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Seven wonders, by the road: Australia road trips to natural wonders

A great view from the road: World Heritage-listed Uluru in
Australia’s Northern Territory. Photo: Steven Siewert

Seven great icons, seven great road trips, Belinda Jackson discovers that the journey becomes the destination.

Australia’s icons come with plenty of drama – the world’s oldest rainforest, world’s biggest monolith and it’s not called the Good
Barrier Reef, is it?

With some of the planet’s best scenery outside
your window, switch off the phone and seize the moment to explore our
most photographed beaches, our most frequently painted mountain ranges
or go it alone in the strange, remote deserts of the continent’s
interior – often easily seen through your car window. There’s no
hardship: eat our national coat of arms in South Australia, fill the
Esky on the Great Ocean Road or shop for a glass of wine at day’s end in
Tassie​. Read on to discover seven natural icons found on seven great
road trips, where the journey becomes the destination.

The icon: Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Great Ocean Road: the Twelve Apostles. Photo: Damien White

The flavour of the trip: From Torquay to Allansford,
near Warrnambool, the winding road curves along Victoria’s southern
coastline. The road was built by returned soldiers from WWI and
commemorates their fallen mates.
Get the picture: You’re
doing it to see the 12 Apostles, right? But make time to visit
Australia’s capital of surf, Torquay’s Bells Beach, spot wild koalas and
feed the parrots at little Kennett Creek. Plan a cafe and ice-cream run
at Lorne and fill the Esky from Timboon’s providores for a picnic at
Cape Otway.
Leave from: Melbourne. Torquay, the starting point, is 100km west of the capital’s CBD.

How much time to take: You can drive the GOR
straight in five hours, but why bother? Allow at least two nights to
explore. Double your driving time allowance if you’re doing it in the
summer school holidays.
Distance: 243km with plenty of hairpin bends and most of it is speed limited to 80km/hour.
See visitgreatoceanroad.org.au.

The icon: Alice Springs to Uluru, Northern Territory

The flavour of the trip: You’ve seen the ads: blood-red desert sands flank long, straight stretches of highway.
Get the picture:
Sacred Uluru is the undoubtable drawcard, but add to the list Kata
Tjuta​ (the Olgas) and Atila (Mt Connor, aka Fool-uru), another
spectacular monolith that rises up on the southern side of Lasseter
Highway: the rookie mistake is thinking it’s Uluru. To visit Atila, book
through Curtain Springs Station (curtinsprings.com)
Leave from:
Fly in to either Alice Springs or Ayres Rock airport and hire a camper
or standard car (you won’t need a 4WD if you don’t stray from the
highway). For the full immersion, drive 1500km from Darwin.
How much time to take:
Six hours without stops, but savour it with an overnighter​ en route.
It’s speed limited at up to 130km/hr, so you can put your foot down, but
don’t drive at night: you won’t see anything except that roo, camel,
cow or emu coming through the windscreen.
Distance: 462km down the Stuart Highway, then chuck a sharp right at Erldunda Roadhouse onto the Lasseter Highway. See travelnt.com.

The icon: Flinders Ranges, South Australia

The flavour of the trip: A gentle introduction to
the outback (though flashes of aquamarine waters of the Spencer Gulf
always come as a surprise). It’s hard to keep your eyes off the
watercoloured​ ranges, but watch for wild donkeys on the road.
Get the picture: Stop for a FMG (“feral mixed grill”) at the Prairie Hotel, Parachilna (prairiehotel.com.au) and a wedge-tailed eagle’s view of the ranges with a light aircraft flight from Wilpena Pound Resort (wilpenapound.com.au).
Stay overnight at tiny Arkaroola village and wilderness sanctuary to
spot elusive yellow-footed rock wallabies, take a 4WD tagalong tour and
visit the astronomical observatories (arkaroola.com.au).
Leave from: Hawker is 400km from Adelaide on the A1, which finishes at Darwin.
How much time to take: Four nights will fit in the basics, but it deserves a week’s exploration.
Distance: The
classic Flinders circuit is 230km, from Hawker to Blinman, across to
Parachilna and back to Hawker. Add on a round-trip from Hawker up to
Arkaroola, about three hours from Parachilna. See roadtrips.southaustralia.com.

