As a travel journalist I often get asked to list good things to do. here’s some observations about Australia.
- The best departure point for those looking to snorkel and dive the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is a favoured destination to catch a chartered tour to the reef. There are various companies that offer a wide variety of different kinds of cruises out to the reef. You may choose between day-tours or liveaboard tours, which range widely in cost.If you aren’t yet qualified to scuba dive, but can’t think of a day cruise to the Great Barrier Reef without doing so, just about all tours will give you the chance to do a resort dive, with no qualifications needed. Pretty much everyone has an ecotourism certification, which means you don’t have to worry about damaging the great barrier reef while you are checking it out.
- Considered the hot air ballooning capital of the country, Atherton is just a short drive from Cairns. Champagne Balloons has a ballooning package that includes a 5 am pickup in Cairns, a hot breakfast and champers for about $230 . Enjoy the scenic countryside at sun up, enjoy 30 minutes floating in your hot air balloon, and is concluded with breakfast and champagne in scenic and popular resort town of Port Douglas. Checking out the gorgeous scenery from the air in a balloon makes this balloon tour a must do experience.
- Located south of Cairns, Mission Beach is the closest mainland point to the Great Barrier Reef. The beach is a 8 mile long, pristine sandy beach, with fantastic views of Bedarra and a couple of other islands just within sight. There is a tiny village there, where you can learn more about activities like sea kayaking or scuba diving, though many would be perfectly content soaking up the sunshine and swimming in the crystal clear water.You can stay overnight in local accommodation, though many will be coming from Cairns. If you did not rent a car or camper van for your vacation, there is a bus service called Mission Beach Dunk Island Coaches, which takes scenic routs between Port Douglas, Cairns, and Mission Beach.
- Invented circa 1850 to keep cricketers fit in winter, Australian Rules is a mix of rugby, gaelic football and a charming Australian schoolboy game called all in that involves gang-tackling the unfortunate person who has the ball. The game is played on an oval-shaped, cricket-sized ground between two teams of 18 players each. The idea is to kick the ball through two upright posts and earn six points. Miss and you get one point, or miss so badly the ball misses the smaller of the adjacent goals and you get zero. A free kick is gained when a ‘mark’ is taken, awarded when a kick is caught on the full. This can be the most spectacular of sights, players ‘ride’ the backs of their opponents (and team mates) so high they often concuss themselves when they fall back to earth. The players pass the ball by hitting the ball with their bunched fist and can’t run without bouncing it every 10 metres. That’s about it for rules. The rules are so strange that it’s little wonder no-one on Earth bar Victorians know what they are. Crowds sometimes reach 100,000, most of whom are as knowledgeable about the history of their team as a history lecturer from Cambridge knows about ancient Troy. Consequently, an Aussie Rules match is an absolute must see on a trip Downunder.
- Try to play Didgeridoo and learn something about Aboriginal Culture. You will find out that blowing into the carved tree is not as easy as it may seem (but you may have lot of fun, you or the guy teaching you). Cultural centres of aborginal art and history are everywhere. You will learn stories about the Dreamtime and learn a lot of how people lived in the old days and what were their values. It may change your view of the locals you may meet at some places.
- Called ‘The race that stops a nation’, The Melbourne Cup does just that. At 3.30pm on the first Tuesday in November, everyone downs pencils and tunes in. People that have no interest in horse racing watch. School children are dismissed early to watch it on TV. The entire state of Victoria has a holiday. Flemington, where the race is held, is a heaving miasma of partygoers. At least 150,000 people attend the track, and the same happens at every other race track in the whole country. Australians go crazy for ‘The Cup’, everyone becomes an tipster and sweeps are held in clubs and classrooms everywhere. As a way of seeing how Australians tick, getting to Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day can’t be matched.
- The largest continuous area of rainforest in the country, the Daintree National Park is a protected area of unbelievable rainforest an hour or so north of Cairns. The National Park, which encompasses around 1200 square kilometers, is not only World Heritage listed, but is also home to a large variety of plant and animal life—including marsupials, frogs, birds and more. Generally thought to be the oldest rainforest in the world, the Daintree forest is over 145 million years old and has more than 430 different species of bird, including 25 species that are found nowhere else in the world. There are some day hikes that allow travelers to experience sections of this incredible rainforest on their own, as well as guided tours that can help teach you about the ecology on your way.
- Whitehaven Beach is located amongst the 74 Whitsunday Islands along the Central Queensland coast and can be reached by sea or air. I have been to many beaches in my life and this is without a doubt the most perfect, most incredible stretch of sand I have ever visited. If you can think of the most perfect, whitest, cleanest sand, the clearest, lightest, bluest water that’s what it looks like. Airlie Beach is the usual departure point to get to the Whitsunday Islands and Whitehaven Beach. A popular way to see it is an overnight sailing trip. There are lots of sailing companies in Airlie Beach that offer this service. There are also day tours to just Whitehave or including a visit to another island such as Hamilton Island.
- Go to a surf camp and experience the surfing lifestyle. Have you ever dreamed of surfing the waves? Well, now is your chance. Surfing is second nature in Australia. Not just as a sport, but as a way of life. There is something special about the people that live and breath surfing. They have a natural ease and calm for lifelust for life, that is hard to find elsewhere. And it’s difficult to understand it until you actually try it. The two seconds of glory while you stand on the board for the first time, with knees shaking like drumsticks will live with you forever. At least long enough to recover from the wave that will try to try to kill you three seconds later.If you ever imagined that surfing was easy, you were terribly mistaken. Surfing is extremely hard, and can be a real pain in the ass, but highly worth the effort.
- Coober Pedy is most famous for the unusual living quarters of a large part of it’s local residents who live underground. This practice came about when local resident sought escape from the oppressive heat before the days of modern air conditioning. Also known as the the Black Opal Capital of the World, Coober Pedy was first established as an opal mine in 1915. Today tourists can visit the old opal mines, visit underground churches, and stay underground in a motel. The local golf course, with no grass, is played at night with glowing golf balls. The area served as the backdrop for the post-nuclear apocalypse film titled Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome starring Australian son Mel Gibson. Find a Underground hotel and enjoy this must see piece of Austraia.
I trust these help any future visitors to Australia.