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Australia is a vast wonderland situated just a little too far away from the hubs of Europe to make for a weekend break (!) but its rugged beauty, unique wildlife and cultural attractions means it should always have a place on your bucket list.
You can’t come here for just a few days, but you do stay for weeks, making it perfect for immersing yourself in a unique continent unlike anywhere else in the world. To make the most of your trip, you need to pack the most into every single day. Below are ten things you simply can’t miss on a first trip to Australia.
Its deep colours and vast expanses of wilderness are mesmerising and compelling. Uluru, (also known as Ayers Rock), is one of the most iconic sights in the world. Its burning red dustiness is a must see , and a trip to Australia without a stop there is like doing Paris without a trip to the Eiffel Tower. You can include a trip to the other worldly Red Centre as part of a journey from Adelaide to Darwin, or take it in as part of a guided tour across the outback. For a really authentic outback adventure join one of the small group camping trips – this offers an emotive journey into the heart of the Red Centre.
Live it up in Sydney
A vibrant, waterfront city, Sydney is an ideal base for those looking to enjoy the best urban adventures Australia has to offer.
Darling Harbour, the Rocks, Sydney Opera House and of course, Bondi Beach are the main attractions, but this is also a city with plenty to offer beyond the sites. If you’ve got a head for heights, scale Harbour Bridge for unparalleled city views, take a boat trip out out of the bustling metropolis and take in Manly Beach and Watson’s Bay.
Cockatoo Island, too, is a great shout for a relaxing Sunday brunch!
Cuddle a Koala
You know you’ve always wanted to!
Australia is famed for its wildlife, and there are few more popular natives than the impossibly cute Koala bear. You can’t cuddle and touch Koalas in all states, but it is still possible to interact with these beautiful creatures in some areas, whilst there are also plenty of wildlife parks to hand-feed kangaroos, too.
Including a meandering maze of coastal paths, this route treats independent travellers to some of the most incredible views on offer Down Under. With its canyons, gorges, waterfalls, and rugged cliffs, the route’s only downside is making sure you keep your eyes on the road! The main event, though, is the Twelve Apostles. The stunning limestone stacks seemingly jutting out of the sea just off the coast are a veritable natural wonder.
Hire a car and feel the breeze in your hair, or join a guided tour and drool over the scenery from the windows!
Off the coast of Queensland lies a colourful underwater playground ripe for exploration – and home to some of the most stunning wildlife you’ll ever see. If you’re not a qualified diver, you can still enjoy the sights with a snorkel and mask. Regular boat trips depart from Cairns and it’s well worth stopping off at tropical islands such as the Whitsundays – the sort of thing you can only dream about when you’re battling rush hour traffic.
As a city, Melbourne is as cosmopolitan as it gets.
An array of activities and attractions are on offer. It is home to some of the best bars and restaurants in the country, or you can shop ‘til you drop, enjoy the thrills and spills of St Kilda or tour the many museums. Round off your visit with a trip outside the city to the Yarra Valley – an absolute must for wine lovers.
Take the East Coast Tour
The East Coast tour has long been a favourite for backpackers and you can see why.
Home to some of the most idyllic beaches you’ll find, there’s always a chance for some kicking back on the sand under the sunny sky. But take some time out for some adventure too. Noosa National Park and Hervey Bay can be found after you’ve reached Brisbane and are famed for their wildlife, with whale watching cruises available along the route as well as the botanical gardens and Koala Park of Rockhampton. The stunning Whitsunday Islands are a must on this route, too. Travel by car or motorhome so you take the trip at your own pace.
Combine Sunbathing and Sightseeing in Perth
A perfect “city break” to take within your wider Australian adventure, Perth is a sun-drenched city that has it all. Soak up the rays on a beach a stone’s throw from the centre of town, swim with dolphins in the impossibly blue waters, or venture out into the wider state of Western Australia to discover its national parks with fascinating wildlife and stunning scenery.
Experience Aboriginal Culture
Australia’s unique wildlife and breathtaking scenery may be your match made in heaven, but an authentic Aboriginal cultural experience is a must for any trip to the continent.
Centres like the Tjapukai Cultural Park near Cairns provide live dance shows, cooking demonstrations and even the opportunity to learn how to throw a boomerang properly – it’s essential to make time for the experience in between the sightseeing!
Sail the Whitsundays
The stunningly beautiful Whitsunday Islands are nestled off the coast of Airlie Beach and can be included as part of an East Coast road trip. But these islands are so stunning that they deserve an entry all of their own.
