Sights and Activities
Australia has an enormous coastline with fantastic beaches. Although some are not recommended because of a number of reasons (undertow, sharks, salties), there are numerous beaches which are fantastic for just seeing and to be seen, swimming, surfing and snorkelling. Bondi Beach in Sydney is probably one of the best known and busiest beaches in the country. More to the north, the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast (including Surfers Paradise) are popular among people loving beaches and all sorts of aquatic activities and of course partying. Queensland has the finest beaches and this is also one of a few places where the rainforest meets the beaches and reef and Cape Tribulation and surroundings. Western Australia has some great beaches around Broome, Coral Bay, Shark Bay and Monkey Mia with supreme activities like dolphin feeding and snorkelling with whale sharks and manta rays.
The Blue Mountains area in New South Wales in Australia has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list for the unique eucalypt varieties that grace its 1 million hectares. The numerous national parks in the region offer much more than botanic interest though. The sightseeing potential in the Blue Mountains, symbolised by sites like the Three Sisters and the Jenolan Caves, succeeds in annually attracting thousands of visitors.
Cape Tribulation is the furthest point north that most people visiting Queensland reach. It is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, the rainforest here is thick, ancient and teems with wildlife. There is a range of activities here, including guided rainforest walks which are particularly recommended. Be aware that it is possible to get stuck in Cape Tribulation in summer if the rain is particularly heavy, as the creeks rise up above the road. Be sure to give yourself a couple of days room to catch flights etc.
Away from Australia's coastal regions, large parts of the country are desert. Together they cover 1,371,000 km² and occupy nearly a fifth of the continent. Far from being something to avoid, the deserts are one of the greatest natural attractions of the country. The five largest Australian deserts are the Great Victoria Desert, Tanami Desert, Great Sandy Desert, Simpson Desert and the Gibson Desert. Smaller ones include the Little Sandy Desert, the Sturt's Stony Desert, the Strzelecki Desert and the Tirari Desert. The latter three are located in the border area of South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, while the others are more to the central and central western parts of the country, which forms a much larger continuous area of desert landscapes. More information can be found in the Australian Deserts article.
The Explorer Highway is just one of many great road trips in Australia. The route follows the trail of legendary explorer John McDouall Stuart, the first European to cross Australia from south to north. Although the original route is not exactly the same anymore, parts of it still are. The route starts in Adelaide, or actually in Port Augusta, north of the city. From there you cross the deserts of South Australia and the Northern Territory before ending in tropical Darwin. Along the way are many points of interest, including Coober Pedy, Alice Springs and Katherine. But don't forget to take bypasses to Uluru (Ayers Rock) for example, or to Kakadu National Park up in the north of the country. To enjoy this trip, take at least 3 to 4 weeks. In the last few years, it has also become possible to travel all the way from Adelaide to Darwin by train.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world at approximately 123 kilometres long and 22 kilometres wide. It is a place of amazing beauty, with its long sandy beaches, dozens of freshwater lakes (many of which have their very own beaches), ancient rainforests, coloured rock formations, crystal clear creeks and even its own shipwreck. The main starting point for trips to Fraser Island is Hervey Bay. From here you can organise anything from 1-day trips that cover the main highlights of the island, to multi day camping trips that take in all that the island has to offer. Alternatively, a more adventurous choice is to take or hire your own 4x4 and explore the island by yourself, allowing you to go where you want, stay for as long as you want and camp wherever you like.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world. It's no surprise that it is also one of Australia's most popular natural attractions. It is located off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia and stretches for some 2,600 kilometres, comprising 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands. A large section of the reef falls within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which was set up to protect it from the negative impacts of overfishing and tourism. Climate change forms a major threat to the reef with rising water temperatures causing mass coral bleaching.
Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is one of the world's most stunning coastal drives, winding along Australia's southern coast. The undisputed highlight of the drive are the Twelve Apostles, but the Great Ocean Road leads past many more sights of interest, from bustling coastal towns like Lorne and Apollo Bay to the lush rainforests of Great Otway National Park. The Great Ocean Road was built between 1919 and 1932 by Australian World War I veterans, as a memorial to their fallen comrades. Their labour is all the more impressive considering the steep coastal mountains the road is built into.
Gulf Country, or also called Gulf Savannah, is an increasingly popular area in the northwest of Queensland. It refers to the area from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory to the westcoast of Cape York in Queensland. Most visitors cross this area on their way from the Northern Territory to the eastcoast of Queensland, either via the sealed routes through Mount Isa and Tennant Creek, or by taking the official Savannah Way highway, which goes directly west from Normanton along mostly unsealed roads and basically connects Cairns in the northeast with Broome in the northwest of the country. Karumba along the Gulf of Carpentaria, and the inland towns of Mount Isa and Normanton are some of the main attractions in the region, as are the wide open spaces and big skies.
Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is a vast park the size of Israel in the Northern Territory, Australia, east of Darwin. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kakadu supports a huge variety of flora and fauna, many species of which are rare or endemic. Historically, Kakadu was the home of Aboriginal people, and much of the current National Park is Aboriginal land. The area is also rich in Aboriginal rock art, with over 5,000 sites found.
The Kimberley is a vast area consisting of rugged ranges, canyons, waterfalls and pristine coastline. Kimberley, one of the 9 regions in Western Australia, is one the most rugged areas of Australia and a popular region for travellers. Most travellers come here for its surreal beauty, its wideness, big skies and beautiful gorges, pools and some of the most rewarding 4wd tracks in the country, including the popular Gibb River Road. Towns of interest include Broome, Derby and Kununurra.
