I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of travel over the years. Since catching the travel bug in my early 20s I’ve made it a priority to spend my hard-earned cash on doing just that; it’s the only thing you buy that makes you richer! The ruins of Machu Pichu, the beaches of Bora Bora, the lights of Las Vegas and a lot of places in between far out weigh sitting at home and watching the world on TV.
One thing that a bit of travel makes you appreciate is that QANTAS was right with their famous advertising campaign; their trademark “I still call Australia home” tune that gets stuck in your head when coming into land. Outside of Australia Day and ANZAC Day, there’s something about it that twigs a patriotic streak in even the most hardened of souls. We have the most amazingly diverse and beautiful country that you could possible imagine, which is what I think makes us known as the lucky country…
The great Downunder. Here are my top rated places and experiences from around this amazing land of ours:
Dinner at the base of Uluru…in a storm
When I decided to make the great move south (ie. leave my hometown of Darwin in the Northern Territory for the bright lights of Sydney) I decided to make it a road trip – as opposed to jumping on a plane to wait 2 weeks for my home contents to arrive). Having seen so much more of Europe and North America than my own backyard by this point, I though this was the perfect opportunity to even up the travel stakes.
I wasn’t disappointed! Seventeen days, 9,000km and five States/Territories later I arrived in Sydney enriched by experiences and places I had only ever seen in pictures. Uluru was always on the bucket list; though it’s sheer remoteness (and being rather expensive to get to/from) meant that a select few actually make it there. It’s not too dissimilar from Americans/Canadians seeing The Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls in their lifetime.
Uluru (colloquially Ayres Rock) was a truly magical experience. It doesn’t rain that often in that part of the world, though when it does (it’s monsoonal and) it turns the rock into a magical cascade of waterfalls and picturesque pools. The image of Uluru pouring with waterfalls whilst being backlit by huge lightning strikes is something I will never forget. Strangely people were complaining about the rain, but I don’t think they appreciated just how rare of an occurrence it was. They didn’t know how lucky they were!
Katherine Gorges’ ‘Eighth Gorge’
Whilst I wasn’t born in the Territory I fondly call it home. I spent my influential years being raised there with the abundance of outback experiences right on our doorstep. It came as no surprise to my parents that my twin brother and I developed a love for camping and the great outdoors!
The concept of waking up in a remote place, close to the beach or landscape that not many others had travelled always oozed FREEDOM – and I just loved every opportunity to jump in my ute (yes, I owned a Holden Ute at one point in my life) and head off the beaten track for a few days.
Katherine Gorge, 330km south of Darwin, was one those places. I grew to love the area from the Katherine Canoe Marathons I had entered in my late teens (an annual canoe marathon spanning 42km downstream to raise funds for Red Cross). The ‘Eights Gorge’ is about a 20km hike through unmarked trails and a part of the country you need to take your own supplies (fresh water included). It was a tough trek; especially with the 3-man crew I travelled with. My friends set a military-standard pack march pace, though the view at the end of the day was out of this world! Picture hanging your feet off a dried up waterfall, 300ft above one of Australia’s most beautiful and untouched landscapes. Not to mention camping under the stars 200km from any real light pollution in the Australian outback. Absolutely breathtaking.
The Great Barrier Reef
I know that this is a bit of a cliché though it has to be on the list! Unfortunately The Great Barrier Reef has endured coral bleaching from pollution and rising sea temperatures and has degraded from its once pristine name over the decade, though that doesn’t detract from the whole experience. It’s world famous for a reason. I personally rate Timor Leste (East Timor), Thailand, and Bora Bora as the better places to dive; though bare in mind I’m less of a tourist and more a traveller. The Great Barrier Reef is home to an abundance of marine life you don’t see anywhere else in the world and I have fond memories from my dives there as it was the first place I learnt underwater photography. Avoiding the crowds is a must so try and go in the shoulder season.
