KakaduNATURAL AUSTRALIAAustralia's landscapes include a huge variety ofhabitats, including tropical rainforests, deserts,rivers, mountain ranges and marine systems.Having followed their own evolutionary pathsduring 50 million years of isolation, anoverwhelming variety of strange, unique plantand animal life throngs the continent, especiallyin the country's 500 national parks and 16UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while spectaculargeological formations shape the terrain.WETLANDSArnhem Land, Kakadu and Litchfield NationalParks in the Northern Territory's 'Top End' (page38) are wetland landscapes filled with redescarpment cliffs, waterfalls, crocodile-filledbillabongs and flood plains. They encompassdramatic scenery and wildlife as well as greatgalleries of Aboriginal rock art. The area is bestvisited between April and November to avoidthe rains and humidity.RAINFORESTSAustralia's rainforests are amongst the oldest inthe world and Northern Queensland is one ofthe last great untouched wilderness areas,covering an area the size of Britain. The DaintreeRainforest (page 28) is home to half ofAustralia's extravagant birdlife and around 30percent of its marsupial species. This marvelloustree canopy can be experienced by cable car orthrough a range of day or night walks. The areais best visited from May to November, avoidingthe rain and humidity. Visitors who wish toexperience rainforest outside of these monthscan visit Lamington National Park (page 23),famous for its wonderful birdlife, or Fraser Island(page 23) with its abundant wildlife.EXPERIENCE AUSTRALIA13THE OUTBACK & DESERTThough they teem with a multitude of snakesand reptiles such as the thorny devil, theOutback's ancient landscapes may not see rainfor years on end, creating red rock monoliths,ochre plains and endless horizons. Uluru, KataTjuta and Kings Canyon lie in the Red Centre,while to the north is the red sandstone ofKatherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park, theNullarbor Plain extends to the west and to thesouth is the opal capital of Coober Pedy, all ofwhich you may visit by The Ghan or IndianPacific trains (page 56). Western Australia'sOutback is home to 8,000 species of wildflowerblooming from July to November, and the coolermonths from March to November are the besttime to visit Purnululu National Park (BungleBungle) and the Aboriginal rock art of the northwest's Kimberley region (page 55). TEMPERATE WILDERNESSVast swathes of wild temperate forests areperhaps not one of the first images that cometo mind in Australia, but it is certainly one ofthe most stunning and rewarding for the visitor.Endless miles of eucalypt trees are found inTasmania (page 74) and the Blue Mountains(page 16) of New South Wales, both WorldHeritage Sites. Kangaroo Island's (page 60)woodland is less dense, but here too you willfind a plethora of wildlife, from wallabies andkangaroos to echidnas and platypus tocockatoos - the variety is overwhelming. With arather north European climate, Tasmania is bestvisited in the warmer months from October toApril. The Blue Mountains of New South Wales,however, can be comfortably visited at any timeof year and the winter months are likely to givebetter visibility for extensive views.REEFS & OCEANSThe kaleidoscopic colours of the fish and coralsthat inhabit the world's largest offshore reef, theGreat Barrier Reef (page 30) to the east, and theworld's largest fringing reef, Ningaloo Reef(page 51) to the west are a must-see. Off mostAustralian shores you can meet dolphins face toface at Shark Bay (page 50) and some of thebest locations for whale watching include NewSouth Wales, Victoria's Shipwreck Coast (page70) and Western Australia's Albany (page 48)between May and November. The country'ssouthern coast looks from rugged cliffs andsweeping beaches over the crystal-clear watersof the Southern Ocean, playground to sealions(page 65) and more. Diving is superbthroughout Australia (page 34 & 35), withoperators maintaining the highest standards ofprofessionalism and safety.
SYDNEYDefined and dominated by water, the city ofSydney curves, coils and loops along theshoreline of its sparkling centre piece, one ofthe world's finest harbours. Sculpturedsandstone cliffs edge the water, topped withmagnificent homes and etched by the elementsinto bays, coves and beaches washed by clearPacific waters. The city had a somewhatinsalubrious start. The first ship discharged itsload of convicts and their jailers in 1788, andthey immediately clashed with the localAborigines: an uproar ensued for weeks. Todaythis famous landing point, Circular Quay, is justas lively but is now filled with visitors andentertainers, a natural starting point for any tourof the city. Until recently the Rocks was aninfested slum: now it is one of the city'ssmartest areas, scrubbed, polished and rich incolonial history and a hive of artistic and culturalactivity. The best way to learn about the region'scolourful history is through one of the guidedwalking tours - spectacular by day and ghostlyat night - that introduce the colourful charactersand incidents that have shaped the city.To experience the Aboriginal culture of past andpresent you can take a walk escorted by anAboriginal Koori guide who will introduce theworld's oldest living culture through an array ofart sites that range from the whale engraving atBondi to the Manly Scenic Walkway that linksancient rock carvings. The city is dominated bySydney Harbour Bridge, dubbed 'the CoatHanger': once you've seen it in the view you cantake the experience further by climbing to itssummit or flying close in a seaplane orhelicopter. The archetypal Aussie pastime of'catching a wave' is seen at its best in Sydney,with Bondi, Bronte and Coogee beachesamongst the most popular surfing centres.Away from the water, colourful areas such asPotts Point, Darlinghurst and Paddingtonsupport thriving and colourful café cultures,their wrought-iron latticed Victorian terracescontrasting sharply with the sky-scrapers of thecentre. Harmoniously blending races andinfluences from all over the world, Sydney'senthusiastic residents generate an unmistakablebuzz, energised by their spectacular setting,easy lifestyle and ideal climate.New South Wales14Whether it is the magic of an Outbacksunset, trying your luck with a fishingline, wandering through a WorldHeritage National Park and marvellingat sacred aboriginal sites or exploringthe thrilling waterfront of its capitalcity Sydney, New South Wales is a stateof contrasts. With its sweeping Pacificcoast stretching from the subtropicalTweed Heads, to temperate Eden in thesouth, fringed with brilliantly squeakywhite sand and clear waters heavingwith fish, you can experience thesensational water-based lifestyle that ispart of everyday Aussie life. 'Go bush',tootle through picture-postcard sceneryas you savour a food and wine trail,take a hot air balloon adventure, climbmountains, follow ancient rainforesttracks and absorb the intoxicating smellof the eucalyptus and seek out thehabitat of wombats, wallabies, koalasand echidnas, or just take the simplepleasures of relaxation.