Top 10 Reasons to Visit Australia
It's Australia Day, so I thought I'd put together a list of reasons to visit a country that has always sparked a bit of wanderlust in me. I've been lucky enough to visit Oz twice, and have seen quite a bit of the country. During my first trip, I stopped in at Perth and did a small road trip down in the south western part of the country before heading to Melbourne, flying up to Cairns and then working my way down the east coast on the infamous (and now defunct) Oz Bus to Sydney.
My sister's now based in Melbourne, so as part of my travels in 2016 I went back Down Under for about a month, spending a couple of weeks with her and driving along the Great Ocean Road, a family trip to Uluru and another quick stop in Sydney.
Each trip was completely different (for a start, I didn't run out of money the second time I went) and it certainly helped knowing people there the second time round. I'm no expert on the place, but here are my top ten reasons to visit.
1. The Beaches
It's a cliche, but the beaches in Australia are, quite simply, stunning. Even in winter (when, shock horror, it can get cold and miserable) the coastline can take your breath away. Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth has the most incredible turquoise colour (not to mention the cute quokkas), and I sat on Bondi Beach just staring into the horizon for hours one day, mesmerized by the waves lapping at the shore and trying to figure out where exactly the sky met the sea.
2. The Food
One of the things that surprised me on my visits to Australia was the cost of food. Supermarkets don't seem to be particularly cheaper than eating out, which I'm sure contributes to the fact that there are millions of incredible restaurants everywhere. Because the country has welcomed people from around the world you can get any sort of cuisine you like - but one thing that quickly becomes apparent is the healthy attitude to food. The clean eating trend that hit the UK a few years ago might have seemed revolutionary to some, but Australians have been enjoying avo smash for ages, sipping smoothies in the sunshine and generally just appreciating good, fuss-free food. I felt like I was being super healthy without even trying, which was an achievement for me!
3. The Lifestyle
Australians win at life. The old adage of hanging up a sign on the shop door that says 'back soon, gone surfing' is a bit of a joke...but it's also likely to happen. Aussies are so laid back, if you're a worrier like me it's quite refreshing to be surrounded by people who are so chilled out. They've definitely got the work/life balance nailed - beach after work? Tick. BBQ at the weekend? Tick. Generally happier than if you lived in the UK? Well, I have friends and family who've moved over and not looked back, so it can't be that bad. And did I mention the food...?
4. The Wildlife
Coming from the UK, I was absolutely terrified about running into the various spiders Australia is known for. On my first visit, I was on the way back up to Perth having done a road trip around the south western corner of WA. My friend and I stopped at a public loo, and having checked under the seat for red backs (which I'd read somewhere you should always do) I was satisfied I wasn't going to get bitten on the bum. We both seemed to look up at the same time as I heard her exclaim slightly - the ceiling was covered in the little jerks - I've never been to the toilet more quickly I don't think. Thankfully I haven't come across a huntsman yet, and thankfully there are much nicer creatures to come face to face with. Koalas are the obvious choice, but wombats are just as cuddly, quokkas and echidnas are interesting because you can't find them anywhere else and I'd never been close to a platypus before I went on trip especially to find them. Let's not forget birds, like kookaburras and cockatiels - and, of course, marine life - which brings me on to my next point.
5. The Great Barrier Reef
I learnt to scuba dive off the coast of Cairns. I've more or less forgotten everything now, but I still have the mask and snorkel I bought at Cairns Dive Centre and always try and take them if I know I'll be travelling anywhere warm enough to swim in the sea. I found Cairns itself a bit of an odd town, but I had a great time discovering things below the water. I'm always really sad when I hear stories about the coral dying - I think the Great Barrier Reef is amazing, and to think we're ruining it by the minute is heartbreaking (before you mention it, I realise diving trips like mine are contributing to its demise and the irony isn't lost on me). There's a wealth of stuff to see around the corals, and the colours of the tropical fish will always stay with me, they're just beautiful. You can never describe the excitement of seeing a turtle swim past you, either - no matter how many times it happens.
