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Top five places to visit in Victoria, Australia

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We have yet to visit Australia, and this guest post by Melbourne-native Victoria Johnson whets our appetite to finally make our way to Down Under. Read on for the top five places to see in Australia’s second-smallest state and home to one of the trendiest cities of the planet – its capital Melbourne!

Even though Victoria is Australia’s second-smallest state, it still is about the size of England, Wales and Scotland combined, or a little bit larger than the U.S. state of Utah, which is why the best way to explore the state is by car – the 1,800 km (1,200 miles) coastline alone is worth driving, not just for the Great Ocean Road. Located on the southeastern tip of the continent, Victoria offers everything from pristine beaches, stunning coastline, alpine landscapes, incredible wildlife and urban adventures in Melbourne.  Read on to find out what I think are five places you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Victoria:

1 Melbourne

Melbourne skyline over Yarra near dusk
Melbourne skyline over Yarra near dusk by William on Flickr.com

The state capital is the perfect place to start your Victoria adventure. The city has evolved into one of the world’s hippest city in recent year, with a vibrant coffee culture, art scene and a beautiful cityscape. Bars and restaurants along the Yarra River invite to have delicious meals with a terrific river view, the Fitzroy neighborhood has a unique bohemian vibe and Queen Victoria Market makes for a wonderful market experience. St Kilda Beach is the best place to watch a sunset, and the Bay Trail from St Kilda Pier to Brighton makes for a fantastic coastal walk.

Melbourne also makes the perfect starting point for the unmissable drive along the Great Ocean Road – one of the reasons why a car is a must when touring Victoria. The easiest way to go about your car rental would be picking up a rental right at the airport.

2 Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean road is the absolute highlight for most visitors – not just of Victoria, but of all of Australia! The 243km (150miles) long scenic drive takes you along some of the world’s most impressive coastline, including the remarkable Twelve Apostle limestone stacks off the shore. It also takes you through cities such as Lorne, Torquay and Port Campbell, which are all worth a stop. Other attractions along the road are the Loch Ard Gorge, Bells Beach, Otway National Park and the Bay of Islands with its pristine beaches just beyond the Twelve Apostles.

Great Ocean Road by John on Flickr.com

3 Phillip Island

Phillip Island is mainly known for its famous Penguin Parade, where black and white penguins migrate daily from the ocean to their nests, but there are other wildlife treasures here that make the island a highlight of any Victoria road trip: the 16,000 fur seals at Seal Rock, plenty of sea bird viewing platforms and the Koala Reservation Center! Make sure to visit the wetlands and plan in enough time to enjoy the gorgeous coastal walks. Woolamai is the perfect place for surfers, with some of the best surf of the continent. Phillip Island can be reached easily by car (connected to the mainland by a bridge) and is only 90 minutes from Melbourne.

4 Mornington Peninsula

The Mornington Peninsula is another spot that is easily reachable from Melbourne, only an hour away, making for a fabulous day trip. The peninsula is famous for its many wineries as well as the many picture-perfect beaches. Don’t miss the breathtaking cliffs at Cape Schanck and Point Nepean! The all-natural Peninsula Hot Springs are the perfect place for a splurge.

Mornington Peninsula Sunset by Prateek Rungta on Flickr.com

5 The Great Alpine Road

The Great Alpine Road between Wangaratta to Bairnsdale makes for one of the state’s finest road trips, and offers a completely different scenery as the road winds through lush forests, mountain views, rolling hills, green valleys and vineyards. It is Victoria’s highest road, and connects Wangaratta in the northwest of the state with Bairnsdale on the southeastern coast. The road can easily be driven in a day (308 km / 190 miles), including photo stops. Make sure to stop in Beechworth, one of the best preserved former gold mining towns, with an attractive historic town center, and Bright, another popular historic town.

Beechworth Commercial Hotel by John on Flickr.comHave you been to Victoria? What are your suggestions for places that shouldn’t be missed on a visit?

