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AUSTRALIA


Latest stories (May 2013) include

Walhalla's Golden Glories

 

Australia - Safely, Solo:  Budget travellers of all ages can explore Australia without taking risks:  without hitch-hiking, without pitching a tent or sleeping rough.  Go it alone or check out the "alternative" tour industry.

Country Fairs and Markets: Have you ever fired up a donkey engine, been transfixed by a Punch and Judy show, rediscovered a long-lost book, gulped down a scallop pie, had your fortune foretold by the Tarot cards? From Daylesford to Darwin, every town and city across Australia boasts a Sunday market or community fair, perhaps a venerable agricultural show. Local produce, bric-a-brac and antiques sit beside original art and crafts, the products of creative minds and nimble fingers. Sideshows and troubadours, pony rides and prize heifers contribute equally to the fun of the fairground.

Fur Flies Over Fauna Australia is home to more than a million endemic species of plants and animals, many unique. Fauna conservation issues raise fierce and unreasoning emotions. Who dares cull kangaroo or koala populations which threaten to denude their own habitat? Activists who prevented the culling of  kangaroos may have caused the virtual extinction of the last viable wild population of one of Australia’s most endangered animals.  

Gimme Shelter Many of the rough-hewn shelter huts scattered across the Australian Alps represent the legacy of the now-banished mountain cattlemen, the losers in a battle between urban conservationists and an older, agrarian Australia. Have cattle grazing on the high summer pastures really degraded ecological values? And how should we value a century of cultural heritage?

Surviving the Outback If you get it wrong out here, you may not see home again. In the Simpson Desert, for example, sheer survival demands a reliable four-wheel-drive, radio or satellite phone, plenty of fuel and water, recovery equipment and detailed maps. Is the easy availability of rental camper vans and detailed guidebooks creating a false sense of security?

Farm Holidays Across Australia, enterprising farmers are converting disused cottages to holiday cabins or bed-and-breakfast accommodation.  Settle into an artist’s retreat on the Snowy High Plains; round up sheep in western New South Wales or harvest peanuts on Queensland's Darling Downs.

Great Outback Drives Darling River Run (NSW), Mereenie Loop (NT), Simpson Desert routes (SA, Qld, NT), Cape York (Qld)

Islands On A Budget (Qld): Does the Great Barrier Reef evoke images of beaches and bars, of packaged poolside luxury? That’s certainly not the whole story. Dunk, Hinchinbrook, Fitzroy and Magnetic Islands are national parks, accessible to all. Ferry shuttles operate to and from mainland ports, and budget lodgings await.

Like the life of a lighthouse keeper?  Australia’s parks services are progressively taking over many historic lighthouse properties. Cottages can be rented at such ruggedly beautiful locations as Kangaroo Island, SA and Victoria’s Cape Otway, Wilsons Promontory and Point Hicks.

Movie Magic Over a century old, Australia’s film industry is one of the world’s oldest - and surely one of the most innovative. It’s not difficult to pinpoint - and visit - the locations across at which many memorable scenes were captured. New South Wales boasts the Sydney church (St Mark’s Anglican at Darling Point) where Muriel's dreams came true; Babe’s home farm can be found at Robertson in the lush Southern Highlands and when touring the Outback, don’t miss the Palace Hotel, the luridly-decorated Broken Hill pub where Priscilla’s crew made camp.

Off-beat Outback destinations including Mootwingee and Gundabooka National Parks (NSW); Victoria's Pink Lakes; the Simpson Desert, South Australia's Gawler Ranges.

Off the beaten track around Australia: Tasmania's Tarkine; the Simpson Desert; Top End's Tiwi Islands; Mootwingee, Mungo and Gundabooka National Parks in NSW; Queensland's Gulf Country

Off-beat attractions around Melbourne including Horatio's Hideaway in the Dandenongs; Heide Museum of Modern Art; the Coastal Art Trail; Narmbool Homestead and Dromkeen.

