It’s the Aussie icon that’s adorned post-cards, book covers and travel brochures the world over. It’s been featured in movies and travel documentaries countless times.
For most, it’s the face of Sydney. And nearly 50 years later it’s still a top tourist draw to the city.
Would you believe us if we told you it was almost never built?
We’ll show you how what was once called “the biggest planning disaster in the world” continues to amaze visitors and locals alike and why it’s an Aussie staple you don’t want to miss in Sydney.
The stark-white, scalloped building is unmistakable. The white, shell-like wings sprout in to the sky from its personal peninsula on Sydney Harbour.
It was this standout building proposal that won Danish architect Jorn Utzon New South Wales’ competition in 1957 to design a public space to be constructed on the Harbour.
The opportunity of a lifetime, right?
Not so much.
The construction of the Opera House was riddled with problems. An estimated $7 million construction cost ballooned to more than $100 million – a 1400% cost blowout that still stands as the largest in history.
Contractor mismanagement, infrastructure disasters and government cover-ups all but ruined the career of Utzon for good. In fact, seven years before the building’s completion, Utzon packed his bags and left the job and the country.
He never returned.
A group of auxiliary architects stepped in to take his place and with a lot of hand-wringing and a little bit of luck, by 1973 construction had wrapped on the Opera House.
But sometimes the end justifies the means and as luck would have it, the Opera House went on to become an international landmark. Each year, the building-that-almost-never-was adds more than $700 million in tourism.
We’d call that a winning bet!
Though Utzon never returned to see his completed design in person, he did receive his long overdue comeuppance. In 2003, he has awarded an honorary Doctorate of Architecture.
And in 2007, the Opera House was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Just one year before his death.
Besides it’s brilliant architecture, the Opera House is renowned for a plethora of activities that solidify its place as one of the top destinations in Australia.
Take a Tour
Dive right in to your Opera House experience and get set up with an expert guide to give you an inside look at the Sydney Opera House. You’ll walk the inside of the historic building while you listen to the oral history of it’s construction and completion. This exclusive look at the interior of the multiple concert halls within the Opera House is often unseen by the average tourist.
Since the Opera House hosts six different performance halls, it’s hard to get an in-depth look at the entirety of the venue on your own.
Your guide will take you through many of the unique performance venues, each with it’s own particular architecture and feel.
Insider Fact: The Grand Organ in the Concert Hall is the largest mechanical action pipe organ in the world!
See a Show
It goes without saying, but seeing an actual show at the Sydney Opera House is one of the most memorable ways to experience it. And although you might not know it by the name, the Opera House hosts more than just operas.
A wide range of Broadway-shows, gigs, contemporary concerts, symphony orchestras and more ensure that you won’t miss an opportunity to sit in on one of the most fantastic live venues in the world.
A lot of people can see they’ve seen the Opera House – even if just in the distance from the Harbour. But how many can say they’ve experienced all it has to offer?
Tip: Book early – the Opera House didn’t become world renowned as a venue by playing to an empty house! Seats tend to fill up quickly and it’s best to book your tickets ahead of time, ideally before you even arrive in Sydney. Ask us how.
Wine and Dine
Looking to ramp up your already-special occasion? Grab a table at Bennelong, the Opera House’s premier restaurant. With world-class chefs and a fine-dining level of service, there is no better way to make your Opera House experience special. Tables inside this airy space face out on to the Sydney Harbour and city-skyline for a view that rivals the five-star menu.
The space and architecture of Bennelong was one of the last projects Jorn Utzon (the Opera House’s original designer) completed before leaving the project. The tall ribcage of wood and glass that provides those stunning views of the Harbour also provides a look in to Utzon’s original idea for the rest of the Opera House’s interior.
Also be sure to check out the Opera Kitchen, just adjacent to the Opera House. The al-fresco dining experience overlooks the Sydney Harbour for great views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. If all that walking around has you hungry, combine your Opera House tour with lunch at the Opera Kitchen.
Cruise to the Sydney Opera House
Looking to arrive at the Opera House in style? Hop aboard a Harbour Cruise and ferry over to the Opera House entrance. The scenic cruise takes you around the entirety of the Sydney Harbour for unprecedented views of the city skyline, Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens. With an Express Pass, you’ll have the option to use this hop-on, hop-off ship as your personal water taxi.
Cruise over to the Opera House for your tour and when you’re done, hop back on and ferry over to Darling Harbour. From there, head to the Royal Botanic Gardens and Rocks historic precinct. You’ll get to enjoy the beautiful Sydney weather aboard the open air Harbour Cruise. It’s an unforgettable way to see all the sights around the Opera House and Harbour.
See it All Lit Up
If you’re lucky enough to plan your trip around mid-May to June, you’re in for an incredible audio-visual festival experience. Vivid Sydney is a two-week festival that covers the city, including the Opera House and Harbour in light-installations and art. The city comes to life as blank walls become canvases for talented artists to paint with light. Colorful light projections illuminate the scalloped-wings on the Opera House – and the view of the Opera House lit up from the Harbour is stunning.
The Opera House also holds special concerts during Vivid, blending this visual-experience with music to create a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Can’t travel to Sydney for Vivid? Don’t worry! You can still see the Opera House in all it’s lighted glory every single night.
Badu Gili is a 7-minute art-installation projected on the “sails” of the Opera House. A different work of art from Aboriginal artists will be displayed each night at sunset and repeated at 7 p.m. So even if you can’t make it for Vivid, you’ll get the beautiful visual of the stark white Opera House turned technicolor each night of your stay in Sydney.
Visit the Sydney Opera House
Sometimes a city’s biggest attraction can be something of a tourist trap. Overhyped, too crowded, not worth it.
The Opera House is none of those things.
There is something for everyone to enjoy at this Aussie icon and you don’t want to leave Sydney without a visit. Remember, the biggest tourist destination in Sydney draws big crowds and events sell out fast.
Let us do the booking for you, whether you want to be there for Vivid Sydney, see an amazing show, or simply cruise the waters of the Harbour.
Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock, is one of the most important historical sites in Australia. The Anangu people, a group of Aboriginal Australians, revere Uluru as a sacred, holy site. They believe it is evidence of the creation of their culture by ancestral beings.
The immense monolith of red stone shoots up out of the Earth, shouting its significance across the desert. The deep red sandstone and surrounding clay look like some kind of Martian landscape. It’s no wonder they call it “the Red Center”.
Aside from the amazing historical significance of the site, there are plenty of things to do in Uluru that make it a must-visit destination in Australia.
Take a Walk
Uluru’s immensity is almost hard to comprehend in photos. For instance, did you know that this tremendous “land-iceberg” is taller than the Eiffel Tower? At nearly 1,200 feet tall, Uluru is 3 times taller than the Great Pyramid in Egypt. It’s also about the same height as the Empire State Building!
If you really want to appreciate Uluru’s size and massive footprint, set aside about 4 hours for a walking tour. That’s how long it will take you to walk around the base of the giant rock. Along the way you’ll see unique plant life, diverse wildlife and geological features that make up this important site.
But be sure to stick to the base walk. Though Uluru’s peak is a tempting destination for the avid mountaineer, out of respect for the Anangu people it is not advised to climb to the top.
Sounds of Silence
Dine under the stars with an amazing desert night dinner. The Sounds of Silence dinner is an Aussie Hall-of-Fame experience that wines and dines you in the heart of Uluru National Park. You’ll start the evening off with light appetizers and your choice of an array of fine Australian wine and beer.
As the sun sets, you’ll see the Red Center’s colors morph with the light, from bright reds to deep purples.
Photo: Anson Smart / Tourism Australia
Darkness envelopes the desert and the faint light of thousands of stars begins to twinkle, a bush-tucker inspired buffet dinner is served. The buffet incorporates local and indigenous cuisine and native bush ingredients.
Then, an expert guide will take you on a historical journey of the southern night sky. See the constellations of the zodiac, the prominent star cluster of the Milky Way, other planets and their moons and more.
The Sounds of Silence is part al-fresco dinner under the stars, part astronomical stargazing tour and all-around amazing experience.
For more incredible memories of Uluru National Park, add on a visit to the “Field of Light” art-installation. Famed artist Bruce Munro was commissioned to bring his luminary works of thousands of solar-powered twinkling lights to Uluru. For this installation, Munro upped the intensity of his normal installations to match the grandiose nature of Uluru.
You’ll walk through the dense, sprawling web of soft lights that blanket the desert. With thousands of stars visible overhead and the thousands of lights that turn the desert in to a galaxy of its own, the Field of Light is a sensory experience you’ll never forget.
The Field of Light is only running through April 2018, so if you want to see this web of woven light that blankets the desert (and trust us, you do!) – act fast!
Scenic Helicopter Ride
While climbing Uluru is not explicitly prohibited, or against Australian law, it is very much frowned upon and discouraged by the Anangu people as well as most Aussie locals. Since Uluru is a holy site for Aboriginal people, it is seen as highly disrespectful to walk on or climb.
Photo: Steve Strike / Tourism Australia
However, there are ways to see Uluru from all angles, including the very peak. A scenic helicopter ride around the Red Center is one of the best ways to observe the area and see the 1,200 foot peak.
You’ll hop aboard with an expert pilot as you are flown around Uluru National Park. See the numerous, massive domes that make up the Olgas, just south of Alice Springs. A scenic helicopter ride is one of the best ways to appreciate Uluru and the whole Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park area.
Sunset Camel Ride
Where would you say the largest population of camels live? Morocco? Saudi Arabia? Oddly enough, the answer is Australia! Though camels are not indigenous to Australia, they were imported in the 19th century for transportation and field work. Since then, their populations have exploded and more than 700,000 live in Australia.
Photo: The Precinct / Tourism Australia
Mount up on a camel for an amazing ride in the Australian outback. Your camel train will take you around the Uluru National Park area where you will witness the sunset and the changing colors of the Red Center.
The Sunset Camel Ride takes you off the beaten path, away from the crowds of tourists at Uluru. Listen close as your camel pack leader regales you with informative and interesting stories about Uluru’s plants, animals and history. This is the most unique way to see Uluru National Park and an experience you’ll never forget.
Stargazing in most cities just isn’t what it used to be. With always-on street lights, car headlights and densely populated urban areas, light pollution washes out up to 90% of visible stars in the sky. If you’ve never been in the remote back-country and looked at the stars, you might think that the Milky Way is just something we can see with telescopes or in pictures.
The Uluru National Park area is one of the most remote and darkest sites in the world. The lack of light pollution makes it an incredible spot for stargazing. Even before the sun completely sets, the twinkle of astral lights begins to blanket the sky. Once pure nightfall hits, the sky is awash in star clusters, constellations, planets and moons.
Go out with an astro-tour group and you’ll have the added benefit of binoculars, telescopes and an expert astronomer guiding you through the night sky.
Luxury Lodge Living
Looking to make your visit extra special? Longitude 131 is a luxury destination at the gateway of Uluru National Park. Experience the rugged outdoors of the outback during the day. Then, come home to a world-class, full-service accommodation at night. Each luxury lodge is eco-friendly, spacious and feature huge floor to ceiling windows for epic views of the outback. Dine on five-star cuisine and premium wine and drinks. You can also take part in exclusive small-group tours for guests.
Photo: Baillies Longitude 131
Longitude 131 is the perfect accommodation for couples. Celebrate your anniversary, honeymoon or other special occasion in one of the most unique destinations in the world.
Uluru National Park – Australian Outback Must-See
You’ll want to make the extra trip out to see Uluru and Uluru National Park. Since Australia is such a large country, getting out to Uluru requires a bit of planning. We’ll get you there without a hitch. Don’t leave anything to chance in this once in a lifetime cultural journey. Uluru has been described as breathtaking in it’s beauty and moving in its cultural significance – it truly can’t be missed!
