Australia's diverse cultural and natural wonders tempt travelers with a staggering number of options. This country’s cosmopolitan capital, its pristine wilderness areas teeming with native wildlife and plants and its sacred Aboriginal cultural sites offer a multitude of opportunities for travel full of adventure, relaxation and learning.
Sifting through travel choices is always easier with the advice of locals. Andrew Harper Alliance’s travel and hotel partners in Australia have come to the rescue, sharing their intimate knowledge of the country for an ideal trip “down under.” Your natural jumping-off point is Sydney, the island nation’s capital. While the architecture, culture and dining here could justify an extended visit, a three-day itinerary of Sydney’s not-to-be-missed sites and activities is the perfect Aussie introduction.
Next, go walkabout (by plane and car). AH partners offer details for excursions that feature four top Australian destinations: the Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock, Kangaroo Island and the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
Abercrombie & Kent travel specialist Marlene Mizzi recommends exploring Sydney with a full-day tour. Start with a guided walk in The Rocks area, the city’s early commercial and maritime quarter, and a living museum of Sydney’s early days. Next, join a zookeeper at Taranga Zoo as you snap pics and interact with koalas and kangaroos. Then it’s on to Bondi Beach and Paddington, the antique-shop-filled suburb known for its Victorian and Georgian architecture. Grab lunch in the colorful Kings Cross area, Sydney’s answer to London’s Soho, Mizzi suggests. Your day of touring wraps with a private peek inside the iconic Sydney Opera House, including its many performance and rehearsal spaces, dressing rooms and library. Mizzi suggests dining that evening at one of the city’s signature restaurants, such as Quay, Aria Restaurant or Nick’s Bondi Beach Pavilion. Reservations for dining and tours throughout your stay are a must.
Enjoy a relaxed morning at your hotel before a busy day of sightseeing in and around Sydney Harbour with its views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, Luna Park and Fort Denison. Mizzi recommends a four-hour boating excursion on the Calypso, a fully-crewed 52-foot motor cruiser. Swim, fish, kayak or just sit back with a cold one during the four-hour trip, which includes a barbecue lunch. If you’d prefer a bird’s-eye view, The Observatory’s concierge, Michael Anderson, recommends Sydney Seaplanes’ four-hour fly/dine tour for the ultimate harbor tour. After gliding over the harbor, deplane at one of a half-dozen waterside restaurants for a leisurely lunch, or onto a secluded beach with a generously stocked picnic basket. Tonight, Mizzi suggests dining at Guillame at Bennalong in the southernmost shell of the Sydney Opera House before strolling to a performance at one the facility’s seven venues.
Greet the sunrise at the bustling Sydney Fish Market, the world’s second-largest seafood market outside Japan, to observe the action at its bustling peak. If you’re visiting on a Monday, Thursday or Friday, Anderson recommends booking ahead to join the market’s guided tour. Witness the frenetic pace of its Dutch-style auction, and walk amidst that day’s bountiful catch from Australian waters. Then meet up with a local guide to discover Sydney’s hidden architecture, shopping and cultural gems. Mizzi says this two-and-a-half-hour guided tour through the city’s streets includes a stop at LG Humphries & Sons, known for its fine collection of jewelry and art glassware. Those who are not acrophobic will want to save energy for a guided twilight climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which promises an exhilarating, 360-degree view of Sydney and the harbor. Wind down from this exciting day over dinner at Marque, an intimate restaurant that Anderson recommends as the city’s “temple of contemporary French cuisine.”
Next, leave your urban explorations behind to venture out for one or more side trips. The first three suggested destinations are best reached by air, while the last is but a three-hour drive from Sydney.
The world’s single largest coral complex—encompassing 2,800 reefs—the Great Barrier Reef covers 135,000 square miles. AH hotel partners recommend spending three to six nights exploring this World Heritage site from the unspoiled paradise offered by Hayman Island and Lizard Island. Privately owned Hayman Island features a newly rejuvenated 40-acre botanical garden created by award-winning landscape designer Jamie Durie, says Elizabeth Clyde, manager of Hayman’s North American sales and marketing. Lizard Island, which is largely a national park, claims rocky headlands and two dozen inviting, white-powder beaches. These crystal-clear turquoise waters make diving and snorkeling a must, Clyde says. She also recommends a seaplane or helicopter tour over Hayman Island, which includes taking in the dazzling expanse of Whitehaven Beach. Mizzi advises anglers to visit from September through December to enjoy the best marlin fishing.
The Anangu Aboriginal people believe their ancestral spirits created this sandstone rock formation, which they call Uluru. It dramatically rises more than 1,110 feet from the central Australian desert. A second sacred site, the rounded dome of Kata Tjuta, sits nearby. Longitude 131° Sales and Marketing Manager Scott Gordon recommends a three- to four-night stay to “discover the traditions of the world’s oldest culture, come face to face with some of Australia’s unique wildlife, and explore the dramatic landscape of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.” Start by visiting Uluru-Kat Tjuta National Park’s cultural center. Then explore area trails on your own or let a guide lead you along Kata Tjuta’s Walpa Gorge, a moisture-rich refuge for rare plants. Gordon notes that a sunset camel ride with Uluru as the backdrop is a must during a visit to this magical place in the heart of Australia’s outback.
Its abundant wildlife and 21 national and conservation parks make Kangaroo Island a preferred destination for nature lovers. Native fauna include the island’s namesake marsupial, as well as koalas, seals, sea lions and the porcupine-like echidna. Visitors will also spy a variety of birdlife, including the glossy black cockatoo. Alison Richards, marketing director of Southern Ocean Lodge, calls the island a “zoo without fences,” and recommends a half-day guided journey into Flinders Chase National Park, including stops at Admiral’s Arch and Remarkable Rocks. Foodies who love regional cuisine will appreciate the island’s bounty of fresh and often organically produced foods, including cheese, olive oil and wine. The island is also the only source of honey produced by a pure strain of Ligurian bees, Richards says, with strict quarantines in place for protecting this gentle species. Apiaries offer tours, as do local dairies, fishmongers and wineries.
Considered Australia’s most accessible wilderness, this area encompasses more than 2.4 million acres of dramatic sandstone cliffs, rugged canyons, rainforests and heathlands. Bushwalking, horseback riding and mountain-biking are good choices for wildlife spotting and enjoying magnificent views, says Judith North, sales director at Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa. She also recommends taking a four-wheel drive wildlife tour of the Wolgan Valley conservation reserve and a heritage tour of a fully restored 1832 homestead for a glimpse into the lives of early Australian settlers. Charles Darwin visited this area in 1836. It continues to attract visitors fascinated by its diversity in plant and animal life, including ancient, threatened and rare plants and a record-setting 91 species of eucalyptus thriving in its many habitats.