Australian substitutes for the most famous overseas icons

For many Aussies, it doesn't count as travel until you go overseas. A passport is a ticket to a much wider world of experiences that simply can't be found at home.

But many of the things that Australians will travel thousands of miles for have pretty darned passable substitutes in Oz. These stand-ins, for example, do a good job of channelling the same vibe…

The Arabian Desert

There's no need to lug it all the way to Dubai to see towering sand dunes that would make a camel thirsty. Stockton Beach, which stretches for 32km west of Newcastle, goes far enough back to make the sea disappear and make you think you're in the desert.

This also makes it possible to do as the Emiratis do, and bounce over the dunes on quad bikes, leaving tyre tracks sprayed across the sand. Quad Bike King ( offers a 1.5 hour dune riding adventure for $140.

The other way to explore the dunes is whizzing down them on a heavily waxed board. Port Stephens 4WD Tours ( runs sandboarding adventures for $28.

The Eiffel Tower

When it first went up, the Eiffel Tower was loathed by many. Prominent artists called it monstrous and a dishonour to the city, and others campaigned to have it taken down as soon as possible. Yet it stayed, and gradually became an international emblem of Paris.

This should sound familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of the Sydney Opera House's history. There were street demonstrations against it – although they were as much about the cost overrun as the design – and there was no shortage of critics waiting to lay into Jorn Utzon's masterwork. Now, of course, it's Sydney's instantly recognisable go-to icon.


America's most notorious prison is stuck on its lonesome in the middle of San Francisco Bay, and was notoriously difficult to escape from.

Port Arthur ( in Tasmania isn't quite on an island, but it's just as isolated at the end of a peninsula. And the colonial authorities thought that would make it the ideal spot to keep the convicts who reoffended. The remains of the prison and colonial buildings are in a beautiful setting, and the tours inside them offer an indication of just how grim life as a convict was. Go at night, and be prepared to be unsettled by the numerous ghosts reputed to haunt the site.


Ellis Island

For millions of migrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ellis Island was the gateway to a new life. It was New York's processing centre for travellers and immigrants arriving on ships from Europe.

Australia has nothing on that scale, but the Quarantine Station ( at Manly in Sydney has a similar feel. Any ships suspected of having someone on board with an infectious disease would be siphoned off there, and their inhabitants would have to show they were disease-free for 21 days before being allowed out.

Tours head through the buildings where luggage was steamed to sterilise it, the chillingly bleak shower block that the confused migrants were herded into and the hospital where the genuinely sick were treated.

The site's a delight now – all free-roaming rabbits and bandicoots with harbour views – but you come out knowing you'd not have fancied it so much in the past.

Bordeaux wine region

In the 1960s, agriculturalist John Gladstones spotted a series of similarities between the world-famous Bordeaux wine region in France and the largely undeveloped land around Margaret River. The temperatures in south-western WA are higher, but otherwise soil and climate conditions are remarkably similar.

And so it proved. Despite being a late starter on the Aussie viticulture scene, Margaret River has developed a global reputation for high quality wines – particularly with grapes such as Semillon and cabernet sauvignon that feature heavily in Bordeaux. It isn't half a bad spot for a wine tour either. Taste The South ( runs them for from $95.

The Galapagos Islands

OK, so they don't have quite the range of wildlife as the World Heritage-listed islands off the coast of Ecuador, but WA's Houtman Abrolhos Islands have the same hard-to-get isolated vibe.

There may not be any giant tortoises, but the Houtman Abrolhos are hugely important as a seabird breeding colony. Lack of human interference means thousands of terns, petrels and shearwaters colonise the rocky outcrops, while wallabies and sea lions also have something of a free rein.

Tourists can't stay on the islands overnight, so either have to head in on a day trip or cruise around. Eco Abrolhos ( runs five day cruises, including snorkelling and fishing outings, for from $1,700.

The Fijian Islands

Fiji's Mamanuca and Yasawa islands are blissful tropical outposts, often tackled by backpackers on sailing adventures over a few days. There is also a smattering of resort islands there as well.

This, of course, sounds an awful lot like the Whitsundays. The likes of South Molle Island, Hamilton Island and Hayman Island have resorts aimed at various price brackets, while three day yacht jaunts are a staple of the standard backpacker route up the east coast.

Sailing Whitsundays ( sells three day, two night liveaboard cruises on various yachts for from $445.

The National Mall

Washington DC's centrepiece is the The National Mall, where most of the US capital's museums and monuments – plus the US Capitol building – cluster.

Canberra's equivalent would have to be Lake Burley Griffin. It has pretty much everything of interest in the city parked on its shores, or deliberately positioned to be within easy sight of them. This includes Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, the National Carillon, the National Museum of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia.

There's nothing quite like the Washington Monument to act as a centrepiece, although the Captain Cook Memorial Jet gives its best shot, shooting water up 147m into the air.


The Adelaide Hills aren't quite as soaring as the Bavarian Alps, and the area tends to be better known for its wine than its beer, but one village isn't going to let such trivialities stop it.

Hahndorf was settled in 1839 by Lutheran families fleeing persecution in Prussia, but soon abandoned any pretences of nuanced German regional differences.

Pubs happily go in for the massive steins and communal benches so beloved in Munich, while the Hahndorf Old Mill ( goes the whole hog fairly regularly with oompah bands, lederhosen-clad dancers and menus overloaded with pork.


America's home of mass tourism is best known to outsiders for its gigantic theme parks – particularly Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.

Australia's major theme parks, of course, cluster on the Gold Coast. Dreamworld, Wet N Wild and Warner Bros Movieworld are all inland on the southern Queensland strip.

But the similarities don't end there. Condos and holiday apartments line the beaches in southern Florida, just as they do on the Gold Coast. The waterways with lavish houses built alongside them are very familiar, too, and the mayhem of Schoolies Week matches Fort Lauderdale's rep as a spring break hotspot.

Parisien Cafés

The whole European café terrace culture reaches its epicentre in the French capital. Lazily lingering over a coffee, watching the world go by is at least 50% of Paris' appeal.

Melbourne has always proudly boasted of being Australia's most European city, and the eastern end of Collins Street has long been nicknamed "the Paris end".

But Collins Street isn't where to get that je ne sais quoi. The café culture magic is far more in evidence down the laneways (although some of the best joints lean more towards wine slurping than latte-sipping). Hardware Lane is the most obvious choice, but half the fun comes in dipping a head round seemingly unpromising corners to see what you can find.

The Uffizi

Florence's top art museum houses some of the most important works in European culture. Australia's equivalent could arguably be the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, but a better case can be made for Kakadu National Park.

There are over 5,000 indigenous rock art sites within the park's boundaries, telling stories that date back over 50,000 years of inhabitation. Particularly rich are the rock galleries around Ubirr and Nourlangie. Some of the paintings around Ubirr are thought to date back to 6,000 BC, with the local diet (fish, kangaroos et al) predominating. They may not have the quality of Raphael's brushstrokes, but these images are just as astounding in their own way.

The Grand Canyon

The sheer multi-splintered scale of the Grand Canyon can't be trumped by anything in Australia, but it'd be a jaded heart indeed that wasn't incredibly impressed by Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) in the Northern Territory.

It's not one gorge – it's a series of thirteen, which have been carved out of the sandstone over millions of years by the Katherine River.

Nitmiluk Tours ( offers two options for exploring the gorges. The cruises take in two or three of the gorges, depending which you pick, and cost from $84. The more energetic alternative is hiring a canoe, which costs from $40 for a half day.