An eccentric billionaire opens an art museum in an island state off the coast of Australia. He puts up more than $200 million to fund the museum entirely himself; money he made gambling over the years using a system he devised to beat the odds. Unbeholden to investors or public funding, there is no one to veto the proposed theme of the museum: His predilection for death and sex.
If it were a movie, the tagline might go something like: “The story of how one man painted the town red after putting it all on black.”
But this isn’t a movie. And sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. See why one sleepy town in Tasmania has made a huge splash in the contemporary art world with the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).
A Quick History
Photo: Phil Knitt
David Walsh, native Tasmanian and all-around eccentric, was something a math whiz. He dropped out of university and developed gambling systems to win big. By hedging bets on everything from blackjack, to thoroughbred racing, to basketball, Walsh proved his gambling systems again and again, amassing millions in the process.
Walsh and his gambling partner Zeljko Ranogajec became so well-known they were eventually banned from every casino in Australia and more abroad. Instead of quitting while ahead, he formed a group he called the Bank Roll. A sort of rag-tag “Ocean’s Eleven” crew of gambling wizards who taught their system to fresh faces who could hit the casinos for them.
And then he began collecting art, as billionaires are sometimes wont to do.
Looking for a place to display his collection, Walsh had the money to go anywhere. He could have opened MONA in Sydney or Melbourne, or even New York or London. Instead he chose a small town in Tasmania, just a few miles from where he grew up.
Enter the Void
MONA is accessible by car or coach (just a 15 minute drive if you’re already in Hobart!), but for a grand entrance, take the ferry from Brooke Street Pier. You’ll feel like you’re embarking to the lair of some evil-genius-villain. You might be right.
Upon arrival, MONA is deceptively unassuming. The entrance requires visitors to walk across a full-size tennis court. A seemingly out of place imposition installed at the request of Walsh. The guy just really likes tennis.
The estate also houses an operating vineyard and winery. The museum bar and restaurant serve local Moorilla wine made on the estate. Whether this is an ironic statement about the bougie nature of more traditional museums or if Walsh is just really in to wine is yet to be determined. (Tip: Tour the museum and the vineyard for an inside look at David Walsh’s Moorilla Estate)
Once you enter the doors however, the true personality of MONA begins to unfold. Start by descending a staircase in to the expansive, subterranean vault below. The idea to start in the depths of the belly of the beast and snake your way to the light was intentional.
Walsh once described the museum as a “subversive adult Disneyland”. The interior structure is left raw. The walls are not adorned with sterile, white gallery paint. Instead the inside is all industrial, brutalist-inspired concrete and steel beams. A large mass of sandstone is imposing yet subdued. A central, steel staircase coils up like a snake, connecting all of the museum’s levels.
Pieces to Make You Think… Or Gasp in Horror
Walsh has curated a diverse collection ranging from the beautiful to the absurd. One key piece is an installation called Cloaca Professional by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye. The machine is “fed” food in to a large plastic bowl (or mouth) on one end. Then it follows a sort of Rube-Goldberg-esque process that mimics the human digestive system, enzymes, acids and all.
A few hours later, the other side of the machine produces an exact replica of the result of the human body’s own process. Maybe a commentary on the state of the art world as a whole, maybe just a really cool mix of chemistry, biology and creativity.
MONA even has a rigid schedule for this piece: Feeding at 2 p.m. Excretion at 5 p.m. Just like clockwork.
To be clear, MONA is not all shock and no awe. The changing antiquities collection boasts a range of pieces from mummy sarcophagi to an Aboriginal-inspired mosaic of a snake, made up of nearly 2,000 individual paintings.
With no arrows, maps or other directional cues, visitors are encouraged to explore for explorations sake. There is no right way to see MONA and no incorrect path to take in the sometimes maze-like, dimly lit cavern.
You could see a centuries old antique followed up by a contemporary art piece called Bit.fall, where a dripping waterfall spells out select headlines from the day’s news.
Visitors are provided with an iPod touch loaded with museum-specific software. As you happen upon different pieces from the collection, you can view the piece’s name, the artist and more background information than you could ever hope for. A much more in-depth experience than a tag on the wall.
Devil is in the Details
Photo: Liz Knox
MONA has taken the art world by storm and singlehandedly put Tasmania on the art-world map. The Australian state once banked its tourism industry solely on their rugged, beautiful outdoor landscapes. Now, it’s attracting visitors from all over the world for the subversive museum, arts and culture.
The self-described “secular temple” for the arts is a free-form expression of the mind of one eccentric individual. Stuffy this museum is not. MONA is certainly a must-see if you’re in Tasmania, but the museum is worth the trip to Australia in itself.
Tasmania is quickly becoming a top destination for visitors to the country. The island state has been rated in the past as a worldwide top destination and you could make an entire trip out of Tasmania alone. But since it’s such a quick jaunt from the mainland, you’ll definitely want to extend your trip to see everything Australia has to offer in one epic vacation.
Think of Kangaroo Island as a time capsule of Australian natural history. It’s separation from the mainland has allowed endemic species to thrive where they have otherwise been eradicated by invasive species in present day Australia. And if Kangaroo Island is a time capsule, Flinders Chase National Park may be its most important artifact.
Flinders Chase National Park is a look back in time at the Australian outback. See huge swaths of pristine, untouched wilderness perfect for an afternoon hike. Geological wonders ripe for photo opportunities dot the landscape. Nineteenth century architecture provide a look back in to the country’s early history.
Take a walk in to the past with our guide of things to see at Flinders Chase National Park.
This stunning, natural archway almost looks meticulously sculpted. The multi-layered, rock bridge features gnarled stone and hanging stalactites. Thousands of years of erosion from the water below. Little by little, the stone was worn away to form the follow we see today. Take a walk down to the viewing platform. From there you’ll have the best view of Admiral’s Arch through to the sea beyond. Tip: Sunsets at Admiral’s Arch are breathtaking. From the right point on the viewing platform, you’ll see the sun set over the water centered in the arch. Also be sure to lookout for a colony of New Zealand fur seals that have made their home on the slab of stones directly below the Arch. Those seals scored some of the best real estate in the country!
