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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.
Stroll Tunis’ spirited medina where close-packed souks offer silver, perfumes, spices, carpets and other treasures at fire sale prices. Sharpen your haggling skills here—it’s anticipated! At the edge of the Sahara, the Phoenician city at Carthage now lies in windswept ruins, but once was the glorious rival of Rome.
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.
The Great Barrier Reef is made of many types of reefs, from offshore bommies that rise from the depths like undersea skyscrapers, to atolls where rings of coral surround placid lagoons. The Ribbon Reefs are another unique formation—long, narrow ridges of coral running parallel to the shore. They act like breakwaters, providing calm seas on their western sides, facing the Australian mainland.
The Ribbon Reefs run for around 50 miles (80 kilometers), with a total of 10 ribbon reefs named by number, from south to north. Remote Lizard Island marks the northern reaches of this section of the Great Barrier Reef—the final landmark before sailing on to the Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait.
The greatest highlights of the Ribbon Reefs are found below the water, where divers and snorkelers can explore undersea gardens bursting with corals, tropical fish, sharks and much more. Topside explorers should keep watch from the ship for dolphins and whales, especially during the months of June and July, when dwarf minke whales arrive from Antarctica to birth their young.
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.
One of our “off the beaten path” destinations, Lembar is located on the island of Lombok, just east of Bali. With its slow pace, beautiful beaches, enchanting waterfalls, and Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest volcano, Lombok offers quite days amidst spectacular beauty. Discover Tanjung Aan near the Kuta Beach, where the sand looks like pepper; shop for local handicrafts and weavings in the islands small villages; and drink from the fountain of youth at Narmada Park. Sample shore excursions: Mataram Highlights, Sasak Native Village & Kuta Beach.
Indonesia is made up of more than 13,000 islands, but even with all that competition, Bali manages to stand out. Beautiful temples and shrines of all sizes are spread across the island, tucked down narrow alleyways, hidden within the jungle or serenely presiding over scenic locations, like the dramatic Pura Tanah Lot atop a rock formation just off Bali’s western coast.
Bali is well known for its arts—traditional music and dance, painting, wood and stone carvings, silver jewelry and ikat and batik textiles. The island’s artistic center is the village of Ubud, and its art markets and boutiques carry beautiful Balinese pieces to take home.
When it comes to dining, whether you’re craving a burrito or satay, you can find a restaurant that serves it. Don’t leave the island, however, without sampling Balinese cuisine. Local cooking, which reflects Chinese and Indian influences, uses blends of aromatic spices to season grilled meats (though not beef—Bali is an island of Hindu culture in mostly Muslim Indonesia), fresh seafood, rice and vegetables with delicious results.
City-states are rare in the present day—and none are quite like Singapore. In the 20th century, the Southeast Asian nation hurtled itself into the modern world, and it continues to expand its state-of-the-art transportation system and build its edgy skyline. Yet Singapore’s urban plan wisely maintained its intimate neighborhoods, many with streets lined with colorful shophouses (a type of building unique to parts of Asia, with businesses located on their ground floors and residences above). Add the city’s mix of ethnic groups—mainly Malays, Chinese and Indians—and you get a vibrant cultural scene that attracts a cosmopolitan, international community.
Singapore’s food scene—which is arguably the world’s most dynamic and runs the gamut from beloved street hawkers to Michelin-starred venues—would merit a trip alone, as would its never-ending shopping options. But the city is also packed with world-class museums, many designed by celebrated architects, and it hosts many major international events, such as the Formula One Grand Prix. Yet only about half of the 720-square-kilometer (278-square-mile) island is developed, which leaves plenty of room for parks and open spaces such as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where an old-growth forest still thrives.
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