A Weekend in Wollongong

Guest blogger: Olivia Bourke

The South Coast of New South Wales is considerably underrated when it comes to weekend getaways. Great beaches, extraordinary national parks and lots of wildlife, this makes for the perfect way to escape the city lifestyle.

Also known as the gateway to the South Coast located just south of Sydney, Wollongong is the perfect place for a weekend away.

Saturday | 9 am

If you are traveling to Wollongong from Sydney you absolutely must go via the Grand Pacific Drive, a spectacular route following the coastline through the Royal National Park.

Once you arrive in Wollongong it’s the perfect time to grab some breakfast. We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so you want to make sure you grab something delicious ahead of your big day exploring all that Wollongong has to offer.

Head down to The Green Room City Beach cafe for a delicious beach side breakfast. Located along South Beach, you’ll be able to sip your coffee whilst listening to the waves crash on the shore.

There are plenty of options in terms of breakfast, a little something for everyone but I highly recommend getting your lips around their famous bacon and egg roll. This breakfast delight is made up of two eggs, bacon, tomato, chili jam, cheese and rouquette - a must for all burger lovers.

Saturday  |  11 am

After you’ve indulged in breakfast with a view, head to the Wollongong Art Gallery for a culture fix. The leading regional art gallery has many different exhibits, and a constantly changing events calendar for plenty to see and do.

Spend an hour or two admiring the permanent art collection of Aboriginal, Asian, colonial and Contemporary artworks and learning about the history of the area.

Saturday  | 1 pm

Next up you’re heading to the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere, Nan Tien Temple. You can just simply visit for a couple of hours, or you can choose to stay here for the duration of your trip at Pilgrim Lodge.

At Nan Tien Temple there is plenty to see and do, so make sure you plan your time here. I would recommend staying for at least two or three hours. Your afternoon will be filled with grand architecture, culture, art and many different exhibits that explore Buddhist festivals, vegetarian and vegan food options, health and lifestyle retreats and educational classes.

Check out the Dew Drop Inn for lunch and grab one of the delicious vegan options. There’s lots to taste, but apparently one of the most popular dishes is the veggie mince and ham noodle soup. Perfect to warm you up during the winter months.

Saturday | 7 pm

You’ve worked up an appetite after a big day of playing tourist, so it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy some great food. It’s a Saturday night so there’s a lot happening in and around Wollongong.

If you are after some fine dining then look no further than Caveau. The Sydney Morning Herald Food Guide has awarded this popular South Coast restaurant with a ‘hat’ and has continued to do so every year since 2005.

Mixing French culinary techniques with local produce, the staff at Caveau aim to provide quality fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere at reasonable prices. It’s highly recommended that you try the seven-course degustation menu, that way you can sample multiple dishes in one sitting.

Sunday | 9 am

This morning you are heading just out of the city in order to devour yet another great meal on your weekend away at The Shack Cafe Thirroul. Whether you're interested in a green smoothie or a black coffee, The Shack Cafe has something to fulfill everyone’s morning routine.

If you decide to bring the kids along, there is a little something to satisfy their sweet tooth. Grab them the waffles with homemade berry coulis and cream or a milkshake to get them on board.

It is Sunday, so you might have spent the morning rugged up under the covers and that's okay! Luckily for you, you can grab a muesli and yoghurt to go with your take away coffee from The Shack Cafe!

Sunday | 11 am

If you’re feeling a little sluggish after all that food then perhaps a little physical activity will get you going. Make your way to the Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures to have a fun and exciting morning at one of Australia’s best treetop walk and zipline experiences.

You’ll need a little over 2 hours here to completely immerse yourself in all it has to offer. With great views, a visitors centre, a cafe and guided tours, this could be perfect for the whole family.

Experience the 1.5 km return walk that includes a steel walkway, swaying cantilevered arms and a central tower, all 50 metres above the ground. From here you’ll able to see the most spectacular views.

Sunday |  3 pm

All that ziplining and adventuring amongst the trees must have got you a little thirsty. Not to worry the next stop is the Illawarra Brewery, a bar and grill opposite Wollongong’s City Beach perfect for winding down after a big weekend.

As the name suggests, the brewery offers a large selection of hand crafted beers, most of them brewed locally. So take a seat outside or inside depending on the weather, relax and get taste testing.

After a couple of local beers, grab a bite to eat from the grill. This family friendly venue has plenty to choose from, specializing in modern Australian cuisine. There is a menu full of all time favorites, you’ll find the perfect meal to sit and enjoy the last few moments of your weekend.

 

About The Author

I'm Olivia, an adventurous traveler who just wants to explore all the world has to offer. I'm an American who has slowly made my way to the beautiful land down under, Australia and I'm loving every minute of exploring this ever so scenic country, one state at a time. With my feet moving and my fingers typing, I love sharing all the gems that I discover with the world so they can enjoy them as well!

Luxury Lodges of Australia : An Introduction

A visit to Australia is about more than just the natural beauty of the country. It’s not just the cosmopolitan cities, white beaches, mountains, ancient rainforests and ochre-red outback, but as an integral part of the trip, Australia also excels in the quality of hospitality.

Traveling down under can create an intense connection with the surroundings ... and with your soul.

If it’s about relaxation in high-end accommodations with exquisite food and wine you're all over, then Luxury Lodges of Australia, can fulfill ALL of your expectations as here the priority is always you. 

The portfolio comprises a collection of nineteen top-tier lodges as diverse as the country itself. Located in premium locations, these environmentally-sensitive lodges with spectacular backdrops can be found throughout the length and breadth of the Aussie map, and all come with a commitment to five-star experience.

Most of the lodges are easily reached from major Australian cities, making them a 'must consider' inclusion into a wider holiday itinerary. 

New South Wales alone possess three exciting options. Less than three hours by road from Sydney is the Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, sitting beneath soaring cliffs and two national parks.

Even closer to Sydney is the serene Pretty Beach House, a spa retreat with sublime food and offering just four exclusive pavilions – best reached by seaplane. Even more dramatically situated is Capella Lodge, on Lord Howe Island.

For visitors to Victoria, there’s the prospect of spending time at the secluded Lake House - a multi-award-winning property on the shores of Lake Daylesford.

The choices continue in South Australia with Southern Ocean Lodge that combines a show-stopping location on Kangaroo Island with twenty one ocean-view luxury suites and guided wildlife touring options – not to mention a first-rate selection of wines.

Moving back to the mainland is The Louise, a gorgeous design-hotel and spectacular restaurant in the heart of the world-famous Barossa Valley wine region, and an outback resort, the ultra-exclusive Arkaba with 10,000 hectares of land in the Flinders Ranges. However, it welcomes only ten guests at one time.

Queensland has no less than five lodges in the portfolio. The Sunshine State is home to tropical island retreats Qualia and Lizard Island, both set right on the Great Barrier Reef.

Meanwhile, the mainland offers Silky Oaks Lodge, with high-end tree-house accommodation right in the Daintree Rainforest, the lavish Crystalbrook Lodge, perched over a lake, and Spicers Peak Lodge, a mountain getaway set in 8,000 acres of private conservation land in Main Range National Park.

[Read Our Previous Blog on The Great Alpine Road Drive : Leg 2]

Equally jaw-dropping are the lodge options in Western Australia. Closest to Perth is Cape Lodge, a country estate in the Margaret River region, while further north, close to the Ningaloo Reef, Sal Salis is a deluxe ecotourism bush camp with nine wilderness tents.

Make your way further north to the Kimberley Region, and set in untamed wilderness is a five-star clifftop homestead, El Questro, while a unique 18-cabin adventure cruise ship True North will take you to sail the rivers and gorges of the NW coastline in serious style.

With any of Luxury Lodges of Australia's properties, you’re certainly guaranteed an Aussie experience to be cherished for the rest of your life. We’ll be discussing all details about how you can take full advantage of these nineteen Luxury Lodges of Australia in subsequent blogs.

Stay tuned!!

The Great Alpine Road Drive : Leg 2

We talked about the first leg (The Great Alpine Road Drive : Leg 1) of this great road trip in our previous blog. In this blog, you’ll discover more of the Great Alpine Road, waiting to surprise you in the most pleasant way.

The name of this spectacular road trip actually comes from this second leg that travels from leafy Bright straight towards the alpine area and the historic town of Omeo.

Leg Two :- The Great Alpine Road

Bright to Omeo

Time to go upwards

Pull yourself from colors of Bright and ascend along the Great Alpine Road that’ll take you to the charming Harrietville and Mount Hotham. As you head upward the landscape changes from alpine ash to snow gum forest and heathland.

Mount Hotham is Victoria's highest alpine village offering 500 acres of ski area. It offers a wide selection of downhill and cross-country trails perfect for beginners as well as experienced skiers and snowboarders.

On Mount Hotham, you can trek along fields of wildflowers, or go horse riding, or fishing. Take in the spectacular views of Mount Feathertop, (the second-highest mountain in the state), over the Alpine National Park. On a clear day you can see as far as Falls Creek and Mount Buffalo. Follow the Razorback Trail, to take you along the exposed ridges that leads to the summit of Mount Feathertop.

Less than 10-miles south of Mount Hotham is the Dinner Plain which is a popular center for horseback trail rides in summer, and cross-country skiing in winter.

What goes up must come down.

