Who needs the world when we have Australia? Stop. Take a look. It's all out there. From Tasmania to the Top End and Western Australia to South Australia there are hints - glaring reminders even - at every twist and turn of the places overseas that we've temporarily left behind.
Although some state borders remain frustratingly closed, the opportunity will eventually materialise to explore our own country. Thanks to the pandemic, the world will have to wait as we rediscover, or in some cases discover anew, our own backyard.
Contributors: Lissa Christopher, Jim Darby, Anthony Dennis, Ben Groundwater, Jane Reddy, Jane Richards
THE PLACE Evandale, Tasmania
REMINDS US OF…England
WHY SO? We wouldn't want to wish its homicide rate on anywhere, of course, but Evandale, just 20 kilometres from Launceston, could easily serve as a location for Midsomer Murders should the producers of the British murder mystery ever exhaust its own locations.
TELL ME MORE Tasmania is replete with gorgeous heritage towns that seem cryogenically-preserved from the Victorian or Georgian eras, during which they were mainly constructed. One of the best examples is Evandale, just down a quiet road from Launceston Airport, dominated by the steeple of St Andrew's Church of England, opened in 1837 by Sir John Franklin, the governor of Van Diemen's Land. The town, outside of once-in-a-century pandemics, also hosts the suitably-themed National Penny Farthing Championships, while its weekly Sunday markets have long been a drawcard.
ESSENTIALS Tasmania's state border remains closed at the time of writing but is set to reopen with the remainder of Australia later in the year, if not sooner. Start planning a visit now. There is a limited range of accommodation in Evandale so you may opt to use nearby Launceston as your base. See discovertasmania.com.au
THE PLACE Darwin, Northern Territory
The Parap Markets. Photo: Matt Cherubino/Tourism NT
REMINDS US OF... South-east Asia
WHY SO? This city is closer to Indonesia's capital than it is Australia's. Almost 30 per cent of its population is overseas-born and they are having their way with its abundant food and produce, adding to the Darwin's youthful, tropical, energy.
TELL ME MORE One word creates the bridge between Darwin and south-east Asia: "laksa". It comes from Peranakan culture which takes its origins and influences from Malaysia and Indonesia and Chinese migrants to those countries. That delicious bowl of noodles, coconut milk, spices and seafood or chicken is made with the kind of pride here that Italians reserve for pasta. Head to the Parap Village markets on any Saturday morning and join the queue at Mary's or Yati's, find a spot in the shade and devour that deep cup of goodness. Alternately, in Darwin's CBD, take a seat at the Rendezvous Cafe where you'll get change from $20 for a big bowl. The city runs a laksa festival each November – want to try a crocodile meat laksa? Only in Darwin. The climate also brings you to south-east Asia; perfect for an outdoor lifestyle. For southerners, that's probably best enjoyed in the dry season (May to October).
THE PLACE The Barossa Valley, South Australia
IT REMINDS US OF... Germany
WHY SO Named after the fertile valley Barrosa (Barrosa) Ridge in the Spanish region of Andalusia, it was the settlement by German Lutheran immigrants escaping religious persecution in Prussia that made an indelible mark from architecture to food and of course, wine. On a visit to Tanunda in 1851 German travel writer Friederich Gerstaeckerto observed: "The traveller would believe himself in some little village of the old country between the Rhine and the Oder."
TELL ME MORE It's just over an hour's drive from Adelaide to the region that is home to 550 grape growers, many sixth-generation farmers and where the distinct Lutheran church spires dot the landscape. Townships of Bethany and Krondorf are in hufendorf style, a line with cottages along the main road and farmland extending in long narrow strips reflect the German heritage and toil of these pioneers. Pick up mettwurst at Linke's in Nuriootpa that's cured in the wood-fired smokehouse or take a tour of what is believed to be the world's oldest shiraz vineyard, The Freedom 1843 at Langmeil Winery.
ESSENTIALS At the time of writing, South Australians are able to travel for leisure in their state, though social distancing rules must be observed. Travel from other states is not permitted but will resume later in the year. The biannual Barossa Vintage Festival is on April 14-18 2021. See southaustralia.com; www.barossa.com.
THE PLACE Wave Rock, Hyden, Western Australia
IT REMINDS US OF...The United States
WHY SO The US is blessed with several famous wave-like rock formations in areas such as Arches National Park in Utah, and Coyote Buttes in Arizona. Western Australia's aptly named Wave Rock would fit in just fine at either location.
TELL ME MORE This multi-hued barrel of stone, located 340-kilometres south-east of Perth, is a 15-metre-high, 110-metre-long formation known as a "flared slope", a concave bedrock surface that looks like a breaking wave. The rock is more than 2.7 million years old, and in late winter and early spring it's surrounded by a dazzling sea of West Australian wildflowers.
