Paul Ewart  /  Brisbane Marketing
A view from downtown Brisbane from the Story Bridge.
By Charles Leocha Travel columnist
updated 9/26/2007 7:38:14 PM ET 2007-09-26T23:38:14

Last April, I had an opportunity to visit Australia for about two weeks. I dreaded the long flight — starting in Boston, landing in Los Angles and finally stretching clear across the Pacific to Brisbane. My fears were overwrought. I flew trans-Pacific with Qantas in business class to Australia and returned in coach. Business class was far more comfortable, of course, but neither flight was particularly torturous. The destination was worth the journey.

Blog: Observations while winging across the Pacific

When considering a trip to Australia, remember that this is a big country. I'm not sure of the exact size, and square miles don't really register with me, but think of a landmass about the size of the continental United States.

Don't plan on skipping around the country as though you were planning a trip to New England, France or the United Kingdom. Choose a limited region, instead, bearing in mind that a trip from Brisbane to Sydney, two cities on the east coast, is around a 12-hour drive (or a 1.5 hour flight). Continue on to Adelaide, on the south coast, and it will take you another 18 hours in the car (1.5 hours in the air). Flying cross-country from Sydney to Darwin, on the north coast, will take you more than six hours.

Here are two suggested cities that can serve as wonderful bases for an Australian vacation. I like them because they present two different sides of the country. Brisbane, the epitome of modern Australia, has flashy office towers and high-tech energy; its climate is tropical. Adelaide, the first planned city in Australia, is grounded in agriculture and Old World elegance; it has a temperate climate. Together with Sydney, the finance and tourism capital, they make a nice first-timer's itinerary. Links to my blog entries from April 2007 are noted below; these describe both cities in detail.

Brisbane is a good place to start any visit to Australia. Qantas now offers daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Brisbane from the United States. Brisbane is one of the gateways to the Great Barrier Reef, to the north, and to the surfing and beach towns of the Gold Coast, to the south. Outside the city and the coastal resort towns, the wide-open Australian countryside and ocean shoreline provide a dramatic backdrop to any tour.

When you think Brisbane, think Miami in terms of temperature, humidity and long sandy beaches, then add a broad river flowing through the city and into Moreton Bay. The city is young and hip and is the fastest-growing city in Australia. Glass skyscrapers soar above a clutch of turn-of-the-20th-century stone buildings in the city center, while the downtown district has broad bustling pedestrian zones packed with theaters, shops, cafes and restaurants.

City planners have taken pains to create an environment where the residents can easily enjoy the riverside and the parks. Ferries ply the river, with stops all along its urban course, weaving together the business district, residential neighborhoods, the university, gardens, parks, museums, concert venues and theaters.

The Brisbane blogs: Day One and Day Two

About a three-hour flight to the southwest, the city of Adelaide serves as the hub of Australia's fertile agricultural center. Nearby Barossa Valley is the cradle of Australia's wine industry and has always been the breadbasket of the continent. To the west, off the coast, is Kangaroo Island, a windswept nature preserve where kangaroos, sea lions, penguins and platypuses play.

Blog: From Brisbane to Adelaide to Barossa

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Blog: From Barossa into Adelaide City Center

This city was the first Australian city founded by law-abiding immigrants rather than convicts. Lots in the new town were sold, in much the same way that lots were sold in Florida land developments. Colonel William Light, the chief colonial surveyor, laid the town out in a grid with a swath of parkland surrounding the town. This clear green zone, the width of a musket-ball flight, was used for defensive purposes, in place of a wall.

The clear zone is now an expansive parkland for the city folk. Virtually every form of sport (rugby, soccer, running, rowing, archery, cricket — you name it) has a field or facility somewhere in these green areas. The parks are also home to a zoo that could double as a botanic garden and is the perfect place for a picnic.

The government buildings are gracious and monumental, presenting Corinthian colonnades and massive stone fronts to the street. The old library interior looks like a grand room at Hogwarts, and the museums provide an exceptional view into the development of the south coast. The South Australia Museum has one of the nation's largest displays of Aborigine culture.

As agriculture boomed in the surrounding farmland, the city grew and Italian immigrants moved into the region. Soon Adelaide became the commercial center for fruit and wine cultivation. The pulsing commercial heart of Adelaide is its Central Market, which is filled with stalls and vendors hawking everything from tropical flowers and fruits to exotic fish to local beef.

Brisbane and Adelaide give only a taste of Australia. Either city is a wonderful base from which to explore the country's coasts, reefs, farmlands, vineyards and the Outback. Spring is in the air — why not pay a visit?

