Located between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Australia is the world’s largest island and its smallest continent. There’s room to move in the Land Down Under, and with so many sights to discover and enjoy, there’s a great incentive to go on a walkabout adventure. Whether exploring the traditional lifestyle of the nation’s Aboriginal people, relaxing on a sun-kissed beach or reveling the night away in a city hot spot, Australia has something special to offer every visitor.
With amazing national parks dotted around the country and some fantastic islands, visitors to Australia can be off exploring the delights of Tasmania one minute and Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks the next.
Having started life as a planned city back in 1913, Australia’s capital Canberra is slowly but surely growing into a lively and lovely place. Affectionately (and at times derisively) nicknamed the ‘bush capital’, the city lies amidst stunning nature reserves and low-lying mountain ranges in the north of the Australian Capital Territory.
Once the home solely of politicians and civil servants, the now thriving metropolis is home to world-class museums, art galleries, and national monuments. All kinds of shops, restaurants and bars abound, and its large student body means there’s a pounding nightlife scene. Despite its youth, the city has lots of interesting historical sights; many of these relate to its parliament and governmental institutions.
Due to its remote and rural setting, the city is also a fantastic place for exploring the great outdoors. Its nearby nature reserves are wonderful to hike and cycle around, as are Canberra’s numerous parks, gardens, and human-made lakes.
Located within Nambung National Park, The Pinnacles can be found not far from the small town of Cervantes in Western Australia. Due to their remote setting, the spectacular limestone formations largely remained unknown until 1967, when a reserve was formed to protect the prominent pillars.
Rising dramatically out of the desert floor, The Pinnacles resemble weathered tombstones and number in the thousands. Together, they make for an incredible sight as sand from the coastal dunes constantly blows through the otherworldly looking landscape.
While debates are ongoing as to how their distinctive shapes formed, it is generally agreed that they are made out of the limestone from seashells as the region used to be submerged millennia ago. Now, The Pinnacles make for a popular tourist attraction. Western grey kangaroos can often be spotted between them, as well as the occasional emu, dingo, and honey possum.
Blessed with year-round warm weather and sunny skies, Australia’s glimmering Gold Coast lies just to the south of Brisbane on Queensland’s southeastern coastline. The coastal city is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country thanks to its lively yet laid-back vibe and alluring sun, sea, and surf.
Surfers Paradise is the area most people flock to. ‘The capital of the Gold Coast’ is home to large shopping malls and pounding nightclubs as well as countless restaurants, bars, and accommodation options. Glittering high rises tower above its expansive beach, which is great for sunbathing, swimming and watersports.
While it is often called a tacky tourist-trap, the Gold Coast has loads going for it, with beautiful beaches and stunning sunsets a given. In addition, it also boasts exhilarating amusement parks, water parks, and nature reserves, while its surf breaks are out of this world.
Located almost slap bang in the center of Australia, Alice Springs lies in the Northern Territory’s endless outback, more than 1,500 kilometers from the nearest city. While it certainly takes some getting to, the remote rural town is perfectly placed for exploring the Red Centre.
Although there is not much going on in the town itself, Alice Springs is a great place to visit if you want to delve into the Aborigines’ rich history, heritage, and culture. It is home to a number of superb museums and indigenous Australian art galleries, as well as a large Aboriginal population. In addition, it has plenty of restaurants, bars, and hotels for visitors to choose from.
Its main draw, however, are the awe-inspiring desert landscapes, rock formations, and gorges that lie all around it. While the iconic Uluru attracts the most visitors with its distinctive ruddy hue and hulking great landmass, the Kata Tjuta rock formations also make for a spectacular sight, as do the gaping chasms of Kings Canyon.
The second-largest national park in Western Australia, Karijini lies about a thousand kilometers to the north of the state’s capital, Perth. Centered around the Hamersley Ranges, it is very mountainous and known for the gorgeous gorges, slot canyons, and waterfalls that dot its confines.