ESSENTIALS See westernaustralia.com for more. West Australian residents are currently allowed to travel regionally for leisure; entrants from other states are restricted.
THE PLACE Paronella Park, Mena Creek, near Cairns, Queensland
REMINDS US OF... Spain
WHY SO? There's no bigger master of the unabashed architectural folly than Gaudi. And what better place to stumble upon another Spaniard's folly – albeit on a smaller scale – than in a lush Queensland forest. Love led Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella to choose five hectares around Mena Creek Falls in 1929 to build a heady homage to his wife, including a Catalonian-style castle. Jose may have been bewitched by the beauty of this land where he chose to create his life's work, but the heart-on-his-sleeve explosion of ornate artistry and devotion speaks more of his Spanish origins than even his passport could.
TELL ME MORE Paronella's grand obsession can be seen everywhere, from the Grand Staircase leading to the base of the Falls with its cascades and ornate bridges, to the ruined castle on the top level, and a ballroom which once served as a movie theatre. Then there's the avenue of kauri trees, the humble cottage where the besotted Jose lived with his family, the Tunnel of Love built into a hill, and the natural pool with resident turtles.
ESSENTIALS Paronella Park reopened in June with COVID-19 precautions in place, and because the one certainty of COVID-19 has been the lack of certainty, a ticket to Paronella lasts for two years and includes a night in Paronella caravan park. Adults $49, concessions $44, children $27. See paronellapark.com.au
THE PLACE Cocos Keeling Islands, Australia
IT REMINDS US OF... The Maldives
WHY SO Picture the Maldives and what do you see? White-sand beaches, swaying palm trees, crystal-clear waters, coral reefs and a laid back island lifestyle? The Cocos Keeling Islands, an Australian external territory in the Indian Ocean, about halfway between Broome and Sri Lanka, has exactly that.
TELL ME MORE This is a part of Australia that so few of us ever get to see. Only 600 people live across two inhabited islands in this chain of atolls, and only a few thousand tourists make the trek from Western Australia each year. Those who do are usually attracted by the windsurfing and kite-surfing opportunities, as well as the snorkelling, scuba-diving, and cultural activities.
ESSENTIALS The islands are currently open only to residents and essential staff, though tourism is expected to resume later in the year. See cocoskeelingislands.com.au
THE PLACE Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre, NSW
Photo: Carrie Forsyth
IT REMINDS US OF... Japan, of course
WHY SO Walking through the door of this beautifully-realised celebration of Japanese garden aesthetics is like passing through a magic portal. Suddenly you're in the Land of the Rising Sun, with no need to worry about a passport.
TELL ME MORE It's a joy and a tonic simply to stroll around the garden gazing at the design elements and plants. It's stunning at any time of year but particularly so in spring, when the blossom trees are in full pink and white regalia, and in late autumn/early winter when it can be shrouded atmospherically in fog and there's still red and golden foliage on the trees. The Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre was built to commemorate the Japanese prisoners of war who died during the 1944 Cowra breakout and hosts a range of temporary exhibitions and Japanese cultural events throughout a typical year, which 2020 most certainly is not. Its Sakura Matsuri cherry blossom festival is an annual highlight.
ESSENTIALS Open for restricted hours: from 9am to 2pm Monday to Thursday and from 9am to 5pm Friday to Sunday. Entry prices have been reduced to $10/$5. See cowragarden.com.au
THE PLACE New Norcia, Western Australia, Australia
Photo: Kate Hedley
REMINDS US OF… Spain
WHY SO If New Norcia looks familiar – the arched porticos, the whitewashed walls, the domed clock tower – then you've probably spent time on the Iberian Peninsula. This tiny town was founded by Spanish Benedictine monks in the mid-19th century, and their influence lives on.
TELL ME MORE A Spanish-style village in the dry, dusty countryside a few hours north-east of Perth? It sounds unlikely, and yet here is New Norcia, founded by monks from Spain, named after a city in Italy, and which these days is home to a monastery (where the town's monks still reside), a school, a church, a hotel and a police station, all of which recall the Iberian style. Wander through and be transported.
ESSENTIALS WA residents are currently allowed to travel regionally for leisure; entrants from other states are restricted. See westernaustralia.com
THE PLACE Hahndorf, South Australia, Australia
Photo: Adam Bruzzone/SATC
IT REMINDS US OF... Germany
WHY SO Just take a look around at the signage: blue-and-white flags in the traditional Bavarian style; umbrellas advertising Hofbrau and Lowenbrau beer; blackboards spruiking bratwurst and sauerkraut; Lutheran churches' names in Teutonic script. They don't call this place "Australia's Oldest German Town" for nothing.
TELL ME MORE Even without the German connection, pretty Hahndorf would be well worth a visit. Set on the southern edge of the Adelaide Hills – an area that could really use a tourism boost after being hit by recent bushfires – Hahndorf oozes historic charm, with plenty of original architecture, boutique shops and galleries, and restaurants serving up modern Australian as well as traditional German fare.
