Photos of the islands, beaches and underwater treasures of the Great Barrier Reef attract a lot of visitors to Australia, especially those with an eye for colour, composition and design. Melbourne calls itself Australia's capital of the arts, so makes for a good, visually stimulating pairing for travellers looking to see the extremes of Australia – natural wonder and man made attractions.
It's hard to see much of Australia in under two weeks, but if you forget trying to see everything and concentrate on really seeing a few places then two weeks is just the right amount of time to 'do' Melbourne and the Great Barrier Reef. If you can arrange to fly in to Brisbane or Cairns and out of Melbourne – or the other way round that will save you time, but it usually adds a wedge to the price.
You don't have to get your hair wet to see the best of the reef, but it doesn't hurt. This is one of the best places in the world for diving - the sheer numbers, varieties and colours of marine life, and the bountiful coral gardens make for a truly unique underwater wonderland, which even snorkellers can play in. If you've not been diving before, and you want to see more of the reef than you can with a snorkel, or on board a glass bottomed boat, then this is a pretty incredible place to take diving lessons.
It's worth sending at least a day at sea as well, exploring the reef by boat, and getting out to some of the reef's more remote treasures: Whitehaven Beach - famous for being one of the world's most beautiful beaches – or Heart Reef - famous for being shaped like a heart, there are lots of photos of it.
There are several towns offering easy reef access: Port Douglas, Townsville, Cairns and Airlie Beach are the main ones - you'll see more of the reef if you change your base at least once. The other options are staying within the verdant folds of the Daintree Rainforest - which you should also plan to spend at least one day walking in - stay in a tree house or at the luxurious Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa- or stay on some of the reef's islands: Lizard Island, Fraser Island, Dunk Island or Magnetic Island. Some islands are owned by resorts, but some also offer camping: Fraser Island's perfect pale sand is loved by off road drivers and there's a nice campsite by Lake McKenzie, and Dunk Island is a bird lovers paradise and National Park.
If you have a few days up your sleeve, then you could catch a train up or down the coast – you'll see more of the countryside but it takes about three days – if not, hop a flight down south.
Melbourne is Australia's capital of the arts. More European than Sydney, it's near enough to the glorious wineries of the Yarra Valley, the nightly penguin parade of Phillip Island and the natural wonders along the Great Ocean Road for day trips out to each, or you can stay in town and catch up on your culture and civilisation.
The cafe culture could easily turn you into a fully fledged flaneur, but don't get too immersed in your perfect latte, there's art to be appreciated at the National Gallery of Victoria, architecture to be admired at Federation Square, nature to be marvelled at at the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens and some shopping to be done at the Queen Victoria Markets.
If you missed out on seeing the unique Australian wildlife that dwells on land, plan for a trip to the zoo. If you have an interest in history there's not too much to tell in Australia, but what there is can be part learned, part experienced at Sovereign Hill, a recreated gold rush town built over the real thing, and at the Old Melbourne Gaol, where one of Victoria's most famous sons, Ned Kelly, of the helmet that looks like a bin fame, was hanged. One of Victoria's other deceased celebrities can be remembered at the Melbourne Museum: they have the pelt of Phar Lap, the most famous race horse and Melbourne Cup winner Australia has ever seen.
As well as art, food, wine and shopping, Melbourne does do sport - as well as the Cup racecourse there's the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the tennis centre, and the Bathurst motor racing course to see and hopefully see events at.
But for a really nice Melbourne evening you can't go past a wander round St. Kilda, dinner in one of the foodie-run restaurants, and a wizz though the old time entertainments of Luna Park. Followed by a night at the opera or the theatre on the Southbank.
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