Sydney, Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road & Southern Australia
Southern Australia offers an overload to the senses with its vibrant, cosmopolitan cities, impressive wine regions, diverse wildlife and spectacular natural landscapes.
Find out more about these exciting destinations below.
A multi-cultural city of more than four million people, Sydney is a vivid metropolis built around one of the most stunning harbours in the world.
The dramatic view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House surrounded by the glorious harbour is an iconic image of Sydney and Australia. You'll no doubt have seen countless images of this stunning city but nothing quite compares to seeing it in real life. Wander around the foreshore or take a cruise on the water to see these two architectural feats from a whole new angle.
While relatively young compared to other cities around the world, Sydney still has a rich and colourful history. After more than 40,000 years of habitation by Aboriginal people, Sydney became the first European settlement in Australia when the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 with thousands of convicts in tow. This European influence is visible in the colonial style architecture of buildings like the Queen Victoria Building and the convict-built Hyde Park Barracks.
Imagine what life might have been like 200 years ago in colonial Sydney by sitting in Mrs Macquarie's Chair on the harbour foreshore. The historic seat was carved out of sandstone by convicts in 1810 for Mrs Macquarie, the wife of the then NSW governor, Lachlan Macquarie. Mrs Macquarie was homesick for her native Great Britain and was known to sit and take in the panoramic views of the harbour while waiting for ships to sail in with news from home.
Take a stroll through the busy Circular Quay to absorb the vibrant harbour and continue on to The Rocks where you'll find plenty of interesting boutique shops to take home the perfect souvenir. The Rocks is the oldest area of Sydney, once inhabited by the indigenous Gadigal people before the first European settlers claimed the land. You'll find quaint cafes, restaurants and boutique stores nestled in the heritage preserved sandstone buildings.
Sydney has some of the best beaches you’ll find in the world; beautiful stretches of sand and surf all within easy reach of the city’s centre. To the north of the city is Manly Beach, a great place to swim, stroll or enjoy an ice cream under the shady pine trees. The city's eastern suburbs are known for their spectacular beaches – none more so than the famous Bondi Beach which is the most popular beach in Sydney with both locals and travellers.
There’s plenty to entertain visitors to this great city. Try Darling Harbour, Sydney’s premier entertainment and leisure district for restaurants, museums and attractions or check out the hip bar scene of inner-city suburbs like Surry Hills and Darlinghurst for popular restaurants, cafés and bars.
Take a scenic three hour drive west of Sydney and discover the magnificent Blue Mountains, which were first crossed in 1813 by explorers Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson. This World Heritage Listed National Park is recognised internationally for its incredible geographic, botanic and cultural values and boasts a stunning landscape of dense eucalypt forest, grand escarpments, waterfalls and cave systems.
The area is home to 90 different species of eucalyptus trees and the greatest and most diverse concentration of eucalyptus trees in the world. Ever wonder why the Blue Mountains are called blue? The air is filled with several finely dispersed droplets of eucalyptus oil. These oil droplets not only delightfully perfume the air, but combined with dust and water vapour; they scatter rays of brilliant blue light earning this spectacular mountain range its name.
The local indigenous people hold this land and many sites within the national park as culturally sacred including a number of ancient rock art sites depicting stories from the past. You can immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture at the Waradah Aboriginal Centre with dance and didgeridoo performances, authentic artworks and souvenirs from the local Darug and Gundungurra tribes.
One of the most striking landmarks of the Blue Mountains is the amazing rock formation known as the Three Sisters. Each pinnacle stands at 922, 918 and 906 metres tall respectively. The best place to view of the Three Sisters is from Echo Point, a lookout perched on the edge of a 170 metre cliff face. Here you can learn about the Aboriginal dreamtime legend of the Three Sisters.
Travel further along the scenic Cliff Drive through the Blue Mountains and you'll come to Jenolan Caves, one of the oldest known open cave systems in the world. Known to the local Aboriginal people as ‘Binoomea’ (meaning Dark Places), the Jenolan Cave system stretches over an enormous 40 kilometres of multi-level passages, many still undergoing explorations. There are nine caves open to visitors, all featuring amazing lighting, underground rivers and limestone formations.
