I just returned from my third trip Down Under, and I’m more in love than ever.  There is just something magical about Australia that pulls me in each time I visit.  I want to share my passion with you to inspire you to visit.

As an Aussie Specialist certified by Tourism Australia, the country’s tourist board, I have been fortunate to have been invited to visit many places in Australia since I started Wine Lovers Travel in 2019. There is still so much more to do, see, taste and feel the love.

In the coming weeks, I will pen a number of blogs about my experiences, so this first blog will be an overview.  I wanted to title it “10 things you’ve got to do and see in Australia,” but honestly, that wouldn’t even touch the surface.  So let me share the big picture, and in future blogs, I’ll get into more detail.

You can’t see all of Australia in one visit

Australia is HUGE!  Its land mass is nearly 80% as large as the mainland US, so when people say they’ve been to Australia, to Sydney, maybe Melbourne, and they’ve swum in the Great Barrier Reef, they have really only scratched the surface.

Respect for Indigenous people is part of everyday life

Important to mention first, and this actually applies everywhere in Australia, is the respect paid to the Indigenous people (also known as First People).  Human life in Australia is the oldest on the planet, with human life documented 65,000 years ago!  Think about that.  The First People came thousands of years before the Romans, the Greeks and all the others we consider ancient civilizations.

When Europeans colonized Australia in 1788, they appropriated the land and the native people.  Without going into a political/historical discussion, let’s just say the settlers did not benefit the indigenous people. S

Starting in the middle of the 20th Century, Australians began paying homage to the First People.  Probably one of the most famous examples was renaming Ayers Rock, the huge rock formation in the Northern Territory, to Uluru, which means “great pebble” in the local indigenous tribe language.  

Other Anglo names are also being changed or at least hyphenated to represent the original names.  For example, when you see signage in Melbourne, it says Melbourne Narrm.

Today, whenever there is any kind of public gathering, large or small, it always begins by paying homage to the First People.  If you are not indigenous, you thank them for letting you share their land, and if you are indigenous, then you welcome the people to your home.  The language is almost always the same.  The words I heard most often were “I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today.  I would also like to pay my respects to Elders past and present.  I would also like to extend that respect to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.”

The first time I heard this, I didn’t know what to think.  But now that I’ve been to Australia three times, I think this is a remarkable acknowledgment that our land doesn’t just belong to us, but to everyone who came before us.

Sydney is the Big Apple (or maybe the Big Harbor) of Australia

If you like big cities, then start in Sydney, Australia’s largest.  With its unparalleled skyline of creatively designed high-rises, it is to Australia as New York City is to the US.  It’s brash and bold, filled with a melting pot of people from all over the world, and always exciting.  The iconic Sydney Opera House is not only a place to take an Instagrammable photo.  It’s the home of Sydney’s Symphony Orchestra, Opera, Ballet as well as live plays and musicals.  Seeing a live production in the Sydney Opera House is as thrilling as seeing a concert in Carnegie Hall!  I can even make arrangements for you to go backstage during an actual opera performance and even, if you’re brave enough, to appear with the opera company onstage during a real performance!

Around the Quai (pronounced “key”) from the Opera House is Sydney’s famous bridge.  It is an impressively large structure and is used daily for such quotidian activities like driving across to get from one side to the other.  You can drive or walk, but if you REALLY want a thrilling experience, maybe even more exciting than being on stage with the Opera, you can do a Bridge Climb.  This is no ordinary walk—it’s a process that includes instruction, safety harnesses and helmets!  Once you get your training and don your bridge climbing gear, you are put in a trail line to climb ladders and bridge rungs to the highest points. Not for people with fear of high places, this is one of the most heart-stopping activities you’ll ever do short of sky-diving.  The views are amazing if you can hold still enough to stop shaking.  People of all ages complete the climb, and as long as you’re at least 8 years old and at least 48 inches, you’re good to go!

Sydney is also near many famous beaches, hiking in the Blue Mountains, and more.  I’ll talk more about Sydney in a future post.

If you love art and coffee, Melbourne is for you

Melbourne (true Aussies pronounce it Mel-Bin—although if you’re from this city, you are a Melbourner—don’t ask why the “r” comes and goes, is a city of art, culture, great food and a much more mellow pace than frenetic Sydney.

