Australia lays down credentials as tourism titan

Australia continues to state a claim as one of the titans of world tourism, with explosive growth in the number of people visiting the country for a taste of life Down Under.

We all know that Australia is a popular destination which places high up on many people’s bucket lists, but you may be surprised just how popular it really is: the country is now on course to welcome over 8 million overseas visitors by the end of this year (2016) after an impressive rise in monthly arrivals – a total that would be a record for a single calendar year.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed that a total of 716,000 visitors touched down for a holiday in July, a 14% increase on the same month in 2015.

The states of New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania all recorded a double-figure increase in numbers, while tourists visiting Queensland were up by 9.2 per cent.

Arrivals from the United States experienced a spike of 27.4 per cent and the number travelling in from Korea rose by 33.3 per cent. The country with the biggest number of holidaymakers coming over to Australia is New Zealand, with 131,000 New Zealanders flying over in July alone.

Margy Osmond, Tourism and Transport Forum CEO, believes Australia still hasn’t unlocked its full potential to become even more of a must-visit destination for people all around the world.

“Month after month, the evidence continues to build why Australia’s visitor economy is the industry to back with a dedicated economic strategy from the Federal Government. If we get the right plan in place we can do much better than what we are seeing at the moment,” she said.

Australia’s red centre: a guide

When it comes to wonders of the world, you’ll struggle to find anything more impressive and awe-inspiring than Australia’s red centre. This is a must-see for anyone planning a personalised Australia holiday. If you’re planning to visit Uluru and the surrounding area, this guide will help you to organise an itinerary and ensure you enjoy all the highlights.

What to see and do in the red centre

The red centre is located in the heart of Australia’s outback. This natural playground is surrounded by vast plains and you can drive for miles without seeing a single soul. The first attraction on many people’s lists is Ayers Rock. This giant mass of vibrant red rock merits the plaudits, but don’t restrict your visit to a day trip to see the rock and take some snaps. It’s such a shame to miss out on the many surrounding features and the incredible scenery. If you have the time, you could happily while away days gazing at unique rock formations, multi-coloured skies and mountain ranges.

Ayers Rock is a must, and it’s advisable to visit twice in a day. Once during the bright sunlight to see the red hues in all their glory, and once at either sunrise or sunset. The skies turn fluorescent shades of pink and purple, and it’s an unforgettable spectacle. It’s great to be able to meander at your leisure, but an organised tour will give you an insight into the history of the red centre, as well as its cultural significance. If you’re eager to push the boat out and enjoy a once in a lifetime experience, you can book helicopter tours, camel rides or even a candlelit dinner.

The MacDonnell Ranges are home to an impressive array of geographical features including Trephina Gorge, Simpson’s Gap, Corroboree Rock and the Emily and Jessie Gaps. This is also a great base to explore Alice Springs, a lively bolthole, which draws visitors in and encourages them to discover the wonder of being in the middle of nowhere. There are all kinds of activities on offer in the red centre. Bush walking is a very popular pursuit, and a perfect way to enjoy the panoramic vistas.

King’s Canyon and The Olgas are additional jewels in the red centre crown. If you’re feeling energetic when you reach King’s Canyon, take a hike through the gorge. Aim to arrive at Kata Tjuta National Park, the home of the iconic dome-shaped Olgas, at sunset to take advantage of the most beautiful views and soak up the atmosphere of this unique place.

A tranquil island escape on Fitzroy Island

There’s a Caribbean feel about delightful little Fitzroy Island, an island gem so close to the city of Cairns on the mainland that you only have to blink and you’re there standing on the tropical sands.

Just a 45-minute ferry ride away from Marlin Wharf, as you sail up to the island you are presented with a truly dramatic view: a mountain rising from the sea up into the sky, searing blue skies and a lighthouse poking above the tropical rainforest. 324 of the 339 hectares that make up this island are protected as a designated National Park, so the terrain is gloriously unspoilt.

The island is home to its very own offshore coral reef. If you’re daunted by the size of the Great Barrier Reef – and it’s true that it can be difficult to know where to start – then Fitzroy Island may well be the perfect choice for you: all of the stunning colours and glisteningly clear waters, all in one place.

Snorkelling is one of the best ways to get right amongst the marine life offshore. Mask, fins and snorkel can all be hired on the island, and for those looking for something a little different, you can also get a window onto the water from a glass-bottomed boat, stand-up paddle board, kayak and even the ocean trampoline!

