WORLD TRAVEL NEWS ARTICLE
Although there are six states in Australia, the country is basically divided into three major areas; The West Australian Tableland that occupies about half the country, the adjoining Central Lowland and The Great Dividing Range.
Despite being the world’s smallest continent, the country is vast with several different time zones and the climate varies hugely from the temperate south east to the tropical north with a great deal of desert between.
Its diversity and distances between cities makes it difficult to cover everything on offer so a good guide book and a well-planned itinerary is recommended. Australia has the lowest population density in the world although, as in most countries surrounded by water, most people live on or near the coast.
It’s not quite as easy as it was in the 60s and 70s to emigrate, and certainly not on a £10 shipping passage but there are still plenty of opportunities for those who want to take a chance and set up home on the other side of the world. There are hundreds of jobs available in a range of sectors. But the majority simply want an unforgettable holiday down under and few are disappointed.
The Koala, a prime example of an animal exclusive to Australia.
Almost all the wildlife in Australia is found nowhere else in the world. The duck billed platypus is a good example of a very strange creature perfectly evolved and adapted to its surroundings. Until European settlers introduced non-native species, the wonderful diversity of animals and plants quietly continued evolving and adapting as required for thousands, sometimes millions of years. Luckily most of these weird and wonderful sights can still be enjoyed today, although some are extremely rare.
The Blue Mountains, New South Wales - 50 Kilometres west of Sydney.
The flora and fauna is spectacular and often bizarre. Plant lovers are in an almost continuous state of excitement at the extraordinary plant species, most of which grow wild and abundantly. The predominant tree is the eucalyptus, with hundreds of different varieties in all shapes and sizes. Unlike the deciduous or evergreen nature of the UK’s trees, the eucalyptus sheds its bark and leaves throughout the year. A bush walk in the northern Sydney suburbs is dry and crackly underfoot accompanied by a cacophony of birdcalls above, which quickly become easy to identify, none more so than the kookaburra. You know you’re in Australia when you hear that “laugh” from the gum tree, regardless of whether the bird is visible.
The land has untold mineral wealth; Western Australia still produces most of the world’s gold and visitors can try their hand at some panning on any number of farms offering the “Aussie Dream”. Nuggets are occasionally, (though rarely!) found, but a bottle of small gold flecks makes a nice souvenir to take home. After all, gold is gold.
An example of Aboriginal 'Rock Art'.
Thousands of years before Australia was “discovered” by Europeans, it had long been inhabited by the Aboriginal people – evidence shows for as much as 50,000 years. The lack of written evidence however, (Aboriginals use art and pass their knowledge down through the generations), allowed Captain Cook to stake his claim, first on the east coast and gradually moving into the centre taking whatever land he liked. It has been a tragedy of human history and one for which new generations of Australians are trying to make amends - aiming for a united and peaceful country where there is enough space for everybody.
If there’s only one place you have time to visit in Australia, it has to be Sydney. Dominated by its harbour it is truly one of the world’s finest cities. Tauronga Zoo is a perfect excuse to take a ferry from Circular Quay as access is almost impossible by any other means. But the 20 minute journey is glorious and whatever your feelings about zoos, it is hard to find a better one than this with its elevated views of the famous bridge and opera house.
Bridge climbing in Sydney.
Sitting at the foot of the bridge are the botanical gardens. There’s no entrance fee and you can easily spend a day ambling through the park being amazed by the plants, trees and birds. 22,000 bats are resident here and during the day they settle in the trees in their droves. By night you only need to look up and the bats are out on the hunt.
The food in Sydney is fresh and exciting – lots of fish, seafood, juicy fruit and vegetables. Be warned, once you’ve tasted a ripe Aussie mango, you’ll probably never want to eat another in the UK.
Central Sydney is a fabulous contrast of old and new. Skyscrapers and high tech shopping malls back onto the “Rocks” district, where the first settlers began building in 1788. A good way to see the city is to take a train from Central Station to anywhere you like, as much of the railway system travels overland. Best of all, wherever you’re headed, you can change the direction of the seat in one quick move to always face forwards on the excellent double-decker trains.
Sydney Airport is approximately 15 kilometres from the city centre.
A day’s drive from Sydney heading south is Melbourne, the country’s second most populated city. Melbourne is cool and bohemian with a large student population. Here you’ll find bars and cafes, arts, culture and history, all set around the Murray River. Despite its weather being less reliable than Sydney, Melbourne has a proud identity which is infectious. And it has trams – a sign of its colonial past that continues to this day.
The Great Ocean Road
South West at Geelong, the Great Ocean Road begins. The clue is in the name – it winds along the wild Southern Ocean and covers an incredible range of scenery; monster waves, the craggy limestone stacks of “The 12 Apostles”, rainforests with thundering waterfalls and native animals in their rightful habitat.
Melbourne Airport is 23 kilometres from the city centre.
