From my time on an Australian travel forum it was pretty obvious that many Americans had no idea how big the country was and how much time of their precious holiday (it seemed two weeks was the standard duration) would be used up getting to the various iconic tourist attractions.
Many had impossible itineraries that would have them mainly seeing airports and the inside of aircraft. And equating driving times achieved on their expansive interstate highway system to the majority of our lessor quality roads was also a mistake.
The most popular route for tourists on a short time schedule to get an idea of Australian city life, the outback and some natural beauty is the so called 'City-Rock-Reef' trail ie. Sydney-Uluru (Ayers Rock)-Great Barrier Reef.
A reasonable time frame for this is 4+1 days Sydney (including one on arrival to recover from jet lag), 3 days Uluru, 5 days Cairns or Port Douglas.
At least half a day each is lost getting from place to place as well as back to Sydney for the flight home.
As far as Sydney is concerned here are some of the places, in no particular order, most tourists want to visit.
-Sydney Opera House
Probably (along with the bridge), the best known feature of Sydney's landscape. Described variously from a ship setting sail to turtles having group sex, Jørn Utzon's building is an architectural classic. You can walk around it to take in its intricate design with the city skyline as a back drop, take interior tours or simply go to a concert or play or just enjoy a drink in the forecourt and watch the harbour traffic come and go.
-The Sydney Harbour Bridge
Opened in 1932 to join the north of the city with the south, I have some connection to the bridge. My father worked for the company which produced the six million rivets that were used in its construction. The stone used in the pylons was quarried at Moruya not far from where we currently live.
Apart from driving or training over it, you can walk it, climb over the top of the arch or if your wallet doesn't extend that far or acrophobia is a problem, then you can visit the south east pylon which has a small bridge museum and great views from the top
Famous all around the world even pre the 'Bondi Rescue' TV series.
Why? I don't really know.
Probably because its a city beach easily accessible to the populous. But there are many along the city's coast just as nice and a lot less crowded. The area surrounding it is full of restaurants and bars and it can be a bit 'iffy' late in the evening.
There is a lovely coastal walk all the way to Coogee Beach starting at the southern end and walk to South Head from the northern end.
They are the only reasons I would go there.
These are part of the public transport system around Sydney but also a 'must do' for tourists despite a number of commercial harbour cruise companies who offer narrated coffee or lunch/dinner trips.
The most popular is the Manly ferry across to the jumping off point for northern suburbs and their beaches. You get to see most of the eastern harbour on that trip and Manly Beach rivals Bondi.
But for those interested in a road less tourist travelled, they go west under the bridge, some all the way up the Parramatta River to that historic city.
- The Blue Mountains
About 2 hours west of Sydney by car or train, lies this spectacular sandstone range. For many years after settlement this was a major barrier to the western expansion of the colony and was only 'conquered' in 1813.
The Blue Mountains are so named because, from Sydney, they look blue. They are covered in vast forests of eucalypts which in the hot sun discharge a fine mist of eucalyptus oil from their leaves. The mist refracts light, which makes the haze look blue at a distance.
Part of the attraction is that you are mostly on top of the ridges looking down rather than in valleys looking up.
The area around Katoomba, the main centre, is usually crowded with tourists but they tend to gather at Echo Point (the Three Sisters) and Scenic World.
If you venture further afield eg. Kanangra Walls or take walks to the canyon floors in other parts of the national park, you get to appreciate the beauty of this area. But be warned! It is easy to get lost and never found in the labyrinth. It happens on a regular basis for those who go unprepared.
It is usually much cooler than Sydney up there and it can even snow in winter at times.
However during the hotter summer months bush fires are a constant threat and there have been some disastrous ones over the years.
-Taronga Park Zoo
If you are into Zoos (I am not), this isn't too bad a one. There is a mix of exotic and native animals housed in reasonable conditions. The setting is spectacular looking back across the harbour to the city and the ferry ride getting there is great.
The 2km wide entrance to Sydney Harbour (Port Jackson) has two vantage points, South and North Heads. The former is the most popular and the easier to get to via road or ferry. The infamous Gap, the city's 'favourite' suicide spot is also there.
A twenty-minute foreshore walk on the South Head Heritage Trail offers views of Middle Head, Manly, North Head and the Pacific Ocean. Starting at Camp Cove Beach, an 1870s cobblestone path leads first to Lady Bay (also known as Lady Jane) Beach, one of three in Sydney where nude bathing is lawful. It then loops around the headland, passing Hornby Lighthouse, its light keepers' cottages, and several gun emplacements from the end of the 19th century.
Educational, history, ghost and paranormal tours are on offer.
-Royal Botanic Garden
An easy stroll from the centre of town or the Opera House these gardens were originally the site of the first farm by European settlers on the Australian continent in 1788. Although that farm failed, the land has been in constant cultivation since that time, as ways were found to make the relatively infertile soils more productive. The Botanic Garden was founded in 1816 and is the oldest scientific institution in Australia.
Many different horticultural environments have been developed and a mixture of native and exotic flora is on display.
And it is free!
The highest structure (not officially a building) in the city which has great 360 degree views.
But it costs to get up there and there is a revolving restaurant with equally high prices and mediocre food and proves the old saying 'never eat anywhere that revolves, floats or has views.'
Probably could be considered a bit of a tourist trap.
The Queen Victoria Building was constructed between 1893 and 1898.
Designed originally as a marketplace, it was used for a variety of other purposes, underwent remodelling and suffered decay (and threat of demolition) until its restoration and return to its original use in the late twentieth century.
Even if you are not into shopping, the architectural splendor of this building is well worth the time.
This is an urban locality, tourist precinct and historic area of Sydney's city centre situated on the western side of Sydney Cove and under the Bridge approaches.
It became established shortly after the colony's formation in 1788. From the earliest history of the settlement, the area had a reputation as a slum and the arriving convicts' side of town, often frequented by visiting sailors and prostitutes.
During the late nineteenth century, the area was dominated by a gangs and maintained this rough reputation until approximately the 1870s.
By the early 20th century, many of the area's historic buildings were in serious decay and the state government resumed areas around The Rocks with the intention of demolishing them and rebuilding them. More than 3,800 houses, buildings and wharves were inspected and hundreds demolished, but the continuation of these plans were brought to a halt due to the outbreak of the First World War. During the 1920s, several hundred buildings were demolished during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
In 1968, the state government gave control of The Rocks to the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority, with the intention of demolishing all the original buildings and re-developing the sites into high-density residential dwellings.
But this move was thwarted by resident and Union action (green bans).
So instead of demolishing The Rocks, renovations transformed the area into the commercial and tourist precinct we see today.
Yes, it is touristy with some really tacky shops and rip off restaurants but there are still pockets of charm with beautifully restored buildings (both residential and commercial), old pubs and places to get away from the hoards if you know where to go. And the weekend markets there sell mostly high quality goods and souvenirs.