1 week in Australia: Northern Territory and Queensland


“To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice” – E. Gilbert

Australia is a huge continent, one week for sure is not enough to enjoy it all! When I was there I managed to explore the main places in two-weeks time…but still, if you can, I would suggest 1-month journey. My trip to Australia included the discovery of many aspects of this wonderful country: the cities ( as you could see in the post about Sydney and Melbourne), as well as the natural wonders. Australia has hundreds of natural wonders, but for my trip I decided to focus on 3: the desert, the forest, and the sea.

PRINT & GO

Before your departure, do not forget to check/bring with you :

– Boarding Pass and Hotel Reservation

– Visa application ( you can apply for a 3 months visa in the Australian immigration website: the process is very easy and fast and you usually get the admission in the next 24hours)

Alice Springs Tourist Information

Cairns Tourist Information

DAY 1: ALICE SPRINGS

As starting point for the visit to the Australian desert, you can choose Alice Springs. Alice Springs is this nice little town in the middle of the desert served by an airport with daily flights from the main Australian cities. Small roads, very few stores, surrounded by the desert. Its visit does not require more than half a day, but it is nice to see how things can change from the crazy life of Sydney to the quiet life of Alice Springs. Also from the population point of view, Alice Springs is in the Aboriginal territory, therefore you can easily see them around. There are also many cultural centres promoting the Aboriginal culture in Alice Springs, I would suggest you to have a look at them.

Alice Springs is the relaxing destination after the city. The nightlife is inexistent and honestly it is not even too safe to walk around when it is dark. People go to Alice Springs to enjoy some relaxing time and feel the contact with the nature.

DAY 2: AYERS ROCK

One of  the places that you absolutely cannot miss when you are in Australia is the Ayers Rock. Honestly, for me it was the most beautiful place, simply breathtaking! The Ayers Rocks are located 5hours driving from Alice Springs, so you can reach them either by renting a car either by booking one of the organized tours. Since I was alone, I booked the organized tour: it is not very cheap unfortunately (you need to estimate around 150 euros), but it is safer than driving a car in the middle of the desert. Plus they take care of your meals and there is always a guide explaining you  the historical and geological details. Usually the organized tours leave from Alice Springs at around 6:00 AM and drive all the way through the desert. During this journey you may probably sleep for the first hours but then you will be able to admire the desert landscape: vaste plains, red sand, green grass, and long and isolated roads. An astonishing place for those who are not used to see it every day! During the journey you will stop in some special spots or cultural places, like the Aboriginal center.

After 4 hours of driving, you will arrive at the first destination: Kata Tjuta. People are usually more impressed when they see Uluru, but for me Kata Tjuta was the best rock! Since the beginning I was feeling like in those Star Trek movies: red rocks, flashy green grass, little purple flowers, and a wonderful blue sky. These colors together create a magnificient landscape that will stay impressed in your mind for the rest of your life. Kata Tjuta is a Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal tribe word meaning ‘many heads’. There are many Pitjantjatjara legends associated with Kata Tjuta. One legend tells the story of the great snake king Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only come down during the dry season. Kata Tjuta is a sacred site for men in the Anangu Aboriginal culture and many of the legends surrounding the site are kept secret. Kata Tjuta is formed by 36 domes covering an area of 21.68 km2 They are composed of a sedimentary rock consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented by a matrix of sandstone.

The highest point, Mount Olga, is 1,066 m above sea level, or approximately 546 m above the surrounding plain (198 m higher than Uluru). You will be able to climb a small part of it and touch these magic rocks.

A very important tip for this area that some people might not be aware of: as dusty and wild place, the desert area attracts many insects, especially flies. Therefore it is always suggested to bring a hat with a net in order to protect your face.

After a nice walk in Kata Tjuta you can take your transportation and after 45mins you will arrive at the most famous rock in Australia: Uluru. Uluru is one of Australia’s most recognisable natural landmarks. The sandstone formation stands 348 m high, rising 863 m above sea level with most of its bulk lying underground, and has a total circumference of 9.4 km . Uluru is an inselberg, a prominent isolated residual hill rising in a dry region. It is often considered as a monolith, although many geologists do not agree since Uluru is formed by different rocks. It has great cultural significance for the Aṉangu people, the traditional inhabitants of the area. As Aboriginal holy place, you are not allowed to climb or go to some of its parts.

The visit of Uluru is also fantastic, the place is a mix of astonishing colors, unique nature and history. You can see ancient graffitis on the walls, stones with weird shapes (one of them looks like a snake), trees that you can find only in the desert area.

Although Uluru has all these fantastic aspects, there is something that goes beyond all this, the most beautiful thing of the desert and especially of Uluru, one of the best view of your life: the sunset. The sunset in Uluru is not a normal sunset, it is something magical. Basically Uluru changes its colors during the entire day based on the height of the sun and the way it beats on the rocks. Some time of the day the rocks are brownish, other times they are ochre. But during the sunset the best scene happens: not only the rock has this amazing ochre color, but the sky on the horizon has several colors: the base is purple whereas the rest of the sky is light blue…the more the sun goes down the more the purple color increases against the light blue one, and this can be seen at a naked eye during few minutes. This show is amazing, it is something that cannot even be shown in its entire wonder through pictures! The tradition wants that you enjoy this show while having a barbecue at some kms from Uluru.