South Australian vineyard
The Great Ocean Road ends at Portland and heading west from there, the next major city is Adelaide.
The culture is very British but it has a semi arid climate and sparse rainfall making it the driest of all Australian’s major cities. The land here is flat and great for cycling and the soil lends itself beautifully to growing grapes. It’s the primary wine-growing region in Australia and there are hundreds of vineyards, for tasting, buying and generally improving your palate. You too can sound like quite the expert after a relatively short time.
Adelaide Airport is approximately 6 kilometres from the city centre
Continuing to the west coast, the landscape changes to desert – miles and miles of it. There is a train across the Nullabor from Adelaide to Perth, the journey takes two days. It’s over 1600 miles; the scenery is flat and barren but mesmerising nonetheless. The primary Western Australia city is Perth – one of the world’s most isolated places, and one that has grown around the enormous harbour. Perth has one of Australia’s most consistent climates with a comfortable average of 25 degrees C. Perth is a new small city with a grid system of roads. Head south a bit to Fremantle and the history of the country is more apparent.
The two domestic terminals at Perth Airport are side by side, about 12 kilometres from the city centre. The international terminal is 17 kilometres from the city centre.
A 15 mile ferry crossing off the coast of Fremantle, making it a good day excursion, is Rottnest Island, (much more lovely than it sounds!). Once again, the stretch of water that separates the island and mainland has allowed animal species to evolve here and nowhere else, the quokka being one such small marsupial. Private vehicles are banned so hire a bike and cover the entire 7 x 2.5 mile island easily by pedal power, taking in the superb sights of plants and wildlife in their natural habitat at your own pace.
North of Perth, the coast road is still very much unspoilt and the small towns are few and far between. As there is only one road, road trains are a common and initially scary sight. They are gigantic trucks pulling several carriages but you soon get used to them. Gradually the landscape changes again and enormous termite mounds flank the road on either side. It’s advisable not to drive after dark as kangaroos are abundant around here and often leap, without warning, in front of cars.
A few hundred miles north is Shark Bay and its world famous beach resort, Monkey Mia, where wild dolphins swim into the shallows each day for feeding. It’s a very popular tourist destination as there are few places in the world you can get as close and be guaranteed of seeing dolphins in the wild. The early session (7.30am) is very popular and it can be difficult to get as close as you’d like so hang back for the second session, and a better view.
Keep heading north on this one road and you’ll come to Broome, a small eclectic town with white sandy beaches, most notably Cable Beach. Named after the telegraph cable laid between Broome and Java in 1889 it’s miles long. The ocean is warm and the clear sparkly turquoise waters make it a paradise for divers and snorkelers with barely a soul in sight. On three nights a month (March – October), catch the “staircase to the moon” where a silvery illusion created by the rising moon reflects off the mud flats.
Broome was once the capital of Australia’s South Sea Pearl industry and there are plenty of places to buy, or just watch, them being cultured on local farms.
40% of Australia’s bird species live in this area; a bushwalk through the mangroves and tropical woodlands is a good way of spotting some of these unique birds in their natural habitat.
From Broome heading north, things change again. Travelling over the Great Sandy Desert takes you to the Kimberley Plateau at the tip of the North West where the average temperature is 30 degrees C and the vegetation is typical of a Savannah.
Broome International Airport is centrally located and within walking distance of the Broome town centre.
NORTH WEST AND ARNHEM LAND
Under the custodianship of several Aboriginal groups, Arnhem Land is a special place with much of the area off limits to tourists.
Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory, rebuilt twice following heavy bombardment during WW2 and then Cyclone Tracy in 1974. With a population of only 120,000, it still has many more people than any other city in this sparsely populated state. It has a tropical climate with a wet and dry season and can be very humid. A highlight of this area is a chance to see where the saltwater crocodiles have ruled for 200 million years. In the north of Australia, they have adapted and grown to immense sizes, the average is16 feet (5m) but they can grow to 22 feet (7m). Despite their bad press, the “salties” are quiet, private creatures and are really only threatening when they are hungry. However, the best and safest place to view them is at one of the many croc farms.
The Kakadu National Park
A couple of hours east of Darwin is Kakadu National Park, literally teeming with treasures guaranteed to amaze and inspire. Some of the country’s oldest and finest examples of aboriginal art are here as well as the reliably jaw dropping array of all things nature. Entire books are written about Kakadu so buy one and spend a few days in this region: it’s the epitome of Australia in all its glory.
Darwin International Airport is 13 kilometres from Darwin city centre.