Travelling through the Blue Mountains you'll come across a number of quaint villages and towns such as the picturesque village of Leura. You'll notice many of the region’s villages and landmarks are named after the European explorers Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson who first crossed the rugged mountain terrain in 1813.
Escape to the picturesque Hunter Valley just a couple of hours north of Sydney and indulge in life’s great pleasures of food, wine and nature.
The world famous Hunter Valley is in the heart of Australian wine country with the region’s rich history stemming from the early pioneering era. Since its early beginnings, the Hunter Valley has produced many world renowned fine wines and has grown to boast more than 150 wineries.
Not just famous for its wines, the Hunter Valley also has a growing olive industry, producing excellent cold pressed olive oil. Treat your tastebuds to local gourmet food and wine with the perfect backdrop of charming vineyard landscapes. You can also sample premium local beers and the unique alcoholic ginger beer at the boutique Bluetongue Brewery, opened in 2003 by four Hunter Valley locals.
While in the Hunter region another must-see are the beautiful Hunter Valley Gardens. Meander through the 60 acre garden absorbing the sights and fragrances of the feature gardens, including the impressive Rose Garden containing the largest variety of roses in the southern hemisphere. The quaint little village in the centre of the gardens won’t disappoint with several boutique stores including a chocolate store boasting delicious locally produced fudge and chocolate.
A two hour drive north of Sydney is the picturesque coastal town of Port Stephens. Often referred to as Australia’s blue water paradise, Port Stephens’ tranquil waters are home to more than 140 resident bottlenose dolphins. It is Australia’s dolphin capital!
A visit to Port Stephens is not complete without a dolphin watching cruise. Sit back and relax as you view the amazing nature that surrounds. It’s one of the best places to see dolphins in the wild and also the best place on the New South Wales coast for whale watching between May and November.
Nearby at Nelson Bay are the Worimi Conservation Lands (Stockton Bight Sand Dunes). This area is the largest coastal sand dune system in the Southern Hemisphere stretching 32 kilometres with dunes reaching as high as 40 metres. There are many ways to explore Stockton Bight, on the back of a camel or in a 4WD, but none more thrilling than by sand boarding down the impressive steep slopes - this fun ride will be an experience to remember.
Canberra is Australia’s capital city and a unique Australian city with an entirely planned urban landscape. 300 kilometres south west of Sydney, the site was chosen as Australia’s capital in 1908 as a compromise between the two largest Australian cities, Sydney and Melbourne. It’s the nation’s political heart and home to some of Australia’s best historical and cultural institutions.
Unlike most cities which have been developed organically overtime, Canberra’s unique inner-city layout was built from a holistic design. Throughout the inner-city you’ll notice a pattern of geometric motifs such as circles and hexagons, the work of American architect Walter Burley Griffin who won an international competition to design the city.
Canberra was officially named with a ceremony on 12 March 1913. A variety of original and quirky names were suggested for the city including Paradise, Shakespeare and Boomerang City. However the name of Canberra was eventually settled upon. It is derived from an Aboriginal word thought to mean ‘meeting place’.
The city is home to Australia’s Parliament, High Court and a number of diplomatic embassies and consulates as well as the Lodge, the official residence of Australia’s Prime Minister.
A trip to Canberra will give you a fantastic insight into the rich history and culture of Australia. Visit the Australian War Memorial, a deeply touching shrine to commemorate the sacrifice of Australians who’ve lost their lives serving their country, the National Museum of Australia and the distinctly designed Parliament House.
As you drive around the key landmarks of Canberra you’ll see its centrepiece, the man-made Lake Burley Griffin. This unique landscape was planned with a garden city in mind and is home to the annual Floriade Festival. Watch the city burst into colour from September to October, as hundreds arrive to view Australia’s biggest flower festival.
Uncover a world of old and new, of art and culture and of food and wine. Melbourne offers all this and more in one cosmopolitan city. As Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne may not bask in as much of the limelight as the bigger and flashier Sydney. But look a little deeper and you’ll see why many Australians (well, Melburnians at least) believe this city is the best in Australia.
Meander through the city’s hidden alleys and laneways and you’ll find charming cafés and bars, unique galleries and intimate boutiques. Admire the mix of heritage and contemporary architecture including the bustling Flinders Street Station and the cultural hub of the city, Federation Square.