As the landscape changes from alpine ash to lush grazing fields, you know it’s time to descend to the old gold town of Omeo. Once the site of one of Victoria's richest goldfields, Omeo will quickly win you over with vistas of snowy mountains over green fields.

Omeo to Metung

Travel temptations

Go further south following the Great Alpine Road to small towns of Swifts Creek and Ensay, with a contemporary passion for freshly baked goods, just-picked fruit, and local wines, and then onto Bairnsdale.

Now it’s time to explore the spectacular Gippsland Lakes.

Past Bairsnsdale drive towards Metung, a starting point for exploring the Gippsland Lakes.

Next is Bruthen, a small rustic village overlooking the Tambo River with its very own brewery ... be sure to get refreshed by an energizing ale before you leave to explore any further. Departing from Bruthen, drive towards NowaNowa and Lakes Entrance and watch the daily catch being unloaded ... or cast a line yourself.

Lively Bairnsdale

Bairnsdale would be your last stop before Metung. It has everything that you need to sustain you for some time. On the banks of the Mitchell River, Bairnsdale was originally settled as an inland port.

In Bairnsdale you can attend a musical and sporting event, or enhance your hunger for further exploration of the impressive Gippsland Lakes network by roving the Mitchell River silt jetties that extend five miles into nearby Lake King.

Explore the Majestic Lakes

The Gippsland Lakes system happens to be the biggest expanse of inland waterways in the southern hemisphere. With five main lakes, fed by the waters of four major rivers, and with over 400 square kilometres of lakesand lagoons have made this region an ideal location for all forms of water based fun and sport, and an exceptional fishing spot.

With that you're off to Metung, a picturesque village on the shores of Bancroft Bay and Lake King. The Great Alpine Road trip ends in Metung. Check out the harborside restaurants that serve fabulous local seafood and wine, spend a day in a relaxed pace by floating around in a boat or take a stroll along the water's edge admiring the sunset.

Side trips

Alternate route from Bright

An alternative route turns off at Bright and continues to the Tawonga Gap, Mt Beauty, Bogong, Falls Creek and across the Bogong High Plains, then joins to Anglers Rest and Omeo. This road remains closed in winter. This road will amaze you with breath-taking views of historic cattleman’s huts, before connecting with the Omeo Highway to descend into Omeo.

[Read Our Previous Blog on The Great Alpine Road Drive : Leg 1]

Bogong Alpine Way

Bogong High Plains Road loops through Bright, Mount Beauty, Bogong, Falls Creek, Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham and back to Bright. This loop drive can amaze you with scenery like nothing else. We can bet that you’ll spend the rest of your life admiring every single sight from this loop drive.

Buchan Caves Reserve worth a stop

From Bruthen a scenic 20-minute drive takes you to Buchan, the gateway to the Buchan Caves Reserve that offers camping, bushwalking and wildlife spotting. Inside the caves you’ll find spectacular limestone formations. Guided tours take you for an easy walk through these ancient caverns, exploring beautiful calcite-rimmed pools. On a hot summer take a plunge in the underground, spring fed Buchan Caves Reserve pool, with the purest water you can imagine.

Take a Detour to Cassillis

An alternative route from Omeo to Bairnsdale is through Cassillis, a small town that was once a thriving mining community. Explore the picturesque valley on foot and see relics of the gold-mining era, including the unmissable Oriental Claims walking trails, the Cassilis Cemetery and the old goldmine.

The Great Alpine Road Drive : Leg 1

The Great Alpine Road is believed to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. The 339-kilometer adventure along Australia's highest year-round accessible sealed road takes you close to Victoria's diverse landscapes. Drive through lofty mountain ranges, down plunging valleys, into lush forests, and past rolling vineyards along the way to the sparkling waterways on Gippsland's coast. Dine on fresh local produce and award winning cool climate wines, or catch your own lunch with a fishing line in a mountain stream or lake as you go.

Whatever the season, you'll be sure of breath-taking views, outstanding scenery and warm welcomes in the villages along the way.

We’ll discuss the possibilities of this road trip in two legs so that you can make the most out it.

Leg one:- The Great Alpine Road

Wangaratta to Bright (76 km/47 miles, about 1 hour)

Start your trip of the Great Alpine Road in friendly Wangaratta, with its beautiful gardens, period homes and love of music. If you are a music lover, then time your visit for the annual November jazz festival, when the city really kicks up.

Time to Make Mouth-watering Memories

Without wasting any time get acquainted with the fine wine and local produce in the valleys of this northern side of the Great Alpine Road, also consider the spectacular scenery with crisp mountain air.

At Milawa, stop over at the celebrated Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre and Cellar Door, and sample your way through Milawa Cheese Factory. The historic Rutherglen, famous for its muscats and fortifieds, has been revamped with new life as these bold young winemakers pour new life into it.

Take a detour to Beechworth, a village built on the wealth of the gold rush of the 1800s, exploring the historic honey granite buildings. To get a taste of Beechworth's booming food and wine scene, try for a reservation at the much-admired Provenance. Otherwise, you can also munch on pizza and sip on beer at famous Bridge Road Brewers.

Adventuring in the Alpine

Travel onwards to Mount Buffalo National Park and get stunned by its unique rock formations. A gentle walk takes in waterfalls, granite formations and lookouts with great views of the Australian Alps. you can be more extreme by heading out on horseback or by hiring a bicycle. Rock climbers will be in their element at the summit of Mount Buffalo. This is also popular for cross-country or downhill skiing in winter.

Ending the Leg

This leg ends at Bright, a beautiful town on the Ovens River, filled with grand deciduous trees that are breathtaking in autumn. Mark the first stage of your drive with a memorable meal at Simone's, one of Victoria's most celebrated restaurants.

[Read Our Previous Blog on Driving The Great Ocean Road ]

Side trips along Great Alpine Road

Golden Heritage Drive

From Wangaratta to Tarrawingee, you'll take in Tarrawingee's historic buildings, including St Peter's church, the Plough Inn and Carinya House. Then turn to Beechworth and Wooragee to see the 30-plus beautifully preserved National Trust-classified buildings and places of significance to the legend of bushranger Ned Kelly. On your way towards Yackandandah and Myrtleford, walk the tree lined streets of Yackandandah with its stately Victorian architecture.

Gourmet Food and Wine Drive

From Wangaratta drive towards Milawa via Oxley, at the heart of the famed Milawa Gourmet Region. Here you can taste fine wines at cellar doors, including the renowned Mediterranean styles of the nearby King Valley. Sample outstanding local produce, experience the hospitality of award-winning country hotels and fine dining restaurants. Don’t forget to pull over at farm gates to stock up on seasonal bounty. From here you can loop back to Wangaratta or move on to Myrtleford and beyond.

Mount Buffalo Drive

From Myrtleford, drive 24 km along B500 towards Porepunkah. Break your journey with a tasty pub meal at the Ovens Hotel, serving tourists since 1854. Then move to C535 to Mount Buffalo for the top of Mount Buffalo Gorge to have fantastic views of the High Country and the Alps. You can also follow numerous walking tracks for even more majestic panoramas. In winter, get the adrenaline pumping by hiring cross country or downhill skis. The summers are for getting daring by indulging yourself into adventure activities, such as micro lighting, paragliding and hang gliding.

Tips for Saving $ 'Down-Under' : Part 2

In the previous blog we suggested 5 ways to save money while travelling in Australia. Here we've jotted down five more ways to make the most of your dollars.

[Read our previous blog : Tips for Saving $ 'Down-Under' : Part 1]

6. Consider sharing a ride on a long road trip :

From Alice Springs to Darwin, a 3-day journey of 1,000 miles can cost you only $60 per head if you share your ride using Gumtree or Coseats. Many tourists and locals share their ride to save on fuel costs ... and for fun conversation on the way.

BTW, if you're getting your own transport try to plan ahead and get the tanks full on Wednesday, as the price of fuel seems lowest mid-week. On weekends fuel prices creep up due to demand.

7. Look for free internet :

Budget-conscious travelers may find fast internet painfully expensive in Australia, and the network frustratingly slow. If you don't mind 'getting-what-you-pay-for', head towards the nearest library or McDonalds for free Wi-Fi . Telstra also offers public hotspots in many town centres across the country ... now including both Darwin and Noosa. Be aware that public WiFi is not secure, and 'free' networks often come with time or download restrictions. 

Telstra customers can get this Wi-Fi access for 'free' by purchasing a pre-paid SIM. Packages start from $30 AUD per month.

8. Try drinking Goon :

The infamous Goon or box wine is the best way to get a cheap buzz. A 'box' of goon typically costs $13 AUD.

If you're going to a restaurant, check if they allow outside drink. In many restaurants, you can bring your own drink.

9. Book your tours as a package :

Booking trip activities as a part of a package may get you discounts. While booking activities individually may make them private ... it may cost you more.

10. Refill your water bottle :

Tap water is clean and safe to drink in Australia. So instead of spending 2-3 AUD for each bottle, refill the existing one from nearby public taps. You'll also 'do-your-bit' for the environment.

Tips for Saving $ 'Down-Under' : Part 1

It's an undeniable fact that Australia can be an expensive place in which to travel. Locals will tell you that it’s an expensive country to live too - even if you're a full-time employee. However, despite its posh culture, around 6 million tourists visit Australia every year - a large number considering the Australian population is only 23 million.

