The Complete Guide To: New-look Australia

The wizards of Oz have been working magic on their nation's top attractions, and creating new ones too. David Orkin takes a look at the latest reasons to trip half way around the world


I'VE ALREADY BEEN TO AUSTRALIA

You're in good company. Other than from neighbouring New Zealand, more people - more than 700,000 last year - visit Australia from the UK than from any other country. In the results of Lonely Planet's annual poll published in June 2006, Australia held on to its position as the country most Brits would like to visit on their next holiday. But even if you've already been there, done that and seen the Rock (Ayers), Reef (Great Barrier) and Opera House (Sydney), plenty is changing - as you will discover if you log on to www.australia.com. New hotels and resorts are opening, innovative tours are being introduced and undiscovered areas are becoming more accessible. And in addition to the very new, some established favourites have improved and enhanced their appeal.

SUCH AS?

In South Australia's bucolic winelands, the lovely retreat formerly known as Peppers Hermitage has just reopened after major renovation works. Peppers The Louise (00 61 8 8562 2722; www.peppers.com.au/thelouise) now features 10 superb suites, with outdoor showers, private courtyards and LCD video screens. The heated swimming pool and spa help to make Peppers one of the most luxurious places in the Barossa Valley, with rates to match: from A$381 (£159) including breakfast.

To quench your thirst, although the valley may be world-renowned for its wines, those who prefer their tipple to be made from hops can now visit The Barossa Brewing Company (00 61 8 8563 4041; www.barossabrewingcompany.com) in Greenock. The Brewery produces small batches of pure, traditionally fermented beers. It opens to the public for tastings and sales 11am-4pm at weekends.

I WANT SOME THRILLS

When you have had enough of the area's wines and ales, you can seek some excitement close by (at least relative to the size of Australia), in Adelaide's seaside suburb of Glenelg.

The Beachouse (00 61 8 8295 1511; www.thebeachouse.net.au) is a 21st-century, A$20m (£8m) amusement complex that has replaced the ugly-but-popular theme park, Magnetic Mountain. Attractions include Italian Formula One dodgem cars, a five-storey play castle, a carousel, three enclosed and heated waterslides (offering rides of up to 130 metres) and a Ferris wheel.

Following renovations and upgrades, the Proud Mary will still go rolling along South Australia's Murray River, albeit with a new name as of this year: MV Expedition (00 61 8 231 9472; www.riverofaustralia.com). The boat offers a relaxing eco-tourism experience cruising the Murray River for two-, three- and five-night trips. Prices start at A$750 (£313) for a two-night cruise.

Direct flights to Adelaide no longer operate from the UK, but good connections are available in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380; www.singaporeair.co.uk) and Malaysia Airlines (0870 607 9090; www.malaysiaairlines.com). Domestically, you can fly in on Qantas (08457 747 767; www.qantas.com.au), its subsidiary JetStar ( www.jetstar.com), and rival low-cost carrier Virgin Blue ( www.virginblue.com.au).

CAN I DINE UNDER THE STARS?

Yes, from next April, in Western Australia's World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park. Plans to upgrade the park's best accommodation choice, the Bungle Bungle Wilderness Lodge (020-8879 7444; www.aptouring.co.uk) for the 2007 touring season have been given the go-ahead. The tented cabins are en-suite and the outdoor dining area has a roof that can be drawn back to reveal the night sky. It will open April-October - the dry season in northern Western Australia - and charge around A$400 (£160) for a double including dinner and breakfast. Also opening next April, in the scenic tropical semi-desert of Western Australia's remote Karijini National Park, is the Karijini Eco Retreat (00 61 8 9425 5591; www.karijiniecoretreat.com.au). It will offer 25 deluxe safari-style tented cabins, some with en suite bathrooms.

SOME URBAN COMFORT?

Perth, the capital of Western Australia, has a spectacularly indulgent new location. The Richardson (00 61 8 9217 8888; www.therichardson.com.au), officially opens later this month. This will have 58 suites, 16 rooms and a spa including a manicure and pedicure salon, 14m-indoor pool, sauna and steam rooms, and a "relaxation room". Doubles from A$340 (£142), excluding breakfast.