Melbourne is a food lover’s paradise. You can dine in some of the finest three hatted restaurants in the country or enjoy some rustic fare in the authentic Italian restaurants of Lygon Street – the Little Italy of Melbourne. There’s nothing nicer than a hearty meal to keep you going while travelling around a new city.
There’s so much to see and do around the city’s centre. Take a walk along the banks of the Yarra River or stroll through the beautiful Fitzroy Gardens, home of the restored Captain Cook’s Cottage. Visit the National Gallery of Victoria, wander the hundreds of fresh produce market stalls at the Queen Victoria Markets or just relax and watch the world go by while sipping one of Melbourne’s famous lattes.
Melburnians like most Australians are incredibly proud of their sporting culture. The city plays host to the Australian Open tennis grand slam in January each year plus the Melbourne Grand Prix, major golfing tournaments, cricket matches and rugby union and rugby league games throughout the year. Not to mention the beloved Australian Rules Football which has some of the most passionate fans in the world.
Make sure you visit the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground. The imposing ground, affectionately known as ‘The G’ is rich with emotion and has a marvellous history that positions it among the greatest sporting arenas in the world. It’s the birthplace of test cricket, the home of Australian Rules Football and was the host of the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Located north-east of Melbourne is the Yarra Valley, a picturesque rural landscape surrounding the Yarra River and bordered by the stunning Great Dividing Range and Dandenong Ranges.
The Yarra Valley is Victoria’s oldest and most famous wine regions and is one of Australia’s leading cool climate wine producing regions.
Probably the biggest draw card for the Yarra Valley is its wine. This region is one of Australia’s leading cool climate wine producers and is known for its wide variety of classic styles like chardonnay. You can sample a selection of the region’s wine at several cellar doors ranging from architecturally imposing wineries to rustic tin sheds nestled among the vineyards.
But the Yarra Valley is not just for wine connoisseurs, it has something for everyone. From fruit farms and local produce markets to the famous Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary where you can get acquainted with native Australian wildlife, including the adorable koala.
Another highlight of the Yarra Valley region is the Dandenong Ranges. Travel through this magnificent rainforest region on board Puffing Billy, Australia’s oldest operating steam train - an experience you’re sure to remember.
Phillip Island is the perfect place to see Australian wildlife up close and in its natural environment. And you don’t have to travel too far from Melbourne to see it. Just a two hour drive from Melbourne, this charming island is home to a colony of around 32,000 Little Penguins and an array of native wildlife.
While most famous for the phenomenal Penguin Parade that happens each night, Phillip Island is also known for its great surfing beaches, the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and other amazing wildlife including kangaroos and the largest colony of fur seals in Australia.
Not only is the island teeming with marvellous wildlife, but the scenery is also spectacular. En route to the must see Penguin Parade, you’ll see the ‘Nobbies’, a set of unique rock formations located at the western tip of the island with a backdrop of gorgeous coastal scenery.
The journey along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives and is an experience that sits high on many travellers’ bucket lists. It begins just an hour and a half’s drive from Melbourne and then stretches for 243 kilometres between Torquay and Warrnambool with amazing views the whole way through.
This spectacular road winds between lush green farm land and the rugged southern coastline of Australia. Designed to connect remote and previously isolated settlements along the coast, this engineering masterpiece was built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 in memory of the fallen soldiers of WWI.
The Great Ocean Road leads you through a string of gorgeous coastal towns including Anglesea and Apollo Bay before you arrive at the world renowned natural icon, the Twelve Apostles.
Enjoy the cool ocean breeze and take in magnificent views of the Apostles from the purpose built viewing platform. An experience you’ll no doubt remember forever.
Just a little further ahead you’ll come across two more fascinating natural landmarks, Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge and learn more about the amazing shipwreck survival that took place there.
This part of the world is home to a number of popular surfing beaches including the famous Bells Beach which plays host to international surfing competitions and was even featured in the Hollywood film ‘Point Break’ featuring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze.
The beautiful city of Adelaide despite only being Australia’s fifth largest city offers a cultural, culinary and historical experience for everyone.