Outlaws and bushrangers Ned Kelly's retreats; Thunderbolt's landmarks in New England, NSW; Tasmanian sites



Destination-related stories

NB: Australia's states and territories as follows: ACT: Australian Capital Territory NSW: New South Wales NT: Northern Territory Qld: Queensland SA: South Australia Tas: Tasmania Vic: Victoria WA: Western Australia

A desert which isn't: (Vic) Within a day's drive of Melbourne you can be drawn right into the heart of the outback. This semi-arid ‘desert’ of the Mallee country can be a sea of sage green scrub, whilst the Pink >Lakes offer an eerily beautiful spectacle.

Alice, Art & Adrenalin (NT)   Hike the Larapinta Trail through the MacDonnell Ranges; go aloft in a hot-air balloon; go scrub-bashing on quad bikes; explore a moonlit riverbed, alert for eyes in the dark; check the spare, grab some drinking water and turn off the bitumen. Or just ponder the shades of meaning in a masterpiece of indigenous art.

Alternative Sydney (NSW) Question: We are planning time out in Sydney, but we've done Circular Quay and the Opera House, The Rocks and all that... Answer: Here are some fresh ideas! Something Fishy: the industrial structure facing Blackwattle Bay is Australia's only working fish market, but there's nothing workaday about lunching on fresh seafood in the sunshine. Another day, follow the walking path around the cliffs and coves from Bondi, Australia's best-known beach down to Coogee; attractions en route include aboriginal engravings, native bushland and even a clifftop cemetery. Or kick off another day's discoveries with a catamaran cruise up the Parramatta River, into the earliest days of colonial New South Wales.

Arkaroola - Mt Painter Sanctuary (SA) in the South Australian Outback conserves some of the oldest terrain on the planet.  A roller-coaster track along the ridge tops reveals spectacular views of ancient granite crags, rich in uranium and other minerals, and distant salt lakes.  Gorges and waterholes teem with life.

Aussie Vietnam Vets stand together, again (Vic): On the outskirts of Newhaven, Phillip Island, stands an unlikely visitor attraction. The National Vietnam Veterans Museum stands as a tribute to what can be achieved by a dedicated group of volunteers. Not only those who served - and their families - will gain from visiting this sprawling collection; so will anyone who lived through those tumultuous years from 1962 through to 1972. And there's even a café and a souvenir shop, so you can take home a teddy bear soldier or a model F4 Phantom fighter jet.

Back of Barcoo (Qld) The Outback is a state of mind, not simply a line on the map, and western Queensland proves the point. This is a land of sprawling cattle stations and sun-baked towns where some of Australia's most enduring institutions were born, of characters larger than life; of pea-green rivers populated with yellowbelly, yabby and other elusive creatures; of homesteads both hospitable and historic.

Belougery Spire and Breadknife (NSW) These are the Warrumbungles, volcanic spires and domes which rise up from the great rolling plains of mid-western New South Wales, over the Great Divide north-west of Sydney. Break off the long, hard grind between Brisbane and Melbourne for a breather amongst the jagged purple shapes.

Beyond the cellar door (Vic) Eric Purbrick could see a distinguished career at the Bar stretching ahead... and he wanted out. His father had just purchased a run-down vineyard on the far side of the world, and the young Cambridge graduate began to imagine himself tending rows of vines, grapes ripening under the Australian sun. Fast forward to the twenty-first century: a third generation of Purbricks decides to venture into eco-tourism, capitalising on Tahbilk's 19-kilometre frontage onto the unspoilt Nagambie Lakes.

Big Golden Mountain (Vic) Central Victoria is a land of faded glories, of dreams which won't quite die. The historic towns of Wedderburn, Inglewood and Dunolly form a veritable golden triangle, an area which in the nineteenth century yielded about three-quarters of the world's largest nuggets. Just east of our golden triangle lies the city of Bendigo, whose flamboyant Victorian architecture speaks volumes about the fortunes won - and lost - from the gold-bearing quartz reefs. Bendigo's attractions include the Golden Dragon Museum, Central Deborah Mine, Tramway Museum and Bendigo Pottery.

