Australia is like nowhere else you’ve been. It has truly unique wildlife, some of the world’s best natural scenery, the most brilliant scuba diving and snorkeling, the best beaches, the oldest rainforest (110 million years and counting), the oldest human civilization (some archaeologists say 40,000 years, some say 120,000), the best wines, the best weather, the most innovative East-meets-West-meets-someplace-else cuisine—all bathed in sunlight that brings everything up in Technicolor. Prepare yourself for a lifetime of memories.

Scarcely a visitor lands on these shores without having a visit to the Great Barrier Reef at the top of their to-do list. So they should, because it really is a glorious natural masterpiece. Also high on most lists is Uluru, a sacred monolith that—rightly—attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists (including, in 2014, Britain’s Prince William and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge). And it’s not just “The Rock” you should see; the vast Australian desert all around it is equally unmissable. The third attraction on most visitors’ lists is Sydney, Australia’s glittering harborside city.

Of course, there is much more to Australia than these highlights. Those who have more time will find that Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, and the Top End of the Northern Territory have much to offer as well. But you cant do everything or go everywhere, so in this book Ill introduce you to these three iconic attractions, as well as the places that are their gateways—Brisbane, Cairns, the coastal cities of Queensland that give you access to the Reef, and Alice Springs in the Red Centre—as well as Australias other major city, Melbourne, in Victoria.

In the listings throughout the book, NSW stands for New South Wales, QLD for Queensland, NT for the Northern Territory, and VIC for Victoria.