Australia celebrates its annual Australia Day national holiday on 26 January, providing the perfect opportunity to look at fresh developments in the ‘land down under’.
Australia Day commemorates the landing of the First Fleet on Australian shores. The convoy of 11 ships carrying more than 1,400 British passengers (half of which were convicts), arrived in Botany Bay on January 1788, before heading north to Port Jackson. The exact date celebrates Captain Arthur Phillip setting foot on Australian soil and the symbolic planting of the British flag at Sydney Cove (the first European settlement in Australia). The Sydney Cove settlement grew into what is now the bustling city of Sydney.
Since its humble beginnings, Australia has become a tourist mecca, mainly due to its stunning array of natural and cultural attractions. World-class diving on the Great Barrier Reef, the enchanting Ayers Rock, and the sweeping curves of Sydney Opera House are all well-known hot-spots; but there is plenty more to the country that was once claimed by the early British settlers.
Australia travel ideas: Queensland
What to do in Queensland: The Gold Coast has escaped much of the severe flooding that caused the evacuation of nearby Brisbane and surrounding areas in January, and the tourist hub continues to attract a wealth of visitors. The region is famed for its thrilling theme parks, but it now has its own pin-up spa resort. Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, which won the Spa Retreat of the Year 2010, offers two to seven-night night fully inclusive packages. Choose from a range of activities in the tranquil 65-hectares (160-acre) surrounds, or relax in the sumptuous 33-room Spa Sanctuary. For the ultimate respite, stay in one of the new secluded Signature Villas perched over a tranquil billabong.
Where to stay in Queensland: The tropical climate of Northern Queensland and the stunning white-sand islands of The Whitsundays, in particular, encourage relaxation. The Whitsunday Islands are arguably one of the most picture-perfect destinations on the planet, and one of the area’s luxury resorts has just got even better. The Hayman resort has eight, new Beach Villas (each with its own pool), as well as two new luxury dining experiences.
Australia travel ideas: Tasmania
What to do in Tasmania: Tasmania is renowned for its natural beauty, but Mother Nature now has a competitor in the form of MONA (The Museum of Modern and Old Art). The brainchild of a local entrepreneur, the £47million new private gallery is built into the rock face of a secluded, riverside peninsula near Berridale. MONA houses a collection of modern and contemporary art from the likes of Damien Hirst and Sidney Nolan, as well as antiquities from around the world. The stunning gallery is a short bus or catamaran ride from Hobart.
Where to stay in Tasmania: For the complete MONA experience, stay in one of estate’s funky new pavilions, complete with artwork-adorned walls. If you’d prefer to stay in Hobart, the lavish Grand Mercure Hadleys Hotel has recently undergone an A$30 million (£19 million) extension, adding 128 new suites, a two-story penthouse, as well as a restaurant and café. The stylish Hotel Charles, an art deco former hospital, is an alternative new option in Hobart’s city centre with contemporary interiors and stunning views of the Tamar Valley.
Australia travel ideas: Sydney
What to do in Sydney: The unspoilt Booderee National Park, three hours south of Sydney, recently won a Best Conservation of Cultural Heritage gong. Owned by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community, the National Park’s Aboriginal-led walks give visitors a chance to learn about the Koori peoples’ culture. Alternatively, camp, tramp, surf or fish in the 63 sq km (39 sq miles) of protected land; home to 200 types of bird, 30 species of land mammal and 180 kinds of fish.
Where to stay in Sydney: Campsites are available in Booderee, or alternatively stay in Sydney and travel down for the day. For the best of both, try Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. Boasting stunning views of arguably the most iconic harbour side in the world, the government-run island offers a range of camping options; alternatively stay in one of three new self-contained ‘Building 23’ properties with stunning views of Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Australia travel ideas: Adelaide
What to do in Adelaide: If pop culture is more your thing, head to Adelaide for a fix of everything from poetry to puppetry. The bustling Adelaide Fringe (18 February-13 March), the largest arts festival in Australia, covers alternative entertainment from the weird to the wonderful; and with more than 700 events, there is something for everyone. Alternatively, fans of the big screen can hop along to the BigPond Adelaide Film Festival (24 February-6 March), which will show more than 140 films from 40 countries over an 11-day period.
Where to stay in Adelaide: The Rockford Hotel in the bustling Arts Precinct recently added swanky Superior King rooms, complete with iPads, to its portfolio in a multimillion-dollar refurbishment. If you’re looking for a place out of town, try the elegant Stirling Hotel, which has five newly-manicured rooms; while groups or families can enjoy the spacious four-room Waterfront Retreat in Victor Harbour, 70km (43 miles) from Adelaide.
Australia travel ideas: Western Australia
What to do in Western Australia: Margaret River in Western Australia is one of Australia’s finest wine regions, and with wine tourism kicking-off big time in recent years, many vineyard tour options can be explored. But there’s no better way than experiencing the region’s wealth of wines than at a festival. The popular Margaret River Wine Region Festival (17-21 March) incorporates a number of events based on ‘the nectar of the gods’ at various locations throughout the area.
Where to stay in Western Australia: The region has a new luxury resort in the shape of Aqua Resort in Busselton. Less than three hours drive southwest from Perth, the resort provides the perfect base from which to explore the area and its culinary delights. The four or five-bedroom beach houses (many with private plunge pools), are nestled in a beach development including a swimming pool, tennis court, gym and spa facilities.