Big Skies, Big Fish, Big Plans (SA) For too long the Spencer Gulf, that uncompromising wedge of water, has relegated South Australia's Eyre Peninsula to an almost-Outback, far from Adelaide and the eastern cities. The proposed opening of a new ferry service over coming months should go some way to remedying that sense of isolation. On the Eyre the skies are big and blue, and the marine life - Coffin Bay oysters, bluefin tuna, blue pointer sharks, sea lions and southern right whales - equally so. Fortunes are made, sometimes lost, along these rugged coasts, as evidenced by the imposing trawlers berthed shoulder-to-shoulder in Port Lincoln.

Bogong mountain high (Vic) In summer, Victoria's high country welcomes visitors with walking trails, cycle touring and mountain biking, trout fishing and vistas from every turn in the road. From the ski village of Falls Creek east and down to the Mitta Mitta River, the Bogong High Plains Road - closed by winter snows - winds across a wonderland of rolling plains dotted with weatherbeaten snow gums, gurgling streams, marshy frost hollows and low, rocky summits.

Bruny Island (Tas) Simple pleasures, half-forgotten, reappear on Bruny: fresh air perfumed by eucalyptus smoke; walking along a beach of slippery sand; gorging on ripe, indigo-staining blackberries. Sweeping beaches, craggy capes and secluded inlets are the hallmarks of an island retreat whose holiday villages hold fond memories for generations of Tasmanians.

Brush strokes by the Bay (Vic): Melbourne's Coastal Arts Trail on Port Phillip Bay, extending 17 kilometres from Brighton around to Mentone, celebrates the pioneer Australian artists who painted these coastal landscapes in years past. At different times of day, you can see the same range of hues, colours and moods which inspired Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and other founding fathers of Australian art.

Coober Pedy, River of Illusions (SA) The deserts of northern South Australia produce most of the world’s precious opal, gouged out of the ground by ruggedly-independent miners. Perhaps half the dwellings are excavated into the stony hillsides: man-made caverns offer an enticing retreat when a searing dust storm is raising hell outdoors.

Crocodile Dundee Country (NT): Most visitors shun Australia’s "Top End" - Crocodile Dundee Country - in that hot, still time of year before the monsoon rains break. Yet there is no better time to visit, as the wetlands at this time become a Noah's ark of grazing, browsing waterfowl, crocodiles half submerged like floating logs and birds of prey.

Cry of the Thylacine: Tasmania's Last Frontier (Tas) Was that a distant howl, or simply the wind in the early morning darkness? The thylacine, the Tasmanian tiger, has been declared extinct: but many believe it survives, and where else but deep in the Tarkine wilderness forests... Earlier, I had gaped at a growing pile of food parcels on the lonely road, to be shared out amongst those about to venture into the Tarkine.

Darling River Run (NSW) From its source just over the Queensland border, the Darling River meanders southwest across the wide open country of western New South Wales to its junction with the Murray at Wentworth.   Towns along the riverbank preserve the evidence of the days before paddlesteamers yielded to the iron horse.

Darwin - Frontline Australia (NT): Australia's most unusual city, Darwin has always been first landfall for visitors from the north - hostile or otherwise.

East Gippsland (Vic) East of Melbourne lies a region of almost endless forests and ocean beaches, extending all the way to the NSW border. Buzzy Hewitt draws upon his Aboriginal heritage as he leads walkers along the ocean beaches of Croajingalong National Park; share the old Point Hicks Lightstation with the sea eagles, skinks and snakes.

Echuca - Historic Riverport on the Murray (Vic) At Echuca, where the Campaspe and the Goulburn run into the mighty Murray, floods - and drought - have always been a way of life. The pioneers who built Echuca's massive red gum wharf knew they had to allow for a river which can rise or fall 7.5 metres with the seasons. The Port of Echuca was then Australia's largest inland river port, working a hundred vessels a week. It still does a roaring trade: six surviving paddle steamers still chug around bends in the river, whistles screeching, steam spurting, as they have done for over a century now.

Eureka! (Vic) At dawn on December 3, 1854, thirty or more men died when colonial police and troops attacked the makeshift stockade constructed by miners on the gold fields west of Melbourne. The Eureka Stockade, Australia's only organised insurrection, paved the way for true democracy and the rebels' blue-and-white Southern Cross flag remains a potent symbol of protest.

