Welcome to Australia
Australia is a wild and beautiful place, a land whose colour palette of red outback sands and Technicolor reefs frames sophisticated cities and soulful Indigenous stories.
The ultimate trip to Australia
What to expect
- Explore Sydney like a local
- See the sun rise above Uluru
- Explore the colour and marine life of the world’s largest coral reef
- Time: 10 days
- Distance: 5200 kilometres (3230 miles)
- Transport: Plane, car and boat
- Nearest Major City: Sydney
- Price: $$$$
Day 1: take a dip at Bondi Beach
Welcome to sunny Sydney. Begin the day with a stroll along the spectacular clifftops between Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte beaches. A round trip should take about 1 1/2 hours. Finish with a dip at the Bondi Icebergs pool or a surfing lesson at Bondi Beach. You can then sit down for lunch at one of Bondi’s many cafes, such as The Bucket List, where you can enjoy a bucket of prawns overlooking the beach. In the afternoon, take the bus up the hill from Bondi Beach to the shopping precinct of Paddington, where you can browse the fashion boutiques of some of Australia’s best designers, such as Camilla and Marc, Lee Mathews and Scanlan Theodore. Stop for coffee at Sonoma Cafe down Glenmore Road.
Day 2: head out on Sydney Harbour
Wake early to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge for breathtaking views across the harbour. Afterwards, meander through The Rocks, Sydney’s historic quarter. On weekends, local artisans set up shop at The Rocks Markets, where you can pick up unique souvenirs to take home. Art lovers should leave time to explore the Museum of Contemporary Art, which sits on the Circular Quay side of The Rocks. In the afternoon, catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, a 30 minute ride. With a long, sandy surf beach and lively esplanade, Manly is a wonderful spot to experience laid-back Sydney life. Relax over dinner at Manly’s Papi Chulo, which specialises in seafood and smokehouse meats.
Catch a three hour flight from Sydney to the heart of the outback, Alice Springs, and spend the afternoon exploring this unique and fascinating town. With its flat terrain and compact size, Alice Springs is perfect for walkers. Head to the historical Telegraph Station, dating back to 1872, or the Olive Pink Botanic Garden closer to town. Visit reputable Aboriginal art galleries, such as Araluen Arts Centre and Ironwood Arts, where you’ll see artworks synonymous with the Red Centre of Australia. For night time entertainment, have a burger and a cold craft beer at the bohemian pub-restaurant, Monte’s Lounge.
Day 5: discover the Red Centre
Alice Springs is a great place to join a tour (companies such as Emu Run offer tours from one to four days). Or you could hire a car to explore the Red Centre. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is four to five hours drive south-west of Alice Springs and includes both Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) and the 36 domes of Kata Tjuta (formerly the Olgas). Spend your first night in the Red Centre in style, with the once-in-a lifetime Tali Wiru dining experience at Ayers Rock Resort. The evening includes champagne and canapés as the sun sets, followed by an intimate four-course dinner with matching wines. Stay at the resort or glamp (camp in luxury) at the Longitude 131° luxury wilderness camp.
Day 6: see the dramatic landscapes at Uluru
Experience the ever-changing palettes of Uluru and Kata Tjuta at sunrise on the Desert Awakenings tour. Once the sun comes up, your guide will take you to the base of Uluru, where you’ll stop at spots significant to the local Aboriginal people, including the Mutitjulu Waterhole, ancient rock paintings and the Cultural Centre. Take the road 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of Uluṟu to reach Kata Tjuta. Walk among the 36 domes of this sacred site on the easy Walpa Gorge Walk, or tackle the four hour Valley of the Winds Walk right into the heart of the landscape.
Day 7: be immersed in Aboriginal culture in Cairns
Take the 2 1/2 hour flight from Ayers Rock Airport to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Head to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, just 15 minutes drive out of Cairns, and be immersed in Australia’s Aboriginal culture with authentic music, dance and storytelling. In the evening, stroll along Cairns Esplanade before sitting down to dinner at The Raw Prawn seafood restaurant, Tamarind at the Reef Hotel Casino or Salt House, overlooking the water.