This signature landmark is almost a rite of passage on your trip to Kangaroo Island. Remarkable Rocks is one of the best photo-ops on the island. The aptly named granite stones look almost unnatural when you look at them. Like they could have been sculpted by humans. But their round-waviness is evidence of the more than 500 million years it took for them to form. Rain and waves from the ocean wore down huge granite boulders to the interesting, pitted rock formations they are today. Orange lichen covers many of the formations found at Remarkable Rocks. Combined with the pink, black and blue granite mix, the rocks take on a multi-colored rainbow hue, especially during sunrises and sunsets. Photographers take note: the “golden hour” here is truly remarkable. No wonder this is one of the most photographed spots on Kangaroo Island.
This Kangaroo Island hike is a beautiful look in to the past. Begin at the Cape de Couedic lighthouse. This 19th century lighthouse is isolated on the tip of Kangaroo Island. In fact, in the lighthouse’s early days the keepers would remain in the keepers’ cottage with their families, only being delivered supplies every 3 months. No wonder lighthouse keepers are said to be reclusive!
Today, the lighthouse is fully automated, eliminating the need for a full-time keeper. The cottages surrounding the lighthouse have been turned in to destination accommodations for those looking to get away from it all.
Weirs Cove Hike
While you’re at the lighthouse, embark on the 2-mile hike down to Weirs Cove. When the lighthouse keepers would receive their once-every-3-month resupply, they would make the same trek down to the cove.
Because of the rough terrain, getting supplies from the cove to the lighthouse required a zipline-winch system pulled by horses. Even after the motor vehicle was invented – horsepower prevailed.
On your hike, you’ll see the remains of this zipline supply system along with sheer cliff faces and stonework more than 100 years old.
Not to mention, the view over the sea from the cove is spectacular!
Platypus Waterholes Walk
“You had me at platypus”.
One of the most sought-after wildlife sightings in Australia is this duck/beaver hybrid creature. The duck-billed platypus is such an odd creature, that the first scientists to examine one thought they were the victims of a prank!
It’s an animal that doesn’t really know if it’s a water creature or a land mammal, or maybe a bird? In any case, the platypus is as cute as it is perplexing.
Enter this walk straight from the Flinders Chase visitors center. The 2.5 mile stroll winds past Aussie bush and watering holes where the platypus’ have been known to make their home.
They can be elusive creatures, so there’s no guarantee you’ll see a platypus immediately. But keep your eyes peeled for this rare animal found only in Australia. Try and time your walk around dawn and dusk to have the best chance at a spotting.
West Bay Beach and Campsite
The perfect way to cool down after a long walk seeing the Flinders Chase sights. This pristine beach is “postcard-ready” with it’s white sand and sapphire-turquoise waters. Though this secluded beach is a favorite among Flinders Chase visitors, it is rare that you’ll find a crowd on this coast. Instead, enjoy the quiet atmosphere and surrounding cove. Swimming and fishing are permitted at West Bay so come to the park prepared for a day at the beach after seeing the sights.
For those looking to rough it a bit on their vacation, nearby West Bay campground is a great spot to stay overnight just steps from the shore. Camping out lets you see the sunrise and set over the coast for an unforgettable experience.
Just remember to pack in all you’ll need for the day and night. The West Bay campground provides a place to pitch a tent and little else. The only creature-comfort you’ll find, luckily, is a toilet – but don’t forget your water and portable stove!
Snake Lagoon Walk
This scenic walk starts at Snake Lagoon and winds through Sugar Gums and mallee before descending into the Rocky River Valley. The trail crosses Rock River and meanders along its band to the Southern Ocean Coast. You can find the trail head about five and a half miles from Flinders Chase Visitor Center off West Bay Road.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Kangaroo Island without the kangaroos! Flinders Chase National Park is a great place for spotting this iconic Aussie creature. You’ll find roos hopping around this protected reserve as nature intended.
Along the walks from the Flinders Chase National Park entrance, keep your eyes peeled for kangaroos that are hopping around and feeding.
Photo: Tourism Australia / Adam Bruzzone
Tip: If you’re driving along the roads that go through Flinders Chase at dusk – be extra careful! Kangaroo are much like deer in that they can cross the roads at the most inopportune times. So take it slow, make sure your head lights are on and be careful for kangaroos!
Visit Flinders Chase National Park
For wildlife spotting, Kangaroo Island can’t be beat. While you’re there, be sure to make your way to Flinders Chase National Park. You’ll get a perfect mix of some of Australia’s best natural sights and outdoor beauty. From the bush and the outback, to the pristine beaches and coast, to the rugged rock formations, Flinders Chase National Park has it all. Plus, how many people do you know that have seen a Platypus in real life?
Posted on: June 22nd, 2017 by Melissa Maxwell No Comments
Visit the Great Barrier Reef Between June & July to Swim with Minke Whales
First recognized by scientists less than 30 years ago, the dwarf minke whale is both elusive and super friendly. There is so much we don’t know about these whales despite their proclivity to search out human company. Scientists don’t understand why, but these whales are extremely curious and will often spend hours swimming around snorkelers and divers, giving quite a show! They have been known to follow a boat around for hours, stopping for a look at each new dive site.
This is a really special experience! Swimming with the minke whales only happens in the Ribbon Reefs in Tropical North Queenland, Australia. It’s one of the only animal encounters in the world that is entirely on the animal’s own terms. When a pod is spotted, a rope is tossed into the water. Groups of up to 10 swimmers hold on to the rope and the whales can approach or leave as they like. The whales are very generous with their time and once a pod is spotted, its rare if someone on the boat misses out on the experience while waiting their turn.
Being in the water with these majestic creatures is described as a life-changing experience. It’s common for people to emerge from the water crying, screaming or just plain speechless. If you want to add this encounter to your Australia Bucketlist, here are a few things you should know!