While Australia maybe different in terms of number of regulations, high cost-of-living, first world status, and levels of development, the land 'down-under' is still a wild and incredible place to make your vacation a memorable one.

In this article, we’ve listed a few ways to save money while travelling in Australia. With these easy ways at your fingertips, you can be rest assured that you can make the most of your time and money - esp. if you're on an 'extended' trip.

1. Cook your own food:

Food is something that you can’t avoid at least 3 times a day. Food prices here might seem extortionate compared to other countries, still there are ways you can save a few bucks. The easiest way is to buy groceries and cook at your convenience. Usually dinner is costlier than lunch.

Try restaurants that are located 'off-the-beaten-track' as restaurants in prime tourist locations can be pricey.

BTW, if you really want to splash, plan ahead, as on Tuesdays many restaurants, and cafes have special deals. You’ll get set meals for as little as $10 AUD. So, plan your evenings out on Tuesday to save money without missing out much.

2. Sign-up for a Gumtree account:

Everything from where to stay, giving or taking a lift, buying or selling items from surfboards to cars, you’ll need a Gumtree account. It really helps. As soon as you get to Australia, get an account and use it as a duct tape.

3. Try to shop at farmers-markets and save the receipts of supermarkets:

Due to lack of competition, supermarkets can be a bit expensive, but at farmers markets you can bag yourself a cheaper load of veggies. Almost all towns have markets full of independent traders who sell local harvest at least once a week. For example, Noosa Farmer’s Market, held every Sunday is a favorite and firm hit with residents and tourists alike. So, go on and bag a bargain helping the local community at the same time.

Moreover, if you shop at supermarkets like Woolworths and Coles, don't throw away the receipts. You’ll get a discount voucher for their requisite fuel or liquor supplier with every $30 spent. So, its worth holding onto the receipts to grab a deal.

4. Try to explore the national parks as much as possible:

Australia has hundreds of national parks and state forests across the country that offer an array of free activities like hiking, fishing, picnicking. Many national parks have basic and cheap camping facilities ranging from free to $20 per night. The camp sites can be booked through the state park authority by phone or online.

Our favorites include Cape Range National Park, Whitsundays National Park, Kakudu National Park, Carnarvon Gorge National Park, and Boodjamulla National Park. All you need is your own transport and a good number of provisions. Most of the campsites have cheap but top notch facilities like picnic areas, BBQ spots, drinking water and even showers.

[Our previous blog : Top 10 Marine Encounters 'Down-Under' : Part 2]

5. Use Travelcard for transportation:

In city transportation, cost can be saved by using travelcards. Travelcards are the cheapest way to travel in the city using public transport. In Sydney you can use tap-on/tap-off OpalCards, in Melbourne  it's called Myki, in Perth it’s the Smart Rider and in Brisbane its Translink, whatever city you visit, using these pre-paid travelcards can give you discounted rides.

5 more tips on saving money are coming on the next blog (PART 2) ... Visit Us again.

Top 10 Marine Encounters 'Down-Under' : Part 2

In our previous blog, we listed five thrilling marine encounters you can experience while holidaying in Australia. Here are five more: 

You'll be mesmerized by the intensity of the adventures and, unlike safaris where the action may be going on at a distance, here you’ll certainly be part of it.

1.  Cage-diving with great white sharks: Neptune Islands, South Australia

Apparently, being in the water while two 4.5-meter sharks buffet the metal cage in which you stand, can be the most adrenaline-flooded fifteen minutes of your life. You’ll emerge with nothing but admiration for this key-stone predator's power ... and returning divers to the Neptune Islands, are encouraged by the increasingly healthy population of great whites.

There are many great operators that run cage-diving expeditions from Port Lincoln, with 2-night trips from $1,395.

2.  Swimming with dwarf minke whales: Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

This expedition is only possible during a very narrow window in June and July each year. Only one operator, Eye to Eye Marine Encounters, operates 4-6 day expeditions that include swimming with dwarf minke whales.  During this trip, you’ll also have time to explore the northern Great Barrier Reef, Cooktown and Lizard Island, diving and snorkeling some of the least spoiled parts of the reef. 

However, the star attractions are obviously the inquisitive dwarf minke whales that tend to gather in groups of up to 15 around swimmers holding onto a "Minke Line" at the back of the boat. Interacting with these giant creatures up-close is a once-in-lifetime opportunity.

Eye to Eye Marine Encounters offers four dwarf minke whales trips in June/July that cost from $2,950.

3. Diving with manta rays: Stradbroke Island, Queensland

There is no more graceful sight than that of manta rays gliding through the ocean ... and diving off Stradbroke Island is like being in the midst of a manta ballet.  During their November to March migration, just a 10-minute boat ride from Straddie, is a 'manta ray cleaning station'. As the rays hover in clear 35' water, small fish rid them of parasites, and divers and snorkelers can get a great, close-up vision of the giants. Kneeling in the shadow of a manta and looking up at its 10' wingspan can certainly form an engrained memory.

Double dives start at $131 and snorkelling from $35.

[Read the Previous Blog : Top 10 Big Marine Creature Encounter Down-Under Part 1]

4. Diving with leafy sea-dragons: Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Appearing like something out of medieval legend, yet as tiny and fragile as tissue wafting in the swell, the leafy sea dragon is a touching sight.  An encounter with one, on Kangaroo Island, will remain etched in memory, in spite of the sea dragon’s leafy camouflage making it hard to find among the seaweed.

Single guided dives start from $140.

5. Swimming with blue-fin tuna: Port Lincoln, South Australia

Swimming with 60-odd tuna inside a 40' deep show pen anchored in Boston Bay has become one of South Australia's must-do experiences.  If it's not a big enough thrill to swim among juvenile bluefin tuna reaching speeds of 40 mph, for an even more heart pounding experience, apparently you can hand-feed them sardines ... trusting of course that the 30-kilo fish don't clatter into you.

This tuna encounter will cost you around $90 for adults and for $60 for kids.

Top 10 Marine Encounters 'Down-Under' : Part 1

snorkelingwithwhalesharks

Personally, I'd pay you a lot of money NOT to swim with anything larger than me ... but there are many travelers who do not share my view.

Whether it be discovering a secret food and wine trail, taking a memorable road trip, enjoying a music tour ... or meeting some of the planet’s largest creatures, being surrounded by oceans, Australia offers some of the best opportunities to encounter stunning marine life.

In any up-close meeting with marine life, using a tour operator capable of delivering memorable (and safe) experiences is very important. 

In this two part blog, we’ll be talking about the 'where' and 'when' of marine creature encounters that you can experience 'down under'.

1. Snorkelling with Whale Sharks: Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

Your first encounter with whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef is a heart-jolting moment.  If you wish to be dropped into the path of an open mouthed whale shark, all you need to do is travel to Ningaloo Reef ... oh, and have a strong and healthy heart.

Ningaloo's whale shark season runs from April to July, and Exmouth-based tour operators use spotter planes to ensure success.

King's Ningaloo Reef day-tours cost $385 for adults, and $270 for children.

2. Swimming with Humpback Whales: Hervey Bay, Queensland

Hervey Bay is a resting place for mothers and calves on their migration south. Only one operator has permission from National Parks to offer a 'swim-with- humpbacks' experience. It's available for an additional $75 on whale watching trips and relies on a combination of curious humpbacks circling the boat and suitable sea conditions.

Even if you're unable to get into the water it's very difficult to be disappointed when you get within touching distance of huge humpbacks as they pass under the boat.

Quick Cat II whale watching tours run daily from Hervey Bay and Kingfisher Bay resort, between August and late October, from $110 for adults and $70 for children.

3. Swimming with Sea Lions: Baird Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

It's difficult to beat the sheer joy of swimming with the ocean's cutest combination of a puppy and a kitten. It’s hard not to giggle when you are in the water with a dark-eyed, whiskery snouted juvenile performing aquatic acrobatics. Moreover, it’s privilege to swim with these endangered species with a population of only fifteen thousand.

The tour often also includes a swim with bottlenose dolphins and plenty of time in the shallow, protected waters inside Jones Island playing with sea lions.

The tours cost around $150 for adults, $75 for children. 

[Read Our Previous Blog : Great Barrier Reef Drive]

4. Diving with Grey Nurse Sharks: Seal Rocks, New South Wales

While fierce-looking with a stack-full of gnarly, twisted teeth, the grey nurse sharks are harmless. They aggregate at a few locations along the eastern shores, including Seal Rocks, near Forster on the NSW mid-north coast. It's not uncommon to see around 50-60 grey nurse sharks in one underwater trench beside submerged boulders.  The tour in double boat dives at Seal Rocks will cost $120-$180. 

5. Swimming with Bottlenose Dolphins: Nelson Bay, NSW

With all other heart-boggling possibilities around the shores, one can easily underestimate the exhilaration of swimming with wild dolphins.  But we bet that you’ll always remember your first swim with bottlenose dolphins in Nelson Bay.

We'd call them the most amusing marine creature ... and they'll leave you astounded by their amazing friendly interaction. You're bound to feel part of their pod as they zip through the ocean, riding the waves and emitting loud, joyful squeaks and clicks underwater.