Day 8: explore the world’s largest reef
Stretching 2300 kilometres (1430 miles), the Great Barrier Reef has more than 3000 coral reefs, 900 islands and 1500 species of fish. Drop into the Cairns and Tropical North Visitor Information Centre, where you can pick from a selection of day cruises and Great Barrier Reef experiences to fill your day. Activities include scuba lessons, snorkelling with the sea turtles, scenic helicopter flights over the reef and more. The trip to the outer reef from Cairns takes about two hours.
Day 9: take in spectacular scenery at Daintree National Park
Head 2 1/2 hours north of Cairns by car (self-drive or on a tour) to explore the mighty World Heritage-listed Daintree Wilderness Area. Older than the Amazon, the Daintree rainforest is a living museum of flora and fauna dating back at least 135 million years. The Daintree’s incredible variety of wildlife includes more than 400 species of birds, the most famous of which is the large, flightless and endangered southern cassowary. And the scenery is spectacular: lush tropical rainforest meets white sandy beaches with fringing coral reefs. See the rainforest from horseback while you’re riding along the beach, or take the Aerial Walkway to the Canopy Tower at the Daintree Discovery Centre.
Day 10: back to city life in Brisbane
From Cairns, fly just over two hours to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. Get your pulse racing by climbing to the top of the Story Bridge, which towers 80 metres (262 feet) above the river. It takes a couple of hours to get up and down with a tour company. Next head to South Bank, where you can spend the afternoon exploring the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Have dinner at one of Brisbane’s most awarded and innovative restaurants, Esquire. Make sure you book ahead to enjoy the degustation menu.More than most other developed countries, Australia seizes the imagination. For most visitors its name is a shorthand for an endless summer where the living is easy; a place where the adventures are as vast as the horizons and the jokes flow as freely as the beer; a country of can-do spirit and easy friendliness.
No wonder Australians call theirs the Lucky Country.
Every aspect of Australian life and culture, whether its matey attitudes or its truly great outdoors, is a product of its scale and population – or lack of it. In size, it rivals the USA, yet its population is 23 million, leading to one of the lowest country population densities on Earth. The energy of its contemporary culture is in contrast to a landscape that is ancient and often looks it: much of central and western Australia – the bulk of the country – is overwhelmingly arid and flat. In contrast, its cities, most founded as recently as the mid-nineteenth century, burst with a vibrant, youthful energy.
The most iconic scenery is the Outback, the vast fabled desert that spreads west of the Great Dividing Range into the country’s epic interior. Here, vivid blue skies, cinnamon-red earth, deserted gorges and geological features as bizarre as the wildlife comprise a unique ecology, one that has played host to the oldest surviving human culture for up to 70,000 years (just 10,000 years after Homo sapiens is thought to have emerged from Africa).
This harsh interior has forced modern Australia to become a coastal country. Most of the population lives within 20km of the ocean, occupying a suburban, southeastern arc that extends from southern Queensland to Adelaide. These urban Australians celebrate the typical New World values of material self-improvement through hard work and hard play, with an easy-going vitality that visitors, especially Europeans, often find refreshingly hedonistic. A sunny climate also contributes to this exuberance, with an outdoor life in which a thriving beach culture and the congenial backyard “barbie” are central.
Although visitors might eventually find this low-key, suburban lifestyle rather prosaic, there are opportunities – particularly in the Northern Territory – to experience Australia’s indigenous peoples and their culture through visiting ancient art sites, taking tours and, less easily, making personal contact. Many Aboriginal people – especially in central Australia – have managed to maintain a traditional lifestyle (albeit with modern amenities), speaking their own languages and living by their own laws. Conversely, most Aboriginal people you’ll come across in country towns and cities are victims of what is scathingly referred to as “welfare colonialism” – a disempowering consequence of dole cheques and other subsidies combined with little chance of meaningful employment, often resulting in a destructive cycle of poverty, ill health and substance abuse. There’s still a long way to go before black and white people in Australia can exist on genuinely equal terms.