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Archive for July, 2010

A Different Australia

An Australian vacation is a big undertaking. From the US East coast, it’s an total of about 19 hour in flight – with at least one stop – and from the West coast still a dragging 14 hours. For this reason, most choose to travel to Australia for at least two to three weeks. You “lose” a day going there due to the time change (i.e you might leave an a Friday night and arrive there Sunday morning).

At 7, 682,300 square kilometers, Australia is the 6th largest country in the world – slightly smaller than continental United States. It would be seemingly impossible to see the U.S. in a week or less, at least to really experience it, and the same goes for Australia.

Australia is a relatively new country, and it’s perceived lack of “ethnic” cuisine and foreign language tend to keep it off people’s list of exotic destinations. Instead, images of surfing, kangaroos and beer tend to dominate. True, these are part of the culture and environment. It is a friendly, fun-loving culture where there’s not much of a dress code and people tend to spend as much time outdoors as possible. That doesn’t, however, make it less exiting, or for that matter, exotic. Here are just a few facts that might surprise you:

1. Over 80% of Australia’s mammals are endemic, which means that if you want to see them in their natural environment, it has to be in Australia.

2. Australia contains 60 designated wine regions and is the fourth largest wine exporter in the world.

3. Australia is comprised of 8,000 islands, including the island of Tasmania. They range in terrain from rough and rocky, to the world’s largest sand island (Fraser Island), to upscale holiday destinations such as the Whitsundays and Magnetic islands.

4. Aborigines, the country’s indigenous people, are comprised of over 400 groups, though share common ties to the land, storytelling and art. They migrated to Australia between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago and now make up approximately two percent of Australia’s population.

5. Tasmania (part of the Australian continent) is considered to have the cleanest air in the world.

Discover Philip Island

Standing on the coast at sunset on an island in the south of Australia, you see a thousand wild Little Penguins begin to emerge from the ocean as if in a continual wave hitting the shore. The penguins waddle across the beach to their burrows in the sand dunes where they will spend the night. What you’re observing is the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, Australia. It occurs every evening at sundown and is a completely natural phenomenon – the penguins haven’t in any way been trained, prompted or otherwise influenced.

Phillip Island sits approximately 90 minutes from Melbourne is comprised of natural parks. The Penguin Parade, it’s most popular attraction, can be experienced on group tours, with small groups, or even as a private viewing with your own ranger right on the beach. If you don’t want to be quite as up close to the penguins, you can view them from a sky box in a viewing tower. However you view it, it’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience. If you are not going with a tour or private viewing, still purchase your tickets ahead of time to ensure that you get a seat.

Little Penguin on Philip Island, Australia

Penguins are not the only wildlife that call Philip Island home. The closest colony of fur seals to mainland Australia, Seal Rocks, is two kilometers from Philip Island’s Nobbies Center, where visitors can learn about fur seals. The colony is an important breeding ground has over 20,000 seals, and guests at the Center can view them with “seal cameras” and print out the pictures.

Boardwalk by the Nobbies Center, Philip Island

Koalas are one of Australia’s most loved animals, and they are indigenous to the continent. They sleep over 20 hours a day, and their color tends to blend them in with the trees, so they aren’t always easy to spot. At Phillip Island’s Koala sanctuary, guests can wander through the bush land on elevated tree-top boardwalks for close views of Koalas in their natural environment. As a bonus, it’s not unlikely to encounter wallabies, birds, echidnas (also known as a spiny anteater, it looks something like a porcupine) and other Australian wildlife.

Koala from Koala Sanctuary on Philip Island

To Complete your visit to Philip Island, take the (all-vehicle) bridge across to Churchill Island Heritage farm. This historic working farm sits on 57 acres. Journey back in time with sheep sheering, working dog demonstrations, cow milking and blacksmithing. Clydesdale horses, highland cattle, ducks, chickens and peacocks also reside on the farm. Finally, grab a bite to eat at the cafe which boasts fantastic views of the Western Port Bay.

Bragging Rights

If you’re planning a trip to Australia and New Zealand, you most likely know some of the top sites and “to dos” – Sydney Opera House, Great Barrier Reef, Great Ocean Road, Bondi Beach, etc. You also probably know it’s a popular place for activities such as snorkeling, SCUBA, surfing, bungee jumping and a host of other activities. But isn’t one of the best parts of a trip exploring things that others might not have seen or done? If you want to ensure some great experiences during the trip and stories upon your return, check out these activities.

