Go deep, from Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef and into the Red CenterAustralia is awe-inspiring. The island continent is the sixth-largest country in the world, but has a lower population density than Iceland. Fittingly, it contains more kangaroos than people. The rugged outback teems with diverse ecosystems, from rainforest to desert, to ancient mountains, plus birds and beasts found nowhere else on earth. What better place to discover oneself than in such a vast and diverse setting? “Australians are noted world travelers—you can’t go anywhere in the world without hearing an Aussie accent—but we have some of the most incredible, varied and dramatic scenery right here. I’ve been lucky enough to see most of this country, and I love nothing more than hearing accents and languages from all over the world, from the alpine lakes of Tasmania to the psychedelic coral of the Great Barrier Reef. I’m so glad people from all corners appreciate what we have down here.” −Claire Sutherland, editor for mX newspaper
Sydney’s Shiny New Object
International Convention Centre SydneyThe biggest news for meeting planners Down Under was the December debut of International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney. With more than 360,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space and the largest ballroom in the city, ICC Sydney is the largest convention center in Australia. Located on the waterfront in Darling Harbour, ICC Sydney contains spaces for up to 750, 1,000, 2,500 and 8,000 people, making it capable of hosting four completely separate events for up to 12,000 people at the same time. The modernist structure is part of a larger food and entertainment complex that is expected to revitalize the adjacent business district. According to Geoff Donaghy, CEO of ICC Sydney, the venue plays a pivotal role in boosting the local knowledge economy. “ICC Sydney will deliver over $5 billion in economic benefit to New South Wales in the next 25 years, but it will do more than just deliver a cash injection to the economy,” Donaghy says. “It will also become a place of intellectual combustion and innovation for organizations big and small.” The integrated dining options at ICC Sydney are part of the allure. Executive chef Tony Panetta has focused on creating uniquely Aussie menus for the center. The accent is on local providers and healthy fare with an Aussie twist. “We’re working on a lamb dish that’s very Australian,” Panetta says. “We want to put Australia on the map and showcase our native ingredients. We’re so multicultural, but we want to give visitors something they couldn’t get anywhere else.” For starters, grilled kangaroo will capture guests’ attention, along with Australian king prawns, spanner crab and famed Rangers Valley meat, a divine melange of Angus and Wagyu beef. On the health front, Panetta has teamed up with certified nutritionists to devise a health-conscious menu, embodied in the Feeding Your Performance philosophy. “I’ve been in the convention and meetings industry for the past 15 years, and I’ve seen people experience sugar highs and slumps,” Panetta says. For example, ICC Sydney makes its own yogurt, dressings and preserves in order to control the ingredients, and most meals are naturally gluten-free. “We want to feed the body and the mind,” Panetta says. ICC Sydney is equally committed to showcasing the wines of New South Wales to international delegates. Its wine collection features 93 varieties, with 80 percent locally sourced. “The list includes a range of boutique wineries, which will give ICC Sydney’s wine collection a distinct point of difference, while highlighting the quality and diversity of local vintages,” says William Wilson, beverage operations and cellar manager for ICC Sydney. Meeting-goers can rest at nearby Hyatt Regency Sydney. The recently completed $250 million revamp marks the return of the brand to Sydney. Upgrades include a new 24-story tower, with 222 additional guest rooms for a total of 892, and a 272-seat, 24-hour restaurant. The property offers 37,100 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art meeting space. The popular rooftop bar features dazzling panoramic views of Darling Harbour and is available for group buyouts.
Team-Building Activities in SydneySydney has a plethora of world-class team-building activities. Cult gelateria Messina sees customers queue up regularly for its delicious handcrafted flavor combinations with clever names to match, such as Candy Warhol and Robert Brownie Junior. Book your team into a gelato appreciation class (groups of up to 25) for the chance to go head to head in teams as they create spectacular ice cream desserts, led by Messina’s chefs. For a further introduction to Australian cuisine, take a cooking class at Sydney Seafood School, located above Sydney Fish Markets. The hands-on lessons are led by top Australian chefs and include a sumptuous seafood lunch with matching wine, all prepared by your team.
Dave’s Brewery Tours, SydneyAttendees who are all thumbs in the kitchen will appreciate the equally hands-on Sydney craft beer tour. The burgeoning interest in craft beer in Australia has led to huge growth in the number of small breweries in Sydney. Dave’s Brewery Tours can host private tours for up to 10. Breweries range from large 4 Pines Beer in Manly to tiny BlackFont in Marrickville. Participants learn about beer-making techniques as well as the stories behind each brew. Plenty of tastings are included with lunch at an iconic Aussie pub mixed in along the way. For larger groups and conferences, owner Dave Philips will bring the beer to you for onsite sampling. Cheers, mate!
