Australia's east coast provides travellers trying to shed the stress of Hong Kong with sites, sounds, tastes and experiences they will likely cherish. For Australia, the region from Melbourne to Sydney is densely settled, containing most of the population. However, by Hong Kong's standards, the spaces and places are wide open, allowing the national culture to flourish from its most hip to its most hick. Australia is served by major Asian airlines, with deals from Qantas and Ansett airlines available. Promotional and package tours range from $4,800 to $9,000. Once down in Melbourne, travellers will notice the sophisticated southern capital mixes haute de couture with down-and- out grunge styles. Street life is rich and informed locals recommend a wander along the strip from St Kilda across the Yarra River over Chapel Street and the Yarra River to Richmond. During Melbourne's winter, the city's skyline takes on a Gothic quality as skyscraper spires mix with ferry lights along tree- lined streets. The city's cosmopolitan nightlife, including serious restaurants and pubs, is everywhere and travellers savouring exotic new tastes could find themselves pleasantly overwhelmed. Apart from traditional Western food, Australian cooks specialise in kangaroo fillets, crocodile steaks, John Dory fish, wild pig, oysters by the dozen and tasty yabbie ravioli. Prawns are big, but rarely thrown on the barbie, despite Paul Hogan's pearls of wisdom. One Hogan penchant that did catch, however, was Foster's beer. Although many locals still prefer the stronger tastes of Victoria Bitter, Melbourne Bitter and sometimes a Toohey's. Almost 1,000 kilometres up the coast, Sydney's great mish-mash of streets and cultures lies in contrast to Melbourne's orderly grid. Sydney boasts back corner pubs, antique shops and impromptu drag-queen performances. Sydney's harbour views are worthy of their reputation and a tourist wanting to play the rich man for a day can rent a yacht cheaply. Of course, there are also several ferries to take tourists under the harbour bridge, past the opera house and out to Manly's famed surf beaches. Between Sydney and Melbourne lie the Australian alps which they say hold more snow than their counterparts in Switzerland. However, it never lasts anywhere near as long. Moving north, the traveller might enjoy Hume Highway backwater towns like Glen Rowan. There, Australia's famed bushranger and maybe national icon Ned Kelly made his famed last stand. The Princess Highway, an alternate route north, follows the coast offering easy access to hundreds of quiet beaches. Another 1,000 km past Sydney, rests Nimbin and Byron Bay. There the traveller can get a sense of Australia's vastness with communities so different from the city slick of the south. Byron Bay sits on the nation's most easterly point and has great views. The sub-culture there is a new-wave breed of dropouts from the mainstream, many who have built up a thriving art scene. They rely on tourist income to get by but, in the tradition of the outback, they enjoy major space of their own. So many return home every night to nearby Nimbin, a community spawned in the counter culture of the late 1960s. Tourists can visit Nimbin's excellent Aboriginal Museum, reflect back on Sydney and Melbourne and - just past the outskirts of town - feel the open space of this vast country.