowadays, the Aboriginal legacy is carefully preserved both by the current generations of native people and in the modern cultural institutions of Australia. Exploring the history of this ancient race through their stories of the Dreamtime, rock paintings and other art, and learning how they survived for thousands of years in the harsh outback environment helps you to attach a deeper significance to the history, animals and landscape of Australia.
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