One of the downsides that often plagues tourists on tropical islands is the stifling heat that leaves you drenched in sweat, but Fitzroy Island is special in this regard. It has the lovely warm temperatures of a tropical climate, but you’ll be kept cool by the prevailing ocean breeze.

Not only does it have the golden sands and turquoise waters that will relax you right into your holiday, but Fitzroy Island also has an intriguing history to discover: Captain Cook was the first to happen upon the island in 1770, and since then this little spot off the coast has been used variously as a Chinese quarantine station for the goldfields over in Queensland, a mission school, a World War II coast watch station and a giant clam farm.

This is a popular location for weddings, and you can see why. But even if you’re not tying the knot, there can be few better spots for a romantic getaway than watching the sun set over the Coral Sea from the comfort of the Fitzroy Island Resort hotel nestled between the rainforest and the sand.

Oz’s best train journey: The Ghan

Australia is a nation home to unimaginably vast spaces wandered by the most unique animals on earth and filled with dazzling natural beauty. Perfect to speed through on a train journey, right? Luckily, track has been laid in one of the most spectacular fashions on the planet right across the heart of Oz, and it is travelled by The Ghan.

This legendary train trip covering 1851 miles gives you a moving window on the many landscapes to be found Down Under, taking you deep into the countryside as it speeds from its origin at Darwin to its destination at Adelaide.

No need to spend hours labouring over maps to find the best places to visit in Australia in just a short space of holiday time – The Ghan carries you to must-see locations completely hassle free in the comfort of your private cabin and is considered one of the world’s great rail journeys. Onboard, you’ll be treated to luxury you wouldn’t even find in many hotels: gourmet meals featuring Aussie produce such as saltwater barramundi and grilled kangaroo fillet in the restaurant carriage and a nightcap on your table in the evening.

The journey itself is an unforgettable experience, the stops even more so: Adelaide is a city rich in culture with sophisticated Aussies who stroll its relaxed streets, you can experience the scenery on the back of a camel in central Australia just like the explorers of days gone by and the history of the Northern Territory is also waiting to be explored.

Known originally as the Afghan Express, The Ghan is named in honour of the pioneering cameleers who journeyed into the Red Centre of Australia more than 150 years ago.

Many were migrants from the area which is now Pakistan, but back in the 1800s the people of the outback thought they were Afghans – hence the name ‘Ghan.

The Ghan is a train with incredible history, and stories of all those many miles covered over the years are woven into the very fabric. And it’s the perfect opportunity to share your own stories with your travelling companions: the journey brings people together in its own special world apart from the stationary drudge of normal life, and you may well end up making some wonderful friends.

The Adelaide-AliceSprings-Darwin route runs all year round, while Darwin-AliceSprings-Adelaide operates from April to July and November to March. You can hop on board the Darwin to Adelaide route (‘The Ghan Expedition’) from August to October.


Ice Age revelation discovered on Australian island

Archeologists working on Rosemary Island off the North West coast of Australia have hit upon a stunning discovery that tests have revealed to be 9,000 years old.

Stone foundations in a circular formation were found in a cave on the most remote of the 42 islands that make up the Dampier archipelago.

Professor Jo McDonald, director of the Centre for Rock Art Research and Management at the University of Western Australia, explained that the findings are proof that the area – known as “hip bones sticking out” in the language of the Ngarluma people” – was inhabited as far back as the Stone Age.

“Around 8,000 years ago, it would have been on the coast. This is the time that the islands were starting to be cut off and it’s a time when people were starting to rearrange themselves,” she said.

This latest discovery comes on the back of a series of important developments: research done in the last year had found evidence of human occupation dating back 21,000 years, while research on Barrow Island previous to that found evidence dating back 50,000 years.

Combined, the discoveries mean that the region has now significantly upped its credentials for being listed as a World Heritage Site. There are also 2,500 registered Aboriginal heritage sites on the Burrup peninsula and surrounding islands which add to the case.

A world heritage application has been on the national heritage register since 2007, but it must await the approval of the government before a formal nomination can be made.

The premier, Colin Barnett, has stated that he believes the world heritage status is not too far over the horizon.

“Our responsibility now is to protect these rock carvings and also make it possible for people to come and see this extraordinary place,” he said.