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Beautiful Beaches

Whether you want to bake in the sun, see and be seen, or try body- or board-surfing in the white-capped waves, Australia has an abundance of beautiful beaches. Miles and miles of pristine sand line the coastline, so you can choose to join the crowd or sunbathe in blissful solitude.

Bondi Beach. On the edge of the Tasman Sea, Bondi Beach is the most famous perhaps in all of Australia. You can take a surfing lesson here or just immerse yourself in the delights of suburban sand and water. Don't miss the Coast Walk from Bondi to Bronte Beach—it's a breathtaking 2.5-km (1.5-mi) path that will take you along dramatic coastal cliffs to a string of eastern beaches. The walking track continues beyond Bronte Beach to Waverley Cemetery, where many famous Australians are buried in cliff-top splendor. Queensland's Gold Coast and Islands. Warm, moderate surf washes the 70-km (43-mi) stretch of Gold Coast beaches, which are perfect for board riding, swimming, or just collecting shells at sunset. Beach bums, however, know to head north to the Great Barrier Reef islands for less crowded, tropical stretches of sand. West Coast. Fringing the Indian Ocean between Perth and South Fremantle are 19 wide beaches with good breaks, but head down to the south coast for a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the deserted, sandy white beaches around Margaret River. Whitehaven. The Whitsunday Islands are home to arguably Australia's most beautiful beach. The near-deserted arc of Whitehaven Beach has some of the whitest and most powdery sand on earth.

Wine

Australian wines are among the best in the world, a judgment that international wine shows consistently reinforce. Australians are very proud of their wine. You'll be hard-pressed to find anything but Australian wines on the menus at most places, so take this opportunity to expand your palate beyond the export brands you may have tried at home, like Rosemount, Jacob's Creek, and Penfolds.

Hunter Valley. The largest grape-growing area in New South Wales, Hunter Valley has more than 120 wineries and a reputation for producing excellent wines. Expect some amazing Semillons and Cabernets. Margaret River. In Western Australia the Margaret River region produces just 1% of the country's total wine output. Yet 25% of Australia's premium and ultrapremium wines come from this small area. Margaret River's Bordeaux-like climate helps producers grow excellent Cabernet-Merlot blends, since these grapes originally came from that region. South Australia. The Barossa Valley, about an hour's drive northeast of Adelaide, produces some of Australia's most famous Syrah (or Shiraz, as they call it Down Under). You might recognize the Penfolds label, as makers of the renowned Grange Shiraz blend. In the nearby Clare Valley, German immigrants planted Riesling many decades ago and the grape has met with great success there. Yarra Valley. More than 70 wineries fill the floor of the Yarra Valley, where Pinot Noir thrives.

Incredible Wildlife

Australia's diverse habitats are home to countless strange and amazing creatures.

Birds. Australia has many wild and wonderful creatures of the nonmarsupial variety. The waterholes at Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory attract more than 280 species of birds, including the stately jabiru, Australia's only stork, and the fluorescent rainbow bee-eater, as well as crocodiles, the ubiquitous creatures of Australia's Top End. The much friendlier and cuter fairy penguins draw nighttime crowds at Philip Island in Victoria. Camels. Don't be surprised if you catch the eye of a camel wandering the desert of the Red Centre. These are descendants of dromedaries shipped in during the 19th century for use on exploratory expeditions and Outback construction projects and for desert transport. Creatures of the Deep. The Great Barrier Reef gets plenty of attention for underwater wildlife, but Western Australia has two phenomenal spots of its own. The dolphins at Shark Bay in Monkey Mia, Western Australia, can be hand-fed. Ningaloo Reef, off the Exmouth Peninsula, is home to humpback whales and whale sharks. Koalas and Kangaroos. No trip to Australia would be complete without an encounter with Australia's iconic animals: kangaroos and koalas. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane is one of many wildlife parks around Australia that let you take a picture with a cuddly koala or hand-feed a mob of kangaroos.

Water Sports

With 36,735 km (22,776 mi) of coast bordering two oceans and four seas, Australians spend a good deal of their time in and on the water. Opportunities abound for scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing, and just mucking about in the waves. Prime diving seasons are September-December and mid-March-May.

Diving. Avid divers will want to visit the resort islands of the Great Barrier Reef, which provide upscale accommodation and access to some of the country's top diving spots. Cod Hole, off the Lizard Island reef, in far north Queensland, ranks highly among them. You can do a one-day introductory or resort dive, and four-day open water dive certification courses, or if fins and oxygen tanks aren't your speed, opt for snorkeling off the island beaches. Diving expeditions are a specialty of the Cairns area, with carriers like Quicksilver and Tusa Dive running day trips to the reef for diving and snorkeling. Sailing. Sailors love the Whitsunday Islands off the mid-north Queensland coast. Almost all the 74 islands in this group are national parks, and only seven have resorts on them, making this an ideal spot to drop anchor and moor for a few days, or to try a vacation on a live-aboard boat or yacht. You can also experience the swashbuckling romance of olden-day sailing on multiday tall ship cruises.

Updated: 07-2013

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