30 September 2022

Sunset dining at Uluru is a once in a lifetime experience
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Big and beautiful it certainly is - but Australia can be bewildering too for the first-timer. So how do you plan your first trip? Amanda Platell, an exiled Aussie, offers a beginner's guide.
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beginners guide to Australia should contain a warning: Once you start a holiday there, you may never want it to end. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is about this country of three million square miles – much of it uninhabitable desert – that so captures the imagination. Each time I return to Australia, I stretch my arms out, throw back my head and turn my face to the sky as though I’m in a scene from The Sound Of Music. The place fills your lungs with laughter. Because of the size of the country, I believe you need to set aside at least three weeks for a visit. Anything shorter is as sinful as eating half a chocolate eclair.

This country has so much to offer. The beauty of Australia rests on its isolation and ruggedness, its beaches and oceans – and yes, its glorious wine. If your schedule is tight you could consider leaving out time-consuming trips such as to Ayers Rock (also known as Uluru) and the hinterland and hug the coast instead. After all, you can always save them for next time. My perfect Australia holiday would be to fly to Melbourne, drive to Sydney through the Blue Mountains, fly up to Cairns and stay in the Daintree river area, fly across to Perth and drive to Yallingup, then finish off with a few days swimming with the dolphins in Monkey Mia, in the north of Western Australia.
A typical Australian road sign
The Daintree River area is a huge rainforest of stunning beauty extending down to the ocean and the Great Barrier Reef. Nearby Lizard Island has some of the best reef diving in the world, and the whole area is World Heritage-listed. The beaches are wide and white, like those in Monkey Mia and Yallingup.
Feeding the dolphins at Monkey Mia
"For me, Australia is all about sunshine and sea and room to breathe – and unbelievably good food and wine. "
The latter also has one of the best vineyards in the country, so you can combine beaches with booze – a perfect Aussie combo. For me, Australia is all about sunshine and sea and room to breathe – and unbelievably good food and wine. The whole country has a sense of holiday resort about it. It’s mostly free of grime and crime, pollution and frustration. Three weeks there is like a year of aromatherapy massages. To ingratiate yourself with an Aussie, say: You can’t understand why Waltzing Matilda isn’t their national anthem, the English cricket team are a bunch of sissies, and you love their beer, or their Chardonnay, according to the company you’re in.

The key to planning a trip to Australia is preparation. It’s not like popping over to Calais for a spot of shopping. And the plotting and anticipation are part of the joy of this kind of travelling.
A wide choice of flight and packages are available now – and if your itinerary requires a number of internal flights you’ll get better value if you plan and book well in advance.
Australia is a country of vast distances, so I tend to fly for the long-distance internal journeys, then hire a car or motorhome for the rest. The roads are brilliant, like France but without the tolls or the traffic. And they drive on the left. Most of the car rental companies allow one-way rentals, so you just drop the vehicle off where you finish. A standard five-seater Compact car costs from £30 a day for a seven-day hire; a 4WD is from £58 a day. If you want to be more adventurous and leave the beaten track, try the Spirit 2 (like a combi van), which sleeps up to six; the two-sleeper starts at £48 a day.
Average maximum temperature in Perth in January is 29°C, but you can often have several consecutive days where it is much warmer. In Sydney, the average in February is 26°C. Perhaps the best months to travel are November (the start of spring) through to April (the middle of autumn). You will of course spend a little more for travel at Christmas and Easter.
Reports of poisonous spiders and snakes are greatly exaggerated. As a precaution, I shake out my shoes in the morning (for red-back spiders) and never swim in the ocean on an overcast day when the water is murky (that’s how sharks like it) There are no more insects than in Provence, and insect repellent is cheaper to buy in Australia. There are no required immunisations, unless one exists for alcoholic poisoning.
If you do nothing else in Australia, you will eat, drink and be merry. A meal in a top restaurant in Sydney costs around £40 for two, less in the smaller cities and less again in the Bush. Restaurant food in the wineries however is not cheap, about the prices of the big cities, and you won’t get out for under £50 with a good bottle of the wine. When I was out there recently, a burger meal for a family of five was just over £10 Yet we ate a fabulous three-course meal in a restaurant by the ocean with two bottles of wine for just over £100 There is a strong Japanese, Indonesian and Thai influence on dishes, while much of the rest of the fare is what we would call ‘bistro’ – great steaks, fresh fish, prawns and scallops, big salads: simple cooking with terrifically tasty ingredients.

Original article published in Aug 2004. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
Australians are as fond of the businessman as the backpacker, and they provide for both. But whichever category you fit into, plan ahead. Once you’ve decided on your route map, visit the websites of the respective states and look around. It’s all part of the fun. With the strong pound, even first-class luxury is affordable. The five-star plus Park Hyatt Sydney is the absolute top end of the market at £180 a night, with the magnificent Crown Towers in Melbourne at £126. And you don’t need to tip, either. Also remember that best beach-side accommodation gets booked up early. It is also the most expensive, but worth it in somewhere like Yallingup or Monkey Mia.
The beautiful Blue Mountains
Relax on the pristine beaches of Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef
Sample some of the best Australian wines
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