Opportunities to spot dolphins, penguins and sea lions are nothing new in Australia, but now you can do all of these in one day. Based 40 minutes' drive south of Perth, Rockingham Wild Encounters (00 61 8 9591 1333; www.rockinghamwildencounters.com.au) now offers a dolphin, penguin and sea lion day tour - which also includes a visit to a mussel farm - for a price of A$91.50 (£38).

Like Adelaide, Perth has fallen off the map of destinations from the UK, but Royal Brunei Airlines (020-7584 6660; www.bruneiair.com) and Cathay Pacific (020-8834 8800; www.cathaypacific.com) offer good connections via Brunei and Hong Kong respectively.

I'M GETTING HUNGRY

Last month, one of Victoria's top hotels - the Langham Hotel in Melbourne (00 61 3 8696 8888; www.langhamhotels.com) - reopened its Melba brasserie. Adjoining the Melba, the hotel has opened the chic Area bar.

This isn't the only new dining experience in Melbourne: Jamie Oliver has turned up in the past few weeks. His Fifteen Foundation charity (in which experienced chefs teach their skills to disadvantaged young people) has opened Fifteen Melbourne (00 61 1 300 799 415; www.fifteenmelbourne.com.au).

On Monday, Melbourne's extraordinarily wide range of ethnic restaurants gets extended still further, with the opening of The Press Club Restaurant and Bar ( www.thepressclub.com.au; 00 61 3 9677 9677) with celebrated chef George Calombaris.

Tramcars converted into eateries are not unique, but usually they stay in one place. Not in Melbourne, where the city's Colonial Tramcar enterprise (00 61 3 9696 4000; www.tramrestaurant.com.au) has acquired a third mobile dinner venue, the Bela.

BEYOND THE CITY LIMITS?

In northern New South Wales, Byron Bay has long been a magnet for the budget traveller. But now The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa (00 61 2 6639 2000; www.thebyronatbyron.com.au) is attracting a very different market. With 92 apartment-style suites, a heated infinity pool and a sumptuous spa and wellness centre set in natural rainforest, a hostel for the impecunious it isn't.

Further north in Port Douglas, the vast Sea Temple Resort and Spa (00 61 7 4084 3500; www.mirvachotels.com) with a luxurious spa, pool and 18-hole links golf course opened in early May. And the Outrigger Beach Club (00 61 7 4084 2343; www.outrigger.com) with 100 suites featuring private "swim-up decks" opens this month.

ANYTHING MORE REMOTE?

Set amid the desert oak trees of the Northern Territory's Red Centre, the King's Canyon Wilderness Lodge is set to open in April next year. It is owned and operated by Australian Pacific Touring (020-8879 7444; www.aptouring.co.uk) and has 10 deluxe tented cabins with en-suite bathrooms, a dining/lounge area plus an outside area around a campfire for dining under the stars. Rates will be around A$500 (£200) per double including breakfast and "gourmet dining".

Another new bush camp opens this month in the Northern Territory just west of Kakadu National Park on the coastal floodplains of the Mary River delta. Bamurru Plains (00 61 2 9231 2923; www.bamurruplains.com) offers free-standing ensuite rooms, each built on raised platforms. Facilities include a lodge building with bar, library, lounge, dining area and boutique.

AREN'T YOU FORGETTING SOMETHING?

Ah, yes: Tasmania, the island state that - were it a nation in its own right - would be one of the most alluring in the world. An upmarket wilderness experience is about to open on perhaps the most scenic stretch of the island state's east coast. Freycinet Escape (00 61 3 6257 0018; www.all4adventure.com.au) will be an exclusive (maximum 10 guests) luxury camp with five-star food and service. Trips are offered as a four-day, three-night package with two nights in the camp and a night in the Freycinet Lodge, but tour operators such as Turquoise Holidays (01494 678 400; www.turquoiseholidays.co.uk) may also offer two-night (luxury camp only) packages between January and April.

But it's not all tents, however luxurious. Tarraleah Lodge (00 61 3 6289 1199; www.tarraleahlodge.com.au) opened yesterday, 90 minutes by road (or just 20 by helicopter) from Tasmania's capital, Hobart. This is a lovingly-restored 1930s art deco building in the Tasmanian highlands, with some of the world's best trout fishing, cycling, walking and an abundance of wildlife on the doorstep. Prices from A$230 (£90) per night including breakfast and evening guided tour.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR?