Fowling the Nest (Vic) Self-taught ornithologist 'Whimpey' Reichelt has devoted his life to the endangered Malleefowl, a large bird which constructs and tends large mounds for the incubation of its eggs. Bird-lovers can meet Reichelt at his homely lodge and camp in the semi-desert Mallee country northwest of Melbourne

Fraser Island, The World’s Largest Sand Bar (Qld) From aloft, Fraser Island is a brocade of emerald and gold, fringed by lacy white surf. Ribbons of beach bulge into massive tongues which lap into the rainforests, damming creeks to form pea-green pools like Lake Wabby, bordered by forest on one side, an advancing wall of sand on the other. One ranger calls the island, "a sculpture of the south-east wind" and the map will show you why. This huge sand cigar, clothed in scrublands, luxuriant stands of forest and dotted with freshwater lakes, is inhabited only by a fortunate few, sharing their idyll with the dingoes, the ospreys and the oyster-catchers.

Fresh air fun: Brisbane (Qld) here are five (or more) fresh-air things to do in and around Brisbane, capital of Australia's self-styled Sunshine State. Most do revolve around sunshine and sparkling waters: quad biking on the sand dunes of Moreton Island, climbing the cantilevers of the Story Bridge, kayaking on the Brisbane River, taking in a rugby league game.

Ride 'The Ghan' to Alice Springs... and now on to Darwin (NT) Named for the Afghan cameleers who worked the route, the first steam train in 1929 took two days to reach Alice Springs from the south. For decades it remained a vital if erratic lifeline, a far cry from today’s eminently civilised journey. In 2008 Great Southern Rail, operators of The Ghan, introduced two innovations: Platinum Service cabin accommodation, which expands the choice of top-end accommodation aboard The Ghan; and Southern Spirit, combining elements of The Ghan with other epic rail journeys to create a range of 'luxury Australian rail cruises' spanning the continent.

Grampian Grandeur (Vic): Victoria's Grampian Ranges offer an unexpected richness of forest walks, waterfalls and wildlife - refreshment for body and soul, within easy reach of Melbourne. Escarpments and canyons reward the walker, while fearless kangaroos converge to cadge tidbits from sightseers.

Great Ocean Road (Vic) Experience one of Australia's most dramatic landscapes: a cliff-hanging scenic drive that begins within a couple of hours of Melbourne. The Great Ocean Road twists and turns for 260 kilometres around Victoria's south-western coastline past vistas like the honey limestone stacks of the Twelve Apostles.

Harley Heaven Pull on your leathers to explore 'Melbourne's backyard'? At first glance the hell-raising Harley-Davidson ethos doesn't quite fit with the family holiday ambience of the Mornington Peninsula. This, after all, is the sort of place where families set up shop at their favourite beach each summer, year after year. Along the inland roads, boutique wineries flourish like the grapes on the vines themselves. But those winding, scenic roads are ideal for wind-in-your-hair motorcycle touring, letting a local worry about take care of the driving and the navigating - especially with so many wines to be tasted along the way. You'll need those saddlebags to carry home a few more bottles...

Kakadu Dreaming (NT): The rock art of the Northern Territory's Kakadu National Park reflects the passing of thousands of generations - so many that climatic changes have left their traces across these ancient works. No site has more dramatic impact than Nourlangie Rock, a fortress towering above the parched plains, standing alone from the escarpment.

Kelly Country (Vic) Merciless thug or tragic hero? Outlaw Ned Kelly still holds the imagination of Australians hostage. The movie Ned Kelly, starring Heath Ledger and Naomi Watts, continued that tradition. Ned's helmeted figure hovers over the forest hills and fertile valleys outside Melbourne. Ironically, the country where the Kelly clan struggled for survival is today renowned for gourmet produce.

Let's Go to the Prom (Vic): The first sight of Wilsons Promontory - the southernmost protrusion of the Australian continent - takes your breath away. The dairy paddocks end abruptly at Corner Inlet, where granite ranges tower across the horizon.

