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If you want a snapshot of Australia’s appeal, look no further than Sydney: The idyllic lifestyle, friendly locals and drop-dead natural beauty of this approachable metropolis and its attractions explain why the country tops so many travelers’ wish lists. But Sydney is more than just the embodiment of classic antipodean cool—the city is in a constant state of evolution. A list of what to do in Sydney might start with the white-hot nightlife, with its new cocktail bars and idiosyncratic mixology dens. Inventive restaurants helmed by high-caliber chefs are dishing up everything from posh pan-Asian to Argentine street food, while the famous dining temples that put Sydney on the gastronomic map are still going strong too.
The famed harbor is among the top sights—home to twin icons the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is the stepping-off point for some of the city’s best cultural attractions and sightseeing. In one day you can sail around the harbor, get a behind-the-scenes tour of the opera house and climb the bridge, with time to spare for people-watching over a flat white at a waterfront café.
Speaking of water, when you plan what to do in Sydney, you will want to include the iconic beaches, where surfers, office workers and tourists alike converge on some of the most gorgeous shoreline scenery anywhere. Bondi, Bronte and Clovelly are all within easy reach of the Central Business District, as is Manly, a charming seaside town located a short ferry ride from Circular Quay. Beyond the city you’ll discover UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the chance to encounter Australia’s cuddliest wildlife—a perfect way to round out your envy-inducing Sydney photo collection.
Queensland’s capital, tucked between the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, is often overlooked in favor of its stylish sister, Sydney, and its cultured cousin, Melbourne. But Brisbane, or “Brissy” for short, has recently come out of the shadows to show off its own variety of sun-drenched cool. Brisbane may be a contender for Australia’s hippest city, thanks to its clutch of crafty bars, eclectic restaurants and homegrown fashion. The city’s subtropical climate brings joggers and cyclists to the banks of the Brisbane River year round; jacarandas and frangipani bloom in the spring. This is one of the country’s fastest-expanding areas in terms of population and employment: People flock here for the affordable lifestyle, the booming economy and the laid-back attitude. When newcomers arrive, creativity follows, as evidenced by the museums and theaters of South Bank and the revived districts such as Fortitude Valley. Fortitude is a good word for Brisbane—a hardworking city on its way to fame and fortune.
Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Australia of your dreams. Although the Queensland town offers many antipodean delights such as palm-fringed beaches, a huge man-made lagoon and alfresco dining, there’s a great reason to head straight out of town: This is the jumping-off point for the magnificent Whitsundays, a group of 74 islands that are famous for their timeless natural beauty, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear water.Your options here are pretty much limitless—charter a boat and sail around the archipelago; snorkel or scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef; or snap the perfect selfie on sublime Whitehaven Beach, consistently named among the best beaches in the world. There are many other activities closer to shore—from kayaking to glass-bottom boat tours—as well as hiking through lowland tropical rain forest in Conway National Park, for those who want to keep their feet firmly on the ground. And if you’re simply looking to kick back with a drink in hand and enjoy the magnificent views, head to cosmopolitan Hamilton Island, the largest inhabited island of the Whitsundays, for its stylish restaurants and bars.Note: Stinger (jellyfish) season in the Whitsundays is from October to May; you’re advised to wear a stinger suit in the water during this time.
The gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the tropical north of the country, Cairns sits on the east coast of the Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. This laid-back city is popular with travelers who depart from here for days of sailing, diving, snorkeling and trekking through nearby parks—a celebrated launching pad especially for those who want to explore the reef, the Daintree Rain Forest and other attractions of this part of Queensland. And what better place to start one’s adventure? The residents of Cairns are welcoming, the beach life fantastic and the climate consistently sunny and warm.