Thanks to the vision of Adelaide's founder, Colonel William Light, this planned city is arranged in a grid surrounded by lovely parks known as the Adelaide Parklands. From Light's Vision Lookout, a tribute to Colonel Light on Montefiore Hill, you can take in sweeping views of the parklands which form a lush green ring around the city centre.
Wander the streets of Adelaide and discover the ‘City of Churches’. The Freedom of Religion Act introduced in South Australia's early colonial days saw the uprise of several churches around the city. Today a number of historic churches such as St. Peter’s Cathedral still remain, however many have been converted into dining establishments, residential homes and even a night club.
Located on the edge of Adelaide’s parklands you’ll find a 150 square metre chocolate shop. In May 1915, Alfred E. Haigh opened the doors of the very first Haigh’s Chocolates store in Adelaide. You can discover the indulging world of Haigh’s, Australia’s oldest handmade chocolate manufacturer, at the Visitor’s Centre. See the famous Adelaide Oval and the Art Gallery of South Australia, a magnificent building and home to one of Australia’s great collections of art.
With sensational food owing to its culturally diverse mix and fertile farming surrounds in the Adelaide Hills, as well as a selection of premium wine regions such as the Barossa, your taste buds will be in for a treat.
A short 10 kilometres from the heart of Adelaide is the charming seaside suburb of Glenelg. Set on the sandy white shores of Holdfast Bay, this is the site of South Australia’s original mainland settlement with its name Glenelg notable for being a palindrome. Indulge at a beachside café, browse the shops of the famous Jetty Road or stroll along the water's edge taking in the refreshing ocean breeze.
Less than an hour’s drive north-east of Adelaide is the Barossa, a valley formed by the North Para River. This beautiful scenic region is famed for its European heritage, hectares of picturesque rolling vineyards, gourmet delicacies and not to mention its world-class wine region – a delight for all senses.
The Barossa was founded soon after South Australia’s settlement in 1836 and derives its name from the Barossa Ranges. Adelaide’s founder, Colonel William Light named the region after the Barrosa Ridge in Spain, however due to a registration error the place earned a name of its own - Barossa.
Regarded as the wine capital of Australia, it’s one of Australia’s oldest wine regions, home to 170 wineries and diverse soil varieties resulting in an excellent range of fine wines. Although overshadowed by its flourishing wine industry, significant food production also occurs in the Barossa with delights such as Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop and the Barossa Valley Cheese Co – a must visit!
Take in the gorgeous landscape of the Adelaide Hills as you journey to Hahndorf, Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement. Its tree-lined streets, ‘Fachwerk’ buildings and delicious traditional German delicacies offer you a unique cultural experience like no other.
A scenic drive through the Fleurieu Peninsula and a short ferry trip south from Adelaide will find you in the pristine wilderness of Kangaroo Island, an ecological paradise with an abundance of native Australian wildlife.
Referred to as ‘KI’ by the locals, here you can enjoy exploring the diverse landscape that encompasses dense forest, sand dunes, towering cliffs and stretches of sandy beach. Just 13 kilometres from the mainland, you’ll feel a million miles away in this natural wonderland.
Once attached to the mainland, it’s believed that Kangaroo Island was once inhabited by native Aboriginals as long as 16,000 years ago. Intriguingly, the mainland indigenous people refer to the island in their native language as ‘Karta' or ‘Land of the Dead’ however why and how they departed remains a mystery. The island was formed due to the rising sea level after the last glacial period and resettled by European whalers in the early 19th century who found the island to be uninhabited, proven by the lack of campfires and tameness of the wildlife.
On an island almost 7 times the size of Singapore, there’s plenty to see and do. Walk amongst the free roaming kangaroos and the colony of Australian sea lions at Seal Bay and keep your eyes peeled for adorable koalas snoozing high up in the fragrant eucalypt trees at Flinders Chase National Park - a highlight for animal lovers!
Kangaroo Island is also home to stunning natural rock formations such as the Remarkable Rocks, an ancient formation perched on the cliff edge of the island, and Admirals Arch, a cliff face sculpted by weathering and erosion over thousands of years. If the timing is right, from a viewing platform you can observe New Zealand fur-seal pups playing beneath the arch.
Other must-see destinations