Affectionately known as the Land Down Under, Australia holds distinction as the world’s largest island and smallest continent. Because it is roughly the same size as the United States, but with a population rivaling New York State, the country boasts an abundance of beautifully wild natural landscapes, including ancient rainforests, snowy mountains, and of course the Outback, which itself is home to red-earthed deserts and rugged national parks. However, Australia also has several vibrant cities that include some of the world’s most marvelous feats of architecture. Below are six must-visit destinations for travelers visiting Australia:
The most iconic building in the country, the Sydney Opera House is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was constructed in 1973 at a cost of more than 10 times its original budget. It was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzo, who withdrew from the project before its completion due to financial and technical concerns. Nonetheless, it is one of the highlights of the Sydney skyline, due in part to its unique design, which includes shell-shaped roof segments, and waterfront location.
While it is beautiful enough to marvel upon or photograph from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair in the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens, the Opera House contains an interior that is also worth exploring. It encompasses several studios, theaters, reception rooms, and restaurants in addition to an open-air forecourt that overlooks the city and harbor.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most impressive natural wonders—it is visible from outer space—and is best experienced at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The park, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, extends 2,300 kilometers along Australia’s east coast and includes 3,000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, and 300 coral cays. The diverse selection of marine life includes hard and soft corals as well as in excess of 1,600 species of sharks, tropical fish, dolphins, and turtles, among other creatures.
Those who enjoy diving and snorkeling can book tours to visit some of the reef’s most remote dive sites. There are also above-water boat tours offered at mainland sites in Port Douglas, Airlie Beach, and Cairns, among other locations. Helicopter tours are also available.
Less than 100 kilometers west of Sydney is Blue Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was named after the blue haze that exudes from its abundance of eucalyptus trees. In addition to 140 kilometers of hiking trails, the park has 664,000 acres of protected wilderness area that includes waterfalls, dramatic gorges, and aboriginal rock paintings, although its most well-known attraction is the Three Sisters sandstone rock formations. The park can be explored on foot or via passenger trains along the Katoomba Scenic Railway, which is the steepest railway in the world. Guests can also experience elevated views of the forests via the Scenic Walkway, Scenic Cableway, and Skyway.
Another one of the natural wonders in Australia is the Daintree Rainforest, which covers 1,200 square kilometers and, at an estimated 180 million years old, has been around twice as long as the Amazon Rainforest. Located in Queensland, the UNESCO World Heritage Site extends to the white sand beaches near the Coral Sea and boasts more than 18,000 plant species in addition to a diverse selection of animal species, such as the crocodile, Ulysses butterfly, and Bennett’s tree kangaroo. Visitors can explore the rainforest via guided interpreted walking tours led by local experts.
Also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fraser Island is located off the east coast of Australia between Brisbane and Bundaberg. It is the world’s largest sand island and, for this reason, serves as an ideal destination for four-wheel drive enthusiasts. It also features a 75-mile-long beach, which includes the multi-colored sandstone cliffs of The Cathedrals and several shipwreck sites. Further inland from the beach, visitors can gaze upon freshwater creeks and lakes, towering sand dunes, and ancient rainforests. The island is accessible by ferry from Hervey Bay and Rainbow Beach. There’s also a small airport on the island’s sandy shores.
An expansive area in Australia known for its dry and arid conditions, the Outback is accessible from nearly every part of the country. It features an abundance of unique rock formations, salt lakes, and red sands, as well as species like emus and kangaroos. While it is largely uninhabited, some people do live and raise sheep in the Outback. Because it’s such a vast area of land, adventures into the Outback are offered from Adelaide, Darwin, Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane. Popular activities in the Outback include panning for gold, hiking through rocky terrain, swimming in natural pools, and viewing Kakadu National Park’s rock art galleries. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, home to the massive red rock formation once called Ayers Rock, is another iconic Australian destination located in the Outback. Another impressive natural wonder in the Outback is the Staircase to the Moon, a reflective illusion that occurs when moonlight shines on Roebuck Bay near the coastal town of Broome. The effect resembles a rising staircase to the sky.