Quick, what is the continent that consists of a single country? Yes, the answer is Australia. The harder answer is why Australia is at the top of some many travel bucket lists, yet many serious travelers have yet to go there.
In my opinion, you can't be a serious traveler if you have left this entire continent off your travel history. Australia offers up cosmopolitan cities, vast landscapes, truly unique flora and fauna, and an infectiously friendly and handsome population. Their mountains, oceans and, of course, The Great Barrier Reef, are unrivaled for diversity and beauty. This is with a small population footprint. Conde Nast has named Australia their "Destination of the Year" for 2016.
It takes about four hours longer to get there from the US West Coast than going to Europe. Every airline that flies to Australia from here offers decent leg room, complimentary meals, a host of complimentary beverages, and built-in video on demand at every seat in every class of service. You leave in the evening and get there in the morning on all non-stops to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
My June adventure took me to Perth, with United Airlines to Melbourne and a Qantas connection to my final destination. In United Business/First on the B787-9 Dreamliner, the crew was friendly but not attentive. Coming back it was much better.
My adventure began with two nights at the brand new Como Hotel, The Treasury in CBD Perth, a restored exterior and ultra modern interior design. The spacious room and included mini bar was just right. The view was of the new Perth Library. The only small issue was the hotel had no traditional check-in or concierge desk in the lobby. The staff just roamed around a bit in this living room like setting. Sometimes it was hard to tell the staff from the guests. Dinner one night at their gourmet restaurant, Wildflower, was a treat of modern Australian fresh and innovative combinations.
The next morning we were off to Perth Airport for a ride on a private Citation jet to Margaret River, originally a surfie town and now the center of Western Australia premium wine production. A morning tea on the beach with a didgeridoo serenade, a brief visit to beautiful Cape Lodge, and a traditional Aussie lunch at Vasse Felix Wine Estate among the rolling vineyards and a walk along the ocean rounded out the day. Then in was another brief Citation jet ride back to Perth.
The next morning we were taken to East Perth Railway Station for a singular rail adventure on one of the most iconic rail journeys in the world. Read further in my companion article for this special report.
Upon our arrival in Adelaide, we were taken to Adelaide Airport for another charter flight of about 90 minutes north to Arkaba Station in the Flinders Range of the Australian Outback. Until several years ago, Arkaba Station was all about sheep, particularly wool. The new owners took the station and repurposed it to return it to its natural state. The sheep are gone and now there is 60,000 acres of ever increasing wilderness and a private conservancy. The station had naturalists and guides on staff with day or multi-day hikes and excursions. The lodge has five very comfortable accommodations, and the multi-day hikes use very comfortable tents. Luke, the impressive resident chef, supplies both the lodge residents and the hikers with amazing gourmet adventures.
A member of Luxury Lodges of Australia, Arkaba Station is truly a find, a wilderness experience for the entire family. Kangaroos and emus are all over, and the scenery is surprisingly diverse and with a wide range of topography. The staff makes you feel at home as soon as you arrive. You will indeed be cut off from internet and Wi Fi; but more than the essentials are there. Getting back and understanding the land is where this place is going, and it was a pleasure to be a small part of it.
After two nights there, another charter took us in two hours down to the end of the Australian continent, Kangaroo Island. Southern Ocean Lodge, another Luxury Lodge of Australia, was our home for the next three nights. Magical Southern Ocean has 26 luxury rooms which all face a thundering surf. Even with the windows and doors closed, you will hear the surf every night as you go to sleep. Built into the concept is respect of the land and the surrounding national park. The building catches every drop of rain water and the solar panels outside shift their stance with the sun each day.
There is no room service and generally no TV's, and at the time we were there virtually no Wi Fi or internet (local creatures had eaten through the access line). Nevertheless, you were once again one with nature with walks, local jeep safaris and a lunch among the kangaroos in the national park. With a general population of less than that of California, but with a land about the same as the Continental US, Australia has a big advantage of space and harmony with the land.
KI is a trove of contrasts with dramatic oceanscapes, vast fields and very small hamlets. Their honey from bees originally imported from Europe in the 1800's is famous and with a uniquely sweet taste. Farm to table dining was standard here long before it was in vogue elsewhere.
With a change of planes in Adelaide, we said so long to this magical place to enjoy cosmopolitan Melbourne, Australia's second city. Melbourne has a look of Los Angeles but it's heart and soul is much more like San Francisco. With a population of about four million, the city teams with vibrancy along the Yarra River. The luxury Crown Towers was our stop, with a large but very discrete casino. With over 3,000 restaurants and local laneway dining, Melbourne turns into a gourmet paradise each day.
We dined at famous Rockpool, one of the premier gourmet experiences of Australia. The service here reflects the Aussie style of never rushing, actually slow by US custom. The food, particularly the beef, was amazing, but you have to be prepared for a longer than usual experience.
With this memorable event and an after dinner walk along the Yarra with entertaining music as background, my 21st Aussie trip was over. Early the next morning, I was on an another United B787-9 Dreamliner back to LAX with many fond memories of this spectacular and welcoming land not enough Americans have truly experienced.
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