From the craggy peaks of the Blue Mountains to the lush tropics of Queensland and the coral treasure land of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia has something unusual and something special to offer visitors—even those traveling by tour bus.

Much of Australia’s vast “red center” has been tamed and put on a tour, but the Outback hasn’t lost its frontier allure. The same can be said for much of the rest of this country that’s also a continent. Sydney may have joined the ranks of the world’s top cities, but its architecture, stunning harbor, and electric, manic personality keep it singular: You won’t mistake it for anywhere else.

When we visited Australia, sleek tour buses were already idling in the parking lot when we saw a handful of mud-caked camper vans pull up, fuel cans and lawn chairs strapped to their roofs. We heard the motorcycles before we saw the riders climb off and straighten their jeans. But the noise didn’t seem to bother the caravan of camels loping in the distance. We were all assembling for one of Australia’s greatest shows: sunset at Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock). Yes, it has become something of a circus. But watching the scalloped monolith go from reddish-brown to a haunting burnt-orange against the desert sky is still a magical—some say spiritual—experience.


With approximately 3 million sq mi/7 million sq km, Australia is the world’s largest island. It is the only country that is also a continent. Although most of it is barren desert where little rain falls, Australia has a wide range of environments, including tropical rain forests in its northern regions, temperate forests along the east coast and even a few snowy mountains spotting the Great Dividing Range, which runs north to south across almost the entire length of the eastern side of the continent and separates the coastal plains from the drier inland areas. Off the northeast coast is the world’s largest coral reef—the Great Barrier Reef (1,200 mi/2,000 km long). While the state of Western Australia occupies the entire western third of the country, much of it desert.

Australia is divided into both states and territories (capital cities for each are in parentheses): Australian Capital Territory (Canberra), New South Wales (Sydney), Northern Territory (Darwin), Queensland (Brisbane), South Australia (Adelaide), Tasmania (Hobart), Victoria (Melbourne) and Western Australia (Perth).