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Best places to visit in Australia: What’s too good to miss

(CNN) — If you could magically conjure up a place that’s ideal for travel adventures, it would be hard to imagine anything better than what the world already has: Australia. This continent/country offers spectacular outdoor scenery, animals unlike anywhere else in the world and urban centers that compete with the top cities of Europe, North…

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Best places to visit in Australia: What’s too good to miss
(CNN) — If you could magically conjure up a place that’s ideal for travel adventures, it would be hard to imagine anything better than what the world already has: Australia.

This continent/country offers spectacular outdoor scenery, animals unlike anywhere else in the world and urban centers that compete with the top cities of Europe, North America and Asia on livability rankings.

Admittedly, as destinations go, it’s not that close for most of us. But it’s so worth the flight to get there.

So when you finally arrive, you want to be sure you make the most of your holiday. In no particular order, here are the best places to visit in Australia. Some of these locations have links to previous CNN Travel articles if you want to dig into the details.

Sydney

Despite its name, the Sydney Opera House has more than 2,000 shows a year and only about 15% of them are actual opera.

Despite its name, the Sydney Opera House has more than 2,000 shows a year and only about 15% of them are actual opera.

Sydney Opera House Trust

Australia’s largest city is heralded as one of the world’s greatest metropolises for a reason.

The capital of New South Wales plays host to the photogenic Sydney Harbour (the world’s largest natural harbor), the one-of-a-kind Sydney Opera House, a lively entertainment scene and some of the best restaurants in the world.

And then there are the beaches. Bondi might be the best known, but it’s just the beginning of the sun ‘n’ surf available near the city.

Melbourne

Melbourne's neighborhoods are a big selling point. Here, people cross a pedestrian bridge in popular Southbank.

Melbourne’s neighborhoods are a big selling point. Here, people cross a pedestrian bridge in popular Southbank.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Melbourne, the second-largest city in Australia, overflows with first-rate attractions.

From cultural and architectural highlights to amazing outdoor locations, Melbourne offers stiff competition to Sydney in the travel department.

From top-rate museums such as the National Gallery of Victoria to stunning nearby getaways such as Port Campbell National Park, Melbourne delivers.

Perth

Perth Tourism Western Australia

Perth’s climate and nearby beaches are its biggest draws. This is Trigg Beach. You’d be surprised how close it is to downtown Perth. (Less than 30 minutes).

courtesy Tourism Western Australia

The capital of the vast state of Western Australia may be a long way from most other destinations in Australia, but Perth’s remote location makes its appeal even stronger.

There’s the feeling that Perth residents have long known that their city was a hidden travel gem, but it’s come into its own.

Its idyllic Indian Ocean setting and weather (sunny, dry and warm most of the year) don’t hurt either.

Brisbane

Kangaroo Point is an excellent place to take in both Brisbane's dramatic skyline and the natural beauty of this part of Australia.

Kangaroo Point is an excellent place to take in both Brisbane’s dramatic skyline and the natural beauty of this part of Australia.

Courtesy Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

The capital of Queensland, sunny Brisbane has a beach right on the doorstep of its central business district.

Its setting is South Bank, a lively entertainment and cultural precinct that — as the name implies — sits on the south bank of the Brisbane River. This is where the city comes for recreation and entertainment.

It’s also a gateway city to the popular Gold Coast beaches and other natural attractions.

Cairns

A couple strolls through the palm trees on the beach in Palm Cove, a suburb of Cairns.

A couple strolls through the palm trees on the beach in Palm Cove, a suburb of Cairns.

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

You’ve really entered the tropics when you’re in Cairns (in Australia, the farther north you go, the warmer it tends to get).
Set along the Pacific, Cairns is the jumping-off point for the Great Barrier Reef and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest, among other natural wonders.

The city of about 150,000 has a growing cafe scene, swimming lagoon and a relaxed vibe.