On this most recent trip, I spent the majority of time in Melbourne at the annual Australian Tourism Exchange, where I had the opportunity to meet over 75 travel companies from all over the country and learn more about all the places I’ll be including in Wine Lovers Travel’s trips.  Suffice it to say, that most of my time in Melbourne was inside the huge convention center.  Even so, I did get to enjoy some experiences that gave me a wonderful love of the city.

You may know that Melbourne is known for its street art, but until you’ve experienced it, you can’t believe how powerful it is.  I was honored to participate in a walking tour of the streets and alleyways of Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD) to see examples.  From paintings that span entire buildings to miniatures painted on brick walls, from trash containers covered with floral designs to a giant coin purse sculpture in front of a department store, Melbourne has art wherever you look.  While some of the artists may be graffiti experts just doing their thing, much of the art is funded by the government so that these talented artists can actually make a living doing what they love.  How cool is that?

Melbourners also are very serious about their coffee.  Starbucks didn’t have a chance here.  I actually saw one, and it was empty because there are so many local places to find your favorite brew.  One type of coffee to order is known as Magic, which is a very strong, dark coffee that can, and is, served any way you like it:  latte, cappuccino, flat white (latte without the foam), hot or iced,  and any kind of milk you can imagine.

Another obsession in this city is food.  You cannot get a bad meal here, and anything you order is plated just beautifully, whether you are in a dinner or a white tablecloth restaurant.  What makes the food so delicious is the focus on freshness.  I didn’t see anyone talk about “farm to table.”  They just do this.  The choices are endless, from American (yes, really) comfort food to every ethnic food you can imagine.  My hotel concierge gave me his personally curated list of favorite CBD restaurants, so send me an email and I will send you the list. 

Adelaide is the wine city, with festivals on the side

Adelaide is the capital of the state of South Australia, which is where 70% of Australia’s wine grapes are grown.  Much smaller in geographic size or population, Adelaide is a charming small city with a National Wine Centre not to miss, the Oval, a huge sports arena (Aussies love their sports, especially Australian Football—which is not soccer or rugby, or American football, but its own sport), beautiful parks where festivals such as the Adelaide Fringe Festival and Womadelaide are held annually and beaches nearby.

Adelaide is the gateway to South Australia’s wine regions, which include Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, and Kangaroo Island.  The predominant grape is Shiraz (what Americans and Europeans call Syrah).  There are also a number of distilleries, and if you’re not drinking wine, then local gin is the drink of choice.

Perth is way out West and worth a visit

If you picture a map of Australia layered on top of a map of the US, Sydney would be around the Carolinas, Melbourne would be Florida, Adelaide would be Texas and Perth would be California.  But hey, you’ve flown across the Pacific Ocean, so what’s another 5 hours to get to a charming city on the Indian Ocean, filled with friendly people, manageable levels of commerce, and beautiful King’s Park?

My first time in Australia in 2019 started in Perth, which is in the state of Western Australia because that’s where I attended a travel conference.  I loved the city because it felt cosmopolitan plus it’s so walkable.  Right outside Perth, you can take a short ferry to Rottnest Island to see the Quokkas, the most adorable little marsupials about the size of a house cat.  Maybe they become accustomed to people, but they love you to take selfies with them, and these photos are definitely for Instagram.

There are two wine regions outside of Perth.  Swan Valley is the closest and produces lovely white wines like Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.  However, about 3 hours south is the magnificent Margaret River, with Cabernet’s to rival those of Bordeaux.  I cannot speak from personal experience because I still haven’t made it to Margaret River, but I have had their wines and know people there…so it’s just a matter of time.

So much more to tell you…but it will have to wait for next time

I’ve hardly scratched the surface, and still haven’t even mentioned anywhere on the East Coast of Australia, like Brisbane and Cairns, Canberra and Darwin, and let’s not forget Tasmania.  All the more reason to sign up for our newsletter for future blogs that tell you more detail about individual places and regions, with a focus on wine, food, wildlife, Indigenous culture and all of the people.

Wine Lovers Travel’s 2024 trip to South Australia and Victoria is sold out, and we are actively seeking hosts for trips for 2025.  Let’s talk!