4 Reasons To Visit Southern Australia

You just can't beat a holiday Down Under to escape the gloom of winter.  But if that sounds a long and expensive slog, think again.  Thanks to improved flight options and the introduction of quiet and spacious planes, this is a good time to grab a bargain ticket to get some Aussie sunshine. It is not just Sydney sparkling harbour, cricket, barbeques and beaches that Australia has to offer.

January to March is an excellent time to visit the entire southern half of the continent, from Perth in the west to Tasmania in the east, when you can look forward to good weather without the peak prices.

So whether you like to follow the open road, sample fine wines and food, hike through enchanting forests, experience unique flora and fauna up close, explore art and history or simply watch the world roll by from a train window, here are four trips that reveal the best of this great country.

Hit the road on one a self-drive holiday from Melbourne to Adelaide, taking in the 151-mile Great Ocean Road, which was built by the military between 1919 and 1932; it is one of the world's great coastal drives.  Highlights include the dramatic limestone stacks of the Twelve Apostles, heritage of shipwrecks and whaling, and two of the world's great wine regions.

Further west you can go bushwalking in the Grampians National Park, visit the celebrated wineries of Coonawarra, then take a ferry to Kangaroo Island where you can get up and close to Koalas, wallabies, kangaroos and sea lions.

At either end of journey lie two great Australian cities, lively and sophisticated, Melbourne is an excellent place to go shopping and catch some sports. The Annual Food and Wine Festival (4-14 March) is a big attraction.

Leafy and relaxed, elegant Adelaide is the wine capital of the nation and has a serious foodie scene, reflected in the stalls of its 141-year-old Central Market.

The best way to understand the immensity of Australia is to cross it by train.  Perth to Sydney is a 2,698-mile transcontinental trip known as the Indian Pacific. One of the world's longest rail journeys, it takes three nights to travel between the Pacific and Indian oceans, with stops at remote outposts such as the ghost town-like Cook and historic mining town of Broken Hill, which starred in the movies 'Mad Max 2 and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'.

Most passengers travel in Gold class, which means ensuite cabins with shower and all meals included, served in the plush Queen Adelaide restaurant car as you roll past huge sheep farms and barren desert of the Nullarbor Plain, before you finally reach the spectacular azure-tinged Blue Mountains, just outside Sydney.  Popular with retired travellers, the atmosphere on board is relaxed and sociable, and in typical Aussie style there's no need to get dressed up.

For tickets contact the Great Southern Rail, which operates four luxury train journeys across Australia, including the Southern Spirit, a five-night great rail journey linking Adelaide and Brisbane. A one-way ticket on the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney in Gold Class will start from about AUD $2,378 including meals.

Just over an hour south of Melbourne by air, the island of Tasmania is a favourite destination for walkers and nature Lovers. A holiday here is all about the scenery - more than a third of it is a protected area and its isolation as created unique flora and fauna that include cathedral-like forest of swamp gum trees and curious creatures such as the Tasmanian devil and forty-spotted pardalote (a bird).

Must-see sights include the jagged peaks of Cradle Mountain and the exhilarating beaches of the Freycinet Peninsula.  You don't have to rough it, though, or give up on the cultural treats.  Tasmania is home to luxury lodges, and just outside Hobart, the capital is the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), showcasing the largest private art collection in the southern hemisphere. You can also look forward to good food and the island produces terrific beer, cheeses and organic produce - catch the bountiful Salamanca Market in Hobart every Saturday.

A holiday to Australia doesn’t have to mean jumping all over the place like a mad kangaroo.  There is plenty to enjoy in the south-west corner of Western Australia. Just travel along the coast where you'll find good beaches, top-class wines and glorious scenery, and this is within an easy drive from Perth.

Also south of Perth is Fremantle, a likable port with bohemian ambience and rewarding historic sights, including an 1855 prison that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Further on lie the crowd-free beaches of the naturally beautiful Margaret River.  The perfect spot to grab a surfing lesson, walk through forests of towering karri trees and visit vineyards famous for their Bordeaux-like premium wines.

Push on to the shores of the Southern Ocean and you'll find the scenic Rainbow Coast.  This area between Walpole and Albany is ideal for exploring, with pristine sands, abundant art galleries and splendid national parks.  Don't miss the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk near Denmark - a walkway suspended 131 feet high in a forest of tingle trees.