Australia – simultaneously the earth’s smallest continent and largest island, is many a travelers’ dream destination. From Sydney's famous Opera House to the vast and rugged Outback, this country-continent is incredibly geographically diverse. Filled with friendly people, and stocked with unusual animals ranging from kangaroos and koalas to wombats and Tasmanian devils.
Australia holds a special place in the imaginations of those who live on the other side of the world. Home to both British descendants living a seemingly incongruous, often sun-burned existence in the faraway Pacific, along with intriguing indigenous cultures and immigrants from Asia and Oceania, Australia has a reputation as a modern society with frontier-like rough edges. In Australia, the vast, mostly deserted Outback begins just on the fringes of the thickly populated eastern coast and stretches west seemingly forever.
Australia is amazingly diverse -- from its well-populated east and southeastern coasts, with world-class cities like Sydney and Melbourne beckoning, to its arid outback (which constitutes much of the country), from its northeastern rainforests to its southeastern mountains, from its trendy vineyards to its frontier-style cattle ranches, from its icons (urban and rural) like the Sydney Opera House and Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), to its often-overlooked far-western and far northern cities like Perth and Darwin.
And of course there's the wildlife -- bounding kangaroos, shy koalas, wombats, and the impossible-to-make-up duck-billed platypus, which scientists once thought must be a hoax -- as well as its colorful history as a repository for English criminals, from whom many modern-day Australians are descended. Native aborigines, much in evidence in some parts of the country, add further to the Australians’ reputation as a yet-untamed, fiercely independent people.
Tasmania and the Cities
Australia’s smaller island of Tasmania, which lies to the south of Melbourne, is a wonderland of forests and rugged coastlines, ideal for nature lovers.
Australia's two main cities of Sydney and Melbourne are must stops. Rivals as well, Sydney is the more flashily beautiful, perhaps, with its famous Opera House, hidden bays and nearby beaches, but Melbourne wins many visitors’ hearts for its gardens, art museums and scenic drives.
But equally delightful to pass through are Australia’s smaller towns. Queensland takes pride in its “tidy towns” and remote Daintree Rainforest, while Alice Springs, in the center of the country, is known for its desert parks and frontier atmosphere. Australia’s eastern Gold Coast, anchored by the lively city of Brisbane, is renowned for its golden beaches. In the far west, Perth offers an entirely different feel, sometimes compared to the Mediterranean.
Australia's capital, Canberra, and far north city of Darwin make for other possible destinations. Consider taking a train across the width of southern Australia for an unforgettable ride through the Outback.
Uluru (Ayers Rock), about 200 miles from Alice Springs, is Australia’s best known natural landmark. Since it’s sacred to the aboriginal people, climbing it is now discouraged, but it’s still worth the trip to see. And, of course, Australia’s unusual wildlife is a huge draw: especially being surprised by the ever-present kangaroos and trying to spot the cute but reclusive koalas, who like to hide in eucalyptus trees.
While Australia has a mostly friendly rivalry with neighboring New Zealand (each believing themselves to be the friendlier of the two), they have much in common. Together they feature a number of world-class cities and some of the world’s best hiking trails, as well as deserts, rainforests, coastlines and mountains, so if you choose to see both in one tour, allow plenty of time.
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