Rising above the dark red hues of its rugged landscapes are the three highest peaks in the west of Australia. These make for some fantastic hiking, as do the narrow gorges and precipitous chasms snaking beneath them. Punctuating its semi-arid terrain are a series of hidden water holes and glittering waterfalls, which are amazingly refreshing to swim or bathe in after a dusty walk.
Besides the stunning scenery, Karijini National Park is home to more than 800 different plant species, as well as lots of incredible wildlife. While exploring the nature reserve, visitors may catch a glimpse of wallabies, echidnas, and red kangaroos.
Hugging the coastline of Australia’s Top End, the region encompassing the Northern Territory, Darwin has long been the most international of the country’s major cities. Its close proximity to other countries in the Indian Ocean has made the city a transportation hub since its earliest days. Devastated during World War II and again in 1974 when struck by Cyclone Tracy, Darwin is a resilient town with a spirit that can’t be defeated. Today, the city of around 75,000 people is a popular holiday destination.
Darwin’s main natural attraction is its wide sandy beach lined with open-air beer bars, seafood restaurants and multinational shops. Twice the size of Sydney Harbor, Darwin Harbor attracts visitors too.
Cruises lasting two to 12 hours are available for explorations of the region’s mangrove forest. In the evening, locals and visitors stroll down the city’s esplanade to enjoy films at the Deckchair Cinema, a large open-air theater located on the banks of harbor.
Darwin is also the hub for tours to famous Kakadu National Park as well as Litchfield National Park and Katherine Gorge. Whether watching crocodiles cavort in Crocodylus Park, cruising to the Aboriginal-owned Tiwi Islands or relaxing on the beach, there’s always something new to experience in tropical Darwin.
Lying in Watarrka National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory, Kings Canyon is sure to impress with its staggering size, scale, and stunning scenery. One of the region’s main attractions, the gaping gorge was formed more than 400 million years ago as the ruddy-colored sandstone eroded.
Cutting through the desolate desert landscapes, the colossal canyon’s walls tower over a hundred meters in height, with a small creek and sparse vegetation down below. There are jagged cliffs, interesting rock formations, and beautiful scenery to spy, whether you’re strolling in the shade or hiking along its rim.
For the Luritja people, Kings Canyon has long been a source of water and a place of refuge and respite from the searing sun. It is still a sacred site to this day. Due to the infernal heat and cruel climate, it is well advised to bring lots of water with you when hiking or climbing around the canyon.
Situated on the eastern shores of Gulf St Vincent, Adelaide is the capital of South Australia. Adelaide is Australia’s fifth largest city, with a population of over 1.2 million. More than three quarters of South Australians live in the Adelaide metropolitan area.
The city is located on a plain between the rolling Adelaide Hills and the Gulf and is bordered by many of Australia’s famous wine regions. The Barossa Valley and Clare Valley regions lie to the north, the McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek regions to the south and the cooler Adelaide Hills region to the east.
Nicknamed ‘the city of churches’, the lofty spires dotted about here and there add to the picturesque nature of Adelaide and there are lots of nice parks and green spaces for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.
Proximity to premium wine and food growing regions, as well as waves of immigration from Europe and Asia have created a unique multicultural gourmet food and café culture in the city. This culture is supported by Adelaide’s arts festivals held in March including the Adelaide Festival and the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
The capital of Western Australia, Perth is very isolated from the rest of the country, yet is routinely considered one of the most livable cities in the world thanks to its laidback vibe, fantastic cultural sites, and a wide range of things to do.
Many of Perth’s attractions are located near the water, whether it’s the beaches stretching along the Sunset Coast to the north or the parks, walks and picnic spots edging the Swan River. Fremantle, known as “Freo” by the locals, is the city’s port, a bustling marina that has recently gained a reputation as a haven for artists and students. Cottesloe Beach, just a few miles north of Fremantle, is Perth’s most popular beach.