Marvellous Melbourne Loathe to be overshadowed by Sydney, Australia's second city plays host to major-league World Cup Rugby, Australian Open tennis, Formula One motor racing, Test cricket and international golf; not to mention the horse race which brings the nation to a halt… and that high-flying, home-grown football code called Australian Rules.

Mooloolaba 'The transformation of Mooloolaba into one of the world's finest beachfront holiday destinations is under way... the sleepy port has changed forever' Okay, that's estate agent hype, but something has definitely happened at the Cinderella end of the Sunshine Coast, an hour's drive north of Brisbane.

No place like Alice (NT) Hush. The first notes of the flute waft through the warm air. Two hundred pairs of hands wave gracefully - keeping time with the flies, rampant after recent rains. Prepare your Oxford tub and rowing eights, practise your sand shovelling for an afternoon of slapstick at the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, staged each October in a dry riverbed.

Noosa: Snowbird Country (Qld) Within minutes of cafés, boutiques and galleries, the waters of the Coral Sea, framed by the coloured sands of Cooloola, glint like diamonds. Australia’s most-visited national park is an enclave of forest, heathland and surf-lapped coves rubbing shoulders with the chi-chi cappuccino strip of Hastings Street.

Opal-Hearted Country (SA, NSW, Qld) The multi-faceted gemstone which inspired these words by poet Dorothea Mackellar is uniquely associated with Australia’s Red Centre.   Meet the miners, rugged individualists all, who often make their homes in underground caverns in sun-scorched settlements like Coober Pedy, Lightening Ridge or White Cliffs. 

Outback Style: Seductive South Australia (SA) Adelaide and its hinterland, including the Clare Valley and Flinders Ranges, hold some rare outposts of civilisation: a restored fire station in North Adelaide, the seductive comforts of Thorn Park Country House or North Bundaleer Estate; fine 'feral' dining at the Parachilna Hotel.

Passage to Paradise: The Whitsunday Passage (Qld) runs through a chain of Coral Sea islands. Wade ashore on a postcard-perfect beach, crunchy coral sand between your toes. Your sailing ketch bobs at anchor. Hawksbill turtles break the surface, bobbing up for air. Brightly-striped fish dart about the shallows, nipping in and out of corals, clams and gently waving anemones.

Peanuts to Pinot (Qld) Australia’s newest gourmet food and wine region is demanding to be noticed. Much more than the peanuts by which most Australians know it, the region centred on Kingaroy – within easy range of Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast – is shaping up as a gourmet haven. Deep red soil also nourishes sub-tropical fruit, cheeses and beef, and the produce of a dozen or so up-and-coming wineries.

Playing the Piper (Vic) The streets of Kyneton, less than one hour from Melbourne Airport, are lined with fine old Victorian-era shops and hotels, legacies of the great gold rush of the mid-nineteenth-century. In Kyneton's Piper Street the vision, the drive and the creativity of a handful of people has created a dining and shopping strip as alluring as any in the metropolis.

Salamanca Style (Tas) Hmong tribal people selling vegetables in the market place... This is not hill-country Thailand but Tasmania, where an eclectic open-air market combines authentic local crafts with cauliflower and cappuccino against a backdrop of colonial sandstone.

Scenic Rim serenity (Qld) Grazing cattle need pampering and lush pastures to produce their best. People, too, respond well to such bucolic calm; the more so, in today's tough times. Two premium properties in the sub-tropical hill country of southeastern Queensland's Scenic Rim produce premium-grade beef or milk, whilst hosting sublime retreats for Homo sapiens. City-dwellers can recharge their batteries - and graze on nature's finest - within a scant hour or two of Brisbane, in the rugged, lushly fertile region where the Great Dividing Range meets the Darling Downs.

Seaside Towns of South Australia’s South-East (SA) invite you to dally, perhaps throw a line into those turquoise waters. These old stone towns cling to a sun-scorched coast, a shadeless landscape of low limestone crags, dunes and lagoons. Trees scarcely dare raise their heads. Only the waters seem fertile and inviting; these are fishing towns. In the movie Sweet Talker the character played by Bryan Brown blew in to Beachport, intending to take the locals for a ride, then skip town; but the town took hold on him and wouldn’t let go.

