Down Under and Beyond
Andrea Booth, WEEKENDER | Fri, 12/17/2010 1:53 PM |
Take a look at the lesser-known charms of southern Australia.
Think Australia, and the Gold Coast’s blue waves crashing upon miles of sand may come to mind. Or perhaps you think of Ayers Rock, that bizarre orange clunk of stone in the middle of Australia’s desert, or Sydney’s famous harbor.
But what about those lesser-known jewels, sitting at the very bottom of the land down under in Australia’s more temperate south? With a pleasant climate and easy access, seeing more of what the world’s largest island is all about is easy.
For an outdoor experience, head to the Dandenong Ranges. This mountainous area, about a two-hour drive from Melbourne, the state capital of Victoria, offers a wonderful opportunity to get lost in nature and amuse the kids. The area has plenty of attractions and lookouts where you can take a break from bending your car around the scenic mountainous routes.
Take the time to visit the National Rhododendron Gardens near the town of Olinda looking over the Yarra Valley, home to Victoria’s vineyards. Whatever time of year you visit, the gardens will be ablush with color – camellias and cherry blossoms in spring, cyclamens in winter, hydrangeas in summer and autumn leaves during fall. Weather-wise, though, Australia’s springtime (September to November) is the most comfortable time to visit – not too hot or too cold.
There are plenty of well-resourced camp and caravan sites in the national parks including those by the river banks: Upper Yarra Reservoir Park for its electric barbeques, picnic tables and amenities; Cathedral Range State Park for its proximity to some of the ranges’ most spectacular peaks; and Ned’s Gully and Cooks Mill for their location right next to a mountain stream.
There’s lots to do in this region, including horse riding, walking, fishing, off-road 4WD driving and water sports.
We’re all familiar with tropical islands, but southern Australia offers a different sort of island experience.
Kangaroo Island in the state of South Australia (SA) is packed with the kind of fresh produce that the cooler climate lends itself to, such as honey, marrons and some darn good cheese. Kangaroo Island is involved in a fair amount of conservation work, especially protecting endangered plant species.
People flock to the island in June each year to participate in the annual tree-planting festival run by the SA Government Department for Environment and Heritage. As that’s the first month of winter, the climate is ideal for a couple of days’ work.
Also popular on the island is the Seal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where about 600 sea lions stop for a few days between their expeditions. The sea lions on the island are said to make up 10 percent of the world’s population. It’s important not to get too close to these marvelous creatures so as not to disturb them – and for your own safety.
Close by the sanctuary is Little Sahara Sand Dunes, where ghost-white sand dunes are surrounded by bushland. Exploring them can be hard on your legs, but fun nonetheless. Make sure you take some water.
You can fly from the state capital of Adelaide to the town of Kingscote on Kangaroo Island for a fairly low price.
Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is just that: a 250-kilometer journey with spectacular views. It has been wowing people since it was constructed in the early 20th century by returned WWI soldiers. It is also the largest war memorial in the world.
Most people start the journey at Torquay, viewing the Twelve Apostles, enormous limestone rocks protruding from the ocean.
The Loch Ard Gorge is another magnificent sight, with towering sandstone cliffs and a narrow entrance to the shore. In rough weather, the waves create a dramatic scene as they beat against the sheer rock face.
Along the way, you can climb the stairs of the Cape Otway Lighthouse and learn about some of Australia’s maritime history, not to mention enjoying lovely ocean views from such heights. June to September is whale season, so you may have a chance of spotting these grand creatures from up top too.
If you’re fit and up for an adventure, try the 104-km long Great Ocean Walk. If you don’t want to “rough it”, you can stay in hotels or campsites along the way; you can also choose to do only parts of it if you don’t want to commit to the whole thing.
The Great Ocean Road can be enjoyed in every season, although spring is likely to be the driest time to go and summer can get hot.
Getting there: Several airlines fly from Jakarta and Denpasar to Melbourne and Adelaide, including Garuda and Qantas. Jetstar has flights between Jakarta and Melbourne.