Photo Credit: Spirit of Freedom
1. Every Australian winter, the minke whales make their annual migration from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef from May to August. Plan your trip between June to mid-July for the best odds of seeing a pod. Peak season is in early July.
2. This special experience might take a bit of effort and luck! Only a handful of tour operators have permits to swim with minke whales and you’re never guaranteed an encounter. Increase your odds of swimming with the genial giants by taking a 3-7 night Liveaboard Excursion. In June and July, you’ll have a 98% chance of encountering the whales. It is recommend that you pre-book your excursion.
3. If you’re not keen on spending nights at sea, you can take a day-trip out of Port Douglas. These day-trips have an encounter rate of about 18%. This decreases your odds quite a bit, but if you do encounter them, you will feel as though you won the lottery! Either way it’s an amazing day out on the Great Barrier Reef. These day-trips often give discounts for multiple days out on the boat and they usually end up at different dive sites each day. So, you could stay a few nights in lovely Port Douglas and increase your odds by taking multiple trips out to the reef without feeling like you’re doing the same thing every day.
4. If you go in July, you might even have a chance to see and/or swim with Humpback whales too!
5. You can contribute directly to ongoing research including photo-identification, behavior research and conservation efforts from your minke whale encounter.
6. Dwarf minke whales are the smallest of the baleen whales. Like Humpback whales, they have no teeth, but a series of baleen plates that they use to trap and filter the food krill.
7. There is still much to be learned about these whales. For example, they have never been seen feeding on the Great Barrier Reef so it is assumed that they feed in Open Ocean while in the tropics, but no one really knows!
Photo by: Mike Ball
8. They are one of the fastest whales. They can travel at speeds greater than 20 knots or about 23 miles per hour.
9. Minke whales seem to prefer snorkelers to divers. They tend to get closer to and hang around longer when humans are not wearing large air tanks.
Want a chance to cross this amazing experience off your Bucket List? Visit Australia with the help of a Destination Specialist at About Australia. We can make your once in a lifetime trip Downunder fun and easy!
Things to See and Things to Do in the Blue Mountains | New South Wales, Australia
Credit: Destination NSW
Sydney is by far the most visited city in Australia, known best for its Harbour and Opera House. But just two hours outside of the city is the Greater Blue Mountains Area. This natural wonder is truly a must-visit on your next trip to Sydney. There are so many things to do in the Blue Mountains that you could easily spend an entire trip trekking through it.
The Greater Blue Mountains Area is a largely untouched, mountainous forest landscape. The huge expanse covers more than two million acres just west of the hustle and bustle of Sydney. It was named a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique geological rock formations, forest and waterfalls. This ecological diversity provides a wide range of habitats for more than 400 different types of animals. Several species considered rare or under threat of extinction call the park home.
The name “Blue Mountains” is no misnomer. Legend has it that when the temperature rises, the essential oil from the eucalyptus forest evaporates and disperses in to the air. This causes sunlight to filter through the mist in the air and scatter blue light over the canopy and vista. This natural phenomenon casts a spectacular bath of blue-light over the region.
Credit: Masaru Kitano snaK Productions
Credit: Andrew Smith / Tourism Australia
Within the Greater Blue Mountains Area are seven official National Parks of New South Wales. These include Blue Mountains, Gardens of Stone and Nattai National Parks. Blue Mountains National Park is the most popular of all parks in the Blue Mountains Area. In fact, it is one of the most visited national parks in all New South Wales.
Visitors and local Aussies alike flock to Blue Mountains National Park for strenuous hiking, easy walking, rock climbing and more. Numerous viewing areas called “lookouts” are accessible to visitors. They offer up some of the most sought after and breathtaking views of the area’s natural expanse in the entire region.
Before you even enter the park’s trailhead you will be immediately blown away by the view from this lookout. From here, you’ll be able to gaze upon The Three Sisters. This three-towered rock formation is one of the most fascinating sites in the entire Blue Mountains Area.
The Three Sisters are viewable from several vantage points in the park. Eaglehawk Lookout tends to be less populated than sites like Echo Point, so you get a solemn ambiance like no other. Eaglehawk Lookout offers up some of the best views in the park and is one of the best things to do in the blue mountains.
Eaglehawk Lookout, Blue Mountains
Take one look at the massive expanse over Govetts Leap and you’ll say to yourself… Well, probably nothing actually because this is a view that will truly leave you speechless. As your eyes remain transfixed on the sheer size of the valley below, you’ll begin to see the details that make up this view of the World Heritage treasure. Look one direction and see the dancing spray of water falling 180m down a sheer-face cliff to the valley below. Look another direction and spot a yellow-tailed black cockatoo swooping down to the trees. Govetts Leap is one site that must be seen to be believed.
Credit: Susan Wright / Destination NSW
Check your fear of heights at the door before beginning this 3-mile walk. The National Pass treks through sheer Blue Mountains cliff-sides at dizzying heights. As soon as you begin this walk you are rewarded with a magnificent view from Jamison Lookout. It’s an instant payoff in a walking trail that only gets better from here. As you continue on you’ll be serenaded by the sounds of Wentworth Falls, a multi-tiered waterfall cascading down from Jamison Creek above.
Credit: Sue Wright / Tourism Australia
From here you’ll descend the Grand Stairway. The stairway was built by hand more than a century ago. In recent years, the National Pass has been retrofitted with modern safety features like handrails along some of the more difficult paths and sheer faces. But the Grand Stairway is still a a steep climb down, so be sure to watch your step along the way!
Arrive at one of the ultimate lookouts on the National Pass and you’ll come face to face with a narrow edge over a sheer cliff face. If your knees weren’t shaking before, prepare yourself for this grand view that feels like you’re at the edge of the world overlooking the valley below.
