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Opera House and Harbour Bridge at Sunset, from Macquaries Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
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Byron Bay: The Beauty and the Bohemia   by Gavin Wyatt

It is not easy to try and pinpoint the appeal of Byron Bay, or to explain in a few words why this quaint and rustic little town has exploded onto the international tourist scene in such a big way, and is now the third most popular place in Australia to visit. Many similar towns exist, peacefully located in exotic surrounds with perfect climate conditions, but none carry off the charm, atmosphere and general funky vibe quite like Byron does.

What is it that places this little town with a population of 9000 head and shoulders above other tourist destinations in Australia? The answer lies in the richness of diversity, not only within the tourist attractions on offer, but also within the town itself and within the Byron shire as a whole. The rich variety of flora and fauna is complemented by an equally rich variety of different types of people that have taken up residence in Byron. Famed as one of the leading alternative lifestyle regions in Australia, the bohemian feel of the area is enhanced by colourful locals that include artists, surfers, musicians and of course the traveler types that just never felt the need to move on. Throw into this mix established farmers, businessmen and young professionals trying to escape the city life and you start to form a true impression of Byron.
 
Diversity also exists in the landscape and geographical features of the Byron Shire. The lush, green hinterland is separated from the deep turquoise blue of the Pacific Ocean by over thirty kilometres of sparkling beaches. The numerous national parks in the area are home to large hills and mountains which provide the outdoor types with an abundance of opportunities for camping and walking. The rainforests are interspersed with macadamia farms, state forests and undulating fields, and throughout the region are dotted small towns and communities where you can purchase local arts and crafts or produce, or stop and meet some very interesting people.

For many the absolute highlight of Byron Bay is the beaches. Clean and unsullied, they are devoid of any building development, which allows you to fully appreciate their natural tranquility. The horse shoe shaped beach surrounding the bay itself is normally the most popular due to its ease of accessibility from the town. The flat waters of the bay make it perfect for swimming, and when the tide is in the large areas of shallow water mean this is the ideal playground for little kids.  On the other side of Cape Byron is Tallows Beach, which is long and straight and popular amongst surfers, kite boarders and kayakers. Unprotected by the headland, the waves on this beach are bigger and more challenging, making for more adventurous swimming or watersports.

Watego and Beach, Surf Brake Between Byron Bay and Cape Byron, New South Wales (Nsw), Australia
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Dominating the Byron skyline is the tall headland which marks the most easterly point of Australia. It is topped by the infamous lighthouse that is the subject of many a postcard and Kodak moment and known as one of the most powerful beacons in the country. A short drive up a windy road will get you to the lighthouse, and you are rewarded with amazing panoramic views of the bay on one side and Tallows Beach on the other, with the Pacific Ocean stretching as far as the eye can see in front of you. Behind you lies the dark green forests of the hinterland, with the higher hills and mountains of the region silhouetted against the skyline.

While watching the waves swell, rise and then crash into the rocks a hundred metres below you are likely to see pods of dolphins glide their way through the azure water, or the dark outline of a sea turtle or manta ray coming up to the surface. This spot is recognized as the best land based whale watching in the country, so if the seasons are right you may be lucky enough to see some of these graceful mammals breaking the surface. In July and August they are moving north to the warmer waters, and in September and October they are migrating back down south with their new offspring.

When looking out to sea from the lighthouse, you can't help but notice Julian Rocks rising out of the water a few kilometres from the coast. Part of the Cape Byron Marine Park, these rocks mark the point where warm and cold waters meet and these conditions have encouraged a multitude of marine species, nearly 900 in total, to reside in the rocks under the surface. Julian rocks cater to all levels of diver, from snorkelers through to experienced scuba dives.

These places just scratch the surface of the myriad of attractions and activities in Byron Bay. If fishing is what rocks your boat then you can head out on a deep sea charter and see if you are any match for the ferocious kingfish, or else stick to the coast and fish the secluded coves and inlets that are found up the shore. Take a surfing lesson, or hire a kayak and head out to deeper waters where you may bump into a friendly pod of dolphins. If you're tired of the ocean then head inland for a bushwalk or a guided rainforest tour. Horse riding excursions are also available. Tandem skydiving will appeal to the extremely adventurous who want to get the best possible view of Byron and its surrounds, and if this doesn't satisfy your desire for excitement then you can enroll in Australia's only flying trapeze college!

