Just as its first foreign inhabitants, the natural features of Australia are both famous and infamous. From the lush coastal inlets where prisoners first landed, through thousands of miles of outback, over half the continent is preserved in desolation. Larger than Europe, about half of Australia is normally desert and can be an inhospitable place. When heading inland, a rule of thumb for unseasoned travelers would be to make it a point to keep the mountain ranges of the coastal areas in sight.
Two of the most pervasive sights on the continent rule the land; eucalyptus trees and desert. Indeed the two have been at it since the dawn of time and no matter where one deplanes, the pungent eucalyptus oils remind one of tinctures of various strengths used to clear sinuses. But the air is balmy and the fragrance becomes a comfort throughout travels while down under.
The country is divided into territories that are as distinct as any far flung lands on earth. After really seeing Australia, it is as if experiencing every possible sort of landscape.
THE NORTHERN TERRITORY contains some of the most oddly unique as well as hidden sites. These include limestone caves and opal mines that now can be toured, rented or even bought and lived in. Many have even been turned into homes or Bed and Breakfasts.
Less benign are the seemingly infinite stretches of desert one encounters if taking the train across the interior. The desert is a changeable and deadly place that occupies most of western Australia. There is life there when the rains come, but that happens on a mysterious schedule. When rain does appear it often comes down in torrents causing flooding that can strand anyone in the middle of a a sea of mud.
At the middle of the country is Uluru, or Ayer's rock, named once by the original inhabitants and renamed later for an Australian Prime Minister. It is a natural monolith of incomparable character, five miles around the perimeter, 986 ft high and reaches over 3 miles into the earth. It sits on a specific grid point of the earth that matches the great Pyramid of Giza and is the central place of Dreamtime existence in the life of the indigenous people.
QUEENSLAND features jungles of high color and humidity with exotic flora and fauna of all kinds, both beautiful and deadly. But there is respite from the humidity and venomous snakes of central Queensland as one makes one's way out to the Gold Coast. Under the water off Queensland is the Great Barrier Reef, a living range of sea creatures, the most abundant variety of life on earth; so impressive that it can be seen close up from the safety of a glass-bottom boat, or even at a great distance, from the air.
Consisting of a city that seems to float on white sand and aquamarine water, Surfer's Paradise lives up to its name. It's the only urban site erected directly on the peninsula beach along the eastern coastline. It is prohibited to build directly on the shoreline anywhere else, so as one travels south, 900 miles of pristine beaches are all that stand between the reefs on the east coast and the bays and inlets curving around to the south near Melbourne.
NEW SOUTH WALES is home to Sydney, the largest city but inland from are the Blue Mountains, called blue for the color of the haze that hangs over the eucalyptus trees. The Three Sisters and other outcroppings are famous sights, standing out above the countryside, likely witnesses to the breaking apart of Pangaea. Further south toward the top of Australia are the Snowy Mountains with the famous Snowy River and Australia's highest peak in Kosciuszko National Park. To the west of the mountains are thousands of acres of rolling farmland, where sheep stations dot the countryside and below are valleys of vineyards.
VICTORIA is home to many natural splendors include the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles. Standing in a peculiar order they have withstood the surf in sentry-like stoicism for time immemorial.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA is populated by herds of beef and only 1% of the country's human population. Off the coast resides another population; a primitive community of tiny penguins, dolphins and other sea life. Kangaroo Island was untouched by humans for over 2,000 years and is an unspoiled home to wildlife, including the animal for which it was named.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA is forbidding and surprising. Flowers carpet some of the land while gold fields and moonscapes cover the rest. The distance from Perth to Adelaide is 2,700 miles; farther than the distance from Moscow to London. From frontier to urban setting, take time to feel the centuries pass while traveling from the isolated outback of Kimberly to the man-made wonders of Sydney.