Five reasons why you should visit Australia
A force of nature
When talking about Australia’s natural wonders, where do you start? Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, must be one of the most famous sights in the world. And perhaps one of the most mysterious – sacred to the Aboriginal people and steeped in legend. There’s the Blue Mountains – one million hectares of forests, cliffs, canyons and waterfalls – and the incredible Great Barrier Reef. The largest coral reef system in the world is an underwater adventure just waiting for you to take the plunge. Get your snorkel on and swim amongst colourful tropical fish, from huge slow-moving groupers to tiny clown fish, a familiar sight even to landlubbers, thanks to Disney’s endearing ‘Finding Nemo’. Or you can stay dry and see just as much from a semi-submersible submarine. Back on dry land you’ll see many of Australia’s most famous residents, with close-up encounters with kangaroos, wombats, possums and koalas all possible. You’re likely to see crocs too, on a cruise through Daintree Rainforest, but it’s probably best to keep those at arm’s length!
The slickest of cities
Looking for a city with the wow factor? Well if you head Down Under, you’ll be dazzled as you discover slick architecture, cultural treasures and even beaches amongst its marvellous metropolises. One of Australia’s coolest cities has to be Melbourne, which has a thriving arts scene, and plenty of hip bars and gourmet restaurants. Love sport? Well, its sporting venues are legendary, not least the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground, simply known as The G to locals and the spiritual home of Aussie cricket. Nature-lovers are catered for too, just a stone’s throw away is Phillip Island, where you can watch the adorable penguin parade. Head north to explore Sydney and its innumerable world-famous sites. The Sydney Opera House, its iconic harbour and Bondi Beach are must-sees, and you’ve even the chance to climb up Sydney Harbour Bridge, harnesses included! If you’re looking for a laid-back city, Cairns is for you – here you’ll discover a great café culture, bustling markets and plenty of lovely beaches. It’s also the gateway to Queensland’s tropical north and the Great Barrier Reef. The capital of Western Australia, Perth, is a real head-turner too. Exciting and cosmopolitan it’s home to idyllic beaches, lush parks and a stunning backdrop of modern skyscrapers to rival Manhattan. It’s also said to be Australia’s sunniest city, boasting 3,200 hours of sunshine annually.
A long history
Archaeologists believe that Australia’s Aboriginal people first arrived at least 50,000 years ago. However, they themselves say they can trace their creation back to ‘Dreamtime’, an era long past when the earth was first formed. These tribespeople have a special connection with the land, seeing themselves as part of nature, and if the place they belong to is destroyed, so too are they. In 1770, the arrival of Captain James Cook, who had set sail aboard the HMS Endeavour to find the fabled southern continent, marked the beginning of the end of the Aboriginals’ ancient way of life. Today only about 2% of the Australian population are Aboriginal, but evidence of their fascinating heritage and culture can be seen all over. Up in the Northern Territory, Kakadu National Park is famed for its caves decorated by rock art recording Aboriginal life around 20,000 years ago. Examples at Ubirr Rock and Nourlangie Rock are outstanding and have earned the park UNESCO World Heritage status. In the caves around the huge monolith Uluru, you’ll also see incredible rock art depicting Dreamtime myths dating back thousands of years.
Bush tucker to barbies
Indigenous Australians, who have occupied this land for thousands of years, developed a unique diet known as bush tucker using native plants, and animals such as kangaroo, emu, crocodile and witchetty grubs. This now multi-cultural country offers cuisine from every corner of the globe, with widespread Mediterranean and East Asian influences and many British traditions upheld, such as fish and chips and roast dinners. Take your pick from an array of restaurants in Australia’s cities, from casual buffets to fine dining, where red meat, especially beef, is always on the menu. Make sure you sample some of the best seafood in the world, and, of course, Australians love to invite their friends round, fire up the barbie and have a few beers. Australia is also a prolific producer of wine, with about 60 wine-growing regions scattered throughout the land. The major varieties are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, and a great way to find your favourite is with a vineyard tour and tasting.
Even more to see
To quote the theme tune of a famous Aussie soap opera, everybody needs good neighbours.
And Australia can count the unspoilt beauty New Zealand as one of its nearest and dearest. If you’ve committed to flying to the other side of the world to visit Oz anyway, you might as well make it a real trip of a lifetime and explore this epic Kiwi nation! A land of contrasts divided into two islands, in the north you’ll find serene sparkling lakes, verdant hillsides and beautiful white-sand beaches. It’s also home to the country’s largest city, Auckland, a must-visit, where you can ascend the 1,076ft Sky Tower to take it all in. Set on two harbours, everyday life revolves around the sea, and outdoor adventure is what it’s all about. Be sure to make time for Rotorua to see the evidence of North Island’s volcanic past amongst spouting geysers and bubbling mud pools. Cross the Cook Strait and head to South Island, where even more jaw-dropping scenery awaits. Journey into the rugged Southern Alps on the TranzAlpine train and into the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier regions. An optional flight over a glacier is definitely something to write home about! The south also boasts the sublime Milford Sound – this fjord really does have to be seen to be believed. And even then, you won’t believe your eyes.