Great Barrier Reef

A rise in global temperatures continues to have a large impact on the Great Barrier Reef, but scientists are finding new ways to save the aquatic habitat. CNN’s Ivan Watson explains.

The only living thing on Earth visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef was born 25 million years ago.

The world’s largest reef system stretches for 3,000 kilometers (1,865 miles) off the Queensland coast and has 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of tropical fish.

Along with diving and snorkeling, you can also fish and island hop.

Uluru

Uluru, located in the interior of the country and once known as Ayers Rock, is a spiritual symbol of Australia.

Uluru, located in the interior of the country and once known as Ayers Rock, is a spiritual symbol of Australia.

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Uluru, an intriguing sandstone monolith, is a sacred site to the indigenous Anangu people.

It’s 450 kilometers (280 miles) southwest of Alice Springs in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. While it will be closed to climbers starting in October 2019, it remains a spectacular place to visit with many other activities that will still be available in the park.

Avid Australian traveler and retiree Heather White puts it this way: “It’s akin to climbing the Vatican or Westminster Abbey. It is a truly beautiful and spiritual place: You don’t need to climb it to experience that.”

Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains attract their fair share of thrill-seekers, such as line walkers (who are attached to safety harnesses).

The Blue Mountains attract their fair share of thrill-seekers, such as line walkers (who are attached to safety harnesses).

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The Blue Mountains are about two hours west of Sydney by car. They contain some of the world’s oldest species of plants — including Wollemi pines, which are the botanical equivalent of dinosaurs.

Soaring forests, canyons, sandstone cliffs and waterfalls are some of the major draws for outdoor enthusiasts, and the hiking here is spectacular.

The eucalyptus oil from gum trees gives the vistas in the Blue Mountains their namesake haze.

Rottnest Island

Rottnest

An easy trek from Perth, Rottnest Island is a favorite of locals. And tourists are catching on.

Courtesy Tourism Western Australia

Family-friendly Rottnest Island, affectionately called “Rotto” by the locals, is a quick 25-minute ferry ride from the Western Australia port town of Fremantle or 90 minutes from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty.

Why go there? For one thing, it’s an escape from cars. Instead, you can get around by bike, and more than 60 beaches await you as you pedal your way through paradise.

There’s also snorkeling, diving, whale watching and hiking.

Noosa

The beaches at Noosa in one word: lovely. This south Queensland city is worth a visit.

The beaches at Noosa in one word: lovely. This south Queensland city is worth a visit.

Shutterstock

It may not have the international name recognition of other Australian holiday spots, but Noosa is definitely worthy of your consideration.

Situated in southern Queensland, this chill city of about 52,000 is surrounded by beaches, a river and national parks. You can come here for golf and other sports or just relax on its beaches.

Noosa National Park beckons with a small but active population of koalas and more spectacular beaches than you can fit into a day.

Atherton Tablelands

Millaa Millaa Falls is just one of many features to see  in the Atherton Tablelands.

Millaa Millaa Falls is just one of many features to see in the Atherton Tablelands.

Shutterstock

Waterfalls and geological wonders such as crater lakes and volcanic tubes make Atherton Tablelands a fantastic playground in northern Queensland.

This fertile plateau also offers cave exploration, birding and kayaking.

Can’t tear yourself away from all this nature? Spend the night in The Canopy Treehouses for a one-of-kind lodging experience. (Hogan Road, Tarzali, Queensland, Australia; +61 7 4096 5364)

Kangaroo Island

There's more to Kangaroo Island than hopping mammals -- including some amazing rock formations.

There’s more to Kangaroo Island than hopping mammals — including some amazing rock formations.

Shutterstock

Kangaroo Island is an excellent and pristine getaway, located offshore from Adelaide in South Australia.
It’s a refuge for many of Australia’s most beloved or threatened animals, including sea lions, koalas, cockatoos and the short-beaked echidna, a little stocky animal with short spines. Like the platypus, it’s a mammal that lays eggs.