From Darwin, one must travel south before returning to the coast. Here is as good time as any to venture into the heart of the country – “The Red Centre”. Alice Springs is one of Australia’s top tourist destinations, mainly due its proximity to the greatest monoliths on earth. Uluru (Ayres Rock) is over 2 miles long and a mile wide. Peaking at 1150 feet (350m), part of its enchantment is its changing colour throughout the day, climaxing with a blood red at sunset. The Olga Mountains have been exposed to millennia of erosion yet they still tower above the surrounding plain with altitudes of up to 1600 ft m (500m). As it is considered sacred by the Aboriginals, tourists are respectfully asked not to climb the monolith, but that should not deter visitors from viewing this amazing rock from the ground.
Alice Springs Airport is a small regional airport 14 kilometres south of Alice Springs.
East from Alice Springs takes you to the state of Queensland “the Sunshine State”. Head north to Cairns and the infamous Great Barrier Reef where the tropical climate translates into warm seas and year round sunshine. There are countless publications and websites with photos available that go into great detail about the Great Barrier Reef. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean, it provides a completely different view of this magnificent country. For divers, it’s the best with such a huge array of marine life and corals, all within clear shallow waters. It’s also one of the country’s most popular attractions, so don’t expect to have the place to yourself.
Cairns Airport handles both domestic and International flights.The airport is 7 kilometres north of the city centre.
Head south and you’ll arrive at another of Australia’s most popular destinations. Brisbane and the Gold Coast has an unbroken line of sunlit high-rise buildings and shopping plazas, lined with palm trees and flanked by the blue glory of the 26-mile surf coast. There’s a reason it’s called “Surfer’s Paradise" - three million visitors each year are confirmation of its universal appeal. Try to avoid “schoolies week” when thousands of teenagers flood the beaches and have more fun than is considered possible.
Brisbane Bridge and skyline.
Brisbane Airport handles both domestic and international flights. The airport is 12 kilometres north-east of the city.
Head a couple of hundred miles inland and you’ll reach the pioneering heart of Australia. In the gem fields of Queensland you can still stake a claim on a piece of land. Towns like Sapphire and Rubyvale only exist because of the rich mining potential from their alluvial soil (dried up river beds) origins. It’s the original Australian Dream and you can still peg a 30ft x 30ft area (assuming no one else has already done so) and begin mining. Of course there are limitations – no bulldozers or chopping of trees, but with a jack hammer and some elbow grease, you can tunnel down 30 ft and find your fortune just as many Australians have done in the past, in this largely wild, rugged and unmapped area.
And then it is a 12-hour drive south back to Sydney. Wonderful Sydney where everyone would live if they could!
Official tourist site: www.australia.com
150 miles south east of Australia across the Bass Strait is the island and state of Tasmania. Often overlooked by visitors to the mainland, it’s a beautiful place with a much slower pace, more reminiscent of Britain in the 50s, with almost everything being closed on Sundays. But who needs shops when there’s all that natural beauty to be discovered? The capital of Tasmania is Hobart, where most visitors begin their journey. Hobart has a lovely harbour with bars, cafes and some superb restaurants serving wonderfully fresh cheap seafood. From here you can stroll through the narrow streets and watch the locals making crafts and goods in their workshops.
Hobart International Airport is 17 kilometres east of the city.
About an hour south of Hobart is Port Arthur where the coastline created a readymade prison for a large convict community. In the first half of the 19th century, 65,000 convicts were sent to a penal colony where the prisoners were treated with appalling cruelty. Totally isolated from the rest of the country, escape was almost impossible and even the most trivial offence was punished at an extreme level. Using scraps of meat, sharks were encouraged to congregate near the treacherous coastal rocks at Eaglehawk Neck to deter anyone contemplating a break for freedom. You can visit the ruins of this historic site, which although chilling, should not be forgotten.
The eastern side of the island has a mild dry climate with plenty of sunshine. With long sandy beaches and perfect diving, sailing and fishing conditions, it’s pleasant to discover that there has been very little development over the years - just a few holiday villages, farms and vineyards scattered along the coastline.
The north coast’s main town is Devonport. In Tasmanian terms it’s pretty large with a population of 25,000, a modern airport and a ferry across the Bass Strait to Melbourne. It’s the arrival point for many visitors and a good place to make your base, as there are plenty of things to see and do nearby.
Devonport has a small regional airport 8 kilometres east of town.
The west coast is much more rugged; craggy headlands and forests, with the high winds of the Southern Ocean producing huge ocean swells. It is virtually unpopulated – Strahan is the only town of any size - a historic fishing village which should not be overlooked if you have the time, and possibly a 4WD. From here you can drive inland to Queenstown and take the route through the National Park, arriving back at Hobart for your departing journey.
Unique to Tasmania is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil. It’s still possible to see them in the wild, but they are nocturnal so it is not easy. Sadly they are now on the endangered list due to a contagious cancer but conservation programmes are working hard to ensure the survival of this peculiar looking creature.
Like the rest of Australia, Tasmania is home to spectacular wildlife, plants, marine life, beaches, forests and mile upon mile of the most pristine and contrasting coastline you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Official tourist site: www.discovertasmania.co.uk
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