Wild side of Australia
Dear Travel Guru,
This summer my family and I are going to Sydney to visit family. I can't wait. I'm really looking forward to seeing the harbour and the Sydney Opera House. I'm also excited about Australia's seafood - I hope we don't only go to Chinatown. I have a feeling, though, we'll spend almost all our time in the city, doing family things. In Hong Kong, I enjoy going hiking, and I would like to have a glimpse of the Australian Bush. What do you suggest?
Thanks for your letter. You are going to be visiting one of the world's most beautiful and exciting cities. You can look forward to beaches, art galleries, museums, parks (do visit the Royal Botanic Gardens), great shopping - and, of course, dining - along with famous attractions such as the harbour and the Opera House.
But there's more to Sydney than the city, as any Sydney-sider will tell you. Even if you don't have time for a true Outback adventure, you can get a taste of the Australian Outback with a Blue Mountains day trip, which is offered by a number of the city's tour operators. It's a nine-hour, action - and attraction - packed day, but you will be back in time for dinner. It will probably be the most memorable part of your entire Sydney holiday.
Almost all of Australia's 22 million people live in cities and towns on, or close to, the continent's southern and eastern coastline. Perth, far away on the western coast, is an exception; so is Darwin, in the distant north. Hardly anyone lives in the rest of Australia - the vast interior.
That 6.5 million sq km is called the Outback by Australians. The Bush usually refers to the wooded areas that are closer to the cities and towns. The ultimate Outback experience is out of reach for most people who visit one of the big cities like Sydney on a short holiday. If you really want to see what lies in Australia's interior, you should take a drive along the 3,000km Stuart Highway. This highway connects the southern city of Adelaide with the northern city of Darwin. Halfway through that journey is Alice Springs, probably the most remote town in the world. With a permanent population of just 30,000, it is the jumping off point for the Australian Outback's most famous attraction - Ayer's Rock. But if you don't have time for the world's most well-known rock, and still want a taste of Australia's outdoors, read on.
Into the mountains
It is impossible to get more than a taste of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains in one day - they cover about 10,000 sq km. But tour operators can get you to a number of attractions in a single day. The Three Sisters, an outcrop of three eroded rocks, is an amazing sight. Unfortunately the 'aboriginal legend' about the sisters, who were turned to rock when they became the cause of a battle between two aboriginal tribes, is not true. No matter. It makes them no less worth seeing.
Most tours start with breakfast in a wildlife park at the foothills of the mountains. You can pet the koalas and kangaroos there. Tours also usually take in the Govett's and Grose gorges, with their 160-metre cliffs and breathtaking waterfall. The Blue Mountains Scenic Skyway Cable Car is a must. It sails 200 metres over the Jamison Valley, and the floors of the cars can become transparent at the flick of a switch - not for those with a fear of heights.
1 Wear sturdy hiking boots. You may not be going into the distant outback, but the bush is the bush.
2 Sun screen is essential. The Australian sun is fierce - even if it is overcast, you need protection. It is a good idea to also wear a hat.
3 Do choose a tour that includes the Katoomba Scenic Railway. This is the world's steepest railway line and it ends in a not-to-be-missed walk through the rainforest on a boardwalk.
4 Whatever you do, do not wander off the trails. Stick with your guide. Just last year a backpacker got lost in the Blue Mountains for 12 days before being found alive. A 17-year-old schoolboy was not so lucky last year. He died after being separated from the friends he was walking with.
5 Don't go into the shrubbery besides trails or put your hands in any holes. Australia is home to poisonous snakes and spiders (the black spider lives in holes and is the most poisonous spider in the world). But rest assured, the chances of you seeing any of these poisonous animals is really small.