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Visit Barossa Valley: One of Australia’s Best Wine Regions

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Australia has been high on our travel bucket list for a very long time, which is why we are excited to share today’s guest post by travel writer Emily Thompson. An Adelaide native, she shares why this city and surrounding region shouldn’t be skipped on a visit to Down Under:

Visiting South Australia in the near future? Adelaide is a must-see city, with plenty to delight couples and groups of friends traveling together. To understand the regional reach of Adelaide’s charm, though, you need to visit the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s top wine regions and a place of historical significance for the first European settlers.

The Willows Winery
The Willows Winery by Dave Sag via Flickr.com

For the most convenient arrangements, find a hotel in Adelaide (Booking.com is my go-to hotel booking website) and make day trips to the valley, which is only 60 kilometers northeast of city limits. The valley has four main country towns: Tanunda, Rowland Flat, Lyndoch and Nuriootpa. Most of the joy in visiting Barossa, however, is found between those towns, in the spacious vineyards and farms that produce world-quality wines and other gourmet items.

Visiting the Wineries

No visit to Barossa Valley is complete without a look at the famous wineries in the region. Even if you’re not a wine-drinker, seeing the cultivation of grapes here first-hand is a fun day out. The vineyards were planted by German and Prussian settlers, who brought an appreciation for fine soil and quality wines with them from Europe. The area’s fertile dirt is one of the reasons the vineyards took off; another is that the cool summer temperatures and high levels of precipitation in the winter make for ideal conditions when growing grapes for red wine.

wineNowadays, such famous Australian wine labels as Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Yalumba and Peter Lehmann have their main vineyards in the Barossa Valley. The types of wines grown here include full-bodied shiraz varieties, cabernet sauvignon and grenache for reds and rieslings and Chardonnays for whites.

With more than 150 options for winery visits in the Barossa Valley, your trip through wine country can be as organized — or free-spirited — as you please. You might choose to drive along the country lanes stopping at whichever places strike your fancy or tailor your trip to particular tastes in your group by browsing through the online directory of winemakers and devising a route to take.

wine

Sampling the Food

Don’t expect to get by on wine alone in the Barossa region; the area has many enticing local farms to draw from with your meals. Cheeses, meats and vegetables grown through sustainable farming practices will give you options to accompany your pursuit of the perfect wine. The local lamb is a must-try, served of course with locally made chutneys and fresh-grown herbs.

Most famous for food in the area might be the ventures of celebrity TV chef Maggie Beer and daughter Saskia Beer. Their Farm Shop in Nuriootpa offers picnic and sit-in lunches and cooking demonstrations. Or, if you prefer a DIY approach, pop into Angaston for to an Italian cooking class or stock up on supplies at the Barossa Farmer’s Market.

farmers market

Trying Activities Other Than Food or Wine

The Barossa Valley is a foodie’s dream come true, but there are also activities in the area that will appeal to senses other than your taste. Welcome the morning sailing above the vineyards in a hot air balloon, or go for a bushwalk in the Kaiserstuhl Conservation Park. This is the best place to get a vista of the Barossa Valley (other than from a balloon, that is) and offers several kinds of landscapes. It’s only 12 kilometers from Tanunda and is open year-round.

Getting Around

If you’ve hired a car for your visit to Adelaide, you’ll find the route to Barossa Valley well-marked and easy to follow: it’s most direct to take National Highway M20 from the airport to Tanunda. Alternatively, you can enjoy the country scenery by following National Highway A1 to Tanunda. This way will take you past the entrances to Para Wirra Recreation Park and the Mount Crawford Forest Reserve, which are both worth a peek.

Barossa Valley "Two Hands" - Bee
Barossa Valley “Two Hands” – Bee by Jono Haysom on Flickr.com

If you’d like to leave the driving to others so that you can sample more vintages at the award-winning wineries in the region, you have that option too. Ask at your hotel about signing on for a coach trip to the valley, or take advantage of public transportation and go via bus or rail. Once in the valley, you can get from point to point by hired bicycle.

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Perth: Why you should visit one of the most isolated cities in the world

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We have not yet been to Australia, but this post by Australian-born guest writer Melissa Peters shines a light onto Perth that makes us want to head there immediately. Read on to find out why Melissa says we should visit Perth, one of her favorite cities Down Under.