The summit of Mount Banks is the highest point in the park. You can see the peak of Mount Banks from nearly every spot in the park. Explore this peak up close for a view that truly overlooks all Blue Mountains National Park. Climbing the tallest mountain in this park luckily doesn’t involve any extra equipment or increased danger and the summit is accessible via footpath. Once you arrive at the top, fill your lungs with the clean, ozone-laden air the area provides (called a health tonic since the early 1800’s). Gaze out on a 360-degree panoramic view, unimpeded by any handrails or fencing.
This mountaintop is as natural as it gets and if you’re looking for one of the best views in the park, it doesn’t get any better.
Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens
Just on the outer edge of Blue Mountains National Park, the Botanic Gardens at Mt. Tomah is a great stop on the way back from the inner Blue Mountains Area. Established in 1972, the garden contains 69 acres of public grounds. An additional 320 acres of land was also set aside, solely dedicated to the conservation of trees and other plants. Walk the grounds and marvel at more than 40,000 native, rare and exotic plants that dot the landscape.
Stunning mountain views and vistas surround the walk through the gardens. You could easily spend an entire day trying to see it all. Get lost in the garden and see the beauty of meticulously cared for, colorful flora.
Credit: Destination NSW
While technically not inside Blue Mountains National Park, the Jenolan Caves just south-west of the Greater Blue Mountains Area is well worth the side-track to visit. Jenolan Caves is Australia’s largest underground, limestone cave network
tucked inside a valley of Kanangra-Boyd National Park. Self-guided or fully escorted tours of the cave network take you through a number of the sites caves, rock formations (including the majestic Grand Column) and subterranean rivers.
Visit the Blue Mountains
With so many things to do in the Blue Mountains, you’re never far away from having an amazing time.. As soon as you see the calming, blue-haze of the mountain range you’ll be in awe at the untouched natural world before you. Make a stop over in Blue Mountains National Park from nearby Sydney for a quick nature retreat. We have plenty of trips with stopovers in Sydney and free days to explore or let’s work together and plan the perfect trip for you.
BONUS TIP: Stop by Featherdale Wildlife Park on your way up to the Blue Mountains. There you can see some of Australia’s amazing wildlife up close. Take a photo with a koala, feed some kangaroos and see Australia’s amazing native birds!
Posted on: June 8th, 2017 by Melissa Maxwell No Comments
Image Credit: Daniel Boud; Destination NSW
For the best shopping in Sydney visit the Queen Victoria Building or QVB, a beautiful landmark in the heart of Sydney. It’s rare to find a destination that fulfills the desires of shopaholics, architectural enthusiasts and history-buffs, but QVB gets it done!
The architecturally splendid building, constructed in the 1890′s, takes up an entire city block. It can be accessed by George, Market, York and Druitt Streets. It’s also easily accessed by train via underground walkway from the Town Hall Station.
A Rich History
The Queen Victoria Building was first constructed as a Municipal Market with a concert hall and warehouses for local artisans and service providers of the time. The building’s function changed throughout the years to accommodate the needs of the city, including a stint as a city library and offices for the city counsel. Sadly, this amazing building was left to fall into disrepair and it was nearly demolished in the 1950s.
Luckily for us, the 1980s brought restoration to the Queen Victoria Building and it became a mainstay in Sydney’s shopping culture. Recently, the building underwent another $48 million Australian dollar 6-year restoration that reflects its original design by faithfully restoring its arches, pillars, intricately titled floors, grand central dome and sculptures, while modernizing services for savvy shoppers.
Image Credit: Daniel Boud; Destination NSW
Don’t miss these historical sights:
The “Royal Clock” is located on the upper level of the southern half of the building. It’s very fun to watch as it activates on the hour with a trumpeting procession, revealing animated dioramas of English royal history through windows on both sides of the clock. Get a spot on the upper level to view the dioramas.
The “Great Australian Clock” which includes 33 scenes from Australian history as an Aboriginal hunter circles the exterior of the clock continuously, representing the never-ending passage of time.
The fully operational vintage lift (aka elevator) – beautiful and functional!
The Queen’s letter is located on the top level near the main dome. In 1986, Queen Elizabeth II wrote a letter to the future Lord Mayor of Sydney. The sealed letter is to be opened and read aloud to the people of Sydney in 2085.
A display replica of Queen Victoria and her jewels.
The Tea Room on the top level offers traditional high tea in the original Grand Ballroom.
Look up to catch all the glorious stained glass windows and splendid architecture of the building’s 21 domes.
Look down to see the intricate tile work restored in 2009 on the lower levels.
You can explore the fascinating history of the QBV on a guided tour, running at 11:30 am on Tuesdays, Thursday and Sundays from the QVB Concierge desk on the first floor.
Amazing Shopping in Sydney
With 6 levels of shops, cafes and restaurants spanning over a city block, you’re bound to find something you want at the QVB. In the bottom level, you’ll find Victoria’s Basement, a bargain discount store along with many food and convenience stores. As you make your way up to the top of the building, the stores get classier and more expensive. Find art, antiques, jewelry, fashion and fine gifts in the boutique shops on the upper levels.
There is perhaps nothing more divisive to Melbournians than Federation Square. When the site was opened in 2002, some Aussies derided it as an architectural nightmare. They said that it was one of “the ugliest eyesores I’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing”. That “everything about this abomination speaks volumes of the ineptitude and inabilities of the architectural team that put this world class laughing stock failure onto our streets”.
But sometimes things just need a chance to grow on you. These days, Federation Square is visited by more than 10 million people per year. And it’s tied with Queen Victoria Market for the top tourist destination in the city.
Not bad for a building that was once named one of the ten ugliest in the world!
While some Aussies look through rose-tinted glasses about a pre-Federation Square Melbourne, others have learned to embrace and even love the public gathering space.
We’ll show you how this once ugly-duckling has flourished in to the must-see beautiful swan it is today as we show you the best things to do in Federation Square.
Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI)
Old-fashioned museums a bit too stuffy for you? Sick of seeing yet another exhibit of 17th century Victorian silverware? (It used to be made of real silver!) Then head on over to ACMI, an interactive museum of digital culture where video games are revered as high art.