ESSENTIALS See southaustralia.com
THE PLACE Thredbo, New South Wales
IT REMINDS US OF... The European Alps
WHY SO No denying the Australian take on it, but Thredbo's village was conceived in the European alpine style – lodges, cafes and hotels terraced on the valley wall with views to the slopes soaring way above.
TELL ME MORE No Australian area can match the bigger European ones for vertical metres and length of ski runs but Thredbo comes closest, with a 672 metre vertical drop and the run from the top of Karels lift to the bottom of the Gunbarrel lift coming in at around five kilometres. This year, the slow old Merritts double chairlift has been replaced by an eight-person gondola, cutting the ride time from 21 minutes to six.
ESSENTIALS The winter season this year will begin on June 22 and in a more limited capacity with caps on visitors and limits to the overall operation, in the ski fields and in the bars, restaurants and accommodation. Of all Australia's snow resorts, Thredbo also has the best summer offering. See thredbo.com.au
THE PLACE Coober Pedy, South Australia, Australia
IT REMINDS US OF... Turkey
WHY SO Turkey's Cappadocia region is famous for its natural rock formations, waves and towers and valleys that have been carved out over millennia; it's also, however, known for its incredible network of houses and whole cities carved into those rocks by humans. It's not dissimilar to the rock-hewn dwellings you'll find in baking hot Coober Pedy.
TELL ME MORE The word "unique" gets thrown around far too often; however, in Australia, Coober Pedy really is. Nowhere else will you find so many houses, hotels, pubs, museums, and even a church chiselled into living rock. Visitors can check out all of these underground locales, and even spend the night living the way locals do, away from the extremes of the desert climate.
ESSENTIALS See southaustralia.com
THE PLACE Moonta, South Australia, Australia
Photo: Callum Jackson/SATC
IT REMINDS US OF... The UK
WHY SO It's not so much the UK as a whole, but rather a small corner of it: Cornwall, the coastal English county from which so many of Moonta's original settlers arrived after copper was discovered in the area. The South Australian town is still a fine place to go for a Cornish pasty and an ale.
TELL ME MORE Once South Australia's second-largest settlement, these days Moonta, on the Yorke Peninsula, is a town of only 600-or-so inhabitants. Visitors come here for the Cornish-style architecture, the pasties, and every two years the world's largest Cornish festival, Kernewek Lowender.
ESSENTIALS See southaustralia.com
THE WORLD IN YOUR BACKYARD
IF YOU TRAVEL TO...BE IMMERSED IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE
TIWI ISLANDS, NORTHERN TERRITORY
English is the second language for most of the 2500 people who call the Northern Territory's Bathurst and Melville islands home – the mother tongue here is Tiwi. Some speak "Old Tiwi" and some speak "New Tiwi"; however, nowhere else in the country are you as a visitor likely to be immersed so completely in an unfamiliar language. See northernterritory.com
IF YOU TRAVEL TO...SEEK THRILLS IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS
FRANKLIN-GORDON WILD RIVERS, TAS
Plenty of us travel to foreign shores to hike through forests, to raft down rivers, to spend the night camping under stars deep in the wilderness. But you can do all of that in multiple locations right here in Australia. Perhaps the best is Tasmania's Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, a rafter's paradise, and one spectacular spot to get back in touch with nature. See discovertasmania.com.au
IF YOU TRAVEL TO...DISCOVER NEW TASTES
Those travellers hoping to take a deep dive into a delicious and possibly unknown foreign cuisine need look no further than Melbourne. The Victorian capital plays host to some incredibly good restaurants serving food you may not be entirely familiar with: Ethiopian in Footscray, Burmese in Richmond, Korean in the CBD, Persian in Brunswick, and even Sudanese, again in Footscray. See visitvictoria.com
IF YOU TRAVEL TO... EXPERIENCE INDIGENOUS CULTURES
ARNHEM LAND, NT
Why go overseas to experience ancient indigenous cultures? We have the world's oldest continuous culture right here. And where better to experience it than Arnhem Land, home to the Yolngu people. Touring options here include a women's tour, a unique journey into female culture and traditions; and the crossing country tour, which involves spear-fishing, food-gathering, storytelling and more. See lirrwitourism.com.au
IF YOU TRAVEL TO...VIEW WILDLIFE
KANGAROO ISLAND, SA
It's easy, as Australians, to take our native wildlife for granted, to forget just what a spectacular sight it is to see kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, wombats and more in the wild. To get back in touch with the wonder of it all, head to Kangaroo Island, the aptly named outcrop that's home to plenty of its namesake, as well as a koala population that is slowly recovering after the horror of the recent bushfires. See tourkangarooisland.com.au