The icon: Mungo National Park, New South Wales  

Big skies and bigger stories: Mungo National Park. Photo: Quentin Jones

The flavour of the trip: This is ancient land:
people have been living around Mungo for 50,000 years – gear up for big
deserts, big rivers, big skies and even bigger stories.
Get the picture:
See the skeletons of ghosts past, when Australia’s massive inland sea
receded at the end of the last ice age. Mungo Man, Australia’s oldest
human remains, were discovered here, and plan for sunset and sunrise
looking to the dramatic Walls of China. You can do a 2.5-hour tagalong
driving tour of the national park with Aboriginal Discovery Rangers and
learn about the megafauna – giant kangaroos, wombats, lions and emus –
who lived here.
Leave from: Sydney via Goulburn
and Wagga, with eyes peeled for emus on the Hay plains. Otherwise,
award-winning Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours runs tours from Melbourne
(echidnawalkabout.com.au).
How much time to take: Allow
two days to reach Mungo. If desert camping is too extreme for you,
pitch your tent by the Murrumbidgee in Balranald, 130km from Mungo, or
take a motel room in Wentworth and visit the red dunes outside the town,
148km from Mungo.
Distance: 875km from Sydney. See visitmungo.com.au.

The icon: Daintree, Queensland

The flavour of the trip: A sunny drive up the scenic
Queensland coast to visit the world’s oldest surviving tropical
rainforest, with the Great Barrier Reef served up on the side.
Get the picture:
Beach camping, twice-daily swims, sunset barbies: it’s the great
Australian holiday. For a change of scenery, take the byroads through
the lush Atherton Tablelands.
Leave from: Townsville.
The drive up to the Daintree and nearby Cape Tribulation is around
500km. Determined roadtrippers​ could start out in Brissy for an 1800km
one-way journey.
How much time to take: Allow a
week to soak up the Cairns vibe and let yourself be diverted from the
road on a boat trip out onto the reef off Townsville, staying at luxe
Orpheus Island (orpheus.com.au) or friendly Magnetic Island (magnetic-island.com.au).
Distance: 470km. See queensland.com.

The icon: Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania

The flavour of the trip: A slow drive up Tasmania’s
sleepy east coast with a day’s detour on the foot passenger ferry to the
former convict colony of Maria Bay.
Get the picture:
Constantly featured in “Top 10 world’s best beaches”, the perfect curve
of Wineglass Bay is best appreciated from its lookout.  Don’t miss the
chance to stock up on local wine on the way (winetasmania.com.au)
and make time for a short walk down to Hazards Beach on the Freycinet
Peninsula. Keep the camera ready for white-bellied sea-eagles and
adorable little paddymelons.
Leave from: Hobart via Sorrel, Orford and Swansea.
How much time to take: Three days minimum, unless you really like seafood and cool-climate wines.
Distance: 400km for a round-trip circuit. See discovertasmania.com.au.

The icon: Bungle Bungle Range, Western Australia

The flavour of the trip: Lonesome and lovely, this
drive through the Kimberley is the dictionary definition of the word
“remote”. Mind you, the Gibb River Rd does become a bit crowded in peak
(winter) season.
Get the picture: The sandstone
“beehives” known as the Bungle Bungles are in Purnululu National Park,
weathered away over 350 million years. Book a scenic flight over them
from the local caravan park (bunglebunglecaravanpark.com.au). Take a dip
in Cathedral Gorge, but stay clear of the waters of Windjana Gorge –
it’s croc territory.
Leave from: Broome and turn due east.
How much time to take:
Seven days minimum – you’re on bush time now and the roads into
Purnululu are slow. But you could fall in love with the Kimberley and
never leave.
Distance: 1100km via the Gibb River Rd. You could leave from Perth, but that is a 3000km drive, one way. See westernaustralia.com.

This article brought to you in association with Avis.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website.


Top 10 destinations to visit in Australia in 2015

If you can’t survive the festive season without a list to hand, here’s another one, this time for 10 planning ideas for your 2015 travels.  
 
