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, Renée 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).
Sarah Nursey of Sydney isn't singing in the rain, she's splashing in the spray of that city's Archibald Memorial Fountain in a tank suit by Cole Jrs ($34).
This is not a mirage. Those are camels and that is Paulina, in a silver-dotted suit by Ste. Jan-Marie ($56). The camels are for trekking on Kangaroo Island.
Kim, her head resting on a pillow of stone, heats the heat and catches some z's in nature's own water bed at Palm Valley. Her suit is by Ariel for Haye ($50).
Kathy Ireland (left), a California surfer, is striped for action in cotton Lycra by Ralph Lauren ($52) as she awaits that perfect wave at Cronulla Beach.
Bounding along the beach at Maroubra, near Sydney, Kathy keeps in fighting trim in cotton top ($30) and parachute-cloth boxing shorts from Keiko ($36).
Kim takes 10 on a sailboard at the Barrier Reef, with the Low Isles lighthouse in the distance. Her suit ($39) and matching sail ($295) are both from Mistral.
Anchors aweigh! Paulina looks shipshape as she gets set to sail Shark Bay in a ribbed suit designed by Monika Tilley for Christie Brinkley swimwear ($44).
Like a living sphinx, Kathy adds an aura of mystery to South Bondi Beach in a suit by Connie Banko ($38).
Splendor in the grass: Kim gazes up a lazy river-a tributary of the Finke-in Palm Valley. Her salmon-suit was designed by Ellen Ann Dobrovir ($65).
Early riser Elle (above) has the sand dunes and morning mist of Little Sahara on Kangaroo Island all to herself. Her cotton chambray bikini, by Ralph Lauren, comes with matching shorts ($75).
Paulina (right) goes for all the rays the law allows in a bow mono-kini from French designer Daniel Hechter ($36). Sometimes a towel comes in handy.
Paulina daydreams on wave-patterned sand at Big Lagoon near Shark Bay. Her miter-ribbed suit is from Gilda Marx ($43).
Renée, in a dalmatian print by Liza Bruce for the Factory Team ($68), hops a ride on a dinghy at the Barrier Reef.
Kim (right), who's a former competitive swimmer, comes up for air at Lizard Island's Blue Lagoon. Her shining, semi-opaque suit is from Zeta Zukki ($48).
At Seal Bay on Kangaroo Island, a pair of pups lionize File, who's wearing a bikini made in Italy by La Perla ($85).
Taking a breather before diving off the Great Barrier Reef, Kim is suited for the occasion in a shiny Jantzen ($44).
Kim (above) gets set to row across Ormiston Gorge, where the reflection of red sandstone cliffs turns the water to copper. Her suit is from Julio ($60).
On Initiation Rock in the Outback, Kim cools in a pool in a shell-and-chamois Sunset Beach suit from Catalina ($90).
At a Sydney beach, Kathy's suit (right) echoes the colors of a South Pacific sunrise. Her bikini is from Monika Tilley for Christie Brinkley swimwear ($38).
Like a votary in a primitive ritual, Paulina does afire dance before the strange limestone Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. Her suit is by Harbour Casuals ($36).
Kathy is definitely No. 1 with the surf lifesavers of Sydney in a tank suit from Oleg Cassini Linea Mare ($50) and Speedo cap. For more about Aussie lifesavers, turn the page.
TWENTY SEVEN PHOTOS