Sure, New Zealand has the reputation as the world’s adrenalin HQ, but the Aussies are no shrinking sheilas when it comes to scaring you stupid.
In fact, they’ll hear you screaming across the Tasman.
For many, a visit to Australia includes much of the following: bungy jumping, skydiving, whitewater rafting, snowboarding, trekking through stunning wilderness regions, kayaking and all manner of watersports and/or becoming a qualified scuba diver.
In other words, you’re unlikely to be too restless Down Under.
There’s nothing quite like taking your fi rst breaths underwater. That reassuring noise of bubbles and the giddy excitement of knowing you shouldn’t, but you can.
Plus there’s the thrilling weightlessness – like flying through an underwater world. And all that’s before you get to see the brilliant inhabitants of the rainbow-coloured underwater wonderland that awaits; full of shapes, colours and sights you didn’t think could possibly exist.
If you’re a beginner, taking your first step is easy. PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) courses range from introductory experiences through to instructor levels, giving you the freedom to explore the other 70 per cent of our planet.
There are over 1,100 PADI Dive Centres and Resorts located in the Asia Pacifi c region (for more info, visit padi.com) and needless to say, Australia offers some of the very finest scuba diving – and some of the best facilities – in the world.
There are simply too many excellent dive and snorkel sights to mention them all here, but we will suggest a few. Queensland’s international status as an outstanding dive destination is largely based on its proximity to the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef (GBR).
The GBR’s 2,000km chain of individual reefs, islands and countless coral sand cays and shipwrecks offer amazing diving opportunities – it’s popular for a reason.
Another site, Queensland’s SS Yongala wreck, near Townsville, is ranked one of the best wreck dives in the world.
Western Australia’s Ningaloo Marine Park is one of diving’s most acclaimed marine sanctuaries, too.
As well as humpback whales, manta rays and dolphins, Ningaloo has a large population of dugongs – without many other divers.
But the greatest attraction is the huge whale sharks, in the area between April and July.
New South Wales has spectacular year-round diving opportunities. With semi-tropical waters in the north and cooler, temperate waters in the south, the reefs, wrecks and beaches of NSW include many of Australia’s finest diving destinations.
At Seal Rocks you can dive with grey nurse sharks – large but mostly harmless. Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour also offer good diving, as does Sydney, especially off Shelly Beach, by Manly.
South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula spawns giant cuttlefish and sea lions on the reefs and clusters of small islands, as well as cage diving with great white sharks.
Also in SA, the Nullarbor Plain boasts one of the world’s deepest and longest underwater cave systems; not forgetting the 700 shipwrecks off the Limestone Coast.
Tasmania and its off-shore islands provide ample proof that temperate water diving is every bit as rewarding as the tropics.
And hundreds of enticing shipwrecks dot the coasts. PADI courses typically take between two and four days and can cost between $300 and $800, however you can now save both time and cash by doing the knowledge part of the Open Water course online for about $120 (padi.com/elearning).
Only kangaroos and boomerangs are more Aussie than surfing.
With surf being such a big part of Aussie culture it’s hard not to get caught up in it.
Australia has something like a gazillion surf beaches, from world championship level to gentle little waves that even we can manage (just).
We won’t pretend it’s easy peasy, but it’s a hell of a laugh learning to surf.
One-off lessons, surf schools and tours are cheap, operate all over the place and are usually great fun.
Some surf tours will take you along the coast for several days, say from Sydney to Byron Bay, including your accommodation and transport.
Serious surfers will want to head to Bells Beach (Victoria), Margaret River (WA) and the Gold Coast (Queensland). Everyone else can try pretty much anywhere along the bottom half of Australia.
Skydiving (tandem): Quite simply, you haven’t lived until you’ve needlessly jumped out of a plane.
Your cheeks will be fl apping like you’ve stuck your head out of the window on the motorway at 300km/hr, your head will be buzzing like you’re on a drug better than anything illegal and you’ll probably be screaming. A lot.
Where? Plenty of places. Wollongong just south of Sydney, for example. Up the east coast, legendary surf and hippie haven Byron Bay also has jumps.
Mission Beach, in Queensland, is also a popular drop zone with spectacular views over the reef.
Bungy: Bungy jumping is often considered scarier than a skydive. Firstly you can see the ground, and secondly, right up until the last moment you still have a choice…
Where? Again the east is the coast with the most, such as at Cairns, Surfers Paradise and Hervey Bay.
Whitewater rafting: So there’s this river growling angrily at you as it nonchalantly churns up trees and rocks. Most people would simply turn and walk away.
Australians, however, like to pump up a little dinghy, grab all their mates, a couple of paddles and head off over the first waterfall. It’s one helluva ride…
Where? The Tully River in northern Queensland has world famous rapid-riding, but there are other spots too, like the Murray River (Victoria) or the purpose-built (for the 2000 Olympics) arena in Sydney.
The daddy is Tasmania’s remote Franklin River, where rafting trips last 5-10 days.
Water sports: Other water sports practiced with aplomb by the locals are wakeboarding, waterskiing, sailing, kayaking and kite surfing.
For obvious reasons it’s an exuberant outdoor culture here and that doesn’t just mean lazing on the sand.
Where? Pretty much wherever there’s water (and remember 85 per cent of Australians live by the coast).
Best of the rest: There really is something for everyone. Rock climbing and abseiling opportunities are excellent and abundant. Australia has some superb walking trails, the best of all being Tasmania’s stunning 80km Overland Track.
It’s not the greatest snow in the world, but it’s there and you can still have a whole heap of messy fun in the highlands on the NSW-Victorian border (kangaroos in the snow – who’d have thought?).
Plus, for something a bit quirkier, try zorbing on the Gold Coast or get the hump by jumping on a camel for a ride in Broome and various other spots.
This is the real Australian adventure. Just you and a couple of close mates, some top “choons” on the iPod, a fridge full of beer and the enticing tarmac of the great open road stretching endlessly before you.
With such a scarce population and such transfi xing landscapes, no place lends itself to a long roadtrip like this sun-baked continent does.
Crossing the Nullarbor Plain (roughly between Adelaide and Perth) will earn you much kudos and any drive through the middle of Oz brings the rewards of the amazing rock formations in the Red Centre.
Taking a 4WD adventure through the Kimberley or up to Cape York are other options, but not for the faint-hearted or unprepared.
Ultimately, the very best way to experience this vast country is to do the complete circuit off your own steam – buy or rent a campervan.
A big part of any Aussie trip is meeting the bizarre and brilliant collection of creatures that call the continent home – many of which cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.
Top of many peoples’ lists will be cuddling a koala and hand-feeding a kangaroo, both of which are easily done in dozens, if not hundreds of places around the country.
Also likely to inspire much “ooo-ing” and “aahing” are the surprisingly big and grumpy wombats, bizarre duck-billed platypuses, very cute echidnas, screeching Tasmanian devils and the giant, majestic cassowarys (one of the few birds known to have killed a man!).
Many of the most rewarding wildlife experiences, however, are to be had underwater. You can swim with dolphins and dive with sharks in multiple places across Oz, while swimming with seals just off the Nullarbor is a much under-rated alternative.
But top of the list, for pure awe factor, has to be swimming with the Ningaloo’s whale sharks and braving South Australia’s great white shark cage dives.
Photos: TNT, Thinkstock, Getty