5. Ayres Rock (Uluru)
At the end of the day, it is just a rock in the middle of nowhere. However if you haven’t been, it’s very difficult to describe its’ allure. More interesting is what it represents, namely aboriginal people, their story and their history. It’s a two day one night trip from Alice Springs, (which is not the nicest) which also takes in Kings’ Canyon. In a country not renown for history there is a real sense of magic and spirituality here, and camping out under the stars in swag is a must. It’s the best place in the world for star gazing bar none, sleeping is almost a waste of the night! Camping out means you’ll see the rock at its’ best times, sunset and sunrise, and be prepared for a 5am, or earlier start on day two. Visitors are permitted to walk up and over the rock, but I would urge you not to, for reasons that will become apparent throughout the tour. If you’re lucky an ex Aussie soapstar might be your tour guide.
Sydney and Melbourne are more hyped, and in terms of night-life, multiculturalism, and beaches, most certainly have more to offer. However, being the nearest city to Ayres Rock, Adelaide represents Australia’s history better than her east coast counterparts. The architecture is grand and impressive and there are a number of 19th Century buildings to admire. Similarly, there are numerous beautiful and ornate gardens to meander around, making it the perfect place spend a lazy day or two before heading off into the desert. The sombre Migration Museum shows how generations of Aborigines were badly mistreated, and should not be missed.
3. Great Barrier Reef & Cairns
The name says it all. It is the (arguably) best place in the world for deep sea diving and snorkelling, although aficionados of the Red Sea and Koh Tao may disagree. The myriad of colours and diversity of marine life are astounding and out of this world. Snorkelling does not really do it justice, and at least a day’s dive course is recommended, although it is expensive here. Cairns itself should also not be dismissed, as there are some stunning sunset walks to be had up and down the seafront and plenty of lively backpacker bars, doing good free meal deals for your evening entertainment.
2. Fraser Island
Stay at Hervey Bay and be picked up from your hostel. I did a 2 day,1 night safari tour which was about right. It is the world’s largest sand island. The tour takes you speeding up and down deserted beaches and through dense jungle. There is the perfect blend of safari time on the bus, that is combined with hiking through the dense undergrowth. At the end of the tour there is a relatively tough hike up sand dunes, but at the end you are greeted by a crystal clear fresh water lake to cool off, before being taken to Lake Mackenzie, another fresh water lake surrounded by white sand with plenty of shade. There are also numerous cliff top views of the beaches and ocean, and even a shipwreck to explore. A must see.
1. Whitsunday Islands
Can be done by hiring a private boat or via a variety of 2-3 day tours. I was tight on time, so opted for an Ocean Rafting speedboat (always great fun) day tour. Aside from the Aboriginal caves at Mantaray Bay and the sighting of a whale, sting ray and iguana at various points, the highlight was Whitehaven Beach which has to be a contender for most beautiful place on earth. The white sand squeaks when you walk on it, and it bristles with flora and fauna in the shape of crabs, lizards and turtles to name a few. The snorkelling just off Border Island was also fantastic. Again, the tour struck the perfect balance of activities (snorkelling and a little jungle hiking), and leisure time, to stroll around the stunning Whitehaven beach, bathe in it’s clear blue waters, and experience the flourishing wildlife.