Outback Expedition
Cityscapes, seascapes and landscapes draw visitors to what is uniquely Australia.
AAA Home & Away Magazine








ayers rock

“There it is!” I shouted from the bus. I had almost missed the furry, curled-up creature tucked into the crevice of the eucalyptus tree. I had spotted my first koala. Moments later, after arriving at Adelaide’s Cleland Wildlife Park, I got up close and personal with several wallabies, emus and red kangaroos—and even got to pet a koala.

There was no doubt I was on the vast and barren continent of Australia, three-quarters of which is uninhabitable except to the fauna and flora dating back millions of years. It’s not surprising that most of Australia’s 21 million-plus people live in its major cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

 

Last year’s trip was my first time to explore the mysterious, rugged continent, and I am still in awe of its raw, earthy beauty and varied terrain. I saw ruby-red sand dunes and mammoth rock formations, as well as a profusion of exotic plants and rare birds throughout the dense rainforests. I became part of the Earth’s largest underworld of coral and sea life at the Great Bar­rier Reef, spying such creatures as giant turtles and clams.

I traveled with a tour group of 10, with two families of teenagers, and there was enough adventure and activity to keep everyone inspired and occupied nonstop for our 17-day sojourn along the southern shoreline, through the central region and on the northeastern coast.

Walkin’ About
We began our adventure in vibrant Melbourne, the country’s second-largest city. Melbourne’s magic lies in its hidden passages and shopping arcades, which I discovered while meandering through the 19th-century Royal Arcade on Collins Street, which is enlivened with cafe life and boutiques. I also browsed the jewelry store Altmann & Cherny on a nearby avenue to view and buy opals, Australia’s national gemstone.

 

australia map

A breadth of indigenous art, as well as a diversity of 19th- and 20th-century Australian paintings, is displayed at the Ian Potter Center: National Gallery of Victoria Australia, housed within the outer-space-style complex of Federation Square. Across the bridge over the Yarra River sits the impressive National Gallery of Victoria, with an extraordinary collection of 15,000 artworks from Ancient Egyptian and Greek to pre-Columbian and European.

Southgate, an elaborate mall of shops and res­taurants, is a perfect spot to catch dinner and wind down after a day of enjoying the sites. It offers expansive river views and is a great place to capture the city when it is illuminated.

 

Heading Inland
After our first week, we flew to the central region near Alice Springs, heart of the bushland and Aboriginal culture, and visited the first telegraph station. Built in 1871, it is also where indigenous children were raised by missionaries. We were asked not to take photos of the Aboriginal people here, who believe that when they die their image also disappears. We were, however, allowed to take photos at the Yipirinya School, which works with indigenous children from elementary to secondary level.

There was a guided half-day outback tour through areas in the East MacDonnell Ranges and the Amoonguna Aboriginal Community not normally seen by tourists. Our local guide emphasized the flora of the area, riddled with the native grass known as spinifex, and the fauna, including the history of the perentie, Australia’s largest indigenous lizard. We continued to Corroboree Rock Conservation Reserve, where we learned about ancient spirits and customs as we entered caves to discover paintings dating back millions of years. A fabulous barbecue whipped up by our Aussie tour leader that evening allowed my first taste of kangaroo meat—surprisingly lean and as tasty as a succulent sirloin.

The next morning, we hopped on a bus for some of the most memorable moments: a visit to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to see Kata Tjuta, aka The Olgas—giant, scarlet rock formations dating back 800 million years—and Uluru, aka Ayers Rock.

Kata Tjuta is sculptured and quite spectacular as viewed from the helicopter ride several of us took. Our local tour guide gave an informative talk on the Mala people’s myths as he led us through their cave dwellings, explaining the men’s and women’s ceremonial sites.

As a change of pace and particularly enjoyable was the six-mile trek around Uluru. While climbing the rock is not prohibited, hikers are warned that it is treacherous and some have fallen to their deaths. The Anangu, who own the land, do not climb because they consider this traditional route of the ancestral Mala men sacred. They hope visitors will respect their culture and do likewise.

At sunset, we made a champagne toast to the grandeur of this mammoth natural feature as we gazed into the horizon and watched the rock change colors, from bold orange to a purple glow.

 

Going Coastal
aerial australiaWeek two, we were off on yet another plane, to Cairns, with an hour bus ride to the posh Port Douglas on arrival. The next morning we climbed aboard the catamaran Wave­dancer to explore the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest outdoor aquarium. Some of the group snorkeled, but I saw so much more through the glass-bottom boat—from gargantuan turtles and clams to colorful schools of fish to coral polyps the size of giant cauliflower.

After breakfast the following morning, we headed to Daintree National Park’s Cape Tribulation, cruising through Cooper Creek Wilderness searching for crocodiles. Later, an ecologist guided us through the rainforest, which is home to the endangered cassowary bird and brimming with giant fan palms and ferns. It was much the same as hundreds of millions of years ago—a true Jurassic Park.

 

The adventurous spirit set in, so several of us opted to go zip lining through the treetops. I faced my ultimate fear when I was told I had to do the last station upside down and without holding on with my hands. I did it—but I only let go with one hand.

I couldn’t imagine what could be more thrilling, until I stepped foot on Circular Quay, the hub of Sydney’s breathtaking harbor, in view of the spectacular sail-like structure of the Opera House—an engineering marvel.

Three days were not enough to explore all the culture and activities. Some of us took the ferry to Taronga Zoo, then visited the Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour, amassed with yachts, cafes and restaurants. We also took a brief side trip to Bondi Beach, a surfer’s paradise.

 

sydney opera house

My trip reached a crescendo with an evening walk across Sydney’s bridge, eyeing the city in a riot of radiance with the Opera House aglow. The lasting image, though, was of three young talents in an international piano competition flawlessly playing Mozart concertos
inside the Opera House’s nearly 2,700-seat Concert Hall while onstage stood a local radio station advertisement with the words, “Life is Beautiful.”

Of course, it is. I was in awe-inspiring Australia.

  Planning Your Trip
For more information about Australia, contact www.australia.com. Mann's expedition Down Under was with Overseas Adventure Travel. AAA also offers Australian getaways. To plan yours, contact a AAA Travel agent or AAA.com/travel.
 

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