Photo: Rob Blackburn
ACMI is the only national museum of its kind in Australia. Here, you can attend screenings of contemporary and experimental art films in one of several screening rooms. Stop by the production studios for hands-on workshops for film and digital video. Multiple screen galleries exhibit video art, sound installations, interactive film and more in a unique, underground space.
See rotating exhibitions dedicated to video games, the history of the moving image and more. Most exhibitions are free.
Alfresco Dining at Its Finest
Photo: Rob Blackburn
More than 20 bars and restaurants pack in to Federation Square. The large, open outdoor space is perfect for grabbing a bite to go and posting up right in the square. You can eat great food and watch the bustle of the city center.
The large outdoor patio of Time Out Café + Bar is perfect for enjoying Melbourne’s beautiful sunny weather as you dine. For a drink with a view, head to Transit Rooftop Bar where you’ll be treated to crafted cocktails and craft beer with picture-perfect panoramas of downtown Melbourne.
Ian Potter Centre
Photo: Rob Blackburn
All Australian art. All the time. The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) opened the Ian Potter Center to highlight Australia’s best artists and works. From Aboriginal Australian dot paintings to contemporary, experimental sculpture, the gallery covers a huge swath of Australian art. More than 25,000 paintings, textiles, sculpture, photographs and more pack the Ian Potter Centre.
You’ll also find the building itself to be a work of art in its own right. The metal, glass and concrete patchwork is an amazing site inside and out.
Cruise the Yarra River
Photo: Josie Withers
Federation Square was built to be a prime access point to the Yarra River. So what better way to utilize this entryway than by taking a river cruise. Walk straight over from federation square and jump on one of the riverboats. You’ll float the river seeing Melbourne’s beautiful cityscapes and gardens. Learn about this amazing city from the comfort of a river cruise liner.
Melbourne has a beautiful, urban skyline. As the most populous city in Australia, Melbourne has a cosmopolitan feel while retaining that distinct Aussie charm. From the city to the Outback, Melbourne perfectly illustrates the multi-faceted character of Australia.
Free Public Events
True to its purpose, if there is a convention or event worth attending, chances are it is held in Federation Square. Here’s the short list of happenings throughout the year so you can find something to do no matter when you make it to Melbourne.
Multicultural Festivals - Nearly 25 diverse cultures are represented in festivals throughout the year – from the Asian Food Festival to a Diwali celebration and more.
VIC100 Festival of Wine – The top 100 wines produced in Victoria make their way to Federation Square for public tastings and more.
Outdoor Cinema – Screening current films and seasonal favorites (check out the Christmas movie marathon in December!)
Federation Square has flourished in to the destination it was always meant to be. It’s become a popular meeting spot for locals and perhaps the number one visited site in Melbourne – despite some early derision from skeptical locals! Plan a stop at Federation Square and see for yourself why the “little square that could” might top your list of great memories in Melbourne.
You can tell a lot about a city based on how it treats its art. A well-kept museum attracts visitors from all over the world and oftentimes is one of the greatest memories you take with you when you leave. It’s not often that someone visits Paris and doesn’t go to the Louvre.
But sometimes those huge museums can resemble the worst aspects of an amusement park. The ticket prices high. The ambiance non-existent. The gift shop unavoidable. You came for the culture, not the long lines.
Instead, head on over to North Terrace Adelaide – the cultural epicenter of South Australia. This art and museum district is loaded with great places to take in international and local art,culture and history – stress and entry-fee free.
South Australian Museum
Photo: Adam Bruzzone
Start your tour off with a visit to Adelaide’s premier cultural institution. The South Australian Museum is in a 5-story building on the North Terrace, making it the largest in South Australia. It houses a variety of natural history and sciences, archaeological and biological exhibits. The museum also hold the largest and most comprehensive collection of Aboriginal art and ethnography in the world. You’ll see ancient Aboriginal tools, instruments, jewelry, ornaments and more in the museum’s vast collection.
Tip: Take the guided museum tour. An expert tour-guide walks you through the museum, giving you insightful commentary on the collections within. The in-depth knowledge provided by the guides are a terrific way to make the most of your museum. And did we mention the tours are also free?
State Library of South Australia
On the opposite side of South Australia’s largest museum sits South Australia’s largest library. The State Library of South Australia has tens of thousands of books old and new. Reference materials and ledgers that date all the way back to pre-European settlement offer unique insight in to the history of this Aussie state.
Spend some time in the Mortlock Wing, a section of the library that visitors have referred to as being “Harry Potter-esque”. Victorian-era architecture and old-world charm of the interior make you feel like you stepped straight in to a cozy reading chamber in Hogwarts. The Mortlock Wing was also named one of the most “Beautiful Libraries in the World” by Travel + Leisure Magazine.
We think you’ll love browsing the centuries old library, thumbing through books and appreciating this South Aussie staple.
Botanic Gardens of South Australia
Photo: South Australia Tourism Commission
You won’t have to travel far for a bit of downtime from the hustle and bustle of the city-center. More than 130 acres of thriving greenery make up the Garden, making it the largest in South Australia. In addition to the amazing plant-life found in the gardens, the site is home to three large, glass-structures. The Palm House is an amazing Victorian era glass structure. Garden designers in 1875 had the entire structure shipped from Germany in flat boxes and reassembled in Adelaide, making this mail-order building the first of its kind. And you thought assembling Ikea furniture was hard! Also check out the Bicentennial Conservatory and the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion for more amazing glass architecture.
Parliament House of South Australia
Photo: South Australia Tourism Commission
You don’t often hear the words “beautiful” and “government” in the same sentence together, but we’ll try anyway: You’ll definitely want to check out the beautiful architecture of Adelaide’s finest government building at the Parliament of South Australia. There, that wasn’t so hard! The huge marble and granite Parliament House building is where the magic happens for South Australia’s lawmakers and heads of state. Take one of the guided tours inside for a look at its great interior design. You’ll also hear the secrets behind the red tape that caused this building to take more than 50 years to complete!
