Iconic Australia: City, Rock, Rainforest, and Reef
With approximately 2,500 miles from east to west, Australia tantalizes with the allure of city, desert, rainforest, and underwater adventures in one vast and beautiful country. This exciting smorgasbord of possibility can make planning a trip Down Under overwhelming. But Jetset Extra insiders know that it’s possible to experience all that iconic Australia offers with minimal transit fuss and maximum enjoyment.
No visit to Oz would be complete without the shine of Sydney’s city lights. With that said, finding a fresh angle on this urban favorite can be challenging. Fortunately, we have some tips from Sydney residents about secret spots for truly weekending like a local.
For brunch, head to The Swimmers Club and nibble on a quinoa salad while lounging yacht-side on the deck; the chic clientele and sweeping vistas of Rose Bay’s sparkling blue waters have inspired comparisons to the French Riviera. In the afternoon, take a gentle anti-jet-lag hike along the Hermitage Foreshore Track, where you will be treated to must-do photo ops of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House—minus the traffic and gaggle of tourists.
For dinner, enjoy the catch-of-the-day at Fish Face, chef Stephen Hodge’s hip new seafood joint in Darling Harbor.
After dinner, head downtown for an evening stroll past the famous Sydney Opera House silhouetted against the night sky.
Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Just a skip and a hop on a short flight will transport you from Sydney’s cosmopolitan glamour to the beautiful red desert of the Outback. The exquisite beauty of Uluru (also known as “Ayers Rock” or simply “The Rock”) awaits. To the Anangu people, Uluru and the neighboring Kata Tjuta are sacred land. This sandstone wonder stretches 1,142 feet high, more than 2800 feet above sea level. Uluru will dazzle your heart and mind with ever-changing light, landscapes, colors, and history. Welcome to the spiritual heart of Australia.
The sheer scale of the Ayers Rock Resort is impressive; with approximately 780 full-time resident staff members, it comprises the fourth largest city in the Northern Territory. The resort also offers training and employment opportunities to members of the indigenous communities. To support these efforts, enjoy a custom-made fresh salad for lunch at the Kulata Academy Café, which is staffed by the trainees of the resort’s National Indigenous Training Academy.
With more than 65 tours, local activities, and attractions, Ayers Rock Resort offers many different ways to experience Outback Australia. Ride a camel across the desert dunes. Embark on a base hike of the Rock. Or, for the more leisure-oriented, simply escape the heat with a cold glass of Chardonnay while gazing at an unfettered view of Uluru from the comfort of your hotel room.
For dinner, the Sounds of Silence tour is a four-hour culinary and visual extravaganza completely unique to Ayers Rock.
Begin the evening by sipping champagne and savoring crocodile canapés at a bluff overlooking Uluru. As the sun sets over the majestic Rock, a local musician will serenade you on a didgeridoo as you mingle with other fellow travelers from all over the world.
After the brilliance of the sunset, treat yourself to a barbecue under the stars as an astronomy expert takes you through a historical journey of the night sky.
At Ayers Rock, the only sight more magnificent than the sunset is the sunrise over Uluru—and yes, it’s well worth the 4 a.m. wake-up call. On the Desert Awakenings Tour, gaze at the kaleidoscope of pink, yellow, and blue light shifting every few moments to unveil more grandeur in the sky. Sip delicious local coffee and munch on breakfast egg sandwiches while listening to your Aboriginal tour guide tell stories about the origins of Uluru and its rich history.
The red desert sands of the Outback may seem worlds apart from the lush flora of the rainforest, but a convenient non-stop flight will bring you to another UNESCO World Heritage site: the Daintree Rainforest. Daintree contains the highest number of plant and animal species that are rare, or threatened with extinction, anywhere in the world.
Thala Beach Lodge offers an amazing way to experience the magic of this region: living in your own luxury treetop bungalow. Wake up to sounds of the rainforest—the calling of cicadas, the chirping of birds, and the patter of light rain hitting the leaves of the trees. Step out onto your private terrace and find a sweeping vista of verdant green mountains and a soothing grey morning mist over the sea.
Sitting on its own delightfully isolated peninsula, Thala Beach Lodge offers 145 acres of rainforest with six habitats at your disposal. For a morning walk, choose between the wild untouched sand of Oak Beach or the beautiful mangrove forest on Pebbly Beach.
Following the beach walk, savor a sumptuous breakfast at Ospreys Port Douglas Restaurant, the open-air dining room with 360-degree views of the Coral Sea. A sweet indulgence on the breakfast menu is the Rainforest Rendezvous—blueberry pancakes with mango and coconut coulis, whipped nut butter, and a dash of maple syrup combined with crispy double smoked bacon, Cairns coffee, and pineapple-orange juice. Enjoy it while watching Rainbow Lorikeets flitting amongst the eucalyptus trees.
With all this natural beauty at your doorstep, you may find you don’t want to leave your hotel. But if you do fancy a walk-about, Daintree Safaris offers a way to explore its namesake site without the mass-market hassles of a large tour bus. The intimate group size provides a greater chance of experiencing the natural rarities of the rainforest, such as spotting the elusive Southern Cassowary bird. Marvel at the stunning topography that ranges from rainforest to beach, from mountain to river. Take a dip in a bubbling creek then hunt for crocodiles on a safari cruise.
Port Douglas & the Great Barrier Reef
If you’d like to experience the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef without the tourist craziness of Cairns, Port Douglas is the ideal venue. This charming beach town is not only home to the stunning Four Mile Beach but also offers a collection of delicious dining options. Favorites include On the Inlet, a casually elegant seafood restaurant with striking views of the harbor, and the Star of Siam Restaurant, where the traditional Thai dishes incorporate tangy fresh herbs from the restaurant’s own organic garden.
Port Douglas is a convenient departure point for enjoying the multi-colored coral and interesting cave dives on the Agincourt Ribbon Reefs. When gearing up for your day(s) of dive exploration, Poseidon Dive combines top-notch service and equipment with the luxury of smaller dive groups. Relax aboard a fastidiously organized and clean ship. Receive detailed safety briefings from well-trained staff members that sport enthusiastic smiles and quirky superhero-themed lycra dive suits. Great on-board amenities for your voyage include a delicious tandoori chicken lunch as well as underwater camera and Go-Pro rentals.
For beachside chic with a touch of whimsy, stay at the QT Port Douglas, the latest outpost of a new hip boutique hotel chain in Australia with Andy Warhol-esque modern décor cheekily self-described as “Mad Men meets Hamptons.” Spacious condos offer rare amenities such as a fully stocked kitchen, a washer/dryer, a modern gym, tennis courts, free bicycles, and a lap-size swimming pool. Post dive, and conveniently located on-property, the SpaQ is a wonderful way to indulge in some pampering during your stay; service is impeccable, and the Austin Powers-like shag rugs in the relaxation room are cozy with a spot of fun.
And the perfect way to celebrate a week of amazing adventures in iconic Australia? Unwind poolside, listen to hip music, and watch the sunset while sipping on a pomegranate margarita at the trendy hotel bar, Estilo.
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Thala Beach Lodge and QT Port Douglas for providing media rates on lodging and to Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia and Daintree Safaris for providing media rates on tours.