Purnululu National Park
Purnululu National Park is a national park in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The national park is located approximately 300 kilometres south of Kununurra, with Halls Creek located to the south. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. The World Heritage status of the region was created and negotiated in 2003, and the adopted boundary of the existing national park. Since its listing, the Government of Western Australia has reserved additional areas located adjacent to the World Heritage Area, including the Purnululu Conservation Park and the Ord River Regeneration Reserve. The Bungle Bungle Range, lying fully within the park, has elevations as high as 578 metres above sea level. It is famous for the sandstone domes, unusual and visually striking with their striping in alternating orange and grey bands. The banding of the domes is due to differences in clay content and porosity of the sandstone layers.
The Shark Bay World Heritage Area covers over 2.2 million hectares on the Western Australian coast. The park was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1991, in recognition of its unique marine life, including the stromatolites which provide evidence of early life on our planet. The extensive seagrass meadows found in the park play home to numerous endangered and threatened species. Another world renowned special attraction of the park is Monkey Mia, where a group of wild bottlenose dolphins have been coming ashore to the beach for more than 40 years.
Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House, situated on Sydney's stunning harbour, is one of the world's most admired works of architecture. Since its opening in the 1970s, it has left a permanent impression and is now the defining symbol of modern Australia. If possible, it is well worth catching a performance here.
The Tasmanian Wilderness is a massive area covering 13,800 km², almost 20% of the island, in South West, Western and Central Tasmania. Many national parks and reserves make up the wilderness area, giving it a great diversity to explore. There are even archeological sites that are over 20,000 years old to be found in some of the limestone caves.
The Ghan is one of the best trips across the Red Centre of Australia. The passenger train operates along the Adelaide to Darwin railway and is almost 3,000 kilometres long. It takes around 48 hours to complete this fantastic trip, but you can also break your journey in several other places, including Alice Springs which is about halfway. You can visit places like Uluru and Kings Canyon National Park from here. Another option is to break your trip in Katherine and visit the Katherine Gorge. The original construction already began during the late 19th century, but it wasn't until 2004 when the final leg to Darwin was completed and people could travel across the heart of Australia by train. The train usually travels twice a week and is also more expensive than travelling by car, bus or even plane. Still, the service and charm are unbeatable!
The Great Ocean Walk
The Great Ocean Walk is one of Australia's most spectacular coastal walks. The walk begins in the beautiful seaside town of Apollo Bay and finishes more than 100 kilometres later at the famous 12 Apostles. There are two ways you can approach this walk. You can choose to stay on track and stay in the designated camping spots or you may prefer to stay off track in some of the private accommodation which skirts the walk. Either way you are in for some amazing sights. Not every one chooses to do the whole walk but if you do you should give yourself about 7 days to do it. If you're staying on track you need to book your camp sites in advance.
Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Uluru (or Ayers Rock) is a large sandstone rock in the center of Australia and the country's most recognisable natural feature. Uluru is part of the larger Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta is native for the Olga's, another remarkable feature in this park. The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of beautiful tropical islands ooff the coast of Queensland, a sailing and beach paradise. Most travellers arrive at the beautiful Whitsunday Islands by sailboat from Airlie Beach. It's a suitably romantic way to arrive - the islands are lovely. There are some great sections of reef to explore, by snorkelling or diving, and some fabulous beaches to kick back on including glorious Whitehaven Beach which changes shade as the light passes over. If you intend to sail and are on a budget, it is best to wait until the day before and book your trip in Airlie Beach as spare places on boats are often available at huge discounts.
Australia is known for its first class wines. Wine regions like the Barossa Valley (near Adelaide), the Yarra Valley (near Melbourne), Margaret River (in Western Australia) and the Hunter Valley (in New South Wales) are great places to visit for not just fantastic wine from the cellar door, but also some enjoyable scenery along the way.
Other Sights and Activities
- The Canning Stock Route is one of the most difficult and rewarding 4WD-tracks in the world.
- Cape York is the northern tip of Australia located in Queensland and a real off the beaten track experience.
- Coober Pedy is the opal capital of the world in South Australia.
- Daly Waters Pub is near to where the first international flights landed.
- The Devils Marbles are a collection of large round granite boulders shaped over thousands of years by the weather, located about 100 kilometres south of Tennant Creek.
- Flinders Ranges is the largest mountain range in South Australia, located 200 kilometres north of Adelaide.
- Island territories like Lord Howe Island, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island, which offer a beautiful setting and ecological diversity. Lord Howe is the easiest to visit, the other require more time and money.
- Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, is the country's third largest island and host to an abundance of wildlife, including koalas and kangaroos.
- Kings Canyon is a huge canyon some 270 metres deep and is located in the Northern Territory about 200 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs.
- Monkey Mia is a great place for some dolphin watching.
- Nitmiluk National Park - part of which is also known as Katherine Gorge.
- The Outback refers to the remote arid areas of central Australia, though more loosely it sometimes also refers to everything outside of urban areas.
- Pinnacles - odd limestone formations found within Nambung National Park, near the town of Cervantes in Western Australia, situated 200 kilometres north of Perth.
- Wave Rock is an oddly shaped rock situated in the south of Western Australia, near the small town of Hyden.
Reprinted with permission under Creative Commons Licence Travellers Guide