Tours run between September and May, in Port Stephens Marine Park, from $289.                                                                  

... to be continued

Great Barrier Reef Drive

Embracing two World Heritage areas, the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef Drive is an envious rival of the Great Ocean Road drive. The drive is just 80 miles long that you can take a full-day exploring ... or stop over in a few places to make it a week-long drive. The choice is yours. But make sure that you don’t run out of time, as Cape Tribulation is the crown of this majestic drive and you need 3-4 days just to explore all it has to offer.

Here’s route map that you can follow however long you choose;

Cairns to Cape Tribulation

Distance 140 km Time 2 h 38 min

Start from Cairns heading north across the Barron River to the stunning beaches of Trinity Beach, Palm Cove and Ellis Beach. Then drive along the edge of the Coral Sea to Port Douglas, an ideal place for cruising to the Great Barrier Reef.

Port Douglas is also the gateway to the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, the Daintree. Cross the Daintree River on the cable ferry for a leisurely drive through ancient rainforest, as you wind your way past pretty beaches to Cape Tribulation where the rainforest meets the reef. Head north to the beautiful Mossman Gorge to discover the Kuku Yalanji people. Take a crocodile spotting tour, fish for barramundi, follow a food trail, or marvel at the incredible birdlife. Turn your journey into a rainforest adventure.

Palm Cove to Port Douglas

Distance 43 km Time 42 min

To the north of Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas are cosmopolitan beachside villages linked by a spectacular section of the Great Barrier Reef Drive. With its long sandy beach lapped by the Coral Sea and a backdrop of rainforest-clad mountains, Palm Cove has the perfect setting for an intimate getaway. Everything is within walking distance in this friendly village.

Driving north pass through pretty Ellis Beach. Stop at a deserted beach along the Rex Lookout for an incredible 180-degree view of the Coral Sea that just begs a photograph.

Port Douglas is known as the place where A-list celebrities escape. This village has an eclectic range of restaurants, great boutiques and the iconic Four Mile Beach.

Port Douglas to Daintree village

Distance 55 km Time 47 min

The Port Douglas and Daintree region is the traditional country of the Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people who call the Wet Tropical Rainforest their home for a thousand years.

To the south is the Mossman Gorge with steep mountains, thick with rainforest where the Mossman River is dipping over the Gorge’s gigantic granite boulders that makes clear freshwater swimming holes. 

[Our Previous Blog : What Are 5 Common Characteristics Of Travelers To Australia?]

Daintree village to Cape Tribulation

Distance 48 km Time 1 h 15 min

The picturesque township of Daintree Village is famous for the resident saltwater crocodiles that live on Daintree river-banks. You can try to find Scarface, Fat Albert or Gummy on cruises that depart regularly. If you are inclined to eat croc-meat, try a croc burger or croc san choy bow at one of the cafes.

Further, venture over the river on the cable ferry exploring the Daintree region. On this journey through the world’s oldest tropical rainforest see an endangered cassowary, be dwarfed by an ancient king fern or swim in a clear freshwater creek.

It's an awesome experience to march straight to the beach from the rainforest, at Cape Tribulation. Explore the coastal reef by kayak spotting turtles and dugongs, enjoy a night tour watching nocturnal animals by flying through the rainforest awning on a flying fox.

Things you’ll see on The Great Barrier Reef Drive:

·         The Great Barrier Reef

·         The Daintree Rainforest

·         The endangered cassowary

·         Lots of stunning beaches

·         huge salt water crocodiles

[More on GBR : 10 Ways To Indulge And Explore The Great Barrier Reef]

What are 5 common characteristics of travelers to Australia?

Without any doubt, potential travelers first develop a bond with the country to which they will travel.

That said, every traveler is unique ... and then very particular about their travel experiences in Australia.

Admittedly, based on anecdotal experience with our North American clients, five common characteristics applying to leisure travelers to Australia (... beyond carrying a passport):

1. They’re generally experienced international travelers. i.e. Australia tends NOT to be their first travel foray.

2. What makes client itineraries so similar is that all travelers are so different. While climbing Sydney’s Harbor Bridge, marveling at the Opera House, shopping and dining in Melbourne, diving the Great Barrier Reef, enjoying an Uluru Sounds of Silence outback dinner, savoring South Australia, indulging Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and Western Australia get plenty of well-deserved play, what makes all itineraries so similar, is that they’re all so different!  

Specific requests as diverse as ‘… can we abseil in the Blue Mountains? …’ to ‘… can I experience the Great Barrier Reef without getting my hair wet? …’ attest to the differences. (BTW, the answers to both questions are YES, and YES).

3. Most clients are very well informed, and know what they want. However, a common complaint is that while online information maybe very plentiful, accessing seemingly unbiased info is now akin to ‘drinking-from-a-fire-hose’.

4. Most travelers are open to experiences we may suggest. Many look for unique itineraries and won’t hesitate to plan 'outside-the-box'.

5. Primary motivations are unique. Some travelers wish to relax at the beach, some come for a musical tour, some to indulge in food and wine, some to experience adventure and wildlife ...

[Also Read : Should I Include New Zealand In My 'Down-Under' Itinerary ? ]

Self-drive Tasmania

Tasmania or "Tassie" as it’s fondly known, is an inverted leafy triangle just a few hundred miles tall and not much wider across the top on the Australian map. But for those planning a road trip of Tasmania, appearances can be deceiving. Down amidst the greenery, there are very few straight roads, most are two lanes wide – untameable wilderness, and mysterious beauty.

A self-drive road trip takes longer than you may think, but, with a bit of planning, you can experience the very best of the island state on a tight schedule. Here’s our version of a classic Tasmania road trip guide to encourage you to this premier Australian tourism destination.

Some facts about Tasmania:

·         Tasmania is the most mountainous state of Australia.

·         Over 45% of Tasmania is considered National Park.

·         Tasmania is comparable to Ireland in size.

·         Tasmania proves true the saying “Four seasons in a day”.

·         Tasmania has the cleanest air in world.

·         Most of population of Tasmania resides in the South East and North coasts

Getting around Tassie:

There are no passenger trains on the island, and internal flights can make a-hole-in-your-pocket. While buses link the main centers, a self-drive road trip is a great way to go.

Don’t miss:

·         Bay of Fires on the NE coast

·         Bridestowe Lavender Estate

·         Cataract Gorge

·         Cradle Mountain

·         Freycinet Peninsula

·         Wineglass Bay

·         Gordon River

·         Hastings Caves

·         Mole Creek Karst

·         MONA

·         Salamanca Place (Market on Saturdays only)

·         Stanley Nut

·         Tahune Forest Airwalk

·         Mt Wellington

Hobart

Hobart, the Tasmanian capital, is the best place to begin this self-driving tour - we'll head counter-clockwise.

Before heading off, don’t miss checking out Hobart's waterfront and Salamanca Market, and enjoy a beer at the iconic Knopwood’s Retreat. Go to the Cascade Brewery, drive to the top of Mt Wellington, and visit MONA (Museum of Old & New Art), a world-class art institution that’ll leave you spellbound.

The peninsula is a beautiful place, with excellent walks by sheer sea cliffs, wild surf beaches -  and potential encounters with the native Tasmanian Devils!

Hobart to Port Arthur – During the drive to Port Arthur's historic convict colony via Dover, stop at the Colonial and Convict Exhibition at Copping, the superb beaches at Pirates Bay and Crescent Bay, don’t miss the Tahune air walk, and the Hastings caves.

Port Arthur to Freycinet – On your way towards Freycinet enjoy Coles Bay with its picturesque scenery and beaches. Don’t miss the Freycinet National Park, or Wineglass Bay ... have a camera with you!

Freycinet to Launceston– Toward Launceston, stop at Fingal Valley and Elephant Pass. Also, visit the beautifully restored 19th century Clarendon House in the historic town of Evandale. BTW, its Sunday morning market is very popular.

The second largest city in Tasmania is a deservedly major tourist attraction. Check out the longest single span chairlift at Cataract Gorge. Take a trip to the nearby Tasmania Zoo.

Launceston to Cradle Mountain – Drive to Cradle Mountain – deservedly one of Tasmania’s principal tourist sites. Find the historic township of Deloraine and the sprawling and scenic Woolmers Estate, on your way. Lake St Claire National Park is the gateway to the panoramic Cradle Mountain. A hike through the different trails of Cradle Mountain would certainly be worthwhile.

Cradle Mountain to Stanley – You can now head back to Hobart via Stanley, stopping by at Derwent Bridge, Strahan and Russell Falls. Don’t forget to catch a cruise on the Gordon River in Strahan. The Tasmanian wilderness is simply spectacular.

[For more driving pleasure : Driving The Great Ocean Road]

Top 10 Activities around Tasmania:

·         The Overland Track

·         Wild Life Watching

·         Bicycle Touring

·         Vineyard Hopping

·         Hang Gliding

·         Flying Fox at Hollybank Treetops Adventures

·         Kayaking

·         Scuba Diving

·         Surfing

·         Trout Fishing

5 Foods you Must Try in Tasmania:

·         Dairy – cheeses, milk and yogurt

·         Fruit & Vegetables

·         Christmas Hills Raspberries

·         Seafood – oysters, abalone and ocean trout

·         Anvers Chocolates & Fudge

How to spend a weekend In Byron Bay

Byron Bay has the magical combination of natural beauty and a creative, free-spirited local population. No visit to Byron Bay is complete without numerous swims – from the protected shores of Belongil beach at the town’s northern edge, to the 8km wild stretch of ocean of Tallows beach.

