Australia, the Land Down Under, is a vast continent full of rich biodiversity, incredible culture, and untamed wilderness. The great Australian Outback is the stuff of legend. A vast expanse of desert and grasslands stretching to the horizon. Running along the country’s eastern coast is the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. Sydney Harbor is recognizable the world over for the famed Opera House and the New Years fireworks display. A country flush with natural resources, Australia is a welcoming destination where travelers can find just about anything.
Given the sheer size--Australia is the world’s 6th largest country by land area--it’s best to tackle Australia in chunks. There are eight states and territories, each with a distinct charm. Travelers arriving by air from abroad will probably land in Sydney, Australia’s largest city and the capital of New South Wales. From here it’s possible to explore northwards along the coast or head south to Melbourne and Tasmania. The tropical Indian Ocean waters in the north near Darwin teem with life. In the west, Perth seems like a different, more laid back world. Having a sense of what you hope to see will help you craft a good itinerary.
The areas in and around contemporary Sydney have been home to Aboriginal peoples for at least 30,000 years. As a result, Sydney is one of the best places to explore Aboriginal culture. Wander around Sydney Harbour, where you snap selfies with the famous Sydney Opera House in the background. See the famed Sydney Harbour Bridge and stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens. The harbour area is a feast of activity and a great place to spend some time. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is just south of the botanical gardens and contains some excellent and diverse works. From there, make for St. Mary’s Cathedral and Hyde Park. Central Sydney is a great place for some shopping and dining. Be sure to explore Cockle Bay Wharf and the Harbourside Shopping Center.
Located in the southern state of Victoria, Melbourne is often dubbed Australia’s cultural capital. Here you will find wonderful theater, dance, music, and more. In January during the southern hemisphere summer, Melbourne hosts the Australian Open Grand Slam Tennis tournament. Fabulous cricket is on offer as well. Start your tour along Flinders Lane, where you can sample the city’s superb coffee culture and find some treats to satisfy your morning hunger. Next wander down to Federation Square and across the river to the Royal Botanical Gardens. It’s easy to loop back through the city’s major sporting grounds in and around Melbourne Park. Afterwards, continue on to Fitzroy Gardens, Parliament House, and finally to Carlton Gardens where you will find the Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum.
Australia’s Northern Territory is vast! Containing most of the fabled Outback, this is where you can experience Australia’s rugged side. In the very north, Darwin sits on the Indian Ocean. Warm tropical waters and numerous coves make this a perfect place for exploration. Make sure to visit the Darwin Waterfront, the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, and Crocosasarus Cove. In the territory’s south you will find Alice Springs. This attractive town is a popular stop with travelers. Take a ride in a hot air balloon and be sure to visit Alice Springs Desert Park so you can really get a sense for the incredible landscapes here. If you’re traveling around the Northern Territory, certainly consider visiting Ayers Rock, Kakadu National Park, or simply indulge in the luxury spas and resorts dotted along the coast.
Fans of American Saturday morning cartoons likely recall watching the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil spin and whirl his way across the screen. In reality, Tasmanian devils are carnivorous marsupials only found in the wilds of Tasmania. The island’s southern latitude means it experiences high climate variability. Hot in summers and cold in winter, Tasmania is popular for its unspoiled natural landscapes. Hobart is the state capital and main city. Much of the island is protected wilderness and national parks. Visitors will definitely want to get in some hiking or backpacking. Port Arthur is well worth the visit. From here you can take a ferry to Tasman Island and possibly catch a glimpse of the seal colonies there.
Perth and Western Australia
Residents of Perth wax poetic about how it’s Australia’s best city. The laid back culture in the west is fully evident here. Grab something fresh at one of the city’s many cafes and bakeries and start you tour with a visit to the Perth Cultural Centre. Here you can explore the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Finally don’t neglect a walk through Kings Park and the Botanic Garden. If you have some more time to spend in Western Australia, a favorite thing to do is take a trip up the costral road. With the Indian Ocean to one side and amazing landscapes to the other, this is a beautiful drive and a great chance to snap some stunning photos. There are plenty of small towns along the way where you can stop to enjoy a rest and take in a bit of the Western Australian hospitality.
Australia is a vast country. Assuming you don’t have months to wander about, concentrate on the places you think you would most enjoy. Sydney is the country’s major urban hub. Queensland to the north features some of the world's best beaches and diving locations along the Great Barrier Reef. Tasmania to the south is a scenic wonderland, while Australia’s central Outback is a rough and tumble landscape with immense beauty. The Land Down Under is a great travel destination and when you visit you’ll quickly be saying “G’day, mate!”