Those famous icons of Australia — Ayers Rock, the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Opera House, koalas and kangaroos — might be the magnets that pull travellers down under, but the breadth of experiences on tap in the smallest continent and largest island in the world never ceases to amaze visitors once they arrive.
Ayers Rock Certainly you will marvel at that great monolith in the middle of the desert, revel in the brilliance of the underwater world off Queensland’s coast and chuckle at the cute little koalas. Yet on the same trip, you might find yourself riding a camel through a rainforest that opens onto a pearl-white beach, hiking a craggy mountain range under snow-capped peaks, swimming with a gigantic whale shark on Australia’s ‘other’ reef, chatting with an interesting local in a dusty, outback gold-rush town or getting a boomerang-throwing lesson from an Aborigine.
Emu Imagine a country brimming with natural beauty, from steamy rainforests, abundant wetlands, rugged ranges and desert plains to gleaming beaches, coral islands and radiant reefs. Add to that some of the most intriguing wildlife on the planet — duck-billed platypuses, laughing kookaburras, flocks of huge emus and giant lizards. Sprinkle in a cultural heritage mixing Aboriginal civilizations tens of thousands of years old with New World influences from Britain (the first to colonize Australia), other European countries, the Middle East and Asia. Then throw in sparkling and cosmopolitan capital cities, intriguing outback towns and peaceful seaside villages, and you have all the makings for story-studded postcards.
Adelaide Perhaps one of Australia’s best attributes is its cultural diversity, and two of the country’s greatest expressions on that front are its rich festivals and its innovative cuisine. One of the prime events on the Australian calendar is the biennial Adelaide Festival, a huge draw on the international arts scene. Held in March in the attractive, park-laden city of Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, this multi-day cultural celebration features more than 70 performing arts events, a visual arts program and a world-renowned literary week. And if you’re a foodie, you’ll be happy to know that Australia’s culinary menu has evolved to include some of the most creative cuisine in the world, blending exotic ingredients of the land and sea with cooking styles brought in by Asian and European immigrants. It’s all dished up with Australia’s internationally acclaimed wines.
Beyond Australia’s natural and cultural gifts, the overlying memory of a visit to this far-flung land is of the warm and lively nature of its people. Australia might be half a world away, but it can also be the trip of a lifetime. You’ll want to take advantage of the current three-to-one exchange rate and make a long holiday of it. But remember, Australia is huge — roughly the size of the United States. The best way to get around is by plane when travelling between the major territories and save the road travel for short excursions.
The seasons are reversed down under and with the vast size of the continent, the ideal time to visit depends on your favoured destinations or particular pursuits. The farther south you go, the colder it gets, so Australian summer (December through February) is a great time to head to southern states such as New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. As for the Great Barrier Reef, the Red Centre and the Top End — April through September is best; you’ll be able swim the waters off Queensland without the threat of poisonous (and sometimes deadly) box jellyfish and you won’t keel over in the heat of the desert.