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So you’re considering traveling to Australia…. Got a while? A major distinguishing feature of Australia is the fact that it’s just so darned far away from the U.S., Europe, or pretty much anywhere else. Hop on a plane in New York, point yourself toward Australia and settle in for a long haul–you and your 9,500 mile flight will take about 20 hours. Traveling from London to Sydney? That’s about 10,500 miles and will take you almost 22 hours. Even a flight to Melboune from a relatively close Southeast Asian neighbor Bangkok is 4,500 miles and takes 9 1/2 hours. (Click here to calculate flight distances and times between anywhere and anywhere else.) Flying to Australia is a commitment; you don’t just go there on a lark.
On the other hand, because you’re going to invest so much time and money in your journey, when you get to Australia you’ll probably stay for a stretch. That means you may be motivated to do your homework and find substantial fun somewhere around the continent.
Where should you go in Australia and what should you do when you get there? Well, what do you like to do? Do you like to walk? Do you like to surf? Would you rather sit on a beach? Do you like to wrestle alligators? Do you like to listen to opera? Would you rather wrestle opera singers? (You may have to go to the Netherlands for that. And go back into the past.) Whatever you’re seeking you should be able to find it somewhere in Australia.
The first step toward deciding where to start your Australian adventure is to orient yourself to Australia’s eight main regions. We’ll go through them one by one, starting in New South Wales, which is on the southeastern coast, and we’ll move clockwise from there. Australia’s biggest cities are along the coast, so wherever you go be prepared for sand and sun….
New South Wales:
Come to New South Wales to visit Sydney, the largest city in Australia, which, according to Lonely Planet’s Sydney page, is a “hyperenergetic, ambitious marketplace of the soul, where anything goes and everything usually does.” Sydney offers both the stunning surface beauty of the harbor, especially the iconic Sydney Opera House, but, says Lonely Planet, it also has a “hip,” “grungy,” “arty” side. Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere the seasons there are opposite those in North America–winter in the U.S. coincides with Australia’s summer. So why don’t you take advantage of the roundness of the earth and travel to famous Bondi Beach for Christmas?
Australia Capital Territory:
The Australian Capital Territory opened for business soon after Australia became independent as a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne which both wanted to be capital of the new country. The ACT city of Canberra is now capital of Australia and boasts a bevy of national political institutions, fine art collections and pristine public parks. The ACT isn’t exactly the continent’s prime tourist destination, but you’re still in sunny Australia, so all’s well.
Victoria isn’t as geographically vast as other Australian regions but it doesn’t need size to impress; Victoria has all the nature, all the culture and all the personality a visitor could ever need. Melbourne, capital of Victoria and Australia’s multicultural hub, is a city with more than its share of immigrants, epicureans and artists. Ballarat, a former gold-mining town, boasts Sovereign Hill, a tourist-friendly recreation of Australia’s 1850s gold rush. If good food and gold aren’t enough for you, Victoria is home to some of Australia’s best “skifields.” (Yes, you can ski in Australia.)
Tasmania–formerly known as Van Diemen’s land–is an island about 150 miles off the southern Australian coast known by Australians as an even more isolated island to go to so they can get away. Tasmania has national parks and ample wildlife, offering many opportunities for outdoor sports and adventure travel. If you’re in the Tasmanian bush be careful not to cross paths with a Tasmanian Devil, a carnivorous marsupial with a notoriously nasty disposition.
Visit South Australia for some of the continent’s best wine tasting and kangaroo spotting and also to visit the one-of-a-kind opal mining town of Coober Pedy where residents trying to escape the oppressive heat literally live underground. The capital, Adelaide, is a colonial-era European city that, raves Lonely Planet, is “enchanting,” “hedonistic,” “cultural” and “cerebral.” A pretty good review.
Travel to Western Australia for its immensity, its wide open skies and its absolute sense of isolation, which, depending on your interests, may not be a bad thing. The capital of Western Australia, Perth might not be the most frantic of all Australian cities, but with all Cable Beach, Karijini National Park and the wild dolphins of Monkey Mia within arm’s reach, really, why fuss? While you’re in Western Australia make sure not to miss the town of Broome which the Japanese founded in the 1880s as a home base for Aboriginal, Chinese and Malay divers who braved sharks and, diving without scuba dear, the bends, to retrieve “Broome pearls.”
The Northern Territory is a vast, substantially untamed part of Australia where the wilderness is still actually wild. Its capital, Darwin, is a resilient and surprisingly multiracial city that always seems to be rebuilding after an epic disaster. There are many reasons to go to the Northern Territory, but the most popular is to embark on sort-of pilgrimage to see Uluru Ayres Rock, which is not only a U.N. World Heritage Site but it is also sacred to the local Northern Territory Aboriginal peoples such as the Pitjantjatjara and the Yankuntjatjara (Agangu).
Of the many Australian regions to visit to have fun in the sun, Queensland may actually be the sunniest. Known for its 300 days of sun a year, this northeastern Australian region is home to the string of beaches known as the Sunshine Coast, its dense Daintree rainforest and as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef (travel there virtually with Ben Southall as he goes on a four month kayak tour along the reef: “The Best Expedition in the World.”) Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane, is cosmopolitan, creative and, basking so often in
sunshine, not-unexpectedly laid back.
Now you know a bit more about Australia why in the world…so why don’t you go? Perhaps you’re concerned about that ultra-long flight? Don’t worry. Traveler and blogger Matthew Eaves, who describes himself as “Husband – Dad – Son – Brother – Film Maker – Magician – Occasional Idiot – Online Learning Expert,” learned some things on a trip from London to New Zealand that should get you through. For example: “Rush onto the plane, seriously, get there first to your seat before the passenger in the seat next to you arrives. By arriving first you are claiming the arm rest; passengers are unsure which seat it belongs to,” and “When they bring round the hot towels during the flight put it over your face and breath through it, it sorts out all your nose, mouth and ears which will become congested by the cabin pressure air,” and,”Remember that compression of the cabin will increase your shoe size by 1 size, so, if you take your shoes off, be prepared to walk off the plane without them on, as they might not fit back on.” If you’re especially concerned about taking those kids along with you on that mega-flight…well, you’re right. That won’t be easy. Bring lots of toys and snacks, try to plan the flight, including any connections and layovers to coincide with your family’s natural sleep times, and, as Michelle Duffy from the family travel blog Wandermom, suggests, in her TravelBlogs.com article “Surviving Long Haul Flights With Kids,” accept that your long haul will be a long haul. Do yourself a favor: “Lower your expectations.”