InterContinental Hotel Double Bay, Sydney

1. Explore wild Australia in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory

Wildly remote and deeply mysterious, Arnhem Land is in the
far north-east of the Northern Territory, fringed by the Timor Sea and
Kakadu National Park. Tourists can now join a working cargo ship
and sail with their car on a cruise-drive journey from Darwin to
Nhulunbuy via Maningrida and Galiwinku on Elcho Island. Get off the
beaten track and into the beating heart of traditional Aboriginal
Australia with a new seven-day cultural tour
through the sparsely populated Cobourg Peninsula. Track sea turtles in
East Arnhem Land at the annual turtle camp on Maabayj (West) Island
(phone: +61 400 419 238) or shake it every August at the Garma Indigenous cultural festival.
Western Arnhem Land’s hot spot is Gunbalanya (Oenpelli), which lures
international collectors to its newly refurbished Injalak Art and Craft
Centre. Watch artists painting and weaving their beautiful artworks,
then climb Injalak Hill to discover breathtaking galleries of rock art.
The best time to travel is May to October.

2. Play picturesque golf and feast on freshness when you visit Tasmania’s King Island

Perched precariously in the wild waters of the Bass Strait, little King Island is
a reminder of the landbridge that once connected the Australian
mainland and our most southerly state, Tasmania. All eyes are on the new
Cape Wickham golf course,
opening March 1, 2015, on Tasmania’s north coast. Designed by US
architect Mike DeVries, Cape Wickham’s course hugs the coastline, with
surfers and a lighthouse overlooking play. King Island’s foodie
reputation far outweighs it size: it may be just 65km long and whipped
by the Roaring Forties trade winds, but its creamy bries, blue veins and
rich cheddars have a soft place in most Australians’ hearts. Order a
King Island hamper before you arrive, stocked with local crayfish and
the world’s most pure rainwater, King Island Cloud Juice. Explore its
walking trails and shipwreck history. Fly in from Tasmania or Melbourne.

3. Sample country kitchen delights on the Great Ocean Road hinterland in Victoria

Hungry? Go west, intrepid traveller, 135km from Melbourne to
Birregurra, population 700. It’s home to the new three-hatted restaurant
Brae, the pride of chef
and restauranteur Dan Hunter, who put another Victorian country town,
Dunkeld, on the map for his fare at the Royal Mail Hotel. Brae is a
30-acre property with olive groves and an organic kitchen garden. Diners
are served quality, sustainable food, showcasing the region’s
exceptional produce, from organic milk to hand-fed ducks, wallaby
tartare and stand-out shiitake. In 2016, Hunter plans to open just six
rooms to guests for an all-immersive stay in this secluded, rich corner
of Victoria that leads down to the Great Ocean Road. While you’re in the
hinterland, check out Timboon Provedore, Birregurra Provedore,
G.O.R.G.E. Chocolates, and Otway Estate brewery and cidery on the Otway Harvest Trail, then roll on to the Great Ocean Road’s 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail.

4. Immerse yourself in hipster cool among Adelaide’s restored laneways

Once upon a time, Adelaide City’s best wine cellar was a
lonely creature amidst the romantic architecture. Now, East End Cellars
has many new friends, with the reinvention of Vardon Ave and Ebenezer
Place as the top spot for a shot of espresso, a wine fix or whatever
fancy cocktail you plan to concoct. Cruise the leafy laneways for
locally designed, ethically sourced jewellery at Studio Eco, get your
sweatshop-free fashion at Nature’s Threads, artistic homewares from
Council of Objects or a restored fixie pushbike at Treadly. You wanna
eat? They’ll dish up chai and Afghan dumplings, Belgian mussels and
beer, tea and vegie pita, or simply hardcore coffee. That’s not to say
that East End Cellars themselves have been sitting still. Their
sophisticated Mother Vine wine bar is the newest on kid on two blocks
that wrap up the best of Adelaide’s food and wine into one tidy package (www.rundlestreet.com.au).