Aesthetically, Byron has one of the highest concentration of creative professionals, with an abundance of designers, film-makers, musicians, and writers calling the town home. Byron hosts two of Australia’s most popular music festivals – Byron Blues Fest and Splendour in the Grass – and one of Australia’s most celebrated literary events – the Byron Bay writers’ festival.

Weekends outside school holidays are the best time to enjoy 48 hours in Byron Bay. Here’s how you can make the most of Byron’s treasures.

FRIDAY Afternoon:

The Pass

Byron is considered an east coast’s surfers’ pilgrimage, and even if you’re not catching a wave, the best spot to enjoy the scent of surf wax is at the Pass ... its world-famous, long, and caters to pro surfers and beginners alike.

Also enjoy a great sunset walk to Main beach to witness a splendid dusk sky behind the outstanding peak of Wollumbin and the surrounding hinterland that edges the region.

FRIDAY Evening:

Bay Lane and Beach Hotel

Enjoy an end-of-day drink in the beer garden of the landmark Beach Hotel at the end of Jonson Street. You can also head to the vibrant Bay Lane for a casual meal at any one of the restaurants for Thai, Italian, fish and chips and falafels.

If you can resist the excitement of Bay Lane and Beach Hotel, head home for an early night because you really don’t want to miss Byron’s sparkling sunrise morning.

SATURDAY Morning:

Walk the lighthouse loop

Try to make it to the lighthouse walk, as early in the morning as you can. With the first rays of sun, you could spot pods of dolphins at play. Wategos is a great beach for a swim after you’ve finished the loop, and it also gives the short-cut option of walking up the steep lighthouse track back.

Cafe stop

Byron has a caffeine addiction just as many other early morning towns. There’s plenty of places to kick start your day with coffee. Local favorites are Top Shop, with a lawn to sprawl in the sunshine, Bay Leaf where the beans are roasted next door and the Roadhouse, just out of town, known for its organic spread and home-brewed kombucha.

Julian Rocks

Julian Rocks is the jewel of Byron’s crown. Take a boat ride through the break at the Pass to spot the flocks of marine life like leopard sharks, manta rays, and giant turtles. If you’re less adventurous then simply admire the rocks over a long lunch at Byron Beach Cafe, with its panoramic view of the ocean.

SATURDAY Evening:

Live music

Some of the world’s biggest bands do only three shows in Australia; in Sydney, Melbourne ... and Byron Bay. This tiny town is spoiled for live music choice. Catch a live gig at the most popular venues – the Great Northern Hotel and the Railway Hotel. Check out the bursting local gig guide for what’s on.

Top grubs

When it comes to food, Byron can go head-to-head with the standards of the most sophisticated names of Melbourne and Sydney. Choose from the wide range like Rae’s on Wategos for seafood, musician Pete Murray’s Frankie Brown, Italian at the Pacific that's pitched at a cocktail-drinking clientele, for a contemporary Japanese meal, try O-Sushi, and the newest addition to Byron’s fine dining scene, Cicchetti.

SUNDAY Morning:

Yoga

Byron is overflowing with yogis and there’s no better than doing yoga to give your day a healthy start. While Byron Bay Yoga Centre, Ananta Yoga and Shiva Shakti offer drop-in classes, the Beachside Yoga and Massage, in the surf club facing the Main beach, is a picturesque spot to start your day with a salute to the sun.

[Also Read Top Things To See And Do In The Whitsunday Islands]

Byron markets and support local artists

In Byron’s markets you can buy local produce like fresh macadamia nuts and sugar cane juice, as well as arts and crafts by local artists. The market runs on the first Sunday of the month year-round or the first and third Sunday of December and January. Byron Bay has plenty of good independent retailers and local fashion stores like Goddess of Babylon, Amilita, Pooch and Samba, Arnhem, and Muther of All Things. Bookworms can head to the bookshops for something written by a local author like Rusty Miller or Bob McTavish for surf legend stories or for fiction, there’s Maggie Groff, Lisa Walker or Jessie Cole.

SUNDAY Afternoon:

Go organic for lunch

Byron takes pride for its organic food culture. You mustn’t miss out indulging in a liquid superfood smoothie lunch at Naked Treaties. Also try the Heart and Halo with its selection of prepared vegetarian and vegan hot and cold food. Santos offers some treats to take home, with its cafe and grocery store that celebrate ethical produce.

Belongil beach

Don’t leave Byron without a final dip in the ocean at Belongil beach. The Treehouse on Belongil has casual indoor-outdoor decor that makes you feel like hanging out in an old friend’s living room. With wood-fired pizzas, beer and cocktails flowing, there are DJs playing throughout the afternoon. For a more peaceful pace, Belongil Bistro next door has a fantastic menu and wine list. Let the afternoon sun rays sink into your skin with your final Byron Bay tonic.

Best Of The Secret Trails Of Australia : Part 2

We’ve previously rattled off five well-kept secret Aussie trails in part one of this series, so take a look here to see what we’ve already mentioned.

[Best Of The Secret Trails Of Australia : Part 1]

Too lazy? Here’s a brief summary (in no particular order);

10. Newcastle, NSW

9. Canberra, ACT

8. Northern Rivers, NSW

7. Darwin, NT

6. Flinders Ranges and Outback, SA

#5 – OUTBACK, New South Wales

While it’s true that 18% of Australia is desert, and 40% is semi-arid, the NSW Outback is labeled ‘the accessible outback’ by the technicians at the tourism department. While it’s over a 600 mile drive from Sydney to Broken Hill (the unofficial capital of the Outback), you can always fly ... or take the Outback Explorer train from Sydney, to get you there in just over twelve hours.

There’s so much to explore once you get out west. Broken Hill is a wonderfully quaint mining town that vaunts a dynamic blend of art and stereotypical ‘Aussie-ocker’ culture. It’s also a good staging point for a visit to the iconic Darling River,  Menindee, a real Aussie ghost town, and Silverton. Opal hunters can also get a chance to sleep in a wonderful underground hotel in White Cliffs.

Into the upper Darling region to the north await the outback towns of Walgett and Bourke, the opal mecca of Lightning Ridge, Nyngan and Cobar. Head further north for the haunting ruins of Milparinka, and isolated Tibooburra. In Cameron’s Corner you can stand in Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia at the same time.

You don't need to be a photographer or artist to enjoy this outback, we recommend the wealth of Australian fauna, beautiful sunsets, and sprawling red dunes ... oh, and the night sky out here.

#4 –MARGARET RIVER REGION, WA

While Western Australia is deservedly on the radar for stunning beaches,  renowned diving on the Coral Coast, or exploring the haunting beauty of the Kimberleys – Western Australia’s south west also has much to offer.

The Margaret River region, perhaps best known for its fabulous wines, has a well deserved draw. When not imbibing in a bit of the local grape, a wealth of other sights and sounds are waiting for you in this region.

The landscape fairly blossoms with wildflowers every spring. WA takes pride in showcasing the world’s largest variety of wildflowers with over 12,000 species on display. There’s windswept clifftops with cape-to-cape walk between Leeuwin Ridge and Naturalist Ridge offering a life changing 5-6-day trek.

Hamelin Bay offers bird watchers, fisherman, scuba divers, snorkelers, and beach enthusiasts an idyllic playground to keep all well occupied.

BTW, Esperance deserves special mention as one of the best beaches in Australia.

#3 – LORD HOWE ISLAND, NSW

Lord Howe Island is one of the few island chains in the world renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage site ... and it doesn’t take long to figure out why. Just two hours’ flight from Sydney or Brisbane, bordered by the southernmost reefs, Lord Howe Island is home to some truly stunning national parkland, unspoiled playgrounds for hikers, animal enthusiasts, divers, nature-lovers, and virtually anybody who wishes to appreciate the world’s few remaining paradises.

Even though the entire place is recognized as national park, you're not completely isolated from civilization. There are many properties on the island that provide great accommodation and dining options, and all of the usual amenities are available. While, you will not have any mobile network coverage, Lord Howe Island really is one of the last frontiers of Aussie tourism worth a look.

#2 – VICTORIA

Without mentioning a single Victorian site, this list would certainly be incomplete. Whether it’s Melbourne for great dining, or a drive along the Great Ocean Road, there doesn’t seem to be much about Victoria that tourists aren’t already in love with.

Soaking in the beauty of seas from cliff-top mansions and villas, wine-tasting, water sports, or simply cafe hopping, the Mornington Peninsula offers a splendid expanse of beaches and cafes all within an hour’s drive from Melbourne.

On the other side of the Bay, take a break in Aireys Inlet, enjoy a burger at 'Bottle of Milk' in Lorne, pamper yourself in luxurious spas and wellness retreats in Hepburn Springs.

There’s no shortage of options in Victoria for time away from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne.

#1 – TASMANIA

This one is going to be argumentative. Not because Tasmania’s immense beauty is in any doubt, but because a lot of tourists are already well aware of Tasmania, and include it on any Australian itinerary as a 'must visit' spot.

Then how come it’s listed here - since ‘Tassie’ isn't often referred to in the same breath as Sydney, the Barrier Reef, Uluru, Perth and Melbourne.

