Written by Kat Mackintosh
Australia: it's a big place. And there's just no way you're going to be able to see all of it on a flying visit - and you can't really see much of it without doing a bit of flying. But two weeks is all it takes to go ahead and see the town, but then get out of it by doing Australia's extremes – the City and the Outback.
There's not much point spending less than two weeks in Australia, and if you can arrange to fly into Darwin and out of Sydney then you'll save some time, but it's usually more expensive, so expect to land in Sydney then have to fly out to Darwin to begin your outback odyssey.
Getting off the plane at Darwin airport the heat is all consuming. Dry and heavy it's no wonder Darwin runs at a slower speed than the rest of the country – the speed of the tropics. And Darwin has the flora of the tropics as well, the air here smells of frangipani, salt and air conditioner run off. But Darwin is the gateway to the 'Top End' as the locals like to call it and a short cut to the outback.
Don't bother trying to acclimatise round the hotel pool, this isn't that kind of place, get out on the beach – but no swimming, there are box jellyfish – and make sure you meet some of the territory's most famous locals in the estuaries or more comfortably at Crocodylus Park.
Though Darwin's atmosphere of permanent bank holiday barbecue may tempt you to linger, there's not the time for it – push on to Crocodile Dundee's Kakadu.
Driving the three hours down the highway to Kakadu the view from the car window changes from bush, to floodplain, to the drama of the escarpment. There are plenty of places to camp in the National Park, or you can stay in the Crocodile Hotel – if you see it from the air it's shaped like a crocodile – in tiny town, Jabiru. Kakadu's flora, fauna and stunning natural beauty deserve at least a few days: see the rock art at Nourlangie Rock, bush walk around Jim Jim Falls, go birdwatching on Yellow Waters Billabong and go hunting for bush tucker guided by an indigenous guide, who can treat you to a proper camp meal, stories of the Dreamtime included.
If time and permits permit it's worth trying to visit Arnhemland. This area belongs to the aboriginal tribal owners of the land and you have to get permission to visit – the easiest way to see this really pristine bit of Australia is to go with an indigenous guide who will let you in and show you round.
After the green floodplains and water of Kakadu it's time to head south in your car, into the red of the Simpson Desert via the Devil's Marbles, Katherine Gorge and Bitter Springs to Alice Springs. It takes about three days to drive to the Alice, but the landscape constantly changes, and this is the only way to experience the real outback and get a feel for the scale of the landscape. Alice Springs is the best base for visiting Uluru and the Olgas - do the Base Walk - Uluru and spare an evening to see the sun go down on the rock - and Kings Canyon of Pricilla Queen of the Desert fame. Then dust off the red desert sand and get on the plane bound for Sydney and civilisation.
Sydney can be done very well in five days: A day for Circular Quay, for the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, The Rocks, The Domain, Lady Macquarie's Chair and the Art Gallery of New South Wales before you head out on a cruise.
A day for snorkelling in Manly - take the ferry there. A day for the beaches – Bondi, then Tamarama, and maybe a spot of market trawling before some more serious shopping and a good look at the layout from above from Sydney Tower. A day for the museums, aquarium and Fish Markets at Darling Harbour. And a day for Taronga Zoo.
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