After the sunset and the delicious barbecue it is time to hit the road. If you have the chance you can stop just one minute in the middle of the road during the night to admire the second most amazing thing of the desert: you will find yourself in a complete dark road, with no lights whatsoever, but enlighted by the moon and the millions of stars shining all around.

DAY 3: KINGS CANYON

On your last day in the Northern Territory, you absolutely cannot miss another wonder of the desert: Kings Canyon. Kings Canyon is located at 4hrs drive from Alice Springs and can also be reachable by car or tour operators.

The walls of Kings Canyon are over 100 metres high, with Kings Creek at the bottom. Part of the gorge is a sacred Aboriginal site and visitors are discouraged from walking off the walking tracks. The views are wonderful! Massive rocks, waterholes, sandstone domes.

DAY 4: CAIRNS

After 3 unforgettable days in the desert, it is time to go and explore the sea side of Australia, namely the Great Barrier Reef. As main staying place in my trip I decided to go for Cairns. From Alice Springs you can take an early morning flight and you will arrive there in 2hrs-time. Cairns is one of the most touristic cities in Queensland, thanks to its proximity to the Great Barier Reef and the Rainforest. It is not so attractive, but still nice to visit. During your first day of arrival you can have a long walk along its beautiful coast or have a great dinner and drinks in one of the fancy restaurants and bars near the harbor. Once you arrive in Cairns you will find tourist offices everywhere selling you packages to explore the islands. Unfortunately this is the only way to explore the territory since there are no public transportation ferries. So be sure to book all your excursions in advance and not miss anything from the great places over there!

DAY 5: GREEN ISLAND

There are several islands around Cairns, if you want to visit all of them you should stay there at least one week. Since I didn’t have a lot of days, I decided to make a selection and choose two of them. The first one is Green Island. This island is located at 45mins from Cairns and is connected by ferries provided by tour operators leaving every day at around 9:00 and returning at 15:00 or 16:00 ( check the timetables with your operators, they change according to the season). Green Island is a beautiful coral cay on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef with unique island rainforests, surrounded by white sandy beaches & magnificent coral reefs and abundant marine life. Once you are there, you can do several activites, such as exploring the forest, snorkeling, diving and swimming in the clear island waters, relaxing on the sandy beaches or taking a small boat with transparent bottom that allows you to admire the fantastic species of fishes and corals located in the sea.

DAY 6: FITZROY ISLAND

The second island that I decided to visit is Fitzroy Island. Like Green Island, Fitzroy Island is located 1h away from Cairns and is connected by ferries provided by tour operators. The ferry leaves at around 9:00 every day and returns at 16:00 ( check the timetables with your operators, they change according to the season). Fitzroy Island is bigger than Green Island, but also less touristic and more unspoiled. Here you can find wonderful sandy beaches, among them the most remarkable is Nudy beach, a small corner of paradise in the Great Barrier Reef. You can swim or sunbath for few hours there, then you can go and explore the rainforest. The trails to explore the forest in this island are quite long, we talk about 3kms uphill, but it is definitely worth! Once you arrive uphill you will have a fantastic view on the island and the sea. There is also another trail of 3kms to get to the Lighthouse, the path is less uphill and it will allow you to admire the fantastic flora of the island.

DAY 7: KURANDA AND THE RAINFOREST

On your last day in Queensland, you can leave the seaside and explore another wonderful ecosystem of Australia: the rainforest. To do that, I decided to head to Kuranda. Kuranda is a small town located at 1h30mins from Cairns. The best way to get there is to take the Kuranda Scenic Railway from Cairns Railway Station. This is a very old train passing through the forest. It goes so slow that you will have the time to admire the nature and the fantastic views; you will also pass next to great waterfalls. The train will stop in Kuranda, which is a small and old town but with basically nothing to see, just overpriced shops for tourists. The only interesting place is the butterfly sanctuary, where you will be able to admire plenty of different species of butterflys. Apart from this place, Kuranda will be just the departure point for the rainforest. Just next to the butterfly sanctuary you can catch a bus taking you to Kuranda National Park (15mins drive).

Once you arrive there, first you will be to visit the zoo. A member of the staff will guide you through all the most important Australian animals and give you all the information about them. You will be able to see kangooroos, koalas, crocodiles, Tasmanian devils, dingos, perrots, and many others.

Once the visit of the zoo has finished, you will board a special military ferry that is perfectly functioning on the water and on the ground. Through this truck/ferry you will enter in the heart of the rainforest and a guide will show you all the unique flora and give you all the scientific explanations. You will also cross a small river where you will admire unique plants and animals.

When the rainforest tour is over, there is also the possibility to see an Aboriginal dance performance and you can learn to throw a boomerang, but honestly it is nothing special, just a silly thing made for tourists. Afterwards you can catch the bus taking you to Kuranda and take the train back. The rainforest experience is something that you cannot miss at all, like all the other things in Australia. This continent is simply wonderful, every single corner is different from the other and the natural life is one of the best one in the world. Of course if you have more time in front of you, you can visit more rainforest sites or more islands in the Great Barrier Reef, or you can take another flight and visit the city of Brisbane. If you have two weeks more you can also experience the desert more, by driving from Perth to Darwin. Australia is a huge continent, distances are big, but it is worth staying there longtime and exploring everything. Unfortunately my time there was quite limited but hopefully I will have the chance to go back again and post my experiences in West Australia or other fantastic places.

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