It's important to any study abroad program to explore the world around you and Australia is packed with unique and wondrous destinations. It's a place set apart from the rest of the world, both literally and figuratively, with its interesting landmarks, flora, fauna, and, of course, people. Your international experience down under can't all be in the classroom. During your time in this vast and mysterious destination, make sure to visit the places you hear about and those you don't.
1. The Great Barrier Reef
The world's largest coral reef system is perhaps Australia's greatest treasure. It is the only living thing visible from space and made up of more than 3,000 individual coral systems. Scuba diving is a great choice if you are willing to get your feet wet. If not, glass-bottom boats are available for tours and rental.
Recognized as one of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef is a major tourist destination and is also the source of considerable controversy. There is concern that such an influx of people is harming the reef. However, conservation efforts are in place, as well as regulations and requirements for access, all designed to help reduce human impact.
2. Sydney Opera House
The stark white peaks of the Sydney Opera House are often one of the first things to come to mind when thinking of Australia. Built in 1957, it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its creative architecture and stunning waterscape location. Not only is it visually and architecturally interesting, it also serves as a cultural hub for the area. It may be call an opera house but it is infinitely more. The venue offers a variety of halls filled with everything from opera and dance to restaurants and educational talks.
3. Sydney Harbour
When visiting the Opera House, give yourself time to visit the surrounding Sydney Harbour attractions as well, such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and the countless art galleries and restaurants. The bright blue water is speckled with bright ferries and sailboats then lined with parklands and gardens. It is easy to find affordable ferry rides that will provide the best views.
This area is a tourism hotspot so prices on goods and services can run high compared to elsewhere. It's best to plan your day ahead of time and have a good idea of what will be needed so you don't find yourself racking up a large bill.
4. Ningaloo Marine Park
You'll find significantly fewer people crowding the waters around this alternative to the Great Barrier Reef. It is located along the western coast of Western Australia. The reef is home to whale sharks, with many other large marine animals making an appearance throughout the year. Also, be sure to visit Cape Range National Park, which covers much of North West Cape peninsula, where you can explore caves.
5. Kangaroo Island
This natural wonder is the best location to see the plethora of Australian wildlife living in their natural habitats. Expect to see pelicans flying overhead, sunbathing sea lions on the beach, munching koalas in the trees, and of course, kangaroos bouncing across the grasslands. The island is a prime stop no matter what the season and is also well known for its superior gastronomic selection. Kangaroo Island is just one of Australia's top island attractions. Tasmania and Melville Islands take the the number one and two spots in terms of size and each offer another slew of attractions.
6. The Great Ocean Road
This stretch of road hugs the southern coastline in Victoria running between the towns of Warrnambool and Torquay. It's filled with many smaller towns and points of interest along the way. One is the The Twelve Apostles near Port Campbell. The distinctive rock formations rise up from the ocean waves. They are the remnants of limestone caves, which turned arches, which turned rock stacks over the last 10 to 20 million years. The Great Ocean Road is relatively short, about 150 miles long, so it makes for a great day or weekend trip depending on many times you want to stop.
7. Kakadu National Park
Situated in the northern region of the Northern Territory, Kakadu is filled with a huge variety of landforms, flora, and fauna. It's also filled with evidence of its Aboriginal history, with rock paintings that date back thousands of years. It's estimated that humans have populated the region for between 40,000 to 50,000 years (compared to North America, which has been populated for about 15,000 to 20,000 years). You can throw a dart at a board covered in the names of Australian national parks and never go wrong, but the sheer bio and geologic diversity of Kakadu National Park make it a must see.
Smack in the center of the Australian continent, Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is the massive sandstone formation seen in about every brochure or travel guide on Australia. The site is steeped in Aboriginal history and considered highly sacred. On that note, if you visit the site and plan to take pictures, be very aware of what (or who) you are taking pictures of. The local population is adverse to photography of both themselves and certain areas of the rock, some which are considered more sacred than others. There are signs posted around the rock notifying visitors of photo-restricted areas.
9. Coober Pedy
This unique attraction is much more than meets the eye. At first glance, it seems you are looking at sprawling desert and deep red rock formations scorched under a hot sun. It is what's underneath that will surprise visitors. Many local residents live underground year round in an attempt to avoid the heat. The subterranean town includes churches and motels.
Also known as the Opal Capital of the World, the city has many festival and exhibits dedicated to this beautiful stone. And for any movie buffs, the treeless area was used as the setting in Mad Max, a 1979 post-nuclear apocalypse film featuring Mel Gibson.
10. Sea Life Sydney Aquarium and Taronga Zoo
Visitors experience nearly 200 feet of underwater tunnels and over 630 species of Australian fish, reptiles, and mammals. See even more wildlife with a visit to the Taronga Zoo. Over 3,000 animals call the site home and there are free animal talks and shows daily. The animals are plenty but what truly sets this zoo apart is its stunning elevated location. Feed a giraffe or have a picture taken with a koala, all against the stunning backdrop of water and city.