Thinking of planning an Australia holiday? The vastness of this country makes it a little tricky to decide what to see and where to go. Simon Reeve, TV presenter and explorer, has travelled the length and breadth of the land down under and shares his most memorable moments to help inspire your own Oz adventure.
Clambering down a narrow canyon, between ancient rusty-red rocks, I reached a huge circular natural pool surrounded on three sides by high cliffs, and fed by springs of warm water that poured out of the rocks like hot spa showers. Bright red dragonflies the size of sparrows flitted in the hot air and birdsong echoed in the gorge. It was a heavenly Eden.
I was in Karijini National Park in Western Australia, the second-largest park in the state, an enormous and incredible world of lofty mountains and gushing rivers. On the surface, where temperatures hovered around 40 degrees, the land was empty of natural shade and covered with spinifex, clumps of spiky grass that look like endless herds of fat, green hedgehogs. Peering gingerly over the edge of a cliff into Dales Gorge had revealed a scene from The Lost World. A short scramble and a walk took us to the natural pool, and a dip that will linger in the memory forever.
South and Western Australia
Known as the state of festivals and fine wine, South Australia cultivates a laid-back reputation. A visit to the Riverland area offers boat trips along the Murray River and visits to welcoming vineyards. A rail trip west across the vast Nullarbor Plain towards Perth remains one of the great world train journeys.
The gorge, and the park, is just one of hundreds of hidden gems in a country that is completely stuffed with natural beauty. I have travelled across and around Australia, and loved every moment of every journey. Australia is so much more than the stories we’ve been told. So much more interesting, varied and beautiful. And so – quite frankly – are the locals. Too often we think of Aussies as Crocodile Dundee clichés.
I’ve been through the middle, up and down the sides, along the bottom and across the north. But I’ve just scratched the surface. You could go a dozen times and have completely different experiences on each visit. ‘You feel free in Australia,’ wrote D.H. Lawrence. ‘The skies open above you and the areas open around you.’ He was right. Australia is vast….enormous in a way that Brits can hardly imagine. And within that vastness is staggering beauty, trendy cities and some of the last remote wilderness on the planet.
Yet too many visitors stick to the south east of the country, and trundle around Sydney. It’s a great stop, certainly, but don’t be put-off from exploring further. Make sure you cross the Blue Mountains, part of the dividing range that runs down the east of Oz and separates much of urban Australia from the wild Outback.
The great Never Never, as the Outback is also known, is an astonishing place of vast national parks the size of countries, and farms that are only slightly smaller. In my adventures in Oz I’ve been on a feral camel roundup – targeting the largest wild herd in the world, panned for gold on the edge of the most valuable patch of ground on Earth, enjoyed the smoky delights of green ant tea – made with a couple of ant nests, ridden the legendary the Indian Pacific train across the vast Nullarbor Plain, and had tasting lessons from a legendary winemaker. Australia has gifted me experiences that will forever make me chuckle to remember.
Vast, wild, dusty and largely empty of chain-stores and coffee shops, the Outback is the tough, dramatic flipside to Australia’s glorious cities, and a place where adventure is almost guaranteed. You’ll be looking for bouncing roos, but keep your eyes peeled for feral horses, known as brumbies, many of which have the muscle-pack of thoroughbreds, and mobs of camels. The Outback is now home to the largest wild herd in the world.
Along and off the coast I have dived on the Great Barrier Reef, the largest natural structure on planet, a home to 1,800 species of fish and every type of coral and colour the mind can imagine, and seen colossal humpback whales in Exmouth Gulf in Western Australia, one of the best places in the world for getting close to leviathans. Just nearby Ningaloo Reef offers healthy coral, manta rays and whale sharks. But then the whole state of WA is a marine paradise, with an astonishing 12,000km of coastline catering for all tastes and desires, from beach floppers through to thrill-seeking shark divers.
My most exciting moment in Oz? I visited the isolated Cape York peninsula, a wilderness the size of England but with a population of just 20,000. I met-up with a venom hunter scientist and we went out into dangerous waters to catch box jellyfish, one of the deadliest creatures in the world. Each one can kill 15-20 people, yet the scientist studies their venom for medical research. It was a thrilling reminder that Australia isn’t the Home Counties.
Aussies love to scare the proverbial out of visiting Brits, but your chances of seeing anything deadly are actually wonderfully remote. Most Australians are urbanised. Glamorous restaurants and gorgeous resorts are the norm.
Tropical North Queensland
The Sunshine State is the second largest in the country. Big, brash and occasionally flash, it ranges from the remote tropical north, to an interior of vast farms known as stations, and a long coast fringed by the extraordinary Great Barrier Reef, one of the great natural treasures of our planet.
Plan a journey that takes in as much as you can. The cities are a delight, but you simply must explore Western Australia, now linked to Blighty by a non-stop flight, and the Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria.
For me I still dream of driving the Gibb River Road, a 660km long Outback adventure through the stunning Kimberley region. Officially opened after the rainy season, the Gibb is a tyre-shredding track only driven from May-October, with gorges, Aboriginal tales, cattle stations and ancient rock art. It promises jaw-dropping scenery and, like the rest of the country, memories that last a lifetime.