Oz's clear skies and big horizons make for breathtaking sunsets. As Australia Day approaches, Tony Wheeler rounds up the best spots to catch the rays

Australia, with its blue skies, unspoilt coastline and wild, untamed landscapes, has more than its fair share of prime sunset-viewing locations. Ideally, the sun should sink below the horizon, which is why standing on the beach and looking west is one of the traditional favourites. However, Australia also boasts plenty of locations where you can see clear to the horizon without any saltwater involvement. Having something extra in the picture can also help: a mob of kangaroos silhouetted against the setting sun adds an exotic touch.

Next Thursday, 26 January, many people will celebrate sundown on Australia Day with one additional ingredient: while not strictly necessary, a cold beer does contribute to a perfect sunset. A gin and tonic sundowner also works well, and either tipple is readily available.

ULURU, NORTHERN TERRITORY

Traditionally, Australia's number-one sunset is at the big red rock - Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock). When Kodak used to make money from selling film this single location probably accounted for half its Australian turnover, because sunset takes the rock through an ever-changing swathe of colours, from Central Australian red, before fading through blue-grey and purple into black.

OPERA HOUSE, SYDNEY

Since Sydney is on the east coast, the best Bondi Beach view is at sunrise, but the Opera House turns on a terrific sunset. Appreciate it from the Harbour Bridge, from a ferry in the harbour, or relaxing on Mrs Macquarie's Chair, a seat cut into the rock near the Botanic Gardens for the comfort of an early colonial governor's wife. The view from here incorporates the bridge as a backdrop to the Opera House, combining both architectural icons in the same panorama.

ST KILDA ESPLANADE, MELBOURNE

In "From St Kilda to King's Cross", the singer-songwriter Paul Kelly announces that he "wants to see the sun go down, from St Kilda Esplanade". The classic song also features his threat that he'd happily trade the whole of Sydney Harbour for that single Melbourne street. He does warn that the Esplanade's palm trees "have it hard", but they still look very good in the last rays. Like King's Cross in Sydney, St Kilda is Melbourne's backpacking and red light district, but it also has some of the city's very best restaurants. The beachfront Donovans is the place to enjoy the sunset with dinner.

MELBOURNE FROM THE BOLTE BRIDGE

The recent construction of the Bolte Bridge over the Yarra River gave Sydney's chief rival the best city sunset viewpoint in Australia. As the sun goes down over the western suburb - appropriately named Sunshine - the skyscrapers look amazing. The dark glass Rialto Building goes through such an eclectic series of colour changes it's been nicknamed Melbourne's Ayers Rock.

FANNIE BAY, DARWIN

Darwin sunsets are at their most impressive during the build-up to the wet season - punctuated by towering cumulo-nimbus cloud formations and dramatic thunderstorms. Prime among the beach viewpoints for a tropical sunset over the Arafura Sea is Mindil Beach, which puts on a nightly Sunset Beach Market with plenty of cold beer. Or watch the sun vanish with a sundowner at the Sailing Club, and stay for dinner.

SURFERS PARADISE FROM A SURFBOARD, QUEENSLAND

Catching an "early" (morning) or "late" (evening) wave is a surfing tradition. There's no better place to watch the sun drop down behind the skyscraper-clogged Gold Coast waterfront than from a surfboard. In fact, the Gold Coast now has so many tall buildings that the beach can get a touch shadowy in the late afternoon, but that's not a problem if you're out on the waves.

SKI RESORTS, VICTORIA OR NSW

Australian ski resorts turn on some fine sunsets with added extras - like eucalyptus trees and even parrots - that are rarely encountered in European or North American resorts. Perhaps the sunsets are so good because the mountains aren't so tall; as a result the ski towns are usually at the highest altitudes and offer uninterrupted views.

THE OUTBACK

Kangaroos often feature in Outback sunsets but usually it's just the view to the horizon that makes dusk so memorable. My most recent one was from the top of Mount Doreen: a rocky little hilltop just off the Tanami Track, which crosses the desolation from near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to Wolf Creek Meteorite Crater in Western Australia, which featured in a recent hit horror movie. From the top we could see our campsite, the dusty trace of a road train heading along the track, a waterhole and, sure enough, a mob of kangaroos hopping away to the west.

HAMILTON ISLAND, BARRIER REEF

Queensland's Whitsunday Islands offer all sorts of fine views. Hamilton Island, smack in the middle of that scattering of islands, has some nice hilltops from which you can enjoy a 360-degree panorama. The view takes in other islands in the group and the Reef, and a few yacht sails to add drama.

CABLE BEACH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

The sunset-facing shoreline of Australia's largest state has hundreds of beaches with wonderful prospects of the sinking sun; the state capital, Perth, has plenty. But Cable Beach at the old pearling town of Broome is probably beaten only by Ayers Rock as Australia's most photographed sunset. A string of camels, taking visitors for an evening beach ride towards the nudist stretch of the beach, adds some interest to the photographs and there's a good selection of bars overlooking the shore to provide the appropriate alcoholic accompaniment. The bar at the Cable Beach Club Resort is probably the most popular.

For a change from setting suns, Australia can also provide some fine sunrises and one very popular moonrise. The latter is at Broome, on the other side of the peninsula from Cable Beach, and requires a full moon and a low tide for proper appreciation. As the moon sails up above the mud flats it produces a series of shimmering reflections known as The Staircase to the Moon.

A good place to enjoy an Australian sunrise is from a hot air balloon floating over central Melbourne. They've become so popular that some mornings you might spot several of the aircraft above the skyscrapers. Balloon Sunrise ( www.balloonsunrise.com.au) charges £125 for trips that last around an hour, followed by a champagne breakfast.

Comments