Get on top of the world Down Under with our introduction to one of the world’s greatest destinations.
From its modern cities of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, to its vast, wild interior, Australia inspires a traveler’s mind, body, and soul. While Australia may be on many travel wish lists, it remains a mystery to many of us.
The editorial staff at Go magazine, AAA Carolinas’ publication, takes a stab at introducing this fascinating destination to us.
Australia is home to 23 million people, which makes it one of the least-populated nations on earth, with 90 percent living in coastal urban areas and the remaining 10 percent occupying the interior.
There are six states in Australia (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania), as well as two territories (the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory).
Man first inhabited the continent nearly 45,000 years ago. European inhabitants came onto the Australian landmass in the 1700s.
Australia’s native plants and animals set it apart from every other country. The chatter of a kookaburra, the scent of a eucalyptus forest, and the electric colors of a rainbow lorikeet are sensations that belong only to Australia.
For anyone who rates adventure as a high travel priority, Australia scores with some of the all-time greats in the adventurer’s catalogue.
Queensland’s steamy rainforests are a biological time capsule, a living museum of the evolutionary process. The Great Barrier Reef is a living chain of coral that spans more than 2,300 kilometers (about 1,400 miles) of the Queensland coast.
Kakadu National Park, Australia’s largest national park, is a testament to Australian natural riches. This UNESCO’s World Heritage site in the Northern Territory is a treasury of wildlife, scenery, and Aboriginal rock art.
The galloping whitewater rivers of Tasmania; the riding and hiking trails of the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales; the raw, remote beauty of The Kimberley region in Western Australia; and the rugged grandeur of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia provide fertile terrain for anyone who revels in the great outdoors. In New South Wales near Sydney, the forested peaks and sandstone chasms of the Blue Mountains provide the perfect escape for the urban adventurer with only a day to spare.
A rich ethnicity
For most visitors, one of the biggest surprises is Australia’s rich ethnic population. In reality, more than 25 percent of Australians are foreign born, and since 1945, the country’s Anglo-Irish population base has been enriched by waves of immigrants from Italy, Greece, Eastern Europe, Lebanon, China, and Southeast Asia. As a result, Australia boasts a variety of cultures and creeds, as well as a lively festival calendar.
Take a stroll around the Italian-inspired street cafés of the Western Australia city of Fremantle. Sample a glass of world-class shiraz or catch the heavenly scent of a German bakery in South Australia’s renowned Barossa Valley, a major wine-producing region. While visiting the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory, sample a bowl of spicy Thai soup at Mindil Beach Markets. Australia’s multicultural society is a food lover’s fantasy.
The Aboriginal people of Australia have forged their own identity, and any visit to the country should include a sample of this culture, which includes rich legends, dreams, and an artistic tradition that stretches back more than 40,000 years. In recent times, Aboriginal Australians have become involved in tourism, giving special insight into their traditional way of life and unique relationship with their homeland.
Opportunities for close contact with Aboriginal lifestyle include visiting the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory; about 90 percent of these twin islands (Bathurst and Melville) are of Aboriginal ancestry. Some say a visit to the Outback isn’t complete until you experience Uluru (Ayers Rock), a sacred sandstone formation about 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) from Alice Springs.
Australian state capitals are cosmopolitan cities with world-class shopping and a fabulous array of galleries, museums, restaurants, cafés, and entertainment.
For instance, in Victoria, take a Sunday stroll along Melbourne’s St. Kilda Pier. A Sydney Harbour cruise ferry will leave a vivid impression of this polished city, the capital of New South Wales.
Strike out into the countryside and you’ll discover classic country towns that were born in the feisty days of the gold rush, national parks brimming with the sensations of wild Australia, and secluded beaches where you can walk for miles and enjoy the feeling of the sand between your toes. Nothing comes more naturally than a day at the beach, and Australian beaches set the benchmark for the rest of the world.
Because it’s at least a 14-hour flight to Sydney from Los Angeles, Calif., most people traveling to Australia plan to stay as long as possible. Although the exchange rate for the Australian dollar is about equal to the U.S. dollar (0.93 at press time), keep in mind cities can be expensive, like in any other country in the world. Compare independent travel with a hosted tour or even a cruise and see what fits your budget.
The country has an excellent infrastructure of road, rail, and air transport, as well as a nationwide tourist information network to help visitors make the most of the regions. If you’re going to drive here, an International Driving Permit is necessary, and remember that Australians drive on the left side of two-way roads.
Tour operators combine local knowledge with imagination to add special flavor to the experience.
Most of the country enjoys a sunny moderate climate that encourages the celebrated outdoor Australian way of life, which can be quite infectious–even after just one visit. But then, one visit might be all you’ll need.
Sep/Oct 2013 Issue
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