Dreaming down under

news: Dreaming down under

WITH ITS harbour beaches, dramatic headlands, sleepy bays and surfing shores, Australia is a mecca for all those wanting to experience the chilled out, surfer lifestyle. On my travels up the East Coast, I visited many of Oz’s beaches and relaxed in the ‘kowabunga’ culture, but there is a lot more than just sun, sea and sand to attract you ‘down under’.

Sydney, Australia’s largest and oldest city at the heart of New South Wales, offers a multicultural society. From Chinatown to the Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay to the Opera House, Sydney has something for everyone. During the day, you can wander round the harbour, hit the high street or climb the bridge. When the sun sets, enjoy international cuisine in the restaurants and entertainment on the streets. From Sydney, a string of magnificent beaches stretch their way up the coast, some attract families, others draw surfers, some have views and crowds, others are small and secluded. Bondi is the most famous, colourful and cosmopolitan of Oz’s beaches and is a bustling mecca, known for its skimpily clad life-savers and bathers.

Byron Bay, the most easterly point of the country, Coffs Harbour the tropical fruit growing area north of Sydney and Port Stephens bounded on the north by the magical Myall Lakes, the west by historic Morpeth and the south by the Hunter River are all idyllic holiday locations. Port Stephens’ giant twin peaks, known as ‘The Heads’, stand guard to what is argued to be one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. Queensland begins on the northern New South Wales border. The state capital Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Moreton Island, Hervey Bay and Fraser Island make up the Gold Coast.

Surfer’s paradise

At its heart is Surfer’s Paradise, Queensland’s premier holiday destination. Holidaymakers from all over the world come to enjoy the tropical climate and sophisticated nightlife. On the east are the magnificent surf beaches, synonymous with Oz. It has some of the best surf breaks in the world – the most popular are along the southern half of the continent and have some very bizarre names, like Pippies, Spookies, Dum-Dums, Boobs and Winki Pop!

Surfer’s Paradise, as with many other beaches along the coast, offers surf lessons if you want to have a go and be a ‘dude’ for the day! To the west of the city is a glorious rainforest with an abundance of places to go hiking, camping, birdwatching and bushwalking. The city offers a vast range of attractions including, bungee jumping, theme parks, water slides and wax works museums.

Fraser Island offers a special magic with its blinding white beaches, ancient freshwater lakes, rainforests, and huge sand dunes, as well as brumbies (wild horses), kangaroos and dingos (wild dogs). Travelling is only possible in a four-wheel drive, the accepted highway is the beach and you can join four-wheel drive camping tours to see the island.

The Sunshine Coast includes Caloundra, Mooloolabah, Maroochydore, Nambour and Noosa Heads. The unique glasshouse mountains located behind them offer beautiful rainforest walks and several national parks to explore. Without the high-rise buildings of the Gold Coast, Noosa is a place you could spend a lifetime. It attracts sun-seekers, surfers, families, fashionable foodies and executive couples. With superb shopping, bars, clubs, cafés and restaurants, Noosa is a premier gourmet destination with tropical fruits, spices, and seafood all on the menu.

Magical islands

Further north, Airlie Beach is the perfect base from which to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands. Board a skippered cruise and enjoy the Whitsundays, renowned for their dazzling white sand beaches – the islands are nothing short of magical. Cruise by Whitehaven Beach, it has a 7km stretch of pure white silica sand and is one of the most photographed beaches in the world. Alternatively, for land lovers, a short trip from Airlie will take you to the Conway and Dryander National Parks, where four-wheel drive tours let you experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the rainforests.

Port Douglas, north of Cairns, is set on a lush peninsula between Dickson Bay and Four Mile beach, and is a popular starting point to explore Daintree and Cape Tribulation, where reef and rainforest come together. Cruise along the Daintree River to view jungle homes of birds, large crocodiles and pythons, or continue north on the coastal road, over tidal rivers and creeks, to the renowned wilderness of Cape Tribulation, the most northern settlement of the region.

It’s straight ahead!

Southern Australia is huge, you can drive 100kms along the Nullarbor Plain without finding a bend in the road! However, holiday experiences are amazingly accessible – hundreds of wineries are within an hour’s drive of Adelaide, you can hug koalas, pat kangaroos or cruise one of the world’s greatest rivers, all within an hour of getting off the plane!

Bordered by King’s Park botanical gardens and the beautiful Swan River, Perth is a must-see destination for all visitors. It is the state’s centre for the arts, business, government and entertainment. The Perth Cultural Centre, featuring the State Library, Museum and Art Gallery, is one of the most popular attractions for visitors from near and far.

Underwater wonders

Darwin, the Northern Territory’s largest city, boasts beautiful modern buildings enhanced by mango trees, banyan, bamboo and many varieties of tropical flowers. The Northern Territory is renowned for its barramundi fishing and Australia as a whole is a fisherman’s playground. Tasmania is famous for its trout and, while out on the ocean, there’s the chance to tussle with big game species, shark, sailfish and marlin. However, if you prefer your fish to be in the water, the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland, is one of the best diving and snorkelling areas in the world.

The 2,000 kilometres of underwater wonders have to be seen to be believed. The reef stretches along the coast and covers an area the size of Italy with its turquoise waters. Delicate starfish and anemones, multicoloured fish, harmless reef sharks and turtles await those divers eager to explore the reef. The Ningaloo Reef, in Western Australia, is just as spectacular but less well known. Shadowing the coast of the North West Cape, it is home to fish, coral, dolphins, humpback whales and whale sharks.

Alice Springs is the country’s geographical centre. The definitive ‘outback’ town is isolated from the rest of Australia, however it attracts many thousands of tourists every year who come to experience the true spirit of Australia. Giant Uluru Ayres Rock, towers above the Mulga plains and is Australia’s largest natural attraction. There are a number of tours you can take to see the rock, many include breakfast at Uluru just as the sun rises behind it – magical.

Australia is a country not to be missed. A continent in its own right, you only scratch the surface of places to visit and things to see, however, take time out and discover a truly amazing place.