The Wonders of Oz
|Yellow Water Billabong in Australia's Top End (courtesy, Tourism Australia)|
Arrive in Sydney and conquer jet lag while exploring the city. Walk across the Harbour Bridge, hike along the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk, take a seaplane tour from Rose Bay to the north beaches, sail out of the headlands of Sydney Harbour, tempt your budget by shopping in downtown or the more urbane and edgy neighborhood of Newtown, ascend downtowns Sydney Square to the lounge for a drink in their revolving restaurant . If it gets too much, find a seaside café at Bondi or take a day tour of the vineyards in Hunter Valley.
Fly from Sydney to Darwin and hit the Deckchair Cinema on the beach for a film and a Victoria Bitter after watching the sun set, then dine in one of the citys many Thai or Indian restaurants before getting an early sleepyoull need it with your 7 a.m. departure for Kakadu National Park
Meet up with Wilderness 4WD Adventures and head to Kakadu, the countrys largest national park. Break up the drive with a cruise through the Corroberee Billabong, where five-meter crocodiles sun themselves on the banks beside a dizzying number avian and aquatic species. Then continue into Kakadu and spend the next three days exploring the vast parkland, from the Aboriginal art site of Ubirr and the natural zoo of Yellow Waters Billabong to Jim Jim and Twins waterfalls and the freshwater pools of Maguk (aka, Barramundi Gorge). Each night you camp under the stars, pitch in on cooking responsibilities, and wake to heady pastel sunrises. But pack your deetduring the Dry, the mossies (mosquitoes in Aussie-speak) can get downright cannibalistic.
Get back to Darwin by mid-evening and hop the shuttle to the airport for your flight to Alice Springs.
Wake up early and hook up with Wayoutback Desert Safaris for a small-group tour through Australias Red Centera three-day and two-night blitzkrieg from Alice Springs to Uluru, Kings Canyon, and the Olgas. While at Uluru, respect the Aboriginal owners request and circumnavigate the big rock rather than climb up it (youll get a better appreciation for the rocks diversity than those wannabe Edmund Hillarys). Each night will put you in remote bush campsites (a real feat, given the fleet of tour buses in the region) where you sleep in swags (Aussie bedrolls) under the stars, cook by campfire, and curse the fact that you forgot the marshmallows. If you go this route solo, tack on an extra day for backpacking off the tourist path in Kings Canyon, camp overnight, and descend into the canyons Garden of Eden in the early a.m.
Return to Alice Springs and wash the red sand from your hair before exploring the city. The bar scene may leave something to be desired (read: loads of drunk Brits on holiday), but its a prime spot for sampling some Aussie game dishes. The next day, educate yourself at the Desert Park, the Aboriginal Art and Cultural Center, or the Telegraph Station (which details the history of Alice, and gives you an insight into the troubled past of the Aborigine peoples). Depart in the evening for Cairns.
Arrive in Cairns, hop in your rental car, and tear out of the city into the Atherton Tablelands, a stunning landscape of rolling hills, farms, waterfalls, and rivers about an hours drive up a hilly road from the Queensland metropolis. Hit the Waterfall Circuit while driving, or arrange with Dans Mountain Bikes (www.cairns.aust.com/mtb/) in Cairns to retrace the UCI World Mountain Bike Championship course. Overnight in a quaint cottage in Yungaburra.
Head out of the Tablelands toward Cape Tribulation and the Daintree, a swath of rainforest 16 times older than the Amazon. Once in the Daintree, stop off for a few hours at the Discovery Centerif you had four months you wouldnt understand the complex ecology of the Daintree, but this will give you a good intro. Spend the next few days scuba diving or snorkeling at Mackay Reef or joining one of the many outfitted adventures in and around the Daintreedeep-sea fishing, sea kayaking, 4x4 drives to waterfalls, and educational hikes are just a few possibilities. Time your return trip to Cairns so that you can catch the dwindling daylight as you drive from the rainforest through fields of sugar cane and bananas to the serpentine coastline of central Queensland. Once in Cairns, take advantage of the cheesy gift shops and copious ethnic restaurants. Fly to Sydney in the morning.
Hang out in Darlinghurst, a hip hood in Sydney near Kings Cross and the red-light district and get your fill of urban indulgence before boarding the train for a two-hour train ride out to the World-Heritage-listed Blue Mountains.
Spend two days in the relaxed comfort of dense foliage, copious bird life, sheer sandstone cliffs, and miles and miles of bushwalking trails. Hike during the day with Aboriginal guides, jump off 60-meter cliffs with High n Wild, dine in one of the charming restaurants, and try to forget the fact that you fly back to real life in less than 48 hours.
Return to Sydney for one more night of urban leisure before catching your return flight.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication