Australia is the sixth largest country in the world - more or less the same size as mainland USA. However, this vast land has one of the lowest population densities in the world, with only three people per square kilometre. Although known for its modern, cosmopolitan cities, Australia enshrines vast swathes of undeveloped wilderness, making it a good travel destination for those wanting a taste of both urban chic and striking landscapes devoid of people.
Australia is politically divided into six states and two territories, each one offering a different experience for the traveller. There is the drama of the remote 'Outback', the colourful spectacle of the Great Barrier Reef and its coral islands, the excitement of the big, efficient cities, the sun and surf at some of the best beaches in the world, and the tropical rainforests of Western Australia. The list is endless in this diverse land of adventure, which boasts about 2,000 national parks and 14 World Heritage-listed areas, along with more than 7,000 beaches.
Australia is a land of character too, with its melting pot of cultures. For more than 50,000 years the Aboriginal people lived and thrived in the continent's unique environment. It is believed the Aboriginals are one of the world's oldest surviving civilisations, and recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in keeping the Aboriginal culture alive and flourishing in Australia.
This vast continent at the bottom of the world was the last landmass to be discovered by European explorers. Captain James Cook arrived in Botany Bay in 1770 and sparked off waves of emigration to Australia, which for some time served as a penal colony. It was not until 1860 that two explorers - Robert Burke and William Wills - became the first Europeans to cross Australia from south to north. The country remains a magnet for modern explorers and adventurers and has a great deal to offer tourists and holidaymakers.
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