We fly to Australia next week, my seventh and final continent. It's also a country that first entered my consciousness when I was six years old and my travel dreaming had just begun.
First, we travel on an inaugural National Geographic Journeys trip with G Adventures for two weeks, followed by one month on our own. We’ll be on the trail of Aboriginal stories and some of the usual travel suspects in the East and center of the country, then likely on a trajectory further afield in Western Australia, The Kimberley, and Darwin. But we remain open.
When Dan and I met all those years ago, he was in the throes of planning his first trip abroad. India was his setting off point. From there, he considered other destinations in Asia in which to downshift.
But I steered his onward itinerary in another direction: Australia.
Mine was a sincere piece of counsel for the uninitiated traveler — whether he knew it or not, he would need a place to decompress after India — but I also had an ulterior motive. Australia had always held my dreams since I was a little girl. Although I’d lived and traveled abroad my share, a visit there always evaded me. So my recommendation was vicarious, too.
When I was six years old my family lived in Sri Lanka. In an era predating ubiquitous satellite television, engaging programs were, let's say, limited. Occasionally, however, the local station would broadcast a National Geographic documentary, the sort whose moving images were drawn against dramatic scores.
I was struck by one episode in particular featuring images of a vast desert whose sand appeared the color of rust and a massive red rock whose surface in the early morning light glowed like smoldering iron. The episode spoke of the sacred nature of the rock that glowed. It echoed stories passed on through oral tradition and traced them in the etching of cave paintings cast by Aboriginals, the native people of the land. I was mystified, transfixed by it all, sound and imagery. This place held a novel sort of beauty to me, more like that of another planet rather than somewhere on our own.
The episode, you might have guessed, was about Australia and specifically Uluru / Ayers Rock. I held this memory and never let go of the dream. The imagery, the thread, the longing — I kept it all tucked somewhere under the surface of my wanderlust and moved about, trusting I would someday get there.
Meanwhile, Dan did take my advice and visited Australia on that, his first international trip. A framed photo he’d taken of The Twelve Apostles hung on the wall of his apartment in San Francisco as a subtle reminder…and perhaps of a promise that we would go together one day.
Next week, I fulfill that promise and my childhood dream. We fly to Australia! We're doing so in connection with the new National Geographic Journeys. As I seem to experience quite often, life comes full circle in ways I could never have imagined years before.
Australia will also mark my seventh and final continent, placing me even with Dan (Africa was his). No, I’m neither a country counter nor focused on the number of stamps in my passport, but a wee competitiveness with one's spouse is healthy. So it pleases me some to even the score.
- What are National Geographic Journeys?
- Highlights of our Explore Australia Tour
- Our Independent Australia Itinerary: Western Australia, Northern Territory, Diving, etc.
- Our Trip to Australia: Suggestions? How You Can Help
- Follow Along With Our Trip to Australia
What We Will See and Do in Australia
During our first two weeks in country, we will be on the first of the National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures in Australia. This 12-day tour, entitled Explore Australia, will include a few well-known destinations in the eastern half of the country like Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, and Uluru, and a few unusual experiences in lesser-known areas along the way.
National Geographic Journeys are a new style of tour developed through a recent partnership between National Geographic and G Adventures. These small-group tours include unique travel experiences that highlight the sort of scientific expertise that the National Geographic brand is known for: marine biology, archeology, history, anthropology, geology, and more. What this means in practice is that travelers will be able to meet with National Geographic experts and on occasion visit research or other National Geographic facilities. As is the case with other National Geographic tours, a portion of the proceeds will go to the foundation to support its continued research.
These trips will continue to feature dimensions of a G Adventures experience, including working with locally-owned providers, a healthy dose of independent time to explore, integration with a Planeterra Foundation community project where possible, and reliance on the knowledge of both a tour leader (Chief Experience Officer, or CEO, in G Adventures parlance) and local guides to provide cultural, historical, and environmental context. Additionally, for those who seek a bit more comfort when they travel, National Geographic Journeys will feature accommodation and transport of a higher standard.