Wend your way due east of Cairns, and you’ll find yourself on the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s longest coral reef and also the world’s largest living organism. Famously visible from outer space, it’s often been described as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Kuranda Scenic Railway is a different sort of wonder—an engineering marvel from the 19th century that passes through rain forests on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites before reaching the village of Kuranda. Green Island, a 6,000-year-old coral cay, is an easy day trip from Cairns with opportunities to snorkel and swim; Port Douglas, an hour north of Cairns, is a favorite with visitors thanks to its top-notch restaurants, art galleries and boutiques. Finally, hop on a six-person cable car known as the Skyway Rainforest Cableway for a bird’s-eye view of the stunning natural appeal of the region.
Surrounded on three sides by the turquoise Timor Sea, the Northern Territory’s capital is closer in both distance and temperament to Southeast Asia than it is to most of Australia’s major cities. The lifestyle here is tropical, which means a relaxed atmosphere, balmy weather, fabulous fusion food and vibrant outdoor markets.
This cosmopolitan city has fewer than 140,000 residents, but they include some 50 nationalities. After heavy bombing in World War II and a disastrous cyclone in 1974, Darwin has been largely rebuilt, and it’s modern and well planned. In the downtown area you’ll find everything from great shopping to a crocodile park. You can trace the region’s dramatic history at innovative museums and gallery-hop to see indigenous art. After your sightseeing stroll, have a late lunch at one of the many excellent restaurants. The food options range from authentic Malaysian dishes like laksa, a spicy noodle soup, to a plethora of fresh seafood—mud crab, barramundi and more.
You may find it hard to leave this laid-back lifestyle, but there’s much more to see close by. Darwin is the gateway to two famous national parks, Kakadu and Litchfield, as well as the spectacular Aboriginal-owned Tiwi Islands. Make sure you take the time to “go bush,” as they say in Australia—that is, get out of town and relax. There’s no better place to do it than this glorious part of the country.
One of more than 17,000 islands that make up the Republic of Indonesia, Komodo Island is most famous for its resident Komodo Dragons. The remnant of a once widespread ancient order of monitor lizards, this giant reptile often measures up to 11 feet in length and can weigh more than 300 pounds. Komodo Island is volcanic in origin, with dramatic landscapes of craggy mountains, deep canyons, savannahs and rain forests. Sample shore excursions: Komodo Island Trek.
Built on the traditional lands of the Yawuru people, Broome is a center for the pearling industry, a vacation destination and an internationally significant habitat for millions of migrating birds.
Located on the North West Cape of Western Australia, the port of Exmouth is home to the wonders of Ningaloo Reef. Ningaloo Marine Park boasts hundreds of miles of beach fringed coast, where you can watch dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles and more. Away from the beach you’ll find an Outback range with caves and red rock gorges to explore. Sample shore excursions: Western Australia Scenic Beauty; Snorkel Ningaloo Reef; Top of the Range: Cape Range National Park.
This sun-washed coastal city in the Mid West region of Western Australia has roots that extend back 40,000 years through the Wajarri people. Their distinctive paintings, combining dots of ochre and earth-based pigments, are among the many treasures on display in the Geraldton Museum. You can experience the past and present of a working Western Australian farm at the Oakabella Pioneering Homestead, built in 1860. Tour the original homestead, cookhouse, shearing shed, stables and blacksmith shop. This is wine country, so you’ll want to stop by a local winery and sample the region’s award-winning sauvignon blancs, chardonnays and more. The pleasant Mediterranean climate is perfect for kitesurfing, windsurfing, saltwater fishing, boating and sailing, so take your choice. For outback adventures, head to Kalbarri National Park, where the Murchison River has sculpted deep gorges and breathtaking vistas
Located between the Indian Ocean and Australia’s famed Outback, Perth and Fremantle are rich in Aboriginal and British colonial history. Explore historic Fremantle and modern Perth; visit the Swan Valley region for vineyard tours and witness koalas and kangaroos in their natural habitat; and travel to the Outback and watch a desert sunrise over Ayers Rock. Sample shore excursions: Perth & Fremantle Highlights; Vines & Wines; Ayers Rock, the Olgas & the Outback Overland Adventure.
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