Visit sparkling Sydney, the in-your-face Emerald City famous for its beaches but boasting a surprising number of cultural delights.
Embrace your inner hippy in Byron Bay on the North Coast, soaking up the rays and the magical vibes of this mystical, hedonistic resort town located on the easternmost point of Australia and, according to Aboriginal legend, on energy lines that heighten the spiritual lessons of all who end up here. The Byron Shire is rainbow country, from those that appear almost daily across the green hills to the rainbow-coloured tribes of ferals and fantastical self-made shamans who play djembe on the beach and twirl fire-sticks outside the beachfront pub. Like most places in Australia once heralded as ‘alternative’, Byron has gone more mainstream as the lines between hippy and yuppie have blurred, and it’s now packed with fashionable restaurants and cafés, and opulent resorts and boutiques, all reaping the dollar in Buddha tourism. But my God, is it gorgeous! No wonder people here fall under a kind of spell. Byron, Mullumbimby, The Channon and Bangalow hold rotating Sunday markets that are like mini carnivals, with music and great food, anything New Age under the sun, and great people-watching.
Feed wild kangaroos by hand at Pebbly Beach on the South Coast – a highlight of all family holidays. Backed by forest and set 20km from the nearest town of Batemans Bay, this quiet beach is famous for the eastern grey kangaroos who emerge from the banksias to be fed by whoever’s around. It’s quite something to see them ambling gracefully along the beach, the muted colours of their fur like the hues of the bush they inhabit.
All along the South Coast, beaches are backed by national parks and camping and caravanning facilities. This is much less commercial than the North – a place to let it all hang out. Dolphins, seals and migrating whales abound. Spectacular Jervis Bay, 3hrs south of Sydney, claims to have the whitest sand on Earth.
Ski, snowboard and toboggan the slopes in the Snowy Mountains inland of the South Coast. Thredbo and Perisher Blue are the most popular resorts, catering to families and novice skiers. Mount Kosciuszko National Park is a wilderness haven, with, at the summit, some 20 species of plants found nowhere else in the world. In the off season, when the snow is long gone, Lake Jindabyne is beautiful for swimming, and you can take scenic horse-riding trails that will make you feel like you’re in The Man From Snowy River. Explore the Yarangobilly Caves, with its thermal wading pool for children. When the slopes are dry, you can expect good deals on family-holiday packages in this area.
Enter the vastness of time and space in Mungo National Park nearly 1000km west of Sydney (in fact, it’s closer to Adelaide in South Australia). Carbon-dating has placed the remains of human inhabitation found here at 40,000 years old – a time of giant kangaroos and buffalo-sized wombats. Stones sharpened into tools can still be seen lying in the red soil, and rock and sand formations known as the Wall of China, stretching for more than 30km, shift in colour from khaki in the early morning through yellows and oranges, to deep red at sunset. If you are not planning to go to central Australia but want a taste of infinity, this is your place.