University of Adelaide
This beautiful urban campus is another centerpiece of downtown Adelaide. Walk the grounds of this famed research institution. The University’s public art galleries and museums are a great way to spend some time soaking in some fresh student art and work from artist residencies. The Samstag Museum is one of the best places to see contemporary work from art students and visiting artists. The focus at Samstag is on cutting edge visual art and sculpture in a building whose architecture is as notable as the work inside. The funky glass and concrete structure is a visually striking introduction to the contemporary works inside.
In honor of those who fought in the First World War, this large concrete memorial sculpture is a historically significant part of South Australia culture. Located adjacent to South Australia Government House, the site serves as a gathering place for Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, both Australian holidays to honor those who served and died in the line of duty.
The North Terrace is home to so many art galleries its almost hard to keep track. Here’s a selection of some of our favorites.
You’ve seen the Opera House. You even cruised the Harbour. You think you’ve seen it all. Time to pack up and go off to the next city, right?
If you leave Sydney without seeing the Royal Botanic Gardens, you’ve missed one of the most beautiful parts of the entire city.
Sydney is huge. It can’t be boiled down to just those two landmarks. Don’t get us wrong, they are amazing, must-see destinations. But it should be criminal to miss seeing this idyllic park right on the iconic Sydney Harbour.
We’ll show you why you’ll love this floral oasis just as much as we do in our guide to the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.
Keep your camera at the ready, because every which way you turn is a great backdrop for a photo. Sunny skies most days out of the year keep the flowers blooming, the trees thriving and the grass plush – year round. Your friends will be green with envy. See the Opera House in the morning and then walk on over to the Garden. It’s a great one-two punch of the best sightseeing in Sydney.
Enter through the Queen Elizabeth II gate and take the winding, perfectly manicured path through native plants and pristine greenery. This entrance runs along the water’s edge for great shots of Sydney Harbour.
From there, stroll toward Government House, the current official residence of New South Wales’ governor. Even better, we think you’ll dig the architecture of this sprawling 1800′s-era mansion that looks like something from King Arthur’s Court! You can even catch a tour of the inside of the building, whose design hasn’t been changed in over a hundred years. Exit the mansion and head for the Australian Native Rockery. Walk among picture-perfect examples of native Australian flora. Sit on the lawn facing Sydney Harbour for amazing views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Tip: This is one of the best places to get shots of three Sydney landmarks in one! If you look close, you may even see climbers in the distance participating in a Harbour Bridgeclimb!
Love is in the Air
There’s just something romantic about walking through a garden. Especially when that garden has more than 2000 huge, fully bloomed roses of all colors surrounding you (OK, maybe that’s a bit on the nose). Nevertheless, we dare you to walk through this sea of reds, whites and pinks and not feel at least a little lovey-dovey. Let that sweet, floral scented air envelope you and you’ll see why the Royal Botanic Garden is one of Sydney’s most popular wedding spots. Look above for a great view of towering downtown Sydney skyscrapers looming overhead. A reminder that this serene, green garden is an oasis just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the central business district.
Aboriginal Australians are the world’s oldest civilization. Dating back some 50,000 years, Aboriginal heritage plays an important role in Australia’s history. Aboriginal Australians are fiercely proud of their heritage and their continued traditions make Aboriginals the oldest, continuous human culture in existence. Learn about the diverse history of Aboriginal Australians in Sydney with a guided tour led by an Aboriginal guide.
Using the Royal Botanic Garden as a historical backdrop, you’ll learn about the rich, Aboriginal heritage of the Garden. Your guide will show you useful and medicinal plants in Aboriginal culture, see ancient artifacts and taste traditional bush foods. Heritage Tours are 100 percent Aboriginal owned and all proceeds support Aboriginal jobs and communities.
Tip: Go for a longer Aboriginal heritage tour that takes you through the Garden at Sydney proper. You’ll get in-depth insight in to the rich Aboriginal cultural history.
Photo: Sulfur-crested Cockatoo
Ask the average person what they think of when they hear “Australia” and you’ll most likely get one of three answers. The Outback, the Great Barrier Reef and of course, the wildlife. The kangaroo, the koala, the crocodile, the dingo… The list of iconic animals that call Australia home goes on and on. And the Royal Botanic Garden is no exception.
Among the animals that have found the Garden’s prime real estate the ideal place to set up shop are the sulfur-crested cockatoos.
Named for the sulfur-colored yellow streak that adorns the tops of their heads, these ivory-and-yellow feathered birds are found in many areas of the Garden. They have become increasingly friendly with humans due to hand feeding, but it is not recommended officially by the park because of dietary restrictions of birds.
The flying fox is another example of winged wildlife that the Royal Botanic Garden hosts, albeit reluctantly. The trees where these furry-bats like to nest are increasingly being decimated by the species and there have been efforts to re-home the animals. But they can still be spotted in the trees of the park hanging out during the day.
Latitude 23 Glasshouse and Fernery
If you just desperately miss that heavy, humid summer air, you’re in luck. Latitude 23 is a tropical paradise all inside a large glass building. The moisture is cranked up to replicate the equatorial region between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn (both located at 23° latitude, hence the name!). Amazing, non-native tropical plants thrive in this hot box glasshouse, so you can see exotic orchids, hoyas, bat-plants, Papua New Guinean tongue-lilies and more.
Stop by the Fernery next door where immense, lush ferns grow wild. From climbers, to hangers, to the tallest tree ferns from all over the world. The Fernery is liked you stepped in to an uninhabited jungle, where the plants rule the land.
From there, walk over to the succulent garden for an amazing look at some native Australian succulents and cacti.
Make sure you carve out some time for the Royal Botanic Garden when you’re in Sydney. Bring a blanket, pack a lunch and have a relaxing picnic in the park surrounded by some of the most amazing plant life and greenery in the city. It’s the perfect spot to spend a few hours idly strolling, either before or after your visit to the Opera House.
Want to make sure you don’t miss it? We can schedule the perfect itinerary for you and ensure you don’t miss anything in Sydney.