AUSTRALIA

Australia travel tips and photos:

Carol and I left Seattle’s winter for 7.5 weeks exploring some great forest parks in southern Australia in the southern summer January 26-March 18, 2004. We most enjoyed Australia’s exotic animals and plants. Best weather for a separate trip to northern and interior Australia (the “Red Centre”) would be September or October.


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In hindsight, we could have shortened the trip by flying straight to certain highlights instead driving extra distance. The size of Australia challenges the traveller to prioritize visiting far-flung areas of interest. To make best use of your time, fly to each major city (such as with Virgin Australia Airlines), rent a camper (Apollocamper.com) or car (Bayswatercarrental.com.au), and stay at convenient Caravan/Holiday Parks. Camping vehicles can show up in most parks without a reservation, provide a kitchen, and carry all you need without reshuffling luggage. We enjoyed Melbourne and Perth via separate round trips in campers. A more relaxing way to explore Tasmania would have been renting a camper instead of a car. Without a camper, we had to worry about making lodging reservations several days in advance despite traveling in non-peak (“shoulder”) tourist season.

Within two days we adjusted to the minus 5 hours jet lag (plus one day) to Sydney from Seattle. We adjusted to driving on the left side of the road within a day or two. Traffic flows smoothly around the many roundabouts instead of being impeded by stop signs. Be prepared for narrow bumpy roads with fast traffic.

January-March: Suggested southern forest itinerary for Australia

  • For a great short trip, go to the beautiful Sydney area for a few days, then fly to Tasmania, which offers wonderful variety and lovely wilderness on a compact island.
  • To extend the trip, consider flying to Adelaide and visiting Kangaroo Island for wildlife, coastal scenery, and geology.
  • Fly to Melbourne and visit Wilson’s Promontory National Park for great wildlife, estuary, and coastal scenery. If you like beaches and waves, drive west of Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road.
  • The flight to Perth, Western Australia, is pricey and the driving lengthy before you reach interesting places, but once we arrived in the Walpole area, I really enjoyed the old growth forests of amazingly tall tingle and karri trees, which are found nowhere else on earth.
  • You will be thoroughly fascinated by native Australian birds, marsupials, reptiles, and eucalyptus. Visit Australian parks and wildlands for enrichment beyond zoos and gardens.

Sydney and nearby parks, New South Wales


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  • Visit the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbor Bridge, and Taronga Zoo.
  • One of the many pleasures of Sydney is an abundance of weird flying creatures: Sacred Ibis, parrots, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, and big fruit bats (flying foxes) roosting in the downtown Royal Botanic Garden. The call of the Australian magpie is full of fascinating bells and whistles, and is found throughout most of Australia.
  • Sydney Aquarium is worth visiting for an overview of sea and freshwater life found around Australia.
  • Before heading for parks outside of Sydney, check the latest fire reports. Fire is a necessary and natural part of the lifecycle of eucalyptus forest, but can impact your trip.
  • Royal National Park: Located between the towns of Loftus and Stanwell Park, this reserve was established in 1879, making it Australia’s oldest national park — the world’s second-oldest. Hike a wonderful loop 11 kilometers (7 miles) through native Palm Forest, bluffs, and beach as a convenient day trip by rental car or train, south of Sydney. A 3-foot long goanna (monitor lizard) surprised me with its boldness and size. Forest parrots impressed us with their huge size. Best of all, a rare Lyrebird ran silently across the path before me. Notice the eucalyptus tree bark pealing into colorful patterns.
  • Blue Mountains National Park is a good a day trip west of Sydney, with many nice hiking opportunities. Walk the “Grand Canyon” 3-mile loop through a slot canyon which shelters a spattering stream, tree ferns, tree grass (with blooms), and unique plants. In 2000, UNESCO listed the Greater Blue Mountains (of which one quarter is Blue Mountains National Park) as a World Heritage Site.
  • Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park is worth visiting, 14 miles north of Sydney. Fire had burnt the eucalyptus forest in several areas in 2004, but will regrow as part of the natural forest lifecycle.

Tasmania


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In comparison to the rest of Australia, Tasmania offers a greater variety of sights closer together for easy travel, our favorite place in Australia. A short ferry ride from Tasmania takes you to little Maria Island which offers surprising variety — spectacular sandstone patterns, interesting history, important fossils, hiking, and biking. Tasmanian parks are beautiful, wild, and exotic. Fortunately, 37% of Tasmania lies in reserves and national parks. In 1982, UNESCO listed the parks of Tasmania as a World Heritage Area, including: Southwest National Park, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, and Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park.

