Capable of winning over the most sceptical of travelling hearts, Australia is a land of savage beauty, big adventure and even bigger horizons. There are good reasons why it finds itself held up as one of the ultimate travel getaways, catering as it does for everyone from the most judicious luxury-seeker to the roughest-hewn backpacker. It has personality in spades. It has landscapes to die for. It has far more than its fair share of sunshine. And if beaches, rainforest and outback aren’t your thing, then its major cities are life-packed destinations in their own right.
In many ways the country breeds extremes. The fiery atmosphere of a gill-packed Aussie Rules match in Melbourne and the champagne-fuelled glitz of a Sydney Harbour cruise seem to belong to another planet entirely when compared to the quiet, epic expanses of the Red Centre and the glorious ocean-bashed coastlines of the west. Likewise, 40,000 years of aboriginal culture sometimes seem an unnatural bedfellow for the famed ‘no worries mate’ BBQ lifestyle of modern times. When taken as a whole, however, the sum of Australia’s quirks and contrasts makes it somewhere as fascinating as it is ferociously diverse.
Knowing where to go is arguably the toughest part. There are well-travelled paths, with Sydney and the east coast being a particularly popular choice, but when you’re faced with a country of this magnitude, potential itineraries are numberless. For the gastro-curious there are vineyards, food festivals, produce markets and local delicacies. For adrenaline nuts there are surf beaches, mountain trails, ski slopes and reef dives. Options are similarly plentiful for hedonists, families, wildlife-lovers and culture vultures. So when the tourist board controversially coined the slogan ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ a few years ago, it raised a fair point.
There are iconic Aussie clichés by the barrel-load (from cork hats, barbecues and koalas to crocodiles, cricketers and bush tucker) but the real beauty of the place lies in the stuff you’re not expecting. The sun-baked open road that suddenly unfurls to reveal a mile-wide panorama of green hills. The cold beer at an outback pub that turns into an evening-long chinwag with the locals. The stroll to the beach that throws up a street market, an open-air concert and an implausibly-hued sunset.
The size of the country (which comprises not only the mainland, of course, but also the not inconsiderable add-on of Tasmania) means that travellers can, and do, make numerous repeat visits. Taking in the whole destination on one trip is nigh impossible (unless you have a couple of years to spare), so it pays to focus on one region at a time. Like its increasingly celebrated food and wine, the country is best sampled unrushed. Set piece sights like the Opera House, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef might draw the majority of the headlines, but they represent the tiniest fraction of the overall appeal. A trip Down Under is now synonymous with escape, exploration and the promise of long-haul adventure – and it’s not easy to see that image changing anytime soon.