Looking at a map of Australia, you can easily see why many people do not have Perth on their itinerary when visiting Oz. Located just under 4,000 km across the country from Sydney, and stuck way down in the southwestern part of the continent, Perth is famously known as one of the most isolated capital cities of over 1,000,000 people in the entire world.

perth australia
Perth, capital of Western Australia

But 1,600,000 live there happily for plenty of reasons and those who make the trip there are rewarded with the experience of Australia’s finest beaches, coffee culture, kangaroos and coastal hiking treks. Read on for the top five reasons that make Perth a city you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Australia:

1 The journey to Perth

If you are traveling through Australia by train, the journey between Sydney and Perth is one of the most spectacular routes in the country. The trans-continental trip takes four days and three nights and is regularly named as one of the world’s greatest train journeys. Considering that fares start at AUD759 for this trip, you might consider buying an Australian Rail Pass for your visit, which allows you to take any train in the country, including the famous Ghan, for just AUD990 for a total of six months – the easiest and most comfortable way to see as much of Oz as possible. The 65-hour train journey from Sydney to Perth offers some of the country’s most stunning scenery, kangaroos, the Blue Mountains and the smallest town on the continent – Cook, with a population of four.

The Indian Pacific at Broken Hill
The Indian Pacific by Simon Yeo on Flickr.com

2 The laid-back vibe of the city

Sprawling along the Indian Ocean and centered around the Swan River, Perth is one of the most scenic cities of Australia. With a population of 1.6 million people it is still the fourth largest city in the country, however, the vibe of Perth is much more laid-back than in Sydney and Melbourne. Perth is famous for its love of good coffee and is home to hundreds of coffee shops that celebrate the art of making excellent coffee creations. The city has a number of great markets and shopping areas such as Kings Street, London Court and Northbridge. Plus, thanks to its perfect climate it’s the ideal place to check out some of the many nearby beaches.

Perth City
Perth by Adrian Nurman on Flickr.com

3 The beaches

Perth has undoubtedly some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, and thanks to its West Coast location, the sunsets here are always magnificent. Cottesloe Beach is the easiest to get to via public transport (take the Fremantle Line to Cottlesloe Station), as is Scarborough Beach (take the Clarkson Line to Glendalough Station and change to the 400 bus there). Swanbourne Beach is the right beach for you if you’re looking to swim naked, being the Perth’s only nude beach.

Shoalwater Marine Park, just one hour south of Perth, is the best place for snorkeling, and in addition to shipwrecks and cavernous reefs, you’ll get to see dolphins, sea lions and penguins here.

Rottnest Island
Rottnest Island by Malcom Browne on Flickr.com

If you are looking for a truly unspoiled beach experience, head over to Rottnest Island, 18 kilometers off the coast of Perth and easily accessible by ferry. The tiny island (11 kilometers long, and 4.5 kilometers at its widest point) has some of the most remote and untouched beaches of the continent with crystal clear turquoise water. The further you go from the ferry terminal, the more deserted the beaches – we recommend you hire a bike for the day (a full loop around the island is 25km) when you get off the ferry. If you want to spend the night here, make sure to book in advance, as accommodation on the island is limited.

4 Kangaroos and koalas

In Pinnaroo Valley Memorial Park you can see kangaroos in a more natural environment. It’s the perfect place to head to for a picnic in the company of some kangaroos. It’s the cheapest way to see them up, close and personal.

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Kangaroos in Pinnaroo Valley Memorial Park by Paul Wright on Flickr.com

You could also head to Caversham Wildlife Park where you can cuddle koalas and feed kangaroos. The park is easily reachable from downtown Perth, admission is AUD24.

Perth’s zoo has a designated Australian Bushwalk Tour where you can wander the paths inside their natural habitat. You can wander on visitors’ paths and get close to native Australian animals such as the dingoes, emus, koala, numbats, quokkas, red kangaroos, short-beaked echidnas, southern hairy-nosed wombats, Tasmanian Devils, and Western grey kangaroos.