5. Stay in style at the national capital in Canberra

With a wave of sleek newcomers to Canberra’s hotel scene this
year, the question is not “Why should I go?” but “Where should I lay my
head while I’m there?” The city’s arts and culture precinct, NewActon,
is the home of two of the headliners: the chic Hotel Hotel, with a unique design inspired by the Aussie holiday shack, and slick QT Hotel, with sunny rooms and an antique-meets-chic barber shop for the well-groomed man. An old classic gets dressed with edgy art at Peppers Gallery Hotel and everyone’s waiting for the luxury hotel in theNational Zoo and Aquarium, where only a glass wall separates you from a snoozing white lion. Keep an eye out for five-star The Avenue Hotel in the city’s CBD and the remake of the heritage-listed Hotel Kurrajong Bartonin the Parliamentary Triangle, both slated for December. Business hotels in the pipeline include the four-star Little National in Barton and Vibe Canberra Airport, a hop-skip to the ACT’s new terminal.

6. Relax in Hayman Island’s luxurious seaside surrounds

The jewel of Australia’s east coast, the Great Barrier Reef, now has a new gem with the opening of One&Only Hayman Island
in July 2014. With an AUD$80 million price tag on the island’s
makeover, the result is the perfect blend of whales, wallabies and the
luxury of a private island resort. Expect toothpaste-bright beaches,
warm turquoise seas and swaying palm trees married with flowing white
curtains and come-hither daybeds. Make your home a beach villa, with its
absolute beachfront and private plunge pool, or check into the
two-bedroom Diane von Furstenberg penthouse and ask the butler to
arrange an Ocean Dreaming massage literally in the water. The journey is
half the adventure: to get to the resort, you’ll travel past
Queensland’s most beautiful beach, the 7km-strip of Whitehaven Beach, on
Whitsunday Island. Chopper over it, sail up to it, picnic on it: can
you imagine how many diamond rings have been offered here?

7. Go beyond the beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs

Double Bay and Bondi are the beach stars of Sydney’s iconic
east, and both have been blessed with fresh wave of new openings. All
the talk in this part of town is about the new InterContinental Hotel
in Sydney’s upmarket Double Bay. Opening November, expect super-modern
luxury, grill restaurants, rooftop pools, gin bars and even a kosher
kitchen. The hotel has inspired a wash of new restaurants around it,
including a second Sydney Sake, Fish Face by hot young chef Josh Niland and nightclub Casablanca.
It’s worth remembering rival Bondi Beach is only 10 minutes by taxi, so
pop over and be seen in The Hub on Hall Street, home to Mr Moustache, China Diner and A Tavola. Maurice Terzini, of Bondi Icebergs fame, has just set up shop in Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta and Sydney’s best breakfast has also moved to Bondi, with the opening of bills Bondi from one of Sydney’s most well-known chefs Bill Granger. Make like a local and order the ricotta hotcakes.

8. Eat your way across the world without leaving Brisbane’s markets

Brisbane lights up each weekend with the new Eat Street Markets
on Hamilton Wharf. Strewn with shipping containers, you can mix it up
with the locals and eat around the world, from Mexico to New York via
Singapore and, of course taste the best of Australia. Snack on
old-school Vietnamese dumplings at Dakbla or French crepes with Miss
Claude, or put a Brissy spin on an old classic with crumbed tiger prawns
and chips at Phunky Dory. Finish off with a cocktail or craft beer and a
light browse – churros in hand – through the shops selling quirky
clothing, candles, antiques and books. The best way to reach Hamilton
Wharf is down the Brisbane River. Take a CityCat river ferry to Brett’s
Wharf and it’s a leisurely 10-minute stroll to Hamilton Wharf. The
markets run every Friday and Saturday night from 4-10pm

9. Raise a glass to Italian cuisine in Victoria’s King Valley

Tucked away high in the foothills of the Victorian Alps is a
busy little community doing its own beautiful thing: smoking meats,
making cheeses, pressing wine. The King Valley
is a little slice of Italy in a quiet pocket of Australia. And when
living la dolce vita, the only drink to drink is the Italian take on
sparkling white wine, heavenly prosecco. How do you find this Australian
Arcadia? Why, follow the Prosecco Road, a food and wine trail that visits the valley’s best vineyards, restaurants, cafés and providores – with a spot of bocce
(Italian lawn bowls) thrown in for good measure. Stay the night in a
local B&B and prepare for a car boot that clinks all the way home,
thanks to your newly found love of precious prosecco. The King Valley is
about three hours’ drive north of Melbourne.

