Australia is the largest island in the world and a continent to itself. Before European settlement, it was inhabited by the Aborigines (or Kooris) for some 42,000 years. It was first visited by the Dutch in the 17th century and later colonized by the British in the 18th century. The arrival of the Europeans resulted in a dramatic upheaval in the Koori way of life, such that Australians have found fit to establish a National Sorry Day in remembrance of their past mistreatment of the indigenous peoples.
Although Australia is the sixth largest country, 90% of the population live along the coastal regions. The bulk of Australia is characterized by vast, barren deserts in the interior – what many affectionately term the “Outback” – where you’ll find blue skies, reddish-brown dirt, sandstone peaks and gorges, mountain ranges like the MacDonnell, and even some meteor impact craters. The Outback is also home to a bizarre set of wildlife, including dingoes, Australian feral camels, emus and, of course, the beloved red kangaroos. Not all of Australia, however, is arid and desert-like. Tropical rainforests and waterfalls dominate the Wet Tropics of Queensland in the northeast, and beaches envelop the entire Australian eastern coast – the northeast of which lies the Great Barrier Reef.
Australia has a reputation for being a land of leisure, where people laze around in the beaches all day basking in the warmth of the sun – at least that is what tourists love to do in the “land down under”. Those who love tanning, swimming, surfing, scuba diving, and snorkeling flock to the beaches of Australia every year.
But there is more to Australia than beach bumming. There are some fascinating geological sites in Australia like the Ayers Rock (or Uluru). It is a large sandstone rock formation in central Australia, about 300 kilometers southwest of Alice Springs. Its name means “island mountain” because the formation rises 350 meters high and is truly an island in that it is surrounded by an expanse of flat desert land. The formation also appears to change color as different light strikes it at different times during the day. The rock features caves, springs, and ancient paintings and markings.
Also popularly visited is the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Australia, where scuba diving, snorkeling, boat touring, and cruising are oft-engaged activities. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, so large that it can be seen from outer space. Named one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the reef stretches more than 1,600 miles and is home to a number of endangered and vulnerable species.
Other favorite Australian destinations include Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, Darwin, Alice Springs, Hobart, Launceston, and New South Wales. If you’re into Koalas and hope to catch a glimpse of these cute cuddly marsupials, they are found in Adelaide and all along the eastern coast up to Cairns and the Cape York Peninsula.