Tasmania tips

Explore Tasmania for at least a week, or two weeks as we did. Booking a bed for the night can be problematic even in “shoulder season” in Tasmania, partly due to an overnight ferry bringing cars from Sydney. We rented a car and stayed in cabins and lodging booked a few days in advance, which took some extra worry and phone calls. Renting a camper would have let us show up in most parks without a reservation, provides a kitchen, and carries luggage without reshuffling (as we did in Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia). Note that roads are extra narrow in Tasmania, which might seem harrowing in a camper. We enjoyed the following hikes and sights:

  • We hiked most of the world-class Overland Track from Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain, which provides backcountry huts and tent pads. Day hike around Dove Lake and up Cradle Mountain.
  • Mole Creek Karst National Park: On a rainy day, see massive columns and straw stalactites in King Solomon Cave.
  • Mount Field National Park: Don’t miss Russell Falls, an icon of Tasmania.
  • Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park: Walk to Nelson River and Falls. Tannins from trees color the Surprise River brown, as in many other Australian forests.
  • Freycinet National Park: Climb a rough trail to Mount Amos for a views of Coles Bay and Wineglass Bay wilderness.
  • Tasman National Park: See the Dog Line Memorial, on Eaglehawk Neck. Tessellated Pavement is a unique natural geologic wonder. An easy hike takes you to a striking view high above Cape Raoul. Tasman’s Arch was carved by the Tasman Sea.
  • Port Arthur Historic Site was an English prison from 1830-1877 on the Tasman Peninsula.
  • South Bruny Island: The Fluted Cape is a pleasant hike. Nearby in the evening, we watched cute Fairy Penguins come ashore to feed their young in sandy burrows, while predatory Shearwater birds swooped overhead.
  • Maria Island National Park:
    • Catch the ferry from Triabunna to Maria Island, Tasmania. Note the piles of chipped old growth Tasmanian forest being shipped to Japan to make high grade paper — surely they could find a farmed tree substitute instead of destroying ancient forests.
    • The Commissariate, built in 1825, is now a museum in Maria Island National Park.
    • Don’t miss the colorful sandstone Painted Cliffs walk along the shore.
    • Cape Barren Geese were introduced to Maria Island National Park in 1968 from Bass Strait Islands to help ensure their survival as a species. Now they thrive and are no longer endangered. They naturally range across the coasts and islands of southern Australia. The Cape Barren Goose, Australia’s only native goose, was first sighted on Cape Barren Island (second largest of the Furneaux Group of 52 islands, located northeast of Tasmania). Cape Barren Island has the distinction of being “the largest island of the largest island (Flinders Island) of the largest island (Tasmania) of the largest island (Australia).”

Tasmania resembles lower elevations of New Zealand and Washington. The sightseeing equivalent to Tasmania in the USA might be the state of Oregon, except for the added pleasure of unique Tasmanian and Australian wildlife and plants, isolated on a remote yet civilized island.

Victoria


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Drive two hours from Melbourne to reach Wilson’s Promontory National Park in the Gippsland region. Wilson’s Promontory, or “the Prom,” offers a beautiful variety of coastal scenery, magnificent and secluded beaches, spectacular rock formations, tidal estuaries, cool fern gullies, and an abundance of easily seen wildlife. Photographers love where tannin-stained Tidal River reflects attractive orange lichen-covered boulders and lush green forest. One night in Tidal River Campground, our camper van rocked us awake in what we though was an earthquake. The rocking soon stopped and the dark shape of a wombat (a marsupial “bear”) wandered off into the night from underneath the van, where he had been licking our tasty sink drain! We were delighted to see wallabies and the Common Brushtail Possum. Visitors also commonly see echidnas, koalas, bats and sugar-gliders.

Conservation Hill Koala Centre on Philip Island gives close views of cute, sleepy koalas. Koalas move and metabolize very slowly, resting or sleeping motionless for about 16 to 18 hours a day, and feeding on eucalyptus leaves usually at night.

Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park has nice hiking trails and an impressively rich variety of native birds and animals. Stay at Halls Gap Lakeside Caravan Park. Look for the colorful Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius), a parrot native to southeast Australia and Tasmania (and introduced to New Zealand where feral populations are found in the North Island). The bird can grow 30 cm long, with a red head and upper breast and white cheeks. The rest of the breast is yellow becoming more greenish toward the abdomen. The feathers of the back and shoulders are black with yellowish margins, giving rise to a scalloped appearance. The wings and lateral tail feathers are bluish while the rest of the tail is dark green.

