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As the British winter sets in and the days become increasingly darker, thoughts turn to times when the days are brighter, longer and warmer. The Australian summer is just beginning when Britain is wrapping up, putting back the clocks and turning on the central heating. With grey being a constant feature of British winter, it is inspiring to think of the sun”s rays bringing to life the rich colours of the Australian landscape. And with increasing numbers of flights to Australia from the UK this winter, typified by the Virgin Atlantic launch of services to Sydney via Hong Kong, getting away from it all Down Under has never been easier. Australia is of course not only the popular gateways available from the UK. Adelaide, Darwin, Melbourne and Perth and Sydney, but a huge sub-continent about the same size, in terms of land mass, as the US (less Alaska).
Ask a traveller what they remember most about their visit to Australia, and before too long the conversation turns to talk of colours and the light. Ayres Rock (Uluru) or the glittering blues of the Great Barrier Reef; or the fresh greens of the Tasmanian countryside. All these breathtaking sights are bathed in a light which somehow seems stronger, clearer ” more intense. It is almost as if the sky is bigger in Australia.
The enthusiasm of the people is infectious leaving the visitor with a lingering sense of optimism. The distinctive range of experiences and characters in Australia ensures that impressions and memories formed Down Under last a lifetime, and may even provide the visitor with an opportunity to reassess the world and their place in it.
Some things in Australia are not quite what they appear. Located in the Red Centre in the Northern Territory of Australia, Uluru ” the world”s largest monolith ” holds a cultural and spiritual significance for the Anangu people. Some of the rock paintings indicate the whereabouts of water, while others portray spiritual stories. What may at first appear to be darker shades of rock, reveal themselves to be rock paintings illustrating the ancient Dreamtime stories passed from generation to generation of the Anangu people. Combined with the ever changing colours and shifting light ” and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets ” the spiritual paintings create a magical feel. The ”Sounds of Silence” dinner ” an outdoor, gourmet experience in full view of Uluru ” provides an opportunity to try Aussie bush tucker favourites including emu and crocodile ” washed down with champagne ” while contemplating the magnificent rock set against the expansive sky.
The Great Ocean Road in Victoria also rewards visitors with an extensive palette of vivid colours. A magnificent drive in its own right, the Great Ocean Road links Melbourne and Adelaide, providing cliff top views of some of southeast Australia”s most impressive coastline. The Twelve Apostles, a set of soaring rock formations that reach skywards from the crashing sea are set against a backdrop of imposing limestone cliffs. A scenic helicopter trip at sunset reveals the breathtaking blues, reds and crimsons melting into one another across the sky, the sea and the rocks.
A delivery of mail may seem like a daily occurrence, something to take for granted, but in the Outback of South Australia and the northern reaches of Tropical Queensland it is something to look forward to ” as mail is delivered by plane. A number of mail run services are open to the public, providing an insight into daily life in the Outback a unique aerial perspective of the Australian landscape.
Port Arthur in Tasmania was the ideal location for a convict settlement due to its isolated location, and in its nineteenth century heyday was home to 12,000 male convicts. Today it is Australia”s best preserved convict penal colony and guided tours of the area provide the opportunity for visitors to hear haunting stories from a different lifetime.
Hiring a houseboat and navigating the Murray River provides a convenient base from which to explore the undulating countryside of South Australia, at any pace. Based onboard, it”s a simple matter of mooring up and heading out ” either to visit a local winery, to take a cycle tour or meander through small, local towns along the river”s course.
The waters off the coast of Western Australia teem with aquatic life all year round, and host seasonal visitors including humpback whales, manta rays and the largest fish in the world, whale sharks ” which can grow to be 18 metres long. From late March to July these enormous but placid creatures make their annual appearance at Ningaloo Reef (left). Swimming alongside them in the warm waters of Ningaloo Reef is a magical experience.
Many first time visitors to Australia head to the Great Barrier Reef. Stretching over 2,000 kilometres along the coast of Queensland, the reef thrives in the shallow waters of the tropical seas. All along the coast, visitors may dive and snorkel to enter the world of the 1,500 fish species that call the Reef home ” a home they share with turtles, dolphins and a plethora of colourful aquatic plant life.
What, from a distance, appear to be a series of huge man-made mining tunnels in the Outback are the Undara Lava Tubes, a relic of ancient volcanic activity. Accommodation at the Tubes is provided in a series of restored railway carriages.
At Cape Byron, the most easterly point on the mainland, be the first in Australia to view the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. The rugged headland provides a great spot to welcome a new day and it is also a popular location for spotting turtles, dolphins and humpback whales on their annual migration. The Cape Byron Lighthouse has provided a beacon to shipping for over a century and visitors seeking a truly illuminating experience may stay the night in the lighthouse keeper's quarters.
Australia is much more than the cities mentioned in the introduction. A lifetime of regular visits will no more than scratch the surface. Its now just 22 hours away. Leave Heathrow on an evening flight and you will arrive early morning the day after. It will take a couple of days to sort out the clock change and this should be noted in planning a trip. The return is even easier. Outbound mid-afternoon should see you back at Heathrow first thing the following morning local time. One thing for sure, memories of time spent in Australia will brighten even the darkest winter day.
Tourism Australia: http://www.australia.com