These suggestions, which are in no particular order of importance, come straight from those who have participated, so we can vouch for the authenticity and enjoyment of them. These won’t all be for everyone, but hopefully at least one or two will make enhance your Australia experience!

Beach plane on Fraser Island: With over 100 lakes, rainforest, long stretches of uninterrupted beach and dunes reaching 240 meters above sea level, it’s not tough to see why the island is a world heritage site. In addition to the 4WD tours offered on the island, a beach plane provides an incredible view of the dunes, forest, creeks, and lakes that you can get any other way. As the name suggest, the plane takes off and lands on the beach – it’s a propeller plane that generally seats two people, so you also get a private tour while up in the air.

Fraser Island from a beach plane

Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney: If you want a one-of-a-kind event, this is the one. While activities take place over two weeks, the most iconic is the Gay & Lesbian Parade. In 2010 almost 10,000 participants’ spectacular costumes and floats wowed thousands and thousands of spectators. Mardi Gras also includes a parties, Fair Day and plenty of other events. You can learn more about the events and next year’s Mardi Gras here.

Farm/Ranch Stay: This is one that may not be for everyone. Even for a city slicker though, a night at a ranch allows you to experience the way plenty of Australians live every day, albeit probably with a few more amenities and better service than most. Weather an animal ranch where you can watch sheep sheering demonstrations or an agricultural farm, these stays are definitely a way to experience a different side of Australia. You’ll also meet some fantastic people and animals!

Sunrise on Cape Byron: The easternmost point on the country’s mainland, Cape Byron is the first to catch the sun in the morning. You can take a cab from Byron Bay up to the top of the cape early in the morning. There’s also a lighthouse at the cape, the most powerful in Australia, and worth a visit in itself.

Sunrise on Cape Byron

Black water rafting in Waitomo: Bouncing through rushing rapids in a limestone cave with a head lamp as your only source of light is a quintessential depiction of the adventurous spirit New Zealand embodies. The Waitomo region is a naturally alluring region, and the cave system provides opportunities for rafting, tubing, glow worm tours, cave abseiling and more.

Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike: In a country known for it’s lush greenery, standing at the foot of a glacier, and a rather large on at that, in the back yard of the quiet town of Franz Josef, inspires a feeling somewhere between awe and disbelief. What’s almost more incredible is that people hike the glacier every day. While there are a number of tour options, the heli-hike takes hikers on a scenic helicopter tour of the glacier and surrounding area, then lands high up on the glacier, setting the stage for a two hour guided hike down. Please don’t let the title ‘glacier hike’ turn you off – there are options for all fitness levels and it’s not as challenging as hiking a glacier might sound (though don’t tell your friends that when you come back!).

Heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier

New Zealand’s Best Bets

New Zealand is a land of adventure, natural beauty, and just plain fun. Here are some of our top suggestions for activities to partake in when visiting New Zealand (in no particular order):

Jetboat

Jet boating – like jet skiing but with a whole boat load (literally) of people.

River boarding – like boogie boarding, but in a river with rapids and small whirlpools. Done in a group, so others will be there to help you along.

Hiking – New Zealand has more hiking trails than could possibly listed in this article. Whether you’re looking for a one-day quick hike or a multi-day excursion, NZ has it. To learn more, check out www.hikingnewzealand.com.

Thermal/hot springs – these can be found all over both the north and south islands. From Hammer Springs to Taupo Hot Springs to the free hot pool in the Great Barrier Island, you can probably find a hot spring not far from your location.

hot springs

Bungee jumping – this can be done from a bridge, a hot air balloon, at night, over a canyon or from a sky swing (and probably several other options).

Skydiving – While this too can be done almost anywhere in New Zealand, sky diving over the Franz Josef glacier is a top pick for both its uniqueness and the incredible view.

Milford Sound – part of fjordland, Milford sound can be reached by road or cruise (suggested).

milford sound

Glow worm caves – this isn’t particularly adventurous (unless you’re afraid of the dark) but particularly for a family group, it’s a fun activity that you’re not likely to try elsewhere and actually more of an intriguing experience than the name suggests.

You could probably spend months in New Zealand and do something new and exciting every day. These are just a few suggestions to get you started.