The stereotype of Australia as little more than the land of the kangaroo and the koala bear is fading fast. A country the size of the continental U.S., with but 15 million inhabitants, 85% of whom live along the coast, Australia is blessed with a growing economy, immense mineral resources—and splendors of nature on an epic scale. That the population of the arid interior is sparse is to Australia's advantage. It's the driest continent on earth, and its fragile ecology, its unique vegetation and wildlife, can survive intact only if it remains relatively undisturbed.
The Outback, as much of the interior is called, comes as a surprise to those who expect only a desert wasteland. The terrain is majestically landscaped with sculptured rocks, gorges, pinnacles, mesas and mountains, and colored in astonishing shades of red, rusty browns and golden ochers. In the heart of the Outback, near Alice Springs, the earth and rocks are pink in the morning light, orange by midday and turn a rich ruby red in the glow of the late afternoon sun. The steep red sandstone cliffs of Uluru at Maggie Springs still guard a sacred aboriginal water hole of surpassing clarity. The sunlit reds turn to gold at the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park (below), surrealistic phenomena so isolated that their very existence wasn't formally recorded until the 1950s.
The diversity and vastness of the island continent led D.H. Lawrence, in his 1923 novel Kangaroo, to describe Australia's "sense of subtle, remote, formless beauty, more poignant than anything ever experienced before."
The oceans offer more wonders. The 1,200-mile Great Barrier Reef is rightly called "the showcase of the sea." Its coral gardens are said to support more life per square mile than any other place on earth. The coastline of Australia stretches for 12,000 miles, with beaches comprising more than half of that distance, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that the folks Down Under have a special relationship with the sea.
Turn the pages for a peek at more swimwear, and for an introduction to Australia's stalwart—and fun-loving—surf lifesavers, see page 132.
At the Pinnacles, Paulina, in a chamois bikini from Sunset Beach by Catalina ($96), lends an ear to Richard Wally on the didgeridoo, an aboriginal flute.
Beneath a sheltering palm, Kim Alexis keeps cool in a plastic-mail bandeau and silky Lycra-Antron bikini bottom from Oleg Cassini Linea Mare ($100).
Paulina (right) sprouts amid the Spinifex longifolius grass on the beach at Kalbarri on Australia's west coast. Her tank suit is by OMO Norma Kamali ($52).
At Palm Valley in the Outback, Ren�e Simonsen finds herself in a reflective mood. Her Lycra suit splashed with sequins is from Gideon Oberson ($145).
Aussie Elle Macpherson rolls up her "cossie" (short for swim costume) Australian style, at Kalbarri. It's a Giorgio Sant' Angelo design for Capriccio ($47).