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.
Adventure Travel in Australia
There are many different Australia’s that are available to travelers, but one of the most popular is attractive to adventure seekers. Within the adventure travel realm in Australia, there are plenty of hard adventure activities available, but also many family friendly and “soft” adventure opportunities.
Some of the top adventure travel experiences in Australia include:
1. Surfing - Australians love the ocean, and many tours of the country feature a beach day or two. Some tour companies offer surf lessons as an excursion or additional activity. It’s a great way to feel like a local out in the sun and surf.
2. Snorkeling - One of the most popular activities in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, snorkeling is a calm and easy activity, great for family outings. It’s best to plan a full day so you can get far enough out to explore deeper waters as well as the shallower areas.
3. Climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge - When you visit Sydney, the harbor is the top destination. Boat tours of the harbor leave from here, the Opera House is a prominent fixture, and Circular Queue is a fantastic area for shopping and eating.
For those looking for something a bit more adrenaline pumping, consider the Sydney Bridge walk. Snapped into a jumpsuit and harness you’ll climb to the very top of the bridge, for stunning views of the entire harbor, and a brag worthy photo op. While the activity is very safe, it is not recommended if you’re afraid of heights!
4. Overland Tour through the Outback - Overland travel is definitely not for everyone. But if you are enthusiastic about roughing it, camping, pitching in, and generally enjoying the outdoors for an extended period of time, then it’s the perfect fit! Australia is one of the most popular destinations for Overland Tours, in part due to the climate and the flat landscape. Prepare for a challenging trip but one through which you’ll forge strong community ties with your tour mates.
Wildlife in Australia
It may seem like the butt of every joke when it comes to the land down under: that everything can kill you. It’s true, the wildlife in Australia is extreme. Home to hundreds of venomous species of snakes, spiders, ants, and other creepy crawlies, plus crocodiles and even Kangaroos can do damage - it’s important to respect nature to the highest degree when you’re in Australia.
That said, the wildlife is one of the top reasons to visit this expansive country - so don’t hang up your explorer hat just yet. Plan accordingly with proper attire and go with a reputable tour company to ensure your safety, as well as that of the native flora and fauna you encounter.
Some of the wildlife you shouldn’t miss in Australia includes:
1. Kangaroo - The national symbol of Australia, the kangaroo is a fascinating animal, with the ability to withstand incredible heat. Kangaroos are extremely powerful as well - their enormous tail and hind legs help them jump distances of over 25 feet in a single bound. It’s highly unlikely that you will see a kangaroo in the wild, but they are a regular fixture in zoos and protected areas.
2. Koala Bears - Another popular symbol of Australia, koalas are not actually a type of bear. Rather they are a species of marsupial. Known to hang out high in eucalyptus trees, Koalas are somewhat difficult to spot in the wild, but not impossible - especially if you take a nature walk with an experienced guide!
3. Tasmanian Devil - Popularized by a particular cartoon, this Australian native is very common in zoos and other wildlife experiences throughout Australia. Hailing from the island of Tasmania, they are a carnivorous mammal - known to be mean! They were once the subject of an eradication attempt in the 1800s. Since then conservationists have been trying to keep their population size above extinction levels.
4. Wombat - Australia has over 140 species of marsupial, including the adorable wombat. These roly poly, fluffy animals are a delight to spot.
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.
Ready to head Down Under but don’t know where to turn first? Try Stride’s handy comparison tools that will quickly help you find which tour or tours are right for you.