NEW SOUTH WALES
Green patch (Jervis bay)
If you're a visitor to Australia with a hankering to see wildlife up close, you couldn't do much better than camp at this idyllic spot well to the south of Sydney. The animals are so tame that you can poke your head out of your tent in the morning and come face to face with a bunch of docile kangaroos staring at you curiously, or be hotly pursued by an emu looking for a handout. The highlight is to sit at a picnic table with your arms out and appropriate food in your hands - parrots and birds of all kinds will descend on you to perch! Funniest experience I ever had there was handing out a sausage to a kookaburra, who promptly took it to a nearby rock and beat the hell out of it to make sure the 'snake' was dead! The entrails went everywhere.
Note - don't feed bread to the birds. They swallow it down and store it in their crops, where water/saliva can swell it up and choke them.
Incredibly beautiful waterway to the north of Sydney. You can almost picture what Sydney harbour must have looked like 200 years ago. Nice area to drive round, but far better if you can see it by boat, which are for hire in the area.
One of the state's best kept secrets. A magnificent stretch of unique shallow lakes in the mid north coast. A wonderful boating experience over a leisurely few days.
An ancient volcanic area in the Blue mountains somewhat off the beaten track, but well worth the visit. The road leading to it winds up and around the mountain on a scenic drive through various belts of vegetation until one finally arrive at the small village atop the mountain. It's an astonishing throwback of sorts to the UK origins of the white settlers, with lovely homes replete with famous gardens that attract visitors year round. The homes and gardens were built by some of Sydney's more affluent families, who wanted a cooler setting up in the mountains to escape the sweltering conditions of the city during the summer months.
The Murray river
Australia's answer to the Mississippi is the Murray river, which snakes its way through three states and finally enters the ocean not far from the Sth. Australian capitol of Adelaide. Though it has an impressive length it has nothing like the width or volume of it's more illustrious cousins abroad and wouldn't even rate as a tributary of the Amazon on that basis. But what it lacks in size it surely makes up for in beauty, and the experience of house-boating it is highly recommended, especially in the Sth. Australian region between Mannum and Renmark. The river is interspersed with stretches of flat mallee-covered areas and sandstone cliffs towering over the river. Parrots abound in the region, especially cockatoos, corellas, and galahs, and it is not uncommon to sight kangaroos by the waters edge staring out curiously. Another favoured method to see the Murray, even for just a day, is to hop into the river in a canoe and paddle gently downstream. A beautiful and relaxing day can be had by dropping a canoe into the Murray about 10 miles up river from Waikeire and just coasting down to the town. It's a beautiful mix of flatlands, cliffs, and wildlife, and for those with experience of the highway-like conditions of major rivers in Europe and America you'll be astonished at how little traffic there is on the river--you'll feel like you own it.
While in Waikerie, ask around for the English couple who take in orphaned kangaroos. If you want to see dedication and love, take a look at what this remarkable couple do for these creatures. They have them in all shapes and sizes, most of them quite tame, and you can wonder into their home and find tiny infants asleep in makeshift bags and sacks hanging from the fireplace, while out in their enclosed yard you can meet the dozen or so adults face to face and pet them. They ask nothing for showing you their menagerie, but please do the right thing if you visit their home and give them a small donation - it helps them in their wonderful endeavour of keeping these remarkable creatures going.
The centerpiece of the Flinders ranges, Wilpena Pound is a strange formation in the region that to all intents and purposes resembles a huge crater. In actual fact it's an odd bi-product of the local folding action of the earth, nothing more. It can only be accessed by foot, but the effort is well worth it to experience the views and the micro-climate within Wilpena which makes it considerably greener than the world 'outside'.
The pinnacles desert
Remarkable stretch of desert which resembles a forest of ant-hills.
Seen from shore or the sea, these islands scattered along the Queensland coast are a delight. To many cruising yachtsmen they represent the idyllic tropical existence many of them crave, while for landlubbers the islands have a string of exceptional resorts to stay in.
