It can be a challenge to come up with a list of the top five attractions in a country that’s as big and diverse as Australia. If you have visited the “Land Down Under” before, you may have your own suggestions. Although, if you have not yet visited Australia, the following places will give you a good start, they include man-made and natural wonders, dramatic scenery, beautiful beaches and Aborigine culture.
Great Barrier Reef
Off the eastern coast of Australia lies one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. The reef’s statistics are impressive, it is around 1200 miles long, and is home to around 1,500 varieties of fish and around 400 species of coral. You may also be lucky enough to see manatees, sharks, and turtles as well as humpback whales that give birth during the winter months.
There are several ways to see the reef. Many companies offer cruises – lasting from several hours to a full day, and you can also sleep on the reef aboard a 1890’s sailing boat. Virtually every cruise boat also offers the chance to see the reef by diving, an opportunity not to be missed, even if you are new to diving. Also, many visitors to the reef cannot resist mailing postcards from Australia’s only floating post office, anchored about 45 miles offshore from Port Douglas.
Sydney Opera House
One of the most recognizable and striking buildings in the world, Sydney’s famous opera house was designed by the Danish architect Jorn Utzon. Even if you do not like opera, the building is worth visiting, it is actually a major center for the performing arts where you can see not only opera, but classical music, dance and rock concerts. And there are free performances outside the building on Sunday afternoons.
Sydney Opera House does resemble the billowing sails of a ship, quite appropriate, as the building lies alongside one of the world’s most beautiful harbors. Not far from the Opera House is the area of Sydney known as Circular Quay, a bustling area of shops, bars and restaurants. And from Circular Quay, you can easily catch a bus or ferry to almost any other part of the city, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, Royal Botanic Gardens and the historic Rocks district, the oldest part of the city.
The Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is Australia’s playground. Beautiful white sandy beaches line the coast for 40 miles, backed by high-rise apartments, luxury hotels, shops, casinos and restaurants. The area also boasts several theme parks such as Sea World and Movie World, as well as around 40 golf courses.
The closest big city to the Gold Coast area is Brisbane, capital of Queensland. It’s a friendly laid back kind of a place, offering a wide range of shopping and restaurants. But if you really want to escape from the crowds on the Gold Coast beaches, explore some of the small islands in nearby Moreton Bay.
The Outback (Ayers Rock and Alice Springs)
Many visitors to Australia come just to see the famous Outback – one of the last truly unspoiled areas in the world. It’s difficult to comprehend the size of the Outback, it covers an estimated 2.5 million square miles. The Outback is not all desert, the northern part boasts high mountains, deep gorges and spectacular waterfalls. Driving across the Outback is an unforgettable experience, although you should always carry essentials such as extra water and fuel, spare tires, and perhaps a satellite phone
The unofficial capital of the Outback is the town of Alice Springs, made famous by the book and movie A Town like Alice. Alice Springs makes a good base to explore the area as well as to shop for Aborigine souvenirs. Within easy reach of Alice is the huge monolith once known as Ayers Rock, now known by its Aborigine name of Uluru. The rock is impressive at any time of day, but if you have the chance, try to be there at sunset.
Darwin and Kakadu National Park
Darwin is about as far north as you can go in Australia, in fact the city is closer to parts of Asia than to many parts of Australia, and has quite an oriental feel to it.
Within easy reach of Darwin are several areas of natural beauty, including Australia’s largest national park, Kakadu. The park covers around 6,000 square miles, and offers varied landscapes ranging from wetlands to dramatic sandstone escarpments. Over 200 species of birds and around 75 species of reptile can be seen here.
Kakadu is still under Aborigine control and is one of the few places where their traditional way of life is still practiced. You can see their art on display at the park’s cultural center and at various rock-art sites, and if you are lucky, you may glimpse the Aborigines themselves.