Friday, November 1, 2013

Summertime in Queensland

As Summer starts to heat up in Australia, I wanted to share one of my more popular articles again, as it's the perfect place for a hot, summer weekend (or longer!)

The Gold Coast.  Does that phrase conjure up an image for you?  Do you imagine a golden sunset over the ocean, or a gold-tinged sunrise glinting off the water and making the sand sparkle?  I have been lucky enough to witness both scenes, on many different occasions.
Located in southeast Queensland, the Gold Coast is just 80 km (50 miles) southeast of the capital, Brisbane, on a newly upgraded/expanded highway, making the drive a breeze.  Alternately, you can also fly in to the Coolangatta airport which is more conveniently located, but has less flight options than Brisbane.

Surfer's Paradise is probably the most well known of the beaches in the area, but by no means is it the only one!  With approximately 57 km (35 miles) of coastline, there is plenty of great surfing and swimming to be had.  From a safety perspective, the Gold Coast has Australia's largest professional surf lifesaving service to watch out for you.  Remember, swim between the red and yellow flags (and don't forget the sunscreen).  If a day at the beach doesn't appeal to you, there's always plenty of great shopping, especially jewelry and art.  Pacific Fair Shopping Centre in Broadbeach is a good place to wander and browse the shops, have a bite to eat, or to see a movie.
Surfer's Paradise
There are amusement parks galore, all within a 30 minute drive.  You have Sea World, Dreamworld, Wet'n'Wild, Warner Bros Movie World and the Australian Outback Spectacular.

For those of you who like to commune with nature, I recommend a visit to World Heritage listed Lamington National Park, located in the Gold Coast hinterland.  The beautiful rainforest is a great place to beat the heat, where you can enjoy the waterfalls (over 500 of them) and bird life, or be more adventurous and do a walking trail (more than 150km/93mi - all clearly marked).  This area is one of the most important wildlife refuges in the region and is home to some rare and threatened animals.  You'll also find some plants here that can't be found anywhere else. 

So, let's do a quick rundown.
  • Beach ü
  • Sunshine ü
  • Amusement Parks ü
  • Shopping ü
  • Wildlife ü
  • Rainforest ü
What more could you possibly ask for? 

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Perth, the capital of Western Australia, is the fourth most populous city in the country.  It is an oasis of green between the jewelled blue tones of the Indian and Southern Oceans and the reds and browns of the desert and plains.

Speaking of a green oasis, Kings Park is the world's largest inner-city park - even bigger than famous Central Park in New York City!  At just over 4 square kilometers and located next to the Perth CBD, there's no reason to get that 'enclosed big city' feeling.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when planning a trip that includes a visit to Perth is the relative isolation.  You will need to pay attention to the distances and travel times between points of interest.  Perth is actually closer to Singapore than it is to Sydney!  Click on the link to get a better idea of the general area, not just the city surrounds.

A must-see destination is Rottnest Island, located just off the coast from Fremantle.  It's a major tourist attraction, so you'll definitely want to book your hotel in advance.  You'll probably hear the locals refer to it as 'Rotto'.  You know us Aussies, we love to shorten the names for everything!  The best way to get there is by ferry from either Fremantle or Perth.  There's plenty to keep you busy on the island.  It's one of the few areas where you can find a quokka.  For those not in the know, a quokka is a small, mostly nocturnal marsupial.  It looks like a cross between a wallaby and a rat (which is how the island got its name - it means Rat Nest in Dutch).

Diving is another reason to visit the island and there's even a snorkel trail to follow at Parker Point.  I highly recommend a glass bottom boat tour to see some of the shipwrecks in the area.  Cycling enthusiasts will also love this place, as that is the most common mode of transport (there are no hire cars on the island).

Back on the mainland, wine connoisseurs will want to travel southwest to the Margaret River wine region.  You won't be disappointed by the coastal scenery on the way.  There are plenty of hotels in Margaret River so that you can spend a few days enjoying the vineyards and surrounds.

Margaret River Vineyard
Have a look at the Perth Activities and Tours page on our website to get more details on different types of full day and multi-day trips that are available.

If you have the time, continue southeast to Albany, a historic port city surrounded by national park lands.  From here you are truly looking towards the bottom of the earth, as there's nothing between you and Antarctica.

There are a lot of other places to see if using Perth as your 'jumping off point' so to speak, but I'll cover those in another post.

I hope you get a chance to discover this great, isolated gem of a destination.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Darwin, capital city of the Northern Territory, is the smallest of all Australian capitals.  With a population of approximately 130, 000 (which is half of the entire Territory) it has had considerable growth in the last couple of years.  Situated on the Timor Sea, you can see from the map that it is surrounded by water on three sides.  You'll sometimes hear Aussies refer to this area as the 'Top End'.
City of Darwin
Now is the best time to visit Darwin, during the dry season, which typically runs from about April to October.  The wet season brings some spectacular lightning shows along with cyclones and monsoon rains.  Keep this in mind when planning your travels as you can expect up to 420 mm (approximately 16 inches) in a single month!  Of course, these rains are essential to keep the Kakadu wetlands teeming with wildlife.

Darwin is a major access point for Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park.  You have lots of different options of day tours, overnight tours or multi-day tours of both of these areas from Darwin.  Have a look at our Darwin activities and tours page to give you some specifics and plenty of links to book your travel plans.