A collection of tiny land masses is surrounded by crystal clear waters, this is quite frankly a ludicrously beautiful spot. There are few better places on earth to spend a day, particularly sat relaxing on a boat and taking in the surrounds. The aptly-named Daydream Island is the spot for this, as are the pristine, white silica sands at Whitehaven Beach. The waters are excellent for swimming, ideal for snorkelling and perfect for helping you forget you ever had a care in the world!
As soon as you touch down in Australia you’ll notice the many spectacular sights there are to discover, it’s hard not to wonder where to start. Luckily, UNESCO has designated 19 World Heritage Sites in the country as of 2017, and that’s a good place to begin.
These noteworthy locations hold cultural and physical significance and often place you in stunning surroundings, and they include three cultural sites, 12 natural sites, and four mixed sites – here are 10 must-see spots you must add to your itinerary.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is home to stunning scenery and an array of activities. Probably the most famous of all Australia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it’s home to over 3,000 coral reefs and 600 islands. In fact, it’s so large that it’s visible from outer space!
Just off the coast of Queensland, it can be explored through a range of excursions including snorkeling, kayaking or cruising or even scuba diving – a great way to get closer to the stunning marine life on offer. You may even catch a sight of the dugong (sea cow) and the large green sea turtles, which could soon become extinct.
Sticking with the marine theme, Western Australia’s Shark Bay has three remarkable features: sea-grass beds, it’s three billion-year-old stromatolites and its wildlife. Shark Bay is even home to five species of endangered mammals including the boodie, rufous hare-wallaby, banded hare-wallaby, the Shark Bay mouse and the western barred bandicoot.
Fraser Island largest sand island in the world. Dwarfed by ancient time-defying rainforests, the 76-mile long site is made up from freshwater dune lakes, rainforests, swamps, mangrove jungle, sand dunes and uncultivated coastline all of which forms one of the most incredible islands on planet Earth.
If you’re looking for stunning natural beauty, look no further than the Blue Mountains.
Made up of eight different protected areas that serve as natural habitats for various endangered species, the area consists of sandstone, aboriginal engravings, gorges and forests. Looking to go hiking? You won’t find a much better location in the world!
Some of the best times to catch the slate-coloured haze that gives the mountains their name is early morning and late evening. One thing is for sure, if you’re looking to capture spectacular views, the Blue Mountains are an unmissable experience.
Sydney Opera House
One of the most iconic landmarks in Australia, the Sydney Opera House was added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2007.
It is an innovative building and a major cultural centre which provides world-class performances from a variety of acts. More than just a unique piece of architecture, it is an unmissable structure which will forever be known as one of the most iconic buildings in Australia for it expressionist style and radical influence. You wouldn’t go to Paris and miss the Eiffel Tower – so don’t miss Sydney’s Opera House!
Kakadu National Park
Looking for something which has strong cultural importance but is also exceptionally pretty? Look no further than Kakadu National Park.
This World Heritage Site contains some creatively astounding aboriginal rock art, cave painting and archaeological sites which engage visitors to explore the 40,000 years Aboriginal Australians have inhabited the land. The national park includes tidal flats, floodplains, lowlands and plateaux and habitats for rare and endemic species.
Australian Convict Sites
Previously known as National Heritage sites, the Australian Convict sites were recognised for their cultural importance and were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2010.
There are 11 penal sites that compose the Australian Convict Sites including the famous Cockatoo Island, Cascades Female Factory, Darlington Probation Station and Fremantle Prison.
Built by the British government to aid in the transport of prisoners from England, these sites were evidence of the British empire’s power, but also of key significance to Australia as the convicts who arrived there helped to construct the country itself. The First Fleet was sent to Sydney in 1788 and this went on for the next 80 years.
Purnululu National Park
Covering 240,000 hectares, the star attraction of the national park is the Bungle Bungle Range. This is a series of deeply dissected sandstone towers which have eroded over the past 20 million years and formed the beehive-shaped cones above.
One of the most popular ways to discover Purnululu National Park is by helicopter. Swarming around the site, you can discover the sheer size of the land that encompasses these towers. One thing you’ll discover as soon as you get to Bungle Bungle Range is that the appearance of these formations appear to change depending on your angle of approach, making this a truly unique experience.
Lord Howe Island Group
Created by volcanic activity over seven million ago, these neighbouring islands are home to a range of diverse endemic species as well as a unique group of complementing plants. The Lord Howe Island Group is also home to the world’s most southerly coral reef.
Mostly made up of a protected nature preserve, its landscape is made up of sheer mountain slopes, remnants of volcanic eruptions and lagoons. This World Heritage Site is most popular for bird watching and its aquatic activities
Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens
The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens was Australia first purely cultural site. Hosting international exhibitions, the venue was is one of the few surviving buildings of the golden age.
The venue reflects the “the global influence of the international exhibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries.” It’s well worth a visit.