10. Hunt for exotic truffles in unlikely Manjimup, Western Australia

Achingly expensive, hard to attain and an acquired taste:
what’s not to love about truffles? The rich, earthy fungus has
traditionally been hunted in Europe’s ancient forests, but chefs’ eyes
are turning from the Old World to the New, looking to Western Australia,
now Australia’s largest producer of French black truffles. Unearthed in
truffle orchards of English oak and hazel trees with specially trained
dogs, you can take the hounds out for a winter morning’s truffle hunting
around Manjimup and Southern Forest Region, about 300km south of Perth.
Hungry hunters, stop for a truffle-infused lunch and be sure to pack a
shopping bag to haul home your truffle-infused treasures, from
chocolates, to oils and salts. WA’s fresh truffle season runs from June
to September, and out-of-season simulated hunts are available. Tour
operators include Go in Style Luxury Transport and The Truffle & Wine Co.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published by Tourism Australia.


Travel deals: rock the lobster

Mandarin Oriental Taipei, Taiwan.

Soak up the seafood and sunshine in Perth, shop Seminyak or sip South Australia… there’s not much more alliteration left, so I’ll stop right here to leave you to read this week’s domestic and international travel deals. 

(Sorry, forgot to mention the fabulously chic baby-will-travel bag in this week’s kids’ feature – and not a tacky cartoon character in sight!)

GO NOW
WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Blow the budget on rock lobster and WA wines when you stay
two nights at Perth’s 3.5-star Alderney on Hay executive apartments. The
“two-bedroom breakfast special” includes a breakfast hamper and DVD
hire in a two-bed apartment until June 28. From $370, two nights. See lastminute.com.au/deals.

BALI
Snap up great local fashions and hit the restaurants in
happening Seminyak with a stay-five, pay-four offer at the one, two or
three-bed villas of Villa Kubu, available until August 31. From $320 a
night. See villakubu.com.

GO SOON
SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Shop for the cellar on a half-price day trip to the Barossa
Valley, then enjoy a room upgrade and late check-out when you stay two
nights at Adelaide’s refurbished Mantra Hindmarsh Square. Book by July
31, travel by October 31, quote “Mantra Winter Special”. From $149 a
night. Phone (08) 8412 3333, see mantra.com.au.

The Fairmont San Francisco, USA.

USA
Stay four nights, pay for three at The Fairmont San Francisco
and use your savings to snap up American labels on stays until
September 4. You’ll also get $108 hotel credit, breakfast, early
check-in, late check-out and a room upgrade. From $622 a night. See virtuoso.com.au.

GO LATER
VICTORIA
Set in the spectacular shopping hub of South Yarra, the new
Oaks Pinnacle’s opening “Winter Warmers” offer, with midday checkout,
costs from $139 for a one-bedroom apartment (normally $260 a night).
Minimum two-night stay until September 30. Phone 1300 660 223, see oakshotelsresorts.com.

TAIWAN
Shop Taipei for rare teas and hand-thrown ceramics during
your stay at the new Mandarin Oriental, Taipei. Its opening package,
“Stay for More” offers three nights for the price of two until September
7. From $677 for three nights. Phone 1800 123 693, see mandarinoriental.com.

Yuraygir National Park, NSW, Australia

TOURWATCH

Easy
on the soul
The beauty of isolated Yuraygir National Park, on
the Coffs coastline, is on display on a new coastal walk that links the
north-coast towns of Iluka and Coffs Harbour via paperbark swamps, clear
lagoons and wide stretches of beach. The walk, for up to 15 guests, includes
canoeing at Wooli, local oyster tasting and a walk around Muttonbird Island.
The six-day trip departs May 25, 2015. Costs $2195 a person. (03) 9530
8800, auswalk.com.au.

 

HAVE
HANDBAG, WILL TRAVEL
Travelling
stylishly doesn’t have to go (completely) out the window when you’re towing
babies along. The Budu Baby Bag packs a nappy bag into a chic leather hold-all,
hiding an insulated bottle holder, wipe-down change mat, key or nappy clip and
pram strap. There are zipped compartments for your passport and ebook. Later it
becomes a stylish woman-about-town bag. Designed and owned in Australia, $349.
See budu.com.au.

This travel deals column by Belinda Jackson is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper every Sunday.  


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