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Australia's Legendary Landscapes
Scrap your plans to drive the perimeter, because Australia's coastline is more than 50,000km long. Fortunately there are many memorable stretches to focus on, such as Victoria's Great Ocean Road. This drive will wow you with its lofty limestone cliffs, rolling surf, rainforest, and picturesque costal campsites. Southwest Australia vies for attention with unspoilt beaches and dramatic granite formations such as the natural bridge and blowholes of Torndirrup National Park. For endless golden sand between your toes, head to Sunshine Coast superstars such as Noosa or Mooloolaba.
The Red Centre
Australia's ultimate outback destination is Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, where huge rocky knobs punctuate the bright red heart of the desert. It's hard to believe they began as mighty mountains hundreds of millions of years ago. While Uluru is the star of the show, many travellers argue that the multiple mounds of Kata Tjuta offer a more impressive, immersive experience.
In stark contrast to the desert are tropical rainforests such as those cloaking Queensland's Daintree National Park. The park is part of the Wet Tropic World Heritage Area, a tiny fraction of the continent home to more than a third of Australia's mammalian species and half of its bird species. Fifty parks in Queensland and New South Wales combine to form the Gondwanaland Forests, the world's largest remnant of sub-tropical rainforest. Highlights include Border Ranges, Wollumbin and Nightcap, all accessible from arty Byron Bay.
Although not exactly record-breaking in height, Australia's mountains are monumental in sheer beauty and accessibility. The country's highest peak is Mt Kosciuszko (2228m) – part of the Great Dividing Range separating the central lowlands from the eastern highlands (and around half way between Sydney and Melbourne) – yet the summit walk is a relatively easy 13km return hike from the top of Thredbo chairlift. There's more mountain adventure within the wider Snowy Mountains region, and closer to Melbourne in the Victorian High Country. If you're close to Sydney, the Blue Mountains are well worth a visit, to take in the stunning Three Sisters. Beechworth, Bright and the drive over Mt Hotham were also highlights of our recent trip.
Great Barrier Reef
Stretching more than 2300 kilometres along coastal Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system and one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Swimming in its kaleidoscopic coral gardens are all sorts of fish, as well as turtles, rays, sharks, shellfish, whales, dolphins and dugongs. You'll need to dive or snorkel to explore this magnificent world; top sites include Lady Elliot Island, the Southern Reef Islands and Lady Musgrave Island.
In the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays are among the most visited of Australia's 8000 or so islands – famous for seclusion, sandy bays, and sailing nirvana. Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island, is also in Queensland; picture giant dunes, rainforest and brilliant blue freshwater lakes. South Australia's Kangaroo Island is the country's third largest, bursting with pristine swimming beaches, bushwalks and wildlife (including seals, dolphin, birds and kangaroos). Other notable Aussie islands include laidback Rottnest, off Perth, and Bruny Island off Tasmania's southeast coast.
Gorges and canyons are an Australian speciality, sculpted out of ancient rock over millions of years. Among the most dramatic are the sandstone gorges of Northern Territories' Nitmiluk National Park; a Katherine River cruise or kayak trip is a wonderful way to explore them. In Western Australia, Karijini National Park features narrow gorges, pools and waterfalls, with striking displays of rock layering. Similarly startling are WA's brightly coloured Bungle Bungles – beehive-shaped towers and curvy canyons. In the Windjana National Park, the Windjana Gorge is always worth a stop off to walk through the breathtaking gorge walls.