Kate Springer, Chris Dwyer, Jessica Mudditt and Geoff Hiscock contributed to this story from previously published articles.

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November 26 Omicron variant news

Travelers carry luggage as they arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport November 23, in Arlington, Virginia. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)The new travel restrictions announced by President Biden today will buy the US federal government more time to investigate the new Omicron variant that has emerged in South Africa, officials say. But not much.Earlier today, the…

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November 26 Omicron variant news
Travelers carry luggage as they arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport November 23, in Arlington, Virginia.
Travelers carry luggage as they arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport November 23, in Arlington, Virginia. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The new travel restrictions announced by President Biden today will buy the US federal government more time to investigate the new Omicron variant that has emerged in South Africa, officials say. But not much.

Earlier today, the Biden administration announced it will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, starting Monday. The administration stressed it was acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the World Health Organization labeled the newly discovered strain as a “variant of concern.”

Inside the government, it is seen as inevitable that the new variant will appear in the US at some point, but the new restrictions should give federal health agencies and their global counterparts more time to learn about the variant, including the severity of the disease it causes. Officials do not believe, based on current thinking, that the variant is in the US yet. 

Officials acted quickly to implement the new restrictions. While the emergency of the variant had been flagged in the last several weeks, it was only in recent days that they learned how serious it was. 

US officials are expected to speak to scientists in South Africa again potentially on Sunday. 

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3 burned bodies found in Solomon Islands’ Chinatown following days of violent protests

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3 burned bodies found in Solomon Islands’ Chinatown following days of violent protests
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Vibrant skin patterns and colored feathers: Stunning paleoart shows what dinosaurs really looked like

Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNNKeeping you in the know, Culture Queue is an ongoing series of recommendations for timely books to read, films to watch and podcasts and music to listen to.Crystal Palace Park, in south London, still hosts the world’s first dinosaur sculptures. They were created in the 1850s based on what were, at…

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Vibrant skin patterns and colored feathers: Stunning paleoart shows what dinosaurs really looked like

Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNN

Keeping you in the know, Culture Queue is an ongoing series of recommendations for timely books to read, films to watch and podcasts and music to listen to.
Crystal Palace Park, in south London, still hosts the world’s first dinosaur sculptures. They were created in the 1850s based on what were, at the time, very recent scientific discoveries: fossils, unearthed in England just decades earlier.

Scientists struggled to make sense of the creatures, and the sculptures were the first attempt to visualize them in true-to-life size. They were depicted like giant, mammal-like beasts, heavy set and four-legged — an already revolutionary idea compared to earlier ones that imagined dinosaurs essentially as huge lizards. But it was just as wrong.

View of the Crystal Palace exhibition with Richard Owen's fantastical dinosaur reconstructions in the foreground, by the London printer George Baxter.

View of the Crystal Palace exhibition with Richard Owen’s fantastical dinosaur reconstructions in the foreground, by the London printer George Baxter. Credit: Wellcome Collection

We know today that dinosaurs did not look at all like the scaly versions at Crystal Palace. For decades, however, the sculptures, as well as many other subsequent depictions, inaccurately influenced the public’s view of these extinct giants. Renowned paleontologist Michael Benton’s new book, “Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World,” however, offers the latest interpretation.

“It’s the first dinosaur book where the dinosaurs actually look like what they looked like,” claims the author, who worked with paleoartist Bob Nicholls to bring the creatures to life. “Every detail, as far as possible, is justified by evidence. We tried to pick species that are quite well documented, so that in the text, I can indicate what we know and why we know it.”

Paleoartist Bob Nicholls brought the creatures in Benton's book to life, including on the cover shown here.

Paleoartist Bob Nicholls brought the creatures in Benton’s book to life, including on the cover shown here. Credit: Thames & Hudson

Much of the evidence comes from the most recent fossil discoveries from China, which starting in the 1990s, changed the way we interpret the appearance of dinosaurs. The 1996 discovery in the country’s Liaoning province of a feathered fossil, for example, created a direct connection between dinosaurs and birds.