These mountains are incredible and truly worth the trouble to see. They're the remaining plugs of volcanoes which eroded away eons ago, and it's a truly remarkable experience to drive through the region glancing at these mesa-like monoliths rising up from the sea of eucalyptus forests surrounding them.
Though often used as nothing more than an arrival point for the 250 mile drive to Uluru, Alice is a great place to visit and a good base for excursions into the surrounding outback. Within town a must-see is the school-of-the-air facility, which is used to provide education to children too remote from civilization to be able to receive conventional schooling. A walk down the banks of the usually dry Todd river is interesting, and if you happen to be there for the annual 'boat' races it can be a real scream - the boats are largely imaginary, with a bunch of boisterous aussies tearing down the river bed on foot in whatever contraptions they can put together. Just outside of town is a camel-riding facility where you can play 'Lawrence of Arabia', or sign up for lengthy treks out into the desert.
A strange quirk of early exploration is that many of the camels which were brought out to Australia for the early explorers and railway construction escaped or were released into the wild, where they have flourished and provide Australia with a small but burgeoning export industry to places like Saudi Arabia! Because Australia is largely free of the diseases that ravage animals elsewhere (foot and mouth, rabies, etc) our camels are seen as the healthiest specimens in the world - talk about selling ice to Eskimo's!
Other points of interest to explore are the surrounding MacDonnell ranges and King's Canyon, which have some wonderful gorges and rock pools, while hot air ballooning is also a popular activity in the area. And for a relaxing trip to Adelaide, take the legendary 'Ghan' , one of the country's great railway journeys. You'll see the 'real' outback from the scenic windows during the 24 hour trip south. Extension of the railway north to Darwin is underway, and when completed within the next two years the journey coast to coast will make the trip one of the great railway adventures of the world.
Tasmania offers a wilderness unlike anything the mainland has to offer, and though I make no attempt on these pages to catalogue the many wonderful opportunities for bushwalking (hiking) in Australia, the one exception I will make is the walk through the Lake Pedder region. Lake Pedder is not actually the original lake, it is the product of the state's blind determination to ruin its own natural wonders, but the walk through the region is incredible and really offers the walker a true perspective on the outstanding wilderness of central Tasmania.
In recent years there has actually been a great deal of debate regarding whether to return the area to its original state by demolishing the dam, and divers have ascertained that the wonderful sandy shoreline of the original lake is still in pristine condition below the waters of the present one.
Also note, if you happen to spot a Tasmanian tiger, don't take a picture of it, kill it and bring it's carcass back to Hobart to show the government that they still exist. I'm not serious of course, as it would be sacrilege to kill one if by some miracle it was found. The point is that some politicians in Tasmania have openly stated that a carcass is the only proof they'll accept that the creature still survives in the wild, ostensible because they know well that any sign that the tiger still exists would harm the timber industry and the government's long term plans of clearing as much of the state as possible. The Tasmanian Tiger represents the holy grail of environmentalists and naturalists in Australia due to the fact that the last known example of the creature died in the 1930's. Many credible witnesses have claimed sightings in recent years but as per usual most are treated as eccentrics, lunatics, or liars and have been told by authorities to shut up. No one doubts that if the Tasmanian tiger turned up in the remaining wilderness environmental agencies at home and abroad, not to mention the Australian people and the Federal government, would demand a moratorium on timber felling in the region and do everything possible to preserve the creature's environment. Little wonder then that the Tasmanian government wants nothing to do with the tiger and would probably pay someone to quietly kill them off it were proved that they still exist - that is if the timber industry didn't accomplish the deed first.
A historic settlement, Port Arthur was Australia's version of a penal hell on earth, a cross between Alcatraz and Devil's island that became synonymous with cruelty and inhumanity. One of Tasmania's most popular tourist sites, the bitterest irony of the prison is that it became the site for the most sadistic killing spree in history less than ten years ago, when an unhinged individual called Martin Bryant opened up on tourists with a semi-automatic military rifle, killing 35 people and wounding 18 others. This grisly fact aside, Port Arthur is well worth a look for its historic architecture, it's tragic convict past, and its magnificent setting by the sea.