5 The natural attractions around Perth

Perth is surrounded by so many natural attractions that you can spend weeks here hiking, boarding down sand dunes, cycling, or exploring national parks. Some of the places that shouldn’t be missed include the Lancelin sand dunes (about 90 minutes north of Perth), where you can race up and down giant sand dunes in 4WDs, sand boards or motorbikes; and the Pinnacle Desert in Nambung National Park (two hours north of Perth) is one of the most otherworldly places on the planet: a desert filled with eerie limestone bricks sporadically scattered over vast yellow sand dunes. Both places can be combined in a day trip, if you have limited time.

Pinnacles Desert Nambung National Park Western Australia
Pinnacle Desert by Ian Sanderson on Flickr.com

The Bibbulmun Track is one of the most beautiful long distance walks in the world, spanning 1000 km from Perth to Albany. If you don’t want to walk the whole trek, you can opt for a day hike or an overnight hike.

If you are into cycling, you shouldn’t miss the Munda Biddi Bike Trail which follows the coast for 332 kilometers from Mundaring (north east of Perth) to Collie in the south.

If you are planning to explore Perth’s foothills, you could also consider staying in Armadale, close to the parks, gardens and local wildlife of the area, yet at the same time still offering enough bars, restaurants and shopping facilities. My top choice for a place to stay here would be the Heritage Country.

at Lancelin dunes
Lancelin Sand Dunes by Ms Nina on Flickr.com
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Three different ways to see Sydney Harbour

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The more we read about Sydney Harbour, the higher this spot gets on our must-see list…even more so now that we realize that there are three different and equally spectacular ways to see Sydney Harbour!

Undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful naturally formed harbours, Sydney Harbour is an attraction that nobody visiting Australia’s most highly populated city should miss. Just flying over it is an experience; but seeing it from the water is even more exciting.

Sydney Harbour comprises more than 20 square miles of water and has a total shoreline that is longer than 150 miles. While some of Australia’s most exclusive homes are located on the water’s edge, there are reserves and parklands that are accessible to the public, offering a great way to enjoy the scenic sights of boats and ferries on the water.

These are three of the best ways to see harbour next time you’re in town.

Take a Ferry Ride to Manly

A hugely popular and inexpensive way to see Sydney Harbour from the water is to take a ferry ride to Manly, a seaside suburb that is located close to the magnificent Sydney Heads. While the cruise boats are operated privately, the ferry is run by the government which is why it is such a cheap option.

Manly ferry passing Middle Head

Hire a Kayak

If you want to see the harbour differently, then hiring a kayak is the way to go. Some companies offer lessons for those who haven’t been in a kayak before; most offer tours, or you can hire a kayak and do-it the way you want to (although there is a New South Wales maritime restriction that makes it compulsory to have a guide with you).

P1050418.JPGIt’s a relatively slow way to explore the harbour, but the very nature of the kayaks will enable you to get to places that you wouldn’t see if you were to go by ferry or on a cruise boat.

Climb the Harbour Bridge

Sydney’s landmark Harbour Bridge took eight years to build and was opened in 1932. At the time it was heralded as both a triumph in engineering and an economic achievement. Prior to its construction the only way to get from the center of the city to northern suburbs was by ferry or by road. The road route was more than 12 miles long in total, and there were as many as five bridges to cross.

Even if you’ve already seen Sydney Harbour from the water, the Bridge Climb is worth the effort, particularly if you opt to go up the famous Pylon Tower to the Pylon Lookout where you will have a stunning view of the city’s skyline, including the unmistakable Opera House, and of course Sydney Harbour. There is a short walk from the bridge to get to the Pylon. This walkway is also accessible from stairs that are located at the corner of Argyle and Cumberland Streets below, as well as from The Rocks, and from Milsons Point Station to the north of the bridge.

Rick and me on the BridgeClimbApart from the promise of stunning views at the top of the Pylon, the BridgeClimb features the history of Sydney Harbour Bridge in the form of photographs, artifacts, models and a variety of displays and archival material.

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