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With its cosmopolitan cities, oceanfront towns, vast Outback terrain and Aboriginal culture, Australia is an expansive and diverse country. One of the best ways to get an overview of everything Australia has to offer is on an escorted tour.

On an escorted tour, you'll travel the country -- seeing all the most important sights -- with an experienced and knowledgeable tour director, who will entertain and educate you with informative commentary along the way. As with all escorted tours, all of your hotel arrangements and transportation between cities will be arranged for you ahead of time- and you'll know the price of the tour up front.

Since escorted tour operators buy services such as accommodations, sightseeing visits and airlines tickets in bulk, they receive preferred pricing and pass the savings on to you. Touring Australia is an excellent value!

Here are just some of the cities and sights you might experience on a two-week sojourn Down Under:



Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

The most recognizable symbol of Sydney is perhaps the Sydney Opera House, with its distinct sail-shaped roofs. The design echoes the shape of boat sails, found on equally well-known Sydney Harbour and its famous Harbour Bridge, the third-largest single-span bridge in the world.

Escorted tours typically build some free time into the itinerary in Sydney, so visitors can explore neighborhoods on their own: Chinatown, Paddington, Kings Cross, Darling Harbour -- or tour the Olympic Park, venue of the 2000 Olympic Games. Other options include shopping for opals, Australia's national gem, or making an excursion into the Hunter Valley wine district or the pretty Blue Mountains.



On the southern coast, Melbourne is also a cosmopolitan city, home to the Melbourne Museum, Australia's largest with a living forest gallery, Aboriginal Center, children's museum and IMAX theatre. The Royal Botanic Gardens contains more than 12,000 species of plants and is one of the most significant botanical gardens in the entire country.

The nearby Dandenong Ranges are just 22 miles away from downtown Melbourne, and offer a nice day trip; see incredible views from the city at the Summit Lookout. Another popular day trip is a ride on the Puffing Billy, a line of bright red train cars that takes passengers through the Dandenon Ranges. You're in wine country in Victoria: there are five distinct growing regions within 90 minutes of Melbourne; be sure to sample some local vintages!



Spot giant turtles at the Great Barrier Reef.
Along Queensland's Gold Cost is Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. While adventurous folk can snorkel or scuba dive at this 1,200-mile reef, more cautious travelers can take a catamaran, glass-bottom boat or other semi-submersible craft to see the myriad of marine life that make their home here.

Also in the tropical paradise of Cairns, you might tour the Cairns Wildlife Dome to see some of Australia's native animals. Or make an excursion to Kuranda on the Kuranda train, with time to explore the markets, ride on the Skyrail Cableway above the canopy of the rainforest and visit the award-winning Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.


Alice Springs

This little town, located in the center of the country, is often a home base for visitors exploring the Outback. In Alice Springs proper is the Royal Doctor Flying Base, where visitors can learn firsthand how a streamlined air-ambulance service works -- in 1939, when it was founded, it was the first aerial medical organization of its kind in the world.

Also here is the Old Telegraph Station, where the original town was located (back when it was a lonely Outback outpost) and today an important heritage site. The panoramic MacDonnell Ranges fan out on either side of Alice Springs, providing pretty scenic landscapes for visitors.


Ayers Rock (Uluru)

Close-up view of the base of Uluru.
Just southwest of Alice Springs in the center of Australia is another important symbol of the country: Uluru (its Aboriginal name), a massive sandstone rock formation. Long a sacred spot for the Aboriginal people, Uluru is also known to Westerners at Ayers Rock. Uluru and the Olgas (or Kata Tjuta), which are 36 dome-like rock formations, form the most visited areas of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Both natural sites appear to change color at dusk and dawn - the best times to view the geologic formations. As the sites have great cultural and spiritual significance to the Aboriginal people, it is important to show respect and abide by all posted rules when visiting.