This popular island of Australia’s south eastern coast offers a wealth of options for holidaying. Apart from the stunning World Heritage listed Franklin River in the west, it also has its very own history in the form of the five heritage listed former prison sites, including Port Arthur – since also infamous for Australia’s worst peace time massacre. There are vineyards in the north, stunning scenery on the pristine east coast, and ancient rainforests in the west. The cosmopolitan capital city of Hobart, in the south-east boasts a charming blend of modern convenience and country living. What sets Tasmania apart from any other destinations is raw, natural beauty. The forests and beaches of this Oregon-sized island are among the most beautiful in the world and it’s a paradise for hikers, nature-lovers, and photographers ... oh, and food loving, 'self-drivers'.

Best of the secret trails of Australia : Part 1

While climbing Sydney's Harbor Bridge, marveling at the Opera House, shopping in Melbourne, diving the Great Barrier Reef , enjoying an Uluru 'Sounds of Silence' outback dinner, savoring South Australia, indulging in Queensland's Sunshine Coast, and Western Australia get plenty of well deserved play with travelers, there are even more undiscovered gems out there in Australia’s treasure box.

From the memorials and museums of Canberra to the outback towns of western New South Wales – we’ve listed some of the perhaps lesser known Australian tourist spots and why they’d be a worthy addition to your next Australian odyssey.

#10 – NEWCASTLE, NSW

Only an hour and a half north of Sydney, Newcastle is Australia’s second oldest city and claims some of the country’s best beaches and heritage listed architecture. The popular Hunter Valley wine region is in close proximity. 

Whether you’re heading north of the city to swim with dolphins at Nelson’s Bay, spending an idyllic Sunday walking the Bathers Way, cuddling up to a koala at Blackbutt Reserve, or even catching a Newcastle Knights game at the recently revamped AusGrid Stadium – you’ll find plenty to love about the place.

#9 – CANBERRA, AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY

Australia’s capital Canberra is undoubtedly one of the best places to learn more about Australian history and culture ... not to mention enjoying fabulous food and wine. A slew of museums and galleries will keep even the most curious explorer occupied for days, with the National Museum and Questacon being highlights.

A walk through Anzac Parade, a visit to the Royal Australian Mint, exploring Parliament House and a visit to the Australian War Memorial are well worth considering. You can also visit the Reconciliation Place in nearby Parks, a tribute to Australia’s original inhabitants, or spend a day exploring the Australian National Library.

Though, it’s not all about the culture and history with the Australian National Botanical Gardens playing a beautiful interlude, the miniature world landmarks of Cockington Green Gardens, hikers can find numerous trails in nearby Black Mountain, and/or you can catch some great Australian sport in GIO Stadium playing host to the famous Canberra Raiders or Brumbies.

It’s a simply beautiful region that offers something you won’t find elsewhere in Australia.

#8 – THE NORTHERN RIVERS REGION, NSW

As tourists begin to discover the charms of Byron Bay, the Northern Rivers has grown in popularity. Boasting great beaches and a laid-back charm, Byron Bay is an ideal resting point on any road trip between Sydney and the Gold Coast.

Byron Bay is an authentic concourse for beach lovers. It also offers a very tempting menu when it comes to scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, surfing, whale watching, fishing, and dolphin swims. Byron Bay also offers sustenance for your mind and soul with numerous yoga retreats and spas in the region.

If you're lucky, a real display of distinct local flavor can be found at the monthly Byron Bay markets on the first Sunday of each month.

A few hours inland lies Grafton, an excellent gateway to the numerous national parks of the NSW Northern Tablelands such as the Fortis Creek National Park, Nymboida national parks, Gibraltar Range, and Washpool.

To the north, Evans Head plays host to excellent fishing and surfing, and surrounded by some beautiful sub-tropical rainforest is Lismore. 

A special mention goes to Yamba. Even having been voted the ‘Best Town in Australia’ by Australian Traveler Magazine in 2009, many travelers seem unaware of Yamba. A charming beach town, Yamba has all of the regular beach appeal with the bonus of being close to the amazing Yuraygir National Park with its dense sub-tropical forest, sea cliffs, and isolated beaches.

[Also Read : Five Reasons To Visit Broken Hill]

#7 – DARWIN, NORTHERN TERRITORY

Although, the Northern Territory gets plenty of tourists through Uluru and Kakadu, the territory’s capital seems unfairly ignored by tourists.

Darwin is a rapidly growing tropical city where Aboriginal and European culture meet in a way you won’t see elsewhere in Australia. Interact with some of Australia’s predators at Casuarina Coastal Reserve, explore historic Fannie Bay Gaol, or spend a day picnicking in Charles Darwin National Park.

Just ninety minutes’ drive from Darwin, Litchfield National Park, is also well worthy of a visit. Picturesque waterfalls, secluded swimming holes, and the crumbling remains of long abandoned mines are all on offer within the 1500 square kilometer national park.

Darwin considers itself Australia's gateway to South East Asia. The city showcases Aboriginal culture and has overcome great obstacles on its way ... be it the infamous Japanese bombing of WW2, or Cyclone Tracy of 1974.

#6 – FLINDERS RANGES AND LAKE EYRE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Whilst much of South Australian tourism is directed towards the Barossa Valley wine region, Kangaroo Island, and Adelaide, the South Australian outback is also certainly well worth experiencing.

The Flinders Ranges are a great way to experience the true beauty of the Australian outback. The magic of colors, glowing sunsets and deep blue skies, are truly breathtaking. 

Check out this link for a great taste of the Flinders Ranges;  http://southaustralia.us.traveller.com.au/article/pioneering-women-flinders-ranges/

North of Adelaide is Lake Eyre, Australia’s lowest point and largest lake. The lake remains beautiful year round as it is transformed into a vast salt plane in drier times. You can camp, drive or fly overhead to enjoy this vast outback lake.

The Pichi Pichi Railway‘s steam locomotives will get you to back to civilization in Port Augusta from where you can head west to Perth, or south to Adelaide.

 

Best Beach Towns of Australia : Part 2

In the first part we discovered five beach towns to explore. In this second installment, we’ll highlight another five ...  

Best for : the young at heart

Sorrento, Victoria

Vibe: Don't let the heritage buildings fool you as Sorrento offers some of the best beach holidays with a buzz.

Attractions: If you're feeling sporty, you can swim with seals and dolphins out in the bay at Chinamans Hat. If you feeling shorter on energy, go gallery hopping or cruise the shops along Ocean Beach Road, or stroll the Sorrento-Portsea Artists Trail. You can also catch a live band at the Sorrento Pub, after dinner.

Dining: The local wineries own some notable restaurants, including Ten Minutes by Tractor. For something casual, try a family-friendly Italian restaurant Smokehouse.

Don't miss: Drinks in the Portsea Pub's sunny beer garden is an afternoon ritual.

Best for : couples

Killcare, NSW

Vibe: Away from the city hustle and bustle, this forest-fringed beach haven is a great place to indulge in fine food, a spot of shopping, and to spend some quality time with your partner.

Attractions: Take it slow on the walking trails through the Bouddi Peninsula national park, laze on the seven pretty beaches (which also include Pretty Beach), or browse the fashion, art and homewares on display in Moochinside.

Dining: For Middle Eastern food lovers, L'Anxaneta, a cafe and tapas bar in the heritage-listed Old Killcare Store, offers excellent Mediterranean cuisine.

Don't miss: Acclaimed chef Stefano Manfredi's delicious Italian food at Manfredi at Bells – or you can learn to do-it-yourself at one of their cooking classes.

Best for : action fans

Phillip Island, Victoria

Vibe: Looking for a more accelerated holiday? In addition to the iconic penguin parade, Phillip Island also offers a plethora of action activities.

Attractions: Be a speed demon and let a professional take you from zero to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds, on a go-kart race track. Check out the penguin parade, or a kayaking adventure exploring hidden caves around Cape Woolamai.

Dining: You can catch your own lunch at Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm, or go with tradition at White Salt Fish and Chippery.

Don't miss: A succulent brew at the Rusty Water Brewery Restaurant and Bar.

Best for : party people

Airlie Beach, Queensland

Vibe: This nostalgic backpacker haven is growing up with fine food and sophisticated accommodation. However, with a party seemingly every night, it's a great place to make new friends.

Attractions: The Whitsundays, all about the water, is like heaven on earth. If diving and snorkeling is not your thing, then charter a yacht and go island hopping, or take a seaplane to the stunning Heart Reef.

Dining: Treat yourself to the degustation menu at Peppers' Tides Restaurant, showcasing the very best local produce.

Don't miss: The Singapore chilli crab at Fish D'vine.

Best for : fashionistas

Noosa, Queensland

Vibe: Lined with designer boutiques and upmarket restaurants, Hastings Street is the ultimate beach-chic destination.

Attractions: Yes, there is more to do in Noosa than shopping. Pick up some local produce at the farmers' markets, revitalize yourself with a horse ride along the shore, then pacify those muscles with a massage at one of Noosa's many famous spas.

Dining: Most of the Noosa's best restaurants serve up their meals with a side of marvelous views. Leave the dining choices up to the chef at one of the best Japanese restaurants in Queensland, Wasabi, or go to Ricky's River Bar & Restaurant for a Mediterranean treat.

Don't miss: A moonlit dinner cruise on the river.

[Don't miss Part 1 : Best Beach Towns Of Australia :]

Best for : Marine Life Lovers

Victor Harbour, South Australia

Vibe: A formerly throbbing port with whalers and sealers, Victor Harbour is a beautiful beach town with stunning beach views.