Sydney: When we lived in San Francisco, Sydney was often offered as a southern hemisphere analog because of its position, natural beauty, cuisine, wine, lifestyle and atmosphere. Yes, I will be that sun-soaking, wide-eyed tourist taking it all in, snapping photos of everything including the beaches, the Harbor Bridge, the Opera House and anything else that catches my eye through the city’s neighborhoods. Our tour kicks off with an evening cruise around Sydney Harbor so we’ll be able to enjoy the city from on the water, at a distance.
Port Douglas: Port Douglas is best known as a jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef, a feature we hope to see up close either by snorkeling or diving. We will also visit nearby Mossman Gorge where we’ll take an interpretive walk with a local Aboriginal guide to learn about his culture and traditions, as well as various survival techniques in the Daintree Rainforest.
Cairns: By the time I leave Australia I hope to be able to properly pronounce the name of this city without making myself and other people laugh. Cairns is where we’ll dive into the geeky marine biology stuff. We’ll take a private tour of the James Cook University research aquarium set up by National Geographic grant recipient, Dr. Jamie Seymour. We’ll get up close to the underwater world and learn about the latest research and insights in this ever-relevant area of study.
Tully (near Cairns): We’ll spend the day immersed in the story, traditional hunter-gatherer culture and lifestyle of the Janbanbarra Jirrbal Rainforest people. This also includes a brand new Planeterra/G Adventures for Good project called Café Chloé which works with local Aboriginal leaders to build a community center, training center, art workshop and cafe in the space of a former railway station. The objective is to train at-risk youth in practical skills and to reinforce the value of their culture, stories and traditions. The goal is to provide opportunities for them to work locally instead of having to move to a big city to find work.
Uluru (Ayers Rock): We will take a sunrise walk with a local guide around the base of Uluru where, through traditional Aboriginal stories, we'll learn about the sacred nature of this location. Additionally, we’ll explore the Valley of the Winds in Kata Tjuta National Park. Given how many decades I’ve been waiting to see this, I’m trying to keep my expectations in check. But it's difficult.
Melbourne: Everywhere I turn these days, there's an article with Melbourne hovering near the top of some “best cities to live” or “coolest cities” list. Considering that we live in what I'd like to consider the European version of today's coolest city — Berlin — I’m curious to see the Down Under equivalent. Melbourne is also the jumping off point for the Great Ocean Road and some of Australia's best-known wine regions, both of which we’ll take a fair helping.
After we wind up our visit to Melbourne, we’ll spend the remaining month traveling in Western Australia, through The Kimberly, and the northwestern segments of the Northern Territory. A few places that are high on our wish list right now include: Perth, Rottnest Island, Margaret River (wine tasting), Karijini National Park, Exmouth (diving), Broome, Gibb River Road, Kakadu National Park, and Darwin.
While a month may sound like a lot of time, the country is vast and distances remarkable, so we must be selective and deliberate, avoiding the temptation to bite off more than we can chew. We wish to enjoy our trip, not be exhausted trying to race around to see everything. Our working list of destinations and experiences will likely shift and evolve as your recommendations come in and we speak with more people on the ground.
Of course, any and all of this is subject to change.
If you’ve traveled to Australia and have been to any of the cities or areas mentioned above, we’d love to hear your advice on wineries, restaurants, beaches, neighborhoods, treks, or any other great experiences you’ve had. We’ll even take advice on transportation options and arrangements, including camper vans, rental cars and flights in Australia. We ultimately understand that Australia is huge, so while we may not be able to pursue all your suggestions this time around, we can certainly use your advice for likely follow-on future trips. In any event, we greatly appreciate your taking the time to share your advice — not only for our benefit, but also for that of our readers.
It’s an understatement to say we’re excited to have the opportunity to share this experience with you! To visit Australia in connection with National Geographic Journeys makes the little, dorky documentary-watching 6-year old in me want to bounce off the walls and squeal. I’m trying to keep calm, cool and collected for Dan though. It is a long flight to Australia after all.