In this extract from TNT‘s online guide to Australia, DAMIAN HALL rounds up the best Australia’s states and territories have to offer.
New South Wales
The most populous state has the most spectacular city in Australia, if not the world. With its good weather, great beaches, cosmopolitan people and that gleaming harbour, it’s no wonder Sydney’s population is increasing rapidly.
There’s a week’s worth of things to do, from the Botanic Gardens to bridge-climbing to the Opera House, not forgetting all those great beaches and harbourside eateries and bars. A couple of hours west lie the Blue Mountains, offering superlative views, great bushwalks, rock climbing and canyoning.
In the south, gorgeous Jervis Bay has beaches with some of the world’s whitest sand, plus abundant wildlife. The Hunter Valley is the state’s premier wine-growing region. Going north, numerous coastal towns and national parks merit a greeting, but the coast’s top trump is Byron Bay. Australia’s yuppy-hippy capital has great beaches, spectacular surf and the odd dolphin splashing around at sunset.
Meanwhile, the Snowy Mountains attract visitors for the snow season and spectacular bushwalks, and the dreamy remote beauty of Broken Hill is well worth the long drive through the Outback.
Australian Capital Territory
Canberra is more than just the capital of this feisty nation. Apart from the grandiose buildings of state, most of the ACT is national park and forest, with an abundance of scenic bushwalks and wildlife. Canberra actually does have a lively nightlife, mainly thanks to the city’s significant student population. The city is also Australia’s porn capital.
Tasmania is a stark contrast to the mainland, with ice-carved, green and gothic landscapes, a dark convict history, amazing wildlife and perhaps the friendliest Australians. With 19 national parks that are home to rare and unique species and vast tracts of unexplored rainforest, Tassie is also a bushwalker’s Valhalla.
Highly likeable, Hobart can claim to be Australia’s second most picturesque city, with its quaint Georgian streets and expansive harbour nestling under the protective slopes of Mount Wellington.
Nearby, historic Port Arthur, once known as ‘Hell on Earth’ for convicts, is nowadays a rather pretty spot. Internationally renowned Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park consists of some 126,025 hectares of mountain peaks and alpine moorlands. Then there’s nutty Stanley, the gorgeous coastal town on the western tip and home of the famous volcanic Nut, Tasmania’s own Uluru, in one of Australia’s finest small towns.
On the sunny east coast, Bicheno has penguins, dolphins and good scuba diving. Further up, Freycinet National Park has red granite mountains and the drop-dead gorgeous Wineglass Bay. Traffic-free Maria Island National Park has yet more spectacular scenery, including remarkable multi-coloured limestone cliffs. And while you’re there, keep a sharp eye out for those elusive tigers. Many locals swear blind they are still around.
Melbourne, the Victorian capital, oozes culture. Art, music and comedy acts abound, along with live bands, great shopping and cafés as friendly as they are trendy. Australia’s most multicultural city is also home to the most Aussie pastime of them all – Australian rules football.
Just out of town, you can swim with dolphins or learn to surf and dive on the gorgeous Mornington Peninsula. Phillip Island is home to the famous penguin parade and the Grampians are arguably Australia’s most dramatic mountain range. Heading west, the Great Ocean Road shows off its sparkling beaches, sheer cliffs, pounding surf and the much photographed Twelve Apostles (a sunset must). History buffs may also wish to retrace the footsteps of Ned Kelly, the bucket-wearing rapscallion.
For a state capital, Adelaide feels small, but it’s uncrowded and attractive, priding itself on its culture, entertainment, fine food and relaxed lifestyle. They love their festivals here too.
South Australia produces 70% of Australia’s wine exports, including Jacob’s Creek, so if you do a wine-tasting tour Down Under, do it in the Germanic Barossa Valley. Yet the state’s biggest attraction is Kangaroo Island, a wild world of turquoise bays, giant dunes and highly visible wildlife. Koalas, kangaroos, penguins, seals, sea lions and echidnas wander around, making for great wildlife photos.
