Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere and literally on the other side of the world. But long flights may be reduced by stop-over visits en route to fascinating other Pacific islands such as Tahiti, Fiji, New Caledonia, or even Hawaii, depending on your flexibility and the airline you will travel with.
As with the US, the main challenge to planning a trip to Australia is the vast size and diversity of the country. It is in fact a continent with about the same landmass as the US. It is divided into 6 states and 2 territories, each one of them having its own unique attractions and climate. So your choice of itinerary will vary with the season and your personal interests.
What are your personal interests?
So many activities are available in such a vast country that you should select what would be best for you depending on your own specific interests and preferences.
- Experience with Aborigines
- Nature and wildlife
- Diving and surfing
- Food and wine
- Festivals and special events
- Cities and architecture
- A bit of everything
Where will you go?
Perhaps you will want to experience those major sights and locations that Australia is most readily known for; the Sydney Opera House, a little piece of the Great Barrier Reef, the “outback” with the famous Uluru mountain, a.k.a Ayers Rock, a monolith standing in the middle of the Uluru desert, are some of these “must sees”. You certainly will not want to miss Australia’s unique and fascinating wildlife, such as the kangaroos, koala bears, wombats, emus, kookaburras and platypus.
Let’s look briefly at what each of the states and territories have to offer.
Australian Capital Territory
Canberra is the capital of Australia. A visit there could be easily planned as you travel between Sydney and Melbourne. It is the largest inland city but the eighth largest of all with around 400,000 inhabitants. The present Parliament House opened in 1988. The Old parliament, now the Museum of Australian Democracy, was the seat of the federal government till that time. The National Museum, National Gallery, War Memorial, and Lake Burley Griffin are the main sites of interest.
New South Wales and Sydney
Sydney’s iconic symbols are the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, also known as the “Coat Hanger”. The “coat hanger” is the famous bridge that takes you over to the nearby long stretches of Manly Beach, with excellent surfing which are at least on a par with the better known Bondi Beach. Stroll around and enjoy the many attractions of Darling Harbour and its Victorian ambiance. Taronga zoo will show you all the species you always wandered about. The beautiful Blue Mountains and Three Sisters Rocks 30 miles north of Sydney are an easy day excursion where you can see waterfalls, eucalyptus forests, dramatic cliffs and scenic hiking trails.
This area is also known as the Outback and the Red Desert, and is where you can experience the Aboriginal culture. The coastal city of Darwin is the main commercial and cultural center of the territory, and the gateway to Kakadu National Park. Alice Springs, the second largest city, is uniquely remote as it takes 17 hours to drive from Darwin in the north, and about the same time to reach Adelaide,in the South. Planes are the main means of transportation in this region and should you want to go to Uluru it is a 45 minutes flight versus a nearly 6 hour drive from Alice Spring.
Queensland extends along the North East coast of Australia for nearly 4,400 miles. The offshore Great Barrier Reef itself extends for about 1500 miles and contains more than 900 islands. It shelters miles of coral reefs and thousands of marine species. The best access point to visit the reef is from Cairns, and it requires a full day trip to truly experience the beauty of the reef. Brisbane is the capital of the state and the third largest Australian city: a very pleasant city to live in. It anchors the north end of the Gold Coast, with its long white sand beaches, theme parks and exceptional surf, making it an international paradise for surfers.
South Australia and its capital Adelaide is a major attraction for wine lovers, and it also has great beaches in the Fleurieu Peninsula. The wineries of the Barossa Valleys are famous nationally and well worth a visit. The Murray River is a fruit growing area and offers beautiful scenery with its multitude of orchards. North of the state is the unique little desert town of Coober Pedy, a place like nowhere else in the world, where you may strike it rich overnight if you decide to move in and start mining. It is known as the Opal Capital of the World, and half of its 3500 inhabitants live partially underground because of the blistering summer heat.
The main attraction of Western Australia is the scenic city of Perth, built on the Swan River and famous for Kings Park, a beautiful area that includes a variety of memorials and statues, as well as the Botanical Garden which is worth a visit. Fremantle Goal is a World Heritage Site, where convicts, the first settlers in Australia, used to be jailed as far back as 1855. Most of the rest of the state is an arid outback dominated by the Simpson desert.
This island is south of the Australian continent and best known for its hiking, climbing, and cycling in and around its numerous parks and mountains. The climate has colder winters and cooler summers. Hobart is the capital where the Salamanca market is a real treat not to be missed on a Saturday. Lucky you if you ever meet a Tasmanian Devil!
Victoria is the most densely populated, the second largest inhabited, and also the smallest State of Australia. Melbourne is the capital and the locals take great pride in besting Sydney as the cultural center of the country. Very few of its natives would leave it for another place. Gardens, parks, tree lined avenues mixed with numerous restaurants, bars and cafes make Melbourne one of the most liveable cities in the world. Nearby you can go and swim with dolphins and seals in Port Phillip Bay. Or you can drive to Phillip Island in less than two hours and witness the incredible Penguin Parade, a daily natural show of little penguins returning at sunset to their burrows.