“I think we can say that feathers originated way earlier than we had thought, at least 100 million years earlier, so right at the root of dinosaurs,” Benton said.

A skeletal restoration of Hadrosaurus foulkii based on the original in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the first ever museum mount of a dinosaur that was also, correctly, upright.

A skeletal restoration of Hadrosaurus foulkii based on the original in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the first ever museum mount of a dinosaur that was also, correctly, upright. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives

The idea that dinosaurs had feathers hasn’t appealed to everyone. Famously, the “Jurassic Park” franchise — which debuted in 1993 before feathery dinosaurs fossils were first discovered — has steadfastly refused to include them in its most recent films.

“They characterize that by saying they don’t want T-Rex to look like a giant chicken. But it’s a pity,” Benton said.

Even more recently, Benton and his team at the University of Bristol in the UK have pioneered a way, by finding pigment structures embedded deep within the fossilized feathers, to identify the color patterns of a dinosaur from fossils. “We were the first to apply this method in 2010, so the book is documenting mainly studies from the last 10 years that looked at the skin, the scales and the feathers in fossils — to get the color.”

That result is shown through illustrations of 15 creatures featured in the book — not just of dinosaurs but also prehistoric birds, mammals and reptiles — adorned with vibrant skin patterns, an abundance of multicolored feathers and some with striking iridescent heads.

Looking at these creatures shows just how much our knowledge of dinosaurs has improved, and how much it can improve still. “A few years ago, I thought we would have never known about the color of a dinosaur, but now we do,” Benton said.

“Don’t draw boundaries, because sooner or later, a smart young person is going to say, ‘Hey, you guys, we can actually solve this one.'”

“Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World” is published by Thames & Hudson.

Add to queue: Dino-mania

If you want to know the entire history of the dinosaurs, look no further than this “dinosaur biography” by one of the world’s leading paleontologists, Steve Brusatte. The book chronicles the 200 million-year history of the dinosaurs, from the Triassic, through the Jurassic and into the Cretaceous, when their rule ended via a mass extinction caused by a comet or asteroid. Narrated like an epic saga that illustrates the modern workings of paleontology, it draws on very recent research.

This classic documentary series, produced by the venerable BBC Natural History Unit and aired by Discovery in the US, had the distinction of being the most expensive documentary ever made when it launched in 1999. It won three Emmys, spawned two sequels and portrayed dinosaurs in their natural habitats — in true documentary style — using a mix of computer graphics and animatronics. It was cutting edge for its time and still holds plenty of entertainment and educational value, although some of the science is now outdated.

This mix between palaeontology and political drama is woven throughout the story of Sue, the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton ever found. After being unearthed in South Dakota in 1990, the fossil became the center of a years-long legal battle over its ownership, illustrating the rifts that can arise between palaeontologists, fossil collectors and governments that own the land on which the fossils are found. Spoiler alert: Sue is now on display at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

The go-to podcast for dinosaur lovers, “I Know Dino” is run by Garret Kruger and Sabrina Ricci, a husband-and-wife team of dino enthusiasts. Each hour-long episode focuses on one species, which is discussed and explored in detail with the help of guests. The podcast, which began in 2016, is now approaching 400 episodes.

This Steven Spielberg classic is still the popular culture reference point for dinosaurs. It was the first film to portray them as smart, dynamic and fast-moving creatures. (Who could forget the famous scene with T. rex fighting Velociraptors?) Though it was made nearly 30 years ago, the film’s CGI still holds up to scrutiny. Scientific accuracy has waned over the years, but it’s still an entertaining film to watch, with milestone performances from Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum.

Top Image: Reconstruction of a Psittacosaurus, an illustration that appears in the book “Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World.” One fossil find for this creature contained preserved soft tissue, including skin and an array of reed-like feathers on top of the tail.

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