When you're looking for Darwin hotels to book, you've got quite a few choices.  If you're going to incorporate Kakadu into your plans (and why wouldn't you??) then I suggest staying right in the heart of it - in Jabiru (about 250 km [150 miles] from Darwin).  Click on the map link to get an overview of the area.  Are you one of those people who think that pretty much all Holiday Inns look the same?  Think again!!  The picture below is the Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn.  Obviously you don't get the same perspective from the ground, but I think the aerial view is pretty cool.

Gagudju Crocodile Hotel
The Northern Territory in general is rich with Aboriginal history and culture.  Consider a visit to the Tiwi Islands just north of Darwin to submerse yourself in culture and indigenous artwork.  There are many festivals, markets and events throughout the year, including the Darwin beer can regatta in August.  Aussies do love their grog!  For the history buffs, a visit to the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery is in order for a multi-media display on the WWII Darwin air raids.

Aboriginal Art Work in Kakadu
Whilst you're in the neighbourhood of Darwin, it's not far to hop a flight down to Uluru Ayers Rock to visit one of the most recognizable Aussie icons.  I'll save that for another post.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island, once part of mainland Australia thousands of years ago, is now the third largest island, although that fact is a bit deceptive when you look on a map.  Considered part of South Australia, it is located approximately 113 km (70 miles) south west of the capital city, Adelaide.  Although I briefly mentioned Kangaroo Island in a previous post, it's a destination that deserves its own story.

Kangaroo on Kangaroo Island
This is a great place to holiday for many different reasons.  One of the biggest draw-cards is the wildlife.  It was given its name by British explorer, Matthew Flinders, for the Western grey kangaroo.  You'll see an abundance of kangaroos and wallabies over most of the island.  Sea lions and seals can be seen in great numbers around Seal Bay and Admiral's Arch.

Sea Lions on Kangaroo Island
You've got a good chance of seeing koalas (who doesn't love that?), goannas (big lizards), possums and plenty of species of birds.  The best way to see some of the wildlife in their natural habitat is to get out of your car and hoof it (walk) around the island's many national parks and conservation areas.  At least a quarter of the island is conserved, allowing the wildlife to flourish.  Just remember not to feed your picnic scraps to the animals, as you'll do more harm than good regardless of your intention.

To see some great wildlife and scenery photos check out this previous post that has a Smilebox dedicated to Kangaroo Island.

Below is a sight you may recognize - the Cape Willoughby lighthouse, located on the eastern tip of the island, closest to Cape Jervis and the first lighthouse built in South Australia.
Cape Willoughby Lighthouse
There's more than just beautiful scenery and unique wildlife to capture your imagination though.  For alternate activities you can consider a number of art galleries, lavender farms, a Eucalyptus distillery, go scuba diving or watch a shearing demonstration.  Rich in history, there are a number of museums to peruse where you might even learn a thing or two.

If you're planning to visit, you have 2 options - see Kangaroo Island in a day tour from Adelaide or stay in a hotel on the island.  Either way, can help you out.  To get across to the island you can fly or take a ferry.  Due to the size and popularity, this is one destination that I'd definitely recommend making advance bookings.

We hope to see you there soon!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cairns - Hot Air Ballooning - A First Timer's Journey

When the Montgolfier brothers made the first manned, 20 minute hot air balloon flight in Paris in 1783, they were two months behind an earlier, unmanned French flight carrying a sheep, a rooster and a duck. The earlier flight crashed, killing all on board.  The Montgolfiers landed safely.

While Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier saw Paris from the air, they could not have imagined the sun rising out of the Coral Sea in Far North Queensland, nor watching kangaroos jumping in the Australian bush.

Hot Air Ballooning has thrived since that first manned flight, and modern materials and technology have made it possible for hot air to carry people as high as 68,986 feet (21,027 metres). The longest flight is 320 hours and 33 minutes.

While there is plenty of hot air in the world - particularly in the political arena - and using it for flight is a great way to experience the still of early morning.

The Atherton Tableland is an escarpment that runs parallel to the coast behind Cairns, and it provides excellent conditions for hot air ballooning. The Tableland is a northern part of the Great Dividing Range, the inland range that runs all the way up the East Coast of Australia. Near Cairns it varies in height from 1,600 to 4,200 feet (500 - 1,280 metres). The height tempers the tropical climate of the coast. 

Atherton Tableland

First explored in 1875, it was settled by John Atherton - the town of Atherton bears his name - when he discovered tin and gold in 1877. The Chinese who came to the area to work on the goldfields created what was the largest Chinatown in Australia by 1900, and they pioneered the agricultural industry.  Little remains of the Chinese influence, though it can be seen at the recently restored Hou Wang Temple near Atherton. Today, the crops grown are sugar cane, mangoes, peanuts, avocados and macadamia nuts. Beef and dairy cattle are also raised.

So, let's take a hot air balloon ride. You will be picked up at your hotel well before sunrise, and by the time the sun climbs out of the Coral Sea on the Eastern horizon, you will be high in the air. Kangaroos graze mainly at sunrise and sunset. As the sun rises, it shines almost parallel to the ground, throwing a giant shadow of a jumping 'roo over the landscape. It can only be seen from the air with the right conditions.  If you are lucky - and most are - this will be one of your great memories of Australia.


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