For close contact with captive wildlife, camp at Emu Park Holiday Park, in the Wartook Valley, in the Northern Grampians.

The large Eastern Grey Kangaroo, also known as the Great Grey Kangaroo or Forester, has a soft grey coat, and is usually found in moister, more fertile areas than the Red Kangaroo. Indigenous Australian names include iyirrbir and kucha. The Eastern Grey Kangaroos live in open grassland and bushland near the major cities of the south and east coast of Australia, and are much more commonly seen than the Reds, which live in the outback. Like all kangaroos, it is mainly nocturnal and crepuscular, mostly seen at dawn or dusk.

Melba Gully park is a remnant of the rainforest which formerly covered large portions of Victoria.

Cape Otway National Park: Stay at Bimbi Caravan Park, and hike 5 miles round trip to Rainbow Falls, a stunning orange travertine waterfall on a remote coast with wild white beaches. We observed wild koalas sleeping in trees during daytime.

12 Apostles Marine National Park: Walk the beautiful wild beach at Gibson Steps. The 12 Apostles are a spectacular formation of seastack rocks (or haystacks) on the Victoria coast. The number of Apostles changes with time as old castles of sand collapse and new monuments are cut.

South Australia


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Use one company to book your camper (Apollocamper.com) or car (Bayswatercarrental.com.au) at different flight destinations to get a discount for the total length of time rented within Australia. Make sure that your Adelaide car rental agency allows you to take the car ferry to Kangaroo Island, forbidden by some.

Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island is one of the best places in Australia to view wildlife and remarkable geology. Our two nights were insufficient — a week would have been better.

  • When to go: March to May and August to October are probably the best times to visit Kangaroo Island.
  • Getting there: To save time, fly to Adelaide and rent a vehicle to visit Kangaroo Island — or fly to Kingscote Airport on Kangaroo Island if affordable.
    • Compare the cost of bringing a car on the ferry versus flying directly to Kangaroo Island and renting a car there. For one person, flying might be a better value, but for two people, driving may be better, depending on your budget.
    • Book your car ferry to Kangaroo Island several days in advance to assure a spot.
    • Avoid the fatiguing drive from Melbourne to Kangaroo Island and back, unless you driv more than our 11 days. The best scenery on the “Great Ocean Road” in Victoria is between Melbourne and Port Campbell, with the 12 Apostles as the highlight, best seen as a round trip from Melbourne.
Flinders Chase National Park
  • The campgrounds at Flinders Chase National Park are some of the best places to view wildlife in Australia.
  • Flinders Chase Visitor Centre: The adjacent campground includes hot showers. All around the Visitor Centre and adjacent campground, we admired wild Kangaroo Island Kangaroos, cute Tammar Wallabies, brushtail possums, birds, echidnas, goannas, and more. A curious Common Brushtail Possum climbed atop our camper one night as koalas screeched in trees above.
    • Reserve the campground a day or two ahead if you can, or be sure and arrive early to get a spot. Phone (08) 8559 7235 or e-mail: kiparksaccom@saugov.sa.gov.au
  • We saw eight live echidnas (a spiny mammal resembling a porcupine but hatching from eggs) along the roadside as we drove just before sunset to see the Remarkable Rocks!
  • Don’t miss capturing dramatic photographs of the Remarkable Rocks, especially at sunset. Walk the short nature trail and admire every angle of what looks like modern art in ancient stone. Remarkable Rocks originally formed as a single granite monolith and became cracked and eroded by seashore weathering.
  • Walk near sunrise and sunset to best see wildlife: Ravine des Casoars, Platypus Waterholes & Rocky River, and Snake Lagoon.
Kangaroo Island Kangaroos

Upon landing in 1802, famous explorer Captain Matthew Flinders shot the first Kangaroo Island Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus fuliginosus). Not until the 1990s did taxonomists clarify that it was a subspecies of the large brown Western Grey Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus, a marsupial mammal species in the Macropod family, Macropodidae), which lives across the southern part of Australia, from just south of Shark Bay to coastal South Australia, western Victoria, and the entire Murray-Darling Basin in New South Wales and Queensland. It breeds year round with a peak during summer months. Be cautious of kangaroos when driving roads at night.

Side trips recommended north of Adelaide
  • If you like wine, be sure to visit the Barossa Valley and other vineyard areas near Adelaide.
  • Mount Remarkable Gorges: Walk 2 days in a loop and stay in a tent. Or drive to the middle of the trail and day hike a shorter loop. I haven’t been there, but the gorges and scenery should be fascinating — best August-October.
  • Coober Pedy: opal mines, photography, history, film settings

Western Australia


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We flew to Perth from Melbourne and immediately drove our rental camper southwards towards some unique ecological areas found nowhere else on earth. Swim in the Indian Ocean from smooth sand beaches. Watch for trucks pulling double trailers called “road trains” roaring along highways.