Starting in December, Par Avion (00 61 3 6248 5390; www.paravion.com.au) is beginning a Davey Fly and Cruise tour that takes you into the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Start with a 50-minute flight over soaring mountains and some of Australia's most rugged coastline, and at Melaleuca board the a luxury cruiser to explore the protected waterways of Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour.

Chinta Tours (00 61 428 244 682; www.chinta.com.au) has introduced three-day trips by plane departing from Adelaide and travelling at just 100m above the South Australian outback.

SOUNDS TOO TAME

Head for the Great Ocean Walk of Victoria. Although better known as one of the world's most spectacular driving routes, a section of Australia's Great Ocean Road - which links Melbourne with Adelaide - is now a practical option for hikers. Bridge & Wickers (020-7483 6555; www.bridgeandwickers.co.uk) can arrange a three-day escorted walk, for £553, including two-nights accommodation, most meals and transfers to and from Melbourne; international flights are extra.

WHAT ABOUT SPORT, SPORT?

Adelaide will join seven other cities across the world and host the IRB Rugby Sevens series ( www.irbsevens.com) at the Adelaide Oval from 7-8 April 2007. Tickets are due to go on sale in November, probably through Venue*Tix (00 61 8 225 8888; www.venuetix.com.au). To recover afterwards, instead of the traditional bath, players and fans might consider a stay at (or day visit to) Aquador Retreat (00 61 8 8 398 0300; www.aquadorretreat.com.au) in the Adelaide Hills.

Last year, England reclaimed The Ashes for the first time in 16 years. The two old adversaries battle again for the little urn in Australia between late November and early January. If you plan to be in Australia during this time and aren't going for the cricket, check the fixture list to see when and where there will be hordes of your countrymen to avoid. Ashes tour operators include Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.com) and Gullivers Sports Travel (01684 293175; www.gulliversports.co.uk).

AND SYDNEY?

Australia's largest city continues to reinvent itself. Sydney Wildlife World (00 61 2 9333 9288; www.sydneywildlifeworld.com.au) opened in the city's Darling Harbour last month, boasting the world's largest variety of Australian flora and fauna - close to 6,000 animals - under one roof. It opens 9am-10pm daily, admission A$28.50 (£11.90).

Those who enjoy exploring on foot might wish to tackle Sydney's new 26km Harbour Circle Walk. Although as yet there are no official signposts, a map of the route, as well as useful information on public transport for those wanting to do just one section, is available on the website ( www.planning.nsw.gov.au/harbour/walking.asp).

You can cruise from Sydney on the True North (00 61 8 91921 829; www.northstarcruises.com.au) to the Hawkesbury River and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, with opportunities for bush walks, horse-riding, fishing, and beach picnics. Cruises depart Sydney on 25, 28 and 31 December, and 4 and 8 January. Prices from A$1,500 (£625) per person (sharing a twin cabin) for three nights.

Though better known for relaxing ferry rides and graceful sailboats, Sydney Harbour is now home to Ocean Pirate (00 61 414 137 111; www.oceanpirate.com), a thrill-inducing combination of sightseeing and jet boating. Prices are from A$70 (£29).

ON THE GROUND

Campervans remain a great way to explore Australia, and the motorhome specialist KEA (00 61 2 8707 5540; www.keacampers.com) is offering a new flip-top ultra-luxury model, descended from the VW Combi, which sleeps two adults and two children. It has a cooker, DVD player with flat-screen TV, a heater, hot and cold water and even a shower (though hand-held and outdoor).

Building on the success of its Darwin-to-Sydney trips, in 2007 Great Rail Journeys (01904 521936; www.greatrail.co.uk) is introducing an escorted Sunlander To The Barrier Reef tour, which hugs the eastern coastline of Australia. The 18-day jaunt costs from £3,490, including flights from London to Sydney and Cairns to London. It departs on 13 May, 16 September, and 7 and 21 October 2007.

For travellers who don't want to do things by halves - and have 10 weeks to spare - Let's Trek (020-8772 3770; www.letstrekaustralia.com) has an All Of Oz tour, starting in Sydney and running in April, June and September next year. This city, outback and 4x4 adventure will follow the country's circumference. It costs from £3,280 plus a local kitty of A$690 (£255), not including international flights.

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