Attraction: Educate yourself about whales and dolphins at the South Australian Whale Centre. Take a ride on the Cockle train to Goolwa, or learn about whaling history at Granite Island Recreation Park.

Dining: Famous for its chargrilled steaks and seafood, Anchorage Café Restaurant Wine Bar is sure to blow your tastebuds. Try their rib-eye steak with Shiraz and thyme glaze, or crispy spatchcock with sticky soy. You can also eat at Whalers Inn that offers scrumptious seafood on an outdoor deck overlooking Wright Island and Encounter Bay.

Don’t Miss: Helicopter joy flights over Victor Harbour, Granite Island, local vineyards and the mouth of the Murray River.

Best for : Relaxed couples

Port Elliot, South Australia

Vibe: This charming historic town set on scenic Horseshoe Bay is gaining popularity as a holiday destination for its fabulous beaches and relaxed coastal atmosphere.

Attraction: Collect a brochure from the railway station and join the heritage walk with National Trust Historical Display, The Strand, and the Maritime Heritage Trail. You can also enjoy popular spots like Freeman Nob, Encounter Bikeway, Horseshoe Beach and Boomer Beach.

Dining: For seafood lovers the Flying Fish Café is a great option here. With dreamy ocean views this place serves superb oysters, rich fish stews, and beer battered fish and chips.

Don’t Miss: A dive on Fleurieu Peninsula, with leafy sea dragons, shipwrecks, dolphins and myriad fish species

That’s all for now. Pack up and decide upon which type of tourist you are and hit the beach town of your choice, and we're sure that you’ll definitely have a memorable beach holiday.

Best Beach Towns of Australia : Part 1

Talk about spoiled for choice ... nonetheless, we've put together, in two parts, our list of '10 Best Beach Towns of Australia'.

Packing up and heading for the beach is a great Australian summer ritual. But not all beach towns are created equal – some are fab for families; some are places that party all night long; others are low on stress and big on relaxation. 

1. Best for : Families

Torquay, Victoria

Vibe: Perhaps best known as 'one-end-of-the Great Ocean Road', Torquay is also a big hit with families as the surf capital of Victoria. It has most water sports on offer, from swimming at the sheltered Front Beach to snorkeling at Point Danger (don’t worry – it's far less dangerous than the name suggests).

Attractions: Surfers will definitely want to check out the world's largest surf museum, SurfWorld. Newbies can get started at Go-Ride-a-Wave surf school.

If you prefer to stay on dry land, you can get some great exercise on one of the area's many golf courses.

Dining: A great meal can be found at 'Scorched', a modern bistro with a stunning beach view.

Don't miss: The Surf Coast Walk, over 40 kilometers of picturesque coastal tracks linking Torquay with Anglesea and Aireys Inlet.

2. Best for : Do-it-Yourself-ers

Port Macquarie, NSW

Vibe: If you love barbeques and prefer to catch your own dinner rather than dine out, Port Macquarie is your kind of place. Here you can go fishing on a BBQ boat ... and/or try your hand at catching mud-crabs.

Attractions: Watch numerous species of birds and wildlife at Kooloonbung Creek Nature Park, admire the native flowers at Kattang Nature Reserve's Flower Bowl Circuit, or take a canoe through the mangroves.

Dining: The freshest seafood can also be washed down with a quality selection of wine at 'The Stunned Mullet'. If you fancy something simple yet healthy, Milkbar Town Beach offers organic light bites.

Don't miss: Australia's only koala hospital offers daily tours.

3. Best for : Foodies

Mooloolaba, Queensland

Vibe: Edged with Norfolk pines, the long strip of beach is covered with crunchy sand, however, there's plenty to tempt you away from the water.

Attractions: The Sunshine Coast Kite Surfing Academy is a great place for action fans, kids love Australia Zoo, and food fans will want to sign up for one of the area's excellent cooking classes. You can try How to Cook Kitchen at Cotton Tree or The Long Apron at Spicers Clovelly.

Dining: Discover the goodness of vegan food at Its Rawsome ... or head out of town to the superb Spirit House at Eumundi.

Don't miss: People-watching at The Velo Project on the esplanade with a cup of finest coffee this beach town offers. BTW, the avocado toast with pistachio dukkha is the perfect way to start the day.

[Previous blog was on Tipping Etiquette In Australian Restaurants]

4. Best for : Nature Lovers

Kingscliff, NSW

Vibe: Golden beaches flanked by hinterland rainforest mean there's always something new to explore.

Attractions: The walking track to Protestors Falls meanders past bungalow palms, buttress-rooted figs, maiden's blush, elk-horns and stag-horns. Serious hikers will want to tackle the 4.4-kilometre climb up Mount Warning, while the Casuarina Sculpture Walk offers a pretty foreshore trail.

Dining: Settle down at Fins to enjoy some superb seafood, or for a quick bite, check out Choux Box cafe.

Don't miss: Snorkeling or diving the spectacular Cook Island Marine Sanctuary.

5. Best for : Retro fans

1770, Queensland

Vibe: Not only was Seventeen Seventy built on the site of explorer Captain James Cook's second landing (in 1770), this has to be the beach holiday you remember from your childhood. No skyscrapers, no fancy restaurants, just uninterrupted days of enjoying the sun and sea.

Attractions: Explore the area on an electric bike, or sign up for a motorbike or sand boarding tour.

Dining: 'The Tree' offers great burgers with a stunning view, while on Friday nights The Pizza at Kahunas stays really busy.

Don't miss: A snorkeling day trip to the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

 

Keep on reading the second part of this article for five more stunning beach towns of Australia that will blow your mind.

Tipping Etiquette in Australian Restaurants

What's the proper way to say thanks for a great time, polite acknowledgment of a difficult job, or simply because it’s a noble tradition? Some restaurant owners see tipping as a weekly bonus rather than the raison d’être of the job. In the US, the rule is to add 15% to 20% to the bill. In the UK, many restaurants add a 12.5% service charge – and if not, people normally tip about 10% unless the service was bad. 

However, in Australia the rules are there are 'no rules for tipping', although, Australia’s upper-tier restaurants anecdotally report that more than half of their customers tip.

So, what about tipping etiquette in Australia? We have put up a frequently-asked-questions list about tipping etiquette in Australia, that may help solve any confusion of tipping.

·         Question 1- Do you tip for takeaway?

Answer: Only if the waiter packed your food magnificently within a fraction of a second in an aerodynamically-designed container.

·         Question 2- Should you tip bad service?

Answer: No. Definitely not. That would make a mockery of the whole system. Tipping is for good service, although ingrained tippers would argue it’s for “good enough” service.

·         Question 3- Can you tip individual waiters?

Answer: Well, generally restaurant etiquette demands that tips go into a communal tip pool, but yes, you can choose to tip your server individually at the end of the meal.

·         Question 4- Can you be sure it’s going to the wait staff?

Answer: Unfortunately, you can’t. However, the chances of your tip making it to the right people increase by leaving cash rather than a credit card.

·         Question 5- How much should I leave for a tip?

Answer: There's no fixed amount for tipping. If you've had good service, and if in doubt, leave 10%.

[Our Previous Blog : Top Things To See And Do In The Whitsunday Islands]

·         Question 6- Do you only tip in restaurants?

Answer: Ultimately good service is what a tip is for, so if you have received good service in a cafe, then why not.

·         Question 7- Should you still tip for bad service?

Answer: It should be a reward. If you don't get good service, don't tip.

·         Question 8- Should big groups leave more than 10%?

Answer: Tipping is discretionary, but if you have a large group you should probably pay a tip in recognition of the increased strain on staff.

·         Question 10- Should you tip for bad food and great service?

Answer: If you get average food but the waiter is trying to make sure that you have a great time, don't punish the waiter. What you're tipping for is the service.

Furthermore, if you ever find a token is included on the bill, you can always ignore paying a tip. You really needn’t tip on top of it unless service was so good that it would have made angels weep.

Top Things to See and Do in the Whitsunday Islands

Whitsundayislands.jpg

With a collection of islands just off Queensland's central coast, the Whitsunday Islands form a part of the Great Barrier Reef. The majority of these islands are designated national parks, and major attractions include coral reefs for snorkeling and diving, pristine beaches and clear, warm waters. It’s an incredible experience, to sleep on a sail boat and enjoy the islands via a multi-day sailing tour. Half a million people from all over the world, visit the Whitsunday Islands each year, and for a good reason.

Our travel guide will help you plan your trip to this piece of heaven on earth!

Whitehaven Beach – Stretching about 3 miles and consisting of fine, brilliant white sand, Whitehaven Beach is by far the most recognized of all Whitsundays landmarks. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches you'll ever see. 

Whitsunday Island This largest island is home to the famous Whitehaven Beach. Most boat day trips come here to explore the dozens of little coves and inlets where yachts or boats can pull in. Many boats also go to Tongue Point, and a trail that leads to a lookout point over Whitehaven. 

Hamilton Island – Hamilton has its own airport, post office and bank, and remains a harbor for people heading out to the reef (about 2 hours) or Whitehaven Beach (about ½ hour). If you’re looking to spend some time in a resort, you’ll find great accommodation, and a lot of options here for day tours to the other Whitsunday islands.

Hook Island – Hook is the second largest island, and a great place to see birds and wildlife. It is a frequent stop of many boat tours that sail around the islands.

