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Yesterday (January 18), Oprah Winfrey began airing her four-part taped telecast from Australia, where in December she took 300 lucky audience members (some of whom had never even flown before) on the trip of a lifetime. Their visit included celebrity-studded tapings at the Sydney Opera House (shown above at left; courtesy of Tourism New South Wales) and visits to Australia's top tourist destinations. While the Land Down Under may be best known for its rugged Outback and Great Barrier Reef adventures, not to mention its only-in-Oz wildlife like kangaroos and koalas, I have visited the country twice and can vouch that it is also dreamily romantic.
Yes, Australia is far away (a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles), but it’s summer there now and all the Oprah hoopla means there are some good deals to be had. Here’s the scoop:
Getting There: To celebrate Oprah’s visit, Australian airline Qantas (www.qantas.com.au) and Tourism New South Wales (www.visitnsw.com), the state where Sydney is located, have teamed up to offer special airfare (from $898 round-trip to Sydney from Los Angeles) and accommodation packages (such as five nights in Sydney from $495 per person, plus four- and five-day add-ons to Uluru, Tasmania and the Great Barrier Reef, starting at $699 per person).
Where to Find Romance: At 2.97 million square miles, Australia is a mighty big place, so you’ll need to choose your itinerary wisely and allow yourselves a minimum of 10 days (two weeks is preferable). Right now, the exchange rate between the U.S. and Australian dollar is almost even (whereas in past years it had favored the U.S. by as much as 50 percent), meaning a trip here will not be cheap – but I guarantee it will be worth it. Here are five of the regions I find to be most romantic; if you have just 10 days, choose two or three of them, two weeks or more, try for at least four.
Sydney: Chic, cosmopolitan and absurdly scenic, Sydney may be the sunniest, most sublime city you’ll ever visit. From historic 19th-century neighborhood, The Rocks, to the iconic Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge (climbing it just before sunset is a romantic must, see www.bridgeclimb.com), its vibe is young, fun and energetic. Don’t miss the beaches – my favorites are Bondi and Manly – or a day trip to the Blue Mountains, where you can wander amid kangaroos munching on grass and eucalyptus trees filled with wild cockatoos. For a splurge, stay at The Park Hyatt Sydney, located front and center on the harbor with great vistas of the Opera House, from $579/night, and for great value, check out the Shangri-La Hotel Sydney, a conveniently located high-rise with panoramic views, from $279/night.
The Outback: You will not be disappointed with a visit to the Outback, especially Uluru (aka Ayers Rock), the compelling rusty red-hued monolith in the Northern Territory that makes for excellent cultural and ecological adventure by day and an amazingly romantic oasis from dusk on. Considered sacred by local Aborigine people, it is 1,000 feet tall and more than six miles in diameter. The sunsets are extraordinary and are best enjoyed during an al fresco “Sounds of Silence,” dinner featuring fabulous food and wine, didgeridoo music, and guided stargazing. If you can afford to splurge, stay at Longitude 131 (www.longitude131.com.au) with its luxury tents and perfect Uluru views (shown at right; courtesy of Longitude 131), from $2,040/night all-inclusive. A more affordable option is nearby Sails in the Desert (www.ayersrockresort.com.au), the most upscale property at Ayers Rock Resort, from $480/night.
South Australia: The Barossa and Clare valleys, just outside of the capital Adelaide, are Southern Australia’s premier wine regions, making some of the country’s best chardonnay, cabernet and shiraz. Plus, you can head over to Kangaroo Island for a back-to-nature coastal adventure. In the Barossa Valley, stay at The Louise, a 15-suite wine-centric inn just one hour from Adelaide, from $429/night. To experience Australian nature at its best, head to Kangaroo Island for a few nights at the luxurious and eco-friendly Southern Ocean Lodge, from $900/night including meals.
Great Barrier Reef: The only living organism that can be seen from space, the Great Barrier Reef is a water-lovers’ playground (and, as Oprah discovered, there’s even a heart-shaped coral formation). There’s an assortment of private-island resorts to choose from, including Hamilton Island Resort and nearby Whitehaven Beach (shown at left; courtesy of Tourism Australia), where Oprah and 92 of her “ultimate audience members” enjoyed an amazing picnic prepared by Aussie celebrity chef Curtis Stone. Stay at Qualia, Hamilton Island’s newest and most stylish resort featuring 60 villas with sweeping views of the lush, pine-studded islands, from $950/night.
Tasmania: An island state located about an hour by air from Sydney, Tasmania is a nature-lovers’ paradise, chock full of kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and yes, Tasmanian devils (although they are currently endangered). The island also has some charming historical cities, such as Hobart, and an emerging foodie scene. Couples who love to hike will adore the scenic Freycinet Peninsula and serene Cradle Mountain. Three top spots to stay: Hobart’s Henry Jones Art Hotel (www.thehenryjones.com), from $213/night; Saffire Freycinet (www.saffire-freycinet.com.au), a brand new ultra-modern luxury resort overlooking the Freycinet coast (shown at right; courtesy of Saffire Freycinet), from $1,250/night, including meals; and Cradle Mountain Lodge, a rustic-luxe log-cabin outpost that makes an ideal base for scenic day hikes, from $300/night.
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