Travel is a funny thing. Sometimes we connect with foreign lands so profoundly that we ache for them even years later. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time in Australia, at least comparatively, and have traveled to nearly every state and territory, gradually learning what makes this massive country tick. Along the way I’ve found many a kindred spirit and have deeply fallen in love with the Land Down Under. It’s a strange and quirky place, which is maybe why I love it so much, but I also enjoy my time there thanks to the very unique and unusual adventures you can only enjoy in Australia. From the wet and wild north to the sparkling cities of the south and the vast deserts in between, there’s a lot to love and admire about Australia, including these remarkable experiences you can only enjoy in Oz.
Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
It’s no exaggeration to say that Circular Quay and the landmarks that surround it are amongst the most recognizable on the planet and from my own experience there’s no better way to see them than by taking on the legendary Harbour Bridge climb. Even considered a bucket list activity by Australians, the climb is one of those over the top (literally) activities that everyone really should experience at least once. Visitors ascend the mighty bridge in small groups, carefully harnessed to the steel rails at all times and from the top you’ll enjoy amazing views of Sydney’s famous landmarks. I’m not a fan of heights but not even I was bothered, that’s how well done the safety and overall experience really is. Treat yourself on your next trip to Sydney, you won’t regret it.
Tropical North Queensland
It’s hard not to enjoy yourself no matter where you are in Queensland, but I particularly enjoyed my time exploring the Tropical North – including Port Douglas and the surrounding areas. A big part of any travel experience in this lush part of Queensland is the remarkable Daintree Rainforest. The Daintree Rainforest is part of the UNESCO recognized wet tropics and is one of the oldest rainforests in the world. It’s a lush and adventurous place, where plants and animals found nowhere else in the world exist here in abundance, just as they have for millions of years. The forest has somehow survived for more than 135 million years, containing plant life that exists nowhere else on the planet; snacks once enjoyed by the dinosaurs. Australia is a continent of superlatives, a place of extremes and the Gondwana rainforests are one of the most beautiful examples of those extremes, a veritable walk back through time.
Train From Perth to Adelaide
I don’t think enough people consider an epic train ride to be a bucket list worthy experience, but for me it was. Granted, the opportunity to embark on an old-school, classic journey on board a train is shrinking in number, but there are still a few around the world that combine the luxury of another era with adventurous exploration, like the one I embarked on in Australia. The Indian-Pacific rail service onboard the Great Southern Rail explores the width of Australia in the most comfortable way possible. Crossing the mighty red continent from Perth to Sydney (or the reverse) takes several days and along the way passengers get to experience one of the few truly trans-continental train experiences in the world. We traveled in Platinum class, complete with a private cabin for our trip from Perth to Adelaide, the midway point for the service. Along the way we stopped at ghost towns and gold mining communities, not to mention the miles upon miles of beautiful Australian Outback in between. While the stops and views were great, chatting with our fellow passengers was perhaps the most entertaining part of the trip. It takes a special traveler to embark on such an epic train ride and their stories were all as unique as the train journey itself.
Driving Around the Northern Territory
No list of Australian experiences would be complete without adding one of its most famous sights, Uluru or as most Americans still call it, Ayers Rock. I’m not sure why this massive rock in the middle of the country’s Red Centre speaks to so many of us, but it does. It’s a siren call that demands answering. Sure, you can fly there but why not get to know the Red Centre properly by driving around it? Start in Alice Springs and rent the appropriate off-road or 4×4 vehicle and then start your epic journey along the shifting red sands of the Red Centre Way. There are sights along the way, and even places to spend the night, like at Kings Canyon known for its luxury hotel and epic hikes. It’s a fun way to reach Uluru and is one of those fantastic instances where getting there really is part of the fun.
My True Love Melbourne
I fell in love with Melbourne almost right away, something that rarely happens to me. I’m not sure why, but there’s just something special about this metropolitan hub that speaks to me in a way that not only other cities in Australia don’t, but few others around the world can even manage. There’s a lot to do here, from fascinating museums to food tours and of course the nightlife. To really feel like a local though, seek out the nearest laneway, order a flat white and just people watch for a few hours. I think you’ll soon fall under the city’s spell just as I did.
Investigating the Golden Outback
Western Australia is huge, half of the Australian Continent to be exact and to see everything would take years. But one place to consider is the so-called Golden Outback. A century ago, it was the city of Kalgoorlie and the region as a whole where thousands of people from around the world descended upon to strike it rich in the mines. The mines are still running and that feeling of exploration and adventure is also still alive and well. The best way to experience this region is by renting a truck and heading out into the great Outback. There are routes you can follow that take you along the Ghost Town Trail, sharing the Old West history of the region and providing some really interesting insights to the people who settled it. Along the way stop off at places like the Broad Arrow Tavern for a great burger and spend the night at the Hoover House, the unlikely former estate of the 31st President of the United States. Of course there’s also Lake Ballard, a normally dry lake that is also home to an unlikely art installation. In 2003, famed artist Antony Gormley created 51 statues along 4 square miles of the lake, each figure a scale representation of a nearby resident. It’s eerie, it’s unusual and it’s not to be missed. No matter what you decide to do in the Outback, make sure you expend the effort to visit.
Exploring the Great Barrier Reef
One of the primary reasons why I wanted to visit Queensland was to experience the Great Barrier Reef. It’s long been on my own travel bucket list, and even though I’d visited Australia a couple of times before, I never made it to the Reef. Luckily, the years of anticipation were worth it and seeing one of the world’s truly great natural wonders was everything it promised to be and more. I experienced the reef in a few different ways several times throughout my trip, it’s just that big, but my favorite way to enjoy the mighty reef was through a scuba dive. This wasn’t just any scuba dive though, it was my first attempt and I was pretty nervous. I love snorkeling, but the thought of breathing underwater freaked me out to be honest. It was a mental hang-up and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to shake it. But there I was, at the Great Barrier Reef and I figured if I was going to try it anywhere, that was the place. And I’m so glad I set aside my fears and gave it a chance. I traveled out to the Reef with the company Cruise Whitsundays, and their team of expert divers were all used to first-timers like me and showed more patience than I’ve seen any tour operator show in recent memory. It was thanks to their insistence and instruction that I was able to literally take the plunge, my fears instantly vanishing as soon as I was underwater. I’ve snorkeled all over the world, but the Great Barrier Reef is without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen. The sheer abundance of fish and coral in every color of the rainbow was extraordinary and I could’ve spent hours exploring it to new depths while scuba diving. This is just one of those once in a lifetime experiences that aren’t only nice to do, I think they are important to do.