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Photos: Awesome Australia

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  1. The sacred monolith of Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is located in Central Australia's Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which is a World Heritage site. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Be careful going down the road in Western Australia. There could be camels, wombats or kangaroos trying to cross. (Nick Rains / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A kangaroo stands next to a rare waterhole as sheep gather and look for food on a station near White Cliffs in the state of New South Wales. (William West / AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Tourists look at spectacular cathedral termite mounds in the Litchfield National Park near Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory. Often visible along the Northern Territory, also know as the "Top End" highways, they are amongst the largest mounds built by termites anywhere in the world and are reminiscent of mediaeval cathedrals. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A koala rests on a branch at Sydney Wildlife World, which features Australian flora and fauna set amongst natural habitats and ecosystems. Koalas feed almost exclusively on tough, toxic eucalyptus leaves, which they can digest because they have the longest gut for their size of any mammal. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Located near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, the East MacDonnell Ranges Aerial are part of the remains of mountains that once went as high as the Himalayas. The East MacDonnell's are more varied and less crowded than the more popular West McDonnell Range. (Brian Geach / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Visitors stand on a cantilever at the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk tourist attraction that overlooks rainforest and coastline in the center in the Illawarra region, south of Sydney, in Australia's New South Wales. The Illawarra region gets its special character from the way the escarpment meets the sea. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Pinnacles, ancient limestone formations, rise out of the sand in Nambung National Park. There are thousands of pillars in this Western Australian area, which offer photographers images at sunrise and sunset. (Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The Three Sisters jut out of the Blue Mountains near Katoomba, New South Wales. The character of the rock formation changes as the sunlight brings out magnificent color.
    According to Aboriginal legend, there were three sisters in the Katoomba tribe who were in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe, yet tribal law forbade them to marry. The brothers were not happy with this law and used force to capture the sisters, which caused a battle.
    A witchdoctor turned the sisters into stone to protect them from harm, but he was killed before he could reverse the spell. And so the sisters remained in the rock formation. (Lincoln Fowler / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The large leaves of the Canna x generalis flowering plant from the Cannaceae family display their unusual coloring in the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens were founded on their current site by Governor Macquarie in 1816 and is the oldest scientific institution in Australia, playing a major role in the acclimatization of plants from other regions. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A droving team heads off from camp during the Great Australian Cattle Drive preview on May 7, 2009, in Oodnadatta, Australia. The Great Australian Cattle Drive takes place July 30-Aug. 29, 2010, and offers the general public the chance to experience an Australian adventure. (Quinn Rooney / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Many residents of opal mining town Coober Pedy, Australia, live underground in dugout homes. The Underground Serbian Orthodox Church is one of the town's must-see sites and includes rock carvings in the walls, a high-roof ballroom-style design and stained glass windows. (Quinn Rooney / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A young indigenous performer during the Yeperenye Federation Festival on Sept. 9, 2001, in Alice Springs, Central Australia. The Yeperenye Festival involves traditional elders with thousands of dancers, artists, singers, musicians and spectators, who gather at Blatherskite Park on the traditional lands of the Arrernte people. It was one of the largest cultural gatherings of indigenous and non-indigenous people since colonization. (Matt Turner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Mount Borradaile in the Northern Territory was inhabited for up to 50,000 years by aboriginal tribes, and it's cave walls feature some of the best examples of aboriginal art. The drawings show a huge range of dates and events. The mount and the surrounding Arnhem Land draw tourists from all over who want to see real Australian history. (James Fisher / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The wetlands of the Yellow Water area of the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territories are a mecca for wildlife and flora. The flora in the park is among the richest in northern Australia with more than 2,000 plant species recorded. The park is also considered to be one of the most weed-free national parks in the world. (Adam Pretty / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rex the crocodile swims in a tank at Sydney Wildlife World on March 29, 2010. Rex, a saltwater crocodile, was caught in the Northern Territory and moved to his current habitat in December last year. (Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Cows have the right of way on Norfolk Island, east of the Australian mainland, where motorists also take the time to wave to each driver they pass. (Lawrence Bartlett / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra is a combination of a shrine, museum and archive, which commemorates the sacrifice of Australians who died in war. (Geoff Lung / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A giant statue of famed Australian outlaw Ned Kelly at Glenrowan, the location of his final stand, about 110 miles northeast of Melbourne. Long dismissed as tourist kitsch, Australia's "Big Things" -- giant models of everything from koalas to pineapples -- are now being heritage-listed and recognized as works of folk art. (William West / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. The Ghan railway, which runs from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north, offers travelers the chance to see great Australian landscapes through the country's Red Center. (Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Vineyards are shown in the internationally renowned Margaret River wine region in the south-west corner of Western Australia, situated between the two coastal capes of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A rock climber heads up a dolerite stack known as Totem Pole in Tasmania's Cape Hauy. (Nick Hancock / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Beach-goers soak in the sun on the Gold Coast in Queensland. The Gold Coast is a favorite tourist area that features some of the world's finest beaches and lively nightlife. (Sergio Dionisio / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. American Kelly Slater performs a cutback during an aerial expression session on day one of Surfsho at Bondi Beach on March 12, 2010, in Sydney, Australia. (Cameron Spencer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off of Australia's coast offers one of the world's best places to snorkel. The reef is one of the richest, most diverse ecosystems and extends from the tip of Cape York in Queensland and goes south almost to Bundaberg. And it takes up an area larger than Victoria and Tasmania combined. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. These massive porites corals at the Great Barrier Reef are hundreds of years old. The corals are like trees in that each year a new band is laid down in their skeletons that record their environmental histories. (Jurgen Freund / Freund Factory) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Fish of all colors swim in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's northeastern coast. In January of 2009, Australia announced a crackdown on pollution of the Great Barrier Reef as the World Heritage-listed site comes under increasing threat from toxic chemicals and climate change. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Crimson clouds provide a beautiful backdrop during a match between Australia and England at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia. (Adam Pretty / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an iconic landmark in Australia's most populous state of New South Wales, with a population in excess of 7million people, is shown in this photo taken on May 26, 2009. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Sydney Opera House is easily one of Australia's most recognizable landmarks. The buiilding, on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbor, is a multi-venue performing arts center and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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