North of Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges are some of the world’s oldest mountains and are awe-inspiringly huge. Quirky Coober Pedy is a hot, barren, mentalist town where most of the population live underground to escape the desert heat. The dusty moonscape is a popular film location. The Nullarbor Plain is possibly the world’s longest, straightest, flattest, most featureless road, but it’s a trip still worth making – you’ll see soaring cliffs, remote beaches, caves, seal colonies, and southern right whales and their calves (June-October).
More than 80% of the state’s population lives in Perth. Boasting more sunshine than any other Australian capital city, visitors can enjoy the active nightlife, plenty of attractions and museums, a buzzing café culture, diverse restaurants and a lively music scene.
Western Australia offers arguably the roadtrip to top all roadtrips. Heading north, the legendary Pinnacles, ancient and eerie limestone pillars, rise out of the earth to form Australia’s Stonehenge. Next up, Shark Bay and Monkey Mia, a world-renowned spot for getting friendly with the local dolphin population, who come in to meet and greet visitors daily. Exmouth is famous for the breathtaking Ningaloo Reef. Walk to it from the beach to see giant manta rays, turtles, dugongs and the placid, toothless whale shark.
After the deep red gorges of Karijini National Park comes Broome, which boasts fairytale sunsets. In the Kimberley, the ancient orange domes of the Bungle Bungles are truly spectacular and miraculously weren’t discovered until the early 1980s.
The Northern Territory is the dreamy, magical part of Australia where things aren’t always as they initially seem; the land of the Dreamtime, of magnificent rocks, of UFO sightings and that red, red soil.
Darwin, the capital, is a tropical city a long, long way from anywhere, and the prevailing vibe is part far-flung outpost, part tropical resort. Nearby Adelaide River Bridge Crossing is the site of the famous jumping crocs. At the wondrous wilderness of Litchfield National Park, waterfalls, swimming holes, monsoon rainforest and great bushwalking are all on offer. Its big brother, the Aboriginal-owned World Heritage-listed Kakadu, has immense scenic beauty. Its sandstone escarpments house some of the world’s greatest collections of ancient rock art and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful and peaceful place than Jim Jim Falls.
The stunning Katherine Gorge is one of NT’s ‘big three’ (along with Kakadu and Uluru). And there are 13 gorges and more than 100km of walking tracks.
A couple of days’ drive south, you’ll find Alice Springs. Try hot-air ballooning over the Outback at sunrise and camel riding at sunset. The MacDonnell Ranges, once the size of the Himalayas, can be explored by hiking the epic Larapinta Trail.
South of Alice lies one of the centre’s most dramatic geological features: King’s Canyon. Full of surprises, the eerie, weathered rock domes of the Lost World sit in contrast to the breathtaking views from the 300m high canyon rim nearby. On seeing the sheer size of Uluru, its enormity can be dumbfounding and, at sunset, the rock star slides through an impossible range of glowing oranges and reds. Nearby Kata Tjuta is a collection of giant domes forming a startling contrast against the surrounding desert.
The ‘Sunshine state’ has a bit of something for everyone, from the dusty Outback to rainforests, a tedious amount of beautiful beaches and islands, oh, and that reef.
Brisbane is the country’s third biggest city, but its lifestyle seems a million miles away those in Sydney or Melbourne: it’s notably more relaxed. East of the city, Moreton Island is often described as Fraser Island without the crowds. Heading north from Brisbane, past Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo and the Glasshouse Mountains’ spectacular peaks, towns like Noosa and Hervey Bay offer plethora of water-based activities.
The World Heritage-listed Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island. There simply aren’t too many places in the world like this. Airlie Beach is the base for exploring the stunning Whitsundays: take a three-day boat trip and leave all your worries behind. Next up, Magnetic Island has wild koalas, 5000 hectares of national park, secluded beaches, wreck diving, nightlife and beach bumming galore. Then there’s Mission Beach, a hippy hangout where the rainforest first meets the reef.
Cairns is one of the most popular destinations in Australia, and is famous for the peaceful waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands, Daintree National Park and the amazing rainforests of Cape Tribulation. The AJ Hackett bungee jump and world-renowned white-water rafting on Tully River should satisfy most adrenaline junkies.
Dirty, dusty roads are pretty much all that lie immediately northwards, but persist through the harsh conditions and the rewards can be huge if you make it to the top: the northernmost tip of Oz is still one of the wildest and least populated parts of the country.