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SOUTHEAST AUSTRALIA: BIG CITIES, BIG WINE, AND BIG KANGAROOS
With a country the size of the United States, you have to select a portion of Australia to explore if you have a limited timeframe. So we chose the southeastern portion and got a great taste of what this immense country has to offer. Starting off in the glam southern city of Melbourne, the cultural hub of Federation Square is the place to see and be seen. With museums like the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, The Ian Potter Centre (which is the National Gallery of Victoria Australia), and the National Design Centre, there is definitely plenty to see. And you can certainly be seen along with the throngs of locals and visitors hanging out at the many public spaces, parks, cafes, and restaurants that fill the square.
Shopping is big business in the bustling streets and neighborhoods of Melbourne at the stunning 19th-century Block Arcade and the more upscale Bourke Street Mall. And if shopping for food is more your thing, the Queen Victoria Market is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere with over 600 traders hawking their wares for more than 125 years.
If your interests lie in the outdoors, Melbourne has tons of green space, parks, and the finest botanic gardens in all of Australia at the Royal Botanic Gardens. And if being outdoors leaves you hungry, Melbourne is unsurpassed in its diversity of cuisines, restaurants, cafes, delicatessens, markets, bistros, brasseries, and takeaways.
Next, Sydney is the capital that all other cities want to be. With stunning surf, glorious beaches, picture-perfect weather, and fashionable people, Sydney should be savored.
The obvious first draw is the stunning harbor with its Harbour Bridge, iconic Opera House, and Sydney Harbour National Park. But be sure to wander around the neighborhoods surrounding the harbor, including the Royal Botanic Gardens and the history and culture of The Rocks. On the other side of the harbor lies yet another harbor, Darling Harbor, with the Sydney Aquarium, Australian National Maritime Museum, Powerhouse Museum, Chinese Garden of Friendship, and the cavernous Sydney Fish Market.
Beaches are big in Sydney and you'll be blanket-to-blanket with Sydneysiders at Bondi Beach or Coogee Beach. And don't even get us started on the dining scene. With more than 4 million people to feed, you can get anything, anywhere, anytime. Or as the locals say, you'll be 'spoilt for choice'.
Just a few hours north of Sydney, you can get a taste of Australian wines. The Hunter Valley features over 140 wineries noted for their Semillon and Shiraz varietals, as well as a burgeoning brewery scene. With plenty of hotels, B&Bs, and cabins for rent (we actually had kangaroos amongst the vines in the backyard of our studio apartment at Leisure Inn Pokolbin Hill) and typical wine region restaurants and fare, the Hunter Valley makes for a relaxing and restful (and tasty) excursion from the hectic pace of Sydney.
The beaches of the Gold Coast between Sydney and Brisbane give South Beach a run for her money. The coastline is studded with amazing beaches (and great surfing), a Las Vegas flashy feel, theme parks, upscale shopping malls, trendy hotels (we opted for the uber-chic Hilton Surfers Paradise, and tacky tourist shops. All of which combine to make the Gold Coast THE glitzy beach holiday hot spot.