Australia: Where to Stay and How to Experience the Entire Country

The Sydney Opera House is Australia’s instantly recognizable landmark.

There are more reasons than ever to visit Australia now, including breathtaking landscapes; unique wildlife; a sophisticated food and wine scene; great places to stay; endless options for travelers seeking active holidays; a favorable exchange rate; an indigenous culture over 60,000 years old; and Australians themselves, a warm and welcoming people.

I started my Australian itinerary in Sydney, the country’s largest city, set in a spectacular natural harbor that rivals Rio or Cape Town. For travelers who are not afraid of heights, climb the Harbour Bridge, an exhilarating experience. Don’t miss the landmark Opera House, opened in 1973 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The guided visit is a must. Experience one of the city’s beaches — Manly and Bondi on the ocean, or Balmoral within the harbor.

Maza is shown at Ayers Rock / Uluru catching the sunset.

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For wildlife lovers, experience ‘Behind the Scenes’ at Taronga Zoo, up close with koalas. Take a ferry across the harbor, for the best panoramas of the city — especially at sunset. Dining recommendations: For great views, try Café Sydney; for lunch, either Gunners Barracks, or Cottage Point (arrive by seaplane); for dinner, Fred’s in Paddington is a hot spot. Stay: Sydney has several great hotels, including the Park Hyatt, the city’s premier luxury property, in the best setting. Contact Christine Haddad ([email protected]). I also recommend the Langham, Shangri-La and the two InterContinental Hotels (InterContinental Sydney and InterContinental Sydney Double Bay). Before or after Sydney, stay at Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, a fantastic luxury lodge located two and a half hours drive west of the city in the heart of the Blue Mountains. 

Longitude 131 is a luxury desert base camp in Australia’s outback, with the best views of Ayers Rock / Uluru.

From Sydney, I traveled to Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city and home of the best coffee and some of the finest dining in the country. Take time to explore the city’s extensive street art scene, kayak down the Yarra River, take a tram to St. Kilda’s neighborhood, visit the bustling Queen Victoria food markets, and the Shrine of Remembrance, a moving tribute to the fallen Australian soldiers of World Wars. For adventuresome travelers, recommend ballooning over Melbourne early in the morning — unforgettable. Don’t miss the drive west on the Great Ocean Road to see the rugged coastline and the Twelve Apostles, amazing towers of limestone along the shore. I stayed at the Park Hyatt and Grand Hyatt hotels, both superbly located and expertly managed, in the city center. Contact Joyce Castillo ([email protected]) and Kathy Low ([email protected]) for sales support, respectively.

Maza at Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in the Blue Mountains, is shown ready to board a private helicopter back to Sydney.

After soaking up city life Down Under, I headed to Kangaroo Island, Australia’s answer to the Galápagos and a natural wonderland of seals, koalas, birds and, of course, thousands of kangaroos. The best place to stay on the island, by a mile, is the Southern Ocean Lodge, about one hour’s drive from Kingscote airport, and surrounded by nature reserves. Southern Ocean Lodge is an all-inclusive luxury resort built on a cliff overlooking the ocean, in a breathtaking setting. Rooms are spacious, modern and comfortable, and have views of the sea. Dining, service and excursions at Southern Ocean Lodge are top-notch. During your stay, hike the coastal clifftop trail from the property, see the amazing Remarkable Rocks, follow the boardwalks from the resort for wonderful vistas, kayak, swim, go on a KI Food Safari, visit Seal Bay, or arrange bespoke outings through the hotel. My favorite experience? Having drinks and canapés at sunset — with kangaroos. 

Maza explores Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

To understand Australia, you must visit its “Red Centre”, the spiritual heart of the Outback and home to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), and ancient Aboriginal cultures. The No. 1 choice in Uluru is staying at Longitude 131, an iconic and unique lodge set on a rise, and made up of 16 tents. This all-inclusive property offers outstanding guides, service and dining, as well as a wide range of experiences in the region. I loved the walk around Uluru, hiking through the “Valley of the Winds” at Kata Tjuta, and seeing the world’s largest monolith change color throughout the day. Experience Bruce Munro’s “Field of Light,” an art installation with 50,000 spindles of light, on view through 2020. Longitude 131 is without peer, and every tent offers views of Uluru from your beds — either inside or outdoors on the terrace, where you can spend the night by a fireplace. For reservations at Southern Ocean Lodge and Longitude 131, contact Kim Douglas ([email protected])

A View of the cliffs on the southern coast of Kangaroo Island.

My last stop was the Great Barrier Reef, the 1,500-mile-long natural wonderland and one of Australia’s top draws. I stayed at Lizard Island, the premier, all-inclusive resort on the reef, one hour’s flight from Cairns. Lizard Island offers 24 unspoiled beaches, excellent snorkeling and diving, 40 spacious and recently refurbished rooms and suites, and one villa. The setting of Lizard Island is unmatched, as you have all the facilities of a large resort, while being able to get to the outer reefs in minutes. The resort offers an endless range of activities, both on and off the island. Experience swimming with turtles at low tide, snorkeling over giant clams, kayaking on glass-bottom boats, hiking to a mountaintop, spending the day on the outer reef, or just lazing on the beach. I was impressed with the dining on property, but most of all with the staff — a team of 100 caring professionals. Contact Mike Smith ([email protected]) for sales support. 

The main lobby and living room at Kangaroo Island’s Southern Ocean Lodge.

One last word: Book way ahead, as demand is strong — especially for lodges. A great resource for Luxury Lodges of Australia is Libby Cooke ([email protected]).

For custom-tailored itineraries and ultimate experiences in Australia, contact Southern Crossings, the outstanding destination specialist. Write to Stuart Rigg at [email protected] 

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