Think of Australia and the mind conjures up images of bright sunshine, azure blue waters lapping against golden sands, lithe bodies with blond hair, shedloads of beer and sizzling barbecues. For once, our stereotypical image is pretty much bang on because if it were possible to scrape away the 100 miles of land to its coastline, there would be nothing left of Australia other than wilderness and desert.
In fact, something like 85% of Australians live within 100 miles of the coastline and all the big cities, with the exception of Canberra, are seaside developments. So it’s not surprising that the visitor is drawn to water lured by the sun and surf. Sydney is the obvious place to start: Built around one of the most spectacular natural harbours in the world, Sydney’s shimmering soul reveals an iconic landscape that encapsulates Australia. There is something about cities built on water that makes them uniquely attractive. Perhaps it is the freshness in the air or that the inhabitants enjoy a seamless double life of both city working and water based leisure. Year round sunshine helps by adding a feel-good factor that we do not experience coming from north European climes. To the visitor, it feels laid back and easy going.
Plus, of course, it has beaches. No visit would be complete without a visit to Bondi, a natural semi-circle into which waves from the South Pacific Ocean roll and augment in stature before peeling onto soft sand. Here surfing competitions seem to be a weekly occurrence. Take a pew in one of the surrounding smart bars and watch as dozens of long haired, drop shorted, golden muscled humans ride boards over the waves as if it were no more difficult than walking.
If you prefer to observe the world under the water then head up the coast to Cairns where you can jump on one of the many licensed boats that take divers and snorkelers to the Great Barrier Reef. Here there are more dazzling dive sites than you can shake a fin at including some of the best rated in the World. But it can be a bit too ‘touristy’ and the town appears rather too geared up for backpackers for my liking. If scuba and snorkelling is your thing then head for Western Australia to the town of Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef where a visit to the Navy Pier will provide a spectacular dive. During autumn, following the coral spawning, it’s also possible to swim with the Whale Sharks, an experience I guarantee will never be forgotten.
If all this activity leaves you needing to slow down, a visit to the Daintree Rainforest is the perfect antidote. A mere 130 million years old, it’s the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet and home to the largest range of plants and animals on Earth, including some of the rarest plant species in the world. A couple of days spent wandering here provides a fascinating insight as to how the world must have looked when Australia and South America were joined together 45 million years ago.
Another alternative is to venture inland, a trip that gives the feeling that you have gone back to Genesis. At the heart of the vast ochre outback stands Ayers Rock or Uluru (as it is now known by its Aboriginal name). It looks as if a giant red peg has been bashed into the flat desert earth. The rock emanates an air of spirituality whilst its sheer presence holds the visitor in a trance as it seems to change hue from sunrise to sunset. Another of the finest sights is a million miles away as darkness provides a spectacular view of the night sky in a clarity that tricks the mind into imagining that the stars are but an arm’s length away. Nearby, the rounded buttresses of the Olgas huddle together providing cut gorges and steep valleys. This is the perfect place to learn about the Aboriginal cultures that have lived here for 50,000 years and which still thrives in local communities who cling fiercely to their traditional values and way of life.
Of course, no visit to another country can be complete without drinking in the culture and the people. Australians are a very proud bunch who believe theirs is the lucky country. Whether this is because merely being alive in this country is testament to the fact that they have avoided an early grave at the hands of one of the multitudinous varieties of poisonous or otherwise deadly creatures that share their environment (and sometimes their home) or whether it is because theirs is truly a spectacularly beautiful and richly diverse land is a moot point. Nevertheless, they are a hardy lot who enjoy an enviable outdoors lifestyle as epitomised in a Barry Humphries observation: “Australia is an outdoor country. People only go indoors to use the toilet and that’s only a recent development.” Australians are genuinely hospitable and naturally generous and will encourage visitors to share their sunshine, beaches, beer and BBQs as long as you bring something to the party.
So book a trip with Travel Producer (www.travelproducer.co.uk), pack your cozzie or budgie smugglers and jet off to the other side of the World for an unforgettable experience!