South of Perth, the enthralling Fremantle Museum succinctly portrays a vivid vision of Western Australia history: Early pioneers made their own lives much harder by ignoring the valuable live-off-the-land knowledge of local aborigines. Australians seriously worried about possible Japanese invasion in World War II, then Europeans dispossessed by war were imported en masse to populate the large empty continent.

Further south, swim with wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) at the Dolphin Discovery Center in Koombana Bay, off Koombana Beach at the town of Bunbury, Western Australia. On a cloudy day, we waded into chilly water and joined a line of a dozen tourists, as a single dolphin cruised around us. Volunteers in red shirts enforce the rule of not touching or feeding the dolphins, in order to keep them wild. We would have been more impressed with this dolphin experience if the day had been warm enough to snorkel more comfortably. (Much further north of Perth you can wade in warmer waters at Monkey Mia where dolphins approach more closely in greater numbers, but feeding makes the dolphins less wild.)

On Nancy’s Peak Loop in Porongurup National Park, we explored an impressive karri tree forest. On the high point of this short loop over some 1.1-billion-year-old granite domes, we spotted a huge kite, which turned out to be a big Wedgetail Eagle gliding in a strong updraft.

The Diamond Tree is a 51 meter (167 foot) high public Fire Lookout built into a living karri tree, located 10 kilometers south of Manjimup on the South Western Highway, in Western Australia. The impressive karri trees are only found in a few small parks in south-Western Australia, and nowhere else on earth. Ascend a breathtaking a ladder of thick rebar posted into the Diamond Tree. Anyone is free to climb and access is not controlled.

Walpole-Nornalup National Park

The “Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk” is a wide ramp (suitable for baby strollers) which reaches 125 feet (38 meters) above the ground in the course of its half-mile length, passing through a forest of exceptionally tall eucalyptus trees, worth experiencing near Nornalup.

Hike to the impressive Giant Tingle Tree. The tingle is a type of eucalyptus found only in south-Western Australia and nowhere else on earth. Look for Australian pelicans on Coalmine Beach.

Australia climate and when to visit

Best weather and timing for a tour of southern Australia forests is late January through March, as we did. A separate trip to northern (monsoonal “Top End”) and interior Australia (the “Red Centre”) is best in September or October. See Lonely Planet Walking in Australia (2006) and Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Australia destinations:

Optimal time to visit:

Climate Comments:

WESTERN AUSTRALIA, Perth

Southern WA: September-February (spring-summer)


Northern WA: September-November

Southern WA: good in spring to summer. Albany=70 high/50F low, Perth=85/63F.


Northern WA: June-August is the Dry season. (December-February is the Wet, with monsoon thunderstorms, high humidity, tropical cyclones, many roads impassable.)

VICTORIA, Melbourne

November-April

Visit Victoria’s Australian Alps in January-March (summer). Melbourne summer=77 high/55F low. Melbourne best Oct/Nov (spring). Inland best in winter.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA, Adelaide

September-November

Kangaroo Island best March-May and August-October. Hiking best in spring. Inland best in winter.

NEW SOUTH WALES (NSW), Sydney

all year

Good hiking in Kuscuiscko National Park and Australian Alps in Jan-March (summer), but hot at lower elevations. Sydney=77 high/66F low in February, 75/65F March. Inland best in winter.

CAPITAL TERRITORY, Canberra

spring-summer (September-February)

Visit Canberra’s Australian Alps in January-March (summer).

TASMANIA

October-April

Best weather is in March/April, with beech fall color. Jan/Feb/March has lowest rain in Cradle Valley.
December-March is peak tourist season.  Few tourists come in November, sometimes warm, but storms arrive weekly.

QUEENSLAND

May-October

March-November is best walking season in the Top End and Great Barrier Reef.  (Jan-March is the Wet in northern coastal areas, 91F and very humid.)  In Brisbane and southern Queensland, walking in summer (Dec-Feb) is okay but not ideal.

NORTHERN TERRITORY

May-October

April-October is the Dry season. The Red Centre and Uluru have best weather April-June (fall). September-October can have wildflowers in Centre.
(November-March is the Wet).

Recommended books for Australia

Search for latest Australia travel books at Amazon.com.

2011: 2006: 2011: 2012: 2011: 2001: 1988:

Fiction:

1950/2010: Movie on VHS tape: 2008 DVD:

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