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Australia: from city to surf

13/02/2013

From awe-inspiring tropical reefs to cosmopolitan cities, the beauty of Australia lies in its diversity, finds Norman Miller

The Whitsunday Islands off the central coast of Queensland, Australia

The magnificent Whitsunday Islands

Whitsunday Islands

Comprising more than 70 islands in the tropical waters around the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays are full of natural wonders and white-sand beaches. The laidback coastal town of Airlie Beach is the gateway to the islands and offers characterful shopping and dining, although most visitors have their eyes set on the ocean. Try a half-day boat tour, jet-ski jaunt, fishing expedition or for a truly blowout experience, fly over the islands in a vintage Tiger Moth. Alternatively, let a seaplane whisk you to Whitehaven Beach or secluded coral-filled lagoons.

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Sydney

Ranged around an epic harbour, Sydney is all about knock-your-socks-off sights. Skip the bus ride to Bondi and take the 35-minute ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, which boasts a fine beach and an aquarium, where even novices can dive cage-free with sharks. Scale the soaring arches of the iconic Harbour Bridge, or stretch your legs on a guided architectural walk or a tour of the breathtaking Opera House. A trio of fine museums also beckons: the Art Gallery of New South Wales is a short stroll from Circular Quay through the Botanic Gardens, while the Museum of Contemporary Art adds cultural sheen to the hubbub of the Rocks. The Museum of Sydney explores the city’s history inside a beautiful 18th-century building.

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Melbourne

Chic and cosmopolitan, Melbourne’s urban DNA is dominated by cultural and gourmet strands. Begin at the 19th-century Queen Victoria Market, where a thousand food stalls mix the best of Asia and Europe with Aussie temptations such as kangaroo salami and Tasmanian scallops. Then check out Little Italy around Lygon Street to see how Melbourne’s Italian heritage has made it a global beacon of café culture. Amid the modernist architecture of Federation Square, you’ll find the world-class National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Centre of the Moving Image, while history fans can visit the Immigration Museum or the Old Melbourne Gaol.

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Perth
Perched on the Swan River, Perth mixes cosmopolitanism, history and culture with a generous portion of Down Under good life. The Art Gallery of Western Australia’s collection ranges from Aboriginal masterpieces to Europe’s finest, while at the 19th-century Perth Mint you can see the world’s largest stack of gold bars. On the Swan River, adrenaline fans can take a 60mph jet-boat jaunt, while the more laidback can relax on a lunch cruise. And for tucker on land, try one of South Perth’s waterside restaurants or a seaview table at the 100-year-old Indiana in Cottesloe.

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Adelaide
Native culture provides a focus for Adelaide’s cultural treasures: the South Australia Museum boasts the world’s largest display of Aboriginal artefacts, while the South Australian Art Gallery houses plenty of Aboriginal art. Adelaide is at the heart of one of the world’s great wine regions, and its National Wine Centre offers tours and tastings. Then you can pick a restaurant from the boutiques of Rundle Street or take a 30-minute tram ride to enjoy beachside dining on bustling Jetty Road in Glenelg.

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