One of the largest city parks in the world, the thousand-acre Kings Park encompasses Mount Eliza, a hill overlooking the city, and boasts a botanical garden with aerial walkways as well as the State War Memorial park. The Perth Zoo offers visitors up-close encounters with kangaroos and other animals native to Australia. Ferry service in Perth takes visitors to car-free Rottnest Island or the closer Penguin Island to watch daily feedings of the flightless birds.
Whether swimming with dolphins, firing up a barbie on the river’s shoreline or exploring the Aquarium of Western Australia, the country’s largest aquarium, aquatic adventures abound in sun-and-sea-loving Perth.
The largest coral reef system on the face of the earth, the Great Barrier Reef is simply colossal. Located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia’s state of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef encompasses a huge area of more than 2,900 coral reefs and hundreds of islands and cays. Formed by millions of living organisms over a period of millions of years, the Reef is now one of the world’s most diverse and complex ecosystems.
While always known and used by the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Australian peoples, the Reef today is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is home to a remarkable array of marine life including 1500 fish species and 360 corals in addition to various species of whales, dolphins, marine turtles, sea snakes and birds, which breed among the small islands.
The best way to explore the Reef is by one of the numerous boat cruises that run along the northern coast of Queensland. The town of Cairns is regarded as the main gateway to the Reef, but other towns such as Townsville, Port Douglas, Yeppoon, Mission Beach and Cooktown also offer cruise operations.
Ranging from single day trips to multiple day voyages, these boat cruises usually anchor at certain stops to allow for snorkeling and diving. Other options for experiencing the Reef include underwater observatories, glass-bottomed boat tours and helicopter flights.
The capital of the state of Victoria, Melbourne is Australia’s second most populated city. Located near the southeastern tip of Australia on the large natural bay of Port Phillip, Melbourne is considered the nation’s cultural capital as well as an important port. Due to its high quality of life, citizens from around the world have flocked to the streets. Its multicultural population is reflected in the delicious cuisine and the unique neighborhoods that make it such a fascinating place to explore.
Melbourne’s City Center district boasts the most attractions, including the city’s most recognizable landmark, the Flinders Street Railway Station. The multiple clocks hanging over the Edwardian Era station’s entrance is a popular meeting spot. The skyscraper Eureka Tower features an 88th-floor observation platform, the highest in the southern hemisphere. Visitors can step out onto a glass-enclosed compartment for panoramic views of the bay and the green Dandenong mountain range beyond.
In the Carlton district, visitors can explore the southern hemisphere’s largest museum. The Melbourne Museum showcases the nation’s rich social history, from its indigenous cultures to its fascination with football and horse racing, and has extensive exhibits illustrating Australia’s natural history as well.
Visitors looking for outdoor activities can enjoy the city’s parklands, many of which are shaded by large, mature trees. For swimming and sunbathing, Melbourne’s bayside beaches are ideal. For a retro feel, Brighton Beach features colorful bathing huts. St. Kilda Beach is one of the most popular beaches, both for its swimming and for the clubs and restaurants that line the shore. From dawn to dusk, visitors to Melbourne will never run out of exciting things to see and do.
One of the most accessible and awe-inspiring of Australia’s natural wonders, the Blue Mountains lie just to the west of Sydney in New South Wales. Sprawling over a vast area, its majestic mountains, plateaus, and escarpments are lovely to explore and make for a popular day trip or weekend away.
Named after the misty haze that the oil from its endless eucalyptus trees give off, the mountains are home to lots of unspoiled nature and spectacular scenery. A myriad of well-maintained hiking trails and mountain bike paths weave their way here and there, with stunning views to be enjoyed from Echo Point and Govett’s Leap.
As the mountains have long been the home of the Gundungurra and Darug peoples, they are also a great place to learn more about Aboriginal history and culture. In addition, lots of charming towns and villages dot the land. Springwood, for example, is known for its art galleries, while Leura boasts cosy craft shops and sophisticated restaurants.
Author: VCL team