Anyone who has been to the Land Down Under knows that Australia has some of the most stunning and diverse scenery in the world. From the burnt red expanse of the Outback and cliff-backed beaches along the coasts to subtropical rain forests and snow-covered mountains, nearly every type of landscape is represented across the continent. That’s right, Australia is both a country AND a continent! (But, of course, you already knew that.) It’s nearly impossible to see it all in one go, but I gave it a shot. My two-week itinerary included five national parks, five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and three cities. This overview should hopefully give you some ideas for where to go in Australia.
Sydney stole my heart with its laid-back surfer vibe and glorious sunshine. It’s incredible to have such an abundance of nature surrounding a major metropolitan city! Sydney has enough parks, gardens, coastal walks, beaches, and swimming holes – not to mention museums and cultural offerings – to keep visitors busy for at least a week. I gave myself five full days which was enough time to explore major attractions, including the outstanding Taronga Zoo and the Bondi-to-Coogee Walk. I even attended a symphony performance inside the renowned Sydney Opera House. You can read more about my impressions of Sydney in this post.
The Blue Mountains are located about two hours from Sydney and a great option for a day trip. The mountains are covered in eucalyptus trees which emit a lovely blue haze, hence the name. The air is unbelievable fresh and aromatic! Hiking trails weave through the one million hectare range, while cable cars and a funicular railway offer different perspectives of the rain forest on the valley floor. The distinctive Three Sisters rock formation is the area’s biggest draw and can be admired from several different vantage points around the park. Be sure to read about the aboriginal legend surrounding the site before your visit. You can find my guide to the Blue Mountains here.
Melbourne is Sydney’s grittier, edgier sibling, the one with all the tattoos and piercings. Many of Melbourne’s narrow lanes are emblazoned with street art, which the city encourages as part of its creative ambiance. The result is an eye-catching mix of artistic murals and graffiti tags, with Victorian brick as a canvas. In addition to this visual feast, cafes and restaurants abound to tantalize the taste buds. Melbourne is continuously named one of the world’s most livable cities, and I can definitely see why.
The Great Ocean Road stretches for nearly 250 kilometers along the southwestern coast of Victoria, Australia. Instead of attempting to drive it myself – on the opposite side of the road! – I joined about 20 strangers on a Great Ocean Road day tour with Go West Tours. The small bus picked me up from my Melbourne hotel early in the morning and returned me there that same night. (Tip: Sit on the left side of the bus for the best views.) Our tour guide, Alex, was a hoot, playing music that corresponded with our journey and sharing interesting tidbits along the way. We made more stops than I was expecting, giving us plenty of opportunities to stretch our legs and take photographs. The biggest treats came near the end, when we finally made it to Port Campbell National Park, home to the Twelve Apostles rock formations, Loch Ard Gorge, and Gibson Steps. Incredible doesn’t begin to describe the experience! (You can read my full review here.)
Hobart is the capital of Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state. I visited in autumn (April) when the leaves were beginning to turn and the majestic mountain scenery reminded me of the New England region of the United States. Hobart’s sleepy harbor is surrounded by shops run by local artists and fish restaurants serving up the day’s catch. The locals I encountered were friendly and eager for a chat, making me feel welcome. The city got its humble start as a British penal colony in the 1800s and, as several people mentioned to me, nearly everyone from Hobart has a convict in their ancestry. I find this history fascinating and would like to learn more about it. A return trip is certainly in my future. Click here to read my guide to Hobart.
Uluru lies at the very heart of Australia, deep in the middle of the Northern Territory. Also known as Ayer’s Rock, the sandstone monolith is sacred to the aboriginal people who still call the land surrounding it home. Watching the red mountain begin to glow as the sun rose above an eerily quiet desert is a moment I won’t soon forget. I have mixed feelings about visiting Uluru – which I explain here – but I’m happy to have basked in its majesty from afar. My sunset camel ride around the area was also especially enjoyable.
Tell me: Which places would you add to your Australia itinerary?