6. The Whitsundays
Speaking of snorkelling, if you go to Australia you must fit in a trip to the Whitsundays. The most beautiful place, with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, it's an Instagram dream. My sister and I bought my mum a flight over the islands for Christmas one year while she was visiting, and it's just amazing from the air. Sadly I didn't get to do that, but I did do a three-day sailing trip, which (I'm sure) was just as enjoyable. We went where we wanted to and if we saw something interesting in the water we just stopped and jumped in to have a look. Sleeping on the deck underneath the stars and falling asleep to the rhythm of the waves was such an experience.
7. The Red Centre
When I visited my sister and brother-in-law in 2016, we went on a short tour up to the Northern Territory. It's so different to anywhere else (and I've travelled a lot); it's so barren that I can't believe anyone actually lives in the Outback, but hey. Some people find Uluru quite spiritual; I'll be honest, I didn't and although I found it interesting, I did kind of think 'well, it's a big rock. I've seen it now'. If you go - and despite what I just said, you should - you should try and learn about the Aboriginal culture and stories that are associated with the area, I found them far more interesting than Uluru itself. We also took in Kata Tjuta and hiked King's Canyon, which were really lovely. The contrast between the blue sky and the red earth was really striking, and it's one of those places you'll probably never go to again so it's nice to say you've been.
8. The Street Art
I'm kind of obsessed with street art, and always have to stop and take pictures if I come across any in the street. It's refreshing to see that Australia seems to have embraced this kind of creativity, and encourages it to some extent. Melbourne has a tiny area that makes a huge impact in this respect - small back streets that assault your eyes as a myriad of colours pop out from the walls. Hosier Lane and its surroundings are the most famous ones to look out for, just across from Flinders Street Station. No piece of wall goes uncovered, nor do the bins, drains...you get the picture. I was also pleasantly surprised to find art up at Bondi Beach, which seemed to enhance the laid back vibe. It was great to see people stopping and appreciating it, too, rather than just moaning about graffiti.
9. The Wine
How have I got to point nine without talking about wine?! As mentioned above, I went to visit Margaret River on my first trip to Australia. We didn't do as much wine tasting as I'd have liked if I'm honest, as we were taking it in turns to drive so we didn't stop at too many places - it's very picturesque in that part of the world though, so I'd definitely recommend a visit. On my most recent trip though, we went for a drive round the Yarra Valley. I absolutely loved it - we started a at the Yarra Valley Chocolatarie (samples, allll the samples), before visiting Four Pillars gin distillery (amazing) and the Chandon winery. We did a gin tasting at Four Pillars which was delicious - the three we tasted were all really distinct - and Chandon is the Australian sister to Moet & Chandon, so as you can imagine, it tastes pretty awesome (and, bonus, is incredibly reasonably priced, too). I haven't made it to the Hunter or Barossa Valleys yet, which just means I'll have to book a return trip.
10. The Soaps
The sensible part of me says I shouldn't admit this, but you know I tend to overshare, so I might as well tell you that I've been watching Neighbours since I was about five years old, and Home and Away for a good amount of time, too. Naturally, if you're a fan, you'll want to visit the famous sites whilst you're visiting - there are numerous Neighbours tours (including an official one) which run in Melbourne, you can even visit actual Ramsey Street. As much as I'm a nerd for the soaps, I found it quite embarrassing standing on a street outside random people's houses posing for pictures, but I still did it. I was also secretly pleased when my cousin's fiancee announced we should go to Palm Beach so that I could see the place where Home & Away is filmed. It's actually a really beautiful place to visit regardless of it's soap associations, but I did find it quite exciting. You will need a car to get up there though, it's a bit of a drive away from Sydney.
Let me know if your thoughts, and whether there's anything you think I've missed off the list!