Image: Anangu Aboriginal Tour at Uluru
Peter Hendrie  /  Getty Images
The sight of Central Australia's famed Uluru — also referred to as Ayers Rock — looming on the horizon, is enough to stop you dead in your tracks and utter superlatives reserved for the truly awesome.
updated 11/14/2008 9:52:13 AM ET 2008-11-14T14:52:13

In 2005, acclaimed Australian film director Baz Luhrmann donned an Akubra (that’s a kind of Aussie slouch hat) and drizabone (and that’s Aussie for riding coat) and saddled up for The Great Australian Cattle Drive, joining a team of drovers and enthusiastic city slickers to push 500 head of cattle down South Australia’s dusty Birdsville Track. The golden sunrises, the stark saltbush plains and the crack of the stockwhip clearly worked its magic—inspired by the experience, Luhrmann returned to his Sydney base to pen a new script, simply entitled "Australia".

Starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman and set for worldwide release in November 2008, this epic Outback romance—the most expensive Australian movie ever made—is also the most anticipated local film in history, what Luhrmann himself calls “the Olympics of cinema.”

It’s an appropriate metaphor on many levels—in fact, Tourism Australia is pinning a whole marketing campaign on the film’s release, anticipating that it will capture what was last achieved during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games: global attention.

“The film industry has an amazing capacity to stimulate visitation," says Tourism Australia’s managing director Geoff Buckley. “You only have to look at movies like "Crocodile Dundee" here in Australia, "Lord of the Rings" in New Zealand, even "Harry Potter". Regardless of whether it succeeds at the box office, we’re anticipating that "Australia" will act as a catalyst, motivating people to travel here and experience it for themselves. You’ve seen the movie, now see the country—that’s what we believe will happen.”

Luhrmann’s film could not have come at a better time for the local tourism industry. Despite a record year in 2007, with 5.6 million visitors making their way Down Under, the sector has showed signs of stagnation in the first half of 2008, slowed by a booming Australian dollar, rising fuel costs and a downturn in the aviation industry.

Initial pessimism, however, appears to be passing: The controversial “where the bloody hell are you?” advertising campaign of 2007 (deemed a “rolled gold disaster” by Australia's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd) has been dumped, replaced by a new $50 million global tourism campaign directed by none other than Baz Luhrmann, and aimed at evoking the spirit he felt while on location in the Kimberley wilderness during the making of the movie.

“Because I had to be on set early, I said I’ll stay one night,” Luhrmann said during the announcement of the campaign in July. “They put the van out and I never left for all of the five weeks we were there ... I remember thinking, no matter what the outcome of the film, this is what I’m looking for. I am still in this moment, that’s what this place can do for you.”

Image: Diving with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef
Jeffrey L. Rotman  /  CORBIS
Australian waters may hold the dubious honor as the preferred domain of the fearsome white pointer shark, but they also provide the opportunity for an intimate encounter with a less aggressive but equally awe-inspiring cousin—the whale shark.
Of course, the Kimberley—located in the remote northeast corner of Western Australia—is a long way from anywhere, dictated by the seasons, expensive to get to and requiring a commitment of time. Most international visitors treat it either as a self-contained destination, or tack it onto a dedicated, longer-than-usual trip that includes visits to Sydney, the Red Centre, the Great Barrier Reef and the Queensland coast.

“Australia is a vast continent the size of America, and many people fail to understand that they can’t cover it all in one visit,” says Tourism Australia’s Geoff Buckley. “We’re trying to spread the message that visitors need to stay longer, or come back several times."

Beyond the tourism must-do's of Sydney, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, there are several amazing experiences that require the luxury of time: sailing in the Whitsundays, for instance, walking the Overland Track in Tasmania or cruising along the Great Ocean Road in a convertible, soaking up the views and contemplating the drama of the terrain.

Image: Sailing the Whitsundays
Guido Cozzi  /  Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis
Protected by the Great Barrier Reef and 74 continental islands, the azure waters of the Whitsundays provide a haven of smooth sailing, with all levels of boating experience catered for.
“The beauty of Australia is that most of the essential experiences are not about destination—stunning though they may be—but about the emotional journey, about experiences that last beyond the moment and memories that last for a lifetime,” Buckley says.

It’s that sense of the grandeur of nature, the spirituality of distance and place that Luhrmann hopes to capture in his movie and the subsequent tourism campaign.

“The film is not didactically about this country, " he told journalists when announcing the movie’s title. "The title represents the main character’s journey, her state of mind… When you say "Casablanca" or "Oklahoma!" it means big. It means vast ... I’m not saying this film is Australia. It’s a metaphor for a state of mind, for the faraway.”

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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