What to do in Whitsundays Islands?

Scuba diving – The islands are famous for their amazing diving. The reefs are best viewed during the summer time as the rainy season can makes the water murky. On a bright sunny day, you’ll be able to spot a wide array of vibrant fish, coral, and sea turtles.

Explore Reef World – has all that you need to enjoy this exceptionally beautiful marine world –with a diving and snorkeling center, submarine, undersea windows, and even a helicopter platform. It’s a place to have fun with water slides, swimming areas, and a restaurant to set free the kid inside you!

[Read Our Previous Blog : Gold Coast Activities All Year Round]

Take a resort vacation – This tropical island paradise, has encouraged many resorts to pop up where you can enjoy your leisure on any budget. Many resorts offer package deals with sailing trips, swimming pools, golfing, arcades, snorkeling tours ... well, the list is endless. There is a package for just about every budget and activity interest.

Money Saving Tips

Take the Ferries –If you plan to visit just one island, ferries are a good option. Since there are mostly luxury resorts on the islands, it’s a better value to hop on a boat cruise.

BYOB –To stick to a budget you can always bring your own alcohol on board —keep in mind though that most sail boats prohibit glass.

Camp –For those who enjoy being outdoors, there are about 21 campgrounds on the islands. You'll need a camping permit (that costs about $AU8 per person per night), your own boat to get to these sites, and your own food.

Gold Coast Activities All Year Round

The Gold Coast’s variety is what makes it special – it’s a destination where outdoor activities are viable year round, and thus for people who crave to take part in energetic fun, the Gold Coast’s things to-do list is nearly endless. With an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, whether you’re sticking to the coast, heading to the hinterland, or looking for some adrenaline pumping, you’ll be spoiled for choice here.

With so much to see and do, we break down our 'Top 6 Things To Do' on the Gold Coast.

1. Take a Jetboat Ride

Location: Surfers Paradise and Marina Mirage, Gold Coast, Queensland

Apart from sightseeing cruises, the Gold Coast offers numerous opportunities for jet boat rides, as a more high-octane way of exploring the waters. Heading out onto the Gold Coast Broadwater, with a jet boat ride, you’ll be able to grasp the city skyline and neighboring islands and harbors while indulging in some 360 degree spins, high-speed drifting and taking advantage of the boat’s construction for some 'beach buzzing'.

Options for jet boat rides typically come in either 30 minute or 1 hour durations ... BTW, it'd be a good idea to wear sunglasses – not only to protect from the sun, but to shield your eyes from salt spray that can make it harder to really enjoy the fabulous views.

2. Explore the Hinterland

Location: Approx. 45-minute drive from Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast

Just a 45-minute drive from the heart of the glitz and glamour of Surfers Paradise, the Gold Coast Hinterland, an oasis of greenery and scenery is a world away from the main tourism hub that makes visiting the region such a fabulous overall experience.

Centered around the lovely Mount Tamborine and its various World Heritage-listed national parks, the Hinterland features glow worm caves, cascading waterfalls, wonderful mountain views and verdant wineries all in a reasonably close distance of one another.

You can drive yourself through a scenic, steep and windy route, horse rides to explore around the scenic Natural Bridge area, various on and off-road-trips, and walks to take you directly to wineries.

3. Go to the Beach

Location: Various locations along coastline, Gold Coast

If there’s one thing that the Gold Coast is famous for – it’s the beaches ... around 57 kilometers to choose from for those who love surf and sunshine.

Each of the main beaches on the coast - Broadbeach, Kirra, Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads, Main Beach, Currumbin, Nobby Beach, Palm Beach and Duranbah (and perhaps most famously, Surfers Paradise) – offer something slightly different, however all of them are regularly patrolled by volunteer Surf Life Savers, and are exceptionally clean.

All the beaches offer a blend of public picnic and barbecue areas, and access to great cafes & restaurants.

4. Go up the SkyPoint Deck atop the Q1 Building

Location: 9 Hamilton Ave, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast

The Gold Coast’s iconic Q1 Building and its SkyPoint Observation Deck on the 77th floor, offer some stunning 360 degree views of the sights for which the Gold Coast is famous. Be sure to bring your camera along as you nay never find another viewpoint in the region to compare.

[Read our previous blog : Unplanned Christmas In Melbourne]

The SkyPoint Deck also serves as a bar/restaurant, turning your visit into a full-blown dining experience. The SkyPoint also offers a SkyPoint Climb, that allows you to harness up and go outside the glass for a stunning and adrenaline-pumping adventure, making it a must-do for adventure lovers.

5. Visit Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Location: 28 Tomewin St, Currumbin, Gold Coast

Being one of the most beloved attraction on the Gold Coast, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is the ultimate place to get a dose of family-friendly animal fun.

With a location, just off the Gold Coast Highway at Currumbin, the sanctuary is easy to find – around 20 minutes’ drive from Surfers Paradise.

In the park, you can hand-feed kangaroos, cuddle a koala, see wombats, echidnas, emus and also its iconic little trains take you around the park regularly – something kids love ... gives parents a chance to rest. In addition, Currumbin Sanctuary also has a fun tree ropes course (called Green Challenge) ... and for just a few dollars extra charge, is also a huge hit with the little ones.

6. Visit a Theme Park

Location: Various locations, northern end of Gold Coast

The Gold Coast's theme parks are a huge draw-card that set the destination apart from other popular holiday destinations throughout Australia. There’s a reason behind people visiting from both interstate and overseas – each of the theme parks is a quality attraction and offers something slightly different to the next.

From the superior thrilling rides of Dreamworld, to the favorite film and cartoon characters at Movie World, to the aquatic fun at both Sea World and Wet ‘n’ Wild, Gold Coast has a theme park for all age groups, interest types and weather conditions. Although they’re best visited outside school holidays, the parks are large enough to dilute queues and the vast variety of rides and sideshows provides something interesting to see, try or ride at all times of the year.

Unplanned Christmas In Melbourne

Christmas Day can be a little boring, if you're not joining a Christmas lunch to gorge on different kinds of roast meats. As many regular coffee places may be closed, brunch may not be happening and sorry, you can't even head into Woolies for some milk and cookies or beers.

Don't panic though, public transport will be running for free, all day. And, as a gift from us, we've put together a few ideas to do if you’re in town with no Christmas plans.

HAVE A PICNIC:

While you may find it difficult to purchase food supplies on Christmas Day itself, you can certainly picnic to your hearts content. Nothing can match an inner-city wander through vast and pretty gardens on Christmas. Spotting a swan while munching on a chicken sandwich, or turning somersaults on the lawn, slamming a Paddle Pop to soak up this city sanctuary. 

So, pack a picnic rug and your meal along with a bottle of champagne and have a dreamy day in the gardens.

Royal Botanic Gardens, 7.30am to sunset (the Children’s Garden opens at 10am)

Other important parks of Melbourne that you can try;

·         Carlton Gardens

·         Fitzroy Gardens

·         Royal Botanic Gardens

·         MPavilion

WATCH A MOVIE:

Seeing a movie is never a bad idea — just think the large popcorn, the movie ticket and the Diet Coke as a Christmas gift from you to you. How sweet…! With cinemas open in the evening and afternoon sessions, you can easily avoid the Boxing Day release mayhem. You can also catch the Moonlight Cinemas at the gardens.

·         Village Cinemas, Crown Entertainment Complex

·         Kino Cinema, 45 Collins Street, Melbourne

·         Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon Street, Carlton

HAVE A DATE WITH ANIMALS:

The Melbourne Zoo and Melbourne Aquarium’s Christmas-friendly opening hours can give you the excuse you were looking for to visit furry or scaly friends. With adorable baby elephants, meerkats, frogs and all sorts of weird reptiles , the zoo presents a delightful treat. For those avoiding dry land, get lost under the sea in the Aquarium's wonderful water land of penguins, seahorses, sharks, rainbow fish and sting-rays.

·         Melbourne Zoo; 9am to 5pm

·         Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium; 9.30 am to 6 pm

DIVE INTO DUMPLINGS:

The humble dumpling is a sacred object. Although it doesn't have a day devoted to its magnitude, dumplings are economical, delicious, plentiful and available round the year, just perfect for satisfying your hungry stomach. They might even be a little bit festive this Christmas.The best place to start your dumpling tour is the Little Bourke St.

[Read Also : Where Can I Hear The Best Blues In Australia?]

If just a plate of dumplings can't satisfy, head towards Crown Entertainment Complex, Docklands, Federation Square, Lygon Street and Southgate, some restaurants and cafes will be open in this area. Also, a wander up to Chinatown will not leave you underfed.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS:

Keep yourself entertained at one of these great Melbourne attractions.

·         Eureka Skydeck 88, (10am to 5.30pm) is the perfect destination for dare-devil sightseers. Sway high above the city, fight your vertigo and then head for a stimulating drink. You’re worth it!

·         Melbourne Town Hall for festive themed projections over Christmas

·         Christmas Square (seasonal name of City Square) to see the living Christmas tree and pose for a photograph with the giant nutcrackers.

·         Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, (open from 1pm) take a festive ride in a glass cabin for 30 minutes and like a high-flying hawk (moving very slowly though), you can appreciate the Melbourne metropolis, as well as the hills of Mount Macedon and the Dandenong Ranges.

·         Crown Entertainment Complex, open from 12 pm.