The land Down Under is a destination on many a bucket list. It’s consistently voted as one of the top 10 most desired destinations in the world. So much to see. So much to experience.
Having been there, I know it’s truly a great place to explore. But Australia is a big country – about the same size as the lower 48 states. The distance between Sydney and Perth is about the same as New York to Los Angeles.
When planning a trip here, especially your first visit, one of the hardest parts is deciding where to start, what cities and regions to include. Much of this depends on what experiences you want to have, what stories you want to bring home. Following are top experiences you can build your memories around.
There are thousands of species endemic to Australia, largely attributed to the fact that it is an isolated continent – not connected to any other land mass. From plants to reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds and mammals, you’ll find quite a diversity unique to the continent.
Without a doubt kangaroos and koalas are the most recognized. But don’t miss out Australia’s other unique critters, including wombats, platypus, wallaby, emu, echnida, quokka, emu, kookaburra, dingo and the Tassie Devil.
Where best to see them? In a zoo, wildlife sanctuary or reptile park are for sure the easiest. In the wild it depends on what you want to see. For example, Tassie Devils are found in Tasmania, the quokka on Rottnest Island, saltwater crocs in the Northern Territories. In some cases joining a guided tour is best, in other cases you can spot them on your own. You just need to know where to look. Many national parks offer great opportunities to spot wildlife.
Australia is full of amazing landscapes and natural wonders, with each state or territory offering something unique. One of the most recognized natural sites is the ancient rock formation of Uluru, the largest sandstone monolith in the world. Uluru is a place of deep spiritual importance to the Anangu people who have lived here for over 22,000 years. This outback experience is located in the Red Centre, a 3.5 hour flight from Sydney.
Another iconic site is the Great Ocean Road, a beautiful drive along South Australia’s rigged and windswept coastline. Here you will find the amazing 12 Apostles. An easy day drive from Sydney are the Blue Mountains, with endless vistas, sandstone ridges and wilderness ready t be explored. Here you will find the famous 3 Sisters Spires rock formation, a suspended cableway to view the forest from above and the steepest train in the world to take you down into the valley.
Queensland is home to the Daintree Forest, the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. This is where the rainforest meets the ocean. And of course spending some time at the Great Barrier Reef is a must.
Western Australia too has amazing natural wonders, including Lake Hillier, a bubblegum pink colored lake, and the Bungle Bungles in the Kimberley region, black and orange striped domes that rise some 985 feet. Local Aboriginal culture here dates back 40,000 years.
Tasmania offers the wild beauty of Freycinet and Cradle Mountain National Parks, known for wonderful hiking opportunities.
Australia is home to the oldest continuous culture in the world. Authentic indigenous experiences can be found all throughout the country from guided walks in the cities to the bush and outback as well as walkabout adventures where you will see nature in a whole new way.
WINE AND FOOD
Wine, breweries, distilleries, coffee, seafood, farm to table, local bakeries, world-class restaurants – from typical Aussie food to international flavors, Australia has vibrant food scene and is no stranger to incredible culinary options just about everywhere you go. Far beyond shrimp on the barbie!
When it comes to wine, you won’t have any difficulty finding opportunities to try them. Australia’s vineyards date back to the 1840’s and has grown to now 65 wine regions and over 2400 wineries. The most well known include Hunter Valley outside of Sydney, the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale near Adelaide, the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne, Margaret River in Western Australia, Tamar Valley in Tasmania and the lesser known Canberra wine district.
If wine isn’t your thing, Australia also has over 500 craft beer breweries, wonderful gin, rum, vodka and liqueur distilleries and not to forget the famous café culture.
BEACHES AND AQUATIC ATTRACTIONS
Did you know that Australia boasts over 10,000 beaches? If you were to visit one beach every day, it would take you 27 years to visit them all! For incredible photo opportunities and marine life, visit the Whitsunday Islands (Whitehaven beach is spectacular) or visit the Gold Coast, just south of Brisbane. Unbeatable.
Beyond beaches, Australia has amazing aquatic attractions. The best known of course is the Great Barrier Reef. Whale watching opportunities are found in Western Australia, Tasmania and along the eastern coasts from Adelaide up to the Great Barrier Reef.
Interested in swimming with the marine life? You can with the humpbacks and manta rays in Queensland, with whale sharks along Ningaloo Coast, Western Australia, frolic with seals or cage diving among great white sharks in South Australia.
Australia’s major cities all have unique personalities and experiences.
Sydney is the nation’s largest city. With many things to do for all types of interests, Sydney is almost always on a first timer itinerary. The Opera House, Bondi Beach, the Bridge Climb, Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, the Rocks – a very short list of experiences to be had. Brisbane is perfect for outdoor and beach lovers. Melbourne is known for their superb art, dining and shopping, quirky laneways, hidden bars and vibrant café scene (and of course the Open). Adelaide offers great food, wine, outback and wildlife experiences. With 200 cellar doors, they have earned the title of Wine Capital. Perth is a not so hidden gem - a relaxed city, nearby wineries, the port of Freemantle, Rottnest Island (and friendly quokkas) combine to make this urban oasis unforgettable. Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, is a great starting or ending point for a visit to this state. Try to be there on a Saturday to experience the Salamanca Market where you can sample Tassie culinary delights.
Australia host a good number of exciting sports and events. The most renown is the Australian Tennis Open. Australian rules football, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race, surfing championships, Formula 1 Grand Prix, Melbourne Cup horse racing and The Ashes series (cricket) are also popular events.
So much to see. So much to do. And this list could be longer. How to build the best itinerary for a visit Down Under truly depends on what stories you want to bring home. As an Aussie Specialist, I make the planning process easy. Reach out to me - I'm ready to help you. Laurie@lakamatravel.com or 602.540.7338.
Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder