As winter winds down here in the Northern Hemisphere, it is just gearing up in the Southern Hemisphere. While it's cool and rainy down in the southern part of Australia, it is the perfect weather to visit the north, or the "Top End," as it is known.
This is a large region, and the diversity is huge. In Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage site, is a huge draw. But where to go to enjoy it? If you are a serious diver, this must-see world wonder offers large pelagics in the pristine Coral Sea, giant potato cod and expansive coral reefs.
The right live-aboard boat allows you to get away from other boats and offers you a timeless experience. The Spirit of Freedom has three-, four- and seven-day itineraries and also offers a combo trip for divers and snorkelers.
Mike Ball's Spoilsport offers exceptional diving on the most awarded live-aboard in these waters.
If you don't want to be on a boat for an extended length of time, then staying at an island right in the heart of the reef is a perfect choice. Lizard Island is along the stretch of the Ribbon Reefs and within reach of the famous cod hole. Guests can snorkel right off the beach, and diving and snorkeling trips are offered to the inner or outer reefs. Or just laze on the beach, play tennis, enjoy other water spots, have a spa treatment and indulge in the gourmet food and wine. How can you go wrong?
I don't have room to talk about all of the wonderful places in Queensland, but the Whitsundays should be high on everyone's list, and Port Douglas has access to the reef and rainforest. Think sea kayaking, river drift snorkling, mountain biking, four-wheel-drive excursions, spas and wildlife.
Star gazers may be interested in travelling to the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef area in November. A total solar eclipse is expected to occur over this area on Nov. 14 at approximately 6:37 a.m. This rare phenomenon is attracting visitors from around the world. Tour companies have great packages, as do some of the major cruise lines.
And hot off the press: Tourism Queensland just announced a partnership with Australia's No. 1 blogger for the Queensland Blogger Correspondent competition. Ten lucky bloggers will win a five-day trip in June. Details on problogger.net.
Heading over to the Northern Territory, Kakadu National Park is the largest national park in Australia and has rugged escarpments and gorges. Its pristine wetlands provide habitat for 1,200 plant species and 200 bird species. However, if you are looking for something a little bit different, Arnhem Land is the place to head to. A few years ago, along with my husband and son, I spent four days at Max Davidson's Arnhem Land Safari Camp.
The rock art there was extraordinary - it dates back thousands of years, but for some reason, I was just struck by seeing drawing of soldiers, circa 1700-1800, with muskets drawn. My husband fished for Barramundi with a journalist doing a piece on the camp. He was so struck with the fishing prowess shown that he made mention of it in a national travel magazine.
The spiritual center of Australia for the aboriginal people is Uluru, and if you want to fork out for five-star accommodations you can't go past Longitude 131.
If you are looking for a remote wilderness experience (and Australia has too many for me to mention here), Far Away Bay located on a rocky hilltop, overlooking the Timor Sea in the uncharted Kimberley region of Western Australia, combines pure comfort with bush-camp simplicity. Kimberley Coastal Camp is also a perfect destination for those travelers jaded by the usual resorts and looking for a truly unique wilderness experience.
Very high on my bucket list is to take a cruise with North Star Cruises. All cruises are activity- and adventure-based, with only 36 guests. The True North is purpose built to access wilderness areas, and most cruise options feature an onboard helicopter.
Daily activities can include walks, fishing, diving, picnics, natural history and cultural events. This is getting away from it all, and I have heard nothing but fabulous reports. I am hard put to decide which cruise I would do, but The Kimberley Wilderness Cruise is pretty high up.
Rosie Holliday is a longtime local travel agent who owns Holliday Adventures, a Virtuoso-affiliated travel agency. While she can and does book the world, her specialties are Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Europe. Reach her at 970-748-9818, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.hollidayadventures.com.