Only two hours south of Brisbane and forty minutes south of the Gold Coast and Coolangatta airport, the town is easily accessible via a pleasant drive through rolling countryside. The ultimate place for relaxation, any age group will feel welcome and find something that appeals to them in Byron. This is why it is such a recommended place to visit, and why you should seriously consider booking your next holiday in Byron Bay.

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About the Author - Gavin Wyatt is a journalist with a passion for travel. originally from Zambia he has traveled around the world to end up on the sunny shores of Australia. 

Katoomba and the Blue Mountains   by Jenny Brewer

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Famous for the Three Sisters, Katoomba Scenic Railway and breathtaking scenery, the Blue Mountains National Park needs to be visited at least once in a lifetime. It is a fantastic option for the driving holiday for so many reasons.

Accessible via Katoomba and only two hours from the harbour city of Sydney, the Blue Mountains are a paradise for those yearning to escape the hustle and bustle of the city life. With dense rainforest, waterfalls, deep gorges and world class bushwalking trails, it is a haven for the seasoned traveller, with great accessibility by road and plenty of accommodation to suit all tastes.
 
Empress Falls Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales, Australia
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Springtime is one of the best times to visit Katoomba and the surrounding mountains as the dazzling colours and beauty are a photographers delight. The temperatures are on average a lot lower than Sydney, but most of the year the climate is moderate in the mid teens. Make sure you come prepared with warm clothing especially on the long walks as mountain weather can change quickly.

There are plenty of camping grounds available, one of the most popular is the Euroka campground at Glenbrook. Only 4km from the entrance gate, the sites have excellent amenities and kangaroos at your doorstep.

Located on over one million hectares of pristine wilderness, the Blue Mountains comprise of eight conservation reserves, such as the Gardens of Stone and the famous Jenolan Caves. There is something here for everyone. The massive cliffs and canyons are an adventurers paradise, with abseiling, rock climbing and mountain biking some of the popular sports available.
 

For those who do not wish to risk life and limb on their holiday, there are plenty of alternatives. Birdwatchers will be close to heaven as the canopy is filled with the sounds of birdlife, as well as native animals. However, the extensive range of trails and walks available are what draw people year after year, and there really are walks for every type of fitness level. Young and old, fit and.not so fit.

So, where do you start? Firstly, you need to be prepared with a good map of the area, sturdy walking shoes and plenty of water. Echo Point is one of the most famous lookouts to see the Three Sisters and the Jamison Valley. The Princes Rock Walk only takes half an hour to reach one of the most scenic lookouts over Kings Tableland. This is great for the whole family. Spectacular Kanangra Falls is located, not surprisingly, in the Kanangra Boyd National Park. With its reputation as being one of the best in Australia make sure you put this on your 'must see' list.

One popular attraction is Katoomba Falls.Pack a picnic lunch, and be prepared for paradise as you venture through the rainforest paths into a beautiful gully set off by the falls. With rock pools and majestic trees you might want to set some time aside here. Another famous attraction is the Katoomba Scenic Railway, which is the steepest railway in the world, so for firsts you will have to get on board and hang on tight!

Needing a challenge? There are walks for you in the Grand Canyon and Sassafras Gully, with wilderness trails that take you to incredible rainforest and breathtaking scenery. Why not try the Wollemi National Park which feature magnificent rock formations and the famous glow worm tunnels. The Grand Canyon Track is another popular walk, which stretches for 5kms deep into the Canyon.

Govetts Leap is a famous trail which takes you to the stunning views from Evans Lookout. Its great for the adventurous, but you may have to think twice if you are not too keen on heights. There are also many walks to choose from around Hazelbrook, most popular being the Valley of the Waters walk which basically follows the path of the falls down the valley.

Most visitors just want to see the raw beauty of the Blue Mountains, and that is why this magnificent wonder is internationally popular. No matter what type of traveller you are, it will take your breath away.

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About the Author - Jenny Brewer is a travel agent whose passion is writing. After spending her leisure time writing time writing childrens stories, she now enjoys writing about travel destinations. 


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