Snuggle up under the stars in Central Australia's Simpson Desert (SA, Qld) Between Oodnadatta and Birdsville lies a wilderness of windblown dunes, running parallel for hundreds of kilometres. Traversing this tract of brick-red sand and salt lakes at the heart of Central Australia is an achievement in itself.

Something Fishy (NSW) The hangar-sized industrial structure facing Blackwattle Bay is Australia's only working fish market. Visitors can climb the stairs to a first-floor gallery overlooking the main trading floor of the Sydney Fish Market, whose acclaimed Seafood School conducts regular cooking classes.

Sunshine Coast excursions (Qld) : Great Sandy National Park; Maleny and Montville; Joh country in the South Burnett; Hervey Bay and the Fraser Coast; Fraser Island

Stylish getaways around Melbourne (Vic) : including Lindenwarrah at Milawa in the King Valley; Stonelea Country Estate at Alexandra; The Acorn at Daylesford; Mount Abrupt Eco Lodges at Dunkeld and Bendigo's Shamrock Hotel

Stylish getaways around the Sunshine Coast (Qld) including the Hyatt Regency Coolum resort, Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island; Eagles Nest Retreat at Maleny and Treetops Cabins on the Lake at Montville

Tarns, Cirques And Button-Grass (Tas): Just behind the looming bulk of Mount Wellington, pristine conservation areas like the South West Wilderness, the Hartz Mountains and Mount Field National Park await within reach of a day trip out from Hobart, the state capital.

Tasmanian Temptation: Maria Island (Tas): Even for Tasmanians, themselves by definition islanders, Maria Island contains a generous dollop of mystique. Long-vanished tribes, convict desperados and a charismatic but doomed entrepreneur once lived here; unspoilt forests and beaches await visitors to this national park off Tasmania’s east coast.

Turn Right at the Derwent (Tas) For more than a century the Tasmanian capital has been a staging point for polar-bound adventurers like Roald Amundsen, first to reach the South Pole. The city’s sandstone walls, its streets, parks and institutions still echo with the footsteps of sealers and scientists, whalers and weather watchers.

Up with the Sun: Stepping Out in Central Australia (NT) Walking in Central Australia is enjoyable if you get up with the sun! Here’s a round-up of the Red Centre’s best day-walks and overnight hikes: the long-distance Larapinta Trail, including the day-long Ormiston Pound walk; Ayers Rock/Uluru base walks; The Olgas/Katatjuta's Valley of the Winds and Walpa Gorge walks; Kings Canyon Cliff Walk and Palm Valley's Mpulungkinya Track.

Victoria's Heart of Gold (Vic) Take out your Miner’s Right and prospect for gold in a land of dreams which won’t quite die. In the town of Dunolly the liveliest business on the grandly-named Broadway is Finders Prospectors Supplies, whose shop window displays gold pans, boots and maps. Some say that as much gold as ever is being found...

Walhalla’s Golden Glories (Vic): Two and a half hours from Melbourne, Walhalla in 1998 became the last town in Victoria to hook up to the state power grid. Mobile phone and TV reception are still severely limited in this deep, forested valley, and high farce results when tourists try to find their way in or out of here by relying on satellite navigation. What is it about this remote community, whose population is still measured only in double digits? The story of Walhalla today is largely the story of Michael Leaney, a deceptively boyish dynamo who has revitalised the tiny Victorian-era gold rush township, almost lost in the Great Dividing Range. Leaney's enthusiasm also helps drive the continuing restoration of the railway which once ran from Moe to Walhalla, and this year, 2010, celebrates its centenary.

Who's a Grey Nomad, then? (NT) If you're not quite ready yet to raid the retirement funds to buy a camper van and set out on The Big One, why not try before you buy? Ten days touring the Red Centre in a rented van ought to do the trick...

Review or order any of the above stories by contacting Philip Game


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