Surf’s Up at Bondi BeachNothing says playing hooky from reality quite like baking on the beach and then hanging 10 on a hot, sunny day during Northern Hemisphere winter. Sydney is home to almost 100 beaches including one of Australia’s most popular, Bondi Beach, where beach volleyball was held during the 2000 Summer Olympics. Located within a 20-minute drive from the city, Bondi is home to white sand, great waves, and a dynamic restaurant and shopping scene. Whether their skill level is grommet or big kahuna, groups should experience wave riding at Bondi Beach. Let’s Go Surfing’s coaches teach all the skills you need to know before heading into the water to shoot the curl.
Koalas at Taronga Zoo, SydneySydney has arguably the most spectacular harbor in the world and its foreshore is fringed by 1,000 acres of national park, featuring unique accommodations and distinctive event venues. Animals at Taronga Zoo have penthouse views from their sanctuary above Bradley’s Head harbor. The zoo’s Roar and Snore program enables a group to stay overnight in safari tents, with kangaroos, koalas and other animals nearby. The site accommodates up to 17 people on an exclusive-use basis, sleeping one person per tent. The experience includes up-close animal encounters, after-dark guided tours and exclusive behind-the-scenes access. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier ReefMost travelers have heard of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, but few know that the 1,429-mile-long coral reef system is larger than the United Kingdom, Holland and Switzerland combined. It would take a lifetime to experience everything the UNESCO World Heritage-listed wonder has to offer. U.S. News & World Report named it the No. 1 place in the world to visit for 2016−17.
Guest room at Qualia, Hamilton IslandJust one example is Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays region, a tropical getaway where groups are spoiled with choices. On the island’s secluded northern tip, the super-luxurious, 60-villa Qualia resort is a private hideaway that can be booked for sole use by corporate groups. Options include exploring aboard the resort’s guests-only luxury motor cruiser, dining on the beach and taking helicopter transfers to Hamilton Island Golf Club on neighboring Dent Island. Hayman Island is the northernmost island in Whitsunday archipelago, offering the nearest access to the Outer Reef, including world-renowned Heart Reef. One & Only Hayman Island resort is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World and is ideal for incentives groups, with seaplane, helicopter, diving and fishing adventures. Top producers feel appreciated as they dive Dolphin Point at sunrise or snorkel among the most diverse and beautiful aquatic life on earth.
UluruFew destinations can match Australia’s outback and its spectacular landscape, with desert plains, rocky gorges and some of Australia’s most sacred Aboriginal sites, including the 600 million-year-old Uluru and the large, domed rock formations of Kata Tjuta. In 1985, the land was officially returned to the native people who inhabited it for thousands of years. For a spiritual and local experience, book an intimate dinner for 20 at Tali Wiru, which means “beautiful dune” in the local Anangu language; it overlooks Uluru and the distant domes of Kata Tjuta. As the sun sets to the sound of a didgeridoo, head to a table for a four-course dinner matched with Australian wine before finishing the evening with stories of the world’s oldest living culture.
Continent of PlentyAustralia’s offerings are not lost on the airlines. This month Qantas will launch daily service between Sydney and Beijing. Qantas already featured routes between Sydney and both Shanghai and Hong Kong. Singapore Airlines added a Sydney-to-Jakarta route three times a week in November. Hong Kong Airlines increased its flights to the Gold Coast and Cairns to five times a week last month. Just as Australians love to travel, their international reach helps pique the interest of adventurers around the world. It’s a continent with plenty to share.
Adrenaline, Aussie StyleFor most travelers, surfing Bondi Beach or snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef would qualify as an ultimate lifetime achievement. In Australia, however, they’re just the tip of the adventure iceberg, mate. Here’s a rundown of some other exhilarating experiences guaranteed to provide memories and adrenaline to last a lifetime. The Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb (pictured above) might be the most spectacular thing one can undertake Down Under. For the uninitiated, you strap on a safety harness and climb to the top of the tallest steel arch bridge in the world, 440 feet above the water below. Skilled BridgeClimb professionals ensure a fun, safe climb, and are apparently trained in psychology as well—they help people overcome any fear of heights. Just don’t look down! The express option allows groups of up to 14 to experience the climb in 2 hours, 15 minutes. Once at the summit, climbers are rewarded with once-in-a-lifetime 360-degree views of the Sydney Opera House, harbor and even the Blue Mountains, 80 miles away. Fear and accomplishment make for great bonding. Heart not pumping fast enough yet? How about ziplining over a crocodile pit? Sounds like a James Bond movie, but it’s the Reef Hotel Casino Hi-Zoom (pictured above). Cairns, on the Queensland Coast, offers a wealth of hair-raising options, even for those who aren’t certified to plunge the depths of the Great Barrier Reef. Bungee jumping, rope climbing and pirate climbing round out the team-building offerings. Billed as “the world’s first challenge ropes in a wildlife park,” the Hi-Zoom & Wildlife Dome contains koalas, birds, fish and, of course, reptiles. If you should fall in, the biggest crocodile is named Goliath. Say g’day!
Natalie Compagno is an avid traveler and has written for The Huffington Post, Yahoo Travel and more.