Adventures in the Land of Oz
Australia is a country that lends itself to a handful of fun, quirky stereotypes. Hopping kangaroos. Cuddly koala bears munching adorably on eucalyptus shoots. Burly Crocodile Dundee types in the rough-and-tumble Outback telling you that’s not a knife, this is a knife.
But the truth is that the land down under is a vast, amazingly diverse country—and one that holds hidden gems, lovely surprises and unexpected adventures for those who choose to explore it. Here’s a few ideas for what to do in Australia.
Take, for example, the Southern Spirit. A journey akin to other legendary Aussie rail trips like the Ghan and the Indian Pacific, the Spirit showcases the best that this nation has to offer from the comfort and class of an upscale sleeper train. Departing from Adelaide, Australia’s wine capital, it takes the path less travelled all the way to subtropical city of Brisbane (or vice versa), a stunning six-day, five-night journey.
A series of Whistle Stop Tours take passengers from the train into the charming villages, beautiful countryside, and natural wonders that present themselves along track.
One such stop is in Byron Bay, the most easterly point on the Australian mainland, home to unspoiled beaches, a picturesque lighthouse, and a marvelous little main street. Another stop includes Grampians National Park, a dramatic place featuring a series of jagged sandstone mountain ranges, where you’ll find Aboriginal rock art sites and a plethora of wildlife, including wallabies, emus and—yes— kangaroos.
And in Dubbo, home of the renowned Taronga Western Plains Zoo, you will have the chance to explore an open-range environment featuring a vast array of animals, including big cats, elephants, rhinoceros and giant apes. And the best part? You’ll always return to a comfortable cabin at the end of the day—Platinum Service onboard the Southern Spirit even includes a steward to cater to your needs, in addition to fine Australian wines and relatively roomy accommodations.
And if you can’t get enough of riding the rails, head to red heart of Australia, where some tour operators (including Boomerang Tours, a top name in Aussie travel) pair a portion of the journey taken by the legendary Ghan—which, in its totality, travels all the way from Adelaide to Darwin—with other adventures.
Explore Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock), one of the nation’s most iconic natural landmarks, a giant sandstone formation that is sacred to local Aboriginal populations, and a truly unforgettable sight. Spend time in Alice Springs, a rough-and-ready place—often known affectionately as just “Alice”—which retains authentic vestiges from its days as a frontier town. Visit its various heritage sites, including the original telegraph station where the town began, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, a fascinating air medical organization—the first of its kind in the world—that reaches far outlying regions in the Outback. The town is also the unofficial Aboriginal art capital of Australia, something that you can experience at the Albert Namatjira Gallery, which showcases the works of the man who is arguably the nation’s greatest Aboriginal artist, then browse contemporary Aboriginal art along the pedestrian-only Todd Mall.
And make sure to explore Alice’s rugged surroundings—take a camel ride along the banks of the Todd River, visit the stunning sand dunes of the Simpson Desert, and spend some time among the spectacular gaps and gorges of the MacDonnell Ranges. Then afterward, settle into a sleeper on the Ghan, south to Adelaide, to complete your adventure.
Up in the northeast corner of Australia, Queenslanders are famous among Aussies for their carefree attitude and derring-do, and the Cairns area is a favourite destination for the adventurous—Queenslanders and outsiders alike. Raft the wild, untamed Tully River, which tumbles over 45 rapids as it makes its tumultuous way through lush vegetation. Explore the Kuranda Rainforest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to rushing waterfalls, birds and butterflies, and rivers filled with a wide array of exotic animals, from freshwater crocodiles to platypus.
While you’re there, take a hot air balloon ride, hike along Jum Rum Creek, and spend a little time in the village of Kuranda, where you can watch street performers and learn to play the didgeridoo. Back in Cairns, visit Palm Cove in the city’s northern suburbs, a spot frequented by locals that’s often overlooked by foreign tourists. Carve out your own secluded stretch of beach, order a drink from one of the little shacks that line the shore, sit back in the shade of a palm tree and tip it back with your toes in the water. Then pack up the beach chair and head back into central Cairns, where you can kick up your heels in the bars and clubs that line Spence and Lake Streets.
And, of course, no visit to Cairns—or Australia—would be complete without a visit to the Great Barrier Reef, the country’s best-known natural feature and one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Famously known as the largest living organism on earth, the Reef stretches more than 1200 miles along the Queensland coast, and is so big that it can be seen from outer space. The most common way to explore it is, of course, by getting into the water. You’ll have a magnificent experience whether you snorkel or dive, swimming with marine turtles and viewing coral canyons, sea stars, shipwrecks and underwater tunnels.
But there are other ways to see the Reef. You can set sail in a chartered boat, or hop along some of its 900 green islands. Visit Hamilton Island, the largest of the 74 Whitsunday Islands, a place with sugary white sand beaches, clear, azure waters, and loads of watery adventures, from taking a placid paddle in a sea kayak to roaring across the sea on a jet ski. And make a stop on Lizard Island, home to one of the world’s finest resorts, and a wonderful place to enjoy pleasures both natural and refined—view flying foxes and monitor lizards and humpback whales during the day, then tuck into a lovely meal accompanied by a great Australian wine in the evening. It would be a fine way to finish your unforgettable adventures down under.
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