The Pinnacles Desert
Whilst this isn’t strictly a desert (it’s a beach with very cool rock formations), the moonscape that this creates is out of this world. It’s a bit of a hike from Perth, Western Australia, though if you go in the wildflower season then you get the most beautiful drive the whole way. For those that didn’t know, Perth is world renowned for their wildflowers… The Pinnacles Desert is also home to a lot of fashion magazine and fashion campaign photoshoots, for obvious reasons!
I’ve seen a few ports in my time (San Francisco is up there) with plenty more I’d like to experience, though I may be a little biased when I say Sydney Harbour is one of the most beautiful in the world. Sydney (Darling Harbour) serves up some of the best restaurant and café experiences in the country. From breakfast in The Rocks while overlooking the Harbour Bridge, to lunch on Glebe Point. Dining has never been so enjoyable. Cosmopolitan and stylish wine bars line the streets and you never have to look far for fresh seafood. Sydney Rock Oysters are divine!
In just a short walk there’s an almost endless variety of activities and attractions to entertain. You can take to the harbour, come face-to-face with Australia’s diverse wildlife, go behind the scenes at art galleries and at the Sydney Opera House, or climb a city icon. I had 9 hours to kill on a flight returning home from the US so I made a point of climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I’m petrified of heights, though I didn’t have any regrets when I came back down to Earth - the view was spectacular!
The Mindil Beach Markets
I know that I grew up with it, though the Mindil Beach Markets in Darwin’s Northern Territory is home to some of the best food in equally one of the best settings you can find in Australia. You can’t swim (because you’ll get stung or eaten in one of a dozen different ways – welcome to the Territory haha) though you can watch the sun go down on a perfect Dry Season evening, waiting for the rare ‘blue flash’ as the sun passes the horizon that makes it such a draw card for locals and tourists alike. All whilst enjoying an abundance of international culinary delights on the beach; from Mexican, Indonesian and Thai, to fish & chips, road kill jerky (if you were that way included), Dutch poffertjes, and the most indulgent fruit smoothies around. It always made for a perfect Thursday evening or Sunday afternoon in the Dry Season.
Every beach in Australia!
Whilst it’s a bit of a tourist stigma everything in Australia will kill you (which it will, we have the top 10 deadliest of everything on this continent), bare in mind there’s 24 million of us who are who are all alive, happy and well, so it can’t be all that bad. The beaches of Australia make for some of the most picturesque images and memorable experiences you’ll have with friends and family. And it’s quite rare you’ll get to a beach when it’s having an ‘off’ day – they’re magic at every visit.
Northern Territory: Mindil Beach, Darwin
Queensland: 75 Mile beach, Fraser Island / Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays
New South Wales: (Sydney) Bondi Beach, Manly Beach, Cronulla Beach, Palm Beach / Byron Bay Beach
Western Australia: Cable Beach, Broome / Cottesloe Beach, Perth
The Eldo Hotel. Not what you’d expect…
To finish I’ll let you in on a hidden gem of Australia – The ELDO hotel in Woomera. By all means DO NOT fly all the way to Australia or drive all the way from a capital city to do this - this is just one of my ‘off the beaten track’ stories worthy of a mention. If you ever manage to find yourself 600km from the nearest town in the middle of the South Australian outback, check into the ELDO. Order yourself a Wallaby and Native Pepper Bush Pie with a G&T, relax on the back deck and enjoy the sunset over the Painted Desert. Ever heard the phrase “I’ve been everywhere man”? Well, it’s one of the best views of the Australian outback you’ll get. It’s home to numerous UFO sightings too; just to add a little more adventure in there!
Charity Car Rally
P.S. If you really want to get out and see some crazy places I highly recommend the Shitbox Rally. About as Australian as it gets haha. I rallied together a team in 2012 as a fundraiser for the Cancer Council that saw me leave my heels, hair straightener and makeup at home, to drive a car (worth less than $1,000) 6,000km’s from Melbourne to Cairns in seven days - via the dirt track. It’s just what it sounds like… Camping, few showers, great company, great adventure and a great cause!
This Australia Day (January 26) make yourself a promise. Get out and see this amazing country of ours – you won’t regret a second of it, I promise! You never never know, if you never never go!
Make it memorable. Keep it real.